A tale of a medium dog and a shire horse on a 2 day adventure together.
Two and a half years ago, two girls raced together in an Open 5 run/mountain bike event in the Peak District. One of them (Kate) was a top endurance runner contemplating the West Highland Way race and riding a singlespeed. The other (me), was still quite an adventure racing novice. We were fairly well matched back then.
Fast forward and I have signed up for the Celtman (a tough triathlon like an Ironman, but with a longer bike and a run over a couple of mountains). Kate has ‘signed up’ to be my buddy runner on the mountain stage of the run for that event. Her job will be to keep me safe and motivated!
We haven’t seen each other since that Open 5 and missed doing the Peak District event in April together because I was chasing the series title. So we decided to do the Open 2-dayer in the Lake District instead. I don’t know if Kate knew what she was letting herself in for!
Follow structured training plan. Taper the week before. Buy a dog-lead to set up a bike tow.
Man in dog-lead shop:
“I think the tape lead will be better for what you want. Do you need small, medium or large dog size?”
Have a 6 week running taper. Have a 6 year kayaking taper*. Work and study very hard, don’t worry too much about ‘training’, because this race is just for fun.
* OK, so I hadn’t kayaked since last July either!
Stage 1: Run (Loughrigg Fell)
Horse and dog team seemed fairly well matched on the ride to the start of the first stage, though it took a long time to get there. At this point we didn’t even know we were a horse and dog team.
The run was lovely. We took a good route, didn’t make mistakes and enjoyed the scenery and off-road running. Kate even towed me for a while along a nice flat section. Unfortunately, after 15 minutes it was all too much and positions were reversed later as we made a mad dash along the road and got back just a few seconds late! But we actually had the best female pair score.
Stage 2: Bike (Grizedale)
The first hour was traumatic. Kate went into meltdown (“I can’t ride, I’m holding you back, have you created a new loser’s route yet?”). I concentrated on how to rescue the situation. Then it all got better. We changed the planned route, rode some fun trails and agreed that on every road and fireroad Kate was going on the tow. She was now officially a medium dog.
Towing is a skill and needless to say, we both got better at it as we had 3.5 hours to practice! Kate rides a singlespeed which makes switching between off-road and road difficult. Partway round I also realised she had no suspension – no wonder it was tricky!
We got into a good rhythm. I felt I was working hard, Kate was not left trailing and we were getting some good chat time. We took in the section of North Face trail early to make sure we didn’t miss it. Then I deliberately made sure we rode one of my favourite routes in the lakes – from Heald Brow Pasture, through Low Parkamoor and down to the end of Coniston Water at High Nibthwaite.
Despite having an hour left we were now short of time. We set off to get one last control up a hill, but on a road. It was slow and the dog was getting quad cramps. We faced one of my hardest ever adventure race decisions, and turned back round to head for home without getting the control. 45 minutes of tow into a headwind along the entire length of Coniston Water. I felt sick when we finished but we had no penalties!
Probably should have gone for the control, but we were Saving Ourselves for the Kayak. Our day 1 motto. We didn’t think it was serious.
Stage 3: Night run (Tarn Hows)
Set off well on a good route. We were having fun. I recognised one path as the place where Andy tried out magic walking poles for the first time, but that’s another story.
We got to the point where we were supposed to check the time and choose a ‘slightly shorter’ or ‘slightly longer’ route. We forgot to check and went the long way. It was getting late, we were getting tired and we started making lots of little mistakes.
- Couldn’t work out where we were on the map, spent ages figuring out we were 20m too far east. These things matter in the dark.
- Ran past a shiny reflective thing, didn’t think to say ‘hey what’s that?’, overshot and had to backtrack.
- Dithered at a footpath by a fence – one of which wasn’t marked on map but we weren’t sure which and couldn’t be decisive about running another 50m to the correct fence.
- Ran blindly down a fireroad for ages, I felt panicked and teary, even though we were in the right place.
- Checked a hundred streams until we got the right one.
Hit the road at the bottom already 10 minutes late and 2km from home. We pegged it and got back in 8 minutes. The medium dog didn’t trip over her feet and the shire horse was born.
We lost 125 points. Killer.
Stage 4: Kayak (Coniston Water)
A very early start after not very much sleep. Following some last minute advice from Jon, I went in the back to steer. 10 minutes down the lake and we were knackered! But we stuck to our plan, which seemed sensible. We knew we could miss two controls out at the top of the lake later if we needed to.
Crossing the lake was fine, coming back upwind was a little harder. There were white horses and we were lurching over the waves. Kate got regular cold showers, whilst I whooped and shrieked with delight :-D. Then it was back to work. I found for the first time ever that my attempts at ‘edging’ were actually steering us, and my butt was getting an awesome workout.
We made good time and I decided we could go for the last two controls. Kate must have heard about my risk-taking from somewhere and in a last ditch attempt asked ‘should we head back now?’. I said ‘No’. For once, I was right, we got back under 2 minutes late and had our best scoring stage of the whole event.
Which just goes to show that dogs and horses can make good kayakers, especially when they ‘save themselves’ for it all the previous day ;-).
Stage 5: Trail run (Old Man of Coniston)
There was a complicated scoring system for this stage which also involved decisions about going for a short or long course. We decided we had nothing to lose after the night stage and besides, we wanted our money’s worth. We were doing the long course.
The first climb took an hour, and this is where I got the sort of full leg and glute workout that the physio would approve of. Uphill, pulling Kate as hard as she could take and hoping it wouldn’t break either of us! Despite threats from behind to ‘piss on my leg’, I refused to give up. I knew this is what it could be like in June on Beinn Eighe (without the extra resistance!).
Then came a blustery run along a ridge before a long descent. Looking at the splits I know where I still need to improve – rough steep descending. Kate was waiting patiently for me as I teetered down. Shire horses just don’t have the dexterity and lightness of foot for this kind of work. We may also have been slightly distracted by other interesting chat topics ;-). As we hit the well-made track in the quarry it was back to sprinting and we charged down the hill to the finish.
Another female pair (Jill and Sharon) had a storming run and won the category – we rescued second place with our efforts on the kayak.
I was very pleased with this race. Our score was not the best and we were only mid-table overall. A teensy part of me was thinking ‘I wonder how I would be doing solo?’. BUT, the much bigger part of me was enjoying the company, the teamwork and the banter! I also got a fantastic training weekend for the Celtman, which has given me a real confidence boost.
A big thank you to Kate for putting up with the torture and coming with me. Also to Jon for the lift down and a space in a totally luxurious tent!
As usual, a well organised and challenging event from the team at Open Adventure.
Next up – the Slateman triathlon. 3 weeks to go!