The trip this far down south was a logistical epic, but did involve a bonus visit to see Andy, half a day with Lucy’s friend Catherine and a pleasant (accidental!) diversion to spaghetti junction, which is very close to where I grew up! The phone app got us round and round and round until we popped back up on the motorway in the right direction :-).
I was feeling a bit off, I was tired and my head seemed all foggy and ached as we looked at the maps. I even managed to miss the fact that we were sat at a table with Chrissie Wellington, although I did think she looked vaguely familiar! Before we set off to transition I was all over the place, and we had to lock and unlock the van about 3 times. Finally I had everything I needed in the right places and we were ready to go.
We ran first, with Lucy navigating as usual. I was glad I didn’t have to think. I just clutched my map in my hand and concentrated on keeping up as best I could. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, Lucy doesn’t really do sympathy, more like tough love! We ran fast along the river. I think Lucy was secretly aiming for the number 32 to 29 speed record (we might have even got it!). Four of us ran across a bouncy bridge together, causing some strange harmonic (and not so harmonic) motion effects.
I started to feel more positive and enjoy the woods and scooshing through the leaves after we visited King Arthur’s cave for a helping of magic dust. Up to a trig point and back down again, but then I went over on my ankle. It was a sore one. I needed to sit and catch my breath and wait for the intense but short-lived pain that is peculiar to slightly twisted ankles to subside. Lucy had barely paused before she disappeared ever downwards, so there was no time to feel sorry for myself. I proceeded (even more) cautiously until we were back on more even ground.
This is where I got hitched up to the tow for the last 25 minutes of running. It made a difference as I got a little tug over the tricky bits and times when I unconsciously slowed, but I was keeping pace in other sections. Lucy asked my opinion about going for one last control on the way back, but I was incapable of a cogent answer and left her to decide. We went straight back and got in just when we would plan to (2hr2mins).
Now it was my turn to look at a map. After we had been given the control values at the start, I had revised our initial plan and come up with a better route. I was relieved to get us to the first checkpoint correctly. The forest was much more fun than the usual Forestry Commission type, lots of beech and other trees and more natural paths. But there were tracks all over the ground that weren’t on the map, and some on the map that weren’t on the ground. Tracks all marked in the same way also varied wildly in their surface type and rideability!
We found this out as we struggled to get between our 2nd and 3rd controls. Both path options we went for were very overgrown and rough. At this point, race director James ran past looking very cheerful! He commented later that we were gassing, but in actual fact we were debating what to do ;-). In the end we shouldered our bikes and set off up the hill, slipping and sliding and struggling across fallen trees and up little steep banks. Eventually we reached a better path, but were confused about where it brought us out. We lost some time, but got where we needed to eventually.
A long, fast road section followed, but then I had a head flunk. We collected a control and almost turned back the wrong way before Lucy spotted my mistake. I felt flustered and through the next couple of junctions it got worse as I lacked confidence in what we were doing and missed seeing a fire road on the map. Lucy got a teensy bit cross with my hesitation and took over. In retrospect, I was right to be confused as our gps trace shows we rode on paths not marked on the map for a km. But Lucy was right to follow her instinct as we were going in the same direction and other map features meant we knew when we came out in the right place. I fought with my mind a bit but determined to get over it. I just let Lucy lead through the next long section of singletrack and gave myself time to sort my head out. It was fun riding and we were there to enjoy ourselves, after all!
We were soon at the decision point about where else to go in the time left. We had designed our route to give us lots of different options at the end, with a road ride back to the finish. We had an hour left, which based on our average speed so far was enough to do the shortest loop back. We set off, but a few minutes later I said “hmmm, Lucy, I’ve been thinking, and we seriously might be able to go out and get number 19 as well”. I have a habit of doing this and being much too optimistic, but this time I was confident, as our speed on the road should be much faster and it was worth 20 points! Luckily Lucy agreed and we went for it. Last summer she was out of running action for a long while, and therefore doing more biking. It showed as there was no help needed and in the final leg back we were taking turns to draft in a two-up time trial. Definitely the right decision, as we rolled in only 2.5 minutes late (6 penalty points).
My tummy muscles were spasming and I was a bit light headed. Definitely something wasn’t quite right! But although we hadn’t got as many controls as we sometimes do, we thought it had been a tough course. Lucy did also admit that we had run harder than usual, which made me feel a bit better. At prize giving (results), it turned out we had done very well and I really cheered up – we were only beaten by a male pair and 6 male solos. My favourite bit was the ‘oooooh’ in the hall when our score was announced :-).
Conversation and chat resumed at normal levels after we stopped at the services and I stocked my body up on sugary and salty items. It was good to compete with Lucy again after so many months, and to find we hadn’t lost what we learnt last year about how to have a good race together.
The best bit of the journey home was the train trip back from Doncaster. I’d saved up some reward points from my extensive train travel across the UK and been able to get a free first class seat. Loads of leg room, free wifi and complimentary second breakfast were much appreciated by this weary adventure racer!