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.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

The big 3-0!

I remember when I had birthdays as a child, Mum would always ask me "do you feel any older?"... I don't think I ever did, and even on my 30th birthday last thursday I still didn't notice any change in how I felt at around ten past three. However, I am now officially an old man, and I decided a few months ago that I wanted to do something to celebrate my big birthday.

The plan:
The plan was the Scottish 4000s duathlon. This was organised my Martin Stone as a race in 2001 and 2003, but can obviously be attempted at any time. The general idea is to summit the nine 4000ft peaks in the UK, which are located partly in the Nevis area of Scotland (W) and partly in the Cairngorm area (E), linking the two by a road bike ride across the country (it can also be attempted as a full run instead of the duathlon, for which Spyke holds the current record). The distances are about 11 miles, 60 miles, and 23 miles, and I'd hoped to go for a fast attempt, targetting times of around 3, 3 and 6 hours respectively. I'd hoped that with a gang of fast supporters I might get close to Jim Davies' record from the original race.

Well, this was all the plan anyway! As I wrote recently, I had a great weekend recce with Wil and Lucy a fortnight ago, but there was a worrying amount of snow up on the Cairngorm plateau...

Wil and Lucy in the snow on Cairngorm plateau

The reality:
With a week to go I was also starting to struggle for supporters a little bit. I have made the mistake before of being a bit too late in confirming with my supporters, and did so again, but having heard about the snow conditions on the Carn Mor Dearg arete I knew it wasn't a good idea. So, after some debate and discussion, I decided that it was probably best to call off the attempt. Campsites were booked though, so Lorna and I headed up to Scotland anyway.

After a fairly rubbish journey up, we pitched our tent at Glen Nevis and headed over to the Ben Nevis Inn for dinner. I was glad I'd booked, and we enjoyed a fantastic Scottish meal: Cullen Skink, Haggis Rumbledethumps, and Cranachan, washed down with a couple of pints of yummy ale from Kinlochleven. The perfect preparation for a long day in the hills (seriously!).

Time for teeeeeeeeeea!
The next morning, after some leftover army ration breakfast from a tube, I was ready for action! After much discussion and consideration, I decided that a longish day with a decent amount of climb was what I needed, but for the same reason I wasn't doing the 4000s it didn't make sense to try and stay on high ridges for long. So... from Nevis I joined an old friend, the West Highland Way, and headed towards Tyndrum. I ran this route in reverse in around 2007 as the "Devil O' The Highlands" at the very early stages of my long-distance running career and though I can't find the time I suspect that despite my advancing years, I was quicker this time.

Fort William - Tyndrum

There's not a lot to say about the WHW really, it is a great long distance route but if you love mountains it can be slightly tortuous as it takes you so close to them without actually climbing any! I decided to stick in a bonus climb somewhere on the day, but hadn't decided on an exact plan until I set off. After 10 miles or so and already having taken my jacket on and off two or three times I turned a corner and was greeted by the Mamores, and specifically Stob Ban. It looked awesome!

Stob Ban from the WHW
I left the WHW track and set off up to Coire Dearg, and almost immediately found a stag antler on the ground. I looked up and saw a herd of deer run off over the ridge and was immediatley glad that I'd left the track for a little adventure higher up! The climb was 600m or so and passed relatively easily. From Coire Dearg at 917m I joined the ridge between Mullach nan Coirean and Stob Ban and worked my way along. The final summit ridge was narrow, snowy and corniced off to the left so I stayed on the rocks to the right. The top was in cloud so was sadly without a view, but soon after leaving the top the view opened up again and I enjoyed the wet descent all the way back down to the track.

From there I stuck pretty much to the WHW, heading firstly into Kinlochleven and back up on the Old Military Road. Here I enjoyed looking at the hydroelectric plant (despite a leaky flange) then climbed up and over Beinn Bheag, then quickly down the Devil's Staircase where I nearly crashed and scared some pedestrians in the process! I was now down on the average speed required to get me to Tyndrum within my 8 hour window so as I ran along to Kinghouse lodge and then climbed the road to the Glencoe Ski centre I put some effort in and tried to pull some time back. As always, the time passed so quickly and before I knew it I had crossed the edge of Rannoch Moor, seen many more deer and lovely friendly walkers, and had only an hour to go. All I had to do was run the 10km or so along the track beside the road and railway track and I would be able to meet Lorna on time for once!

The track at this point is the least interesting part of the route, particularly in this direction (at least going the other way in the race there is the opportunity to chat to other runners), but there were only a couple of miles to go now and all was good! In huge contrast to the end of the Devil O' the Highlands race, nothing really hurt, I had no blisters, and I was looking forward to heading to see my parents for some dinner. The lack of blisters was no doubt thanks to my new Injinji socks which are great. They even match the Kinbalu Supertracks!

After 7hrs 55 and 69.5kms I arrived at the Green Welly Stop car park. I added Stob Ban because I wasn't sure if there was much climb in the WHW route, but with a total of about 3000m climb it seems there would have been plenty anyway!

Two old men

I was disappointed not to have been able to run the 4000s as planned, but this was a great birthday day out and I'm looking forward to getting re-organised for another attempt later in the year. Watch this space!

As I mentioned, I'd been spurred on by the thought of meeting up with my Mum and Dad later in the day. We left Tyndrum and met them at Tayvallich for a couple of beers in the pub followed by a huge chilli dinner. Perfect. The next morning, and a few days after the busy-ness of the Jura fell race, Tayvallich bay was beautifully calm and clear...

Tayvallich bay

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Beef-cheese Pizza and Haggis Tatties

This weekend I've been up to Scotland to recce a few sections of this year's birthday treat. After the (ahem) success of last year's "29 at 29", the plan for my 30th is shorter but still very exciting: I'm hoping to complete the Scottish 4000s duathlon. The route involves a run up the four 4000ft summits in the Ben Nevis area, a road bike ride of 60 miles, and a second run over the 5 Cairngorm 4000s.
The plan this weekend was to look at as much of the runs as possible, focussing on the second one, and gently enough to aid my continued recovery! I left Sheffield on Friday afternoon, arriving at Oxenholme station at 5ish, where I was joined by Wil and Lucy Spain. We set off north and were soon in Scotland. By Hamilton we were hungry so went to Pizza Hut. Takeaway ordered we nipped to a supermarket to stock up on hill food then returned to collect what turned out to be (thanks to various special offers) rather a lot of pizza!

We arrived at the Rothiemurcus estate campsite too late to drive on, so walked in and set up our tents. The next morning was bright and sunny at first, but by the time we reached the end of Glen Feshie ready to start running it was cold. We wrapped up and headed off on the long first leg to Cairn Toul. After we left the track there was a lot of snow around, but the sun was out now and we had a great time.

From Cairn Toul we dropped back to the col and climbed to the second summit: Angel's Peak. From here we could see the rest of the route - the ridge round to Braeirach, the steep descent and climb to Ben Macdui, and the run off to Cairn Gorm. Due to the approaching weather and the time, we decided a visual recce was enough today and started to head back down to the car.

After a never-ending descent of Cairn Toul we were back at Glen Feshie and tucked into the remains of the pizza... Unfortunately at this point we discovered that Lucy's carefully selected veggie model was in fact covered in beef. Wil and I helpfully ate it.

Next, we drove the reverse of the road ride to Fort William, where we decided to stay in a backpackers hostel rather than camp (due to the forecast stormy night). We chatted to some German WHW walkers, made curry in the hostel kitchen, then had a quick pint in the pub.

This morning the weather was definitely wetter than yesterday, but not as horrible as forecast. Breakfast saw the final last stand of the pizza and off we went to Aonich Mor. From the gondola car park, Wil and I planned a quick few hours up to the ridge and back, while Lucy went mountain biking with a local friend. The best route up was hard to find due to the mountain bike tracks, but once higher up we found a decent path. Above the gondola we followed ski runs up till we met the ridge at about 1100m, then continued up a bit further before we ran out of time at 1200m or so. The summit was another kilometre along the plateau but in very low visibility we decided it was best to run away.

At the cafe we found Lucy and Edie and sat down for some lunch. A jacket potato filled with cheese and haggis was one an option I could not pass up, and it was as good as it sounds! After one final shopping trip we set off south. As I write this I'm on the train back to Sheffield.
It was a great weekend, it's been far too long since I was in Scotland and I now feel ready for the full route in a fortnight. Thanks Wil for driving, and Wil and Lucy for checking my navigation!