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 March 2014

A lovely week with Betty!

Last week I was in Montgenevre with Lorna and the family for a ski holiday. It was a brilliant week, I also managed to get in some running and my most successful attempts at ski touring yet... maybe even Ski mountaineering!

Some Alps from the plane
From the plane we had a great view of the mountains as we flew into Turin, the weather was sunny with blue skies and stayed like that all week. On Sunday I did a few hours of skimo - first a long gentle climb from 2100m, then a long steep ridge up to the Crete du Chalvet which I climbed with skis off. There was a cornice along the top of the ridge and I nearly didn't go for it it, but I stayed over to the right on the way up and the view from the top was amazing! I'm glad I decided to go for it, there were no other footprints up there so I must've been the first person for a while. The ski down was quite steep on very variable snow but no problem really, I descended all the way down to Claviere village and then skinned along the valley back to Montgenevre.

Crete du Chalvet ridge
After a day's downhill on Monday I went out for a run up to the Crete de la Sierre Thibaud. I love running in the mountains in the evenings, especially in ski areas after the lifts have closed as the place becomes very calm. The slopes that were overcrowded a few hours ago are now peaceful and quiet. I had a good run up about 660m ascent, but slightly messed up the descent route and ended up bashing through deep snow with a nasty sharp crust - hence arriving home a bit later than planned and with a bit more blood on my shins!

Wednesday was my penultimate day's skiing so I decided to tour for the whole day, in fact I hardly took my skins off all day. I started along the valley towards Claviere, then up through the Montgenevre Golf course and eventually to the Bois de Prarial, via a dodgy route through some trees. Here I learnt valuable lessons about when to give up on the skiing and just take your skis off... I kept them on too long and ended up trying to remove them in a difficult position. Still, I ended up on a nice high summit looking over the Montgenevre bowl.
Wednesday morning selfie of Betty and myself
The morning's ski was finished off with a long but pretty shallow drag up to the old fort at the top of the bowl where I had lunch with the others. After lunch I decided to continue the theme of old military buildings and set off to have a look at the forts on top of Mt Janus. This meant skirting a military area which is restricted, I was a little apprehensive as we had heard practice firing all morning!

The climb was not as easy as it looked from below, the track was actually only just wide enough for two skis, and the snow was very slushy in places which didn't help. Eventually though I reached the summit of Mt Janus at around 2550m. The view down towards Briancon was impressive, I believe it is ski-able but not in the snow conditions we had last week! There are two large buildings up there and I couldn't resist a quick look inside one of them. It was very eerie, particularly being full of blown snow and so quiet. I spent 10 minutes or so looking around and took a few photos before I set off back down the same route.

One of the military buildings on Mt Janus
Inside the same building
The descent was better than expected and passed without incident till near the bottom, where I met the army guys who had been shooting all morning, now skinning up the way I had come. They stopped for a drink and I passed in the opposite direction, they were very friendly despite carrying large machine guns! I felt great after a good day on the skis, even when I ended up at the top of an unexpected couloir on the way home I was confident and skied it much better than I thought I might.

Oops! Unexpected Couloir
So that's the end of my skiing for this season, sadly I didn't make it to any Skimo races, but I have really enjoyed my little flirtation with the sport and look forward to getting into it more next season. The focus now turns back to running, the Fellsman isn't far away and Mt. Fuji entries open tomorrow...

PS. Betty is / are my skis :)

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Indoor skydiving, beer and getting beaten!

Last weekend I was at my friend Wil's stag do, firstly in Manchester and then in Keswick. We had a great weekend, starting with something I've never done before... indoor skydiving! We went to Airkix in Manchester, and after an hour or so of preparing and getting our suits, helmets and googles on we were in the chamber... This was exciting for me (and Wil) for two reasons: Skydiving of course, but also being suspended over a massive high-powered fan (it's about 2.4MW I think).

You don't get long in the tunnel, something like 3 minutes for your £40 or so, but it's a lot cheaper than traditional skydiving. It was really cool.

Next we headed to Keswick, via the fantastic Tebay services where we sampled their fine selection of pies and cake. It was great to be there with guys who eat as much as I do! On to the lakes, we quickly checked into Denton House hostel and headed out to the pub... After a long and relatively eventful night we planned an early morning run to clear our heads. Unfortunately this didn't quite happen, but we went out Canoeing on Derwent Water which was brilliant. The guides we were with told us lots about the history of the little islands we stopped at which was really interesting (did you know Moot Hall used to be on an island owned by a Jacobite sympathiser?!). We also had a good sail back in by rafting up all six canoes and using three group shelters as spinnakers!

In the afternoon we did eventually get out running and had a great time on Latrigg, with the benefit of a local friend who lives in Keswick to guide us. The long climb and steep plummet descent were just what I needed to practice and it was a grand run out in the sunshine.

After the run we returned to the drinking establishments of Keswick, and after another hearty breakfast on Sunday morning we packed up and headed for Grasmere. After scones and tea it was time for one more run before returning home, so off we went up Stone Arthur and his mates, another good 700m or so ascent and some more steep descending.

So, that's skydiving, running and beer... what about getting beaten? I should point out that I get beaten a lot, but one series I've been quite successful in is the Dark Peak Winter Mondays league. This is a series of 10k-ish races organised by Nicky Spinks over the winter. Each Monday we alternately run races and go training, which consists of short sharp sprints up hills. Last week was the last race, and last night the final training session of the season (apart from the handicap race next week, but this doesn't count for the series). I have managed to win enough of the races to lead the series again this year which I am very pleased about, but last night I was soundly beaten at training by a new guy... Josh came last week and finished a minute behind me in the race, but last night him and Simon certainly had the better of me on the sprints!

It's good to be put in your place every now and then though, and to realise that a weekend on the beer doesn't really help the running too much! The hills session was still good training though, my legs will miss their fortnightly winter battering!

Sunday, 2 March 2014

High Peak Marathon - Carb (over)loading and Jagerbombs

OK, so the High Peak Marathon is not a marathon. It's actually a 42 mile-ish race across the Peak District for teams of four, and it starts in the middle of the night. It's a bit of a classic though and a favourite race of Sir Ranulph Fiennes! This year I was racing with a Dark Peak Fell Runners team comprising me, Simon Patton, Dave Taylor and John Hunt.

My preparations this year didn't feel very good. I was training reasonably well up till a couple of weeks ago, just before the Skimo races I talked about in my last post. As I wrote, the races were unfortunately both cancelled so I ended up not doing much in the way of training or running that weekend. This made me feel like I needed to train harder last week, so particularly my Monday run was at relatively high intensity.

Over the last week or so my legs have been feeling pretty sore and heavy, but I put this down to the regular training and assumed that with a day or three of recovery before the HPM they would be OK. As usual before a race, from Wednesday my training intensity dropped and I began carbohydrate loading, particularly on Friday.

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We set off at 11:44, with seven teams still waiting to start. We were hoping for a good run, Simon and Dave were to be our ace navigators and know the area really well, and all four of us are running pretty well. However, we knew that there were a few really good teams still waiting to start: Flipper's Gang (Swatts, Spyke, Jon Morgan and Matt Giles), Bog Standard (Birkinshaw, Gibbs, Hugh Aggleton and Jim Mann), Haggis on Tour (a fast-looking Carnethy team) and 3 Blind Mice and a Farmer's Wife (Nicky Spinks' team).

Top few teams on the start list...
We hoped for a top three place, and when we heard at the start that Bog Standard would not be starting we were slightly relieved as they sounded very fast! It was a shame that we wouldn't see a battle between them and Flipper's Gang though. Anyway, it felt good to be underway as we trotted out from Edale village hall and up to Hollins Cross. The first couple of hours had us up and down Win Hill, Lose Hill and Stanage Edge, then on to the first major checkpoint at Moscar. I should say thanks at this point to the checkpoint staff (and organisers) who were brilliant throughout the event! The fancy dress and middle-of-the-night enthusiasm were as impressive as ever.

The route
It was an amazingly clear night and the stars were impressive as we ran up from Cutthroat Bridge to Derwent Moor, Lost Lad and on to the hard section from there up to Bleaklow. Thanks to Dave and Simon's navigation we had a good run, though after feeling good for the first few hours I now felt a bit crap. I was struggling with some stomach problems and the legs were still feeling sore. Anyway, we plodded on, fell in a few man-eating bogs, but eventually got ourselves over the worst of the race to reach CP15 at Snake Road top. By now it was just about starting to get light, we had passed a lot of teams, and been passed by a few. The checkpointers told us that there were four teams in front: The leaders 20 mins or so ahead, another team 5 mins ahead, then a couple really close.

Dave and Simon on our recce over Bleaklow
We knew Flipper had passed us on the way up to Stanage, and assumed that the others were Calder Valley, 3 Blind Mice, and Haggis on Tour. On the long section of flagstones after Bleaklow we caught and passed 3 Blind Mice, exchanging a quick hello with them as we did... With renewed vigour we set off after the next team, but never actually saw them through the fog. On the way up Brown Knoll we drifted slightly too far right and ended up losing a minute or two. As we turned left to rectify the error we spotted another team on the path below us... It was 3 Blind Mice again! Their slightly better navigation had allowed them to sneak back past us. We were now close to the end and starting to flag slightly, so they gradually got away. I had recovered from my little low patch in the middle and was running well now so I enjoyed the last section. The sun even came out for a while and we saw Ian Winterburn out for an early run taking some photos (though not at the same time!).

(Pic: Ian Winterburn / EverythingOutdoors)
On Rushup Edge we were close to 3 Blind Mice again and saw Nicky take another member's backpack, they were clearly pushing on! We realised that they had started after us, so were actually four minutes ahead, and to be honest we gave up chasing them. Eventually, we were back at Hollins Cross and descending towards home, through the sh*tty farmyard and onto the road... Up the road and before we knew it we were back in the village hall. It turned out that we had finished 4th, with Flippers Gang first, Carnethy and 3 Blind Mice second and third (very close!) and us fourth, about five minutes behind. The other team in front had started before us so our time of 9:14 was actually quicker than theirs.

(Pic: Ian Winterburn / EverythingOutdoors)
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As ever, the HPM was a great race. I really enjoyed running as a Dark Peak team, and despite being slightly disappointed with our finish position I think we had a good run. There could be more to come from Return of the Dark Side!

I'm not sure about carb loading any more though, I think that eating so much on Friday made me full and definitely contributed to my stomach problems. I really didn't eat that much during the race, so I think next time I run a long race I'll eat normally the day before and see how that affects my stomach. This is what I'd do for a shorter race anyway, and I think it might be a good solution for the stomach "turbulence" I seem to get quite regularly on the longer races.

After a quick bowl of stew and a chat with the other finishers I headed home and recovered by heading out for a friend's birthday dinner. A huge Sri Lankan dinner and a few beers was perfect, though the trip down to the city centre and Jagerbombs perhaps less so!