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.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Inspiration? Information? Both, or neither?

As part of the Dig Deep race series at Whirlow Hall Farm last weekend, I gave a talk on Friday night. I was in stellar company, speaking between Sally Fawcett and Nicky Spinks! At our weekly Friday morning strength and conditioning session at Accelerate, I was given a great piece of advice... A talk like this must aim for inspiration, not information... I can certainly deliver a lack of information, but the first half?! Hmm...

Sally spoke first about training for and competing in the World Trail Championships in Tuscany, and then training for the Bob Graham round and the serendipitous week she spent at altitude a couple of weeks before.
Sally Fawcett

Nicky spoke later about her journey through life and running, culminating in her amazing double Bob Graham round.
Nicky Spinks
It was great to hear both talks and I left feeling very inspired (and informed!), as well as very proud to be part of Dark Peak Fell Runners, as both Sally and Nicky are too.

My talk was titled "Adventures". I decided to step sideways from running and talk about adventure challenges and races, starting with the slightly chaotic British Isles Challenge in 2009, through World Series Adventure Races in France and Switzerland, the awesome 2013 World Championships in Costa Rica, and then to come back to the UK with the 3 Peaks Yacht Race.

I really enjoyed the talk, I was as ever slightly disorganised and I felt that the first half of the talk was better than the second, which was a bit disjointed... Maybe I tried to fit too much in rather than explaining things in detail, but there we go.


So, did I inspire anyone? I have no idea, though I certainly didn't inform anyone. However, a few people have said since the talk that they fancy having a go at an adventure race, so maybe I gave them an idea at least!

Finally, congratulations to everyone who raced in the Dig Deep races over the weekend. I headed up to Scotland straight after the talks so was not able to, but I hope everyone enjoyed them! Well done Sally on winning your race too!

- - - - - -

Before I go... Videos!

Preparing the talk reminded me of lots of videos of previous adventures which I've made and are lying around on YouTube. In case anyone wants to find out a bit about these races, here are a few links...


Adventure Racing:
APEX Adventure race (5 day expedition race in the Swiss Alps)
Raid In France (5 day expedition race in the Buis les Baronnies, France)
Adventure Racing World Championships (Unbelievable 8 day adventure in Costa Rica)

Running:
Big Alps Run (34 days Vienna - Nice) - 5 min version
Big Alps Run (full video made for ShAFF) - 30 mins or so

A couple of others from last year:
Chatel to Haute Cime and back (running, 70kms / 4400m)
Ski touring across the whole 3 valleys in one day (45km, 4000m but a bit piste-y)

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Snowdonia Trail Marathon

To borrow the words of a fine sportsman of appropriate nationality...

"As they say, sometimes you're the hammer, sometimes you're the nail. 
I was a cheapy little Ikea one today. It was terrible."

So here, in contrast to 2015, is a blog about this year's Snowdonia trail marathon.

The Scott Snowdonia Trail Marathon is a marathon (obviously, although the distance has in the past not always been exactly marathon distance!), starting from Llanberis and visiting Rhyd Ddu, Beddgelert, Nant Gwynant and Pen y Pass before climbing to nearly the top of Snowdon by the Pyg track, then descending on the Llanberis path.

I ran the inaugural race in 2015 but missed the race in 2016. Both previous years have experienced very wet weather, so it was a pleasant surprise to see some sunshine on the start line this year.


After a surprisingly comfortable night in the back of the Volvo I had some breakfast, registered and collected my number. then caught up with some friends. Pete Down and his gel-donkey (aka Chris Shelton) seemed to be having a lovely time and were excited to be running the half marathon. As we assembled for the start I had a quick chat with Dave Riley and Ben Bridley, then made my way towards the front. I spotted a few people I knew would be quick: Charlie Sharpe, Jo Meek, and Callum Rowlinson, who was 2nd in 2015 and 2016. Then we were off!

There were a lot of spectators in Llanberis, and as we ran out from the start I tried to remember what had happened in 2015 and not to go off too fast!


Callum set a superfast pace as we ran out of Llanberis and up the first gradual climb. I sat in behind him and another guy for a while, then realised that even this was too fast and dropped back a little further, until I found myself running with Steve Franklin. Steve is a strong runner in the Peak district and can frequently be found at the front of short fell races. I wasn't feeling good so after a quick chat with Steve I slowed again, and even had a little walk, then hovered around 8th position or so.

After the first climb came a very wet and slippery descent. The race route was marked really well by tape and flags, but this bit through the marshy stuff was slightly tricky to follow and required a good bit of concentration. Myself and another guy (who later turned out to be from a nice Frenchman from Chamonix) had a good time slipping our way through this section, but as we moved onto the flatter section afterwards he started to pull away. By the time I ran through Beddgelert at about 17km Charlie Sharpe had also passed me. We had a quick chat and I explained I was having a bit of a tough day. Charlie kindly offered me a gel, but food wasn't the problem, I just felt rubbish. Charlie said he was taking it easy today due to a big race next weekend, but even so he soon pressed on, running really smoothly on the flat trails through the forest.


Along the edge of Lyn Dinas I tried to forget about racing. I was having a bad day and couldn't seem to get into a nice rhythm on the flatter sections, or not at a decent pace anyway! I felt like I was just wandering along, but the sun was shining and I was beginning to remember how stunning Snowdonia is, so maybe I could forget about racing and try to just enjoy myself. The hill was coming soon anyway...

At the Pen y Pass checkpoint I grabbed another quarter of Orange (a nice feature of the checkpoints on this race, along with gels and really friendly staff!) and set off up the Pyg track.


I felt like I climbed reasonably well (Strava seems to agree, with only Callum going faster) and passed the French guy and Charlie on the lower slopes. As I got higher up I saw occasional glimpses of someone else up in front of me, but in among all the walkers he was hard to pick out.I hit the top (36km done) in just under 3 and a half hours and turned around to head down the Llanberis path to the finish.

After the brief boost of feeling OK on the climb, running down felt even more rubbish than running on the flat had earlier! I felt wooden and stiff, and the rocky track was horrible to run down. I'm aware that this is in danger of sounding like a whingy blog post so I'll point out that I did enjoy seeing and saying well done to half marathon runners on the way down the hill, and once below 800m or so the spectacular views returned, so it wasn't really that bad!

Anyway, after the long painful descent I was in Llanberis village. Fortunately, the marathon runs directly to the finishline (whereas the half climbs back up through the quarries before its final run to the line). From the summit at 3:30 I had hoped I might make the finish in under four hours, or at least try to beat my 2015 time of 4:04:04. The final section seemed to make a meal of the run into Llanberis with lots of twists and turns through little bits of forest, but I eventually crossed the line in 4:05:13 for 6th place.

I am pleased to say that after two years of finishing second, Callum won the race in a new record time of 3:52. Steve Franklin was an excellent second place, and Jo Meek won the ladies race in 4:10.


So that's that. Another great Scott Snowdonia Trail Marathon, not quite as successful as 2015, but that's the way it goes sometimes. All we can do is try to find out what went wrong, try to get better, and focus on the positives! One major positive was my new Kinabalus, which contrary to my own advice I wore straight out of the box. No blisters, no problems, and enough grip to keep me upright all day!


Next year there's an Ultra too... Since my photo appears to have been claimed by the organisers for use on all promotion I guess I'd better enter! Thanks as ever to the race organisers and checkpointers, and as always I am very grateful to Accelerate and Scott for sponsoring me, and to Stu Hale for coaching me.

Strava link

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

The 3 Peaks Yacht Race: In photos (mostly)


For once, I took the nice camera with me, so I've decided that my 3 Peaks blog will involve minimal words and lots of photos.

I have raced this race a couple of times before, but this time was part of a new team. Wild Spirit is our skipper Paul Jackson's boat, but due to logistics we were racing on a chartered boat from Ireland (Sherkin II), under the team name Wild Spirit. Sailing with Paul we had Tom and John, and Wil Spain and I would be the runners. Thanks to Wil for stepping in at the last minute when Hugh Aggleton's injury became too serious to race.
The final member of our team was Judith, who would be our shore support crew and would bring the bikes round to Whitehaven. All the hard work without the fun bits - thank you Judith!

Saturday lunchtime - the adoring crowds gather...
...the Wild Spirit crew (l-r John, me, Wil, Tom, Paul) is ready...
...by 1 o'clock everyone else is ready and the race is about to start...
So, at 2pm on (a very sunny) Saturday a flare was fired and the 40th anniversary 3 Peaks Yacht Race was underway! We had a reasonable start and crossed the line at the far edge. We were all pleased to be underway and pleased to be sailing rather than rowing across the startline as in some previous years! Leg 1 would take us about 62 miles from Barmouth to Caernarfon.

Underway!
John down below at the Nav table
The first launch of our spinnaker - "Mr. Happy"
We enjoyed a good sail for most of leg 1. The conditions were calm and sunny but we were moving well, including a good spinnaker run against the tide after Bardsey island. As we approached Caernarfon Wil and I went down below to organise our kit and get ready for the Snowdon run.

Then, just as we were about ready, the whole boat shook and juddered to a halt. We were aground on Caernarfon Bar. It was dark but we could see two other boats who were also stuck in the same place. Simon Berry and the Ultimate Direction team on Mistral were on one side, and another team on the other side of us. They were only a few metres from us, and as we all jiggled around in the dark the spiky bits of our boats got very close!

Eventually the sailors managed to get us off the bar an we continued to the fuel pontoon at Caernarfon, leaving Mistral stuck for a while longer. Off we jumped to start the first running leg.

The Snowdon leg is 39km long, with about 12km on the road each side of the mountain leg. Neither Wil nor I are road runners, but we did OK and made it to the hill intact. We pressed on up the hill and felt good, getting to the top (as usual) at the same time as loads of national 3-Peakers.

Wil on Snowdon
The run down was hard work, Wil struggled a little on the roads and as it started to get warmer again, but we had a decent run back into Caernarfon and finished in 4th place in 4:46.
Wil running back into Caernarfon
Classic Snowdon selfie
Back on the boat, it was now Sunday morning. Time for the tricky bit for the sailors: The slow creep through the Menai Straits.

Time for breakfast in the sunny Menai Straits
Mr. Happy was sometimes helpful...
...but sometimes we just had to row...
We gradually made it through the straits, moving at barely one knot sometimes, but we were moving. Paul, Tom and John did a great job to keep us moving, and seemed to have barely slept yet since we left Barmouth! Then, as we neared the end of the strait, off Beaumaris, we ran aground again.

Creeping through with Aurora, just before going aground
This time we were pretty well stuck, and on a falling tide. We tried, but were not likely to get off until the tide rose again. So we waited, watching more and more sand appear around us until it almost looked like you could jump off and sit on the beach. Then, after a few hours, the beaches gradually started to disappear and we started thinking how we could free ourselves. We tried pushing with the oars, hanging all our weight out on the end of the boom and bouncing, but it wasn't working. The next plan was to get the tender out, row out with an anchor, and use it to pull the top of the mast down to free the keel from the sand.

Out came the inflatable tender. And the pump. But no pipe... We weren't feeling lucky! With a pipe fashioned from a bit of tubing and two milkshake bottles we managed to get some air into the tender. Looking decidedly floppy we put it in the water and Tom bravely (and tentatively) got in. We passed him the 20kg anchor, expecting the whole lot to sink, but it didn't, and the bizarre little arrangement made its way out to 20m or so off  our port side. He dropped the anchor and rowed back, confusing another tender-user in the process!

Tom (left), now without anchor
Eventually, using this technique, we did manage to get off the bank (woohoo!) and continued out of the end of the strait and into the Irish sea. We turned a bit north and off we went!

Joined by Dolphins in the Irish Sea
Hard work for sailors!
(although suitable for climbing the mast to free some stuck bits)


"You're doing half a knot!" (note professionally-designed rowing seats)


Our sailing time from Caernarfon to Whitehaven was actually the slowest of all at 1 day 14 hours 32 minutes, but everyone was slowed down this year by the diversion around the construction of the Walney wind farm. As we approached we were called on the radio by an angry-sounding guard boat and asked to change course. Other boats behind us seemed not to hear the radio message till quite late, but they too eventually changed course. The construction itself was quite impressive, we had a good view of the cable laying vessel and the accomodation platform.

Walney cable laying vessel
As we rounded the final corner of the out-of-bounds area we sun was shining and the crew started to behave a little oddly...
Tom turned into a Gangsta
Wil decided to use the boat as a climbing frame to stretch bits of himself
But eventually, as Monday evening arrived, we started to get closer to Whitehaven and everyone calmed down. Wil and I prepared ourselves for the second runner's leg, and the sailors got ready for some food and sleep (or so they say - I know there's a Wetherspoons nearby)

A fishing boat off Whitehaven

Here we Cumbria!
We crossed the "engines allowed" line, fired her up and drove in to the marina. Wil and I jumped off and ran up the steps to find Judith with the bikes. After our 5 minute compulsary stop we were off - slightly the wrong way first but we soon found the cycle path which would eventually lead us to Ennerdale and up to Black Sail Youth Hostel. Wil and I were quite well matched on the bikes, despite my Mountain Bike and his Cyclocross (he was faster on the flats and downs, me a little on the climbs) and had a good ride in, taking nearly two hours to Black Sail, where we left our bikes and set off on the running leg.

Leaving the bikes at Black Sail
And off we go!
We had a nice run up to Black Sail Pass, then over and down to Wasdale. We saw Alex and Pavel from Wight Rose as they started their descent to Wasdale, but we didn't think they would now make it back in time to get out of Whitehaven on the current tide. This meant that (all being well) they'd be leaving at 5am with us. Whitehaven often does squash everyone back up together!


After the up, down, up, down, up, down run, we were back on our bikes for the ride back to Whitehaven. There's basically one climb, then it's a great fun and speedy route back down to the marina. First though, we had to get down the rocky track to Ennerdale. Our bike light batteries had not charged properly on the boat for some reason, so we were both relying on Wil's little headtorches. We had one each strapped to our handlebars, but the one Wil was using committed suicide over one particularly big rock, so he resorted to using his spare spare torch held in his mouth for the final section. We were glad to get to the road!

The ride down was as much fun as I remembered, about 20 minutes out we phoned to sailors (and woke them up - it seemed our "8 to 8:30" message had not been as clear as it might've been - I meant number of hours, they read time of day) and we made it to the marina in time to grab a quick shower before getting into the lock gate for the first opening.

In the lock with Hare and Hill to our left
Unfortunately, due to work commitments, Wil had to leave us at this point. Paul told me "we are now a team of four sailors"... Oh right, time to try to remember stuff!

Desperately trying to remember how to be vaguely useful as a sailor!
It's now Tuesday as we head West out into the Irish Sea. For once we didn't need to row! We had a good breeze up to the Mull of Galloway, but then slow progress through the rest of Tuesday as we crawled our way up the coast of Scotland. This part of the race was beautiful though, particularly as we stayed quite close to the shoreline...

Castle near Port Patrick

Port Patrick 
John on the helm

We made slow but steady progress north on Wednesday, apart from a squall off Islay during which a deck fitting caught the edge of the spinnaker we were using, causing it to blow out in a huge flappy mess which ended up in the water. Tom and I recovered it as quickly as we could, but it certainly wouldn't be any use to us for the rest of this race!

For the first time, the weather turned a little cold and wet, and we were now beginning to worry that this race was taking a long time. We needed to be into Fort William by Thursday afternoon at the very latest, as Paul was taking the boat back to Ireland with a new crew, and the maths was starting to look a little dodgy...

Paul and Tom having a row
On Wednesday night we found ourselves rowing against a building tide off the coast of Jura. As the tide grew it became clear that we were going backwards, so we sailed into a little natural harbour and dropped the anchor. After a few nervous moments it held, and we put a lasagne in the oven and settled in for a few hours until the tide turned. If we weren't underway soon it would be engine on (i.e. retirement) time.

Going nowhere

Our little bit of Jura

Starting to show signs of wear!
Before we even got started on the lasagne, the skipper noticed an annoying rattling noise outside. Rattling noises mean wind! Within minutes we rehoisted the sails, pulled the anchor up and we were moving again.

As we progressed towards the famous Corryvreckan whirlpool (caused by a 219m deep hole in the seabed), conditions had become a lot more interesting and we were all on deck working hard to keep the boat going where we wanted. Corryvreckan is hard to describe if you've not been. It's actually a much larger area than I realised; we passed through the outflow from the main whirlpool but it was still very impressive to see how the power of the sea pushes boats around. It's easy to see how so much folklore built up around it and how mariners were so scared of it in the past.

Corryvreckan (Photo: Clyde Cruises)
My memory fails me as to exactly where it happened, but somewhere in this area we were knocked down. This is when the boat is pushed so far over that the mast is in the water. It can be pretty dangerous as if the sail fills up with water it is very hard to release and allow the boat to return upright. This is the first time I've experienced this, it didn't rattle the sailors for too long but it will stay with me for a while!

After the excitement of Corryvreckan, the next challenges were Lismore and Loch Linhe. More slow careful sailing and rowing between patches of wind...

Wednesday night

Thursday morning
By Thursday morning we were tantalisingly close to Fort William, but as we approached Corran Narrows, the tide was starting to turn and it looked like we might not make it through. This would mean certain retirement as we did not have time to wait for the next tide. The only option was to try to keep to one side, find counter-currents where we could, and row hard!

Approaching the narrows, before the big effort...
We had nothing to lose, and gradually we started to make some progress! Everyone was working hard, it felt like we were working really well as a team and we were eventually rewarded by sneaking through the narrows. The ferry even waited for us to pass in front before setting off - frantically rowing and trimming sails to make about 1 knot, we must've been an amusing sight for the passengers!

Now we were pretty much there, it was time to think about the final running section on Ben Nevis. Tom had agreed to join me so I packed our kit (some of which Wil had kindly left us for Tom to use). Finally, we crossed the line and were allowed to turn the engine on for the final time: Surely the race was in the bag now!

We pulled onto the Corpach fuel pontoon and Tom and I jumped off. There were lots of marshals, Judith, and my Mum and Dad waiting to cheer us in. After a quick kit check and information about the revised route through Fort William we were off! Embarrassingly I missed the first bridge, but once back on track we made our way out through the Fort William, up to the industrial estate and eventually to the Ben Nevis Inn where we joined the track up the hill.

Looking back towards the boat from halfway up the Ben
We jogged all the way to the Inn, then settled into a steady walk up to the summit. Tom did an amazing job, even though he struggled a bit with cramp on the climb we were still moving really well and reached the summit in around 4 hours.

Booo.

Yaaay!
We walked down, then ran back from the Inn. Finally, after 5 days of racing, we finished!

Well done Tom.
The rest of the crew and all our support crew were there to see us and to give us a finish line beer!

The team at the end (Photo: Rob Howard / Sleepmonsters)
So that's that, the end of another Three Peaks Yacht Race. It's always an epic race, but this year perhaps even more so! I love this race.

I think Tom deserves a big shout for being a sailor and a runner in the same race - and for basically not sleeping. Thanks to John for being the expert navigator and being patient with me as I tried to remember my little sailing knowledge, to Wil for two really fun runs, and to Paul for being a great skipper!

Thanks again to Judith for support crewing, and to my Mum and Dad for coming up to Fort William for the finish, and giving me a lift home.