Haglöfs Open 5 Cannock Chase
This month’s Open 5 was on Cannock Chase, close to where I grew up.
On Saturday I met up with a friend (Emma) from university that I haven’t seen for about 15 years. She has three energetic young boys and we went out for some fun on the Chase. My memories of coming here as a child are quite dim, but I do remember dragging a large branch around for a whole walk, only to be told when we got back to the car that I wasn’t allowed to take it home. I was so disappointed! Emma’s oldest son decided we should try and re-enact the scene:
A jolly time was had by all and I enjoyed soaking up some sunshine. I could tell the trails were going to be good going for the race. They were all stony, gravelly and sandy – you could hardly tell we have had a lot of rain recently.
On Sunday I was picked up by Ed and Sophie. Lucy was at a wedding, so we couldn’t race together. Sophie was one of the event planners for the February event, and had agreed to race with me this time. We had only spoken a couple of times beforehand, but I had a feeling we were going to have fun!
An innovation for this event was to try out some recipes from the new ‘Feed Zone Portables’ book that Andy bought me. The premise is that sports bars and gels can be hard on your stomach when racing / training, and you can do better with home-made stuff that is higher in water and tastier. I don’t do things by halves, so went for three new things all at once: sweet potato cakes (gluten free and also containing sticky rice), banana and walnut two-bite pies (made with an almond milk crust) and spinach and courgette frittatas. I think Sophie was jealous! They were very tasty and easy to eat – I’ll make them again.
When we got the map you could tell it was a committing sort of bike route. There were a cluster of controls at the far bottom of the map, involving riding a lot of the one-way man-made singletrack with no get-out routes across the main road. Trails like this also tend to do lots of little wiggles that don’t show on the map and are generally slower to ride than an open wide track. This means it can be hard to judge distance and speed. For these reasons (and because heavy rain was forecast for later), we chose to bike first.
When we got the control values we did some hasty re-planning and set off to navigate the maze of tracks in the forest, some marked on the map, some unmarked. Yes, it was another one of those days, it seems to be a bit of a theme this series! As we headed along a bridleway to a short stretch of road, the path got narrower and we could hear guns. The path appeared to be blocked off and we were on the edge of a grouse shooting area. Looking at our gps trace later, we were definitely in the right place, but someone had obviously decided they didn’t want the public using the right of way. As we found a way out and pedalled up the hill, the sound of shots being fired was quite stressful – I was glad to get out of there!
The ride was going very well. Sophie was better at the technical riding than me, but we were both having fun. I did have to persuade her that we were going the quicker, more boring way a couple of times (“but I like the singletrack though!”). We decided to go for two extra controls at the bottom, before rejoining the trail. As we passed two guys, one said to his mate: “prepare yourself for a whole world of pain now” … well, we had to zigzag up a hill just to come down again, but I wouldn’t say it was that bad!
A bit later we had to deal with the disconcerting feeling of riding across open heathland, where the map said there were trees. We were trusting in all the other features that said we were in the right place (contours, a car park, a bridleway sign, the other tracks in the right places). At times like this you wonder if you have just made the map fit what you want to believe, but it was with some excitement that I confidently said, pointing: “and the control should be on that corner over there” … and it was! High fives!
As we went round I was enjoying Sophie’s ‘helpful hints’ for the navigation. ‘So we turn left now’ (no, right), ‘Is it here?!’ (no, another km to go), ‘are you sure this is the way to number 17?’ (no, it’s not, because we’re not going there yet) etc. Afterwards, she said it was a good job I had applied the ‘Soph Filter’ 🙂 . To be entirely fair, some of the suggestions were actually useful!
We got back somewhat later than planned, after 3h35. However, we knew this had been the risk and was the reason we had biked first. Our transition was slow, but we spent some time planning a sensible shortish run, taking account of the control values.
When I race with Lucy, who has a lot of orienteering experience, I don’t even look at the map for the run. This time was different and I was out of practice! With the pressure to get back on time, I felt a bit stressed. We kept going though and Sophie was decisive and confident enough in our speed to take us to an extra control which was high scoring. Minor panic as I had read the description as “on fingerpost”, but there was no fingerpost! We checked the map, definitely the right place … but I had got the wrong description. We needed a tree, and there it was! Phew.
Luckily it was downhill almost all of the way back and my running legs seemed to have warmed up. We made good progress and finally crossed the line only 62 seconds late (4 penalty points) – 3 seconds earlier and we’d have only lost 2! Not to worry, it was a respectable score and we were happy with how things had gone. To round off a fab weekend, the heavy rain even arrived two hours late, so we got packed up in the dry.
We had done enough to win the female pair category, which we were both really pleased with for our first time racing together. Sophie was super-cheerful all the way round and we had a great time. We didn’t make any significant mistakes and weren’t very late back, for once. Still, it is only Caroline who has yet made me get back on time (at Innerleithen) 🙂 .
This result also means that Lucy and I have won the series even though there is one race left to go, as no-one can catch us up now.
I loved my weekend on Cannock Chase and can recommend it for a visit! Now looking forward to the last Open 5 in this series, in the Lake District.