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.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

A weekend of two halves...

Here's a quick write-up of my weekend activities, namely two short fell races! Not what I'd usually go for but I do like short fast blasts, and they have the distinct advantage of not taking up loooads of time, which means you can do two in a weekend and still have time to cut the grass or wash the car...

Both races were part of the Gritstone series (www.gritstoneseries.co.uk), a series of seven short races around the Peak. The first race this weekend was Castleton on Friday night, then a day to recover before Edale country day on Sunday.

The weather was fantastic for both, and pretty warm when I arrived in Castleton at about 7pm on Friday. Soon I was vested up, registered and ready to go... And we did GO! The route goes straight up Lose Hill, then along the ridge to Hollins Cross, Mam Tor, back to Hollins Cross and down to the village. As we ran out on the road I had a familiar feeling of despair at the pace, but having reached the bottom of the climb in about 20th I realised I was climbing pretty well and by the top I somehow ended up 3rd! One of the Uni guys was pretty close behind me though, and Stu Bond and Kristian Jones were miles out in front.

Well that was it really - I managed to hang on through Hollins Cross the first time, then up and back down Mam Tor where I tried to work out what gap I had. The masses were climbing as I was descending which made things interesting for all of us but we all survived and soon enough I was back at HC, though I was now feeling a bit rubbish. So rubbish in fact that I tried to descend into the wrong valley! With some navigational assistance from Stu and Debs I set off the right way, down the rocky descent and rejoined my arch-nemesis... Tarmac. He battered my legs for the last little bit and I could feel people catching me (Adam Taylor, a fellow Dark Peaker), but I held on and finished 3rd! I was surprised and pleased at this, and even won a meal out as a prize!

Castleton Fell Race - spot the man who crashed

So, fast forwards to Sunday and I was on another startline... This time with more Accelerate-supported guys - in addition to myself and Stu B, Tom Saville and Chris Shelton were also in attendance. Rob Little and Rhys Findlay-Robinson were also over for the weekend, and with John Hennighan there as well it was going to be fast! And it was fast... After the first climb Stu, John, and another guy were away at the front, followed by Rob and Rhys, then myself and Chris Shelton. Along the ridge it stayed pretty much like that, though out of sight in front of us Mr. Bond took the lead which he would hold to the finish. I struggled along the ridge and could hear Chris getting closer, I held on for a while but shortly before the descent he passed me. We grunted encouragement at each other and I tried to stay with him, which just about worked. Then we dropped off the steep descent and I was able to get in front again. The bottom part of the descent was the steep bit known as "The Plummet", after which we had to run through the village to finish at the Country Fair. Glancing back I could now see Chris and Adam Taylor and I knew the road run was going to hurt, if nothing else this weekend has highlighted a definite weakness!

I knew it wasn't far and I tried desperately to run hard, but there was nothing in my legs. I was disappointed to be passed by both of them within about 200m of the finish, and finished 8th in the end. So after an unexpectedly successful run on Friday perhaps I didn't recover quite as well as I could have and ended up slightly disappointed with Sunday (not necessarily the position, but the last half mile!).

That said though, it was a brilliant fun weekend! Congratulations to Kristian and Stu on their wins, and Helen Elmore who dominated the ladies races, winning both. Another person who can clearly recover well. Thanks as ever to Accelerate for their continued support, and in this case for organising the races!

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

A lovely weekend in the sun...

I got a very exciting thing last week... A brand new running watch! It's a Suunto Ambit, which is a bit of a step up from the Primark special I've been using for the last couple of years. It does all sorts of clever things, so I put it to the test at this weekend's Open Adventure 2 day race...

I raced in the male pairs category with Dave Spence, but we didn't actually catch up until the race briefing on Saturday morning due to Dave's long drive up from London. The event centre was Rydal Hall, a big old house now open to the public. At the briefing we were told what we'd be doing over the two days: 2 hours of running, five of mountain biking, then a 90 minute night navigation event on the Saturday, followed by 2 hours of paddling and a trail run on Sunday. All the events apart from the trail run were score events, so we'd be trying to get as many points as possible in the time...

Rydal Hall
After riding then walking up to Easedale tarn for the run start, at 9.31 we were off. The sun was shining and it was great to be going! I should say at this point that Dave navigated for the entire event (I had the much less onerous task of reading out the control descriptions!), so please excuse my lack of precise route knowledge in some places. We set off towards the summit of Sergeant Man and spent the next couple of hours doing some fantastic high level running around the Grasmere Common area. Here's some Suunto magic showing our route...

We scored 417 points in the end, having lost 8 due to being a couple of minutes late. It didn't help that neither Dave or I actually remembered to start a watch as we crossed the line! Oops...

We headed back down to Rydal, had some lunch (it's very civilised really, this Adventure racing business) and got sorted ready for the bike leg. This was the longest of the weekend at 5 hours. This time we started at the hall, and I again forgot to start my watch until after we'd marked up the map, so as we set off I desperately tried to do so and, err, fell of my bike. Into a tree. About 20m from the startline. This was quite embarrassing as there were a few people around, but nevermind!

Before this race I knew the bike would be quite a tough leg for me as Dave is a good biker, and so it proved. On the road and not-too-technical climbs I was fine, but there was a lot of technical descending during the race and this is where I had to try really hard to stick with Dave. We both agreed that it was a fantastic ride, but due to some slight underplanning during the early stages we ended up on the Windermere ferry at about 2:45. On the ferry at the same time were the three top teams: Adidas Terrex, Mountain Hardwear and Haglofs, as well as a lot of other racers. Most other people we spoke to had a lot less time to spare than us, so we could perhaps have scored more points early on, but Dave planned a great route back and we ended up with 360 points. This time we had forgotten to stop the watches on the ferry, so didn't know whether we could do a quick out-and-back to get a final 10 points. We decided not to and finished about 10 minutes early, probably not quite enough to make it worthwhile!

Bike leg (64kms, 1600m climb)
The final leg on Saturday was the night navigation leg, a tricky orienteering-ish run around on Loughrigg. This was probably my favourite section of the race, it was dark and exciting; fast and brilliant fun! We ended up getting controls in caves, on islands in the middle of ponds, and right on the summit of Loughrigg. We looped around the edge to get a couple of controls, then set off straight up the fell to the summit, before dropping down slightly to get the rest. We missed a few controls but timed this leg well (we had remembered to start watches!) and came in with just 30 seconds to spare, despite a bit of faff looking for one of the controls. The top teams cleared this course for 500 points, 80 more than we managed. James Kirby was taking photos throughout the event and took some fantastic ones during this leg...

Photo: James Kirby
At the end of day 1 we were pleased (and a little surpirsed!) to see that we were leading the male pairs competition, so after some army ration food I set my alarm for the early-morning briefing and went to sleep...

At half past 6 we were was back in the briefing hall being told about the kayaking leg which we would be doing next. This was the leg I was least looking forward to, mainly because I am quite bad at paddling... Also, I suspected it would be quite cold by the end! We cycled out to the edge of Windermere to start the paddle, got our gear sorted and claimed one of the sit-on kayaks we would be using. These are generally accepted as the slowest boats in existence. The route options were quite limited, all controls looked achievable except the one at the furthest end of the lake. We suspected this was likely to be most people's plan we suspected, so we were confident of keeping our lead if we could do this.

The second half of the paddle was the toughest part of the race for me, my head went down, my right wrist was really hurting and towards the end when the wind picked up I was pretty cold. 2 hours was a fairly short paddle really though, compared to some we've done during expedition races, so I consoled myself that it would soon be over! It was indeed soon over and we beached the bathtub and dibbed in 1:59, phewph!

After a pretty chilly ride back to Rydal Hall we had not very long to get ourselves ready for the final leg, a trail run around the Fairfield Horseshoe. Somehow I managed to be quite late and before I knew it I was running up to the startline as a countdown was announced, I seemed to be the last to arrive! The marshalls were great all weekend and helpfully checked my kit very quickly as I ran past to join Dave at the front of the crowd on the line, with a couple of seconds to go. Then off we went!

The run was a brilliant end to a fantastic race. Initially we were a little concerned because two other pairs shot off very fast up the first climb and had a gap of a couple of minutes on us. Points in this race were to be calculated based on the winner's time, which had been set in the previous wave (while we were kayaking) - in this wave the Haglofs and Mountain Hardwear teams had both ran very hard to record impressive times, but both were beaten by a non-competitive solo runner who finished in 1:30. 5 points per minute behind this time would be deducted from 500 for each team, meaning we had a theoretical gap of around 20 minutes, but I didn't want to lose our lead after all this effort!

Photo: James Kirby
We thought that the two fast starting pairs might fade later on, but tried to hold a gap to make sure, but then something strange happened... We saw all four of them stop, look at their maps and talk to each other, then turn around and run back towards us! It transpired that they had missed the first checkpoint. This meant that we were now in the lead - all we had to do was keep going... This allowed me to enjoy the run even more and we had a brilliant time up and over Fairfield, then around the rest of the horseshoe and down back towards Rydal. We couldn't see anyone behind us now and it was a good feeling to think we would cement our overall position with a win in the last section. Even a very angry farmer on the way back towards the hall didn't stop us, with some top emergency navigating from Dave we found our way around him and ran into the finish in 1:49. Not quite up there with the fastest but enough to secure our win :)

Photo: James Kirby
Our overall score of 1977 gave us a good margin over second place in our category, and 5th of all teams across the categories. Team Mountain Hardwear won the hard-fought team prize with around fifty more points than Team Haglofs. Adidas Terrex had fallen away a little but finished 3rd. 4th overall was the first solo, Olympic kayak medallist Campbell Walsh, who I had met on Saturday without realising who he was!

That's the first Adventure Race I've ever won, so thanks very much to Dave for a great race and top navigation, and well done everyone who took part! The event planning and organisation was of the high standard we have come to expect from James Thurlow and Open Adventure, so cheers to those guys and all the marshalls, and James Kirby for the great photos.