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, 24 November 2016

Small moments of joy!

This post is a very brief celebration of the unexpected delights in life. Today, until I opened the fridge to get some cheese for a sandwich, I'd completely forgotten I had leftover lasagne for lunch.

This completely changed my attitude to the day, from feeling sick of looking for a job, tired and grumpy about doing a hill session later, to positive and excited about both!

So there we go.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Runners against Rubbish

Good morning friends,

This moring is an exciting one - it sees the launch of my charity, Runners against Rubbish.

When out running, I am often disappointed at the amount of rubbish I see discarded. Some of it is general rubbish, but some is clearly dropped by those of us out enjoying the hills (Gel tops are a classic example). In an effort to try and do something about this, I have founded RaR.

We hope that runners will sign up and take our three-point pledge:

1. I will never drop any rubbish and will always take my rubbish to a bin
2. I will encourage others not to drop rubbish
3. I will pick up rubbish when I see it and am able to do so

Of course, the vast majority of runners are conscientious and would never drop rubbish, so this pledge is nothing new, but it's all about raising awareness, and eventually making it so socially unacepptable that even those who currently do drop rubbish can be reached.

The way we propose to do this is through the tried and tested medium of... Stickers! (and badges). Our window sticker, which is sent to all members on signing up for our lifetime membership at £2:

Members will also recieve a pin badge, which I reckon could be used as one of your four pins to hold your race number on.

Creating awareness and mindfulness is the key, so getting as many members as possible on board is the first priority. After that, I hope we might be able to organise clean-up events in areas where significant amounts of rubbish have been dropped, and to help race organisers make sure that no rubbish is left after events.

But that's all in the future... For now, we need members! If agree with me (and others like Steve Birkinshaw), why not join us and become a "Binner"?


Monday, 24 October 2016

Back in the DPFR

First some other stuff, then the Dark Peaks 30 Ultra...

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Part 1: Other stuff.

We arrived back from France about a month ago now, and via a weekend in Wales (including a fun run up and around Sugarloaf Mountain) spent the next fortnight with family in Herefordshire. After the Portes du Soleil, the Wye valley was a bit of a shock - undoubtedly beautiful, but very FLAT.

Out early one morning - Bridge over the river Wye
After a couple of weeks down there we moved another step closer to a final return to Sheffield, and we're now living in the village of Litton in the "White" side of the Peak District (i.e. the Limestone side, rather than the Gritstone of the Dark Peak). Returning to the Peak District has reminded me how much I do love it, and after recent events has made me feel even more proud than usual to be a member of Dark Peak Fell Runners. The club has had an incredible 40th anniversary year, with achievements like Nicky's double Bob Graham round added to recently by Rhys Findlay-Robinson becoming British Champion, and DPFR teams including the man himself winning both the Hodgson and FRA relays.

Rhys is a good friend and to see him achieve this is fantastic. He's not the biggest fan of blogs so I doubt he'll see this, but he is one of the nicest people you could hope to meet, a gentleman and obviously not a bad runner. Having known him for a while I also have the advantage of not thinking of him as the super-elite British champion RFR, but the slightly worse for wear student, out for a round of golf in Sheffield, for example...

Athletic prowess has no boundaries
The first effect of returning to the Peak district was that I wanted to get straight out and run up my favourite hills. After a trip to Accelerate for a catch up with coach Stu Hale and some badly needed new shoes from Scott (including the lovely RCs) I was raring to go and have spent a great few weeks re-exploring the White and Dark areas. Being unemployed (let's go for "between jobs") certainly helped, and I've concluded that as much as I like the Limestone side of things, you can't beat the grit and peat of the Dark Peak.

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Part 2: The Dark Peaks 30 Ultra.

By this weekend I was ready for a race. Which was fortunate, as I'd signed up to run the new Peakrunner Dark Peaks 30 Ultra. The route looked awesome: From Edale to Rushup Edge, then Mam Tor, Hollins Cross, Back Tor and Lose Hill, down through the Hope Valley and back up to Win Hill, then around Stanage to Moscar, along the edge of Ladybower and back up Win Hill before a final climb up the edge of Kinder and a final drop back into Edale. 30 miles and 2500m ascent. Perfect!

A relatively small field gathered outside Edale village hall ready for the 9am start. Race organiser David Riley led us out onto the road and without much faff we were off...

Gathering for the start
It felt great to be running and racing again (the first time since the Trail du Bellevue) and there were soon four of us up at the front: Matty Brennen, a guy called Matthew who had spent the summer in Chamonix, and Pete Watson. Pete and myself pulled out a little gap on the first climb, with Matty and Matthew together not far behind. I was really enjoying being out, the fog that had covered the summits first thing was lifting but by the time I reached the top of Rushup Edge I was in it and lost sight of Pete behind me. Running was fun, I was having a great day and though working hard (I averaged 164bpm for the race) I felt nice and relaxed.

After the descent of Rushup Edge and a slight detour around the wrong path I was climbing Mam Tor. I kept running all the way up and pressed on along the flagstones towards Hollins Cross, where I knew Lorna would be waiting. I was a bit jealous of the apple she was eating but decided not to nick it, settling for a quick high five.

Having a lovely time approaching Hollins Cross
There were plenty of people out on the hills and lots of friendly encouragement which was great. As I climbed Lose Hill I glanced behind me and was surprised not to see anyone. Before the race it was Matty Brennen I'd thought would be the man to beat, with a few other names like Steven Lord to also keep an eye on. I hadn't expected to be out on my own, and certainly not this early, but I still felt great and decided just to keep enjoying myself! The sun peaked through the clouds as I descended Lose Hill and couldn't help doing an arms-out aeroplane zig zag as I descended, enjoying being back in the beautiful Peak District (did I mention I like it here?).

The descent from Lose Hill took us down into Hope, through Twitchill Farm, where unfortunately some of David's signs had been moved*, and then soon to the middle of the figure-of-8 on the race map and up the ever-horrible climb up the drive then the steep fields to the top of Win Hill. I nipped up to touch the trig then set off down the steep descent of Parkin Clough. I always find this a challenging descent but this time I was not quick. It was a bit greasy but with brand new Scott RCs on my feet this shouldn't've been a problem... Clearly a type of terrain I need to get used to again! Anyway, at the bottom I reached the feed station. I was here in about 1:45 which was quicker than I had expected, and I think also quicker than the marshals had planned as things were only just getting set up, but this didn't matter as I was well stocked up anyway and just needed to top up my water.

Now began the long drag up onto Stanage Edge. First up the road then the long track diagonally up onto the edge. From the top of the climb and the track back along the edge up to High Neb I could see a long way back down the track. It was now a beautiful day and a good temperature for running. I couldn't see anyone following me up which suggested I had a decent gap, but with a long way still to go I needed to keep my concentration. I was now heading for the section I was least looking forward to: the flat 3km or so along the edge of Ladybower before the climb back up to Win Hill. I hoped my fortnight of Herefordshire flatness would help me get it over with as soon as possible!

Finally I was running over the dam and heading back towards mud underfoot and climb in front of me. I had another quick stop at the feed station, this time I grabbed a few peanuts and realised that I had hardly drunk anything since I last passed through! I think I actually drank about 600ml over the race, which (as demonstrated by my thick dark orange wee and stomach cramps later on) is probably not enough. Aaaaaaanyway, Parkin Clough. I took a new Mule Bar gel as I climbed which was amazing - a thick gooey Salted Caramel flavour with a toothpaste type top rather than a tear off. It wouldn't be too good on a really hot day but it was perfect at the time and gave me a bit of a boost.

These are a good thing.
I began to feel like it wasn't too far to the end now, I knew all I had left was the long sweep along the ridge above Ladybower to Hope Cross, then a gradual climb up and along the edge of the Kinder Plateau before the final drop down to Edale. I was becoming obsessed with looking behind me whenever I had chance - I had no idea who was behind me, or how far off they were, but I wasn't feeling as fresh as I had done in the first half of the race and was getting worried! After the long drag round to Hope Cross I did feel I was getting there though, and set off up the Crookstone Out Moor climb. With 2000m of ascent in my legs I didn't feel like fresh floaty uphill runner of a few hours earlier anymore, but as I finally passed the Druid Stone and headed for Ringing Roger I began to think I might win. The final descent of the race took us down the zigzags of the Nab, then through the Edale Skyline start field and past the Nag's head pub into the village. Having seen no-one behind me as I dropped off the Nab it looked like I had it and entering the village felt great.

The last run through Edale was painful and as ever felt much longer than it is, but I was really pleased to be first home. I nipped up the few steps into the car park and over to race organiser Amanda's little finishline table... Done! Lorna and Acer were waiting, as was Jen Scotney who had shortened the route a little by turning around at Win Hill.

My time was 4:41, which being the fastest of the inaugural event means it's also a course record! Whether it will stand beyond this time next year I wouldn't like to guess, It's certainly beatable and I'd love to come back and try to reduce it myself. Matty Brennen had caught the others and finished second in 5:14, followed by Steven Lord in 5:19 and Paul in 5:25.

(Trophy: Springfield Quarry. Volvo: Runner's own)
For a first time race, the Peakrunner Dark Peaks 30 Ultra was a fantastic event - the organisers were fantastic, the marshals were really friendly and the course marking (apart from the places it had unfortunately been moved) really good. As David says, the route is a bit of a classic! I had a great day, it felt really good to be back racing again and even after wearing shoes straight from the box yet again, my feet are blister free thanks to magic Injinji socks! So big thanks to Scott, Injinji and Beta running, and of course Accelerate.

Here's to the Peak District!

Race on Saturday, Cake on Sunday
Movescount link
Strava link

* - Firstly, if a footpath passes through you're property, you're probably in a lovely place, so be happy. Secondly, I believe races can legally use footpaths without needing to request access, BUT thirdly it is good practice to do so, and David certainly had done. Signs are there to help people stay on the course. Runners do not want to get lost and end up in your living room, so leave the signs up and we can find our way and leave you alone! Equally, organisers must collect signs up after events, and runners MUST NOT LEAVE LITTER!

Monday, 19 September 2016

A fantastic last few days

So, it's time to leave Chatel. In fact, it's time to leave the alps, and even time to leave France. Over the last few days I've frantically tried to fit in all the little bits of running I haven't quite managed to tick off yet... And I nearly did it! Two summits on my map remain unvisited, but they are relative piddlers out here (1808m and 1627m) and I'm not as annoyed as I thought I might be not to tick off the lot. It's been a fantastic season, and Friday and Saturday cemented that fact as I undertook an overnight trip up to the Refuge Dent D'Oche (via another five "ticks" on the way).

The weather was pretty rubbish during the day and by the time I reached the refuge at 11pm, having started much later than planned, I was quite damp. However, the rain stopped just before the top and the view of Lac Leman and Lausanne was stunning. Unfortunately the refuge was closed - I knew it was "sans guardian" but I thought there would be a room open - it is a REFUGE after all! Nevermind, I cooked and ate my dinner by moonlight then headed off on what would've been Saturday morning's route, which would take me via another refuge at Ubine. This one was open, but it was now 4:40am so I took my wet clothes off outside, crept in and had a couple of hours' sleep on the kitchen floor. At 6 I set off to grab the last few ticks of the loop back to the van, now in the worst weather of the weekend, and was back by about 8:30 to head down to Thonon for new tyres!

It was an absolutely stunning adventure, the beauty and atmosphere of the high alps, alone by moonlight, are impossible to imagine without being there, but I now feel I have completed what I wanted to do here, and am ready to go home. Here are a few photos from the adventure...

Blue sky!


Vacharesse looking nice as the rain clears

The storm clearing up Lac Leman as it got dark

A sad sign to see on a summit

Il pleu
General darkness

Last col...

The last scrambled section up the refuge - chains to the left
Stunning view of Lac Leman, Lausanne (r), Geneva (l) and the Abondance valley from near the summit of Dent D'Oche.
Not a great photo but an incredible view.

Delicious tuna and salad dressing pasta :)

Dinner at refuge Dent D'Oche

The night section by moonlight

Coming in to Ubine in the cloud 
Three crosses at Pointe D'Autigny summit

And back to the van!

Drying out and eating breakfast in the bus shelter

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Racing... and the unthinkable!

We're coming to the end of our time in the Alps now, and after the busy French school holidays in August, Chatel is now a very quiet place... Things are reaching a close: I have a tourist map on the bathroom wall with maybe 40 summits on it, about 35 of which now have ticks against them, and with a bit more time on Saturdays I was able to travel to Switzerland and race for the first time since the Trail des Cretes du Chablais.

The race was the Trail de Bellevue, a 40km trail race with about 2500m of ascent. The majority of the ascent comes straight off the startline as the race climbs from the start in the village of Collombey to the summit of the Pointe de Bellevue. It was a beautiful day, and after some debate at the start about the kit requirements (basically there was no requirement, but you HAD to carry a backpack... no bumbags allowed!) we were off starting to climb.

Go! Up!
There were quickly a group of five of us at the front, including two brothers in full Salomon kit. Reading the start list the night before the race I was slightly terrified to read their team as "Salomon Suisse" and suspected they might be a bit fast. As well as the brothers was last year's winner Emmanuel Vaudan and Thomas Leparmentier. Gradually three of us moved away: Emmanuel, Thomas and I. As we passed an altitude of 1000m Emmanuel moved forward and pushed on, making us work hard to stay with him. We regrouped a few minutes later and shared turns at the front, but soon a flat section saw Emmanuel cruise off into the distance. Thomas was also away in front of me, but by 1500m or so he slowed and I passed. The summit of the Bellevue was a great little peak with a good view down for the last 300m of the climb. I could see Emmanuel near the top as I started the climb, but from the top I couldn't see Thomas.

After the summit at 1:47 the race descended through some incredible scenery and on some fantastic trails. Here I realised that a summer of alpine running has helped me, I was able to keep moving quickly on the difficult terrain which is exactly what I'd struggled with in the Trail des Cretes earlier in the year.

Descending fast close to big drops nearby.
The next section took us back towards Chatel, running along the Swiss/French border through the Pas de Morgins. Here Lorna was waiting with the camera and managed to get a few pictures of us.

Emmanuel, who Lorna told me "looked tired" (she was lying)...

Et moi, 5 minutes or so behind
After the Pas de Morgins at 23km or so, the race felt like it was not too far from over now, particularly with only 400m or so left to climb. I was starting to feel pretty tired now and began to feel the effects of the hard day's log-carrying the previous day. On long sections I couldn't help myself looking behind but couldn't see anyone. Eventually the summit of the final climb arrived and all that remained was a loop through Val d'Illez and down in to the finish at Troistorrents. The loop was a little cruel as you could see the finish before heading South then North for about 5km, but the views of the Dents du Midi were stunning and the finish made it all worthwhile. I eventually finished second in a time of 4:15.

The atmosphere at the finish was great, with people finishing the 17km race during the afternoon as we waited for the prizegiving. This in itself was great fun, and the prizes themselves some of the most interesting I've seen!

But, despite the stunning surroundings and awesome running, and to the disbelief of many, Lorna and I will soon be on our way back to the UK. We had planned to stay here for another Winter and Summer season, but for a number of reasons we've decided to head back to Sheffield. I'm looking forward to new challenges in life, work and running, I have learned a lot out here and am very happy with the way I ran in the Trail de Bellevue compared to the Trail des Cretes.

I am very interested to see how the training I've done here will set me up for racing in the UK. I've been lucky to be able to just run, and to get in a lot of climb almost every day, but I have been a little "feral" and must confess that my Strength and Conditioning, core work and drills have been... minimal. I'm thinking of racing the Open Adventure Lakes in a Day again, so I guess we'll see!

Au revoir feral runner!

Friday, 12 August 2016

Il n'a pas les jambes aujourd'hui

Living out here in the Alps, we've been watching the coverage of this fantastic summer of sport in French. Watching TV with subtitles is a great way to try and learn a language, and "il n'a pas les jambes aujourd'hui" is a phrase I saw during the coverage of the Tour de France. It translates directly to the English phrase "He just hasn't got the legs today", and as I climbed Mont de la Grange yesterday I felt it summed up my day.

I was attempting the so-called Chatel 3 Peaks. I'm sure this has been tried by lots of people, but I heard about it from a chap called Darren, who made a little video. The idea is to climb the three largest and most famous peaks in the Chatel area as quickly as possible. The three mountains are Dent D'Oche (2221m), Cornettes du Bise (2432m) and Mont de la Grange (also 2432m). Darren and those before him started from various places near the first summit, but I decided to try to run the route as a loop from Chatel. Here's the plan...

3 peaks (and a "bonus" little one too)
So, after debating whether to go or not, at about 11:30 I set off, hoping to be out for perhaps between 6 to 8 hours. The run to Dent D'Oche was a long and hilly one, after the first 6km down the river to Chapelle d'Abondance. My route took me by the Chalets du Chevenne and up the Refuge du Bise, the to the summit via the Col du Florey and and the Portes D'Oche.

I finally reached the summit after 3hrs 35mins and 22km, and felt surprisingly crap! Perhaps after a long-ish bike ride the previous day this wasn't such a good idea. Still, this is an utterly stunning region, and the mountains, compete with Boquetin, gave me some inspiration to crack on towards the Cornettes du Bise.

The route was now simpler: Back to the Col and Refuge du Bise, then up to the Col de Bosses and over the scrambly track to the summit. The scramble felt tough, I've come down this way before but not up, but that didn't matter - I just felt really really tired. I eventually reached the summit after almost exactly 6 hours, having covered 32km and climbed around 3600m.

It's a long time since I've felt like quitting during a challenge like this, but after the Cornettes I wondered if that would be the sensible option... But I'd still need to drop back down to La Chapelle d'Abondance and run home anyway, so after starting to descend I decided just to get on with it and go home over the top as planned. The route from the Cornettes was the simplest of the day, down to the valley and up the other side, but with the village of Chapelle at 920m and the summit at 2432, there was a lot of climb to do.

An hour from the summit I was back in the valley and starting to climb again, now way off schedule but feeling a bit better now. I managed to jog some of the climb up to the summit ridge, but after mis-reading the map I was disappointed to have to lose and regain 200m of height half way up. Finally I was contouring around the track to L'Etrye, past the track I would eventually use to run home. Past this point there was no shortcut now, a few minutes later I was at the summit ridge at 1900 and on my way to the top. Mont de la Grange seems to be home to lots of Chamois, rather than the Boquetin on the other two, but I was really struggling now.

It's not long since I had to stop and sit down on a trail to avoid collapsing, but it happened twice on the way up Mont de la Grange yesterday. I had eaten all the food I'd taken with me now and it really was time to get this over with. I watched the metres tick up on the altimeter until eventually after just over 9 and a half hours I was at the top (53kms).

Trois (just!)
It was now getting dark so I turned straight around and headed for home. Having felt so rubbish on the climb I felt surprisingly good on the descent and was soon at the bottom of the ridge. By the time I was on the final run down to home the tree cover made things really very dark and I was glad I knew the way, and when to look out for barbed wire fences!

Unfortunately my watch battery died on the descent from the ridge, but I got home pretty much exactly 10 hours after starting. Quite a lot longer than I was expecting, but at 58kms and 5072m of ascent the route had proved quite a lot bigger than I'd predicted. That's the fastest time that I know of, but a fast runner and a good climber could certainly take hours off that, and I did add an additional summit which probably made half an hour's difference.

Dents du Midi and Mont Blanc from Mont de la Grange

Thursday, 21 July 2016

The teeth of noon

Since we arrived in Chatel, every time I've driven, run or walked either down the valley towards Lac Leman or over into Switzerland I have been hit in the face by the view of a stunning line of mountains - the Dents du Midi.

Dents du Midi from the Col de Portes du Soleil
The Dents du Midi are a line of seven "teeth of noon" - from east to west (left to right in the photo) Cime de l'Est, La Fortresse, La Cathedral, La Eperon, Dent Jaune, Les Doigts and Haute Cime ranging in height from 3114m to 3259m. Fortunately, the tallest is Haute Cime, which has a convenient ridge running off to the west which allows it to be climbed without the need for full alpinism.

Haute Cime
Once I realised this a plan formed and I decided to try to run from Chatel to the little campsite at Grand Paradis, near Champery, where the climb begins, then climb the mountain and return in a day. The climb is normally attempted either in a day from Grand Paradis, or in two days using the Refuge de Susanfe as a stopover.

Refuge de Susanfe at 2102
On Monday I put my plan into action... The result was one of the best days running I've ever had. I left Chatel at just after 10am and returned at 9:30pm having run about 72kms and climbed 4200m. My route took me first over to Morgins, along the valley to They, up and over into the Champery valley, then the long climb up to the Susanfe and eventually up the slippery scree to the summit, then back down to Champery and over the cols of Portes du Soleil, Chesery and Bassechoux to eventually run back down the Pre la Joux valley into home. It was a long, tough slow day but the feeling of achievement on reaching the top of such a prominent mountain will stay with me for a long time.

I've made a video of the run, which should be available here, and below are a selection of photos from the day.

Finally, as ever I would like to thank Accelerate UK for your support, Scott for making cracking shoes and gear (I wore the Kinabalu Enduros, and took crampons and an Ice Axe but didn't need them) and to Beta Running and Injinji toesocks for that blister-free feeling!