Open Adventure 2 day race – Wales
My adventure started on Wednesday evening with The Packing Challenge. Although I was getting a lift down to Wales, I had a 10km ride to my pick up point and I was catching trains later in the week so I couldn’t sprawl too much. Luckily, by Thursday evening after a hectic day at work, I had a wind-assisted cruise along the coast to meet up with Jon and family. My holiday had started!
Our location was Trawsfynydd, in North Wales. Friday afternoon was spent with my dad investigating old viaducts, coach roads, Roman roads and an amphitheatre on a hill. Then it was time to set up camp and commence battle with the midges :-).
The race started on Saturday with an early morning briefing and handout of the maps for the day. First of all we had to get to the start line – a 45 minute cycle away, over that old coach road my dad had showed me!
The first race stage was a 2h run. I have got used to racing with Lucy, but today I was on my own. I set off confidently, found the path shortcut that most people missed and then took a sort of invisible path to find my first checkpoint. It wasn’t there! I wasted too much time bashing around in dense forest. I could hear voices just the other side of some thick undergrowth, but couldn’t fight my way through. Eventually, covered in scratches, I gave up and came out of the trees the way I had come, set off up a fire road and … found the control. It was later confirmed that it had been misplaced.
After that I was more cautious, which slowed me down a bit. The going was tough anyway, with lots of footpaths barely visible on the ground and lots of paths on the ground not on the map. I was careful to use all the clues I could; streams, walls, contours. Things were going OK until near the end, when I crossed a river on an unmapped bridge. I lost more time going the wrong way before I was off again. Running hard now – I had rapidly gone from feeling I had loads of time, to knowing I was likely to be late!
Penalties in this race are harsher than an Open 5. 2 points a minute for 5 minutes, then 5 points a minute for another 5 then it’s straight up to 10 points a minute! I squeezed in just over 5 minutes late = 15 penalties. Not too bad, and some people were caught out much worse.
I was looking forward to biking, though a bit apprehensive about how hard the navigation might be in the woods. We had an hour’s break to eat, drink and plan some sort of route. It went very quickly and soon it was time to go again. I settled down into the 5h stage and was loving riding my bike! My legs were feeling fantastic and I was whizzing up the hills. I was a bit slow with the map, but there was a lot of detail to read.
We had to get back to the campsite to finish, backtracking the way we had come in earlier that morning. I wanted to leave 40 minutes for this. About an hour before the end I got lost in the forest when a bridleway I was happily bouncing down disappeared. I righted myself eventually and was faced with a choice. Go the other side of the main road and pick up at least one control, or head straight back.
I made the wrong choice! And I knew it as I was slogging slowly up another fire road on the other side of the road. When I eventually passed the start area I only had about 30 minutes left. I scoffed a gel and got ready to ride as hard and as fast as I could. The last haul into the campsite was into a headwind and not entirely flat. My legs were on fire and I skidded into the finish over 13 minutes late. Darn! 75 penalties!
Next up was the 1.5h night stage on foot, though we had to wait for it to get dark. I got some route tips from Lucy, who was marshalling as she injured her ankle last week. All that was for nothing though, as I made an elementary mistake at the start. We had to run up a footpath flanked with ‘out of bounds’ areas. I didn’t think in advance how to spot when I came out of that into the open land. I was following other people and not keeping an eye on the map. When they all went through a gap in a wall, I blindly followed.
Although it was soon clear we had gone wrong, I couldn’t work out where exactly I was on the map. It was dark, there were lights everywhere, the midges were biting and I panicked a bit. I backtracked and found team FGS who assuredly said they were on the footpath as they zoomed past. I managed to relocate and from then on doggedly did my own thing, actually used my powerful light and did a little safe loop without futher incident.
Although that went well, I had lost a lot of time and second placed female, Sharon McDonald, was catching up fast! Time for a short sleep and ready for the next day.
We had a 1.5h kayak to start with. I haven’t been in a sit on top by myself before, and it was quite hard work! After the first two controls, I had a good idea how fast I was going, and it wasn’t quick enough to go all the way round the lake. I cut across and had another mini panic when I couldn’t work out what the lump of land in front of me was. I had mis-aimed slightly, but once that was sorted I was on my way again.
There were two solo females in front of me and I was trying to catch them up. I also got a little spurt of energy when two teams passed me – first Mountain Hardwear whooping at me to go faster, then FGS suggesting I get in their slipstream. (I tried and failed!). Rounding a point it was all out for the finish. I actually went faster than expected, came back early for the first time all race, and got a really good score compared to the other solos.
Just like last year, I had come into my own on the kayak leg, which just isn’t right, considering I never normally go kayaking!
Final effort was the 17km trail run. I was really looking forward to this. Not much navigating to mess up, no strategy, just go as fast as possible to the end. It would be a good test of my improved running fitness. I started off in a little group with Sharon, the FGS team and a male pair. We kept changing the lead as we worked our way to the top. Despite slipping in bogs I felt good, except when I went over on my ankle. Ow! But the pain was short lived. Phew.
Going downhill another couple of teams came streaking past. When we got to a long road section, myself and Sharon stopped duelling and ran along chatting instead. We steadily made ground on the teams that had overtaken and were all back together again as we turned off road.
As we splashed through a stream some of the others stopped to wet their heads and necks. I thought, nah, why waste time doing that, I’m keeping going … About 5 minutes later I started to feel very bad. I felt sick. Then I started shivering. Hmmm, since it was about 30 degrees C and we were in direct sun, that wasn’t right! I slowed down and Sharon stopped to ask if I was OK. I wasn’t really. She tried to get me to stop, or sit in the shade, or take a tow off her, but I was being stubborn. I wanted to finish, and finish quickly! We had 3km to go.
I tried drinking more and it might have helped a little. Sharon gave up arguing with me and ran on ahead to send the medic. I had had a chance to dip in a couple of streams by the time he met me though, and the route had become a little shadier. I had a tiny revival and made it to the finish line, where I collapsed. For the first time ever, I was sent into the lake on medical grounds suffering from heatstroke! Some time later I seemed to have cooled off to something approaching normal temperature and got out to have a picnic lunch with my dad.
I had kept onto my lead in the female solos (results here), but must say a massive thank you to Sharon who looked after me instead of racing away on the final stage. It was a morale boost to have her with me and if things had got worse I’d have needed help.
Overall, the weekend proved that I am fit and fast, but out of practice with strategy and racing solo! That’s what triathlon training does for you.
Many thanks to all the people who helped transport me to and from the tricky-to-get-to race location. Jon, Andrea, dad, Stu, Ian, my brother – epic logistics!! Also to Open Adventure for a great weekend’s racing with plenty of time to catch up with friends in between stages.