Haglöfs Open 5 Hamsterley Forest
The two-week run up to the January Open 5 event went better than usual for me. I traditionally get some sort of bug around this time of year. This time was no different, but I managed to shake it off quite effectively. I also came to the race straight from 2 weeks of Christmas holiday. This meant I’d only had a mountain bike to play on and consequently had done a lot more Open 5–like riding than usual. My head and legs were tuned!
I got a lift to the race from Alan, who fortuitously lives near to my mum and also has a nice barn not too far from the event centre. We hadn’t met before and I was very grateful for the help. We went up on Saturday, got settled and I stuffed myself with pasta before a quick trip to the pub (orange and lemonade; I’m a ‘serious’ racer, don’t you know 😉 ) and into bed. In the morning it was very frosty and icy on the roads, so it took as little while longer to get there than expected. Lucy was already ready and waiting for me.
We picked up the maps and had a quick plan. I think for once we both felt more like catching up with friends and chatting! The start was a couple of km away down a hill. It was still cold, so I was glad to get running.
We went straight up a hill, with me desperately trying to find enough air to talk and run at the same time. After the first control we were out onto open moorland. The ‘footpath’ was vague / non-existent and we were soon lifting our legs up over the heather.
My ankles held up well, but it was rather hard work and we weren’t moving very fast. This influenced our decision on route choice as we headed a long way out to the corner of the map along well made paths. After a 3km run downhill on a fireroad where I was still having trouble keeping up with Lucy (it’s not just the rough stuff!), I was tired for a different reason. ‘Are we nearly there yet?’, I kept asking. We decided to pick up a 15 pointer that was more or less on the way home, then got slightly misplaced looking for the final control worth 30 points. We made our way through low hanging tree branches, waded across a large river and squelched around until we found it. I was on the tow for the last 20 minutes and was glad of the extra assistance.
We joked that this was Lucy’s day to make me run extra instead of me making her bike extra! We got into transition after 2h15 compared to our normal target of 2h. The bike map was awkward with high-value controls at both ends of a map stretching across the diagonal. If we had known the control values before starting, I think it would have been better to bike first – but that decision is already made before you get them!
It was uphill again, with Lucy trying out a new-to-her 29er bike. There were some loud crunching noises and comedy spinning legs as gears were changed in the wrong direction, and one no-harm-done fall as the cleats failed to disengage. The biggest problem was the chain suck after we had been through mud, which caused a few stop-dead moments.
The route included a couple of sections of red grade singletrack which were a lot of fun. I whooped a bit as we flew along. I misjudged the quickest route between two of the controls in the forest and we met up again with a couple of friends we had passed going the same way. Then I saw James Kirby the photographer and was so excited! He missed us last time …
After a while the cold was getting to us. We had more stops than usual to put on coats and try to make cold fingers work with fiddly zips and buckles. I was conscious Lucy wasn’t her usual zooming self but there wasn’t much I could do about the cold, other than hope for another uphill … which only meant more hard work! At least the nice couple out for a walk cheered us up when they said: “you’re doing much better than the last lot who came past!”
We finished with a road section around Hamsterley. I took the opportunity to give a few helpful pushes where I could, but my legs were starting to pop as well. We got back to the finish only a few minutes late and made good use of the trail centre bike wash.
At prizegiving, we found we had won our category, though our overall score / placing was a bit down on where we’d be on our best days. Looking at the ways other people went, a more circular run across the heathery stuff might have been better. These things are easy to work out later though, sitting at home with a computer and a cup of tea! It just shows how getting the right strategy is such an important part of these races. You make reasoned decisions and live with them. The impact can vary from ‘slight’, to ‘get away with it’, to ‘disaster’!
I still had a great day out and really enjoyed both the running and biking. My spirits were immeasurably higher than last month and it was the best way to finish off the holidays. I knew it was a tough day as I was rather light-headed when I finished and needed to eat immediately. I was also barely capable of doing anything the next day, even after pizza and 11h sleep 😮 .
I headed home in a car full of podium placers – me, Chris (male pairs) and Anna (female pairs). Second set of thanks for a lift in one weekend 🙂 . It was good to get back home!
One last comment on this race – I was testing out my new (Christmas present) Amphibia X-Bag. It’s designed as a triathlon transition bag but also worked perfectly as an Open 5 transition bag …. My run pack and kit, my bike pack and kit, shoes, water, spare jacket, bits and bobs – all swallowed up into one bag and I could still pedal with it comfortably over my shoulder. I’m looking forward to putting it though its paces some more this year 😀