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, 6 December 2015

J'habite a La Combe

Woohoo! We live in the alps now. Last Friday, Lorna, Acer and I arrived in the tiny hamlet of La Combe, between Moutiers and the ski resort of St Martin de Belleville. We're in the "Trois Vallees" area, the biggest ski area in the world. I've dreamed of living in the Alps for a long time, and it's amazing to actually be here.

A quick introduction to (and plug for) our chalet... Lorna and I are the new managers of Chalet Chardon Bleu. Between us and the other two staff, Josh and Amber, we look after the chalet and up to 25 guests on behalf of Peak Pursuits. Lorna is the chef, Josh and Amber help in the kitchen, clean and tidy the chalet, and help me ferry guests to and from the slopes. I'm in charge of things like looking after the Hot Tub, checking the vehicles, fixing chalet and vehicle stuff, and driving. The chalet is a beautiful old building, but I think the maintenance will keep me busy!

It's been a busy week since we arrived with the chalet to prepare for our guests, the first of which arrive next week. I've managed to sneak in a few runs though, which have been predictably hilly and snowy. The two times I've been out have been fantastic - both around 10 miles long with 900m or so climb... Yesterday up the hills opposite and today up the hills behind La Combe. Today I needed my microspikes for the first time and had a great run up to the second pylon visible from the back of the chalet.

The second pylon...
The other day I cycled the climb from La Combe up to St Martin itself, which is part of the infamous 38km Moutiers - Val Thorens climb. This section wasn't too bad, and only too 15 minutes or so more than in the land rover, so if I'm feeling strong and the weather's good I might even go by bike to collect the bread for breakfasts.

Anyway, the internet connection is not one of La Combe's strongest features, so I'll close this post now and try to add a few photos... Hopefully more to come from the Alps soon (a faster connection is due next week)!

Might even manage some skiing!
Finally... I learned yesterday that my blog has made it into the final shortlist of the RunUltra blog awards. I may have nominated myself originally, but I had nothing to do with the shortlisting, so I'm pretty chuffed! I stand no chance of winning, obviously, but it's great to be nominated. The first stage of the voting is a head-to-head, and I'm up against Stuart Mills! Voting is here if anyone's interested.

Friday, 30 October 2015

The "I" word

I started running in about 2003, when I first came to Sheffield and discovered the Peak District. At first it was an occasional distraction from a concentrated lifestyle of drinking, wasting taxpayers money, and not really doing any work. Over time I started to run a little more, drink a little less, and perhaps work a little harder. Then, through friends at the University orienteering and fell running club I started a bit of racing, which turned into more racing and longer races. Over the next few years the running addiction seriously took hold. Fast forwards to 2015 and I have great support from Accelerate and Scott, a coach and a training schedule. Running is now very different. However, there's one thing I've always dreaded and up to now managed to avoid... Injury.

Not any more. Let's not get too overexcited, it's not serious and all my limbs remain attached, but after a persistent ache in the inner upper part of my right leg (can you tell I didn't study anatomy?!) I saw Pete the physio at the Accelerate Performance Centre yesterday. I have a tendinopathy of the adductor longus. Googling this produces many gory photos of legs cut open, and a few which show the location of the muscle - including this one from the classic website www.aidmygroin.com...

So, what's the point of all this? Well, I started running, and kept running, because I enjoy it. Over time I've also come to enjoy competition, but fundamentally I just like to run. For this reason, I've always dreaded injuring myself such that I couldn't run, and had many joking conversations with Lorna about what a nightmare I'd be if this did ever happen!

The treatment for my injury is rest, ice, and no running for 4 weeks, the longest period I've gone without running for about 12 years. It will be a new experience, and I would like publicly apologise for whatever I turn into without my daily fix. The saving grace is that I can at least ride my bike a little, which might just preserve my sanity. Early indications are that I will use all this new spare time to cook and write long rambling blog posts about nothing in particular...

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Very lucky.

I went out running last night. Normally on a Friday I do a strength and conditioning session at Accelerate, then 30 minutes or so of drills later, but yesterday I decided to drive out to Edale and run a loop to Blackden trig on the edge of Kinder, Win Hill, down through Hope and Castleton, then over Mam Tor and back to the car. This is a small part of a bigger route I'd like to do soon so a good chance for a recce.

All went well from the car park at Barber Booth to Edale then up Ringing Roger and to the Blackden trig, which I found pretty easily. I ran round to Win Hill in the fading light and turned my torch on at the summit. It was a lovely evening but I was short of time so checked the map for a shortcut. There wasn't one, so off I went, down through Twitchill Farm and into Hope, then along the road to Castleton. From there my route up Mam Tor would be up the road to Blue John caverns, then up the steep but short grassy climb to the summit.

Planned route up Mam Tor...
I wasn't breaking any records but it felt good to be out in the hills, and I left the road looking forward to one last climb. I wasn't too worried about the route as I just needed to get to the top so at the end of the road I followed a trod I liked the look of and was soon 100m from the summit. Here the path faded and the route got steeper and rockier, requiring a bit of scrambling. It wasn't quite what I remembered but I foolishly carried on. Soon I was in trouble - I was now some way up a cliff and having to actually climb, not fun or easy on the muddy crumbly rock. Looking around there was not an obvious easy way up but I had already gone too fa to climb down.

Actual route - somewhere up the middle
I now felt very exposed, and very stupid for ending up here. If I fell I was going all the way to the bottom. I guessed I'd ended up here by drifting too far left at the bottom of the climb, so for about half an hour I tried to gradually move around to the right. It was now fully dark so I couldn't see very far, and it started to all feel a bit pointless... I nearly fell three or four times when the rocks I was standing on or holding crumbled and fell off, each time resulting in a frantic scramble to grab something. It was surely only a matter of time till I fell to the bottom.

Finally I saw a grassy area 10 metres away, which looked like it might be a way off, but between me and it was a horrible looking section which I couldn't imagine getting across. I stopped and considered my options: I could shout for help, but no-one would hear me (and even if they did, they weren't likely to climb up and get me!). I could get my phone and call mountain rescue, but by the time they arrived my current footholds would have crumbled. So I was left with the option to carry on - I was about to decide to go for it when the foothold I was standing on fell away and I was left hanging by my hands. Miraculously this one didn't crumble. It took another few minutes to calm down and get my foot on a rock high up to my left, then lever myself up, and finally to clamber across to the grassy bit where I collapsed into a little pile of relief for a while.

Hills in the dark. Be careful!
Looking back, I would never have headed that way up in daylight as the route round the side would have been obvious, so I guess the moral of the story is that it's even more important to know exactly where you are in the dark. I think I was also a bit naive about something like this happening in the Peak District - I've run up and down Mam Tor so many times, it's an easy hill (there's a road most of the way up!), and I never imagined something like this happening there. I won't be so naive again.

So, despite the grey weather and rain in Sheffield this morning, I'm feeling very grateful to be here and looking forward to heading out to the hills again later, which I will enjoy with gratitude and renewed respect!

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Blog awards nomination

Just a very quick post to say I'm chuffed to have been nominated in the RunUltra blog awards! Thanks guys.

I'm in illustrious company: Anna Frost, Tim Olson, Emelie Forsberg and Accelerate's own Marcus Scotney are also on the list, as well as loads of other great blogs. It's an honour to be on the list! Have a look here -

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

More than a race... The Isle of Man Ultra

If you've not been to the Isle of Man, you should go. It's a fantastic place with great people, brilliant running, and a range of terrain and scenery I've never experienced in 30 miles anywhere else!

It's a few years since I've run the end-to-end race (which was then called the Manx Mountain Marathon) but this year I was back to run the "Isle of Man Ultra". I entered the race a long time ago, and soon realised that the end of my summer was going to be busy! After the Matterhorn Ultraks I was doing my Paris-Nantes ride, then working in France, then back home for a bit, then to Florence for more work and a conference, then back from there last Thursday, and off to the island on Friday... A fantastic exciting month or so, but slightly chaotic! So, here we go...

- - -

I arrived back from Florence last night, quickly unpacked, washed my Scott kit and packed again (albeit a smaller bag). I was going to get the early afternoon ferry from Heysham, which meant I needed to leave home at 11:30 at the VERY latest. After getting everything sorted, collecting the dog from kennels and leaving him with a hairdryer-based automatic feeder, I left at about 11:35. Not a great start, Noddy van would have to work hard...

Inevitably, I missed the ferry. After making up some time, 50 zones on the motorway made it a bit tight, then our fate was sealed by massive roadworks in Lancaster. I arrived at the port 1 minute before the ferry was supposed to sail, but it had already gone.

To cut a long story short, over the next 12 hours I parked the van, packed my bag, cycled to Morecambe and Lancaster, bought a train ticket and waited for the train to Liverpool. The train in front of mine broke down in the station, so the train I needed was cancelled. I cycled back to Lancaster, cooked some Cassulet in the van, slept for a couple of hours and checked in for the 2:15am ferry. We would arrive at 5:45, just in time for the 6am pickup from Douglas to take me to the race start...

Finally on my way!
- - -

I locked the bike up on the Promenade and met my fellow travellers, one of whom I'd spotted on the ferry. Soon we were on the way to the start at Ramsay. Unfortunately the keys for the hall were missing so registration took place outside. By the 7:30 starters were ready to go I was pretty much ready too, despite a lot of my kit having lorry grease smeared all over it (an unfortunate consequence of clambering about to get to the bike off the ferry!). I watched them start, then realised that there were only 4 of us left!

7:30 starters underway
Over the next half hour or so more people arrived, many of whom were frighteningly speedy-looking locals. As always, it was almost impossible to tell who is going to be fast unless you've raced them before, but that didn't stop me worrying!

Finally it was 8:30 and I was glad to be underway. We could see the top of North Barrule from the start and it looked a little misty, but the weather was good for running. We set off along the promenade, then up into Ballure plantation and around the reservoir. Here I pushed on a bit from a group to catch the leader, wearing a Clayton-le-Moors vest. I later learned that this was Paul Thompson, 7/8/9 (no-one seems sure!) times winner of the race. We were running at a good pace up North Barrule, and even when the climb got steep Paul was still running every step. I found I could stay with him by walking hard on the steep bits though, and after an hour or so we had a decent gap to the guys behind us.

We swapped the lead as we continued over the next few hills to Clagh Ouyr, then down to the road and up to the highest point on the island: Snaefell. I reached the summit slightly ahead but took a less good line down and ended up about 20 seconds behind Paul when we got to the Bungalow checkpoint and drinks station. On the climb I caught Paul up again and we were together over Beinn-y-Phott. I was feeling OK, but the inside of my quads (as Ron Burgundy might say, in the crotchial region?!) were feeling sore and the race now felt like the welcome end of a long season!

Snaefell from the bus later on...
My line off Carraghan seemed, shockingly, to be better than Paul's, so I ended up in front as we started to catch the 7:30 starters. I saw three Totley guys having fun just before crossing the river, which was as slippery as ever (and still with a secret video camera set up to catch those of us who fell in!). The next section is the slightly tricky navigational bit, and I began to wonder whether I should've held back to run with Paul over this bit. But I believe in racing and was happy I'd gone for it. My line over Colden was fine, but I messed up slightly after that and ended up going to the summit of Lhargee Ruy rather than skirting round - not a disaster but a few moments lost. As I glanced back I couldn't see Paul, but could see a pair of guys in vests gaining on me. Just after Greeba they caught me, and together we threw ourselves down the horrible gorse section towards St Johns. I was pleased to note that even the locals couldn't avoid bloody legs! I was running with Ben (a very speedy fellrunner but his first time at this distance), and Tom (the Manx "long distance specialist", according to Ben).

Tom Cringle (http://www.iomtoday.co.im/sport/isle-of-man-sport/)
Along the railway line in to St Johns Ben and I pushed on a bit, running together and deciding to decline the raw Onions left out for us by a kind spectator... I was glad to have the couple of kilometres of flat rocky track out of the way and we soon set off up the climb through Slieau Whallion plantation. The climb was really steep and I wondered how the others were feeling, so I dug in and ran most of the climb. The answer was that they were feeling pretty good! I got a gap of maybe 25 metres by the top of the plantation climb, but it wasn't much. The climb continued after the plantation and in this section I slightly extended the gap to Ben, but suddenly just before the top Tom appeared next to me.

We drop off the top and I try hard to stick with Tom - suddenly everything hurts! As I wobble downhill trying to run as fast as I can it feels like the wheels are officially off. I decided it was a two gel situation and necked them as fast as I could, but it didn't look good. Tom was now well away, I don't remember someone leaving me this far behind in such a short time before, and felt pretty stupid for thinking that I might be stronger than them.

Fleshwick Bay
There are more flagged sections in the second half of the race, and the navigation is theoretically easier, even so I nearly missed a flag in the Arasey plantation but got back on track just in time. The next section would take us to South Barulle, arguably the last big hill on the route, and an out-and-back so I'd be able to see how far apart we all were. Before I got there though it became apparent that Ben was not far behind - I tried to turn right on the big track near Claghbane but heard him shout to go left. Aaaargh, surely he'd catch me soon!

When I eventually got to the South Barrule climb I felt much better going uphill than downhill, and jogged most of the lower slopes. I saw Tom coming down when I was maybe 2 minutes from the summit, so I guess he had three minutes on me. On my descent I saw Ben in a similar place, but was slightly surprised to also see Paul, and another two runners lower on the slopes: I needed to keep it together or I could easily end up sixth! After one more climb to Cronk ny Arrey Laa (obviously) the route joins the stunning coastal path around the western coast of the island to Port Erin. I couldn't see anyone in front or behind but felt sure I was being caught so worked as hard as I could on this section, which felt much longer than it is!

Before the last climb the route drops all the way down to Fleshwick Bay, then it's the tough little climb to Bradda Hill and a gradual descent down in to Port Erin. I could see Ben descending to the bay as I climbed, and fueled by this and a few Blackberries I managed to run most of the ascent. This last part of the course is beautiful - it all is, but I see hills and bogs more regularly than rocky coastlines and clear water!

Looking back to Bradda Tower from the finishline
As I came in towards the finish I glanced at my watch and wondered if I could finish inside last year's winning time, which I think was 5:24. According to the results, my time was 5:24 dead. In the end Tom had taken nearly 6 minutes out of me to finish in 5:18:24, and Ben was 2:29 behind me, followed by Paul another 6 minutes back. Results

At the finish we were all given a bottle of Okells Manx beer, and Tom even gave me a cup of his winning Champagne! Unfortunately, after the running was done I was back to travel disorganisation, so spent an hour on a bus to Douglas, then half an hour cycling to my campsite to set up the tent... Just in time to turn around and do the same in reverse to attend the prizegiving in the evening! It was nice to catch up with Runfurther people I haven't seen for a while though, like Karen Nash and Chris Davies, and enjoy a beer and a pie at the end of a tough day.

- - -

The Isle of Man Ultra is a fantastic race. It's hard, hilly (nearly 3000m ascent) and beautiful all the way round. I had a tough race this year, I never felt really good and seemed to do a lot of hanging on, but I very much enjoyed the day and will hopefully be back soon!

I should thank the organisers, Manx Fell Runners, for a fantastic event, to the marshals for spending time out on the hills, and congratulations to everyone else who ran. Thanks of course also to Accelerate and Scott Running for continuing to support me, I wore the Scott Kinbalu Supertrac shoes again, which were great through the slippery bits, and used the little Scott race pack to carry my compulsary kit.

Till next time, Isle of Man!

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Un petit velo... Paris to Nantes

As part of my research work I am required to attend and present at academic conferences, which is a great perk of the academic life and often leads to travel to interesting places. Sometimes it is possible to extend the trip a little and do some exploring or racing... Last year I attended a conference in Tokyo and was able to add on a few extra days in Japan in order to run the Mt Fuji race, this year the European part of the same conference took place in Nantes, not quite as far but still an opportunity for a good trip! I didn't find any interesting races at the right time, so decided on a bike trip from Paris.

I have never done any cycle touring before, but over the months read up a bit and the the help of eBay set up my bike with front and rear panniers and bags. I also had to carry a padded bike bag (for the way back), so this meant the last-minute addition of a rucksack.

Day 0: Paris – St Savouir des Bois (50km)

I left Sheffield, got the train to St Pancreas, then the Eurostar (for the first time – very exciting!) to Paris Gare du Nord. The bike in its bag had to be booked and loaded seperately so after wandering around the station for a while I finally found the little luggage office and was able to collect mon velo. Thankfully he had been looked after well, and after half an hour or so was re-assembled and ready to go.

Half an hour or so at Gare du Nord...

I'd planned to get a train south from Paris and set off from somewhere like Fontainbleu, but since I was there it seemed sensible to do a bit of sightseeing so I decided to brave the Paris traffic and ride all the way. It would probably mean a late finish to the first day but nevermind.

I've been to the Eiffel tower before, but not for a long time, and had forgotten how impressive it really is. I was glad I'd changed my plans and spent an enjoyable couple of hours taking in the sights of Paris. Eventually I set off south, though the map I had was of a very large scale and printed in 1987, so was fairly useless. It took a predictably long time to leave Paris behind, and I was still in the suburbs when it got dark. I wasn't really prepared for cycling, didn't have any water and was still wearing my travelling clothes, but I knew of a campsite about 50km south of Paris and headed vaguely towards it. At about ten past 10 in the evening I arrived into the nice little town of St Saveour des Bois.

Unfortunately, the campsite closed its door at 10pm and despite only being a few minutes after this I couldn't wake anyone up. However, there was a nice little park just next door so I pitched my tent there and saved 15 euros! Food was a bit more tricky – everything in the town was closed, in fact the whole place was very empty. I eventually found a man closing up his restaurant who told me that there was a McDonalds about 5km further up the road... Not ideal but it would have to do! Luckily, on the way there I spotted a Pizza shop instead and enjoyed a tasty takeaway Pizza back in my tent. As I did so two people arrived in my little park and I wondered if they too had missed the campsite. They said not, and quickly disappeared to another bit of the park, so I didn't dwell on what they were actually doing there!

Day 1: St Savouir des Bois – Beaugency (140kms)

My route plan was to go South, then West along the Loire river, so I left St Savouir aiming for Orleans. With my useless map it was hard to find the little roads that I wanted to use, obviously rather than the big national roads (some of which at least I think bikes are technically allowed on, but would certainly be no fun!). I seemed to veer between riding on tiny little rocky farm tracks and ending up on dual carriageways. The tracks were great fun and seemed to be taking me the way I wanted to go, but were slow going and I had to be really careful not to damage my bike... There was still a long way to go and I was riding my normal road bike with 700x23 road tyres!

Not quite what Mr. Bike had in mind...

After breakfast in Arpajon, one particularly special little track took me up and over a hill to the town of Entampes. It appeared to be a motocross bike area with jumps and stuff, and the ruts in the track eventually became too deep... it was time to push. At the top of the hill there was a spectacular old quarry with five or six burnt out cars and tyre tracks everywhere, apparently a popular spot for the end of your joy ride. After this experience I did find some more suitably sized roads and had a good ride from Entampes to Orleans, where I joined the “Loire et Velo” route which would theoretically take me the rest of the way to Nantes on minor roads and riverside paths. It was getting late in the day now but I wanted to make a bit more progress after the earlier slowness, so did a few more hours riding. I had planned to stop at a place called Mer, but arriving in Beaugency (maybe 10kms short of Mer) I spotted a nice campsite on the other side of the river and decided to call it a day.

Big bridge at Beaugency
The campsite was good, I pitched up right on the riverbank with a great view of the bridge. Unfortunately I had not been able to buy any gas for my camping stove so wasn't able to cook any dinner, this meant I ended up with Italian food for the second night in a row, but this time a fishy salad rather than pizza.

Day 2: Beaugency – Montsoreau (170kms)

The morning started well – the campsite restaurant sold crossiants. I was packed up and off by 8ish as I expected today to be the longest day. I wanted to ride at least one hundred mile day, I know that's not really a long way for a normal ride, but with all the bags it would probably take me eight hours of riding. I aimed for an average of 20km per hour, again very slow but with baggage and navigation stops (the route doesn't always stay within sight of the river, so it's not quite as easy as you might imagine!) I wasn't often going much faster than this.

Somewhere after Beaugency (what zoom function?!)
I made good progress in the morning, from Beaugency, through Blois, and on towards Amboise. I had a quick lunch stop there (Jambon Emmental sandwiches were my staple lunch), having done about 80km in about four hours. Riding along the river on little roads was great, the sun was shining any day 2 was probably the day with the best scenery. The roads in the afternoon continued to be great and I passed through lots of lovely little villages and past vineyards. The bike was working well and my rear pannier rack appeared to be holding on. My bike isn't designed for panniers so the rack was bolted to P-clips on the frame, which I was a bit nervous about.

After skirting around Tours I came to Berthenay, where the Loire does a bit of a loop and turns back on itself for a while. There's also another river (Le Cher) in this area. It's a beautiful area, just upstream from the chateau at Villandry, but the confluence and meandering rivers confused me and I realised I was heading east. Not good! Still, I was enjoying myself and not feeling particularly tired, so the backtracking and detour to get back to the right side of the right river was not a problem. The time spent working out what I'd done did cause my average speed to drop though, so I made a concerted effort to push on in the last couple of hours and aimed to get to a campsite at Montsoreau by 7pm. This was my favourite area of the trip, and a really great evening of riding. I felt really good, the roads were nice, and the scenery was stunning. There were also even a few little hills which made a nice change! I stopped in Avoine and bought food (salad – still no gas) and a beer to celebrate my 100 mile day, then cruised the last ten miles or so into the village of Montsoreau. The sun was starting to set as I arrived and I stopped for a quick look at the Chateau.

Montsoreau chateau
The campsite was great, those of us arriving with bikes were put right in the middle of the site (for once I had to get changed inside the tent!) and had our own little building with some picnic benches and a fridge. With the beer and chevre in the fridge I had a shower and set up the tent, then set myself up a picnic feast for the evening. The local chevre from Avoine was really good, as was the little tin of pate. After dinner I went for a walk up above the campsite to see the cave houses. These are houses built into the cliff rocks overlooking the town, and were really cool. There were steps up and then a little path along the front of the houses, most of which appeared to be occupied. I walked around for quite a while so it was a bit late when I went to bed.

Day 3: Montsoreau – Nantes (160kms)

Consequently I didn't get off to a particularly early start, especially as I went to the market in Montsoreau for breakfast and had a coffee before I set off. It was quite a cold morning till the sun hit you, but sitting outside a cafe with a coffee and crossiant watching the mist rise from the Loire was exactly what I'd had in mind for this trip (and I suppose some cycling), so it was worth the late start.

Morning on the Loire
I didn't actually follow the Loire et Velo for all that much of the final day, after Saumur I couldn't find it so instead followed the compass west and ended up going through Grezille, Les Alleuds and Brissac-Qunice, south of the river, then Moze-sur-Louet and rejoining at Rochfort-sur-Loire. From there I continued along the river through Chalonnes-s-L, and into Montjean-s-L... Or so I thought! On the last descent down into Montjean there was a sign telling us the road was closed in 500m. I assumed it would be roadworks and that I could probably squeeze through on the bike, but soon came across a huge pile of hay bales blocking the road! They had been installed well, there was no chance of getting through in a car and it was hard work to even walk around the edge to see what was going on. It turned out there was a timed car race (a hillclimb) taking place. The start was visible just down the hill from the bales, so I wondered whether I'd be allowed to push my bike down the side of the road and continue past. Approaching a marshal the arm-waving and shouting suggested that it would not. He insisted I would have to go back and said I could get round by going up the next road. I watched a couple of cars go up the hill and screech around the first bend, then set off up the steep hill. It nearly killed my but I made it over the top and along a nice road for a while, to another “Route Baree” sign! More waving and shouting by another marshal indicated that this was also not the way. In the end I had to go through the parking field of the race and carry Mr. Velo up and over a pedestrian bridge over the race road, then through another car park and finally down a farm track into Montjean!

An old Renault taking on the hillclimb
From there, I rejoined the Loire et Velo route for the final 50 or so kilometres into Nantes. I was having another great afternoon's riding, and looking forward to getting to Nantes, where I had rented luxurious accommodation for the week (well, a bedsit!). The last major town was Ancenis, where I thought I was going to encounter another closed road, but in fact the bridge was closed to traffic but open to everyone else. I wasn't sure what was going on, but later saw on TV that there had been a huge table set up along the length of the bridge and the residents of the town had all had lunch there! From Ancenis I didn't have far to go. The little town of Oudon was another lovely place, unfortunately from there the route to Nantes wasn't great, but it didn't really matter as I'd had so much great riding over the previous four days. After a busy narrow track along the railway line the final 10k or so did open out into some nice parkland, but it was still really busy. I had a bit of finish-line fever so was trying to go as fast as possible, but in the end I gave up and joined everyone else in pootling along the riverbank into the city.

Final riverbank ride into Nantes
As I'd expected, arriving in Nantes was a bit mad. There were people everywhere, and I wasn't sure really where to call the end of the ride. I decided that the chateau in the middle of the city was as good a place as any, so officially ended my ride there. Luckily, there was a bar overlooking the chateau and the park next to it for the compulsary finish-line beer.


It was only a few days but I really enjoyed the ride, particularly being self-sufficient and camping rather than staying in B&Bs. This does mean I had to carry a bit more gear than I would've and consequently the daily distances were a bit lower, but for me it made it more of an adventure (and cheaper). The rest of my time in Nantes was great too, and as I write this I'm on the train back from St Pancreas to Sheffield. Time to plan another cycle adventure!

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

3 minutes is nowt!

Thanks to Scott, last weekend I was back in Zermatt for the Matterhorn Ultraks race. I ran this race last year and described it as an "incredible race and a brilliant experience in a spectacular setting". I also ran one of the best races I ever have, moving through the field from around 50th to finish 18th. So, this year I was chuffed to be going back, but a little bit worried whether I could do better in 2015.

Training over the last few months has gone quite well, but I wondered if I was a bit lacking in hill training. Last year I had the advantage of the Mount Fuji race about 4 weeks before the Matterhorn, this year I had Snowdon... Still, on Friday morning I was on my way to the Alps! After a 4am start, automobiles, planes and trains with incredible views, by the evening my little tent was set up next to Lee Walker's and it was time for some food. We met Chris and Paula Shelton and headed out for Pizza. Lee was also running the 46k, and Chris the 30k.

Relaxation and hydration on Swiss trains

Race day...
The 46k race started at 7:30am on Saturday morning, so I was up at 6ish. I then decided to break all the rules I have told other people about this sort of race...

1. Have a decent breakfast.
I had a 9 bar (but had eaten enough over the last few days to fuel a small country).

2. Don't try anything on race day you wouldn't normally.
I decided not to run with a pack, and only with three gels, two of which I'd never used before.

3, Carry enough water.
I was going to run with a 250ml soft flask.

On the startline
Arriving at the startline I felt nervous and excited again, and before long we were all corralled into the start area and the NASA countdown began. Lee and I wished each other a good race and I wandered forwards a bit. Knowing that from Zermatt at 1605m we'd basically climb directly to Gornergrat at 3150m I didn't want to be too close to the front - particularly for those of us who don't train in proper mountains it could be a disaster to start too fast!

The Race...
Before we've left Zermatt I realise that I might've started a bit too far back so make an effort to pass a few people. Just like last year the sun is shining and the support of the spectators is amazing! Running down the side of the road meant that I even saw Martin from Scott for a quick high five, but then I saw a Pennine fell runners vest in front of me. Time to get racing!

The climb to Sunegga was hot and my little squishy bottle of water was running out quickly. I was running in a group just behind Mr. Pennine. I wasn't sure whether I was running well or not, but I knew my split to Sunegga last year was about 45 minutes. This year I was at the top in 45:49. I drank some Coke and refilled my bottle, then dropped off down the little descent before the big climb to the Gornergrat. A little way into the descent Mr Pennine stopped to cool his feet in a puddle and I nipped past him. Now all I had to do was stay ahead of him for 5 hours or so!

Climbing to Sunegga last year
After Sunegga we climbed further up, and now out of the tree cover. It was hot, if this had been a race in the UK there wouldn't have been a t-shirt in sight, so being a Brit abroad I took my shirt off and pressed on up the rocky climb. The views throughout this race are stunning, but none more so that towards the top of the Gornergrat. In the final 100m or so the climb first levels out and joins a big track, then turns up a steep scrambly climb to the summit ridge. The view takes your breath away... if you have any left!

Monte Rosa and Kleine Matterhorn from Gornergrat
I had worked hard to get to the summit inside my time from last year, and again ended up with exactly the same time: 2:02! There's a train to the top so there were plenty of tourists cheering us on at the Gornergrat. I had now definitely run out of water again, so it was good to see Martin with a bottle. He asked how I was doing and ran alongside for a minute while I had a drink - I felt like a proper runner! The route now took me through the buildings at the Gornergrat and down a little to the actual checkpoint. I filled the little bottle again and picked up a cup of cold coke - which turned out to be hot Boullion! EEUUURRRGGGHHH! Exactly what I didn't want. I narrowly managed not to spit it out onto the checkpoint lady then set off down the long descent.

With the Gornergrat done that's about half the total 3600m, though only about 14km or so. For those of us who don't train on big mountains every day the race probably starts here! It's mostly downhill to Riffelalp then Furi at about half way. I was running pretty well, my Riffelalp split this year was 2:30, a minute up on last year, and I had made up another couple of places to 20th in my category. I still came crashing down the tricky descent into Furi more like a Mountain Gorilla than a Mountain Goat but there was fortunately no camera to capture the moment this year!

At Furi there's still half the race left to run, and still two major climbs, but it feels like the end is getting close and I decided it was time to try and make up a few more places. On the way to Schwarzersee I passed another English chap who had been running with Mr Pennine earlier (I think he was the guy from Ambleside whose daughter won the kids' race outright - well done!). The next section is the longest without any checkpoints - about 12km from Schwarzesee at 2600 down a bit to 2200, then up to 2700, then the only flattish bit in the race, and finally a descent to Trift. From Trift it's either 6 or 8 km to the finish, depending if you believe the race title or the route map!

Trift Hutte - an amazing location!
I knew that it was getting quite touch-and-go to beat my time from last year now. I remembered that my split from Trift to the finish was 36 minutes, so I hoped to be at the Trift Hutte by about 5 hours. The section to Trift is one of my favourite of the race, it's a fantastic section of singletrack which winds its way over and around the edge of the Gabelhorn, with an amazing view down the valley. I was pushing now and made up another seven places on the climb and flat section, though I did lose one to a lady from the Catalan running team who was absolutely flying. The Trift hut was visible on the other side of the valley from quite a way away, with some tricky singletrack and a lot of pedestrians between me and it. All the walkers were dressed in red so I guess they were together, but like a a team of Marmottes they were very organised - a lookout at the back of each group would hear me swearing and spraying rocks everywhere as I approached and blow his whistle, then they would all jump off the track to the side and clap and cheer as I passed. It was brilliant!

The final descent - switchbacks anyone?
I reached Trift at 5:10. Not ideal. Just like last year I now had the bit between my teeth and pushed hard up the final 100m climb then down the descent to the finish. Last year I was racing down here but this year I saw no-one. I stuck to the spirit of the race and ran all the switchbacks rather than jumping across (probably quicker anyway), but still managed a little crash on a particularly rocky one. The descent seemed never-ending and it took a long time before I finally saw the 2km to go sign and turned for home. I had five minutes if I was going to beat 5:45... I don't think I've ever run a 2:30 kilometre but it was worth a try! At 1km to go I had one minute, and I finally ran out of time on the run into Zermatt, just above the campsite.

Du-du du-du dudu-dudu... Boooong!
After running most of the race on my own the final run up the main street was a bit of a shock - there were race marshals shouting at tourists to get out of the way, people cheering, and the loud race PA system announcing as I ran across the line! I finished in 5:49, felt a bit ill and had a little lie down next to the photographer.

After the race...
I was 13th in my category (which is now M30!), and 20th overall. The winner was Martin Antamatten in 4:45, exactly the same time as last year's winner. I did beat Mr Pennine, but didn't make first GB runner as Tom Owens turned up and ran a great race to finish 5th in 5:02.

I am a bit disappointed not to have beaten my time, but as Kim Collison said, "3 minutes is nowt". He's right, 3 minutes over 5:49 is about 0.85%, and after my little Achilles niggle maybe it's not a bad result. My heart rate was almost identical to last year, with a slightly lower average and apparently not quite as much excitement as I approached the finish line:

Heart rate (2014 right: average 159, 2015 left: average 156)
Chris ran a great race in the 30k to finish 10th in only his second race back from serious injury, and Lee also had a great run, finishing the 46kin 7:54.

Finally, massive thanks to Scott (especially Martin!) and Accelerate for your support and help, and to the Ultraks organisers for putting on another awesome race. This time next year I will hopefully be living in the mountains, so perhaps we'll see whether that makes a difference...

I made a video.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Nicky's Bob Graham Round record - the video!

As I mentioned at the time, Slackjaw Films were present to witness Nicky's record-breaking Bob Graham Round in April. The film has been released today, and is available on the British Mountaineering Council's "BMC TV" website here...

Congratulations again to Nicky on an amazing run, and thanks for involving me in a great day.

Monday, 17 August 2015

The Matterhorn is coming...

It's now only 3 days till I set off to Zermatt to take part in the Matterhorn Ultraks race for the second time. One year ago I ran probably the best race of my life: I prepared well, rested well, didn't set off too fast or go too hard up the first climb, and gradually got faster over the 46km distance. Let's not get carried away, I wasn't at the front, I ran 5:40 to the winners 4:45, but at the first checkpoint I was in 41st position, and after a great race down the last descent with Eirik Haugsnes (and Emilie Forsberg for a while) I finished 21st, or 18th male, or 5th MU30. The only other race I think I've ran as intelligently was the Fuji Mountain race a month before, when I also finished 21st.

Photos from last year (the ones I didn't buy)
So, it is with a great deal of excitement but also a little nervousness that I look forward to this Saturday. I can't wait for the race, the location is amazing and the course truly incredible, but I honestly have no idea whether what to expect from myself. Before the Snowdon race I felt even less confident but I managed to run reasonably well there so if anything I'm now even more confused about how well, or not, I'm running!

Training recently has been going well, but has not been without a few little niggles. Thanks to coach Stu and physio Pete from APC I now feel these are improving. I've got a little achilles tendonitis, which Pete tells me I should ideally be icing for 20 mins every 3 hours. If you read this Pete, I'm doing my best! Anyway, we will find out... Whatever happens it will be a fantastic experience, and I will do my very best to remember my new racing mantra: Be motivated by the possibility of success, not the fear of failure!

...and the one I did!
I'll be running in my Scott kit, and carrying the little TP10 backpack if kit is required. The weather currently looks like it might be humid, wet and thundery, so the organisers may require us to carry a waterproof and some other kit. Thanks to Scott-Accelerate for sorting me out with shoes in advance of the race, I'm going to take a pair each of Supertracs and Trail Rockets and decide on the morning which are the most suitable for the conditions. The Trail Rockets I wore last year worked perfectly despite losing quite a few studs, but the 2015 versions don't have this problem so I reckon they will be the shoes of choice.

Why it's important not to set off to fast!
That's all for now, I'm now very excited and I can't wait to get out there... Bring on the mountains :)

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Accelerate invades Wales!

Though there are quite a few of us in Team Accelerate-Scott, it's not often that we're all at the same race. However, this weekend the Accelerate crew descended on Llanberis in substantial numbers: From Accelerate-Scott were Julian, Chris S, Dot and I, from the performance centre Stu H, Col and Chris, and coached runner Lee Walker, all ably supported by Debs, Ben, Chris's wife, Dot's husband and Lorna (and Acer the dog).

Those of us running had the choice of two events, the inaugural full or half Snowdonia Trail Marathon. Chris, Lee and I were signed up for the full distance, and everyone else the half. Neither looked easy as both involved climbing to 993m, just below the summit of Snowdon. The marathon did this pretty much at the end, whereas the half-ers would still have another little climb afterwards!

After a sunny Saturday we all met up and pitched tents at a campsite rammed with school holiday families. The midges attacked so we all agreed an early night would do us good and retired to our tents...

Despite our self-deflating airbed I slept well and woke to a grey drizzly morning. I was a bit nervous as after a few disappointing performances recently, some niggles and some days when I just have not enjoyed training, I really had no idea if I would run well or not. I decided to try not to get carried away too early on, and start gently.

- - - - - - - - - - -

It was time to find out. We packed up, drove to the start, did a final kit faff and it was soon 10am. The organiser shouted "Go!" and I realised I really had taken quite a relaxed approach, I was quite far back as we trotted out of Llanberis and began the climb up and around Foel Goch. I gradually passed people as we climbed (though not as quickly as Chris S who after starting slightly late flew past us all to the front!). The half and full marathon routes ran together for the first 5km or so, and with no way of knowing who was in which race I decided to stick with the group of three others I found myself in. We wound our way up to the top of the climb where the races split. All four of us turned right onto the full marathon course, and with no-one visible ahead we thought we were probably at the front of the marathon.

Half and full marathon routes

We descended the zig-zag ranger path to the Snowdon Ranger youth hostel quickly, then hit the road and turned left. I was feeling good and running well within myself, but I would now have to wait till Snowdon before there was any more real ascent! Not being the biggest fan of tarmac or flat running this was not necesserily great news. Two of us (Sam Orton and I) had now moved ahead of the others and pulled out a little gap, but as we reached Rhyd Dhu and left the road we were told that there was another runner, apparently 5 minutes ahead of us. We spoke briefly and agreed that 5 minutes was a good gap to have after only about 50 minutes of running.

It was good to be running off-road again as we made our way through the twisty trails around Beddgelert forest. It had rained quite heavily during the first climb but now faired up a little bit and I took my waterproof top off. Dot has commented since the race about this - it certainly took a few minutes of intense concentration to do so whilst trying to keep up with Sam! Due to the weather the race organisers (Always Aim Higher Events) required us to carry full waterproof kit as well as a hat, gloves and mobile phone, so I was using my little Scott pack. However, a few minutes later I realised all that concentration had been unecessary as we were forced to stop as the path crossed the Ffestiniog railway line! The train seemed to pass incredibly slowly but eventually we could see the back and jumped around the end as it passed, glad not to have been caught by the guys behind us!

After around 1:25 we were through the southern-most point of the course at Beddgelert village and heading northeast to Llyn Dinas. Somewhere along this section there was a little hill and I started to slightly get away from Sam. Between here and Llyn Gwynant was a great fun section - the singletrack rose and fell through the woods, it was twisty, rooty and slippery and required constant concentration to stay upright. I slipped a few times but not seriously, and when I could look back I saw that I had maybe a minute's gap. After about 2 hours 10 mins and 28kms I passed through our campsite from the night before, where I was told the lone leader now had 7 or 8 minutes on me. It sounded like a lot and I was starting to tire now, but I hoped that I would be strong on the climb up Snowdon and told myself it wasn't far till we could go uphill.

The climb actually started even sooner than I thought, and once the route left the road a few kilometres after the campsite so began the long drag up to Pen-y-pass. This seemed to go on forever, and being long and straight I could see Sam in the distance behind me. I tried to see the guy in front but could not. After about 200m climb I saw the marshals and Lorna at the top of the hill just before Pen-y-pass. I gave them a big wave from a good distance away, before they could see my face, which I suspected would make me look less happy! I don't know if this was a particularly painful race, but every photo I have seen seems to show me pulling a horrible expression.

Sample gurning
Despite what my face might've shown, I was actually really enjoying the race. I kept thinking back to the 3 Peaks, which in hindsight I really did not enjoy very much at all, and remember thinking that although this race hurt there was nowhere I'd rather be. The scenery was spectacular and I was loving being back in a proper race. After the 3 Peaks I decided that to enjoy racing I needed to be motivated by the chance of doing well rather than the fear of failure, a thought which I had with me as I passed through the 20 mile mark in the Pen-y-pass car park and headed up onto the Pyg track. It had been great to see Lorna, and the other supporters at the car park had given me a boost too. I knew the leader now had 10 minutes on me, which I doubted I could catch, but it was worth a try...

Lorna had told me I looked stronger than him, which I suspected (and she later admitted) was a lie, but I was happy to believe it for a while and tried to run as much of the track as possible. The climb from Pen-y-pass to the checkpoint at the top took 47 minutes. I had no idea whether I was climbing well or not, but having watched the awesome Tour de France stage to Alpe d'Huez on Saturday I tried to channel my inner Quintana. Being in Wales I also tried to conjure up some of the courage of Geraint Thomas, though luckily avoided headbutting any telegraph poles.

As I got nearer the top a few walkers told me that the gap was smaller than I thought: First "3 or 4 minutes", then "a couple of minutes", then just before the marshals at the top someone told me "he's only 60 seconds in front".

The Pyg track
My legs felt rubbish as I reached the mashal point and turned around, but at least it was downhill from here! As I set off down my quads refused to work and I hobbled for a while, but eventually got going. After not much descent, and still in the fog, I saw a person in a green vest and shorts with some walkers, he seemed to be rummaging frantically in a rucksack on the floor. And he had a race number on! This was Callum Rowlinson, who had led all day but apparently had struggled on the climb and ran out of energy at the top. I think he was getting some food from a friend out to support him, but at the time I didn't know what was going on (or even if he was running the full or half marathon) so just tried to keep going as fast as possible. The marshals at the Clogwyn station confirmed that a guy in a green vest had been leading the race, but that they hadn't seen him yet, so it seemed I was now in the lead. I hadn't expected this!

I knew Llanberis was at about 150m altitude and kept glancing at my watch to see how far I'd descended, it seemed to be taking forever to get down. I remembered talking to Stu Hale before the race and him saying that after the summit there was only "that far" to go to the finish. "That far" seemed a looooooooong way! Even after the descent there was still a fiddly little section through the Coed Victoria which seemed to take me away from the sound of the finishline tannoy. Eventually though I popped out of the woods and saw Chris S and Ben Hale who took another classic gurning photo...

More gurning. Nearly there... Photo by Ben Hale
Then across the road, through a bit of car park, and I could see the finish. The final marker sign said 400m to go, I glanced behind me and saw no-one and realised I was going to win. Lorna and all the half marathon guys were there at the finish and the two half marathon runners I crossed the line with even gave me a cheer!

- - - - - - - - - - -

My (chip) time in the end was 4:04:04, which is slower than I expected the winner's time to be, but I think is testament to the difficulty of the course. Even the flat bits were often tricky due to the conditions. Half marathon times were also slower than expected, despite intense competition at the front between Dan Doherty, and Accelerate-Scott's Julian and Chris S. In the end, Dan won by 10 seconds from Julian, with Chris in his first race back after injury getting third. Dot was 1st V60 by miles and Stu H 3rd V50. In the marathon Lee beat Chris H by 6 minutes - you can read Chris's blog here (maybe wait till you're not eating).

In the end I had about 5 minutes on Callum in second, who in turn had another 5 minutes on Sam in 3rd. Jez Brown was 4th and an impressive 5th and 1st lady was Katie Beecher. The race was fantastic, as I mentioned earlier I genuinely did enjoy it (despite what my face said) and am obviously pleased with the result. A huge thanks as ever to Accelerate-Scott, all my kit was great and the Kinbalu Supertrac shoes managed to keep me upright despite the slippyness. Thank you to Lorna for coming to support me, and thanks (and well run!) to Stu H, who seemed as pleased as I was at the finish and gave me a massive hug. Finally, as ever, huge thanks to the organisers and to the marshals who spent all day out in pretty minging conditions - you were all great!

My legs are still pretty shattered but I'm going to enjoy this recovery week while it lasts, it's only a couple of weeks to the Ultraks now...

Friday, 3 July 2015

Three Peaks Yacht Race. But first...

I've just got back from competing as part of team Wight Rose in the 3 Peaks Yacht Race. It was another great race, but before we get into that there are a few things I need to catch up on - I've been a bit slack with the blogging recently!

So here we go, massive achievements in bullet point form:
  • Chris Webb ran up and down Alphin Pike near Saddleworth 25 times in 24 hours to raise money for Stroke association
  • Paul Elliot became the first person to ride the Trans Pennine Trail in under 24 hours to raise money for Sheffield Children's Hospital
  • After waiting a long time for the right weather, Jez Bragg broke the long-standing Ramsey Round record by 11 minutes with a blistering 18:12
  • Adam Perry had a second attempt at a 78 peak 24 hour Lake Distrcit round, aiming to complete possibly the ultimate fell running challenge in the UK. Once again he was very close!
  • Jim Mann and Jasmin Paris finished 1st and 2nd (and 1st male and female) at the Dragons Back race, after 5 long hard days across Wales. Congratulations to everyone who finished the race, including Joe Faulkner who became the first ever triple completer.
All these achievements really deserve their own write-ups but have been written about elsewhere by people more qualified, so I'll simply say congratulations to Chris, Paul, Jez, Adam, Jim, Jasmin and thanks for the inspiration!

Superstars! (l-r) Chris, Paul, Jez, Adam, Jim, Jasmin

Right then, the Three Peaks...

The week of the 3PYR started as it did last year with a win for me at the Wet Fox Trot run-kayak-run race. This is a little race on Underbank Reservoir near Penistone, it involves a 4km run, a 2km kayak and another 4km run. I set off in the last wave and completed the first run in 16:09, and the combined kayak and second run in 25:28. I think anyone who's ever done an adventure race with me would be quite amused that I could ever win a race with kayaking in, but it felt really good to be running OK again, and after a few disappointing months of racing it raised me up a bit ready for the 3PYR.

Crowds at the Wet Fox Trot - great race by Fox Valley Events!
Bouyed (haha) by my midweek success I was excited as I packed and prepared for the 3 Peaks. After initially deciding to give it a miss, we had decided very late that we would enter the race this year, so there was a degree of mild panic to the preparations. However, by Saturday lunchtime I was in Barmouth with Alex Pilkington, where we met our sailors: Geoff West, Gary Clayton, and Paul Jackson. Paul was our third sailor this year in place of John Donolley, and as well as being a very experienced and great sailor also happens to by my father-in-law..

Looking pro in our matching tops! (l-r) Paul, me, Alex, Gary, Geoff
By the time we arrived and entered the race (possibly the latest anyone has done so) we had missed all the briefings, so there was nothing left to do but buy supplies and go for lunch. This done we made our way to the harbour and jumped on a water taxi to take us out to the boat. As I passed my bag up onto the boat the my bike's rear brake, which I had removed with the intention of fixing a dragging caliper, slipped out and was lost to the depths of Barmouth harbour. Ah well, who needs rear brakes anyway! I made a mental note to keep my weight back as I braked for those 90' bends on the Whitehaven cycle path.

Leg 1: Barmouth to Caernarfon
At 6pm we were off, and for a change from last year we weren't rowing! Once we left the harbour conditions were a bit bouncy and Alex soon reaquainted himself with his good friend Mr. Bucket. We seemed to be pulling away nicely from the British Army boat which we'd had a good race with last year, but there was one boat off to our Starboard (right) side which was going as quickly as us. It was a team of Dutch sailors from Scotland and runners from Orkney and Malvern, team "Rio".

Leaving Barmouth in Tropical conditions!
A few hours later we arrived in Caernarfon. Rio and ourselves had sailed well and pulled out a good lead on the rest of the fleet. After running aground slightly on Caernarfon bar we lost a little time and Alex and I stepped off the boat 32 minutes down on Rio's runners. As our kit was checked we were asked for an ETA, and were told ours was only 15 minutes quicker than the runners ahead. It looked like we might leave Caernarfon still behind, but we decided to do our best to catch them and off we went...

The Snowdon run is the longest, and basically divides into four: in, up, down, out. In and out are flat road runs of about 1hr each, and were the hardest part of the race for me last year. Flat road running is not my favourite, but I felt better this year and decided to just get on with it. Alex was strong on the run in and we arrived at the foot of the hill feeling good. The climb also went pretty well, though the weather was deteriorating and by the time we got to the top could fairly be described as minging. We couldn't hear each other over the wind and rain, and as we turned at the top and started down the hill I struggled to get food out of my bag with cold hands and was only just warm enough.

Soon enough though we were dropping off the bottom section of the hill into Llanberis, past the little shop where I bought a painting of the Eiger and onto the run back in to Caernarfon. It was about 5am as we headed along the main road back towards the town. Three totally smashed party-goers tried to talk to us but we were both pushing fairly hard so didn't stop for a chat. On the last hill before Caernarfon we spotted a luminous vest in front, then another - it was them! We caught them over the next few minutes and passed them maybe 10 mins from the end of the run. Back to the boat with a time of 3:54, taking 36 minutes out of Rio.

Leg 2: Caernarfon to Whitehaven
The sailors seemed pretty pleased with our run, but warned us that we were now into one of the hardest parts of sailing, the Menai Straits. I had a milkshake and dodgy looking "meat-based protien snack" but didn't go to sleep as I wanted to be awake through the straits. There were some great photos of this area taken last year:

Menai Straits: 2014. Though it hadn't changed much.
Rio were just behind as we crept through the straits, slightly faster than last year (and luckily no terrifying-backwards-towards-bridge-peir this year!) but it was still tense. I was given a job: Crouch on the floor and hold the iPad thingy with the charts on so that Geoff can see it. It seemed appropriate to be doing the job of a shelf!

Just after the tightest bit of the straits Rio slipped past us, then we traded places up the next narrow section on our the way towards Whitehaven. As we got closer to Whitehaven we began to discuss the tide, this is a critical section of the race as the lock gate at Whitehaven harbour can make or break a big gap. The window within which we could get in and out of the harbour was from about 6:20pm to about 2am. We were now ahead of Rio and if Alex and I could complete the Scafell Pike section in time to get us out by 2am and the other runners didn't, we would immediately get a 6 hour lead. The sailors did a cracking job as Alex and I ate and slept to get ready for the big ride-run-ride section.

Bikes on the boat - not massively convenient!
We were first into Whitehaven harbour at about 7pm, if we could get through the lock, complete the section and get back through the lock in 7 hours the race would be looking very good... It would be close, but it was on!

Off at Whitehaven... Go Go Go!
We jumped off the boat and went straight to the compulsary 5 minute kit check. During this time the sailors parked the boat and came to see us off. We were asked not to race too fast through the first harbour area but we had the bit between our teeth and I wouldn't say we went particularly slowly! The ride in to Ennerdale would be the same as last year, but this year we would also be riding on up to Black Sail Youth Hostel. Alex has been riding a lot recently and led the way along the tight cyclepath out of Whitehaven on his lovely carbon 29er. We climbed up to about 250m, then dropped down to 100 or so before the final climb up to Ennerdale then Black Sail at 300m or so. We left the bikes there after 1hour 32 mins, quickly lent them up against the hut and set off up Black Sail Pass...

The foot route took us up Black Sail Pass, down to Wasdale, and up Scafell Pike, before returning the same way. If we could do this in a bit under 4 hours we might make the lock gate. The climb up Black Sail felt good and we were quickly over the top and descending to Wasdale. Here we had an unexpected 5 minute compulsary stop, but with very friendly marshalls, amazing flapjack, and annoying midges! The climb up to Scafell was hard work with a few hills now in our legs, but we took almost exactly 2 hours up and down, as we'd told the marshals.

Sunset in the Lakes (taken during Nicky's BG record)
Near the bottom of the descent we saw the runners from Rio on their way up, they looked far enough behind that if we got through the Whitehaven lock gate we could get a race-winning gap on them. Back to Black Sail Hut we had 1:20 remaining on our target time, we would have to ride fast but it was do-able. Unfortunately my bike light was a bit wobbly on the descent and I had to decide whether to hold it and ride with one hand or to ride with both hands but be prepared for sudden plunges into darkness! Alex pulled away a bit and I worked hard to stick with him down the rocky descents. Once we left the track and were back onto the smooth road the lamp problem went away and I focussed fully on sticking to Alex's rear wheel. The ride back in was fantastic - being nighttime the cycle path was empty (apart from a couple of teams we encountered going the other way) and we flew down into Whitehaven on the narrow tarmac track through trees and eventually into the town, through twisty sections in housing estates and finally out onto the harbour area. We'd phoned Geoff to tell the team to be ready for us as it was going to be tight, and as we arrived he and Paul were waiting for us. We ran down to the boat with them, jumped on, and set off straight towards the lock gate. Fingers were crossed as we increased the engine revs and headed out of the lock gate...

Bang. More revs. Bang. Reverse, more revs. Bang. Damn!

When I next stuck my head up we were back in the lock gate, and soon were back on the pontoon. We would have to wait till 6am to leave, by which time Rio would presumably be back with us. Nevermind, we'd all given it our best shot and there were only minutes in it. The race would now be restarted as a two-horse affair. Time for a shower and a sleep.

Leg 3: Whitehaven to Corpach
As expected, we left Whitehaven with Rio at 6am. We'd eaten, rested, and were ready for a race! Geoff and Gary know the route up around the West coast of Scotland very well after so many races over the years, but Rio's sailors had researched the route and knew it well too. As the tracker shows, there wasn't much difference in our routes from Whitehaven to Corpach.

Tracker from http://yb.tl/threepeaks2015#
During the last sailing section we expereinced all sorts of conditions, from Force 6 with broaching and reefs in the main sail, to calm conditions requiring Gary and Paul to row for an hour during the night! As we passed through the Sound of Jura the wind started to drop a little, meaning that Rio pulled away slightly due to the stronger winds they had experienced through this section. We had by no means given up but the gap was slowly growing and was up to 11 miles by 6am on Tuesday morning. This meant that when Rio reached Corpach at 9am we were still in the Corran Narrows. Alex and I would give it everything on the Ben, just as the sailors had on the run up from Whitehaven, but barring a disaster for them it looked like we'd be 2nd.

Alex and I were keen to win the King of the Mountains title too, and hoped we could do so by winning each of the three legs. We believed we'd got the first two, so agreed no holding back on the final leg.

Off the boat and onto the Ben
The weather was good for once as we pulled into Corpach and went to our last kit check. The 5 minutes seemed the longest of all this time as we were keen to get going. From Corpach it's a 5km run to the base of the hill at the Ben Nevis Inn (Achintee Farm) where the climb begins. The run through Caol and Fort William itself felt reasonably good on the way out but the weather was warm even this early in the day - it would be scorchio for the later runners!

At a height of 400m we see the Rio runners descending the hill, the race is over. We give them a high five and say well done, but keep pushing ourselves up the hill chasing the KOM title. Just after the start of the climb we saw Rob Howard of Sleepmosters.com - Thanks Rob for the photos you took of the race and for all the great reports on the website!

The Ben was busy with walkers, not so much of a problem on the way up but once we'dbeen to the top and turned around (at exactly 2hrs) we had to shout a lot on the way down to ask them to move. There seemed to be a lot of German people around and we wondered whether shouting "Achtung!" might be more successful, but most people gave us lots of space as we carried on down to Fort William. On the last 5km I'm a little stronger than Alex, it's only a tiny difference but it's a relief as I don't have to push quite so hard... Soon we were back into the town, through Caol again, and finally onto the towpath. With the finish in sight we manage a sort-of sprint and finish the leg in 3:29.

The final straight!

 We are met by our team and the guys from Rio, Gary cracked open a bottle of champagne and sprayed Alex, but by the time it came to me the fizz had gone and I ended up with it just being poured over my head

Cheers Gary.
So, the end of another 3 Peaks Yacht Race! I have mixed emotions from this year - it was fantastic fun again and I feel like I'm starting to get my racing mojo back a little bit, but it was a shame after last year not to be able to defend our title. However, I'm really chuffed to win the King of the Mountains trophy, there are the names of some true legends engraved on there and I'm looking forward to collecting it in October! We had a great race with Rio and they really did sail well (so I'm told!), so it seems on the day we were beaten by the better team.

Well done Team Rio!
Finally, a quick thanks to Alex, Geoff, Gary and Paul, race organiser Meic Ellis, and his marshals and team. Thanks also to Scott-Accelerate for the support and great kit, I wore Trail Rockets for the Snowdon and Ben Nevis legs and Kinbalu Supertracks for the Scafell leg.