Hello, I'm Stuart and I like to run a long way.
Welcome to my blog, here I'll try to keep you up to date with my challenges, adventures and training.

I competing in Ultra distance running, adventure racing, and a variety of other events. I hold a few records in the UK, and in 2012 ran 1100 miles over the Alps, from Vienna to Nice.

I am raising funds for Water for Kids, a small charity with the simple purpose of ensuring that the world's poorest communities have clean water.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Tour of Helvellyn

Yesterday was the Tour of Helvellyn, a fantastic "low-key" ultra organised by Joe Faulkner and Nav4 events... I did this race last year and despite a disappointing run it was a really nice way to end the year! So I was looking forward to doing it again, though the weather was not quite as nice and Alpine - more torrential rain and windy.

I stayed overnight in the van in Askham village hall car park, the rain got steadily heavier during the night but by 8am it was at least daylight! It was good to catch up with Jim Mann and others at the start, and four of us (myself, Jim, Fraser and Chris) decided to set off together. When we did so there was only one man left in the hall. As you might expect, it was a certain Mr. Collison, lurking ominously and looking in no hurry to set off. The twittersphere had been flickering away the previous night, with Kim and Tom Gibbs highlighted as favourites.

The route was basically a lollipop - Askham to Howtown, to Patterdale, up and over Sticks Pass, along the edge of Thirlmere, then up past Grizedale tarn back to Patterdale, Howtown, and home. 38 miles in all.

The four of us set off at about 8:40, and by about 8:45 we were plodding through gorse bushes to rejoin the proper route... Another ten minutes later I had pulled away a bit from Jim, who was also a bit ahead of Chris and Fraser. Then, again, I took us the wrong way and stayed too high above the edge of the lake. This was very frustrating and I vowed to concentrate more from now on. I think I'd got too carried away with trying to get away from the guys, but this mistake lost me about 10 minutes, which would be crucial later.

Anyway, eventually we got sorted and Jim and I rejoined the proper route. As we headed towards the Howtown checkpoint Kim started to catch us. I decided that when he did so I would try to stick with him for as long as possible, though I didn't imagine that this would be long!

After the Howtown checkpoint we headed up to Patterdale. It was pretty wet and as we climbed up to Boredale Hause, Kim got away somewhere up here and I reached the checkpoint on my own. I said hello to Joe, grabbed a quick slice of Banana and continued towards Glenridding, it was good to see John Vernon as I ran along the road. From here began the major climb of the race up to Sticks Pass. As we passed the Ski Centre and started the major part of the climb I spotted Kim in the distance, which was a surprise! The climb was wet to say the least...

Looking damp... Thanks to @stustod for the Photo!

After the top of Sticks Pass we descended to the bridge at Stannah. I think I caught Kim again on the way down here, and was even in front for a second or two. Then the slippery grass and my shoes landed my on my bum again and off he went... THEN I did another silly thing and overshot the checkpoint, reaching the road before I realised my mistake. So I got a bit angry with myself again, clambered back up, dibbed and headed off towards CP6 at Swirls. At the checkpoint further chaos until I found the route through the woods, but eventually I did. I remember reading Kim's blog from last year describing this as "a long drag to Dunmail" and that's how it felt, especially when I made the same mistake as last year and dropped too low. I will have to recce this section next year!

I was feeling a bit rubbish when I got to the checkpoint at Dunmail, then as I started the steep horrible climb I spotted a familiar pair of three-quarter tights - despite my various time losses I had somehow caught Kim! As we climbed I got closer and at Grizedale Tarn three of us were together. The top was cold and I was grateful when the path started to descend down the beck. Eventually we were back to Patterdale, so all we had to do was run back through Howtown to the finish... 8 miles or so.

Somehow retracing my steps felt easier, the climb up to Boredale was tough but eventually it passed and headed down to Ullswater. I was a little surprised to still be running with Kim and cursed myself a bit for my mistake at the beginning, wondering what might have been... But I was happy to be running well and getting there... The final plod over the moors from Bonscale felt slow but eventually we passed the Cockpit stones, over the main bridleway, through the area of the gorse-based disaster a few hours earlier and onto the road. Kim was trying to get under 6 hours so the speed increased as the time got close - I nearly gave up and jogged in but kept going and was pleased to finish with Kim.

I was a bit disappointed when we arrived and realised that someone was already there, Ed Catmur had come in a few minutes before us, with a time of 6:05, which pushed me down to third. I'd like to say that if I knew Ed's time I would've run quicker and there were times when I thought I could, but I would've been slower at the end on my own so maybe the time would've been the same anyway!

Still, a fantastic race again this year, thank you to all the marshals who can't have had fun standing out in the rain for hours, and thanks Nav4 for organising a great race. Well done Kim, Ed and everyone else! Here are the first 45 or so results (Cheers @oliblom)...

Now that's done it must be Christmas, so have a good one everyone and see you next year!

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

A busy week!

Last week was a great, with a few changes which could have a big impact on my running life...

I have been accepted onto the University of Sheffield Elite Sport Performance Scheme again, which means I have the continued support of the University and access to the gym etc. The awards night on Wednesday was great, we were presented with our certificates by Sheffield Olympians Dave Wetheral and Kieran O'Malley, and the special "Jessica Ennis Scholarship" was awarded to Jazmin Sawyers (who I have just discovered shares my birthday! As does Mark Cavendish), by none other than Tony Minichiello. It was an inspirational evening, though as ever I was crap at 'networking' and stood by myself a lot...

Jazmin receives her Jessica Ennis Scholarship
The next big thing to happen this week was the acquisition of a Dark Peak Fell Runners hoodie, with the ESPS one that's two this week - sorted for winter!

Fast forward to Saturday and I now have a coach, we've identified my major weaknesses and a plan to solve them. But there's no substitute for long days out in the hills. On Saturday I set off round Edale Skyline, planning a fast couple of hours to catch up with Jon Steele (on ultra 50 of 52 this year... Incredible!) then join him for the remainder.

It was a beautiful day and I really enjoyed the run from Hope, Lose hill, Mam Tor and Brown Knoll. Just after I caught Jon and his mate Dave up and we continued through ankle deep (more in places!) snow till we eventually returned to Hope and I headed home. It was a great day out, four and a half hours in total and a good mix of pace. I think coach approved!

Looking over the Hope Valley at the other side of the Skyline
Saturday night was the annual Runfurther awards night. As I've already talked about Mark, Karen and Si handing over I won't go on about that too much, but it did feel like the end of an era... It was a great night though, there weren't hundreds of people there but we all ate, drank and were relatively merry! I gave a disjointed rambling talk about the alps (no change there) and we were then introduced to the new man in charge of runfurther... Mark Barnes. Jon Steele is also helping run the series, so it's in good hands. I spent a while chatting to Mark and have offered any help I can give.

After that we moved onto the presentation of awards and I was given my 3rd in the series prize. It felt great to be on the "podium", but I'm already slightly disappointed and intend to improve on third. Ian Symington wasn't there, but Duncan Harris was and accepted his first prize after winning four races outright... Great effort Duncan, well done!

Karen and Si presenting awards - it's the wrong way round!
Finally, on Sunday Lorna and I had a run around Damflask Reservoir, then I ran home. Thinking I'd cut across the valleys rather than around resulted in some very wet and muddy shoes, and tired legs! Still, nice to be out. Finally, last night (Monday) I ran my fourth race in Nicky Spinks' "Winter Mondays" series. I felt slow and tired but managed to come past everyone again, despite a few scary icy sections!

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Jessica Ennis & The Pain Barrier

It's only Saturday night, but it has been a busy weekend already!

On Friday evening I did a second recce of a Peak District route I am hoping to have a go at this winter... I parked the van near the Strines Inn and planned to use my daily commuter BMX to take me back five miles or so to the crossing of the A57... Unfortunately within about half a mile the chain snapped, so with the bike chained to a fence I set off on foot earlier than predicted...
Anyway, from the A57 I had a good run up to Rod Moor, across to the Emlin trig point, then as it started to get dark on a direct line from there to Back Tor. The sunset over Back Tor was spectacular. From there a quick descent took me back to the Strines and off home.
Transport malfunction
Sunset looking towards Back Tor
Last night I was very lucky to be invited by the University Elite Sport Performance Scheme to "An Evening with Jessica Ennis" at Sheffield City Hall. The event was for the benefit of three charities - TASTE (who do some fantastic work, similar to Water for Kids who I have supported previously), the ESPS itself, and Sheffield Children's Hospital, an amazing place who have helped so many children, and continue to do so.

The evening was really interesting, Jessica and her coach Tony Minichiello were interviewed by the BBC's Dan Walker (who apparently is something to do with football normally), and we saw lots of footage from the Olympics. There was also music by Reverend and the Makers, who were fantastic! I guess a seated audience is not their favourite to play to but the music made the night even better. Unfortunately the photos I took have come out spectacularly badly, but here are a couple anyway...
And a huge thank you to ESPS for allowing me to attend such an inspirational evening!

Jessica Ennis and Dan Walker
Finally (for now), I have spend today at a new race, the "Pain Barrier". It's organised by two Dark Peak runners, but rather than a fell race its a tough, muddy 10k. This type of race is becoming very popular now, and there were over 500 entries today! My legs were a bit battered after yesterday but I stood maybe two or three rows back on the startline, hoping to start steadily and work my way through the field.

After quite a lot of shouting "PAAAAAIN" which was a bit wierd, and cheering, we were off... The first two rows were an interesting mixture of people - guys built like boxers without shirts, skinny road runners in shiny shoes, and the odd fell runner-type. We ran across a field and then joined a track into the main part of the course, a big wooded area (the venue was a 4x4 centre, so lots of muddy, wet, rutted tracks... and a fair bit of ice on the rocky sections!). I had moved past a few people and was now around 10th or so. The first track was good running, but it gradually got muddier and the tracks a bit more rutted. I nipped past a few more people up the first steep climb and after another couple of km I was in a leading group with Rob Little (who was running non-competitively, and I'm not sure even really trying too hard!), a guy called Tod, and another guy from Ilkley.

A bit after half way we reached the pond we had been warned about... it was a lake! There was a rope across it and the top was still mostly a sheet of ice when we got there... I ran onto the ice, thought it was holding, then slipped backwards and crashed through it with my bum. It was tough as there was no grip on the bottom, so the rope was your only hope!

Just before the water: http://www.sportsunday.co.uk/pb30130
Pulling ourselves through the ice (Tod, Ilkley, me, Rob): http://www.sportsunday.co.uk/pb20005
Coming out of the water: http://www.sportsunday.co.uk/pb10002*

The four of us ran together for quite a lot of the race, which continued to be wet and tough, but at around 7km something went wrong... Tod had slipped away in front so the three of us were together when we realised a certain amount of deja-vous was occuring... We had been here before! To cut a long story short, due to some barrier tape having been blown away we had done an extra loop, and when we ran in to the finish it turned out (I think) three guys had finished in front of us. Not the end of the world, it was a good fun race, but I guess I'm a bit disappointed not to have finished where I could have.

Mainly though it was abundantly obvious to me today that Rob and Tod could probably have left the rest of us for dead if they had been competing properly! In short races like these I am still a long way behind these guys...

* - apologies to SportSunday that I can't buy every photo you take of me, I do buy them after big events. If you would like me to remove the links above please let me know.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Karen, Si and Mark, we salute you!

I have also just heard that the end of year party will be the end of Runfurther as we know it... Karen, Si and Mark will not be arranging or running (in the organisational sense rather than the foot propulsion sense) the series any more next year. I don't know who will but I hope and am sure they will do as good a job as these guys have. It's clearly a lot of work and the three of them have been very good to us over the years.

My grand slam year - 2008
I would personally like to say a massive thank you to each of you for your work behind the scenes! Since I first ran one race in the series in 2007 I have learnt a lot about ultras, but have yet to have an easy one. Sharing these experiences with others through the series is great and makes the whole lot even more enjoyable.

Karen seems to be at every single race I do, from ultras to Open 5s... And always with a massive smile, and usually more points than me if there is a map involved! Si has given me so much quiet encouragement over the last few years and is a fantastic person to have a beer with, if the rest of us think running hurts we could learn a lot from this man! Mark is someone I have always looked up to as a runner. I've managed to beat him a couple of times now, but records like 11 Fellsman wins and the Lake district 24 hour record are still achievements I (and everyone else) can only dream of.

So without wishing to sound too much like its a funeral, thank you three for the last 5 or so years, it's been brilliant! You have been a big part of a big part of my life :)

Reflections on Runfurther

So, the 2012 Runfurther series has come to an end...

It was an exciting finish - before the final race at Round Rotherham both Duncan Harris and Ian Symington had won three races. However, since Ian had completed four races to Duncan's 3, he was in the lead and Duncan had not qualified for a series finish. I was second in the series before Round Rotherham, but we all knew what was probably going to happen! And it did, Duncan won Rotherham in 6:29, Ian was second in 6:53. It was a risky strategy but it certainly worked for Duncan. Resulting in this...

So, congratulations to Duncan, Helen, Nick for his 3rd Grand Slam, and everyone else on your achievements! I am very pleased with 3rd in the series, a few years ago I could not have imagined a season where I won a race and finished in the top three overall! It's been a great year and I've had some fantastic experiences. There is going to be a proper end-of-season party again this year, which I hope I can go to, so I'm looking forward to seeing everyone again for a few beers.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

A grand day out!

Lorna and I have been in the Dales this weekend - luckily one of our friends' family owns a bunkbarn at Chapel-le-Dale, near Ingleton. We have just got back from a weekend of food, drinking, walking, and (for me) a nice long run on Saturday. It was one of the best training runs I've had for a while...

The plan was to recce part of a longer route I'm hoping to have a crack at next summer. I did the recce bit on the way out, then looped back round to head home. I ended up with 9 tops and 58km in about 7 and a half hours. Here's where I went...

From the bunkbarn I ran up the road for a hundred yards or so, then up Ingleborough. As you will notice on the map above, I've made a mistake and drawn the first three hills in the wrong order, but you get the idea. The climb was fantastic, it was cold an frosty with a lot of frozen patches, but the sun was warm and it was a beautiful morning on the summit. It took about 30 mins from leaving to the trig. From there I cut back the way I had come, then followed the fence to Simon Fell, then Lords Seat. I managed to slip on a patch of ice on the way down Ingleborough and had a bloody knee for the rest of the day but apart from that I was having an amazing day.
Looking back up to Ingleborough
From Lords Seat I cut across to join the 3 Peaks race path down to Horton. Through the village and out t'other side towards Pen-y-Ghent. It was getting busy with walkers now, and throughout the day it became very obvious that to many people, there are only three hills in the Yorkshire Dales! I saw hardly anyone on the "lesser" fells. From Horton I headed up towards Pen-y-Ghent but cut up to Plover Hill. The run along the edge of the wall was longer and harder than it looked, the terrain was boggy and tricky, but eventually I got to the stile and turned around.

360' from Plover Hill
From P-y-G I ran down to the road, on a fairly questionable route which had me clambering over fences, walls and rivers and took aaaages! Next I climbed up Fountains Fell, feeling quite knackered now as it was a steep one after the Pennine Way turned off. I climbed on following the wall to the top of Fountains Fell, then dropped down slightly, then a final (for now) climb up to the last summit of my recce part of the day - Darnbrook Fell.

Darnbrook Fell Trig
From the trig I dropped down north on more trackless boggy stuff, till eventually coming out at Halton Gill. From there I started to head back to the bunkbarn, running along the river through Foxup, then up to contour along the edge of Pen-y-Ghent for quite a long way. This was another really nice section, the sun was still shining and I got some decent running in. Eventually I reached the route towards the Ribblehead viaduct, it was really really boggy on the way up and I fell in up to my waist once. It took me quite a long time to get out, and I nearly lost my shoes in the process!

Eventually I reached the road near Ribblehead viaduct, which I always think is an amazing thing. I ran on up past the viaduct where there was a cave rescue training exercise going on, helicopters and everything! I didn't follow the normal route up Whernside, but went up the really steep side, then turned right onto the main path to the top.

Looking back to Ingleborough from the way up Whernside
I squeezed through the gap in the wall, touched my final trig for the day, turned around and headed off back down, via High Pike. I was now looking forward to the Steak and Ale pie I had ordered in the pub later... I really enjoyed the run down though, it was quiet now, the wind had died down and the sun was starting to set. I ran down through the farm, onto the road and up to Chapel-le-Dale.

All in all a fantastic run, I learnt a lot during my recce and had one of the best days I've had for a long time. And the pie was amazing :)

Friday, 19 October 2012

100% Me

I have just registered with the 100% me scheme, if you are also totally against drugs and doping in sport you can read about it and do the same on the UKA website.

"100% me is about being a true athlete. It's about being able to say my performance is 100% me. There is no secret to my success - just hard work, determination and talent."

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Red Bull Steeplechase

Last Sunday I ran the inaugural Red Bull Steeplechase, a fell race with a difference! It was a knockout race, so of the 125 blokes who started from Castleton, 90 would make it through the first checkpoint at Bamford (8 miles), 55 through the second at Hope (12 miles), and 30 through Edale (18 miles) to race to the finish back in Castleton (21 miles).

After racing quite a lot recently I was feeling pretty knackered after a bit of running during the week since the Hardmoors. By Sunday morning I did feel OK though and was looking forward to the race. Lorna and Dolly came with me to the start and my brother Ed biked out to see me at a couple of points, which was really cool.

The race was spectacularly well organised - there were loads of toilets, the course was well marked, water was provided, and there were loads of marshals (this side of things was sorted by Open Adventure). We left Castleton straight uphill, and it was apparent that this was not just a fell race, there were some faces I recognised but lots of vests from all over the country, and a fair few pairs of road shoes. As we climbed, the view behind us was absolutely spectacular...

I wasn't sure how to tackle the race in the early stages, either sit back and be in top 30 but potentially too far down to challenge the leaders, or just race it like a race. I went for somewhere in between and took it at maybe 90% for the first leg, having a little chat with Lewis Bantock and Ian Winterburn who was marshalling. The course really was fantastic, we got to use a few areas which are normally private, but it was mainly the weather - I nearly tripped a few times as I just couldn't stop looking at the mist hanging in the valleys!

I went through Bamford in about 13th, then made up a few places to go through Hope in about 7th. From there it felt a lot harder as I realised it was probably now just a race. We weren't too strung out so as I pushed on a bit I started to see three guys in front of me, quite close together. I caught them gradually and ended up about 4th. One of the guys I recognised, it was Neil Barton, an old Sheffield Uni Orienteer / Fell runner. We spoke quickly as I passed him just before Jacob's Ladder, but didn't realise we knew each other till the finish!

Just before Edale I was passed by someone going strongly in a Serpentine vest. We went through Edale pretty much together, with just 3 miles to go (via Hollins Cross!) to Castleton. We ran most of the climb up through the crappy farm and onto the rocky ascent to Hollins, this was really tough and I definitely wouldn't have done it on my own. I didn't realise at the time, but this chap had made a small navigational mistake and I had passed him without realising, so we were racing for 3rd place. Near the top of the climb I got maybe 10m on him and pushed on to the marshal at the top of the hill, then set off on the final descent. Shortly after this he came past me... I'm not a great descender, but for a Londoner I was impressed with Mr. Serpentine, I tried to stick with him but I was about 20m behind when we hit the road. It looked unlikely, I gurned by way after him but it wasn't working and by the time we hit the village I couldn't see him through the twisty bits. I ran up towards the finish, tried to high 5 Karen McDonald who looked very confused, then crossed the line 31 seconds behind Mr. Serpentine.

Shaun Flannery - shaunflanneryphotography.wordpress.com
I crossed the line and saw Lorna and Dolly, and after a frantic race round the road Ed was there again (as he had been in Hope and Edale). I was surprised to be 4th, only realising when I saw the guy in front of me being thrust in front of a camera!

Red Bull did very well, everything was good. We got a Hoody, medal and gym bag, amazing food at the Castle pub in Castleton, and Red Bull and beer to drink. It was £25 to enter, I don't want every fell race to be like this but as an occasional one it was brilliant!

Thank you Lorna, Dolly, Red Bull and Open Adventure. Also cheers to Julia for very enthusiastic cheering!

One tiny comment - the water at checkpoints was only available in bottles - this leads to a lot of wastage when you only want a mouthful, maybe ready-filled plastic cups next time too?

Sunday, 30 September 2012


Woohoo, finally! Yesterday Ian Symington and I crossed the line at the same time at the Hardmoors 60, my first win in an ultra.

The race is a sixty mile race along the second half of the Cleveland Way, from Guisborough to Filey. We stayed at Mum and Dad's the night before, and they came out on the day with Lorna and Dolly the dog - it was great to have some support along the course! Mum and Dad also took loads of photos, so I'll keep this short and include plenty of them...

 The start was delayed from 8 until half past (as most competitors were still in the toilet queue at 8 o'clock), but we were soon underway on the first section, from the Sea Cadets up into Guisborough Woods, then along through the woods to Slapewath then Skelton, and finally to Saltburn where we joined the coast, which we would follow for the rest of the day. The weather was perfect, not too hot but bright and sunny. I was running in about third place, behind two guys who I didn't know, but I knew there were fast people behind me like Ian, Jim Mann and Martin Beale. As we went through the first checkpoint at Saltburn I tried not to get too excited chasing the leader, long way to go!

The next leg took us up along the spectacular coastline towards the industry at Skinningrove (Former coal mine I think), and around the edge of the village of Staithes at about 15 miles in. Earlier in this leg I had passed one of the two guys in front when he stopped for a wee and gradually pulled ahead. I didn't know the name of the guy I was running just behind, so called him "Mr. Salomon" because of his kit. Looking back along the long sections between Skinningrove and Runswick Bay I could see someone getting closer to us. After a while I could see that it was Ian, and as we got close to Runswick he caught us. I stuck with Ian and we passed Mr. Salomon, pulling out a little bit of time, but the three of us arrived into Runswick Bay pretty much together.

It was great to see Mum, Dad and Lorna at Runswick Bay, about a third of the way through the race. We arrived there after 3 hours, which was quicker than I had thought. From Runswick we cracked on North, myself and Ian running close together now, though I will admit Ian was mostly in front! From Runswick the route took us along the beach and then up a little valley at Hob Holes. This was a really nice section, it felt weird to run along the sand, then up the slippery rocks and steps back up onto the cliff top.

From there we headed off to Sandsend, which I was looking forward to as my only drop bag would be there. We arrived here together, I got my drop bag stuff then spotted a public toilet in the corner of the car park - I hadn't been feeling too good so decided to stop there. Back on my own again, shortly after Sandsend I ran through Whitby, which was interesting! The streets were really busy as I ran in and out of the tourists, along cobbled streets and up the steps to the abbey. I ended up in slightly the wrong place after the abbey, and had to jump over a wall to rejoin the Cleveland Way. 6 miles later was Robin Hood's Bay, about 33 miles through the race I reckoned. It's always nice to get to half way and I think I felt pretty good around here, though it was a bit fiddly through the village again.

After the bay we headed up to Boggle Hole, then back along the cliff edge for a couple of miles, then inland a bit more towards Ravenscar. This was about two thirds of the way through the race, and it was really nice to see the family again. Ian had a minute or two on me here and was about to leave as I stuffed my face with coke and juice. I had only carried one 500ml water bottle and had been getting quite dehydrated between checkpoints. This wasn't ideal as it meant that I'd feel sick for the first part of each leg, having had to drink loads at each one.

But after Ravenscar I knew I was heading for the finish... I ran along the road for a couple of miles, then cut across through a farm (I think I missed the official shortcut and took a slightly dodgy one actually). From there it was 7 miles till Scarborough, it was starting to hurt now but the views were still spectacular! I could see Ian maybe 300m in front and he looked strong, but I wondered whether I was still looking strong too? Maybe...

I was running with Ian when we entered Scarborough, and together we negotiated our way through the town. The checkpoint was a bit tricky to find, but we eventually found it. Not too far now, though I was feeling pretty rubbish. Looking back I could see Scarborough, between the castle and Olivers Mount. Ian had got a few minutes on me again and we headed past Osgodby, then past a couple of campsites, then finally past the biggest caravan site I had ever seen! Another two miles later I cut in off the Cleveland Way, down into Filey. Ian had gone a slightly different way to me, I thought he would probably finish before me. I had probably accepted second place, but was feeling slightly better now, so it was quite an exciting run in towards the school. Eventually Ian and I arrived at the school together, at 3 minutes past 6.

According to my certificate we finished with a time of 9:25. I was given the first place trophy and second place certificate, Ian the opposite. Martin Beale finished a bit later in third.

Thanks to race organiser Jon Steele for a fantastic race, Mum, Dad, and Lorna for the support, and to the weather - the north east really looked it's best yesterday. Thanks also Ian, great to race with you. It was fantastic to get my first win and you certainly all helped! Well done everyone who ran, hope you had a great race!

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

What's in a name...

As regular visitors (do I have any?!) might notice, things are changing around here... I've started updating my Big Alps Run website and blog to become a general website for all my future challenges!

I couldn't quite bear to buy my name as a website, so I've gone for "Challenge Stu". This blog, my JustGiving page and my website have all now changed over to this, and I'm working through the site to bring it up to date. Let me know what you think of the changes!


Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Sheffield 101010 10k

OK, first of all let's clarify - it's called the 101010 because the first race was on 10th October 2010. The race was such a success it's been carried on and is now in it's third year, taking place this year on 23rd September 2012.

On Friday night we had a few friends round for sausages and a few beers (which became a whiskey tasting session). During the course of the evening some of them talked about a 10k they were doing on Sunday, and with no races this weekend I wondered about an entry on the day. I didn't decide till after my run on Saturday so there wasn't much tapering involved, but come Sunday morning I was on the startline in Endcliffe Park...

Photo from Accelerate
I started in the "sub 40" pen, which happened to be the front one. I wasn't sure of the other guys there so waited just behind the front. We started and I immediately regretted the whole idea, we were climbing a gentle-ish grass bank, the two leaders shot off... I hung with them for a minute then realised it was a case of "see you at the end"!

Behind those two was a man in a Hallamshire vest, then myself and another chap. The course was a two-lapper, and took us out of the first park, then up a very steep bank before a gradual undulating route off road around the back of the park, then onto the tarmac trails back through the parks and looping back to the start/finish. It was a really nice course actually, particularly the woody bit on the way out.

During the first lap I caught the guy in front, but was caught by a man in an orange MS vest, so I stayed 5th. We had a great battle for the rest of the race, I caught him again just before the end of lap one, then he was in front before the climb. At the top of the climb on the second lap I felt truly horrendous and was nearly sick, but held on and caught him again through the trees. The final swap was on the way back through the park though, and that time I had nothing left, so it was 5th for me.

Thanks nouriSH me now for the recovery drink
My time was 36:47, slower than I managed at the Varsity 10k (35:24), so a bit disappointing, but maybe not too bad. The winners flew round in 33:19 and 33:23. It was a great race, good to see so many people out running in Sheffield! Well done Charlotte, Gemma, Anna and Chris, and thanks everyone who was cheering!

Next it's the Hardmoors 60 this weekend, then Red Bull Steeplechase the weekend after...

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

This is what Bank Holidays are for!

So, this weekend was the inaugural “Big Running Weekend”. The event started on Saturday night (for me anyway , some people had been there setting up pretty much all week!) when I gave a talk about the Big Alps Run and then was part of a panel to answer some audience questions. I was in illustrious company, Nicky Spinks gave a great talk about all her achievements despite huge personal setbacks, and Darryl Watton talked about his brilliant 35th place finish on the Marathon des Sables.

The panel - photo borrowed from Accelerate Photography

All the talks seemed to go down pretty well, so thanks if you came along! For the panel we were also joined by Marcus Scotney (GB 100km Ultra runner), Julian Lings (English Duathlon champion), and Jason Ward (GB 10k runner) and answered some interesting questions from the floor. It was very interesting to hear a range of thoughts on things like training, kit and drugs testing from the elite to the make-it-up-as-you-go-along-ers (me).

There were three races taking place over the weekend, as well as some orienteering events. The first ever New Balance Ultra Tour of the Peak District would start at 8am on Sunday, followed by the 12 mile trail race later in the day, and then a hilly 10k on Monday. In pretty good weather on Sunday morning about 50 of us set off from Whirlow Hall Farm to run the 56 mile Ultra course. The route took us around some of the best bits of the Dark Peak, linking them together in ways which had never occurred to me! I knew it would be a fast race, with guys like Marcus Scotney and Dan Gay running. I had decided to run my own race and try not to get too swept up in it all if one of these guys shot off!

This is actually the start of the 12.12, but we went the same way!
Away from the start we took the same twiddly route through woods and across a couple of roads as the other two races, and despite the first section being signed three of us at the front managed to take a wrong turn! We quickly caught up all but one of the places we had lost, then gradually gained on the leader on the way up Porter Clough. We ran up, which may not have been a great idea but we were all feeling strong at that point... The three of us (Marcus, Dan and I) pushed on at a decent pace around Lady Canning’s then up to the first CP at Burbage Rocks. From here we were navigating, no more flags! The route took us on to the end of Stanage, then via the Pole to Redmires Reservoirs. It felt really good to be running a proper Ultra on the same paths I run on from home!

By this point I couldn’t see anyone behind the three of us, and as we climbed up onto the road at Hollow Meadows Dan had a bit of a lead. I was having slight stomach trouble so had a brief stop, at which point Marcus ran past singing “weeeee know what you’re doooooing”. Anyway, by the time we reached the checkpoint / feed station at Moscar we were back together. We were there in 2:10 which was a bit quicker than anticipated, and our feed station bags hadn’t actually arrived yet, but there were plenty of Clif bars, gels and Shot blocks (these are amazing, going to get more of these!) so no worries. We would be back through the feed station later anyway. Just after the CP I saw Lorna and the dog waiting for us on a corner, it was nice to see them and they gave us a good cheer!

The Moscar loop was one area I had recced, so it was quite novel for me to actually know where I was going! When we got up onto Derwent Edge I felt Marcus really lifted the pace, possibly trying to get rid of us. I just about clung on, it was fast but manageable. Around Lost Lad, then a slightly tricky bit of navigation to make sure we didn’t end up in Far Deep Clough, then back down to the reservoir. After the CP there (unfortunately there were some dibber issues, and this was one that didn’t work) was a sharp climb back up to Derwent Edge. I felt we relaxed here again which was a relief, and I chatted to Marcus about the honour of running for Team GB (he has, I would like to) as we climbed. From there it wasn’t far back into Moscar, I didn’t have much in my drop bag so grabbed it quickly and got out in front, with the other two close behind. Marcus caught me on the way up the climb but Dan had dropped back slightly. After the finish we learnt that he had stomach problems and had dropped out later on, around 45 miles I think.

From my Kinder recce
Up onto Stanage again then, and a long gentle-ish climb up to High Neb. Here Marcus again pushed on and I started to struggle to stay with him, I think I only caught him as he waited to check whether there was supposed to be a checkpoint at the junction before the descent. Perhaps it hadn’t arrived yet, but we saw no sign of it. I stopped for another quick trip into the hedge on the descent to feed station 2 but caught up at the checkpoint and we left at the same time, running up the road towards Ladybower and our eventual destination of Win Hill. The climb up Parkin Clough from Yorkshire Bridge was hot and tough and I was glad to emerge from the trees as we climbed the last bit up to the top. From there we headed down and along above Ladybower, joining the Roman Road to take us past Hope Cross and onto another section I had recced along the edge of Kinder.

This edge had been the scene of my disaster in the Long Tour of Bradwell a couple of weeks ago and I was keen for it not to happen again. I pushed on a bit here and had a small gap as we made our way up onto the edge and along towards Ringing Roger. I was hot and working quite hard along here, but could see the gap growing slightly. I knew Marcus was very quick on the flatter sections so thought this might be my only chance, with the climbs to Hollins Cross then Cavedale to come. I think it was about here it started to rain, and I was certainly wet by the time I saw Ian Winterburn at the Ringing Roger CP. Then down the rocky track (Ow!), down the Nab, through Edale, over the fields and under the railway, over the road and off up towards Hollins Cross. The Accelerate guys (Stu, Ben and Al) had come out to support and it was great to see them at the road crossing.

Full of encouragement and still with a gap I headed up to Hollins Cross. I held the gap up the climb, down into Castleton and on up Cavedale but could feel the distance in my legs now. I walked up Cavedale and stopped for toilet another couple of times. I think Marcus was having similar issues slightly lower down the hill! By the time I got to the top of the Limestone way climb he had caught me, and to be honest I knew I didn’t have much left. From there into Bradwell I felt awful, and when I got to the feed station Marcus was just leaving. I tried to be quick and get out, and had some good encouragement from the Accelerate guys again, but I didn’t see him again after that.

Marcus cracking on to win
I felt really bad now and put all my focus into holding on for second. I didn’t know how far Dan was behind (not knowing he had stopped) but I knew I would be gutted if I was caught. After Bradwell and Shatton we joined the River Derwent. It was hot again and I hated the flat running, but forced myself to run it all as quickly as I could. Through the edge of Hathersage and off up Ringinglow road I felt slightly better, then came the awkward cut across from the road to the path. It would have been better to stick on the road a bit further then cut straight, but I took the advised route. I found the path though, theoretically the last bit of tricky nav done...

At the Carl Wark checkpoint the marshall said Marcus was about 10 minutes ahead, but he didn’t think I would be caught from behind. I wasn’t sure how he knew this so chose not to believe him (sorry)! From there I messed up the nav and cut up too early, through Burbage Rocks so I ended up joining Houndkirk Road not much after the outdoor centre. I was angry with myself which helped pass the run over Houndkirk a bit, which I had suspected would be horrible. Eventually though I was alongside Lady Cannings, and started to count the kilometres to the end... Then the end of the plantation, the little bit of tarmac, across the road to the marshall, 15 minutes to go he reckons (Marcus has probably finished), down the Limb Valley like last weekend, along the track looking for the cut up left... Then I saw the track up, and soon after that saw Tom Saville and Rob Little waiting for me. Up the hill and across the final field and I could see the big inflatable finish line. Tom had phoned Stu Hale so they were all waiting for me, fantastic! ...And stop.

I finished in 9:41, I think Marcus did 9:19 so he took a lot out of me in the last quarter of the race. He was stronger throughout really, and those fast bursts early on had taken all my energy. It was a brilliant race though, a tough one and longer than we all thought at 59.7 miles. The ladies winner was Sally Fawcet in 11:36.

After the race I had a massage from Holywell, which was VERY painful at the time but has made a big difference since, I was able to jog back from marshalling the 10k yesterday and ride my bike today (neither very well, but still...). Lorna ran the 10k in a massive PB of 1:09 and looked like she hadn’t done anything at the end!
Chaos at the end of the 12.12!
Congratulations also to the winners of the other races, Rob Little won the 12 miler after a sprint finish and Oli 
Johnson the 10k. Sorry I couldn’t go one better to make it a Dark Peak full house!
Thanks to Whirlow Hall Farm, Eight Point Two, Accelerate and New Balance for a great race.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Long Tour of Bradwell - Fail to prepare...

...and prepare to fail!

Unfortunately that's what I did at the LTB on saturday. I had hoped to recce the course, but just didn't have time, though having run it twice before I should have known my way! Anyway, at the start I wasn't sure how fit I was, with fairly haphazard training since the Alps, but I was looking forward to it!

Bradwell is only about 20 mins from home so I had the full support crew (Lorna and Dolly) with me at this race which was really nice. After I'd registered we wandered down to the start and caught up with Karen McDonald, as well as Dan Shrimpton and Ian Symington, who I hoped I'd be running with once we got going...
With helpful assistant before the start
We got cracking at 9ish in good weather, and I found myself at the front with Ian, Dan and a few others. It was nice to catch up with the guys and really good to be racing again! Off we went up out of the village, through the quarry (once we found the way through!) and out towards CP2 where we doubled back towards Castleton. About 4 or 5 of us had been together at the first checkpoint, but somewhere between there and the second check Ian and I had pushed on from the others, and after a while longer I got a bit ahead and ended up maybe 20m in front of Ian.

I went through CP3 in Castleton on my own and headed up out of the village on the road towards Hollins Cross feeling fantastic, I was running easily, without too much effort and almost couldn't believe I was "winning". I knew there was a long way to go though, and that I would have to concentrate around the Druid Stone to make sure I got the right line.

Off we go!
Ah, the Druid Stone, CP5. Here I basically made a MASSIVE cock-up, it was foggy and I knew I wouldn't be able to see the stone, so after passing below Ringing Roger I tried to stay on the upper path which would lead me almost to it. Unfortunately I missed it, and carried on past the stone... For a long way! I should've stopped and properly checked my map, but I panicked and frantically ran backwards and fowards along the ridgeline, getting as far as Jaggers Clough before I knew I had gone too far. Anyway, all this lost me 50 minutes on the 5:30 schedule I had been hitting up to that point, so I knew any sort of race for a position was over.

I got very angry and considered dropping out for a while, but decided to carry on and enjoyed catching up and having a quick chat to people throughout the rest of the race, including Karen and Nick Ham. Lorna and Dolly were having an epic walk and I saw them near Ladybower. After finishing I learnt (and smelled) that Dolly had spent most of the day rolling in cow pats! It was pretty hot and muggy by now, and as I crossed the bridge I saw a fellow runner lying in the river with a big grin on his face.

The climb from Bamford to Stanage Edge took a long time and I felt pretty grim as I tried to push on and run up the last climb to the edge. I had been trying to take 5 minutes out of the 50 minute defacit on each leg, and had managed this a couple of times, but this was hard on the long climb legs. By the top of Stanage I think I was 45 mins down on the schedule, still catching people but more slowly now. I did enjoy the run along the ridge though, the descent down to the checkpoint and the run along to CP13. I took the higher (left) path, which is a good runnable line and avoids the bogginess which I imagine exists in the valley.

Dog on edge
Somewhere after CP13 I caught up (to my surprise!) with Dan Shrimpton, who was also having a less than ideal day. He was off on holiday the next day so just seemed to be enjoying the running, and was running with a guy from the Royal Dragoon Guards. The three of us negotiated the tricky nav section near Upper Padley (thanks!), then I pushed on again a bit towards CP15 at Leadmill. From there the route was relatively simple to the end, with lots of runnable hills. I made sure I forced myself to run them, as now I just wanted to finish as soon as possible!

The last section of the route runs through the village of Abney, then along an edge before dropping off towards Bradwell, then through the village and to the Pavillion. Luckily I didn't have a sprint finish as I did with Kevin Perry last year and relaxed a bit on the final run in, although I was annoyed and a bit embarrassed to be 49 minutes slower than 2011!

Nevermind, it's a great route and I will be back to do it justice next year! For now though, I might have to find another race as my final qualifier for the Ultra series, but first there is the small matter of the New Balance Ultra Tour of the Peak District in a couple of weeks...

Ian won in 5:27, and Helen Skelton was the fastest lady in 6:17, congratulations to both!

Thursday, 9 August 2012

A busy few months!

Well it's been a while since I last wrote anything! Since returning from the Alps I have been really busy with life in general... I've got married, been on honeymoon, begun a concerted effort on my PhD, been to the Olympics, and started writing a book...
Our Wedding!
This weekend though I'm back to running again, the Fellsman feels like a really long time ago so I'm looking forward to seeing what sort of shape I'm in at the Long Tour of Bradwell on Saturday. Not sure it will be the greatest due to a lack of consistent training over the last few weeks, but I've had a couple of really good runs this week so it will be good to be back to racing and training properly.

I have found the Olympics so inspirational! Every day you can turn on your TV or internet or whatever and see people giving absolutely everything (apart from Badminton cheats) and it's fantastic! We went to London and watched Beach Volleyball last week, the atmosphere was amazing, the only slight disappointment being that you can't get close to the Olympic park without a ticket for events in there.

GB ladies in unfortunately their last match

Monday, 2 July 2012

Ski Club GB Article

There's a great article just been published on Ski Club GB, thanks to everyone there for your support!

Donations are coming in steadily so thanks everyone! Remember it's the 2nd of July now, so if you got paid a few days ago why not give WfK a tenner, it will genuinely save the lives of children. Here's a before / after picture of the sort of work they do. Before the well was rebuilt not only was the water dirty and diseased, children risked drowning while trying to collect water.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Video time!

Just a quick one, forgot to put a link to the little video I've made on here, here it is...


I'll make a proper one when I have time, and if it's good enough you might even see it at ShAFF next year!

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Sheffield Telegraph and BBC interview...

It was good fun today to go back to the Rony Robinson show on BBC Radio Sheffield, although he was jolly rude about it taking longer than I told him it would!

The interview is downloadable here, along with the original one from before I set off.

There's also a good article on the run in today's Sheffield Telegraph, and on their website here...

Thanks to both for your support!

Monday, 18 June 2012

Big Alps Run - a short (ish) summary!

So, here it is... A short summary of a very long run! I have been back for a few days and have many photos, videos and diaries to work my way through. There's a lot more to say, so maybe one day there will be a longer write-up or a nice video medley, but here we go for now...

Big Alps Run – A month in tights...

As some of you may know, this summer I was taking on another challenge to raise money for Water for Kids, in order to help their brilliant work in securing clean water for the world's poorest communities to continue.

The challenge this time was to run  across the Alps, from Vienna in Austria in an easterly direction to Lake Geneva, then south to finish in Nice on the Mediterranean coast. It would be a journey of over 1000 miles, through six countries, running solo and carrying my tent and camping gear. I planned to run off road as much as possible, over cols, passes and mountain summits.

I flew to Vienna and on the morning of 12th May left the suburb of Perchtoldsdorf. It wasn't quite the start I imagined as the campsite I'd planned to use the previous night was closed and I ended up camping in a park, but at least I was on my way! The first morning was one of the hottest of the trip, but after that the first two days were long and wet and when I reached the town of Mariazell I wondered what I'd started. I spent the night in a hostel trying to dry my kit with a hairdryer! After the relatively low level of the pilgrim trails I'd been on for the first few days, the remainder of the first week saw me heading up higher, and as I climbed up my first pass (still below 1000m) I was in a freezing blizzard. In the Alps, late May and early June is certainly still Spring!
Lovely weather at the Seehohe pass
The village of Hinterstoder was a fantastic mountain location, from here I had intended to begin a three day route up and over the mountains via the Prielschultzhaus hut before descending to the Konigsee lake. Again though, late snow caused me problems. I wouldn't be able to get past the first day without snowshoes or skis, so modified my route to detour around the highest summits. This meant my days were longer than planned, but I was beginning to enjoy myself despite the very changeable weather! The days were warm and wet, but the nights were cold - one morning I had to scrape a layer of ice from the inside of my tent before packing up. Reaching the Konigsee on day 8 the sun finally came out again, and I met a very generous family who gave me food for the next few days. By this point my life had been simplified, and daily activities became running, eating, shopping and sleeping.

Through drifts on the Pragelpass and waking up in an icy tent
Now moving along the Austria/Germany border, I continued West. Memories of this middle section have now merged, but there were good days and bad days; sometimes the sun would shine and I would feel physically and mentally strong, and some days the thought of another three weeks of continuous running was impossible to imagine. On these days I tried to concentrate on the spectacular places I was in, and just take each hour at a time. I had a particularly grumpy day on my 27th birthday, but the next day had a fantastic run over the mountains of the Kitzbuhel ski area. The snow was beginning to fade now, and I was able to safely go over 2000m, though one day I nearly pushed my luck too far when I found myself lost on a steep ridge at 2500m. There were a few hours of very genuine fear that day as I clung to trees whilst sliding down snow and scree. A few days later I left Germany for the last time, and thoughts moved towards Switzerland, Italy and France. Before then though I would have a final few days in Austria, and a quick (just over 1 hour) trip through Leichenstein, which was the most boring country I have ever visited.

Climbing from Interlaken
On the third weekend I was joined by Ed Melbourne who ran with me for two days, and my brother who came out to support. After a long time alone it was very strange to have people to talk to, and even stranger to be surrounded by Americans when we arrived in Interlaken! I was pleased to be back in “real” Switzerland on the Sunday evening, and in a reasonable physical state, despite cuts and bruises from a fall and shin splints in my left leg. I was very aware of having a long way to go, but began to believe around this point that maybe I could do it. My belief was tested by hard days and stormy weather around Zweisimmen and Aigle, but another brilliant day to Morzine reminded me what it was all about. The view from the top of the ski area was spectacular, and the long descent into Montriond left me with a half day over the Col du Joux Plane to the village of Samoens and the comfort of a ski apartment.

Col de Joux Plan before the descent to Samoens
The climb up and over the col was so wet it killed my mobile phone and soaked all my kit, but at least I knew I had a warm dry place to stay that night. I restricted my luxuries so I didn't get too comfortable, so no TV or baths, but leaving Samoens the next day I felt refreshed. Not too long to go now... But the last 10 days were certainly not the gentle descent to the coast you might imagine. Another snow detour from Samoens left me with a 65km day to Praz-sur-Arly, followed by a week of seemingly endless Cols! First I climbed the Roseland, then descended to Bourg St Maurice, where I met a group of cyclists aiming to reach Nice on the same day as me. Over the next four days I climbed cols including the famous Iseran and Pt. Mt. Cenis, and the Col du Savine into Italy. The descent into Oulx reminded me of the wet slippery scree of the Lake District, and required care to avoid a long fall! After the worst night's sleep of the trip I left Italy over the Col du Montgenevre, and through more deserted ski towns, through Vars and to the village of Juasiers.

Fantastic day at 2500m over the Morzine Ski area
After making more great friends at a B&B in the village I was waved off and headed for Europe's highest road (although I would climb off road), the Col du Bonette at 2800m. I was feeling relatively strong, and managed to pass my target for the day to finish at St. Saveur de Tinee. This meant it was just about feasible to finish the next day. Thursday 14th, day 34, was the longest day of the entire trip. I followed the GR5 hiking route over five cols, from 480m up over 2100, then gradually down towards the coast. Along with Morzine, Kitzbuhel and the Iseran it was one of the best days' running I had, though the sharp stones and long hairpin bend descents did leave me with cuts on the soles of my feet. But I didn't care, and after 13 hours I eventually passed through the suburbs of  Nice, through the old town, across the Promenade, down a set of steps onto the beach and to the edge of the Mediterranean Sea.

The village of Utelle on the way towards Nice
It felt very strange to finish; my simplified life had come to an end and I would soon be back in the complicated real world. I feel very privileged to have been part of the Alps for a short time, and have had a fantastic adventure. In the end I ran over 1100 miles, with a total ascent of around 50,000m. The highest point was just above the Col de Bonette at 2900m. I passed through six countries in 34 days, averaging about 53km a day. Most days I ran up to 10 hours, the longest day took 13 hours. I camped 28 nights, spent two in huts, and two in B&Bs, and one in an apartment.

The final few metres!
The aim of the challenge was to raise money for Water for Kids, and I would be very grateful to anyone who can to donate to the charity. Please visit www.justgiving.com/bigalpsrun, or text “ALPS70 £10” to 70070 to give £10.

I’d like to thank everyone who encouraged or supported me and has donated so far, as well as Accelerate running shop in Sheffield who have been fantastic, New Balance and Injinji toesocks. I wore out three pairs of shoes but did not get a single blister, that’s got to be good! Thank you also to the people at home whose life was made harder by me disappearing for a month...