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.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Final route and map

Today I have finalised the route! Measuring it by hand it comes to about 1800km (1116 miles), or according to Google it's about 740 miles. Quite a difference, due to the fact that Google uses straight lines between the overnight stops. Anyway, if you want to see the route it's here

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Sheffield Varsity 10k... A moral victory for Uni?

For those who don't know, "Varsity" is the annual sports competition between Sheffield's two Universities - Hallam and Uni. The first ever Sheffield Varsity 10k took place on Sunday, starting at Don Valley Stadium, and for some reason I entered this rather than the Edale Skyline fell race. Not quite sure how that happened, but anyway...

It was a very sunny day before the start, but cold in the shade. We were all given a race T-shirt at registration, but I wanted to race in my Big Alps Run vest to try and drum up some more interest! I didn't know what time to aim for, but after a chat in the pub with Wil and Lucy I decided to target 35 mins. I was happy with this until the day before, when I realised that this would require back-to-back 5k personal bests!

I didn't know how quick everyone else would be going, but set off in the lead group. There were four of us: A small man, a tall man with long hair, me and another man. Another guy made occasional sprints to the front, then faded and went backwards. After a while he stopped doing this and stayed somewhere behind the four of us. We stayed together for the first of three laps, then at the start of the second the small man and the long-haired man started to pull away a bit. They had maybe 50m at 5k, which I went through at 17:24 (PB by about a minute!). The second half of the race was tough and I felt like I had maybe pushed it too hard early on. The small man looked very comfortable and was pulling away a bit, the guy I had been close to had moved away and passed the tall man, and I was fourth.

Towards the end, a man in a luminous vest started catching me. I felt rubbish so thought he might get me, but I grunted and gurned my way back in to the stadium and held on for fourth, in a time of 35:24. I think I'm pretty happy with that. The winner (small man) did 34:15.

The winners - notice the yellow shirts (Hallam were purple)
So... Varsity-wise, since Uni finished first, second, third, fourth and sixth in the mens, and every position except one from 1st to 11th in the ladies, one might expect that we won? Well no, apparently it's all about average times, which means we were beaten by 18 seconds! Unbelievable.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

ESPS awards night

Last Thursday I was invited to attend the second University of Sheffield Elite Sports Performance Scheme awards night. Those of us on the scheme were asked to attend in "national kit", so I put my short shorts and race top on, and headed down to the Union... To discover that most people had not taken it quite so literally. Luckily I also took a pair of jeans so all was well.

We had some photos taken as a group, with the commercial partners of the scheme (who support some of the students), and with one of the scheme patrons - BBC sports presenter Dan Walker. The other patron is a certain Ms. Ennis and Dan was very gracious and gave a really good speech.

Overall it was a great night! I'm not particularly good at "networking" so might not have helped the scheme raise more money from commercial donors, but I did enjoy chatting to some nice people.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

So it begins...

Saturday was the first race in the 2012 Runfurther ultra series. After the HPM, this always feels like the start of the year for me. I had recovered pretty well from the previous weekend, although my stomach took a day or two to finally sort itself out...

I left home at about 5, having had a small breakfast (I think early breakfast might be a key to sorting these stomach troubles) and arrived at Haworth in plenty of time. Before the start I felt pretty fit, so decided I would run fast but comfortably, and see what happened. On the start line the weather was certainly not as promised! Light drizzle made it chilly in shorts and a long sleeved top, which was all I had brought as a sunny day had been forecast. The start took us all by surprise and there was plenty of barging as we trotted out of the village on the road. Just as we turned off onto the track I found myself at the front and pushed on a little bit, after a while looking back to see that three of us had moved away from a larger group - Jim Mann, Jason Stevens and I. Woohoo - it was going as planned!

Bronte Bridge. Photo - Karen McDonald / Runfurther
The three of us had a good run over Bronte Bridge and up around Top Withins, although I couldn't have gone any faster over the slippery slabs, and had a couple of little mishaps! We stayed together to the checkpoint at Long Causeway (13 miles), and just after that I slipped back slightly as I was having stomach problems AGAIN (boo!). Shortly after this checkpoint I had stopped to check the map and Duncan Harris came past looking very strong, leaving Jim and I in 3rd / 4th.

We made our way towards the checkpoint at Makinholes Youth Hostel, but just before reaching the check we were overtaken by a big group of people, who had taken a better route than us. We were really disappointed as this put us back to around 10th place, so much so that Jim had a shot of Jura at the checkpoint! By this point my stomach was feeling ruuuubbish, so despite wanting to catch up with this group I bit the bullet and jumped over a wall for a few minutes.

Feeling refreshed I headed up Stoodley Pike. For some reason I like this hill, and took a good route to the top. This meant that I did catch up with Jim and the group who passed us at the top. I was pleased to be feeling good again and headed off down the hill towards the front of the group (now about 7 of us). We eventually made it to the road down into Hebden Bridge, which was very painful on the shins! After dipping into the village the route heads up again towards Heptonstall. At this point a few of us pushed on from the front of the group. Myself and Jim Rogers ran up the hill to the Heptonstall checkpoint well, which got us a decent gap.

Towards the end I started feeling pretty good again. I pulled away from Jim Rogers slightly but we were both caught by Jim Mann. I stuck with Jim so we were again 3rd and 4th as we passed through the last checkpoint. We kept the pace up and pulled away again from the group. Jim asked me whether I wanted to race it out or run in together... I thought he was stronger than me at the time so said I was happy to run in together, but if he could do then push on. My main focus was beating the guys behind. Jim was happy to run in together so we kept the pace high around the final reservoir and down a cobbled hill...

Me and Jim Mann. Good picture of the flowing locks - Thanks Karen!
Unfortunately just before the run around Penistone Hill Jim got a stitch and started to fade slightly. We were still ahead of the group though, and I decided we should finish together as long as there was a decent gap behind Jim. My line around Penistone Hill was better than last year (when I lost loads of places) and we were soon on the last run in, down through the churchyard and along a couple of little streets. Luckily there were passers-by to frantically ask "WHERE'S THE SCHOOL?!?!" and I could soon see the flags.

Then there was a small disaster, as Jim Rogers knew a little shortcut through a car park. It only got him 10 metres ahead of me, but he had caught up during the last run-in and managed to get ahead of me. With 20m to go there was no way I would get past him, I tried a shortcut across a flowerbed but was thwarted by a railing.
DAMN IT! Great race though... Duncan won, Jason second, Jim R third, me fourth, and Jim M fifth.

On a different subject, I went to see a couple of films at ShAFF on Sunday. First, the ski film All.I.Can., then Unbreakable, about the 2010 Western States 100 race. Both were brilliant... All.I.Can. is a "green" ski film, and as well as some fantastic photography it made some very interesting environmental points. Unbreakable  was truly inspirational. I won't give it away, but the race between four of the best Ultra runners in the world on one of the most famous courses is just incredible.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

A night on the bog

Despite being about 3 hours from anywhere remotely Avon-esque, on Friday I joined the Avon Mountain Athletes to compete in the High Peak Marathon for the second time. This was slightly more organised than last time (when I joined the team at the last minute), and we had even managed to get together for a recce a couple of weeks ago. After finishing second to Flipper's Gang last year, we were keen to try harder this year and see if we could catch the blighters...

Avon Mountain Athletes... Ready!
As well as Flipper and friends, this year's entry list looked very strong, with the likes of Kim Collison and Dan Shrimpton (Crazy Diamonds), Kevin and Adam Perry in Young and Old, and plenty of others. We watched all these teams set off before us, hoping we would see them again as the night wore on. At 11:47 we set off, with only Flipper's Gang left in the hall.

As we expected, they caught up the minute and made a point of passing us on the first climb, although slightly after Hollins Cross this year. We abused them as they passed us then settled into the long night ahead, gradually catching teams as we moved on over Lose Hill and Win Hill, and onto the first big checkpoint at Moscar. Here we passed another few teams by only stopping to grab a jam sandwich and top up our water bottles, and pressed on down the road, where we saw Run MDC with Gary Davies (who I raced with at APEX) and Tom Gibbs (Adventure Racing royalty!).

I always struggle to remember the night-time sections of races, and not a lot sticks in my mind from this one, except some really boggy sections (it was quite damp this year) and both Tim Laney and myself having some stomach trouble. This didn't really slow us down too much though. Once we got towards the final third of the race we started asking checkpointers how many teams were ahead of us, and were told most times "about 6 or 7". This was a bit disappointing as last year we had been second "on the road" by this point. However we knew that some teams would be giving us up to half an hour, so we may well be higher up than this. Through the night we saw the High Peak Rollerbladers A LOT! We set off a minute behind them, and were pretty well matched. They were moving a little faster, but our route choice was a little better, and I'm sure they passed us at least 10 times.

As the saturday morning sun rose the fog and generally uninspiring weather continued, but we were still moving well. Martin's well recce-d route around Brown Knoll caught us another position and I thought we might be around 5th. We had hoped to target a sub-9 time, but the conditions had not allowed this. As always seems to happen with races finishing in Edale, the last section involved running through that horrible slurry-strewn farmyard (and there were cows... Argh!) then along some knee-bashing road to the village hall. We arrived back in 9:32, and found out later that this was good enough for 3rd place.

A checkpoint. Beep.
It would've been nice to do better than last year, but I guess a podium is good, and we were much closer to Flipper this time (24 mins vs. 53). It's an odd race this one, but I do actually enjoy it. I believe the same team are pencilled in for next year, and hopefully we can win in 2013... We might have to up our game though, some of the "new" teams from this year will be jolly fast once they know the way!

Now - rest, recover, train and taper in a week, it's nearly Wuthering Hike time!

What happened to some other teams...
- High Peak Rollerbladers - 2nd. 7 mins in front of us. 1st mixed.
- Crazy Diamonds - 5th. Some nav issues, they will be fast next year. Very please to beat Kim and Dan!
- Young and Old - 11th. Got a bit lost. We saw them at Swains Head, but then it all went wrong.
- Run MDC - 10th. Seemed to have enjoyed themselves!
- Accelerate - 13th. 5th Mixed team. Had a low point in the middle but finished strongly.