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.