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Open 5 Edale – 2018

Lucy had to choose between Open 5 and a holiday (skiing) and picked the holiday. Hmm, I wondered who I might persuade to race with me. I asked Elizabeth who agreed! Hurrah, we were off, but due to other commitments, only for the day, checking in at a nearby BnB for the night and stuffing our faces in one of the many nearby pubs the night before.

Really getting snowy now …

As we went to sleep, the wind rattled the windows. On waking, snow was falling from the sky and it looked wild outside. Dinner had been massive so I wasn’t really hungry at breakfast, which is unusual. Off to the start and we were almost last into the car park that was free, but which came with a walk to the hall. We wisely took all our stuff with us.

Time seemed to fly by between registering and it being time to go. We had decided on the long drive down that it was better to bike first. This was Elizabeth’s forte and we would favour more of that and less of a run. Plus, if it was going to get cold and snowy we’d be warmer starting dry and the paths might be less obstructed. By the time we had come up with a vague plan, left the coziness of the hall, dusted the snow off our saddles and made it to transition we had 1 min to go until latest start.

Our pal Pyro on his way up the first off road climb (which we followed on later)

An easy beginning along the road before we turned off uphill on the rough stuff. I slowed to check for features and when / where to look for the control, and looked up to see Elizabeth already powering away. Despite recently coming off worse in van vs Elizabeth, you know that someone who can finish the Highland Trail 550 will be a biking force to be reckoned with. I worked really hard to catch up. It was properly snowy and fun over the top, then slippery on a descent where I lost contact and had to shout ahead to make sure we didn’t miss a control. A descent followed that I’d not be able to ride on a good day, but I remembered it from a previous event and was ready to walk.

Then we were off along an easy track and all was going well. Into a small settlement and I was pondering our original route choice. We were making good time but checking the distance, realistically, that 15 pointer in Bradwell wasn’t worth it after all. Decision made without debate, we moved on quickly, heading straight through Hope and up the other side of the valley.

A climb I had to work hard to ride up, just before we started walking and freezing …

We passed some 4×4 cars coming off road the other way, with one woman behind the wheel with a smile as broad as her face! Then we caught up Ali and Barbara. This surprised me, but I hardly had breath to explain that I had to keep up before the next control!! From there it got very snowy. It was hard to tell the difference between the track and the road, both covered in snow. I cursed not checking on the start line whether we could use the road and cut onto the path further up, so we took the path and were soon walking.

Then we passed the cut through, easy to use, bother! Maybe cost us 5 mins at most though. It was slightly uphill and the wind was blasting us so hard that even when it looked vaguely rideable, it wasn’t, as the wind would push us off line and into a drift. Last race here I’d been just as cold, but with sleet instead of snow and we were at least riding then. As it flattened off and after what had seemed an age, we finally got back on. It was only now that we finally left behind a man out for a walk who we’d first caught up with about 5km earlier! Soon we were out on what was theoretically tarmac under the snow, and at the top of the broken road.

Someone coming up the ‘broken’ road – wind kept pushing our bikes sideways too

There was a 35 points down the hill. When we got there we were both frozen and my teeth were chattering. We talked about putting an extra layer on but decided to see if the climb back up would be enough to warm us up. I was looking at another 30 point control and debating the bike / run balance, but then decided no, not worth it. I warned Elizabeth we had a long fast road descent which would almost certainly be unpleasant and not in the slightest bit ‘warming’.

As we crested the top in silence, the blood was coming back into my hands and I was groaning with the pain. I think it was as nothing to what Elizabeth felt as we came into transition. With a recently healed broken collarbone and a still not happy broken finger, her whole arm was going through some sort of torture. We grabbed our stuff, got out of the field and dived into the hall. I heard later that we were not the only ones to nip inside!

Typical conditions we faced later in the race

I couldn’t help with the pain so got on with sorting out the run map, where all the score markings had washed off. The most important thing when we went out would be to keep moving, so this was time well spent nailing down where to go. After a toilet trip (me) and half a cup of hot water (both of us), we were ready to go back outside. Bizarrely, I still wasn’t really hungry and I think I only ate a couple of bananas all race.

Within 20 mins of the run, the gloves were off and sleeves rolled up. Running is really a magic body warmer-upper! The first part was an easy, if sometimes muddy, run in the valley. The map had a slightly awkward distribution of scores, but we had agreed before that going up worked better for us than running fast on the flat. So we committed to up, taking the fast route on the road we had so recently descended.

Here be a run control

Onto the ridge and we had met my calculated ‘cut off’ for diving over the top for a sneaky bonus control at a small quarry worth 15. Back up to the ridge and after we had cleared the slippery steps to the trig point, the running was glorious. We had snow and views and were making great progress. Although it seemed a long way to the next control, it was totally worth it as we dropped down, searching for the right tree.

We crossed muddy fields too, but the best bit of the run was up on that hill!

Then it was a cruise back to the road and a couple more controls before heading with a little sprint into the finish chute. Less than 4 mins late, 8 penalty points, the 15 had been worth it!

Having started last, we also got back last and had barely downloaded and grabbed some chilli and hot tea before it was prize-giving time. As some of the other classes were called out before ours, we realised we had a good score. We won the female pairs, but also came 9th overall, a rare feat! Results here.

It only reinforced my belief that ‘bad’ weather races favour me 😉 Biking first was definitely the right choice, especially when trail conditions unexpectedly deteriorated, as we were able to cut short without over-running our planned time too much. The art of keeping moving and not letting our pace drop after map checks was good discipline. We probably also took fewer risks … which paid off this time!

First female pairs!

We regretted our laidback departure, as upon leaving the snow was coming down again. We couldn’t get out over either of the passes towards Manchester and ended up diverting via Sheffield and Leeds … Um .. Not the plan. We did discover though, that you can get a good curry and rice at Wetherby services, and I introduced another person to the pleasure that is Rheged services, just off the motorway at Penrith and easily overlooked. I just missed a train in Glasgow and had the joy of waiting on the platform with the other assorted 23:30 passengers before finally making it home just before 1am. Think that is a record!

Another great race from Open Adventure. Thanks to them, to Elizabeth for agreeing to come with me and doing the driving and to James Kirby for pictures.

The valley and surrounding hills


Open 5 Coniston 2017

Race 4 of the winter was the first Open 5 of the season, based in Coniston. On Saturday, I took advantage of the location to recce the part of the Tour De Helvellyn I hadn’t visited recently (the race I’m doing next). It was snowy, icy and cold and progress was slow, even on my bike! I nearly ran out of time to get fed at the café, but luckily just made it.

A view of the run area – who wouldn’t want to play here?

Lucy had been properly ill with pneumonia and wasn’t sure if she would race. We arrived together on Sunday morning still undecided! I thought she would go with me … she asked ‘what if we had to finish after 3h?’ I admitted I was happy to go slow, but wanted to be out for most of the time. She decided to go solo and I last minute paired up with Jon instead. I joked that she had better not beat us …

So after planning, Jon and I set off on the run, hoping the ice would melt a bit ready for the bike whilst we were out. Straight up a hill towards the coppermines, catching a few teams and soon hitting the snow line. I thought I’d run quicker than Jon, but he was running easily as I breathed heavily. Just warming up, I told myself.

The rock face on the route to a control was totally covered in icicles!

We could see Phil and Jackie up in front and we were catching them. After a delightful snowy track traversing the hillside we got to a decision point: straight across and risk getting caught in a quarry, or round the paths? We went round and soon met them coming the other way – wrong choice for us – we were 4 minutes slower!

Running along I was opening my legs out when just in front Jon skidded and thumped onto the floor. That’ll be ice beneath us then. Bit of hopping across semi frozen bogs, reeds and long grass and it was my turn to fall forwards. It was a soft landing in heather and snow, but surprisingly cold!

My tummy was rumbling, which is quite unusual mid race and suggested I really should eat. A full flapjack went down the hatch. Now we were heading off the hill and I thought it was time to go fast. I pushed myself to keep speed on the techier bits, using the sound of Jon’s footsteps just behind to spur me on. I loved running through the woods. We got to the lake and dashed back along the shore, suddenly popping out in a campsite I recognised from a race where I had totally overheated! Very different now.

A winter scene

I sensed Jon was dropping a little, so I backed off the pace and started looking at the bike route. It was tricky to decide which way to go round. We spent some time in transition discussing. What with that and having to take my gloves off to undo shoelaces, my fingers were frozen by the time we left.

We headed off up a road which soon became a long hill. Jon was really pushing the pace and I was working hard to keep up. Just what I needed to get the blood back in my fingers! The first half of the bike went well, nipping in and out to controls and making good progress. I was trying hard not to look at the map and to let Jon get with it instead of getting left behind. We had a slight altercation with a lady who didn’t want us on her drive (turned out this was due to a hitch in communications). I felt sorry that someone would get so emotional all day just for a few riders coming past.

Beautiful view of the tarn on the bike course

We got to a control where the route to the next one was up a hill. It was a long push-up slog, through mud and ice and rocks and roots. We spent over 20 minutes getting to the control at the top of the hill and it somehow robbed our momentum. The sign on the gate saying ‘warning cattle grazing’ was true – as we came across the strange sight of some ‘panda’ cows grazing in the woods … The descent was very icy and we came down cautiously, though mostly on two wheels rather than two feet. Somehow that was another 30 minutes gone, though at least it made me ride some really rough bumpy stuff, just because I was so grateful whenever I saw an ice-free patch!

The road we had to descend in a hurry

I was worrying about time, Jon less so. But then we went wrong in the quarry, mistaking the path for a river, wasting about 5 minutes. We needed to smash it, but as soon as we got to the road there was yet more ice. Oh no… This was so different to what we’d found in the first half of the ride. We had to forfeit a 30 point control near the end and still came in just over 8 mins late / 18 point penalty.

A typical scene, but the wrong way round. Post-race we compare strategies!

Somehow I felt a bit flat. Just when I’d wanted to let rip, we’d had to ride cautiously and it seemed we could have done better. Looking at Lucy’s score, we only got 12 points more! This despite running much further, getting wet feet and riding almost the same route backwards half an hour faster! Ach well, it was all good training, and I had a lovely day out in good company 😀 And we still did enough to get 3rd in mixed pairs. Results here.

Joe – who organises Tour de Helvellyn. My next race!

Lucy won female solo with a score that would have won is female pairs as well. I felt sad that she didn’t feel she could have raced like that if we had been together. Though as she pointed out, a lot of the pressure comes from the self not wanting to let the other down, even if they say they’re happy to bimble. For Lucy not to race with me, I knew it must have been serious as we have got through a lot of events together ‘sub-par’!

And then we were off on the long drive home. I can recommend the services at Rheged for good food! Many thanks to all involved as always – Open Adventure (event), James Kirby (photos), Nav4 (food), Lucy, Jon and Andrea (assorted accommodation, lifts and racing with me!).

Mixed pairs podium

Ötillö Swimrun World Championships 2017

At the end of Ötillö 2016 we asked ourselves: ‘how could we go faster again?’ This was knowing we had picked off the easy changes. Not all of our races this season had gone to plan and I had doubts creeping in. Two weeks out and the time for fitness training was done. The only gains that could be made were mental. So we went out and had a couple of good sessions along the East Lothian coast. We ran on the rocks to find confidence, we swam in the sea, we tried out a new tow arrangement, we had fun, smiled and ate cake afterwards.

In Stockholm, boarding the Silverpilen to take us out to Sandhamn

On our last session Izzy had a shoe crisis! The hole in her trusty Icebugs had significantly widened over the last two hours … We googled and thought about it and finally worked out we could order a pair for collection from the Addnature store in Stockholm…

So we arrived and made our way straight into town to pick up the new shoes! This was followed by café stop number 1 and an enormous cardamom bun. We got to our accommodation late but managed a nice run round town in the gathering gloom. No matter that my sense of direction went slightly awry and we did 5 miles instead of 5km.

Pre race fuelling – one of the best lunches we (have ever?!) had (Tyresta nature reserve)

Stockholm feels familiar to us now, helped by the fact we went back to stay at the same place. We had a lovely few days and managed to get ourselves out to the Tyresta nature reserve for a walk, beaver hunting, a swimrun session focussed on technical aspects and another splendid café. Saturday just time for fancy café number three, a swim at Hellasgården and a sauna, complete with cold lake dips.

On the way out we started to feel the wind and waves

Helen Webster, the 220 Triathlon journalist had asked us a few pre-race questions and something in Izzy’s reply got me thinking. Over the couple of days before the race, we devised a cunning plan. It looked like this:

Cunning Plan

  1. Rosemary eat more and Do Not Bonk
  2. Run the little bits and the technical bits at the same speed as last year
  3. Run the three longer sections at a minimum average of 6:30 / km
  4. Go 5s/100m faster on the swims – whether by swimming faster, going in straighter lines or quicker transitions

I would be allowed to tow as hard as I wanted on the easy terrain, without creating pressure on the trickier stuff. 6:30 / km sounded a breeze, just like a very relaxed training run without hills – how hard could it be?

Izzy is the master weather checker and the closer we got to race day the more it looked to be moving in our favour. We willed the temperature to drop and the wind speed to rise.

Lucky I had a new purple jacket to keep me warm on the way over …

The day before the race we all boarded the boats to Sandhamn. We sat outside as it got progressively windier and wavier out in the channel! Helen came up to do an interview, by which time we were the only ones left on deck… We are hardy having trained all year in Scotland, and were looking forward to some exciting swims like we had in 2015 🙂

At the briefing it was apparent the weather was causing the organisers some serious concerns. I did not realise how close they had been to changing the race until later. However, they didn’t, and I am so glad! This is why I love swimrun more than triathlon. It is up to you to look after yourself and your partner and make your own decision about whether it is safe for you to continue. Nature and the conditions it creates are part of the race and the experience.

The start … we’re so far back it’s silly

All night as we tried to get some sleep, the wind blew and flapped things outside. As we woke up, bleary eyed, it was also raining on and off. Izzy had eaten her soaked overnight oats already and we trotted over for me to get breakfast. I asked for the porridge. There wasn’t any. I was sitting there at 4:30 am eating cheese sandwiches and wishing I had brought my own cereal with me …

It was nearly time to go but I was hoping for one more toilet break! I faffed around trying to do what I could as I really didn’t want to stop mid course 😉 Izzy was waiting outside wondering what on earth I was up to and by the time I scurried out we had to line up right at the very back of the gaggle. Oh well, plenty of time to get back to the front again 😉

Chaos on the first swim exit

The gun sounded and off we went. Someone fell over in the rush before we had even gone 100m. Soon we were at the first swim. We had come to look at this the day before and been left mystified as to where we were going. Turns out I’d been looking at the wrong island. Now we had a strobe light to aim for, 1700m away. This swim is sheltered but was still fairly rough. I thought this may mean later swims would be ‘interesting’. At some point the tow popped off Izzy – we’re not sure why – but she managed to grab the end before I swam off and gave it a good tug so that I stopped!!

We landed and were onto the fabled rocks. Because of the rain they were wet and slippery again, like they had been our first year, except now we had our grippy shoes on. There were more teams in the race and we could feel it, as we got caught in a few short queues. I would skip and bound and nip through a gap, only to find I was separated from Izzy. I kept to my promise and waited, and she kept hers, maintaining a positive outlook. Despite other teams coming between us and slipping and sliding more than once, she did not let it affect her mood.

Follow the coastline

On one tricky bit, I heard a cry out and looked back. Izzy was sliding down the steep rocks towards the sea! I quickly assessed the situation. There was nothing I could do to help, and at least she was heading feet first … Luckily she came to a stop before she hit the water and we were off again. But it was easy to see how several teams we saw during the course of the day needed medical attention. It’s always a balance between risk and speed.

Into the second swim and I remembered it was better to head right. However, we got in to the left and weren’t tethered, so it was hard to change direction. I was also edging away from Izzy and was concentrating to make sure we stayed together. As we got out I was kicked in the face by the person in front. I thought I might finish the day with a black eye but it wasn’t so bad after all 😀 . We slid and slipped and I was all over the place as Izzy headed up the rocks!

The safety boats may have had a tougher time out there than us!

It felt like we were losing time compared to last year and failing even at the first hurdle of our plan. We got to the first longer run and headed for the feed station and cut off. Here I checked the time and was surprised to find we were still on target!

I started thinking OK, so maybe we have a chance this plan will work after all, but we have to push on with the easy runs to do it. It felt hard and I reminded myself it was a race, and was meant to be hard work! I had belief that our timings were feasible, and that we’d done enough work and other races that the legs would know what to do without fear of suddenly fading.

Negotiating a swim exit

The second cut off had been revised due to the conditions and was 45 minutes earlier than previous years. If we’d had any issues it might have been tight, so I was keeping an eye on it. However, we sailed through, still within 1 or 2 minutes of our plan.

This cut off is at an out-and-back so we could see from the teams immediately in front and behind that we were very much mid pack for the girls. Our friend Jenny had had to look for a last minute replacement partner and was racing with a girl called Cat. Cat had never done a swimrun before (!) so we were delighted to see them heading in together behind us! I thought if they had made it this far they’d be able to finish.

Water, water everywhere

Along the way we saw a bit of wildlife, especially a deer and Bambi jumping across our path. I also spotted an anthill and several harmless jellies the water. However, at dinner another British pair said they saw a dolphin, or was it a shark?! I think I was too preoccupied on the swims to have seen such a creature even if it had been right beneath me!

We had also been trading places with Marie and Malin just as we had last year, but this time we pulled away on the easy run. I expected to see them again later, but we never did.

Tricky to run in places like this!

Onwards we went. At some point we slowed to eat and get ourselves sorted at the start of a longer run. Teams passed us but we did not react and kept to the plan. It was important for me to eat! As soon as we settled into our pace again, we would overtake and make up places.

One half of a mixed pair had fallen and was crying on the ground beside us. Her partner said maybe she had broken her ankle and we promised to get help. I knew we were close to a swim entry but there was no marshal and I didn’t think to use my whistle to get the attention of the nearest boat. It was a short swim and immediately the other side there was a film crew and I gave them the message.

The Pig Swim – a few wiggles but no big bends!

Soon enough, we passed through the garden full of noisy and musical supporters and then we were at the infamous Pig Swim. It looked rough like it had the first year we did it, but once we were in, the current did not feel so strong. It was windy and there was a lot of chop and white horses. The waves were coming from our left and I often felt like they were assisting with ‘good body rotation’, except sometimes this ‘help’ went too far! Sighting and breathing were difficult and unpredictable but we got straight over and were feeling pretty pleased with ourselves, if a little cold. We grabbed our Twix and kept moving.

Climbing course!

The next 1km swim actually felt more difficult. I was cold and it felt rougher. The water during the race was 12-15oC depending on the swim, but I think our state of fatigue and nutrition had an effect on how this felt. We made it and the next big stage was the half marathon, where we would really face the crux of our plan.

Just before that we caught a clutch of female teams at a feed station. We all jumped into the 300m swim together and headed off. I was shivering hard but it was short and we’d soon warm up. I think we swam faster than they did, and headed off at speed on the other side. We definitely didn’t want to ‘cab down’ yet, and in fact didn’t need to for the whole run.

Typical Stockholm trail through the woods

Now we had to try and average 6:30 / km for an extended period. In doing so, we would make up a lot of time on our previous two attempts and this was the easiest place to do it. I had forgotten how rough the start was though, and we were barely averaging the right speed, before we suddenly got an 8:11! I wanted to panic and push on and tow hard, but I remembered the plan, and to do so was not in the plan where the ground was more difficult. We had also accumulated several minutes in the stages immediately preceding this, so we had some ‘in hand’. I waited until we got to the wide track and then went for it.

I was pretending I was out for a long steady training run. I tried to relax, to run tall and look ahead, to use my arms and to trick my mind into thinking I had just stepped out of the door and really hadn’t been racing for 8h at all. As my watched beeped and the km ticked over I was feeling good – now we were comfortably going under 6:00 / km!

Scrambling up and over rocks, a feature of the day

The roads go on and on but it was drizzling with rain and nice and cool. This was easier than in scorching sunshine. We ran fast in our suits which have very thin and flexible legs. I remembered to eat, feeling like I was going overboard but knowing I really wasn’t. It made such a difference, I kept my head and did not feel like having a little sit down!

With two or three km to go I felt that the tension in the tow cord was getting stronger and more persistent. We hadn’t been talking much as there was no need and it was better to concentrate on what we were doing and where we were putting our feet. I silently willed Izzy to keep going and told her how far it was. She didn’t quite believe me, because this run is a little shorter than advertised, so you have to trust experience!

It was true though, and we were so delighted to finally get to a swim, chattering excitedly to the marshals. We remembered these sections as a series of short, easy and refreshing swims with some fiddly running in between. The marshals told us to look at the current – it was like a river running left to right. The coast jutted out to our left, so I followed it as far as possible before launching ourselves across. It was hard work but not too bad in the end. I was happy my arms did not feel as tired as they had before we did the long run!

Wind whipping the surface of the sea

We approached the next swim – 350m. There was no marshal but we could see the current again. It looked so strong and this time there was no protection. I hesitated, not wanting to get in. We looked across and I decided to aim for a small hut to the left of the flag. The swim seemed to start well, and I sighted often to make sure we were still on track.

Suddenly, about 50m from shore, the current accelerated and seemed to catch us without warning. We were sliding to the right at high speed! I pulled with all my might and could feel the tow going tight behind me. I was picturing Izzy swinging away from me in the current. We passed the flag where we needed to land and the adrenaline was coursing through me. As I breathed to the right I could see the island does stick out a little – I thought if we could just get in line with those rocks then if we got pulled along we should hit them – if we didn’t get washed around instead! I didn’t want to find out and in my haste started to kick my legs. It might have been counter-productive as then my pull buoy popped out and was bobbing next to me – still attached but ineffective and in the way. I could see the bottom but couldn’t reach it. Izzy told me she tried to put her feet down and failed. There was someone standing on shore but I didn’t pause to look if he had instructions. I daren’t stop throwing my arms over, knowing that as soon as I did we’d be pulled away from where we needed to be without any chance of swimming against the current.

With a super human crazy strength I finally got close enough to grab the rocks with my hands. I hauled myself up, and helped Izzy behind me. Oh my goodness! What a total relief. The marshal was full of praise and admiration as he ran along to show us the way. There was no time to stop, but I was jabbering to Izzy. I am not easily scared but that was SCARY. What happened to straightforward finishing swims?!

Not us, but rough water and steep slippery rocks made swim exits tricky

I feared what might come now between us and the final run. They are all less than 200m, but still … at one swim we couldn’t read the water and when we got in we could see the bottom but were not moving anywhere.

Finally they were over, and we double, triple checked with the marshal. YES this is now the final run!

The staff are dedicated!

At the last timing station I checked how we were doing against plan. We’d lost some of our advantage with those difficult swims, but we were still ahead. We were going to make it, we were going to hit our ’20 minute faster’ target, but could we even make it 30? Izzy tells me to go for it and she will hang on. I say ‘it’s only like two laps of Porty parkrun’. Except then we are faced with a hill we don’t remember …

Us holding each other up at the finish line after a final all out sprint

We got up and over and went for it. We put in a sub-5 min km as we smashed it. Only one ‘Porty parkrun lap’ to go. The final road climb came suddenly. Someone walking back said ‘you are 4’ … eh? ‘Yeah, we’re number 404’, I think to myself. We worked and worked. We nearly caught the male team in front with our sprint finish and I could hardly breathe. Not quite 30 minutes faster than last year, but 28:15. Final time 11:18. Result! Michael Lemmel is ready with the hugs and tells us we’re 4th females. Whaaat?!! We cannot believe it and are super, super happy.

Finish line delight!

We were so early we managed to get changed, eat, drink beer (Izzy) and still make it to prize giving. Just time to buy a t-shirt and go through all the facebook notifications – it had been going wild with friends back home tracking our progress! Results here. We were 15 minutes away from 3rd – close enough to feel we were not miles off the pace, but far enough to know it was not just out of grasp! In fact, we lost all that time in the first 4h and then held the gap. The weather helped us – when the wind was roaring in our ears it felt just like a jaunt down at Gullane. Some other fast teams did not start, or had to pull out due to injuries or sickness. But it didn’t stop us being over the moon.

For a 5 minute edit of the live coverage, including some cool coverage of the water conditions, check out this video:

For me, this was a remarkable case of following a plan and getting our minds in order. It is so much better to race this way, to both be on the same page and to maximise performance.

Cunning Plan – The Results

  1. Rosemary eat more and Do Not Bonk:
    I ate 3 gels, half a Clif bar, ¾ a chia Charge, a pack of Honey Stingers and generally two things at every feed station! (banana, homemade energy balls and energy drinks)
  2. Run the little bits and the technical bits at the same speed as last year:
  3. Run the three longer sections at a minimum average of 6:30 / km:
    Run 1 (8.6km) – 6:02, Run 2 (8.0km) – 5:52, Run 3 (17.7km) – 6:34
  4. Go 5s/100m faster on the swims – whether by swimming faster, going in straighter lines or quicker transitions:
    Total swim time 2016 – 3:20:18, 2017 3:15:56 = 3s / 100m faster

It’s nice to go to races now and know quite a few people. Special mention to Cat and Jenny who did finish. Even more remarkable when I found out that Cat had never swum more than a mile nor in the sea before… not really recommended but she had a fantastic attitude and trusted in her partner. Her report here.

Also want to say thanks to…

  • Scott, for coaching and making sure I don’t go too ‘bonkers’, like him.
  • Grace, whose nutrition analysis was spot on and helped me get to the start line 4 kg lighter than last year.
  • Ellie, for her amazing pilates classes that help my strength and balance.
  • Alan for stroke analysis to help me swim faster, or at the very least, more efficiently.
  • Staff at Physis for keeping my body together, especially Rachel for massage and Graham for physio – I know I can rely on you.
  • Andy, for putting up with all my training and away weekends.
  • Izzy, for getting it together and racing her heart out on the big day.

And of course race directors Michael and Mats, all the volunteers and our sponsors for suits and goggles and Gococo for socks.

Mats and Michael after a long day keeping an eye on us all and handing out hugs and love

Open 5 – Ampleforth

Lucy was unavailable for the last race in the Open 5 series, something to do with a hen do. It was doubtful whether I would come either until quite late, meaning my original ‘new partner’ had made other plans by the time I could confirm. Luckily, Jon (Itera and sometimes SMBO teammate) was up for it instead.

Work was still high pressure and I had managed to catch a bug the week before. Luckily, it didn’t seem to make me feel bad, but on the other hand I was coughing up gunk and lost my voice on Saturday night. My mum dropped me off and as we sat down to plan, Jon had to interpret the squeaks and grunts. The map looked … tricky! The bike had a few options, the general loop looked straightforward, but we were unsure how long it might take to weave in and out. The run looked long and difficult to fit together.

This way to your first abbey of the day

We decided to bike first, to make sure we got lots of good points without running out of time. This is something Lucy and I had decided on last month, though in retrospect it might have been better the other way round for this race. Off we went, and the pace was higher than I’m used to …

This wasn’t a bad thing, as the mixed pairs is a much more competitive category than the female pairs, and Jon and I would need a good race to get on the podium at all. It’s nice to be pushed in different ways with different people. We were debating and debating as we rode up a road about which controls, if any, to drop out, and how bad a particular bridleway up at the top of the map might be.

Poring over the big maps …

We got tangled up with a male and a mixed pair, and were riding across the flat topped hills and fields with them, concertinaing at every gate. I don’t like doing this much, it puts me under the wrong kind of pressure! At the road junction we had to make a decision, which was partially influenced by going whatever way the other teams weren’t, and partly by wanting to go and see Rievaulx Abbey (it is quite spectacular).

Unfortunately, as soon as we turned right we picked up another mixed pair, and they were fast ones! I recognised them as usually jousting for top spot. We were quite matched for speed, even as we fought along the muddy bridleway. It was more rideable than some I’ve seen, so I wasn’t too disappointed. Pushing up a hill I saw Jon turn back and grin as he stuffed in some energy bar and took the hint! Banana down in one.

No bananas for birthday boy Mark – he knows how to transition!

At the ford we again took a decision to go ‘the other way’ and turned back up the hill on our own to go and get an ‘easy out and back’. My lungs were searing from the effort. And easy it was not, as some of the map marking obscured an important detail of the bridleway junctions. We headed down a (what turned out to be the wrong) bridleway looking for a turning that didn’t exist, found ourselves pushing up a steep little valley, back onto the track we should have been on .. grr …

Back over Sutton Bank, and we were screaming down a road hill, at least we would have been if we hadn’t been stuck behind a horse box! At least this meant we didn’t shoot past our turning and soon we were descending down some of the best riding of the day, through the woods. We now got held up behind some horses not in a box. The riders politely asked us to hang back until a wider spot as the horse was jumpy, and I wasn’t going to argue! Once we were past, we whooped and swooped all the way down.

Steve gave me a lift to the station, but luckily navigation to get there was a bit easier

Only a few out and backs up sharp hills to go. My legs were feeling it now and I kept getting left behind. I didn’t seem to have any energy left and was doubtful about how I would be able to run later.

On the way into transition, we passed a lady kneeling and doing her borders. As we left again on the run we laughed with her about the number of people passing her quiet house! She was lovely and shouted encouragement at us.

As we went we mused on when it was I had actually last ‘ran’ anywhere with Jon (not counting long treks in an expedition race). Maybe the 10k round Cardiff Bay, or a long ago Open 5 on Anglesey … Anyway, Lucy must have had an effect on me as after I had coughed some sludge out of my lungs, I was keeping it ‘steady’, but hearing some notes of concern from behind! Oops.

Byland Abbey – abbey number three of the day

The run was hot. I had just popped on my normal sports glasses to race because it wasn’t raining. However, sweat was running across the lenses making it hard to see, and also stinging my eyes. When I wiped them they were smeary, and when I washed them they were streaky! I never have these problems training, I wonder what that says about my usual pace 😉

We went up and down, up and down, lots of little short sharp climbs out and back. Sometimes we seemed to run for an age between controls. Then we were navigating across farmland, having difficulty locating a path which did not match the map on the ground, and coming out on a road back to another abbey. The run had been awkward, with high value points straddling the two obvious ‘loops’. We were calculating whether we could get our final long out and back for 20 points. As we firmed up that each ‘only a kilometre’ was actually ‘a kilometre and a bit’ we realised it was a no-go.

Doing a good job of talking even when I can’t talk

Straight back to the finish, I was trying to push the pace as I know how often the mixed pairs results come down to time. Jon was lagging and I was trying to be encouraging, but it turned out he was nearly getting cramp! Remarkably, in we rolled 4 minutes EARLY. Unheard of.

We were kept in suspense at prize giving as our category was last to be announced. We knew our score was quite low, but were crossing our fingers this was due to a difficult course rather than our lack of competitiveness. Finally, we got the results – 2nd 🙂 I was pleased as I was aiming for podium, though it would have been nice to be closer to the winners (we were 29 points adrift) – wouldn’t it always! Well done to Jackie and Phil who won today. Fullr esults here. The series prize was super close and came down to time only – it went to Molly and Peter (we split them in the results for this race).

Mixed pairs podium

In the post-race analysis I did spot an extra 10 points we could have got on the run in the time we had, but after that it was probably a combination of luck and ‘not blindingly obvious’ different strategies that were needed to do better. Jackie and Phil spent more time running first, which was probably key. I think it also takes a while to get used to a different person and play to each other’s strengths, and Jon and I have rarely raced this format together.

Off with a lift to the station in glorious sunshine for me, another Open 5 series done for the year. Many thanks to James Thurlow and everyone at Open Adventure for keeping me busy and motivated all winter, and to James Kirby for photos.

After coming and going during the race, my voice disappeared and didn’t come back until Tuesday, when the bug got worse and 3 weeks on from when it started I am still fighting … Less than a week to go now until the first swimrun race of the year for Izzy and I – Costa Brava, here we come!!

Lucy and I won the series, so I had to smile for both of us!


Open 5 – Church Stretton

It was touch and go whether Lucy and I would race together at this one. Logistics, health and work for both of us getting in the way a bit! Anyway, by the Sunday morning we were both present and correct and admiring the fresh dump of snow on the Long Mynd 🙂

A bleak start. No-one looks in a hurry to set up transition!

We had decided last month that we were going to break with (our) convention and bike first, to try and get all the good points on offer even if it took more than 3 hours, then trim our run accordingly. I was under strict instructions though – no smashing it allowed – Lucy had a big race the following weekend. My coach had said: “may we be blessed with no navigation mistakes and fabby route choices, smooth n silky….”

It was working out like that on the bike at least 😀 After a quick out and back along the road, we set off clockwise, doing the big climb all the way on the road, with the snow rapidly clearing. A horse trotted across the road across us, which was most unexpected. On the way, we figured out a slightly smoother way to get to the controls we were now after, having seen the values (we’d ditched a couple far off on one side of the map). Smooth n silky!

The first big descent was extremely wet. My saddle has a cutaway section and the icy cold water was spraying up right through from underneath … ugh! Then we hit a road in disguise. I got a clod of mud right in the eye and it took some time before it stopped feeling as if someone was sandpapering my eyeball. We were cruising along with a delightful tailwind. I imagined what Andy would have said if I’d planned a road ride along this mud encrusted tarmac 😀

Steep sides…

Although on some of the hills I was dropping Lucy, it was only because my gears don’t go as low as hers – I was happy to let her pull back again. We were making good progress and only really ground to a walk on the final climb back up the Mynd, on a track with deep tractor ruts. It would probably have been ridable if the wind hadn’t been blowing us sideways so hard it was impossible to stay riding on a narrow enough line.

We flew *down* here when it was just soggy grass

Popping back out at the top it was all downhill from here. We laughed as we passed Jon slogging up the wet grassy hill as we flew down! Lucy took a tumble on a short section of boardwalk just as I was thinking it might be slippy. I could tell it was a hard one as she didn’t bounce back up immediately, but little was said and on we went. We both got super cold on this descent, not enough pedalling going on. But soon enough we were back for a slow transition whilst we fumbled the changeovers and rammed our unfeeling feet into running shoes. We were so fuddled we both ran off with our bike helmets still on!

Transition – biking done

As we made our way along the road, my little toe felt as if it was broken under the others! The bike had been good, but now we needed to adjust our run to the shorter time we had left (1h42). The points allocation and our remaining time was making it tricky to decided a good route. I let Lucy consider whilst I did my second wee stop of the day. Most unusual, I must have drink too much tea! Ha. Unfortunately we got disorientated near the start, following a path not on the map and losing the map detail under various other markings.

We righted ourselves and were soon moving at a reasonable and maintainable speed. A chap going the other way warned us it was slippery (?!). We did a hard right and the path headed uphill. One control was cheekily placed on the other side of a stream, forcing us to get wet feet. As we ascended a valley with steep sides I realised this was where Lucy said we’d have to escape from at some point … she was kind, as we carried on up quite a while before cutting cross country up the sides.

Hills for running around

We came out on top and I was worried about time. Half an hour left, the finish seemed a long way off and what was this, why were we running uphill again?! It was an out and back to the top and then we really were descending, with more urgency now. The final control at the reservoir was misplaced vs the map, meaning we lost a little time before turning down a large tourist path back to the town. This was no longer ‘steady’, nothing like it … but we minimised our losses and were only 4 minutes late.

Sprint finish!

Enough to win female pairs and secure the series (which we wanted to do as Lucy really can’t come to the last one), and still tantalisingly close, but not ahead of, the mixed pairs 😉 15th overall. Results. This area is a great place to bike and run in all weathers.

Been finished a few seconds now, must be time to review the map and route choices!!

Thanks to Open Adventure for organising, James Kirby for photos, all the volunteers and to Jon and Andrea for a lift home with inbuilt small child entertainment in the back (just don’t get me started on the female representation in ‘Adventure Stories’…).

Open 5 Reeth

I was beginning to believe it, but apparently I am not invincible after all and despite escaping several rounds of illness at work and at home, last week I succumbed to my first cold of the winter. I couldn’t even see who to blame it on, so it could only be ‘someone on a bus’ 😉 . I’d also had a particularly tough week at work and despite a fantastic ability normally to switch off, I needed something strong this weekend to help me forget it all! Friday and Saturday nights I was getting interrupted sleep with one of those annoying scratchy coughs, but by Sunday I was feeling more human and up for the Open 5. Lucy had done a 20 mile fell race the day before, so I was hoping we might even out.

We prepped and after a couple of puffs on my inhaler my lungs even felt in moderate working order. Off we ran and the pace was OK. Then we turned uphill. I was getting too hot, I could feel the blood thumping in my head, and if I paused to think about it I came over all dizzy. Up and up, stumbling over a stile, dodging round the bases of crags and sweat dripping into my eyes.

I ate as much as I could and kept going. Confusion arose at the cave, which we approached from the top. We were looking for it and Lucy pointed shouting ‘here’, except I did not hear her and thought she meant ‘I’ll look this way and you that’. After going round in a circle down and uphill, there she was standing waiting …

Let's just pop up there ...

Let’s just pop up there …

More running, taking the flatter path instead of the lumpy road. There was a ‘rabbit control’ van parked up, but I hadn’t seen much evidence of control, as I’d spent half the run making sure they didn’t get a bonanza of whole human leg falling into their burrow for dinner.

We caught another female pair, then set off in the wrong direction on an unmarked path. The high point that had a ‘null control’ marked on it winked at us, and I kept repeating to myself ‘at least we’re not going up there’. As Lucy announced we needed to backtrack, I was ready to pass out and decided taking my windproof off might improve matters. It did, but my legs still wobbled beneath me. Come to think of it, I pondered, have I really done much uphill running lately?

Bouncy suspension bridge on the run.

Bouncy suspension bridge on the run.

We dropped down to a river and contemplated a wet crossing and another control. Normally I’d have said yes, but I was cream crackered and wanted to get on the bikes. We ran off, picking up speed as a male pair tried to keep up, breathing hard down my neck. I thought they’d overtake but they never quite did and Lucy was having none of it…

Transition came at 1:58, which was spot on what we had aimed for. A slow changeover as I transferred some kit and tried to eat some more. Then we were off, avoiding a silly mistake and heading straight up the hill. I kept pedalling for quite a while until I was reduced to pushing. ‘Noooo’, my legs screamed! Eventually as I stumbled, Lucy took over with a double bike push, instructing me to eat more, right now. I was forever grateful for fast and easy riding over the top, an easier uphill and a fun descent, even if I should have been less chicken on it.

Ohhh please not up there, I just want to pedal!

Ohhh please not up there, I just want to pedal!

That was more or less all the mountain biking, as the rest of our controls were on the roads. Rolling up and down we still seemed to be pedalling uphill a lot of the time. We debated a few options, eventually plumping for one last hill that had 900m of off road push before a long, long tarmac descent on an empty road. In hindsight with the benefit of other people’s choices, we could have made a different decision here, and earned about 13 more points. Maybe it was worth it though, as on the way we passed Crackpot … if we’re going to make mistakes best to do it passing amusingly named places 😀

One of the many steep roads. Reeth 3 miles ... but we did not go that way!

One of the many steep roads. Reeth 3 miles … but we did not go that way!

We lost time checking the wrong side of an arched bridge for a control, and could still see the hidden cave from the run, mocking us in full and plain sight on the other side of the valley. Other than that and my throat, tummy and generally whole body complaining at me, it was an uneventful and super speedy return to Reeth.

Just under 6 minutes left and we had the transition team laughing and shouting at us to hurry up as we dived off for one more out and back up a small hill on the road. I had estimated this would take 10 minutes. The rain was falling now, but we got there in 7, turned around and got back in 3. For once I had been vaguely accurate, as I had almost been with my ’20km to go’ pronouncement 22km from the end!

We just ticked over 5 mins late, which meant 12 penalty points, but it was worth it for a 25 point control. It turned out it was true that James T wanted to do prize giving at 15.15. We stumbled in to the hall at 15:07 then carried on racing to get changed at the van and back again just in time for the start of the day’s results.

First female pair, 19th overall and a respectable, if not dazzling score. My throat and lungs were burning and I felt weebly, but had survived! Good job Lucy can race 20 miles one day and still keep pushing us along and make sure we have a good race the next. The March Open 5 is in Church Stretton in Shropshire, where I have enjoyed racing a couple of times before.



Many thanks to Open Adventure for the race, James Kirby for photos, Lucy for the lifts and my mum for pre-race accommodation!

Dales scenery. We saw a lot of this hill, both from it and looking across at it.

Dales scenery. We saw a lot of this hill, both from it and looking across at it.

Open 5 Lake District – Threlkeld

It was nearly time for the first Open 5 of the year and I had not done enough mountain biking! Swimrunning all year had left me out of practice, and a couple of planned rides did not happen. I had arranged to go for a long test ride with Elizabeth, after the ‘rope across bike path incident’. That went well enough and I only fell off once despite the snow patches … so maybe I was ready?!

Low sun

Low sun

I had travelled light to the event and as we sat in the car in the early morning gloom I saw the dashboard thermometer read -3oC and by the time we got to the event start it said -6oC. Hmm. I might have chosen a different jersey if I had known that! However, the forecast was for sunshine and warming up so I stayed resolute. Well, I had no choice. On went the arm warmers, gilet and lobster gloves at least!

Looking at the maps at the start we knew we had to bike first. There was a big, obvious and committing loop winking at us. We wouldn’t want to run first and then find we had run out of time to do it. This was a slight shame as we’d have to ride before it warmed up! In fact just getting to the start was slightly traumatic, as Lucy’s fingers stopped working and we didn’t have the luxury of fully warming them up before we were hustled through the start. We had 3 minutes to spare though, no problem.

Looking at the control values, we had a change of heart. We shouldn’t do the loop, but some funny zig zagging to get all the high value ones to the south. Off we went in the opposite direction to our original plan. One glitch when we paused. ‘Maybe the control is on that fingerpost?’ ‘Let’s carry on and check the next one’ ‘Oh, it was the first one’ – duh! A little time lost, but not a lot.

I was doing OK riding the uphills and wide tracks but was freaking out a bit at the icy patches, downhills and techy bits. Think this was a combination of lack of practice and additional fear about falling on my only partly mended shoulder. I was feeling a bit sick from the fear of it and struggling to keep up, so I just let Lucy lead the way. At the bottom of a long holey section I found her considering the map. ‘We’d be best going round!’ she said. I was more than happy to trust she had figured it out right, so on we went following our original plan, but in reverse!

The downhill was cool and shady, but long, fast and easy-ish. As we saw others labouring up the other way I was pleased to be going in this direction. Another wee error as we turned right at the ‘road’ only to find it was a ‘track’ looking very road like. About-turn and straight on to the next mistake, getting lured by an easy looking bridleway shortcut, only to find it rapidly deteriorating into a mud and gate fest. WHY? We should have just whizzed round the road, don’t know what got into us. Must have been enjoying being off road again after all. 😀

We were joined by a male pair who followed us through a village and another overshoot. We must have been chatting and not paying attention as this control was very obvious – we just didn’t have our eyes out for it! There followed a slightly uncomfortable busy road stretch with the low sun in our eyes, but before long we had one last mega climb to burn our lungs and legs.

Bike map

Bike map

The descent was fun, I was pushing myself a bit more, spurred on by not wanting to get caught by any of the riders we’d seen tailing us into the previous out and back control. A spin down a road closed due to subsidence and now covered in leaves and free of traffic was a delight. We nipped through the outskirts of Keswick taking care with the map. I was tempted to start smashing it, but was very conscious of the run ahead so kept it reigned in 🙂 We were soon rolling back into transition.

We got a control here, I never even saw the stone circle!

We got a control here, I never even saw the stone circle!

It was the right decision to bike first as we now only had 1.5h for our run. I’m not used to racing this way round and probably hadn’t eaten enough, so got some extra food down in transition. We hared off at high speed despite having ‘just-off-a-bike’ legs. I quickly shoved the map in my bag as there was no way I had time to look at it. In fact, I was working so hard at keeping up I never even noticed a fine stone circle in the same field as a control!

Our pace was pretty high, even with rough ground and gates and stiles. I was feeling uncomfortable and my right leg was hurting in all sorts of places. I tried to relax and decided more food and drink was needed. I even resorted to a gel, which was like manna from heaven, so it must have been bad.

Snow capped hills

Snow capped hills

We marched up a rather steep hill, walk, run, walk, run. When we could see the sun, it was blinding. When we couldn’t, the side of the hill was in shadow and was dark and cold, with the grass frozen hard. At the summit we struggled to find the control. ‘’Thread’ 7m east of summit’. Was the summit the top looking bit, or the cairn? What was a ‘ thread’? We were circling the top, taking paces, checking the compass. Lucy was about to get me to take photo proof, when we found it on a little outcrop, only visible from below.

Frozen way up the hill

Frozen way up the hill

Right, decision time. We pondered a longer route getting an extra two controls, but decided to be conservative, taking a route that we should have ‘loads of time to do’. I slid on my bum coming down the steep bank, but then we were off again.

Lucy put me on the tow (no debate) and I was getting pulled along, not being able to see for both the sun and Lucy’s legs two feet in front of me. It was quite funny, but she was relentless even on the rough downhilly bits! I was feeling better, the food must have finally got into my bloodstream. Finally, we rounded a corner and could see the finish up a hill in front of us. Other racers were returning to download along the road and shouted encouragement. Into the field and one last uphill slog, the tow now slack as we were both at our limits.

The sun was much in evidence

The sun was much in evidence

I wasn’t sure how close we were, but as we charged over the line we had 2 minutes to spare. Wow! Well, it was a good job we didn’t go wandering off at the top of the hill. Slightly annoying that we had made a few mistakes on the bike that cost time we could have used well later. Never mind, no race like this is perfect and we were pretty pleased with our score and performance 🙂

Back to download before the cold sunk in and I even had time to wolf down a bowl of Nav4 veggie chilli. James T was very obliging in hurrying along the prize giving. I had a train to catch! We won our category and were 14th overall (same score as 12th and 13th but slightly later back). That top 10 still eludes us, but this was a great start to the season!

Podium smiles

Podium smiles

Looking forward to the next one, which isn’t until February. At least by then I might have remembered how to ride a bike, especially an off road one, and maybe we’ll get to bike second so I am not so broken on the run 😀

Thanks to all involved in organising and to James Kirby for the photos.

SMBO: Falkirk on Fire!

With our last swimrun race done for the year, my thoughts turned to mountain biking. Open 5s were coming up soon and my bike was almost gathering actual dust! It was a last minute decision, but I decided to enter the SMBO event in Falkirk. Scanning the entry list, I spotted Jon and hastily messaged him to see if he fancied pairing up. Affirmative. We were on!

The format was similar to one held earlier in the year: 90 minutes in the daylight, a rest for tea and homemade chocolate coconut brownies, then 90 minutes in the dark with the same map and controls but different values.

It was pretty chilly so we hid in the car to come up with two alternative plans, depending on the control values. The maps were 1:50k OS on one side and openstreetmap on the other. On the move, Jon read off the OS and me off the openstreet map. Sometimes one was easier to use and sometimes the other.

Jon started super fast and I was soon working hard to stay in contact. Some spot on Jon-nav helped us find a control in the woods without error. I was glad just to follow and to remember how to ride this bike!

90 minutes is not very long at all and before we knew it we had to start finalising our plans! Up a hill, looking down on the town before flying down and facing a sprint up another hill … Where did they all come from? The low sun shone through the trees, still golden in autumn colours as we crunched through the leaves.

At the last minute we decided to dive into the woods for an extra control or two on some single-track before racing back to the finish. Perfect timing, 2 minutes late. We finished this stage 3rd overall.

Suitably refilled and it was time for take 2. We now knew both the map and the control values, so were able to plan exactly what we wanted to do. Although there was some overlap, we did visit a different area. All around us fireworks were going off (it was Bonfire night), but I had to keep my eyes on where we were going! Jon started counting down; that’s only 45 minutes left. Whaaaat?! How was it even possible?

It all went to plan though, and we even had time to sail past the finish whooping and yelling whilst we did an optional extra little loop and finished … 2 minutes late again!

Final result and we had the highest score on the night stage and finished 2nd overall. I felt sorry for Davie who ripped his tyre on just about the furthest point on the map and had to run back. After admiring some more fireworks and the bonfire we trundled off (and I had the excitement of catching a tram with my bike for the first time).

Many thanks to Marc for organising an event with a bit of spice, Amelie for efficient sign on and Helen for the great soup and cake! A family affair 🙂

At the results ceremony, you can spot me hiding next to Jon in green!

At the results ceremony, you can spot me hiding next to Jon in green!

Open 5 Todmorden (South Pennines)

It’s more than a bit late for this report. Life seems to have been getting in the way of write ups!

I stayed at my mum’s with my friend Jim the night before. It was an early start, driving through temperature inversions that meant we alternated between bright sunshine and fog. The race venue was still more in the latter state and there was mention of snow on higher ground. I was more confident for sun!

I was racing with Lucy again and we did debate whether to bike first, but stuck to ‘what normally works’ and ran first instead. By the end I was wishing we hadn’t, though unlike the last time this happened, it was less a strategy miscalculation and more of a ‘might have saved ourselves’ option.

Off we went, almost, but not quite last out. Straight up a hill and back down again for the first control. Lucy had the end of a cold in her lungs, but I wouldn’t have known it as we were flying along and I was breathing hard trying to keep up. Navigation in the town was tricky and we ended up the wrong side of the canal and unable to get on the bridge. I later found out there was a route through a beer garden, but we never spotted that! We lost about 5 minutes here, take note.

Onwards and up onto the hills, where navigation was a bit easier. We found a control on a footpath / stream crossing, where I’d say the ‘footpath’ was only barely hanging on to its status. We were up high and scooting along a ridge with great views. Stoodly Pike (with a great big tower) was like a siren, with a 30 point control on it.

We got another control then paused to contemplate our options. I had roughly estimated the bike length at 32km. We needed to allow 3h. Though sometimes, depending on terrain, we’d do it quicker than that. How long left for the run? 7-8km at 6-7 minutes per km. Just over 40 minutes then (see what I did there?). Lucy really wanted to go to the tower. Well, we had won the series already and it looked fun, she said. I was more anxious but, yes, the tower did look inviting, it seemed it was almost as long to take the direct route home and if we weren’t going we should have decided a control ago … so off we went.

Darn, we ran round the tower looking for a balcony, before realising it we had to go inside, up a spiral staircase in the pitch dark, no lights. This was slow!! A couple more minutes lost.

Running back down, Lucy had to wait for me, though I found my legs again on the flatter road section. It was along drag back along the canals and through Todmorden. We came in 49 minutes after our deliberations, with only 2h40 left for the bike.

As previously ascertained, there really was no other option for the bike leg but to go all the way round the big loop. I couldn’t see any other sensible alternatives, so off we went. Maybe we both already had a sinking feeling about this, as I’m not sure our usual ‘drive’ was in evidence.

We're sure there should be a control here somewhere

We’re sure there should be a control here somewhere

I navigated well through town, only for us to promptly get confused and take the wrong bridleway, ending up pushing in hot sunshine. Studying the map very carefully afterwards, I can see the bridleway we took was on the map – I just couldn’t see it at the time. It was tricky to read due to the hundreds of paths, contours and ‘stuff’. Yes, it was hilly. We turned too early, which I kicked myself about, as usually I have an eye on the distance as well as the junctions. This cost us about 7 minutes – are you keeping a tally?

Once on the right track it was a ride / hike mixture until we hit a road at the top and flew like maniacs with a tailwind. This felt better, maybe we had enough time after all, our average speed was going up. Off road again onto a fun track to a reservoir. We were heading for a ‘permissive bridleway’ – sometimes these indicate high use paths and are better quality, but sadly, not the case today. I briefly considered going the long way round, but we didn’t – others reported doing this and having a much better time.

So forlooorn ...

So forlooorn …

Anyway, after another km of pushing we finally made it to a decent track. 40 minutes left, we had to go fast. Unfortunately, it wasn’t towing territory. And besides, my stomach was not feeling great, I was queasy. Maybe I hadn’t been drinking enough in the unaccustomed sunshine! We got to the control that was missing (luckily we’d heard someone shout something about it), so we took a photo to prove we’d been there and headed off again.

We're finishing quite late

We’re finishing quite late

We were nearing the end and got to a section with loads of gates. We were doing ‘gate relay’ – one of us go through, ride ahead to the next one, whilst the other shut the first and caught up, to switch over again. We were nearing a farmhouse and it was my turn to hold the gate. I shouted “200m past the farm, then turn left!” Unfortunately, the message didn’t land, as Lucy turned at the farmhouse and I was chasing her down the road shouting “um, I don’t think this is right!” whilst desperately trying to work out how this way went (it was a sort of square). Eventually Lucy stopped, we had overshot the alternative junction and had to turn back. Another 2 minutes gone.

Things were getting pretty bad by now, chat was rather minimal. We both just wanted to be home. It should have been ‘all downhill’, but it wasn’t. The final turning had a ‘Road Closed’ sign. “Do you want to find out why?” asked Lucy. “Yes!” I said emphatically. We really didn’t have time to faff about. I was encouraged when a group of motorcyclists roared past and when we got to the point, it was only half the single lane road dug up, so we had no problems getting through. There was a possible shortcut through town but we weren’t certain of it, so we stuck to the main road and finally drew into transition.

19 minutes late. The sad sight of only our shoes and bags sitting forlornly in transition by themselves.

This was a disappointing end to the series. Despite the lovely countryside and demanding course, I think we weren’t quite on it. Even so – frustratingly, if we had eliminated the nav errors we’d have only been about 5 minutes late – and have had an excellent score – which goes to show that it wasn’t our planning that was out as such, just our execution of it!

We came 2nd female pairs, only 5 points behind 1st (penalties go up at 5 points per minute after 10 minutes). Results here. Although this wasn’t the end I’d hoped for, we had already done enough to win the series. I had a pleasant train journey direct back to my mum’s and a hot dinner waiting for me!

Here and here a couple of reports from other friends at the race, who weren’t so busy getting back so late 😉

Many thanks to Open Adventure, James Kirby for photos and all the course organisers and other volunteers.

Until next winter …

Open 5 – Askham (Lake District)

Pre-race preparation was perfect, with a café stop, a wander round an outdoor shop, a photography exhibition (tweed making in the Hebrides) and a pub dinner. Shame about the early start, but we successfully navigated round all the closed bridges and got a space in the village not too far from registration.

Whilst waiting for Lucy to arrive I got chatting with a few people about the routes. The bike looked fairly straightforward – with the main decision being two controls stuck up on a fell. The advantage of them was that they were on the Roman road (High Street), so visiting them would make my dad happy.

When Lucy appeared we got ready remarkably quickly and headed up to the start. But then some last minute gear fettling threatened to eat up all that spare time we had. Luckily the right screw was twiddled in the right direction first time, and we were ready to go!

Run first as usual, and we set off at pace, soon hitting a long road stretch. My shins were complaining but I just ignored them. We had to leave an out and back fairly early on – as it turned out that might have been our best chance at more points but it just didn’t seem worth it at this stage. We were soon enough heading up onto the hill and I was enjoying the softer ground, even if we had to leap over tussocky stuff.

There was a choice to be made between a straight off-track line to the furthest out controls, or a route on tracks that we decided would be faster. We also got to check out a section of bridleway we’d potentially be riding up later. Even better, we got there with a mountain biker and were able to see that a) he was riding but b) only a little bit faster than we were running.

Descending a steep bank I was left behind (as expected) but generally I was feeling good. Lucy had raced the day before as well and was only just back from the tooth infection that had done for her last month. I was keeping up without dying, which only tempted me to look at the map, which wasn’t too helpful. We stopped at a control, ‘ignored’ it, ran downstream, then back up. A mistake from a combination of the paths on ground looking a bit different to the map (which fooled me) and me distracting Lucy (who wouldn’t otherwise have been fooled by that).

She was getting a bit tetchy as we were running out of time. I hadn’t noticed, but she was right. 1h55mins gone already, and there was no way we’d be back in 5 minutes! Nothing for it though but to stick at it. I looked at the bike map to check our route still made sense in the light of reduced time and to make some comparisons between different point collections.

We flew down into the finish. The longest run time-wise in a while and I think our longest distance Open 5 run ever! Close to 20km. Off on the bikes and it was an ‘easy’ road loop to start with. The sun came out and the lanes were pretty even if they went up a hill. We feared this would be a repeat of the Forest of Bowland, where the optimal points route was short run and long bike.

Not the 'Cat Stane' (which is at Edinburgh airport!) but the 'Cop Stone'

Not the ‘Cat Stane’ (which is at Edinburgh airport!) but the ‘Cop Stone’

However, as I pondered I wasn’t so sure. I still thought we could get round all but two controls, and maybe even out and back to one more. It was tempting as it was the one on the Roman road. We calculated 30 minutes to get 15 points, an hour to get 55. As we rode we debated and thought it would be close for the 15 pointer. We thought about other combinations – would cutting it short on another loop on the way back be worth the offset? Sadly, no, we decided it would be nuts to try and we should play it safe. Then I think we relaxed slightly, alarmed at the prospect of getting back 20 minutes early.

Debating strategy!

Debating strategy!

Realising what was happening, we changed gear again and hurried up a bit. Lucy led the way down a fun, fast rocky descent towards the shoreline of Ullswater. It was impossible to read the map at that speed with those bumps, but we pulled up just before the bridge with the control. The furthest one out was up a sharp little kick to a church. We tackled it off road, deciding it was shorter and better graded than the road – and we were right.

Typically, having gone from thinking we had loads of time we now realised we had to get a proper move on. We estimated 14km and we had 40 minutes.

Pushing the pace along the lakeside I wondered if Lucy would need a tow, but she was safely tucked in my slipstream and that was enough. Good thing too, as I didn’t have it in me to go any faster and felt slightly queasy! It wasn’t until we turned up the final hill some time later that I gave a short helping hand. There was No Way we could get back late on this one after all our earlier debates!

Glorious Ullswater

Glorious Ullswater

I didn’t dare think we were safe until we hit the final bit of bridleway, screeched down the hill, faffed with a gate and hammered into the finish. 5 minutes early! Brilliant.

We decided it hadn’t been so crazy to do a long run today after all, even if it had been slightly unintentional. It had been a race with much thinking and strategizing on the move. After so many previous events where high scores had been the norm all round, we hoped that our high score this time would be a little more out of the ordinary.

At prize giving when the scores were read out, we were mentally counting the number of people ahead of us. Gargh, missed top 10 by one place – 11th! But we had much improved and won our category, so we were happy. Results here. One more go at it this season!

Thanks to Open Adventure (event), James Kirby (official photos), Andy Kirkland (personal photos) and everyone who made the event possible.

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