Haglöfs Open 5 Cheddar
The February Open 5 was in Cheddar. It was so far away from home (one big train, one little train and a 17km cycle) that I decided to make a long weekend of it. As a result, my pre-race prep consisted of squeezing through tight holes underground, admiring the cliff top views, buying cave aged cheese and eating pasties, Somerset cider and apple cake and local ice cream. I was even lucky enough to be treated to a dose of actual sunshine. Nice!
On to race day and the more serious business of the weekend. Lucy had requested a bike start this time. On our own, she normally bikes first and I normally run first. Since we’ve done it my way the first two times, it only seemed fair to switch!
In fact, for this race it was probably the right thing to do anyway as the bike course was very committing. Many people who biked second got caught out, and there were some big names rolling in very late with large penalties.
It all started well and we were picking up lots of points. I was happy that we had made the right choice of direction (anti-clockwise), because we got up the first very steep hill on a road and weren’t spending a lot of time pushing. Although there were sections of tarmac, they were frequently punctuated by fun off-road excursions. We were bouncing down one such rocky track. Lucy was having a great time; I was at the limit of my technical ability. Then another guy squeezed past me very close, I lost my nerve and suddenly I was crashing to the ground. I lay there winded for a few seconds assessing the damage. Sore arm, bruised hip, knocked knee, squint bar end. Nothing broken, so slightly shakily I set off again.
I was under instructions to navigate a course lasting 3h. Not long after the crash we had to make some choices about controls. I lost the ability to decide and Lucy had to step in and do it for me! We were off on a short detour with a few extra hills. It looked like we would get back to transition 10-15 minutes later than planned, but we were moving well and it didn’t make sense to ride past them. In retrospect, the control we should have missed to save time was the very first one we got!
After that the course got slower, but I perked up again and felt confident. We had a long, rough fire road climb through some woods followed by another rocky, slippy descent. I even managed to stay upright. But Lucy was beginning to tire of biking, and it wasn’t a good place to try and push or tow. Despite a speedy finish through town (straight past my B&B) we had been out much longer than planned.
We were in and out of transition quickly, but only had 1.5h left for running. I don’t think Lucy was best pleased with my timing! We started well with a leg burning trip to the top of the lookout tower and back down the steps of Jacob’s Ladder. It was then a walk straight back up a very steep hill to a dark cave with the control hidden in a corner.
I was still feeling cheerful but Lucy was not her usual sprightly self. Though we were running again through sticky mud off the top of the hill, I was keeping up just fine and not dying like I usually do! I started trying to help with the navigation but this was a big mistake. I wasn’t taking an overall view of our route and distance / time travelled so my interjections weren’t properly reasoned. Meanwhile, Lucy had hit a wall (not literally!) and didn’t have the energy to tell me to shut up and let her get on with it.
All this meant we ended up lured to Totty Pot – after the mistake of Titty Hill in the South Downs, this should never have happened! And then we were cutting it short, dashing for home, but too late. We jogged in 12.5 minutes late = 35 penalty points.
This was a bit disappointing. If we’d kept clear heads on the run we could have made a sensible loop and got back on time. When I first started racing solo I made mistake after mistake. I learnt from all of them, though you can’t always eliminate or predict everything. Racing as a pair is different from being solo. It’s like going through it all again. This one is definitely going down in the book – don’t interfere with the other person’s nav unless they ask you too! Racing with someone else is also about getting to know each other, so that you can still be an effective team even when the going gets tough.
Despite it being a hard race for us, it was still enough for a win in the female pairs. And for now at least, we are leading the series :-). Full results here.
The only challenge left for me was how to carry my prize purple Haglöfs holdall back home!