Haglöfs Open5 Series – Pentland Hills (Course Planner!)

The first round in the Haglöfs Open 5 series for 2012/2013 was on my home ground in the Pentland Hills near Edinburgh. For once I was not competing, but had spent 11 months planning the event.

The Pentland Hills, looking good

I was delighted last year to be invited to plan the first Open 5 course north of the border in Scotland. I was excited but also knew I had standards to maintain – expectations from competitors and Open Adventure would be high! The part of event planning I really wanted to do was the maps. By the time the event morning dawned bright and crisp, they were burnt onto my brain! The Pentland Hills have an amazing network of paths and tracks. Unfortunately, a lot of them aren’t shown on the Ordnance Survey maps, and even the 1:50k and 1:25k versions are not consistent. So one big job was to get out onto the hills and get gps traces ready for uploading. This translated into a lot of late nights fine tuning the map. I was really getting into the detail, but knew it was needed.

Spot Tom approaching a control by a difficult route!

Something I really enjoyed was getting out on foot much more than I would normally. The planner guidelines instructed me to be adventurous with control placements on the run, so I was busy exploring off-piste options; I had fun finding a little tree in a gully, a stake on a rather steep hill at the base of a crag, and a dilapidated stile in a wooded valley with an innocent looking little bog of doom at the top (I know this caught at least one person out!).


On Saturday we had to place all the controls. Luckily we got a sunny day for the job. I was a little surprised to be sent out on foot – though at least I had come prepared with my trainers! My ‘little’ loop took longer than expected as I dawdled a bit enjoying the views, making sure the controls were really firmly attached and triple-checking I had put the right one in the right location… Then there was a short but surprisingly muddy bike loop, and a second run to double check a couple of placements. We moved both of them a few metres, so it was worth it! I felt reassured that the trio who went out on their bikes and did a route including the ‘infamous’ number 20 (only visited by two teams in the race) said they had a fantastic ride. All that was left to do was wait. The maps were printed, the control descriptions were ready and 31 little boxes were sitting out on the hills…

It was a VERY early start! We went up to Bonaly Primary School to get set up. I had sore legs from the previous day’s exertions (though that dodgy knee was OK). How odd to be there starting a race day like that!

Eek, they’re all looking at my course!

As people started arriving I was getting nervous. Looking round the room there were so many top racers who had made the trip up, and I couldn’t believe they were all going out on my course … would it be up to scratch? One of the challenges in planning an event like this is to design something that is almost (but not quite) clearable by the very best, but still fun with plenty of route options for total beginners and everyone in between.
Other considerations include making sure that the course is still interesting with good options in bad weather, it uses interesting trails, it is off-road as much as possible and that control placement and values and mapping of tracks discourages use of the boggier routes. The sort of strategic challenge I enjoy!

I had a flurry of questions about the map (the favourite was one about whether a certain ‘footpath’ was out of bounds – yes, because it was actually a power line!). I also loved seeing so many new people who looked excited at the prospect of heading out in the sunshine.

The girder control, views across Edinburgh and the Forth.

Once the last racers had left the hall to get started, I wandered outside to cheer people off and chat to the marshals. We had to make a late decision to use the school playground as the start / finish / transition area. Not the normal scenic field, but it was quite funky and people liked it being close and not muddy! The hopscotch funnel into the transition / finish area was an optional challenge (sadly worth zero extra points).

Waiting for the first people into transition was more exciting than I expected. Seeing competitors come and go with various tales (spoken and unspoken!) of fun, mud, exertion and adventure was rewarding. I was anxiously waiting for the racers we thought would be at the top end of the field to come in. I was under no illusions that if I had got it right, no-one should clear the course! Had I made it hard enough? They started coming in from the running after 1h45m – I thought that would be enough that they wouldn’t clear the bike course and started to relax a bit.

Later, I was looking after the finishing control box, with Lisa giving me ‘feedback’ when I forgot my lines 😀 (“Well done, did you enjoy it? Please download in the hall as soon as you can!”). I got a bit over-excited and nearly tripped over the gantry several times, narrowly avoiding injury.

Even round-the-world cyclists can look a bit tired at the end of an Open 5

In the final analysis, the highest scorer (Kim Collison) got 570 out of a total 600 – perfect! I also got some fantastic positive feedback on the course design and the weather (for which I take all personal credit).

I was proud that people who had travelled to compete had been treated to a great showcase of what my area can offer. Plenty of local people also turned out – some experienced adventure racers, some new to the whole thing.

Special mention to Anna Sloan who topped the female solos after losing her partner at the last minute. Also to our celebrity, Mark Beaumont who was 3rd in Male pairs!

On reflection, all the hard work was worth it. Next time round I will be back to racing though!


Full results are here.

Andy was supporting and dog-sitting. Here’s his blip.
And here’s a view from a competitor – Dawn’s blog.

Official ones from James Kirby.
And some from Andy Kirkland.

Posted on 18/11/2012, in Adventure Racing, Race Reports and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Congratulations on the success of your course. It is quite an achievement. I think it would be a lot of fun to plan courses. Next year I’m getting more involved in race directing for trail running events. I’ve found a race director to mentor me who I admire and whose style is compatible with mine (there are many different style race directors around and the ‘she’ll be right mate’ approach isn’t one that would work for me in a mentor). The RD is hoping to put together a pool of volunteers to help learn race directing so that no one single person is tied to each race. There’s no money in it but I think it will be enormously satisfying to help ensure high quality cheap ultra and shorter trail running events are available here where I live.

    • Thanks Andrew. Yes, the course planning bit was a lot of fun! I was also working with someone who has very high standards, especially for the mapping and control placements.

      Since I am concentrating on triathlon next year, I have seen how expensive they are to enter and appreciate more how much value we get from people like Open Adventure. Less than £30 for a 5 hour adventure race with all the mapping, controls, great prizes, rapid results and race analysis. Compared to often (though not always) £60 for a 3h straightforward triathlon! And they just wouldn’t happen without all the voluntary effort that goes into them.

  2. Excellent to read the an organisers perspective. I had planned on doing this race, but was injured so couldn’t make it… fingers crossed for next year!

    • Thanks. Shame about your injury! I hope you get over it quickly.

      These races move around every month / year so there won’t be one on the Pentlands next year – though I hope there may be another Scottish one! 🙂

      Meanwhile, there are still plenty of events in this series, mostly northern England / Midlands.

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