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.

Friday, 23 May 2014

What do you want for your birthday?

Some people say you should be careful what you wish for, and it occurred to me a couple of times on Wednesday that I might've got a bit carried away with my birthday wish for "a long day's run around the hills"...

I was attempting to run around the highest 29 hills in the Peak District, on my 29th birthday. The idea of running a hill for each year of your age is an old one, I think it's even how the Bob Graham Round originally came about. I decided a while ago I'd try to plan something similar in the Peaks, and found a list of the highest hills. It's an interesting list, there are a few hills on there I hadn't even heard of (nevermind been up!), and some you would imagine might be there are missing...

I set about plotting them on a map (and some bits of paper where the map didn't quite reach), and to my surprise and delight did not end up with a random splattering of hills everywhere, it almost looked like a route... So that was that then! After planning, some recceing of the northerly and southerly bits, and a very useful evening in the pub with the master of silliness Alan Yates, I eventually found myself at Strines Inn on Tuesday evening.

Do I look ready?
At 7pm I set off. Stu and Debbie from Accelerate came to see me off and took a few pictures... I was finally underway! The weather was good and I enjoyed jogging out along the road, East towards Bradfield.

The first bit:
The first of the 29 hills was West Nab, one of those I'd never heard of until the recce. It's not massive at 500m and the surrounding ground is pretty high so it's not a big climb. Apart from a quick nip across Agden Dam and up through the woods on the other side, the route was all on little roads. After about 45 minutes I was heading away from Bradfield, onto the round proper and straight into the first tricky bit of navigation.

1 down... 28 to go! West Nab
After joining the Dukes Road and following it for 3 or 4 kms I took a bearing for Featherbed Moss. The light was starting to fade and it was raining now, but I knew that the forecast was for a few showers overnight followed by increasing sunshine and a scorchio day on Wednesday so I wasn't too bothered. My line to Featherbed Moss was a bit dodgy (too far South), but I got there eventually and continued north to Margery Hill - 3 ticked off! I had written a VERY rough schedule for the round which suggested I should be at Outer Edge by 10pm. Outer Edge is one of maybe five decent hills I would go over which are not on the list. I was happy to be there 45 minutes ahead but realised that the schedule was basically made up, and the darkness was probably going to slow me down...

"Margery my dear, you look lovely this evening"

Into the dark:
After Outer Edge I was again on unknown hills. The top section of the route would take me up close to the Holme Moss TV mast, to Dead Edge End and Britland Edge Hill, then on to Black Hill and Blackchew Head before the big descent to Torside Reservoir and even bigger climb back up to Bleaklow. As the sun set I wondered whether I had chosen the right section to do in the dark... Probably not! After dropping off Outer Edge I crossed the A628 at the roadworks and headed up Dead Edge. It's quite a nice little hill but a bit wet underfoot on the way up. I got the phone out to take a few pictures in the last of the daylight and discovered that the battery was already half empty. This was not good, I had planned to use the phone to tell Lorna and Stu and Debs how I was getting on for at least the next 20 hours! So the plan changed and the phone was turned off for emergency use only (photos from now on are from recces).

I found a half decent contour line around the top of Withens Clough and got to the top of Britland Edge Hill feeling pretty good. Next, across the road and on up to the northern extent of the route at Black Hill. The climb up through the quarries and on to the top of the moor was only about 200m vertically, but through the tussocks it felt like a long one. Still, it was nice to be at the northerly end of the run, about 39kms in 4:35.

Black Hill (or any other trig point at night)
After Black Hill and the short sharp up and down to Blackchew Head came the descent to Torside Reservoir. It's a fun descent down over the rocks but I knew that every step downwards would soon require a harder one back up the other side! From Torside at 200m it took exactly an hour to get to Bleaklow Head - it was foggy up there and took a few minutes to find even the big obvious marker on top, so I didn't really fancy my chances of getting to Higher Shelf Stones... I'm not renowned for my navigation on bearings, in the clag, in the dark.

2:20am... Great success! Stones found with only minor detours! Now back to the security of the Pennine Way and onwards. The clag had stuck around though and I had to run with my torch low to the ground in order to see anything, it was slow going. When I got to Featherbed Moss I also faffed about and lost more time trying to find the summit, so at the planned 4am arrival at Mill Hill I had lost most of the 45 minute advantage. But at least there was a little glimmer of light on the horizon.

From Mill Hill I was on familiar-ish territory again and heading for the highest point in the Peaks, the top of Kinder at 636m. Another tricky search and a bit more time lost but I was still running reasonably well, though the next target (Black Edge by 7am) was starting to look a long way off. After the Grindslow out-and-back I set off up Brown Knoll and was surprised to see another runner coming downhill towards me! It was still before 6am so a bit before I expected to see anyone, but we said a friendly hello and carried on. I wonder what he was up to.

From Brown Knoll
It was getting pretty hot already and as I climbed to South Head I decided it was breakfast time. I'd packed a few "normal" food treats in the bag so I could have food to keep me interested. Breakfast was a Nutella sandwich and was very tasty, as was the boiled egg I'd had at midnight (good enough for Bob Graham...). However, by the time I had run down off South Head, through New Smithy and messed around in Chapel-en-le-Frith for a while I was an hour late to the top of Black Edge. The next target was Shutlingsloe at 10am.

The Southern Section:
I was still running pretty well, and after the climb up and over Burbage Edge I jogged all the way up Shining Tor, down the road and off the main map onto the OS copies...

The southerly bit of the route would take me from Macclesfield Forest, up and down Shining Tor, Shutlingsloe, The Roaches, to the very bottom of the route at Merryton Low, then up over Oliver Hill and Axe Edge Moor and finally into Buxton. That was still a long way off though, and the distances between the hills were pretty long in this part of the world. By the time I was on Shutlingsloe it was 11am, an hour behind the plan. It was a lovely day though and I enjoyed the run over to and up the Roaches. While I was running I debated taking a different line off the top, rather than dropping directly from the summit I thought I would follow the ridge along to the end and drop off there, hopefully more direct and avoiding the tussock-bashing descent of the recce route.

Roaches. A top hill.
With hindsight, this is where I lost the chance of finishing my round in 24 hours. I was already behind as I climbed the Roaches, but the time lost on the descent made me a lot later than I should have been, meaning I was tired and started losing it a bit, and had to finish in the dark, which all added up to make me very late in the end!

But anyway, the Roaches descent... It took me a long time to get along the rocky ridge, and after messing up the descent off the end I finished up in what I eventually realised was Upper Hulme. I had a moment of frustration and shouted very loudly for a moment or two but gradually found my way back and along a rubbish line through the MOD training ground and up to the trig at Merryton Low. At least I was now heading north again!

Heading Home:
There were now 9 hills left, I was about 2 hours behind the original schedule but beginning to realise that the route was going to be longer than I thought. I had been dreading the next couple of legs - from Merryton to Oliver Hill and Axe Edge wouldn't be too bad, but after that I had a long drag through Buxton and a lot of road running to get me to Slitherstone Hill. The road from Merryton to the village of Flash hurt my knees, I could now feel the 140km or so already in my legs. I was also starting to feel pretty tired and confused!

It was a really hot day and I only had a couple of water bottles with me. I had been filling them from streams as much as possible, but on this section there were no streams so I had to ask for some water at a house as I passed through Flash on my way up Oliver Hill. I had been really thirsty for a while and soon I had run out again. Axe Edge is another nice hill, even if the climb up is very tussocky. The run off it and into Buxton sums up what I found really hard about this route - If you're not twisting your ankles trying to climb or descend a horrible tussocky slope you're bashing your knees along a road! Not that it wasn't fun of course...

30 at 30 will aim for less of this!
A final long road section took me from Buxton (where I stopped in a pub for more water) through the villages of Peak Dale and Peak Forest before the climb up to Slitherstone Hill and back onto home territory. I took a couple of Ibruprofen and tried to ignore the pain in my knees and crack on. It was a lovely sunny evening, I knew now I would be way over 24 hours but obviously wanted to finish in as short a time as possible. I climbed Eldon Hill (another one from lower down the list), then Slitherstone itself, and dropped down to the Rushup Edge car park. From here I had a final out-and-back to Lords Seat, then a ridge run to Mam Tor and Lose Hill. It was an absolutely stunning run in the evening sunshine and everything felt really good. I was going to finish my run and that was all that seemed to matter!

The Final Leg:
So, 175km done, all I had to do now was to run off Lose Hill in the right direction, cross Ladybower and Derwent reservoirs and climb up to Lost Lad, Back Tor, then down to the Strines! It seemed a long time since I was last there...

Stu's posh photography from near the start
It didn't start well, the steep bit off Lose Hill was fine, but I couldn't find a decent line through to Edale End and spent a while climbing through trees and over fences. I slipped at one point and managed to get my armpit stuck on a barbed wire fence, ripping my shirt and leaving me attached to the fence by the thing stuck in me... Serves me right for being where I shouldn't have been I suppose!

Once I'd extricated myself from there and found a route up to the woods above Ladybower I noticed the light was starting to fade a little again, I was still actually running well so hoped I would be finished before it went completely. I crossed the top of Ladybower at the right place, but then for some reason decided to run to the Hagg Farm entrance along the A57 rather than through the woods (there was even a sign!). I'm still not sure why I did this, the route I used is further and more dangerous! From Hagg Farm I was pleased to see signs for Fairholmes, which was deserted and dark when I ran through. I could still see to run but was going to need the torch for map reading over the last couple of hills.

Hills 28 and 29
After all the cock-ups I was pleased to be on the home straight, but now it was dark I was very concerned about the final bit of navigation to get me up and onto Derwent Edge. I ran with my face glued to the map, checking every feature and every height at what felt like 10-second intervals. This lost me some time, but I didn't get lost. I think I recognised that my mind was shattered now and that I really needed to focus. Compared to how brilliant I had felt at Lose Hill I was now a bit of a mess.

The legs were actually all I had going for me, I ran most of the climb and eventually ticked off both summits, then found the path off from Back Tor and started my last descent. As I ran down I could see little green rabbit-like creatures jump out into the path in front of me, they all seemed to have a deathwish and I had to swerve all over the place to avoid them. I also experienced the now familiar feeling of having run with someone all day, but them having disappeared towards the end. I think I spent so long looking at the map and compass that I thought of them as my running buddies.

The End:
But then, eventually, as it always does, it ended. The navigation and slow brain in combination with the darkness on the last couple of legs had added lots to my time, I eventually finished in a slightly embarrassing 28 hours 10 mins. My knees were sore but writing this two days later all now feels well again and I intend to run tomorrow.

I am as always so grateful to Lorna, who was still waiting when I finished, for all your help and support. To Stu and Debs of Accelerate thanks for seeing me off at the start and for the ongoing help of the Accelerate Performance Centre, and thanks also the Strines Inn for looking after my van!

The total distance of my route was 190kms or 118 miles according to Memory Map. The climb is 5460m (16,000 ft I think). I'm pleased with that as my birthday run, but I'm going to work on a better idea for a Peak District 24 hour challenge. Slightly shorter with less road running, but not necessarily any easier!

Route is on Movescount (distance is a bit short due to only recording once a minute) or Strava if you want.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Inspiration and Pizza

The title of this post should really be "Rosie Swale-Pope: Mad as a box of frogs and the most inspirational talk I've ever heard"... A bit long perhaps, but it pretty much sums up the talk I went to on Wednesday night.

Rosie Swale-Pope has achieved many things, but the most famous is her 21,000 mile round the world run. She's written a book about it and given lots of talks to large audiences of the paying public and businesses, but last week I was one of about 25 people who had the privilege to hear Rosie talk in a tiny little room above the Masterchef cafe in Attercliffe. The talk was organised by Accelerate, after Stu and Debs met Rosie as they were the only company able to get hold of a pair of her favourite shoes!

The talk was a whirlwind of humour, tragedy and inspiration. Rosie talks quickly and jumps from one story to another just when you think you're following, and could be just as engaging and entertaining without even mentioning running around the world. During the half hour or so we listened to her for we heard about how she grew up in Davos with a foster Mum, then was brought up by her Gran, struggled at school, once put a saddle on a cow and rode it as a horse, sailed solo across the Atlantic, returned to Davos and years later and met her foster Mum, woke up with a Wolf in her tent, and made friends with a blood-spattered man wielding an axe... And hundreds more stories, every one leaving us wanting to know a bit more! I am now a proud owner of a copy of her book and look forward to reading it, and if you ever get chance to see Rosie talk I would totally recommend it.

Rosie's trailer which she slept in during the run (and still does!)
After the talk (and really tasty Pizza) we returned to the shop for coffee and continued chatting. Rosie had actually run to Sheffield from London over the previous few days, and continues to live day-to-day in her trailer which she used on the round the world run. I talked to her briefly as we both left the shop, I was off home on my bike and she was going to tow her trailer around the corner and sleep for a few hours, then head off to her next port of call. A true inspiration and a lovely lady.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Dogtag Blogtag

Sometime last year I entered a competition on Facebook, the deal was you upload a video of yourself taking part in some sort of "adventure sport", and after a month or so of voting those who had the six videos with the most votes would be the winners, and would be whisked away to star in an advert for the travel insurance company Dogtag.

Thanks to my amazing friends and family, and by putting my video up nice and early, I ended up in the top 6, and so begins my film star career... I spent last week in Interlaken in the Swiss Alps, essentially running around, eating cheese, drinking beer, and occasionally being filmed. It was a brilliant week and I'd like to give huge thanks to Dogtag (Mike and Richy), PR guru Lynsey, Don and Dave the film crew, my fellow stars (more on them in a minute) and to Outdoor Interlaken and our guide Stefan. Here's a quick blog about what we got up to...
The (Dog)tag team
Having taken planes from various parts of the UK we somehow all miraculously arrived at Geneva airport and after a couple of trains made it to Interlaken. We'd all had early starts but by the time we arrived in the mountains everyone was wide awake and taking photos out of the train windows. Interlaken is a great place with some very lucky geography which means you can see the impressive and beautiful Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau mountains pretty much from the village.
The Eiger lurking behind the village
Speaking of the Jungfrau, on the third day of the trip we all headed up to Lauterbrunnen, then by train through Kleine Scheidegg and and eventually to the famous mountain railway through the Eiger tunnels. At the time I was reading a book about climbing the north face of the Eiger, so actually being there (the tunnels were used for rescue in the early days, though not always with positive outcome) was amazing. Our destination was the Jungfraujoch, the saddle between the Monch and Jungfrau at about 3900m. We were there to do some filming of Mikey, a skier from Glasgow.

Initially things didn't look good, there was about 120m of pisted snow and a magic carpet lift. The team set about building a kicker, and after the fortunate arrival of a Swiss bloke in a piste basher we soon had a fine piece of snow sculpture. I think Mikey's skiing might (quite rightly) make up a fair bit of the advert, as it was awesome. I won't spoil it with photos here, but it's gooooood.

Lift designed for children: Sub-optimal for those with mad jibbing skills.
The Jungfraujoch was also the location of my first bit of running filming, though I had been involved in Canyoning and Rafting which we'd done the day before. Somerset Dave's mad kayaking skills were also filmed on the same day, and again I reckon will have a strong presence in the finished article!

So, that left Ewen, Hannah, Collyn and Andrew to be filmed. Luckily they were all mountain bikers, so we headed up from the village and found some nice bike tracks for them to play on. The whole trip was awesome, but along with the Jungfraujoch trip, this was one of my favourite days. We biked (I ran) up and down the trails in the sunshine and generally had a good time. Richy and Dave also got involved in the filming, using some pretty innovative methods...

Richy on the roof (Not shown - Dave up a tree)
The day ended, as they all did, with some great dinner at the hotel and a few beers. After we had all been filmed "doing our thing", the only recording which remained was an interview, which will be used in the documentary film which will accompany the advert. This was fun too, though it did involve talking about ourselves a bit which I think some of us found a bit unnatural, but looking at the footage afterwards illustrated just how skilful Don and Dave are when it comes to this filmmaking business... I didn't recognise myself at first!
Andrew being interviewed
Before we knew it, time was up. Most of the team were leaving on Saturday, but the northerners and Scots (Me, Ewen, Mikey and Andrew) didn't fly till Sunday so I decided to make the most of the free day and headed off on Saturday morning for a long run in the mountains. I ended up doing about 45kms and 2800m climb - I'll finish off with a few photos from the day, which really was one of the best running days I've had for a long time, but first another massive thanks to everyone who voted for me, to Dogtag and the film / PR team, to Outdoor Interlaken and to all the other winners.

There's loads more I could say about the week but I'll leave it at that... Watch this space for the best damn insurance advert you've ever seen!

Interlaken from the Harder Kulm (1300m ish)
Tourists at the Harder Kulm
Me, being a tourist at the Harder Kulm
Climbing up along the ridge towards Augstmatthorn
Looking up from the trail
Awesome ridge from Roteflue to Augstmatthorn
After turning around, there's even climb in the valleys!
...and even more (and rain)
Back along the ridge for the last time before the descent
(Full route here)