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, 27 October 2014

OMM nom nom... So much food!

This weekend I took part in the first proper Mountain Marathon I have done for a while... The last few times I've done a race called a Mountain Marathon it's been the "Dark Mountains", which involves carrying all the gear but running through the night without actually stopping. I've done this with Jim Mann for the last few years and we've not quite got it right yet!

Anyway, this time it was a proper overnight Mountain Marathon. I was running with my friend Will, who does a bit of running and has finished the OMM once before. Living in London his training had been a bit challenging, but we had a good four hour run out around Stanage and Win Hill last weekend. Very quickly Friday came around and it was time to set off up to Northumberland...

We were on the Medium score course, and after a very comfortable night in the van we packed our bags one last time and walked up to the start for 9:15. After saying for years that we'd do the OMM we were finally there!
The startline
The medium score meant 6 hours on day 1 and 5 hours on day 2. As we started we were given the maps, and struggled for a minute to find where the overnight camp was... It turned out to actually be about 600m from where we were standing! Rather than (as we'd imagined) running north for a day, camping overnight, then turning around and running south for a day back to the finish, we'd be running up, turning around and running south again each day.

Day 1
We set off and ran straight into the woods to our first control. We found it pretty easily and all was good. On to the second one, which unfortunately saw our biggest mistake of the whole race. We ran around a large forest track, then planned to cut off down onto a bridleway which would take us to the next control. Unfortunately we never quite found the bridleway, so we bashed through the woods a bit to find a river, which we crossed, then bashed a bit more through some more woods on the other side. When we got to the top we finally worked out where we were and got sorted out. It cost us maybe 20 minutes, but compared to disasters I've had on my own it was pretty minor. After that we had a good run for the rest of day 1 and finished 7 minutes inside the six hours. The weather for a while in the middle of the day was a bit bleak, but nothing lasted too long and the sun shone eventually!

At about half past 3 we arrived at the campsite. The weather wasn't too bad and we got the tent up while it was relatively dry. After that we relaxed and sat down outside for a while, which let us get a bit cold. We got into the tent and gradually warmed up a bit, just as the weather turned again. It was going to be a long night, but we did have a LOT of food!

The overnight camp
We did make it out of the tent once and had a wander around the barn to look at the results... We were 24th out of 190 starters, and pretty pleased with that! We actually felt warmer once out of the tent, as our sleeping bags and clothes had got a bit damp from the condensation and rain. The wind was gusting very strongly and blowing the rain through the little vents in the tent, which wasn't helping things!

After the last wander around we went back to the tent and enjoyed our freeze-dried meals. Will's curry looked better than my "Beef Hotpot" (which seemed to basically be mashed potato), but the half Malt Loaf pudding was amazing! I think I actually slept reasonably well. I did wake up quite a few times shivering, but I don't remember much between 10pm and hearing the lady with the megaphone telling us it was 6am. Shortly after that we gradually tidied up the tent and put all our clothes on. The wind was still blowing hard and we had all our gear on as we headed for the toilets... Time was tight, but we just about made it to our 8:47 start!

Day 2
Day 2 took us on the same hills as day 1. We'd run about 34km with 1600m of ascent on the first day, and it turned out that though we would run less distance, we'd actually climb more on the second day. Will found day 2 a bit touch, particularly the penultimate climb, which was his least favourite... Not many boggy tussocky climbs in London to practice on. We'd decided on quite an ambitious route on day 2 and by the time we'd reached to top of Will's least favourite hill we'd hit the 5 hour limit and were into penalty points. However, the route we'd chosen meant it was worth losing a few points - as long as we finished in under 6 hours we wouldn't lose enough points to make a shorter route better. One more descent, some more tussocks, a final big climb in sight of the finish and we were onto the run for home!

We joined the track we'd walked up to on our way to the start, knowing it was only about a kilometer to the finish. Soon we were running through the event centre and having to jump out of the way to avoid people already leaving, but we were nearly there! We finished the second day in well under 6 hours, meaning it had been worth it. We ended up with 742 points in total, giving us a final position of 32nd. We were pretty chuffed with this, and I think it's particularly good given Wills distinctly urban training!

The OMM was a great event, and after 8 years since I last did it I think I might have another go sometime soon... In the meantime, I think I'm still hungry!

I saw plenty of friends at the event, and some had great runs. Nic Barber and Andy Llwellyn smashed it (as the kids say), winning the A class by more than two hours(!), and Oli Johnson and Neil Northrop ran a great race to finish second in the Elite class. Unfortunately Adam Perry and partner Steve Birkinshaw lost their checkpoint dibber somewhere on day 1 so were disqualified, and Jim Mann and Duncan Archer suffered an injury and didn't start day 2.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Arrogance is a dangerous thing

Yesterday I raced the inaugural Open Adventure "Lakes in a Day" ultra, my first race as part of the new Scott-Accelerate team, which I'm very proud to be part of. However some things, it seems, don't change...

First of all, lets rewind to Thursday. I met coach Stu and Debs from Accelerate, Colin from APC, Pete from Scott and fellow runners Dot and Chris. It was great to finally meet Pete and thank Scott for their support at the Matterhorn race. We ate some food, talked about plans for the year ahead and officially became Team Accelerate-Scott. After so much support over the years from Accelerate it's great to continue this, and it's also very exciting to have the support of Scott. So, as a sort of sponsored runner, by Saturday it was time to do some running...

Me, Dot, Pete, Colin, Debs, Chris (Stu taking photo)
After a very busy Friday trying to write and submit a journal paper, I finally left Sheffield at about midnight, heading to Cartmel in the south lakes ready for the Lakes In A Day race starting the next morning. A couple of hours after arriving I was awake again, registered and ready to go before getting on a coach to be taken from Cartmel (the finish) to the start at Caldbeck. The hour and a half journey was the first time I'd had a proper look at the route map, which wasn't ideal, but it didn't look too difficult...

The route looked amazing - from Caldbeck we would run south up High Pike, then Blencathra and down to the first checkpoint at Threlkeld. From there up again to Clough Head and along the Dodds ridge to Helvellyn, then down Fairfield and to Ambleside, where we would have climbed around 3000m. With another 1000m or so left to climb in the rest of route would take us from Ambleside, along the edge of Windermere to the final checkpoint at Finsthwaite, through Newby Bridge and back into Cartmel.

In an attempt to avoid the stomach problems I have so eloquently described in previous blogs, I decided to try a small breakfast before this race. On the coach I ate a banana, looked over the maps as much as I could and tried to sleep a bit. Soon we arrived at the start and before I knew it we were off! After a few minutes the field was spread out, I chatted to Alex Pilkington for a while but spotted someone in a yellow jacket heading off into the distance. I really didn't want to set off too fast but whoever he was seemed to be running away into the distance so I decided to up the pace a bit. A little while up the road I caught two guys running together in 2nd/3rd, they looked to be going well and we chatted for a little while, then I continued on again to catch up with Mr. Yellow... Who turned out to be Harold Wyber, a friend of a friend and a good runner (2:34 marathon!), who I last met on a stag do in Keswick.

We weren't yet at the top of the first hill so it felt risky to be at the front, but by the top of High Pike that's where I found myself, despite losing some ground to the guys behind when Harold and I took the wrong line up the hill...

Unintentional detour 1 (solid line=me, transparent line=recommended route)
At the top of High Pike we entered the open route choice section of the course, and feeling ambitious (I will never learn) I tried to cut the corner by running down across the open fellside instead of sticking on the Cumbria way. The route looked simple, just go south until you hit the big obvious path, how hard could it be?!

So after faffing about in deep heather for a while and adding about another kilometre to the 75km course I rejoined everyone else and found I had lost about 25 places. As I crossed the very impressive makeshift bridge constructed by Open Adventure I could see a long line of runners stretching out into the clag up Blencathra... At least I wouldn't have to navigate for a while! I told myself that there was lots of time left and set about gradually catching up to the front. It was nice to chat to a few people as we climbed, and good to see Joe Faulkner marshalling on the summit. The weather up there was pretty grey and a bit claggy, which meant that the descent off Halls Fell was a bit slippery. Joe told me there were now four or five people in front so I tried to push on, but I ended up on my bum a few times so decided to keep it sensible rather than have a more serious fall - though I can still feel the bruises as I write this! 

Towards the bottom of the section into Threlkeld I caught Harold again, and we were both caught by another runner. The three of us arrived into the checkpoint together and I quickly grabbed a bit of food and headed out while the others stayed a bit longer. By the time I caught Alex Pilkington about 100 metres down the road I realised I had not got enough food, it was 25kms or so to Ambleside and I'd now eaten all I'd picked up, leaving me only with two gels and some sweets - this race was turning into a disaster!

Impressive race-branded sweets, but not enough for 3 or 4 hours!
Next came the long climb up to the Helvellyn ridge. After another few minutes chatting with Alex I set off after the (now three) guys in front... I was feeling good now, I felt hungry but the stomach was behaving itself after the smaller breakfast and my legs felt tired but OK. The first two appeared on the lower slopes of the climb, I caught them after a while and we made our way up Clough Head. Being experienced adventure racers (Tim Higginbottom and Jon Duncan) they were navigating perfectly and I was grateful to not get my map out for a little while. I hadn't realised that the paper wasn't waterproof so it was now looking a bit soggy! We soon made our way to Clough Head, Calfhow Pike and on to Great Dodd. At some point along the ridge I got away a little from Tim and Jon and set off after Robin Houghton.

And that should've been it! Robin was going well but after a while I caught him and we ran together for the rest of the day. At Ambleside it was great to see Lucy Spain and Bruce Duncan from Haglofs cheering us on, and I left the checkpoint alone as Robin stopped to change his shoes. After all the mishaps maybe I finally had the win in my sights? Nooooo, of course not! I took a slightly dodgy route in the woods after High Wray and before I knew it Robin appeared from a track on the left and my thoughts of victory were blown apart. As we would later agree, "Arrogance is a dangerous thing".

Coming off Blencathra - Me (l) and Harold - Photo James Kirby
Back together but running well and now having completed most of the ascent, we settled in for the run along Windermere to the Finsthwaite checkpoint. It was tough and we both worked hard, this was probably my low point of the race but I knew we just had to keep moving at a good pace and not get lost. We didn't know at the time, but from having just 4 minutes gap over Tim (who had pulled away from Jon) at Ambleside, we had 20 minutes by the time we got to Finsthwaite.

12 km to go! Just as in Ambleside, Bruce was there to dispense encouragement, the checkpoint staff were great, and I left before Robin. This time though the competitiveness had waned and I ran at 95% until Robin caught me up. He later said that he'd worked hard to do so, and as we will soon discover, it could perhaps have been a very different result if I had had the balls to push on. We were not concentrating on the navigation and began to make silly (even for me!) mistakes, first losing the path through Backbarrow then missing the junction in Brow Edge and had to make an extra climb.

 I was worried now that Tim would be close behind, but we were close to the finish and couldn't see him. We ran past Bigland Tarn and discussed going out for a beer after the race, which sounded like an excellent plan. I think I said something like "provided nothing goes wrong in the next few kilometres, we can buy each other a pint"... Well, we didn't go to the pub.

Instead, after Bigland tarn we missed the footpath junction and headed down a small road (thinking it was the footpath) to the B5278. Only when we had run along it to Ellerside Farm did we work out what we'd done, and try to rectify it by climbing up on a footpath through the woods, then rejoining the road east into Cartmel. The path in the woods was non-existent in places, and we clambered up through the trees for what felt like a long time before we eventually reached Howbarrow and rejoined the road. I was now convinced that not only Tim, but lots of others would have passed us. I thought we might scrape a top-10 finish if we were lucky.

We finally saw the church steeple, passed the race course, saw the finish banner and ran up the field towards it. We could see Tim on the finishline, but no-one else. It turned out only he had finished, which surprised me! He had been in for about 4 minutes, though the results show Robin and I arriving 2 minutes apart when we certainly didn't, so maybe Tim had been there 6 minutes. Anyway, after a day of daft mistakes one had finally cost me the race!

The finishline (taken later in the evening)
However, it was a fantastic day. The course is brilliant, there's loads of climb, some spectacular scenery (the sunset from the top of the final hill was beautiful*) and great running. As always with Open Adventure, the organisation and checkpoint staff were top notch. As my first race with Team Accelerate-Scott I had a new pair of Scott Trail Rockets to wear, which I used straight out of the box... Not normally sensible but not a blister in sight and great shoes for the whole course! As I mentioned I struggled down Halls Fell Ridge, but everyone I spoke to after the race, regardless of their shoes, struggled down there!

After a shower and some food,  Robin and I were generally mocked, and prizes were awarded by James Thurlow of OA and Bruce Duncan of Haglofs.
I'd like to say massive thanks to Robin who as well as being a great guy to run with was also a true gentleman and insisted that I took the second place trophy.Well done Tim on a great run, and thanks to everyone at OA for putting on a great event. Apologies to Accelerate-Scott on not being  able to kick us off with a win, but I WILL be back next year.

Well done Tim! (Bruce l, Tim r)
* - though I don't want to see it next year