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.

Monday, 30 December 2013

Sydney to Hobart update

The Sydney to Hobart race I mentioned in my last post is now pretty much over... The winners have finished, and the "battle of Bishop's Lydeard" is also over. With Paul Jackson skippering Helsal 3, and Helen Cook aboard Team Garmin, I'm sure the atmosphere in the Bird in Hand* has been tense.

It would appear that after some problems Helsal 3 had to divert to repair damage, meaning that they lost their lead over Garmin sometime yesterday. However, Garmin seemed to take a wide route out to sea in an attempt to find stronger winds, but this did not pay off and Helsal sneaked past to take line honours by 11 minutes! Pretty close after more than four days of racing.

I'm sure we will hear the full story over the next days and weeks via the Wild Spirit website and Facebook, but for now there are some fantastic photos from the race on the Sydney to Hobart site, here's a quick selection...

* - A fine drinking establishment in the village

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Happy Christmas (and a new dot to follow)!

2013 has been a heck of a year! I know there's a little bit of time between Christmas and New Year, but it seems a good time to reflect. I've done some decent running and had a great time in all the races and events I've attended. I'd like to thank everyone who has helped me do these things, particularly family and friends, and Accelerate for their continued support.

For those of you who enjoyed watching our "dot" on the AWRC tracker, here's a new one for you to follow... Paul Jackson of Wild Spirit sailing is about to start the epic Sydney to Hobart yacht race aboard Helsal 3. The tracking will be live once the race starts on boxing day - here.

You can also find out more about the race and sailing with Paul on the Wild Spirit website, and on Facebook you can enter a competition to win some free sailing!

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Adventure Racing World Championships - Costa Rica 2013

So, here we go... the big one! Last week I returned from the 2013 Adventure Racing World Championships (ARWC). The race was a multi day expedition race for teams of four. Our team comprised Tom and Sabrina, Dave who I had raced with previously, and me. I joined the team quite late when the original fourth member dropped out, which left us a relatively short time to actually train together. However, we were all fit and ready, and arriving in San Jose I felt very excited. The best teams in the world were all there, including last year's champions Seagate, and former winners like Thule and the UK's Adidas Terrex.

Team "Great Langdale Bunkhouse" ready for action
The three days prior to the start were occupied with preparation of kit and food for the race, planning as much as possible (we were given the leg lengths and disciplines a few days before the start, but the maps would be waiting for us at the start line). A few days before the start we were summoned to a race briefing, this was the first time we had all been assembled together, and this is when I really felt I was at the start of something big. We were told some more information about the route and given an overview map. As promised, the race would take us the full length of the country, from Panama to Nicaragua. We were also given a detailed talk by a snake expert in order to help keep us safe, particularly in the jungle areas.

Snake = Bad
That evening all the teams were assembled for a parade through San Jose. It was a great event to be part of, we walked down the closed main road through the town carrying our national flags, surrounded by race officials in trucks and cars blasting their horns. We eventually reached a square in the middle of the city, where the event was declared open after some speeches by various important people. A band of children played the drums and danced, then came the fireworks! They were very impressive and exciting since they were set off from ground level right next to us. Little bits of burning ash and firework rained down on us; Health and Safety has not quite reached San Jose. Next we were treated to a three course dinner, we hadn't expected this so it was a brilliant surprise, especially as it came with wine!

Some of the UK teams at the parade 
I returned to the hotel excited, slightly daunted, but raring to go. On the final day before the start we travelled to a nearby charity-run park area to help with a community project. We spent the afternoon pulling out weeds, then were given the chance to meet a member of an indigenous tribe, whose land we would be crossing later in the race. Gringos are not normally permitted to cross these areas so we were very lucky, and it was great to see the tribesman, particularly as this one happened to be the best Ultra distance runner in Costa Rica! We all participated in a dance and he sang a song of the travelling bird to bless our journey. I think some of the more experienced racers found this a bit of a joke, but I loved it.

Already with so many great memories, I woke up at 3am and put on my gear for the first section of the race. At 4 o'clock we were loaded on to coaches and set off south to the start. San Jose had not been exceptionally hot, but as we headed south the coach thermometer rose to 34C and we began to understand what we had been told about Costa Rican microclimates! Thankfully the race start was at an altitude of about 1000m, but it was still hot. After some food provided by the local community and more very welcoming dance and musical performances, we completed all the required checks with the organisers then sat in the shade while everyone else did so.

Pongo marshals the start line
At 2 o'clock it was go time... We gathered under the starting arch, race director Pongo shouted go, and we were off! The first section was a "Le Mans" start, around 1km running to our bikes, which were still packed in their boxes waiting for us. The run was as chaotic as I had expected, the air was full of excitement and trepidation and the noise of people shouting and cheering was nearly drowned out by the helicopters filming overhead. We arrived at the transition in the middle of the pack and set to building our bikes. At each bike transition we had to remove the wheels and pedals, pack the bikes into their boxes and load them onto trucks to be transported to the next section. Soon we were underway and riding in a large pack of teams, making good progress through small villages and hamlets. For the first stage of a race over a week long the pace felt fast, but we were keen to keep moving with other teams. We had a quick stop to redistribute some of our loads within the team and continued into the evening. The support from the public was incredible, as we rode through the tiny towns and past houses in the middle of nowhere there were always people outside cheering and offering food and water, throughout the race and regardless of the time of day or night there were always people out supporting us!
Just a few of the lovely Costa Rican people we met
As we went into the night, the dirt roads and tracks gave way to muddy paths, which steadily got worse and worse, until we found ourselves off our bikes, carrying them on our shoulders as we climbed steep muddy paths through our first taste of jungle. It was hard work, our bikes were constantly caught on trees and overhanging branches and the mud was at least ankle deep most of the way. This section took us through the first night, and after hours the mud eventually gave way and we finished the 100 km section in just over 12 hours. We planned not to sleep until the second night at least, since expedition racing is continuous, so stopping for sleep means you might get overtaken! Finding the balance of getting just enough sleep to keep going is sometimes hard, but we were all used to going through the first night and were feeling good so far.

Slow going carrying bikes through the jungle
Leg 2 was the first kayaking leg. I am not a particularly experienced kayaker, and I knew that I would find this part of the race tough. Two of the three kayaking legs were in the first few days of the race so I hoped to get them over with as quickly as possible. However, expedition racing modifies your perception of normal time, and "getting them over with quickly" would see me paddling for much of the next three days. The first section was 65km. From the start at the south east corner of the country we had now crossed to the Pacific coast on the west, and the paddle would take us up the Golfo Dulce. Looking back at the photographs of this section there were some spectacular islands and coastline, but unfortunately I can only remember how hard it was. I don't mind running, trekking, or biking for a long time as things change - gradients alter your cadence, there are corners, and it gets harder or easier, but paddling is continuous. Psychologically I find this really tough, as I know that once I'm paddling that's all I'm going to do for a very long time. I tried to work on my technique, arms straight - punch the monkey, stab the fish, punch the monkey, stab the fish...

The first paddle
The boats we were using in the race were inflatable double kayaks, which have their advantages, but are pretty slow and numb boats to paddle. We were required to carry a pump with us, and after 17 hours of paddling, at the next transition, we deflated the boats and packed them up to be transported across the Osa peninsula ready for the next stage. We would be carrying all the rest of our kit with us on the 27km trek across the peninsula, but as we were now into the second night we found a place for a 4 hour sleep before getting started. We also found somewhere selling Empinadas (sort of Costa Rican pasties), which were really good.

Loaded with gear and with paddles, bouyancy aids and other assorted kit strapped to the outside of our packs we set off into the early morning darkness. Being near the equator, the daylight hours in Costa Rica are essentially 5:30 to 5:30. Not long after setting off up the track daylight began to creep over the horizon. We were in good spirits and seeing a tree sloth making its very slow way across a telegraph wire over our heads was a brilliant sight! We plodded on up the peninsula in the rain, our feet were starting to suffer from the wet atmosphere and we could all feel a few blisters developing. We knew before the race that keeping our feet in good order would be critical to reaching the finish line, as was proved when last year's world champions, Team Seagate, were forced to withdraw and hospitalised with foot rot later in the race. We crossed the peninsula in just over 13 hours, looking at average speed this is clearly very slow, but considering our loads, navigation, terrain and battered feet we were going reasonably well.

Loaded up with paddle gear for the peninsula crossing
Next, transition 3 and back into the boats. Well, sort of. Before we could actually paddle we had a 10km kayak "portage". We re-inflated the boats, loaded them onto the trolleys we had carried from the last transition and started to drag them slowly towards the water. It was tough going, we had hoped to load the boats with our paddling gear but eventually had to carry our packs and leave the boats empty. We worked in pairs, two of us moving a boat on a trolley each. All teams struggled across this section, using various methods to move the boats. When we hit big bumps our boats would slip off the trolleys and we would have to stop and strap them back on, which was frustrating but nowhere near as hard as the time a Brazilian team we passed were having - their trolleys had broken so they had deflated the boats and were trying to carry them by hand. With one team member hobbling with a swollen ankle this left three people to carry two boats, one particularly gnarly looking man lifted the kayak up and carried it on his head for as long as he could at a time, before dropping it and collapsing for a rest, then repeating. When I spoke to him he said "We can't do this, it will kill us".

"What's that between my toes?"... last section of the portage
But they, and we, did, and we eventually reached the kayak put-in. With the boats in the water we still had some work to do before paddling, and dragging the boats through small channels of swampy water felt like a dangerous thing to do. We had been warned about sea snakes and as I wriggled barefoot through the mud and overhanging branches I was certainly looking forward to getting back in the boat and paddling. This desire faded soon after it happened. It was a beautiful evening as we started to paddle though, we were now in the tidal channels of the Bahia Coronado and knew that some of the checkpoints in this area were only accessible at high tide, since they were located in narrow mangrove channels. At this point our race began to unravel. We set off up one channel, believing that at the end of it we could get through to a control, but when we got there we found the way barred by a large fallen tree across the mangroves. We climbed over the tree and pushed the boats under, but soon after discovered it was impossible to go any further. We turned around and planned to take a route we had seen other teams heading for, but met another team on the way who told us that many top teams had tried and failed to get through. Mistakenly we believed them and planned a different route, a long paddle against the tide up a river. This meant going away from the first controls to access later ones, then turning around to come all the way back down the river and collect the first ones. This all meant that the planned 55km paddle became more like 90km of paddling against the flow, and necessitated hours spend in the mangrove channels waiting for the tide to rise. We used the time to sleep, but being unable to get out of the boats it was uncomfortable and pretty miserable. During the 37 hour section I got out of the kayak once, to crawl up a stinking mud bank towards a tiny wooden shack we had seen. We had run out of drinking water and hoped to find some water which was at least fresh (meaning we could purify it). We had seen crocodiles in the water so weren't too keen to get out, but it was worth it and we were rewarded with lots of cleanish water.

Mangrove-y hell
Some time on Friday morning we finished the paddle, quickly cooked some hot food and had a sleep before getting ready for our next stage, a 101km bike which would take us up to the middle of the country. There was actually some really great riding in this section. To be honest we knew that after our long paddle we were unlikely to make the time cut-off in a few sections time. This was disappointing and we certainly hadn't given up hope of doing so, but somehow this section now felt like more of a long ride out with friends than a section of a race. I'm not sure we moved any slower than we otherwise would have, but we had a great time on this section. The only disappointment was the "superman" zip line which was part of the race route, but had been closed when we arrived at it due to another racer injuring themselves on the way down. This was a particularly bitter disappointment as it was at the top of a massive hill! The ride was very hilly; Costa Rican road and track builders don't mess around with hairpins zigzagging up and down hills - they go straight up. The constant undulation meant switching from full granny gear to top gear at the top of each hill, then back again in the valleys. The section took us nearly 23 hours, and finished with a particularly cruel hill up to around 1400m, where we reached the mandatory four hour stop at the midpoint of the race.

Mid camp
We rested, ate and packed for the next section. We had been told that the "big trek" would be the hardest section of the race, which after what we'd done already sounded pretty daunting, but I was excited to get out into the mountains. By now it was apparent that we would miss the cut off in two sections' time, but we were determined to continue. Sabrina particularly was a good motivator and reminded us all to keep pushing on when the race organisers tried to persuade us to miss the trek and take a shorter course. We resisted, and at about 4am set off towards the highest mountain in Costa Rica, Cerro Chiripo. We climbed quickly, believing that it would be a good idea to finish the climb in daylight, but soon started to feel the effects of altitude. We again helped each other and used bungee cords to tow when we could. We climbed to a mountain hut at about 3000m, the day was hot and the scenery was amazing. We arrived at the hut, took 30 minutes rest and carried on up to our first summit, then descended and finally climbed to the summit of Chiripo at 3820m. We arrived not long before dark, having reached the high point of the race but still only 16km into the 92km trek.
Chiripo summit ridge
From the summit, the tourist trail turns around and returns to civilisation. We would continue on and descend, via another small mountain hut, into the Cabecar Chirripo indigenous reserve. As darkness fell and we tried to pick our way down the ridge from the top, we got very cold and a couple of us were starting to get hypothermic. We quickly stopped and put our tiny tent up. I boiled some water and made some hot food, but by the time it was ready the guys were already all in the tent and asleep! It became apparent at this point that our Terra Nova Laser was really not big enough for four people, and as I crawled in on top of my team mates they made all sorts of grumbly noises. It was not a comfortable few hours, the tent was pitched on rocks and we couldn't close the door with us all inside, but I think I slept a bit. I was grateful for daylight when we packed up and got going again. The next section would take us into the indigenous reserve proper, this was a section I had looked forward to for the whole race. We had been told that this area was truly inaccessible, with no road access and "areas where aeroplanes have crashed and never been found". It certainly lived up to this, the terrain was very difficult, with steep muddy slopes and tiny tracks through the jungle. We spent as much time on our backsides as on our feet and within minutes we were totally covered in mud. Instinctively we grabbed branches as we slipped down the slopes, but had to be careful, this was a snake area. We also saw some pretty big tarantulas.

Indigenous settlement in the Chiripo reserve
We passed a number of indigenous settlements where the people were again amazingly welcoming, particularly as they hardly see any people from outside their own community. The communities were clearly poor, living in small wooden huts with banana leaf roofs, but everyone we saw looked healthy and happy, and skipped quickly through the jungle in their short rubber boots... What they thought of us in our running shoes, gaiters and tights I can only imagine! We saw one tiny girl with a large sack on her back skilfully sliding down the mud, I'm not sure whether the cat sitting on the top of her bag was real or imagined. The jungle was breaking us and our kit, we reached a river crossing at one point to find an Italian team stopped as one of their members refused to go on. She was in tears, and the next section probably didn't help - we climbed a nearly vertical slope by hanging off trees and vines. Looking back down I was very grateful that the vines hadn't broken, it was a long fall down to the river. Eventually though, the mud subsided. Early the next morning (Sunday?) we reached the village of the Ultra-running hero we had met before the race. He was very welcoming, gave us fresh oranges from a tree, and pointed out the route. The final section of the epic trek started to take us through larger villages, with schools and more substantial houses. There were a couple of tough climbs but the ground was harder and the going much easier. At this point we expected to be timed out of the race at the end of the trek, so this felt like the end. We finally descended to the medical checkpoint, only to be met by one of the other UK teams, EnduranceLife. After so many hours (over 60 on the trek alone) it was amazing to see them and gave us all a boost. Together we headed up the hill to the medical checkpoint where we were obliged to stop for an hour. We had our feet checked and ate a great meal. Competitiveness had overcome us and we had run the last descent to break away from EnduranceLife before the checkpoint, but after a captains discussion we decided not to race each other.
Towards the end of the big trek
However, it became apparent that Costa Rica wasn't finished with us yet! As we headed into the final transition, we looked down at the field and saw three sets of bike boxes - us, EnduranceLife, and the Italians. We had at least one more section to do... After the monster trek, the prospect of a 60km bike ride wasn't too daunting and we all imagined it would be over fairly quickly. We completed our quickest and best transition of the race and were ready to go just before it got dark. EnduranceLife were also about to set off, but decided to have a short sleep before starting, so we set off on our own. The climb out of the transition was brutal, straight up for at least half an hour, then a slightly more undulating course for the next few kilometers but we were going well. However as it got fully dark we all began to realise how tired we were, and we started to struggle. This leg had only one checkpoint in the centre, but it was a difficult one to find. We spent a long time looking for a river crossing point which resulted only in getting soaking wet and carrying our bikes up and down the bank. A race 4x4 pointed us in the vaguely right direction for the control and off we went along more dirt tracks. One member of our team was now really struggling to stay awake, talking gibberish and needing a lot of help. Over the next few hours we all started to struggle, talking afterwards we all felt very strange and each felt a huge sense of deja vu about the area we were in. I remember being utterly convinced we had already done this section, and couldn’t work out why it was taking so long. Eventually we decided we would have one last look for the control before giving in and stopping for a sleep. Thankfully our navigators found it close by, so we all got into our bivvy bags for half an hour's sleep, then continued. Another massive climb eventually led us into daylight, then a quick descent to transition. The leg had taken nearly 13 hours and we were knackered.

The final bike leg
After arriving in the transition we were taken by bus to the last section of the race - the canopy zip line and rafting section in to the finish. The zip line section was good fun, we were all given a harness and a pulley device, then clipped on to cables which allowed you to fly through the canopy. Finally we would complete a rafting section with a guide. One of the sections we had missed was a grade 4 rapids rafting section, which was a shame as the final section was a relatively tame grade 2. This also meant we had to paddle a lot more than the grade 4 section! The 19km section of river took us a couple of hours to descend and finally we pulled into a little bay near the town of Puerto Viejo. A final few kilometers on foot and we'd be at the finish, after so long it was hard to believe and was always going to be a bit of an anticlimax! We walked for a while then managed to run the last section up the road into the town, around the corner and we could see the finish field. We joined hands as we ran onto the field and ran together across the line - done! It had taken us 192 hours 51 minutes, or just over eight days.

Crossing the finish line! 
The race was an incredible experience. We were promised the hardest world championships ever, I hadn't done a world champs before but it seemed pretty tough to me! We were also promised a true wilderness race in the mould of the old Eco Challenge events. The sections through the jungle and over the mountains will stay with me for a long time, we were truly on our own and looking after ourselves. As a team we worked well together and helped each other through tough sections, of which there were a few. Some that will stick with me are the pain as my bike dug into my neck trying to carry it through the jungle on the first section, the howling wind and cold over the mountain section, and the "sleepmonsters" during the final bike, when I saw some very weird and frightening things in my mind.

...aaaand relax!

Finally, the few days after the race were spent relaxing and mainly eating. After over a week of eating mostly cereal bars and sweets it was fantastic to taste bread, milk and meat again... and the beer was pretty good too. Overall ARWC was an incredible experience, I'm slightly disappointed to miss the cut off and a few of the race highlights, but the race and the areas we were able to reach were amazing. It was also humbling to see the speed of the top teams, who had already completed the full course before we finished. An international team Thule won this year, with the UK’s top team (Adidas Terrex Prunesco) finishing joint third.

I've put together a little video of photos from the race, which is on Youtube here
UPDATE: The video above has some copyrighted music, so may not work. If it doesn't, here's a version with some home-made tin whistle music.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Final preparations...

One week from now I will be in Costa Rica! It's very exciting but also a little scary.

I've now pretty much stopped training now in order to make sure I'm properly tapered and ready for the race, and I have spend this weekend trying to get everything I'll need into 55kgs worth of luggage allowance. I thought I'd quickly write about my final preparations and some information if you want to follow our race.

As an end to my running year, it was great to have a weekend with the other Accelerate supported Athletes at Castleton YHA last weekend. We celebrated achievements, planned more success for next year and even did some training!

Onto Costa Rica planning... First, my bike is back to AR mode - plenty of extra capacity for carrying water, kit and food, and a tow on the back. My team mates have also decided I'm the packhorse of the team, so I'll be using my big Alps rucksack for the first time since that expedition

So, not long to go, Team Great Langdale Bunkhouse are ready for action... See you there!

Monday, 11 November 2013

Chasing a ghost...

The 15 trigs is a Dark Peak classic... 55 miles or so with around 8500ft climb, taking in all the trig points found on the KIMM map from 1984. The route was first run in 1985 and Andy Harmer set a record of 10:04 in 1987, which stood until 2009 (!) when Simon Bourne of Calder Valley Fell Runners became the first person to run the route in sub-10 hours, lowering the standard to 9:58.

Attempting the record in November was always going to be ambitious, and probably foolish. I’d love to say that I waited on purpose, but in reality the reason was purely a lack of time. Either way I would need all the available daylight, so at 7am on Saturday morning I left the Sportsman pub and set off down the road, over the remains of the bonfire at the Three Merry Lads and onto the edge path...

I had written Simon's split times on a post-it note in my pocket, and at Rod Moor I was already a couple of minutes behind: It was going to be a tough day! From here the route takes you on a well-trodden “trespass” via Gibraltar Rocks to Emlin, before a long plod over to Cartledge Rocks for the out-and-back to Back Tor. At Emlin I was only 1 minute behind Simon and had a good run across the moor to emerge at Back Tor five minutes up. The sun had not started to warm the ground yet though, and I cursed the temperature for being cold enough to turn flagstones into an icy ribbon of death, but warm enough to leave the bog monster hungry for unsuspecting prey.

From Back Tor it’s a bit soggy underfoot for a good few miles. Despite some stomach difficulties I had a pretty good run to Margery Hill and on to Outer Edge, staying 4 or 5 minutes ahead of Simon’s times. At one point I did lose my whole left leg for a while, but eventually wrestled it back from the bog. I dropped down off Outer Edge and clambered through some very large bracken (there must be a better way!) to eventually join the edge of Howden Reservoir. I filled up my bottles and tried to run hard along the firm tracks, knowing that my bracken faffing had probably lost me a few minutes.

By the time I reached the Alport trig and dropped down into the dale it was about 10am and the sun had finally emerged. This is one of my favourite areas of the Peak and I had a great time along the narrow little track up to Grains, despite my legs now letting me know they weren't best pleased. As I climbed the steep ascent to the trig I tried to force some food down into them... At Alport my time was 3:35, exactly the same as Simon’s, but by Shelf Stones I was three minutes down again.

This is Rod Moor, but they all look pretty similar!
I tried to follow Ian Winterburn’s route to Cock Hill via a line of Grouse Butts but messed it up slightly and ended up plodding across Harrop Moss. 10 minutes down, damn! I had recced the line down to Old Glossop in the middle of the night the previous week so hoped I could remember it in daylight and pull back a few minutes. I was feeling slightly rejuvenated now and pushed hard down the track and through the slop around Shire Hill, but then stupidly stuck on the recce route for too long and ran a dogleg through Old Glossop which cost me valuable time. I joined the road south towards Harry Hut, ate my peanut butter sandwich and considered my options – direct by Worm Stones or via the Shooting Cabin? I decided on the direct route and forced myself to run all the way up the steady climb to the trig.

I pulled back a few minutes to be six down on the record, I was now heading home, back on good tracks and felt focussed on my target. Mill Hill arrived quickly and I was soon at trig point 10 at Sandy Heys, but my invisible competitor was still six minutes ahead. Again I tried to push on and took some more food, but my stomach was revolting (in both senses) again and by the time I reached the Kinder Low trig I was another minute behind... As I climbed Brown Knoll I began to think that I might not be able to catch Simon, but completing the leg two minutes quicker than he had gave me a boost and I charged off the summit with renewed vigour! As it happened, in completely the wrong direction. Quite embarrassing as I the stile I was looking for had been my marshal point during the Skyline in September.

The stile I should have found off Brown Knoll (taken during Edale Skyline)
Anyway, back on track and on the Skyline route. The weather had been looking a bit dodgy for the last hour or so and now it broke. Looking back the sky over Glossop was black. There were a few good rumbles of thunder in the distance and now the hail began. The conditions alternated between hail and snow for the rest of the run, it never felt quite heavy enough to stop and put my jacket on, but I was soaked by the time I finished. The weather and lack of people in combination with the amazing wind-shaped rocks along the edge gave this section a good epic feeling and I was enjoying myself.

The next trig was Blackden, 11 minutes down due to my Brown Knoll cock-up. I decided I could either give up or give it absolutely everything and see if I could last till the end. I knew the route from here so put the map and compass away and went for it. The long drag up to Win Hill was a tempting walk but I was having none of it and ran all the way, gaining three minutes back. My legs knew there wasn't much running left now and felt surprisingly good, I ran down Parkin Clough as well as I have ever done and hit the road. Over the main road at Yorkshire Bridge and up towards Stanage, it was starting to get dark now and I could see the lights of Bamford below me. Again walking was banned and I gave myself a good talking to about how “we” would not be giving up. I continued up the road and over the cattle grid, over the stile and up the little track towards High Neb...

Looking down the final descent off Stanage (on a sunnier evening)
I ticked off the final trig at 9:27, now only three minutes down with just the run down from the ridge to the Sportsman remaining. The familiar run along Stanage and down the sharp rocks of the Long Causeway was hard but I did feel like I was moving fast. At the bottom I turned right and went around the three dams, then along the edge of the woods and eventually onto the playing field, crashed through the ditch and sprinted as fast as I could across the football pitch to finish in front of the pub.

It was too dark to see my watch so I didn't know the time until I stopped and sat down outside the pub – 9:56:57. Simon’s time was 9:58:42, I had held on to my last minute charge and just beaten the record! I was a bit of a mess though, and soon realised I was soaking, freezing cold and completely shattered. I went inside the pub for a drink and tried to warm up. It seemed silly to have worked so hard to finish so close to the previous time, but I was very pleased to be inside the record and I'm honoured to have "re-claimed" the record for DPFR.

The 15 Trigs is a fantastic route. I would fully recommend it to anyone looking for a great day out, even in November!

Congratulations to Simon for a great time and a really tough challenge, and thanks very much to Alan Yates, Ian Winterburn and Willy Kitchen for your route advice and encouragement. Finally, as always, thanks very much to Accelerate for your continued support.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Costa Rica here we come!

It's now less than a month until I fly to Costa Rica to meet my team-mates Tom, Dave and Sabrina, and take part in what will probably be the hardest event of our lives... The Adventure Racing World Championships in Costa Rica.

Last weekend was our final training and planning weekend together. We spent Saturday kayaking on a wet (from above as well as below!) and very choppy Windermere, before a planning session and a few hours watching videos of similar races like Borneo Eco Challenge... Useful, if a bit scary. I shall simply say: Leeches. Lots and lots of leeches. Leeches where you reeeeally don't want them.

Team "Great Langdale Bunkhouse" - Sabrina, me, Tom, Dave
After a good pub dinner at Stiklebarn I headed home, planning to stop on the way for a quick run. I got to Glossop at about 3am, unfortunately without a map, but having spent a while studying the 15 trigs route I thought I'd try to find the Cock Hill trig... After an hour and a definitely sub-optimal route I was pleased (and quite surprised) to find the trig. The view back over Glossop and Manchester was pretty cool! I found the route back much more directly and eventually got dried out and home in time for breakfast.

Found it! Cock Hill Trig
That left only mountain biking, so I headed out on Sunday evening for a 30km loop around Ladybower, and even up Win Hill. The main purpose was to check my new lights, which I'm happy to say performed well. However, it was bloody freezing and I went out without enough clothes. Lesson learnt, it's not summer anymore!

After a lot of focus on Costa Rica, I will hopefully turn my attention back to running for ten hours or so next weekend, before final preparations for the big race begin... Watch this space!

Sunday, 20 October 2013

"...and then we ran out of food, again, but we were used to that..."

Chris Bonington (Apologies, SIR Chris Bonington) is a true British mountaineering legend... His list of first ascents spans at least four decades and includes numerous big Alpine routes, Himalayan peaks of over 7000m, and even the Old Man of Hoy in 1966.

 Myself, Lorna, my brother Ed and Mum and Dad all attended a talk by Sir Chris on Friday night, at the Sheffield Uni Octagon centre. It was a great talk, with photos and videos covering his whole life, from growing up in London, climbing at Harrison rocks, then working as an Outward Bound instructor before (after a short stint working at Unilever!) starting a career in expedition journalism, followed finally by becoming a professional mountaineer.

However, for me the best bit was after the talk. I had brought an old book called "Quest for Adventure", written by Chris Bonington and published in 1982. It belonged to my parents and I remember this book being on the shelves in my room growing up, though I don't think I first read it until I was in my teens. Anyway, it's a compilation of adventures from around the world, and across many disciplines, from the summit of Annapurna, the Kon-Tiki, to the joining of the Keld Head and Kingsdale caves. It's a great book, and after his talk Chris agreed to sign it for me, as well as Ed's book about Annapurna South Face, which is equally special to him as he bought it in Kathmandu.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

A new challenge!

...well not exactly new, but I haven't done much marshalling. However, I decided it was time to contribute a bit to a race rather than just running them all the time, so I volunteered to marshal at Sunday's re-arranged Edale Skyline fell race.

I was positioned just after the Brown Knoll summit checkpoint, which if you know the course is about 3/4 of the way round. It was a great point to watch the race from, and after I'd set up my tent and placed a few flags (to guide the runners down from the summit to my stile) I awaited the leaders...

Not a bad spot to spend a few hours!
 They arrived after about two hours of running, Simon Bailey and Morgan Donnelly at the front, followed two minutes later by Stu Bond, Rob Hope, Rhys and Lloyd Taggart. By the end things had changed though, with Simon winning by a minute from Rob Hope, and Rhys a few seconds behind. Lloyd was 5th and Stu B 6th, easily winning the team prize for Dark Peak.
Simon and Morgan lead the way
The rest of the runners arrived at various speeds over the next two hours or so, but mostly looking like they were enjoying themselves! If you were there, I actually filmed you all come over the stile, so you can have a look at a very speedy version of yourself here. By all means have a look if you didn't run, but it might not be that interesting!

And when you're done, if you have a spare second to vote for me in a competition here on Facebook, I would be eternally grateful.

Thanks :)

Monday, 23 September 2013

I'm Simon Walkden!

You join me in a quandry... It's Sunday evening and I have a little spare time to start a blog about yesterday's High Peak 40 while I watch Sebastian Vettel win the Singapore Grand Prix (thanks BBC for telling us the result before showing the race! Hmm...). However, there are as yet no official HP40 results or, crucially, photos. We all know blogs without photos are pretty boring, so what to do??

I will use random pictures! This one is a dog called Troy.
With an 8am start time, the High Peak 40 requires an early alarm. I left home by 6 and arrived at registration in Buxton school sports hall - unfortunately the organisers appeared to have no record of my entry, my number apparently belonged to a man called Simon Walkden. I was reassured by the lady that Bill would sort it out, which he of course did and before I knew it I was standing in the park ready for the off.

On the startline I was surrounded by talented runners, Duncan Harris was favourite for the race, Charlie Sharpe (I think) who has recently had some fantastic results, and guys like Kevin Hoult would all be quick. We blasted off the line, the pace was fast as expected, and soon it was Duncan, Charlie and I at the front. As we ran out of Buxton and towards CP1 Charlie dropped back a little, and as we went down the steep tarmac descent to the reservoir Duncan pushed on and got a gap of maybe 50m on me. Having had a sore knee for the last week or so I was trying to be careful so I told myself there was a long way to go and pootled along behind.

This time, a mountain refuge in the Pyrenees
Soon I was at CP2 and turned east, through the slightly fiddly navigation of the newly re-directed section around Cadster house and up and over Eccles Pike. Again I told myself I was just at the beginning and should be sensible, so I jogged gently over the top and down to CP3. After the clip here I trotted on down the road feeling pretty good. When the terrain allowed a good view back I tried to check for Charlie, who I assumed must be behind me. I couldn't see anyone, but I was convinced I would be caught at some point! As I climbed up towards Beet Farm and CP4 the weather got a little worse. After extensive post-race discussion the consensus is that either "Mizzle" or "Dreich" best sum up the foggy, drizzly conditions during the morning.

Despite the race being marked with little arrows, I was pleased to be on the section I had recced as I climbed up to Beet Farm, and started enjoying myself. The pain in my knee had gone away due to the start of general running-a-long-way pain and I was happy in a familiar world.

...a delicious nut roast...
CP4 soon arrived, I filled up my bottle and took a piece of chocolate flapjack for the rest of the climb. It was tasty and before I knew it I was on the long Rushup Edge path. Pace was hard to judge along here, particularly as the weather meant I couldn't see anyone in front or behind. I just plodded on in a world of my own. I passed a couple of mountain bikers just before CP5 then pressed on, glad to be on a section I was unlikely to get lost on!

Ah, Mam Tor. I was looking forward to the climb for some reason and again jogged gently up the slope, trying not to raise the heart rate too much. Unfortunately my HR monitor belt thingy had been falling off earlier in the race, so I gave up and took it off within the first couple of miles. Mam Tor is always busy and sure enough it was covered in people. I gave a couple a shock when I ran towards them to touch the cairn, then headed for Hollins Cross. More people were encountered on the descent to the Hollowford Road... The top of which I really enjoyed, the road not so much!

...and Sunset over Back Tor
It was great to have some support as I ran through Castleton and started the climb up Cavedale. It feels like I've spent all summer running or racing up or down Cavedale, good job I like the place! I gradually made my way to the top and out across Old and Bradwell moors. The weather had now improved and it was starting to get warm. I was a bit unsure of the route between the top of Cavedale and the road into Tideswell but managed to negotiate the moor sucessfully (thanks largely to the massive pink signs!) and soon hit the road to descend into the village. At CP8 I checked my watch as this is marathon distance and have always wondered how long a marathon would take me - 3:33 on this course is the answer!

The tarmac run through Tideswell hurt my legs, my knee felt tired but mainly my quads were starting to scream. I was grateful for the relief of running along the riverside but knew that the dreaded 3 mile road leg into Chelmorton was not far away... As I ran though Litton I was told that Duncan had 6 minutes 40 seconds on me, but that he didn't look very strong. This was a much smaller gap than I'd expected and for a while I stopped wondering when I would be overtaken and started to ask whether I could catch the leader. ...

A French zebra.
I ran hard along the riverside path. It was muddy and slippery in places but hearing the gap had given me a boost and I felt like I was running well along here, I was also concious of getting towards the end and really not wanting to get caught! I remember the last time I ran this race that this was a particularly nice section and so it proved this year, but it did not last forever and soon it was time to leave the riverbank and join the Monsal Trail. It was busy and I tried to keep pace with a dad towing his son on a bike by focusing on the little flag on the back of his bike. Then the dreaded road section arrived! This leg has a reputation for being horrible. The road undulates up and down, but stays in a pretty straight line, making it feel like very slow progress. This year it took me just under half an hour to run the approx 6km to the road crossing in Chelmorton, where I ate a large jelly crocodile that Lorna had given me to celebrate. I'm now thinking of giving up on energy gels in preference to these!

After Chelmorton there's one last difficult bit before the run in to Buxton - the second crossing of Deep Dale. CP11 (the last one!) can be seen from a while away, but it's not until you get closer that you see the ravine between you and it... This was the first time since the reservoir at the start that I'd seen Duncan. I saw him look back as he climbed up towards the checkpoint while I descended, the distance may not have been much in a straight line but I knew I wouldn't catch him now. A bit defeatist perhaps, but I still ran hard for the rest of the race!

Top wedding vehicle for Maria and Gareth
The climb up to the checkpoint wasn't as bad as it could've been and I was soon on my way, through the tiny village of Cowdale and in towards Buxton. I hadn't seen anyone behind me but tried to imagine I was being caught to keep my pace up as I ran under the viaduct then down onto the main road, past the hospital and across the school fields, then up the drive to finish in front of the school.

It had been tough! Duncan had a gap of 7 or 8 minutes on me at the end, having finished about five minutes outside his record in around 5:25. I was quite pleased with 5:33. I think I had reduced the gap by a few minutes through Monsal Dale, but lost time again on the road section. I'm not sure of the time gap to the third place runner, but he came in looking strong after sprinting away from Kevin Hoult near the end.

My fellow sponsoree Chris "Houghboy" Hough took an hour of his PB (!), coming home in 6:45 for 14th place, nice one Chris. Massive respect must also go to the slightly mad Nick Ham, who ran the race to Tideswell, then ran the Lantern Pike 5 mile fell race, then re-joined the HP40 to run round to the finish. Bonkers. And as always, thanks to the race organisers, marshals, those who encouraged me on the way round, and to Accelerate for supporting me.

If anyone's interested I wore NB Leadville 1210 shoes and Injinji socks, both of which were excellent.

Winter is on the way!
So that's probably it for my Runfurther series this year... Unfortunately my rubbish score at Haworth Hobble means I won't get a decent position in the series, but the target for this season was mainly to win a race. That's not to say I have finished running for the year though, there are still plenty of challenges to come!


Thursday, 12 September 2013

The end of summer?

I've just realised it's been a month since I wrote a blog, so it seemed a good time to have a think about what I've been doing...

The weekdays seem to have been taken up with work (shock horror!) and the weekends with weddings, so it's been a month of squeezing training in around other things. One of the weddings happened to be that of Stu and Debs from Accelerate, it was a great day in the Peak with plenty of games, dancing, food and beer! Unsurprisingly there were many runners in attendance, such as a certain England mountain runner spotted here trying a new sport...

Training-wise we've been trying to get some speed into my legs. I'm not sure how well it's worked, but there have been a few tough sessions so I hope it has at least helped! It's been all training though as I have not raced since Bradwell, so I'm looking forward to some competitive running on 21st September.

I have also spent some time on preparations for the Adventure Racing World Championships in Costa Rica, which I'm racing as part of a team of four. It's going to be massive in every sense - 9 days of continuous expedition racing, from one side of the country to the other! My flights are booked and I'm going to get my jabs soon... I've also acquired an inflatable kayak to get some blow-up bathtub practice, and I've been trying to add some technical sections into my rides to bring my biking up to scratch. I had a cracking ride out yesterday, despite very damp conditions!

Running is going well, despite a few setbacks - a couple of days illness/fatigue was all until this morning... I locked the house door, put the key in my pack, turned and ran out of the drive... CRAAAASH I was on the floor, within 2 seconds of starting! So I shortened my run today and spent a while picking gravel out of my knees, elbows, and hand. Nothing too serious but it was bloody painful! It's been an unlucky couple of days as yesterday morning on my way to work, I hit and killed a Pigeon on my bike. It totally shocked me - I thought it would move and never imagined I was actually going to hit it! So have been feeling pretty bad since then, sorry Mr. Pigeon.

Anyway, moving on... It's High Peak 40 next weekend :)

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Fourth time lucky?? The Long Tour of Bradwell 2013

As I mentioned in my last post, yesterday was the Long Tour of Bradwell. After a disastrous Wuthering Hike and an enjoyable Fellsman this would be my third counter in the UK ultra champs this year.

It's a fantastic route around an area I run through regularly, but it's a race in which I have had mixed results before - actually not really mixed, mainly just bad!

- 2010: The first year I ran the race and right at the beginning of my running, I was amazed at the speed at which Jon Morgan shot off. He knew the route a lot better than anyone else and ran on to a clear win. I finished 14th in 6:02.

- 2011: The following year my stomach caused me problems - I felt really sick and struggled to run much from Cavedale to Aston, but after some nifty hunchback running I did beat my previous time and finished 6th in 5:47.

- 2012: Last year I went out fast for the first few checkpoints, then failed spectacularly to find the Druid Stone checkpoint and lost a lot of time, eventually finishing 14th in 6:26.

- - - - - - - - - -

So, what would happen in 2013? I had been training well and was looking forward to the race. Lorna and Dolly (the dog) were coming to support, and we left home to arrive in plenty of time to register and get ready for the race. Once this was sorted and after the inevitable waiting around, 9 o'clock arrived and we were off! It was good to see Jim Mann and Ian Symington (complete with new small child) at the start, and there were a few other speedy guys around, so it looked like a good race.

After a few recces I was pretty confident of the route and soon found myself leading as we ran up the bridleway out of Bradwell. The pace was quite fast but I felt good. Over the first couple of kilometres through the quarry we gradually spread out and soon it was Jim and I at the front. It stayed this way up Pindale and down Cavedale, where Jim descended better than I did and pulled out a bit of a gap, so we arrived in Castleton a few seconds apart.

From Castleton we quickly climbed to Hollins Cross then descended to Edale. After the checkpoint we ran out of the village and started up towards Ringing Roger... This was the last time I saw Jim! He continued straight on as I turned up through the Edale Skyline start field. Being a fan of direct routes up hills I thought he would continue along the valley then cut straight up to Ringing Roger, but it turned out he took a rather more imaginative route and ended up inventing the Super-long tour of Bradwell! I'm sure he will explain one day, but it involved visiting Grindsbrook, a bit of a tour of Kinder, and a few more extra sections later on.

Anyway, I ran up the zigzags and (despite my recceing) slightly messed up the route to the Druid Stone, not too significantly but enough that I could see Chris Perry on the lower track as I ran along the high track to the checkpoint. But I was pleased to have got there without losing the lead, and set off downwards as fast as I could... At the bottom of the descent there's a section on a private drive, but when I got there I saw an arrow sign pointing straight on towards Edale youth hostel. This wasn't the route on my map, but being a couple of years out of date I assumed the sign was correct and followed it on the longer loop around, via the hostel and the road before starting the Back Tor climb. Chris (who took what turned out to be the correct route down the drive) was therefore in front of me as we climbed up. We had a quick chat, his ankle was hurting but he was going well. I moved past and continued on up to Back Tor and on to the summit of Lose Hill, now in-among the half tour runners.

From there I was basically on my own for the rest of the race... Down through Hope, through Aston and on up to checkpoint 8 on the edge of Ladybower. It was really nice to see LJ and Dolly here. They had climbed up Parkin Clough and I got a good cheer and a bark. After the control the route joins the Thornhill trail and I was having a few stomach problems. Along here I had my one and only stop of the race which seemed to sort things out.

Paragliders from the finish
After the slight tedium of the Thornhill trail I descended to Bamford, quickly through the village and on to one of the steepest climbs on the course up Bamford Clough. I was very pleased to feel OK and ran nearly all of it without heart rate going too high (all on Movescount) and felt really comfortable on this part of the course. Running up to and along Stanage and Burbage felt like a training run - I regularly run these trails and felt quite comfortable, though I did occasionally glance back, half expecting to see Ian Symington charging up behind me!

From CP13 at Toad's mouth I knew I had one more tricky section of navigation, a bit more climb, then a run in to the finish... Maybe I could actually do it! I found the checkpoint up above Grindleford railway station without too much trouble, though I did again ignore my own advice from a recce last week and lose a couple of minutes clambering over rocks. The steep descent down through the quarry was taped but steep, my quads were burning now, but eventually I was on the long run along the river to the Leadmill checkpoint. After what felt like a long way but was actually about 2km, I was there. The guys at the control seemed surprised at the time I was there. Another quick hello to wife and dog gave me a boost and I set off up the road...

A bit of road, pleased to still be running uphill, through some woods, descend down to the last control. Dib. Back up again, feeling pretty tired now but must keep going, feels like a long drag to Abney but get there eventually. Another long climb up the road, but it's the last one... Keep going! Left onto the track and a good chance to look back: Can't see anyone, lots of paragliders to take my mind off the legs! Over the stile, OOOOOWWWW CRAMP but can see the village, down the steep hill, cyclist in the way, off the hill and onto the road - down the steps, main road through the village...

About the Co-Op in Bradwell is where I started to believe I was going to win the race. The memory of a sprint against Kevin Perry a few years ago (which I lost) came vividly back as I ran past the start and on towards the sports centre. I was glad not to have to race into the finish again!

Some people at the pub opposite shouted to the organisers as I ran round the corner, and Lorna was there again. I ran around the side of the building, to the table and dibbed for the last time.

It had been hard but a really enjoyable race, and my first outright win! I jointly won the Hardmoors 60 last year but this felt a lot more satisfying as I had been on my own at the front for so much of the race. My time was 4:53, which we later realised was also a course record (just beating Jon Morgan's 4:55 from 2010). I'm really pleased to have beaten the record as this shows I ran a good race compared to previous years, as well as this year.

A few minutes later Ian arrived (5:08) followed by Chris in 5:12. Helen Skelton had a great run to finish first lady in 6:17. Jim was the sole finisher and winner of the inaugural Super-long tour, coming home in 6:40.

Fellow Accelerate runner Chris Hough beat his PB to finish in 6:29, despite a nasty fall over a stile very early on which left him with a big bloody mess of an eye. A great effort to even finish! I'm sure Chris will have a blog up soon.

Thanks very much to the organisers, Bradda Dads, and to Dark and White / Richard Patton. All the marshals were brilliant and we are very grateful for your hard work!

Finally, thanks Lorna and Dolly for the great support, and as ever thanks to Stu Hale and Accelerate for all your help and encouragement!