Hello, I'm Stuart and I like to run a long way.
Welcome to my blog, here I'll try to keep you up to date with my challenges, adventures and training.

I competing in Ultra distance running, adventure racing, and a variety of other events. I hold a few records in the UK, and in 2012 ran 1100 miles over the Alps, from Vienna to Nice.

I am raising funds for Water for Kids, a small charity with the simple purpose of ensuring that the world's poorest communities have clean water.

Friday, 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!
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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.

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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!