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Haglöfs Open 5 Coniston

For the last race in this winter’s series, I was racing with another new person! Heather was the 4th girl to take on an Open 5 with me. I was looking forward to it, though with some apprehension. I thought it could be a tough one racing with someone who scored higher than Caroline and I in November (one of my hardest two races this series so far) and who is very experienced.

First of all I had to get there. I woke up feeling not-so-great on Saturday morning. I took two trains to get to Windermere and alighted in pouring rain. This had been forecast, so I was mentally and physically prepared, but I had been hoping the forecast would be wrong! No such luck; by the time I had ridden down the hill to the ferry, I was drenched. I was booked into the YHA in Coniston, 17km and two hills away. I was so relieved to arrive, sort out wet kit and get warm dry clothes on! I lazed around all afternoon to give myself the best chance of feeling better by Sunday. I can recommend the meals on offer there – less than £12 for a three course meal with four veggie options, and no pasta in sight 🙂 .

Lake District rain = impressive waterfalls

Lake District rain = impressive waterfalls

The weather forecast was still mostly correct on Sunday: wet. I felt well again though, which was a good thing. Although we set off in a dry patch, I was almost glad when it started raining, as it justified my having put my waterproof on. A little while later, up on the hill in fog, wind and driving rain, I was almost too cold and wishing for a warmer top!

Heather is a really good orienteer, so I was leaving the map reading on the run to her. We started off well, nipping from control to control and making good time. I was impressed as we headed cross country, hit a tiny footpath in a quarry and went straight up to a control.

It suddenly went pear-shaped after that. We were aiming for a ‘knoll’. Unfortunately, we were on a hillside covered in knolls, fog and lost racers. After wandering around back and forth, up and down, checking every knoll, we were not making progress. I was on the verge of suggesting we just left it, but I think, like Heather, I didn’t want to give up and felt as if we had invested too much time in it by now. We relocated by a large track and a likely looking stream (when there’s so much water around, how do you tell which streams are map streams, and which are just ‘pop ups’?), and went straight to the right point.

How not to find a knoll!

How not to find a knoll!

Perhaps just as I was anxious to put on a good show, so was Heather, and she was kicking herself for this mistake. And for having a dodgy compass, which was not helping matters 😀 .

We lost perhaps 25 minutes here, which wasn’t ideal. However, we did get back to transition in just under 2h, only dropping 55 points on the way. This would normally be pretty good going! We could still do well. I was confident in a straightforward mountain bike with long road sections … but, it turned out, I seriously under-estimated the difficulty of the routes.

Hillside covered in knolls and fog - a typical view for us on the run!

Hillside covered in knolls and fog – a typical view for us on the run!

We started with a ‘short’ loop with lots of high scoring points. But it was a case of ride, push, off, on, ride, push all the way up the hill as we navigated bogs, ditches, steep bits and rocky bits. It took us nearly an hour to cover 6km, and that included the downhill!

As we hit the road, this should have been the moment when I checked how long we’d been out and decided to leave a little group of three lower-scoring controls, giving us time to get some high pointers on a more committing circuit.

Twenty minutes later, I checked how long we’d been out and decided we should leave this little group of … oh no!!! Too late! It was my turn to feel frustrated. Post-race analysis of how long we spent here and our potential alternative has only served to considerably heighten this feeling. I think this was probably the real crux of where we went wrong in the race.

We came up with a new plan, then changed it, then went awry trying to follow an indistinct bridleway across a foggy hillside, had to retrace back uphill (losing another 13 precious minutes) and come up with another new plan. Which was to go straight back, collecting what we could on the way.

Practising my funny faces! Muddy, but have seen worse this year :-)

Practising my funny faces! Muddy, but have seen worse this year 🙂

At prize-giving, we were beaten by 10 points into second, but I know we could have done better. There was some good news. We had planned a route with options and get out plans, and it worked – we used them. I didn’t get back late, for once! But on the other hand, we had made some serious tactical errors and mistakes. It was also the first time we had raced together. Conditions were tough and there was a bit of ‘getting to know you’ going on (i.e. chatting!). I remember when I first raced with Lucy, we made some cracking mistakes as we got used to each other. I think I could probably have run faster if Heather had pushed the pace (she was being nice to me and waiting 🙂 ) and we could have biked faster if we had a tow set up. I wasn’t too despondent though, as I enjoyed Heather’s company and had a good time. You have to accept these things can happen sometimes, so long as it doesn’t become a habit 😉 .

The day was topped off by Ant and Cat taking me back to the station so I didn’t have to face riding back over those hills with a bag full of wet kit. I didn’t expect the service to include a bike wash, cup of tea, shower and a time trial bike viewing. Thanks guys!

coniston this race

This race

Coniston series

The series

I have really enjoyed this series: racing with Lucy again and winning the overall series, and riding three very different races with three other people. A big thanks to the organisers Open Adventure, all the course planners, to James Kirby for the photos and to the sponsors Haglöfs for the great prizes and impossible-to-miss banners that tell you the end is in sight!

Lucy and Rosemary: Female pairs series winners

Lucy and Rosemary: Female pairs series winners

My next adventure race will be with Jon Ellis, who is in my Itera team. We have raced before, but it was nearly three years ago. A lot has changed since then, so it will be interesting to see how we get on. Before then, I have a few other events to do, including the Old Man of Coniston triathlon, which is a target race for me this year.

Bowhill long duathlon and mini adventures

I was very remiss last month, as I never got round to writing about the Bowhill long duathlon! It was the last in the series and lived up to all expectations with fun trails, water and lots of mud.

This time I went down with Andy, who took lots of photographs, but only after he had ‘tested out’ the run course and only just made it back in time for us racers to start! I will let the pictures tell the story of a very fun day.

As far as the results go, I had a fantastic bike ride and was leading for 12 minutes on the run! Things went a bit downhill from there, as my run was slower than last year and I was overtaken by both Jo and Caroline. I still came 3rd though – another bottle of beer for Andy, and I was 2nd in the series – another bottle of beer for Glen! He also got lucky with some homemade chocolate marshmallow icing biscuity things I rustled up the night before.

Easy to use space for up to 6 bikes! I am not used to this luxury.

Easy to use space for up to 6 bikes! I am not used to this luxury.

Fast forward a few weeks and it was time for a mini mountain bike adventure. Andreas is a friend of mine who is training to become a ride leader and wanted to get some experience. He had chosen a route and came to me for some company. I willingly obliged and brought along Marie and Elizabeth, who were equally up for some wild fun.

The only downside was my sleep deprivation in the week leading up to it – with two early morning swims, a trip to London and a 5.30am pick up on Saturday morning! We drove up to Taynuilt and had half an hour to wait for the train to Tyndrum, where we would start the ride back again. I was most impressed with the bike carriage provision – easy space to get into for 6 bikes!

The ride was a mix of wide tracks with little tricky bits thrown in and quite a rough crossing over the watershed in Glen Finglass. We had chosen well: we were riding into a strong headwind all the way, with additional rain at several points, just to give us a free facial, as Marie put it! 😀

Whilst Marie and Andreas jostled for position and rode on ahead, I was more than happy to ride further back with Elizabeth chatting about holiday plans, races and life in general. That is, when we could hear each other over the roar of the wind in our ears.

This was another excuse to try out some new portables – on the menu were polenta squares (tasty but turned out a bit squishy), French toast cake (very good, especially with added sultanas), potato and ginger rice balls (surprisingly OK) and my favourite from last time, sweet potato cakes. I also had a few Quorn mini eggs, just for good measure.

Shame I didn’t eat more of them before I nearly bonked an hour in, or wanted to stop, lie down and sleep halfway through. All good Itera training, I told myself. I’d love to go back and enjoy the fantastic scenery and amazing waterfalls another time – though waterfalls are always better when it’s raining! I enjoyed the random bog walk / bridge hunt, which was the only part of the day where we really had to do any navigation. On the second ‘looking for the path’ occasion, right near the end, I asked someone how to get to another bridge, even though the others said that was cheating!

We ended the day in the Real Food Café as we drove back through Tyndrum. I must have been feeling funny, as in addition to my usual soup choice, I found myself ordering a plate of chips and cheese! I am not a big chip fan, preferring spicy potato wedges instead. I found a good spot for these though. Full tummy, warm clean clothes, not too far home and I was definitely ready for my bed!

Finally, this weekend I was in the Lake District for Lucy’s wedding party. She had chosen somewhere close enough to Kendal for us to get to without a car, but not so close we could stagger back there at the end! So I found a gem of a B&B just a mile along a country lane, complete with a genial host and an upstairs lounge with word burning stove and balcony.

Breakfast is served upstairs

Breakfast is served upstairs


Sunny balcony

Sunny balcony


 

We made a weekend of it. Even riding to the B&B on Friday night was interesting, as we picked our way there in the dark, made a turning down the wrong steep hill just as it started sleeting and finally went to three wrong farms before we got the right one …

On Saturday we went for a run to Staveley, to try out Wilf’s cafe. We were supposed to walk back, but ran out of time and had to run instead – suddenly we had covered 26km! Perfect preparation for a night of ceilidh dancing.

On Sunday we took advantage of the sunny weather and went for a 97km road bike ride taking in three counties (Cumbria, North Yorkshire and Lancashire) and a huge variety of landscapes. Andy praised me for finding something approaching a flattish route when we were staying in the Lake District, though the one long climb to get into Barbondale did nearly finish him off. Although I almost always talk about MTB adventures, this does prove I sometimes ride a road bike 🙂 . I’ve got half an eye on the Coniston Old Man triathlon coming up in June. This is the only triathlon I’ve entered so far this year, and I want to give it a decent go!

Fantastic bike route!

Fantastic bike route!

Somewhere in the last few weeks we also had our club prize giving evening. Here’s me with the handicap trophy for triathlon. Last year was the first year I raced a lot of triathlon, so my handicap rating was favourable. I also did well in quite a few of the qualifying races (which were all in Scotland), helping me to come out on top. It will be going to someone new next year, but meanwhile I have to find somewhere to keep this rock! (it’s very heavy …)

Club triathlon handicap trophy held aloft = weight training!

Club triathlon handicap trophy held aloft = weight training!

Next report will be from the final Open 5 of the series, where I’ll be back in the Lake District again!

Kendal Sprint Tri

My first ever win in a triathlon!

But back to the beginning …

After the Tranent triathlon was cancelled, this was my only ‘warm up’ before the Slateman in May, which is one of my target races this year.

I wanted to practice transitions, clothing, coping with race nerves and also to get a confidence boost, if possible :-). It’s easy to get carried away thinking I’m a great biker when I race triathlon, but doing the Tour of the Meldons a couple of weeks ago was a pertinent reminder that up against cyclists I have my limitations!

This way home

This way home

So, I set off to Kendal on Friday evening, thinking how simple all the packing had been compared to an adventure race. What, no first aid kit or foil blanket?! Things got a bit epic just heading into town to catch my train. I set off in sunshine but was pelted with pea-sized hailstones halfway there. I leapt under a bus stop, but too late to entirely save my bare legs, still bearing little bruise marks 3 days later!

 
 

Kit laid out for transition practice.

Kit laid out for transition practice.

Saturday was warm and sunny. I had met up with Andy and we went and rode round the course. It was good to practice a couple of bumpy sections, awkward bends and a tricky fast, narrow descent with gravel all over the road. I did that bit twice! After a fab lunch at the Waterside Café, we practiced transition a few times in our hostel room. Time well spent.

The race was large with 200 competitors, plus a kid’s event straight afterwards. Because it was a pool swim, everyone was going off in waves. The first was at 8am, mine was at 09:15, Andy wasn’t on until 11:00. After a basic poolside warm up it was time to go. I started much too fast and felt sick. I had to tell myself to calm down and get into a rhythm. After 500m / 7 minutes and 53 seconds (not amazing, but respectable enough), I jumped out of the pool and exited through a side door into a wet, cold, drizzly, windy day.

Before the race I had worried about whether to put on an extra top for the bike leg, and had laid one out in transition. In the event I decided to stop being a wuss and just get on with it. A big relative improvement in my transition time compared to some races (even with putting socks and gloves on) and I was off again. I soon flew past the few girls who were ahead of me from my swim heat and was racing round the hilly bike course.

I like to ride my bicycle - picture thanks to James Kirby

I like to ride my bicycle – picture thanks to James Kirby

I was a bit disappointed with my time coming back to transition – way off target (38:11 for 18km). But afterwards, I realised my target had been faster even than the best men’s times. I think I had been a bit optimistic and not taken full account of the 27mph headwinds, the ups, steep downs, twisty roads and the couple of minutes spent on the grassy run in and out of transition!

I had started to catch a few people from the previous heat out on the road, and heading out on the run there were a few more. But it was still quite a solitary affair, just passing a few people here and there. I had to mentally tell myself to keep working and run fast (it was only 5km after all). I was back in just under 22 minutes – pleasing given there had been a big hill in the middle of the run. It’s not like doing the Cramond Parkrun!

With a race like this, you don’t exactly know where you’ve placed. I sprinted under the banner with no ceremony and then waited. By the time Andy had started I was changed, warm and dry. After his swim I checked the computer screen for the latest results. Darn! It said I was second. But wait … had first place really been 12 minutes faster on the bike? The bike course went out, did two shorter laps and came back in again. I suspected she had accidentally missed one of the bike laps out, so I put in a query, later backed up by Andy.

Andy had a good race. At least, he finished, which was better than his last event in the rain! And he had a good run, though he didn’t manage to get within 60 seconds of me over the 5km as promised – being 60.3 seconds slower :D.

Later in the afternoon, we got an email with the final results. But I was still second, with another girl ahead whose bike time was 6 or 7 minutes faster than the winning men. I felt unsporting making another query, but it was important to me that it was right. I eventually found out at about 9:30 at night that I had won! The potential immediate excitement had worn off, but I was still chuffed to bits to do so well.

Haglöfs Open 5 Lake District

This was the 6th race in the series and my favourite so far (not counting the first one, which I planned, so of course it was great! 😉 ).

I had treated myself to a stay in a ‘camping pod’ because it’s something I’ve wanted to do for ages. I’ve seen a few around the country, but every time I’ve had the opportunity, they’ve been fully booked! I almost wished it would rain so I could feel smug and dry in my wooden hut, but it stayed sunny all weekend. 🙂

The view from Whinlatter pass to the camping pods

The view from Whinlatter pass to the camping pods

On race day things seemed a little more rushed than usual. Lucy was having last minute gear issues (thanks to Jon for helping with that!), whilst I was squinting at a map trying to work out a bike route through the forests.

We set off confidently on the run; Lucy was navigating as usual, though I think she was making up our route as she went along! It turns out that it was very effective, as our contour profile was quite efficient. The promise of summiting Grisedale Pike was tempting. Well, to Lucy … but I was pulling faces because it ‘looked a long way up’! We decided against that control and a cairn on the same ridge and turned for home.

Smiling in the sunshine!

Smiling in the sunshine!

We knew this would get us back a bit short on the run (we normally aim for 2 hours, and got in after 1h40). But we also knew that the bike leg was committing. Although we planned to go round it anti-clockwise and give ourselves escape options at the end, those escapes would mean dropping high value controls in the forests. It turned out it was the right decision to leave the two 10 and 15 pointers which had tried to lure us and save the time for later.

Out on the bike and it was my turn to map-read. Control number 2 had been discounted before we even set off on the run – it was so far out of the way we hadn’t even noticed it when planning and took ages to find it when we were marking the control values! We quickly decided the other control to miss was number 10. It was only worth 10 points and involved losing height early on. Both were good decisions.

 

So, we were sailing along nicely, making good progress. The first 5 controls were quite close together, but soon we started climbing. And climbing. And climbing. 10km uphill in total! The next 3 controls took 1h10m to collect. We knew there was some fun to come though. We dropped into the top of Whinlatter forest, after some slightly tricky navigation where the compass even made an appearance.

First the run went up, then the bike went up

First the run went up, then the bike went up

At this point we joined the singletrack of the Altura trail north loop. Lucy shot off like an antelope, whilst I messed up a hairpin bend, got off, fell over on ice, wished my tyres were softer and generally lost it a bit. As we zoomed past the visitor centre, along a stretch of very fast blue route and onto another fire road, Lucy was still pulling away on the hill. Now, it wasn’t technical any more and I wondered what was going on. The first suspects for me on occasions like this when my mojo seems to have vanished are: 1) food and 2) water. I ate, drank and miraculously recovered!

There was still snow up on the higher north-facing slopes

There was still snow up on the higher north-facing slopes

The singletrack on the south loop consequently went much better. I remember racing up here in my first ever Open Adventure race 4 years ago! The red trail makes long switchbacks up a steep hill. Alex Pilkington (who finished 2nd) had overtaken us and seemed not far away on the fire road we were aiming for – but we still had some distance to ride! Soon enough we got there and were rapidly descending. We did a very fun section of the blue ‘Quercus’ route and then back onto fire roads and a bridleway to the finish.

I came round the final bend a little too fast, saw a rut, panicked, braked too hard and crashed into an unyielding fence. Owww! My first reaction was to check I hadn’t made a hole in my new favourite jersey to match the mysterious one which has appeared on the other side – but all was still intact so I was relieved ;-). We were less than 2 minutes from the finish and blasted in 6.5 minutes early.

I was on a bit of a high, as it was one of those days where we got to the end and I didn’t think we’d do anything very different if we went round again.

It felt like we had done a lot of climbing. Reviewing our route, it turned out we had! 45% more climb on the run and 36% more on the bike, compared to our average over the rest of this series. In a way though, I enjoyed this as it was a proper tough challenge and it felt like we’d really earned our result. Tactically we also made the right choices, and it was worth the couple of minutes we spent debating out on the run.

Now we can relax ... on the way back to download

Now we can relax … on the way back to download

The results were read out and we had a really good win. We were chuffed! Especially as this was also the first time we have made it into the overall top 10 as a pair (we were 9th, beaten by a mixed pair, a male pair and six male solos). As a pair, we just keep getting better together at the moment.

Since I made my plan for the year, I’ve stuck to it, done eight races and been in the top 3 every time. For next weekend I have snuck in an extra race – the Tour of the Meldons time trial. This will be on a road bike and sadly I expect my podium streak to end. I’ve never managed better than 4th in this local race. This year it is also a Scottish Championship, so the competition will be even greater! It’s all part of my training though, getting my mind and body ready for the Slateman triathlon in May.

Kendal Mountain Festival Trail Run

Andy has a new-found love of both running and adventures in the hills. This had lead him to enter the Kendal Mountain Festival trail run, organised by our friends at Open Adventure. At first I was just going to watch – I have had an iffy knee since the Terrex. But then I decided that because any running I have done has made the knee no worse, I’d rather take part than travel all the way to Kendal to hang around watching!

After an early start, our train from Manchester arrived 5 minutes late. Doesn’t sound like much, but we were cutting it fine anyway! We had to run quite fast to the registration point, with me navigating from a map in my head that I had tried to memorize the previous night. No worries, we got to the back of the queue before 10:30 – though not the front!

Me on the top of the hill having fun!

Then Andy wanted to ‘warm up’. I stood near the start watching him do his stuff looking pro in a proper running vest from his new club. He said: “If only you could see what was happening to your VO2 right now”. I said: “Running around now just means less energy for the race”! 😀

The crowd seemed reluctant to move to the start area, so I positioned myself on the second line. I wasn’t going to begin at a disadvantage! The route was flat for a few km, but muddy with pungent smells wafting over from the fields. A couple of girls came past who I tried to hang on to, but in the end this race was just for fun and I wasn’t motivated to kill myself too much! I decided to wait for the hill.

Turns out that sneaky Andy was also tucked in just behind me. I have a general ‘don’t look back’ policy (if someone in front of me looks back, I know they are worried and it spurs me on), so never knew it. He was thinking about flying past but was biding his time … too late! As soon as we started going uphill I dropped him – ha ha!

The weather was gorgeous and sunny. I thanked the marshals, checked the views and told myself I wasn’t going to walk a single step, no matter how steep the last little bit of hill got! I could still see a couple of girls just in front, but I wasn’t making any ground even on the ups, so I left them too it. On a very slippery bit of descent my shoes had zero grip in the mud and I found myself on the floor. No damage done, though just then another girl came past! I urged her to catch the next one as we hit the road. The sole of my shoe is falling off and I keep delaying getting new ones (so expensive and they don’t even seem to last 6 months). It slapped on the road as I ran.

Andy … taking it more seriously. Or is he just more cool than me?!

More fields, more mud, back under the railway and suddenly rounding the last bend to the finish gantry. Hurrah! Andy came in 5 minutes later – a massive improvement on his previous off-road ventures. It was a moderately hilly and very muddy 9.8km. I was 6th female in 51:55. My knee complained a bit but felt better afterwards. The only trouble with doing events like this is that my legs get so stiff and sore the next day! Maybe 30 minutes a week run training just doesn’t cut it.

The day was rounded out with a visit to the Quaker Tapestry veggie cafe for lunch and a wander round the shops. We bought homemade marmalade and lime curd from the market, spinach and feta bread from an enthusiastic Italian and VPud from Booths for Andy (he just can’t resist). There was still time for a sojourn to the Chocolate House for some fine hot chocolate, cake and a bar of my favourite chocolate that my local stockist has dropped (I can’t have been buying enough). We finished with a trip up to Kendal Castle before our train home.

All in all, a fun day!

Open Adventure 2-Day Event

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!

Pre-race

Me:

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?”
Medium.

Kate:

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!

Day 1

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.

Medium dog, looking perky

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.

Damage limitation. One of us looks crazed, the other looks dead!

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.

  1. 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.
  2. Ran past a shiny reflective thing, didn’t think to say ‘hey what’s that?’, overshot and had to backtrack.
  3. 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.
  4. Ran blindly down a fireroad for ages, I felt panicked and teary, even though we were in the right place.
  5. 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.

Shire horse. Haircut wasn't until Monday.

We lost 125 points. Killer.

Day 2

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!).

Making our way up the Old Man of Coniston

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.

Results

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!

Haglöfs Open5 series – Staveley

The first event in this series seems to have come around so quickly – it doesn’t seem a year since I stood at the start of my first solo event in Slaidburn feeling a bundle of nerves. I was nervous this time too, but only in a healthy pre-race kind of way.

I’d arrived in Staveley on Saturday in time for a hearty lunch in the sunshine at Wilf’s (definitely recommended) before going for a spin in the afternoon. I was trying to get a feel for the lie of the land and the state of the trails without wearing myself out. What a shame the 3 hour ride turned into more like 5! However, I had taken advantage of the unseasonable sun, topped up my tan and got an extremely hearty meal at the Eagle and Child in the evening, so it felt like a good day.

Sunday was still warm, but damp. I registered and collected my map in good time. Before each of these races I have a look at the map, try and guess where the likely event area will be and then study it hard to fix it in my mind. Familiarity with what you’re looking at on race day is a great help! It doesn’t always work, but this time it did, as I had the bike area almost exactly right. In the comfort of my B&B I planned some routes with options depending on control values and then rolled back down the hill to start.

I came across this control on Saturday's ride, when it wasn't raining and I wasn't in a hurry!

In the last of these events in April there was loads of great biking with lots of points – which I missed out on because I totally over-stretched myself on the run. I was determined not to do the same this time and set off rather conservatively. The first small loop was over rough ground up and down a hill. My knee was complaining slightly. I went over on my weak ankle. Again. My navigating wasn’t quite precise enough… I put all of this down to being totally out of practice – from both running (practically zero since Ben Nevis) and foot orienteering. Added to which, the new shoes didn’t even seem to be gripping on the tarmac!

I reminded myself I was in it for fun, adjusted my route and after a mere 10.6km in 1h39m I happily set off with loads of time for the biking.

The only way is up and over

I whizzed along the roads and tracks to the first few controls. My bike was munching up the kilometres and I had a big smile on my face! I had a slight nagging worry about the funny noises emanating from my bottom bracket and about another, which just turned out to be me breathing … I concentrated on whooping on the fun bits, riding faster than normal on the technical bits and keeping a nice rhythm on the climbing bits. All was going wonderfully. With about 1h40m left to go I had bags of time for an 11km loop back on the hills, so nipped along a road for a low scoring 10-point control. I even started fretting that I had cut the run too short and would be back early.

I had to push up the next short section – which I had anticipated, so it wasn’t a surprise. However, I suddenly I ran out of water, hit some sort of metaphorical wall and with over an hour still to go, my mood had taken a massive swing in the opposite direction. I couldn’t think straight, I started falling off, and I slooooowwwed down. I stopped more than once to debate an extra out and back (total 2km) that I blatantly did not have time for (luckily my fuddled brain did work this out eventually).

I finally started to see a few more people heading back my way and was inspired to find some new source of energy when Dan Halliday from Team Accelerate caught me up. I couldn’t quite keep him in sight, but it did give me a kick start that I needed. Sadly a little too late – I blasted down the last hill to the finish but came in just under 3 minutes late – 6 penalty points for me.

Good enough to get 2nd in the female solos, though it was very close between the top 4. It wasn’t my perfect tactical race, but neither did I make any glaring errors. What did let me down was the running. The race analysis showing your position between any two controls demonstrates the point nicely; out of all competitors, I was in the top 10 for every bike leg that I did, except one. On the run, I managed to clock in at 92nd on one of the legs – ouch! I did speed up as I went along, so maybe there’s hope yet. A trip to the physio on Friday and some determined actual running training and I’m sure I’ll be back on form in no time :D. Meanwhile, there’s always the promise of more night time trail riding later in the week to keep me happy!

The results and the photos.

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