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, 29 April 2013

The Fellsman

On Saturday at 7am I was back in a familiar place: Trying to get a bit more sleep on a coach from Threshfield to Ingleton. I didn't sleep but eventually we arrived at the start of the Fellsman, ready for another year's 62 mile slog across the Dales.

The start field (borrowed from Guy Mawson)
At precisely a couple of minutes past 9 we were off, heading out through the village (there were even a few spectators!) and onto the ascent of Inglebrough. It soon became apparent that Kim Collinson had a plan - he went out fast and soon had a decent lead on a group of four behind, made up of Konrad Rawlik, Adam Perry and Ian Phillips who I had teamed up with for this event, and myself. We ran at a good pace, I think probably slightly quicker than I would've done had Kim not been out in front. It didn't quite feel comfortable and couldn't seem to get into a good rhythm, it didn't help that I kept tripping myself up on the rocks!

After a very slippery descent of Inglebrough we dropped to Hill Inn, through the feed station for the 3 Peaks Race which would be passing a bit later, then climbed Whernside, still together. As we descended into Kingsdale I took the first of ten (yes, I counted!) "sit-down breaks", meaning the others got away. I could see Ian and Konrad pass through the checkpoint below me and pushed on to catch up with Adam. After the checkpoint the four of us were back together and climbed Gragareth, which is a horrible steep little hill (as this classic photo from a few years ago shows)

The run over to Great Coum was windy and a quick blast of snow was a slight reminder of last year, but it soon passed. Somewhere around here Adam and Ian decided to up the pace slightly and set off after Kim. Unfortunately this coincided with needing another quick stop so they got away. Konrad caught me up and at this point I would like to apologise to him for stopping a bit too close to the path!

So, off we went towards Dent... It was warm as I ran up the road and into the first big checkpoint of the race. I quickly had my tally clipped, I didn't eat anything but topped up my water and took a biscuit with me. It was good to see Matt and Rose spectating here! Konrad and I ran out at the same time and ran up the road together. We talked a little bit but I think we were both working pretty hard! Once we'd completed the couple of kms on the road we joined the track to climb to Blea Moor. The pace eased a little which was nice but after a while I decided I could be going quicker, I looked at the map and realised that if I went faster now I could spend the rest of the race navigating on my own... A scary and potentially disastrous proposition, but I decided it needed to be done and pushed on a little as we climbed.

After Blea Moor I dropped down, through the plantation which had been partly cut down since last year, along the road and into the Stonehouse checkpoint. Another quick refill of juice and I was off, taking a cheese sandwich with me this time. I had been struggling again with eating but hoped I could manage something on the climb up towards Great Knoutberry. I forced myself to run nearly all of the gentle climb under the impressive aquaduct and up to the bottom of the out-and-back section on the hill itself. As I set off up the climb I saw Ian, Adam and Kim together come flying down towards me and off over the moor. We shouted encouragement (at least I think it was) as we passed and I noted the time to work out how far ahead of me they were. The climb up was tough and boggy but relatively short and I was soon slipping my way back down. I had a couple of spectacular slides on my bum down the hill! On my way down I saw Konrad and Alex Pilkington on their way up, and a group of 4 or 5 people just before I crossed the track, including Chris, another member of our team.

From Knoutberry thoughts soon turned to the crossing of Fleet Moss. Before the event I had hoped to stick with Adam and Ian at least until this point since we had recced it together and had a good line. I knew I would lose time on my own. At the bottom of Great Knoutberry the gap was about 25 minutes and I realised that unless one of them had a disaster all I could do now was probably hold onto 4th. With Snaizeholme and Dodd Fell dealt with I reached Fleet Moss checkpoint. Here a spectator told me the gap was the same as it had been at Dent. I was quite pleased about this, though disappointed at the size of the gap...

Fleet Moss on a good day...

I followed our recced line as best as I could, albeit with a few more navigation stops and a lot more zig-zagging. I tried to run hard as I suspected Konrad probably knew a decent line so would be catching. Running hard did unfortunately mean more toilet stops, but eventually I found the Middle Tongue checkpoint and headed onwards on my vaguely-remembered line to Hell Gap. I have never been so pleased to recognise a bit of fence! After a bit more bog trotting and plenty more slips, trips and falls I was at the Cray checkpoint at 45 miles. I retired here on my first attempt at this race, I will never forget four of us huddling around a gas lamp in the middle of the night trying to warm up!

Anyway, this time wasn't like that. Leaving Cray it was a warm and beautiful evening. I still felt pretty strong on the climbs so decided to push it up Buckden Pike, knowing there was only one climb left afterwards. It's a stiff climb up - I decided to go to the right of the stream on a more direct line. At least the climb was over pretty quickly, but when I looked back I could see Konrad was still not far away and going well - it wasn't over yet! As I ran up to the Top Mere checkpoint I saw a man I saw a runner which confused me no end - "Noooooo, Konrad has passed me... Hmm, that doesn't look like Konrad... Could I have caught Kim? No, much too tall... Who the hell is it?!" It turned out to be Dave Spence from Team Accelerate, it was great to see Dave and the encouragement helped me on the run down to Park Rash.

Top Mere photo by Dave Spence
It felt good to be through the last major checkpoint, now just one more climb up Great Whernside. It felt like another tough climb, but they all do after 50-odd miles. I gave it everything on this climb and managed to run most of it, the beautiful evening certainly helped: The sun was starting to set and the orange sky off to my right was just enough to distract me from the pain in my legs! After the checkpoint I made a little mistake with the route by heading too far right and missing the fence line, but I realised and contoured around the spur of the hill and rejoined the fence lower down. I remembered the recce line down to Capplestone Gate but I had forgotten quite how long this section was! But as it says in Richard Asquith's book, these things do EVENTUALLY come to an end, and indeed I eventually reached Yarnbury.

From Yarnbury it's a mile or two to the finish, passing through Grassington before reaching Threshfield. It's one of those sections that you ignore until you're there - too short to hold anything back for and basically no navigation needed... After escaping the stuck hole punch of the marshal at Yarnbury I was on my way, I hadn't seen Konrad on the descent so hoped I had done enough, I tried not to look back and to ignore the groans of my stomach and just run fast. It was still a fantastic evening and I could probably get under 11:30 so I felt pretty happy. When I got to Grassington I saw my friend Chris in the pub and received some more good raucous (for Grassington) encouragement, I kept running up the rise in the road and around the corner into the finish. In my eagerness to get into the school and finish I tried to go through the door before opening it and sustained my most painful injury of the day - a big swollen knee!

After a shower and a bit of food and drink a few of us headed out to the pub, after which I had a brilliant night's sleep in the van, followed by the famous Fellsman breakfast the next morning. It was as good as I remembered from last year, and I am sure it will be just as good next year!

Adam Perry won the race in the end, by a minute or two from Ian, finishing I think in around 10:35... A fantastic time and a really well run race by both Ian and Adam. After pushing the pace early on Kim came in third in about 11 hours and won the Tregoning cup for the fastest first-timer. My time was about 11:26, I'm pleased with the position but a bit disappointed to be so far behind the others. I was very pleased to win the team prize though, with myself Ian and Adam counting from "Conehead and the Barbarians" - Conehead being Jamie Lawler. The team prizes were awesome - a holdall, shoes, t-shirt and shorts, jacket and a pair of shoes... Thanks North Face! A good result for DPFR too as Nicky Spinks won the ladies prize once again, but I don't think that was ever in much doubt!

So, Fellsman done for another year. It's a true classic race and I see no reason not to go back next year and try to improve a bit more!

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Dinner out and Loxley 5 Trigs

Last night I had a great run out to Hathersage with Wil, Lucy, Joe and Zanthe. We were joined by some other ShUOC guys at the pub for dinner, I was brave and did not give in to the lure of the Cumberland sausage. My bravery was rewarded, they took a long time to come but the ribs were fantastic!

The team at Stanage Pole on our way out to Hathersage
Today I knew that, according to the schedule, I would be doing 3 hours of running at 8 minute miles. After a bit of breakfast I started thinking about where to run... It seemed I had run along the edge path from Crosspool out to Lodge Moor every day for the last month (not quite, but I do run it very often!) and though its a great route I fancied something different. Then I remembered the Dark Peak Loxley 5 Trigs... A 22ish mile route around Loxley, which links 5 trigs together. Tom Westgate and Willy Kitchen had told me about it at the Winter Mondays and it sounded like a great little route.

The rules state that you can start anywhere, as long as you finish there too, and that the five trigs can be visited in any order. I started at Loxley Nature Reserve car park, close to the first trig.Off I went, 1 minute later I ticked off the first trig (Loxley) and turned around, back through the car park and off across the golf course...

The paths are good from here out to Holdworth, then a quick road section took me to the edge of the farm area which leads to the Onesmoor Trig. I took a longer route around here than planned as I didn't want to plod across the crops, and got there 27 mins after starting.

From here I dropped down the lovely track into High Bradfield, past the church and continued down to the edge of Agden Reservoir. I skirted around the north side of the res and followed it to the end. Here I missed my turning off and ended up going a few hundred metres back up the wrong side of Agden which meant the same distance more on the road, but I got back on track and crossed the road to head up the shooting track to Emlin (1:01)...

From Emlin began the section I reckoned would be the crux of the run, the long leg between Emlin and Back Tor. I set off from Emlin on a bearing to Cartledge rocks, over the hardest terrain on the route. There was still some snow but overall it was in good condition and it didn't seem too long till I was on the good path up to Back Tor. I clambered up to the trig at 1:32.

At Back Tor I was feeling confident, I wasn't certain but thought the record for the route was Tom Westgate's 2:59. With four trigs done in about half the time I felt good as I dropped down to Strines. I sneaked across the dam wall though probably lost any advantage by having to plod back up to the track on the other side. But a quick map check revealed that the trigs weren't evenly spaced and I would have to really crack on if I wanted to beat Tom's time.

I ate my last jelly snake and set off up Lodge Moor towards Moscar. My line wasn't great and I climbed more than necessary but eventually reached the road / track into Crawshaw Head. Another little bit of road and I was at the big house under the Rod Moor trig. Another little trespass and the final trig ticked at 2:23. This photo looks like an afterthought because it was, I was starting to panic now!

At the trig I had a change of plan and decided to return to Loxley by going north off the top and around Damflask reservoir. The descent from the trig was boggy but reasonably quick, though a little more fence-jumping was involved (not dry stone walls though!). From the end of Damflask I really needed to charge if I was going to stand any chance of making it. I had a flat run east and a climb north to do, but could climb either the road right at the end or the footpath halfway along... The ethos of these things is to avoid road where possible so I took the path up past Loxley House, with something like 10 minutes to go.

At the top of the path I had seven minutes or so to go and flogged myself till I crossed Long Lane... Not far now, another 50m climb and into the car park. I finally got back to the gate I had started from at 2:57:23. The Loxley 5 trigs is a really nice route, I enjoyed it a lot and was pleased to be able to navigate myself round it with relatively few mistakes. It was also suitably knackering for a hard Saturday run!

Here's the route I took. The highlighted parts are where I intended to go, the biro is where I actually went in the places where it's different (mainly last section).

Finally, I read last night about an incredible adventure undertaken by Ben Bardsey and Jon Morgan, with a couple of other guys, out in the Alps. The full write-up is on Ben's blog here and is thoroughly recommended.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Mountain withdrawal symptons

I can't believe it's already April! We've had some good snow here in Sheffield this year, which in part has got me thinking about colder adventures... It's also about 10 months since I started the Big Alps Run, and the itch to do something big and exciting is back.

A couple of weeks ago I had a fantastic week with my wife and family skiing in Montgenevre. We were hosted by Ski Etoile and despite the lateness the snow was fantastic! Since returning I have been feeling the mountain withdrawal symptons and have decided it's time I did some Ski touring, if not this season (though maybe, just!) then certainly next, so I've spent a little bit of eBay money and nearly have a beginners setup ready for action... Can't wait!
Montgenevre from Chalet Eskimo
Running-wise, I'm moving on from Haworth and have started some serious training, coach has got me doing hill reps on Lose Hill! I did the first session a couple of days ago and it's actually quite good fun, I ran three reps from the road to the summit, just dipping under 13 minutes on the last one.

It's safe to say I'm ready to plan another big adventure, but I don't think it will be this year. I have an idea for a trip across Iceland, but the weather window I need clashes with racing this year, so probably early next year. In the meantime I'm looking forward to the Fellsman, which now April has arrived is only a few weeks away!