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.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Being an idiot...

The last weekend in April normally means one thing for me - the Fellsman. It's a classic, and a race I really love. 61ish miles across the stunning Yorkshire Dales in a big horseshoe from Ingleton to Threshfield. The race has everything a race in the UK should have - big climbs, proper off road bogginess, and amazing views. It's a race I've never quite done as well at as I would like (I can't remember how many times I've been 4th but it's certainly a few), meaning that it has a continued lure to return each year.
The Fellsman - why would you do any other race??
However, this year would be different, because in Yorkshire on the same day each year there's another prestigious race going on. The two even cross paths at Hill Inn, in the valley between Whernside and Inglebrough... Which probably gives away which race it is - the 3 Peaks Fell Race. There are similarities to the Fellsman, but this one is shorter (23 miles), less boggy and "off-path" (though there are small sections) and consequently a much faster race. It also attracts about twice as many entrants (802 this year), including the cream of UK fell running, such as this year's winner Ricky Lightfoot.

So with my slightly altered training strategy this year, and the plan to build a bit more speed, I was to run the 3 Peaks. I last ran the race in 2010 so I knew that it's a race you have to run the right way: Work too hard up the hills and you'll suffer on the long flat sections between Pen-y-Ghent and Ribblehead and from Inglebrough to the finish.

One Peak

My training has gradually increased in seriousness over the last few years and working with my coach Stu Hale has definitely seen me improve a lot over this time. Training each week generally involves easy-ish days on Monday and Wednesday, and two runs each on a Tuesday and Thursday: a hard session and an easier run. Friday is a strength and conditioning session and drills, perhaps with a short run, and I'll do longer harder runs over the weekend depending on the phase of training we're in. Training is a balance between making progress and not being too tired to carry on or to race, and this is sometimes tricky to get right. As I wrote previously, Wolf's Pit was a race I didn't prepare or rest sufficiently for. This was a concious decision though, so despite being disappointed with my result it wasn't entirely unexpected.

Doing it badly at Wolf's Pit
With all that in mind, the second part of last week was easier, with a gentle day on Thursday and a full rest day on Friday. On Saturday morning I drove up to Horton-in-Ribblesdale ready for the race. The weather wasn't brilliant and deteriorated as I made my way north. By the time I'd registered and collected my race number I decided to wear the new Scott long-sleeved running top instead of a T-shirt, but stuck with short shorts. I was also using my new Scott race pack (which I'll be reviewing properly soon). Just before 10:30 we gathered on the startline and were told to expect cold weather and perhaps even snow on Inglebrough... Not quite what we'd been used to for the last few days!

GO!! We're off... Ooh, my legs hurt. I did warm up though, hmm... I'm sure I'll get into it. I tried not to run too hard up P-y-G, I'd written splits for my target time of around 3:13 on the back of my hand, which meant a Pen-y-Ghent time of 31 minutes at the top. As I ran I saw fellow Dark Peakers Rhys and Oli up in the top ten, along with Kim Collison who appeared to be chasing Ricky hard. I knew I was further back than my target position (I reckoned sub 3:15 should give me a top 15 ish position) but people in front would fade later and I tried to concentrate on time rather than position. I was worried about my legs though, things felt very tight and sore and I couldn't help thinking I was working harder than everyone around me.

On the first climb with eventual ladies' winner Helen Bonsor
My split at the summit was 33:07. Next, we'd be dropping off the hill and heading towards Ribblehead viaduct, before the climb up to Whernside. This is the longest section between hills and would take 50 minutes from the summit. It quickly became apparent that I wasn't having a good day. Heart rate training has taught me lots, not least that there can be a vast difference between how you feel and how fast your going: Sometimes level 4 (getting towards max heart rate) feels easy and I seem to glide up hills, but sometimes even at level 2 every step feels like hard work. Fuji and Ultraks last year felt like the former, this race felt like the latter. I plodded and eventually passed the viaduct where I heard the announcer mention Richard Pattinson a few places in front of me. I ran the Bob Graham with Richard in a former life, when he was a P&B runner and I was a Pudsey Pacer. I decided to try to catch him on Whernside and I did catch him on the lower slopes of the hill, but as we crossed the boggy section before the main climb I just couldn't hold on and he drifted away again.

BG-ing with Richard Pattinson, quite a few years ago!
My split at Ribblehead was 1:25, and 1:58 at Whernside (5 and 8 minutes down on target). I consoled myself that I was now past halfway in time, distance and climb, and tried to crack on and get this stupid race finished. The next checkpoint after Whenside was Hill Inn, the Fellsman crossover point. As I ran down the tarmac track that I would normally be climbing I did for a minute wish I'd taken the "easy" option of an 11 hour plod, but I was at least concious enough to remember that the Fellsman is bloody hard. Anyway, Hill Inn. I passed a few people again by not needing a drink (I was carrying a bottle, and the Scott pack was working perfectly).

Hill Inn - a great pub when you're not racing!

Despite the weather, there were a lot of supporters around all day and particularly on the little road near Hill Inn, which was great. I'm very grateful to these guys and the long-suffering marshals for all their support! By the top of Inglebrough I was exactly 10 minutes down on my plan, but the climb had gone better than that of Whernside, having lost only one minute this time. So after 2 hours 50 minutes I set off from the top of Inglebugger (as Rhys calls it).

The run in is around 7km, which after dropping off the hill takes you through a quite stunning landscape of limestone pavement and potholes. In the rain it was pretty trecherous though and I came very close to losing some blood a few times. My quads and calves felt tight and sore but I did seem to be catching a guy in front of me which helped. I eventually passed him, then another guy with just a few kilometres to go. The Totley vest in front was getting closer too as we went over the last little climb, but after eventually succumbing to the limestone and losing a few seconds and a little blood I wouldn't quite get him...

After the final drop into the village and through a very generous resident's garden I was in the finish field, and crossed the line in 3:23:39. Basically 10 minutes down on my target and 36th place.

Finishing (Cheers woodentops for great photos!)
What went wrong? Excuses first - I had a cold. I don't think that's worth 10 minutes though. I think the simple answer is in the title of this post, I've been an idiot. I was knackered when I started the race. I don't think I rested or prepared sufficiently in the week before the race. Maybe I didn't recover properly from hard training, or eat enough, or rest properly.

It's now Thursday and I have still not run since the 3 Peaks. Despite this my resting heart rate is higher than it should be and my legs still feel sore, so it seems even now I have not fully recovered. I'm gradually getting better though, and Coach Stu has prescribed ice baths, stretching, eating and walking. Yesterday we even included a little hill!

Seemed a suitable book for an ice bath...
Five days is the longest I can remember going without running, and despite the fact it's currently pouring down I'm now aching to get back out there! I have also vowed to record my resting heart rate every day, stretch properly, and eat more protien after hard sessions. I hope that when the frustration of not running for a week or so wears off I will remember the lesson this has taught me, and hope it will eventually lead me to prepare better for races later in the year. Thanks to Stu and Team Scott-Accelerate for continuing to support me.

Finally, congratulations to Ricky Lightfoot on winning the 3 Peaks, Rhys on 6th, Oli on 9th and Kim on 10th. Adam Perry won the Fellsman again in an awesome time of 10:23. The respective ladies winners were Helen Bonsor in 3:27 and Jasmin Paris in a new record 11:09.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Nicky's Bob Graham Record

Last weekend I was privelaged to support Nicky Spinks in her most recent of a long line of incredible achievements. It was a great day, and resulted in Nicky's lowering of her own ladies' Bob Graham Round record to 18:06. To put it into perspective, many people who try to get round the "BG" only scrape under the 24 hour time limit by a few minutes, after years of training and hard work.

Last Sunday Nicky started at 4am, from Moot Hall. The first leg was supported by Konrad Rawlik, Jasmin Paris and Jon Gay (the "Scottish contingent") and was completed on time without too much drama, apart from a cut hand. This was apparently quite deep, but was wrapped up at Threlkeld and Nicky continued on schedule.

Waiting for the start of Leg 3
By the time she reached my alotted starting point at the end of leg 2, Dunmail Raise, she was within a few minutes of the planned 17:15 (!) schedule and looking good. After a couple of minutes stop and a quick re-strapping of the hand myself, Glenn Borril and Dave Lund joined Nicky and off we went...

The pace was pretty fast. Given that Nicky had already been running for about 6 hours, it was very fast! We carried water, drinks and food and handed them to Nicky when requested. We chatted a little in the first few minutes but after that she didn't say much, and was very focussed. We had been given a camera in order to record some footage for the Slackjaw films film, and recorded a bit while we ran. The leg went well apart from one section towards the end: Broad Stand is a small rocky step between Scafell Pike and Scafell, which on the BG is often roped for speed.

The plan was that I would run on ahead and get up Broad Stand quickly, so that Nicky could then come up next and I'd be ready to run down to Wasdale with her. However, after some confusion on the route and the slippery rocks I did not get up in time, and Nicky was sent up first. I followed as quickly as possible, then had to run hard over Scafell and down the other side in order to catch Nicky. I did manage to do so, and ran with Nicky till we were close to the Wasdale support point, when I went ahead to request her food from Chairman Heaton at the support van.

Looking back down to Wasdale
Nicky ate some beans, emptied the scree out of her shoes, and was joined by a new support crew including Adam Perry, Matt Neale and Tim Whittaker, then off they went up many people's least favourite hill, Yewbarrow.

After a bit of recovery time and some cake, I decided I would rejoin the leg 4 runners a bit later on. They climbed Yewbarrow and worked their way round to Pillar and eventually to Kirkfell. I climbed up from the stunning Wasdale valley to the saddle between Kirkfell and Great Gable, then up onto Kirkfell itself. The half hour that I spent up there waiting for Nicky and the support crew to arrive was incredible - it was silent and beautifully clear, with cloud inversions in the valleys all around. Other supporters were on nearby hills (unbeknown to me) and were able to see the Isle of Man and even Ireland in the distance. Awesome.

Cloud inversion from Kirkfell

The runners arrived around half an hour down on schedule but still inside the record, and I joined them for the climb up Great Gable, then Green Gable and a few other hills before the descent to Honister slate mine. Nicky was still flying and her support crew were working really well. As an "off duty" supporter I stayed behind the official supporters and was able to just enjoy my day out in the hills.

Nicky and supporters climbing Green Gable
On the last few hills of the leg we were rejoined by more supporters, and quite a crowd made our way down to Honister. Ian Fitz was here with his camera (doing some impressive simultaneous filming and running!) and we made good progress over the last few bumps. I was a little worried that the party atmosphere might be slightly distracting to Nicky, who still needed to focus on running fast and making sure she remained on record pace, but it didnt seem to make any difference.

The last hill before Honister

Soon we dropped back through the cloud and onto the track into Honister. As we did the weather changed dramatically - we were now in the cloud and the temperature dropped notably. Visibility also changed from miles and miles to just a few metres. Nicky stopped quickly to eat and change and set off with her new support team: Just a couple of hours left now! The new support team included the very speedy Helen Elmore, who we hoped would push Nicky on and make sure she made it back to the Moot Hall in time.

Back in Keswick and after some delicious Fish and Chips we were waiting nervously for Nicky's arrival. We heard that she was now on the last 5km road section, time was getting tight but it looked like Nicky would be a few minutes under her previous record. At just after 10pm, she ran down the high street and touched the door of the Moot Hall to set a new record of 18:06.

Congratulations Nicky on an incredible run, it was a privelage to support you and to witness such an achievement. It's given me all sorts of good ideas...