Throughout the year, events pop up which catch my eye. I put them in the calendar as a reminder ‘just in case’ I get the opportunity to do one of them! So when we started discussing going to see my dad in November, I noticed ‘Coed y Brenin off-road duathlon‘ pencilled in…
It was decided, the visit planned and the race entered. It was organised by Always Aim High, whose triathlons I had a habit of doing a few years ago. They’ve grown a lot since then. This event was a new one and I thought it might be low key as a result. In fact, it nearly sold out!
In the last couple of weeks, I’ve made the effort to get out on my mountain bike, riding a few tricky trails on the way to work. I usually struggle finding my MTB groove for the winter, but was pleased to discover I was enjoying it straight away! After pondering over the maps in a bit more detail I realised that a lot of the bike course seemed to be on fire roads. I couldn’t decide if this was good as I wouldn’t have to stress about my riding skills, or bad because I would have to rely on some bike fitness and not just skills!
On race morning my tummy was churning with nerves. On the plus side, I had sorted out a rapidly deflating rear tyre just by tightening the valve core! After sorting out kit and racking my bike, the technical officials came over and asked if my handlebars came with the bar ends. No, I added them. Then they pronounced that they were ‘clip ons’, might skewer someone if there was a crash, and therefore not allowed. Panic! I’ve never touched them before, but grabbed my multitool from the seat pack and figured out how to get them off.
I was sure I had read the relevant rule beforehand and thought it didn’t apply. Numbers were being read out on the tannoy calling other offenders. I nipped back up to registration where I’d noticed the rule posted up earlier on. ‘No clip ons (aerobars) allowed, but standard bar ends authorised’. I ran back, queried the ruling, had a discussion and we concluded I could fit them back on again … After all that stress it was basically time to throw off my jacket and line up!
I looked over dressed compared to many athletes, with a long sleeved windproof and a little race pack. However, it kept raining, there was a northerly wind, and I wanted to stay hydrated and fuelled for a 3h race, not just a 9km run. After a friendly chat with a fast looking girl (who turned out to be the eventual winner) we were off; up, up and up! This was my first ever run-bike-run duathlon and I had Andy’s voice in my head telling me not to go too hard on the first run. I tried to keep a steady pace, even as I kept swapping places with the same guy.
There was a techy grassy wet downhill bit where I wished I had on Inov8s instead of Icebugs, a bouncy bridge, and more climbing to a feed station that I ignored, having sipped water all along and taken a gel on a climb. Another muddy rocky descent and then transition appeared sooner than I had expected. I raced in, stuffed down a banana, changed my bag along with my shoes and got out of there.
The bike was mostly straightforward. Annoyingly, one of my bar ends was now at the wrong angle, but I put it out of my mind. One guy elbowed past me on a narrow section at the start but then it was wide fire roads. My friend from the run came by with words of encouragement and onwards we climbed. I did spot a good view or two as well 🙂 . At one point we turned off, rode through some big puddles and up the first ‘technical’ section – a bit narrower and rocky. I enjoyed the power climb!
It was very quiet out on the bike, and I was pleased only a handful of other people came past. I must have hung on to some bike speed after all. The descents were fast and into the headwind; I was glad of that jacket now. I had got off at the entrance to the short section of trail centre singletrack, and as I rode out of it had to stop to straighten my mudguard. At this point a girl came alongside and we chatted a little as we climbed the steepest fireroad. At the top a guy was fumbling with a broken rear mech. She stopped to help and I hesitated, surprised. I thought I was in about 4th and she could have been racing for podium. I’d stop to help someone seriously injured or unwell, but take the view that you should be self sufficient for mechanicals. I pushed on.
Rounding the end of lap 1 and as I munched another banana, I caught someone I’d been drawing in on for a while and was surprised to find it was another girl! So now I thought I might be 3rd. Knowing what was coming up gave me more confidence and I powered away. I enjoyed some of the fast descents, really starting to get used to the bike and riding. I thought there might be issues passing lapped riders or people on the sprint course, but only met a few others.
Coming out of the singletrack, the same girl from before caught me in exactly the same place!! This time she said nothing and pulled away quickly. I kept my cool, rode hard and held the gap. Down the final descents and into another rocky section, I was catching back up. Just before the turn onto the final narrow section I was on her wheel. We were caught behind two slower sprint racers with another guy who had screeched in between us, but we all rode in line until the track widened up into transition. I dismounted and jogged up to my shoes, seeing everyone else walking. I had drunk well on the bike and didn’t need my bag for the final 5.3km run.
As I ran out, I heard announcements over the speakers welcoming back the full course leaders and several sprint racers. My laces were flapping and I paused to try and tuck them back in, decided it was a waste of time and ran on. I thought I had a running advantage over the girl who was near me, but didn’t want to take chances. Behind me I could hear steps and breathing. I was not alone. However, I was determined not to look back. I was going to run strong and fast out of every steep bit. I ate my gel and stayed calm. Someone was right on my shoulder, they were going to pass … but didn’t. Were those footsteps light enough to be a girl’s? I heard a cough and thought it could be … I still didn’t look back. At the feed station they stopped and I ran through. Just one long descent, skip over the stones and roots and run like I had done with someone breathing down my neck the first time. I sensed I had got a gap and I was going to hold it.
The final bend came into sight and we had to sprint up one more incline to the finish arch. Andy had made it back from his trip to a gold mine on time and informed me that I did not look strong and tall at that moment!! Cheeky, but the photos do not lie. I was still not sure of my place, but as we wandered off to the car I was called back to find out I was 3rd overall! Yay … It had indeed been a girl behind me – finishing with an 18s deficit in the end. I felt bad as she may have been on podium if she hadn’t stopped, though that was her decision and I had been able to react when she did come past. Full results here.
After 5 or 6 weeks off, this was a great start to winter racing! Very well organised with super friendly marshals. I’m not used to racing on my own and was glad to exchange a bit of banter with them on the way round! Tasty Welsh Jones Crisps, a Wild Trail bar and a slate coaster on the finish line (I can never have too many coasters). Hot showers and changing at the end, and some more chat with other racers. I was happy spending my Odlo prize voucher on a pair of fancy arm warmers. Even better, we had plenty of time to get back to Caffi Gwynant for a splendid meal, including the most amazing lemon posset …
Roll on the rest of pre-Christmas races – 4 more in the next 5 weeks!
What we did on Saturday:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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!!
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 🙂
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 😀
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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’…).
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 …
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?
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.
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 😀
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.
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?!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 🙂
After being involved in organising the last Scottish Mountain Bike Orienteering (SMBO) event, I was looking forward to getting back on the other side of things. Despite my best efforts to get along with Iain again, I was thwarted by a need ‘to revise’. What are the youth coming to?!
I was only going along to keep my legs spinning as my main races this year are swimrun again. I didn’t fancy the seriousness of racing solo. After a quick message to Jon (who I’ve raced with before, Itera teammate), I had found myself a friend to go round with instead 🙂
The weather turned out glorious and the promise of cloud never materialised. After a trip over the rail bridge and a short spin, I was in Fife and at the event centre by Lochore. We took our time getting ready and even did a bit of general planning from the master maps (without controls).
Then we were off! No debating to start with and we scooped up our first few controls and negotiated our first set of gates and clouds of flies in quick time before pausing to debate our route through the woods. We had planned to go there first as the nav looked tricky and we weren’t sure how long it would take. But we needed to agree the precise order before we set off again. It felt like it took too long, but we didn’t stop again for a while.
Alarmingly, I could feel myself riding in the ‘final push for the finish’ position after only about half an hour. And the hills were nipping my legs. It was fun to be chasing and have Jon metaphorically pushing me hard though! The woods were a blast. We would ride along a wide track, then suddenly dive off onto a little singletrack before popping back out somewhere else. I didn’t even regret the slow rooty option we took at one point instead of the faster but longer route.
After the tricky woodland section I managed to convince Jon to go for an out and back along the road for 10 points. ‘only be 3 minutes!’ I said, cheerfully. More like 6 he said … So I timed it and it was and a bit 🙂 We also got time to say hello to fellow teammate Paul going in the other direction.
Loch Gow had a difficult bit of singletrack that I was pleased to ride a lot of before we were walking again, over a fence and pushing up soft stuff that would definitely be rideable down. Finally we flew down a hill on tarmac and paused again. We wondered whether this meant there was a massive hill back to the finish as we didn’t remember going up one. Looking at our profile later, we had been gradually climbing since the start! (you can see where we went here). Knowing that the forest nav turned out OK, it might have been better for speed to have gone the other way round.
I was feeling a bit stressed about how far from the finish we were, but we polished off a handful of road kilometres in no time at all. At ‘the steps’ we found a number of abandoned bikes at the bottom … But we were on our way somewhere else, so I hoisted the bike onto my shoulders in the way that Elizabeth had taught me and up we went. Before the top we could ride again and we soon flying down in ‘finishing stages’ mode.
Unfortunately, leaving some urban streets we rode straight past an easy control. I was too busy looking out for a building that I had noted as a landmark … But it had didn’t exist any more. We were slow to correct our mistake, costing a few minutes. We would definitely be late now! The final descent had me squealing as it was steep and dusty (!) and there were walkers to negotiate.
We flew into the finish, 8 minutes late. Good enough to win the mixed pairs but missed out on 3rd overall by just 1 point. Darn that error!
I had a jolly time though, just the thing to blow away a few cobwebs, get out in the sun and enjoy the company of friends. I can also add another spot to my list of places I can easily go mountain biking car free within an hour of Edinburgh! Thanks to organiser Campbell for a great day out. Full results here.
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.
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.
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!
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!
A couple of weekends ago, it was the first SMBO (Scottish Mountain Bike Orienteering) event of the year. I wasn’t sure about entering because of my dodgy knee. It was complaining about cycling so racing didn’t seem too wise. However, I then persuaded Iain (14) and, more importantly his dad, that this would be an ideal event for him to come and do with me.
And so it was that I turned up at Iain’s house 5 minutes late, and we scuttled off to get the train to Falkirk. Pedalling to the venue from the station was more uphill than down, but we arrived in one piece. Lots of people I knew were there, including Jon, bearing a spare map board for us to borrow.
The twist in this event was that it was a day / night. Clue in the name. The total race time was 3 hours, but it was split into two. 1.5h to ride in the day time, then all the control values changed and we had 1.5h to ride again once it got dark!
Iain is great on a bike, but he doesn’t get much practice. He is also more than competent with a map, so we set off on the day stage with him navigating and setting the pace. There were two versions of the map – an OS one (which Iain had) and an openstreetmap one (which I had). This was handy as sometimes one had better information than the other. We wound round some fun singletrack and blasted down a hill to the canal. We were moving fast! A detour into some woods, where there were some grumbles about a ‘hill’, then back onto the canal and to the long tunnel that looked a bit dark and spooky!
We went another way, aiming for a ‘fast’ route on some tarmac, missing the turning, riding across some grass and getting tangled up in the Scottish Cross County Championships. That part might have been my fault. Iain did spot a bit of the Antonine Wall on the way though. Then off to a mausoleum. We were looking for the gate and were at the perimeter wall, when we realised we had gone the wrong way round. “Shall we backtrack on the path, or just go straight up through the woods?”, I mused. Up we went, and then down, which was a bit of a laugh, as when we got to the gate we’d gone round about two thirds instead of one third, which Iain was only too quick to point out to me.
1.5h doesn’t last very long and suddenly, when we were as far away as it was possible to be from the finish, we found we had only 24 minutes left. Unfortunately, this was also the point that the trail got really technical, then disappeared under a pile of felled trees and branches. We had to bash through to the main path then escape onto a road. Time to race to the finish! Hey, but maybe we can get that control on the other end of the canal tunnel? We started off to it, before realising it was in a deep cutaway and it was a long way round if weren’t prepared for a vertical jump.
We had already started off to it but turned around and pedalled like crazy for home. It was a good time to teach Iain the adventure racing art of being towed. His lesson took 5 seconds: ‘hold this with your hand, let go straight away if anything goes wrong, pay attention to what I’m doing!’ and off we went! Turns out he was a master at it.
We got back over 7 minutes late, which was disappointing as it meant we lost 20 points. Luckily, we still had 155 left! This is another thing I like to teach; you should always get best value for money by riding longer than you really should. ‘Oooo, my legs are all wobbly’ Iain said, as we queued to download!
It got cold quickly as darkness fell. We ate soup and cake. And a bit more cake. And maybe another piece. With our lights all set up I asked Iain if he had ever ridden at night before. No. Well, a race is as good a time as any to learn! We still had the map from earlier, but no control values. We had a guess at where the good scoring ones might be as we knew they would swap around from the day stage. We also planned two possible loops that were a bit more conservative than our first attempt! I measured them, counting as I moved my finger along the route. ‘What distance is each thing?’ ‘A thingy’ ‘What’s a thingy?’ ‘It doesn’t matter! This afternoon we rode 25 thingies, and this loop is only 22 of them!’ 🙂
Off we went, pedalling hard to warm up. Back down to the canal again the direct way, and we moved as fast as we had in the day on the first part, which was a repeat. Iain remarked that this time, his legs didn’t feel like they had only just started, and his bum was sore! The ‘hill’ in the woods put in another appearance, to more groans.
Then we approached the tunnel again. Now, at night, the inside looked less spooky than the outside! We rode along it, admiring how it is hewn out of the rock, dodging the big drips of water and trying to concentrate enough not to fall in.
We were now on unfamiliar territory but were following Iain’s dad’s signs for the John Muir Way. Round an estate and across a pond, up a hill with views out to the lights of Falkirk. The ground was getting frosty and we rode through a few Slush Puppy puddles. I was doing more navigation this time, with Iain keeping an eye on things. Once I told him to go ahead and get the control so I wasn’t ‘taking over’ all the fun bits, and he rode straight past it!
We used the tow a little bit, but Iain was feeling good again. We got back near the start and were on a road when I heard a clatter behind me, then silence! Alarmed, I stopped, expecting to see Iain in a heap, but in fact he was still riding along. ‘What happened?!’ I asked. ‘Oh’, he said, ‘I was just looking at Orion, swerved to the side a bit and hit this plastic thing in the road!’ … panic over.
We actually had a few minutes left, so although we were almost back, we popped into the woods to get two more controls we had saved up. They were tricky to get in and out of, as there was a little maze of forest tracks and mountain bike trails. We debated a bit which way to go to get out, but ultimately the answer was ‘towards all those lights!’.
We got back just 38 secs late, which was much better than stage one. In fact, our night performance was better all round, as we scored 224 points!
We were cheered by the tales from other people – who had got back as late as we had in the day, or gone the wrong way, or got lost. It just goes to show it can happen to the best, even my Itera team mates! 😀
Points tallied, and we finished 3rd generation pair (adult with an under 18). Excellent work. This category was the second biggest on the day, with 10 entrants! Great to see so many families out. We missed out on the lights prize for being back closest to time on the night stage by 37 seconds … Never mind. Results are all here.
Time to cruise back down the hill and catch a train. At that time on a Saturday the passengers tend to be quite merry, and it turns out there were already bikes in both bike carriages. We comically ran along the platform twice before choosing our spot, jumping on, and wriggling into two spare seats.
By the time we got back to Edinburgh it was 21:30 and we were pretty peckish. Luckily Papa John’s was perfect as we could wheel our bikes right inside and sit in the warm to wait for our order. The only deficiency was that their pizza sizes were measured in slices (‘since when has a slice between a unit of measurement?’). We ran up the hill giggling, with hot smells wafting out of our boxes. Before long, we were camped in the living room, telling our tales, eating pizza and swigging coke (despite parental disapproval)!
I can’t ride the next event in April, because I’m organising it. But Iain already wants to come, so his dad will have to do the honours instead!
Many thanks to Marc and his team of helpers (young and old-er!) for putting on such a fun and accessible event.
It was time to head down for another Open 5, and this month I was going with Glen, another newbie who I’d convinced this would be a good idea! Due to snowy conditions, we headed for the coastal route. Numerous signs announced the presence of coffee chops, but it took a couple of detours and a double stop at a level crossing to find one open and willing to serve us. We continued the theme once we arrived in the Pennines, as we visited three pubs before getting to one that a) could serve us and b) had something I wanted to eat.
Lucy had texted me halfway down to say she wouldn’t be able to make it 😦 . It was not entirely unexpected as she had warned me of a bad tooth infection and was somewhat drug-addled and exhausted. She often gives me warnings about things, but this is the first time I’ve known something to actually stop her, so it must have been really bad.
After a noisy night in the youth hostel (why did the beds creak with every turn?!), it was a rush in the morning as time slipped away. Solos have to be away earlier than pairs, but our plans to set off promptly were scuppered as we had to defrost the car enough to open the doors and scrape all the frozen snow off the windows.
I haven’t done an Open 5 solo since April 2012, so it was almost a novelty and I was a little anxious. I felt under pressure as I looked at the map and tried to figure out something sensible. Bike looked OK, but that’s the one I’m used to planning for! I kept staring blankly at the run map waiting for inspiration to hit. Jon (Itera team mate) appeared and I felt better after we chatted a bit. He sort of offered to team up as a mixed pair – but by that time I had psyched myself up for solo and registered and … but on reflection, I think I’d say yes if there was a next time!
I headed out with Glen after making sure he was all sorted and was remonstrated with for letting him pin his number on sideways. But we both set off at almost the same time, with the snowy whiteness and bright sunshine making my map highlighting stand out brilliantly. Makes a change from rain washing it all straight off again 🙂
I had decided to run first, since that’s what I normally do. It would also mean I got the part I was less confident about done, and I hoped that the sun and traffic would clear some of the roads by the time I got to biking.
In actual fact, most of the run went OK. My only strategic error was at the start, as I did a long wiggle to get a 10-pointer. For the same extra distance I could have got 20 points later on instead. Luckily, I didn’t realise this at the time, so it wasn’t on my mind! Instead, I was enjoying being the first person to make tracks in some of the deep snow. Even the cross-country romp across heathery moorland was fun.
Off the hill and down to a river crossing, searching for a control on a tree 2m downstream. I followed footprints but could not find it anywhere. Super fast Tom Gibbs arrived looking in the same place me, and then someone else I had previously overtaken joined us. All 3 of us milling around … Just as Tom said, “maybe they meant upstream”, Glen appeared from the other (upstream) direction and we spotted it behind him!
On the move again, and I was pretty pleased with how it went. I didn’t panic in the woods following one lone set of old footprints through the snow (it would have been impossible to find the path without them) and managed to eat a whole chia charge flapjack on a run down a road. Crossing the river and heading up a steep hill, a car came past me before skidding to a halt and sliding down again backwards. I kept out of the way and headed for a final small loop via an old engine house which I’d like to have explored a bit!
15.5km done in 2h4 mins, dropping 4 controls worth 50 points. I did wonder how much I was missing the ‘Lucy effect’ though. Normally she navigates as fast as I can run, and pushes the pace in between as well. This time I was having to keep an eye on the map, and mentally kept asking myself ‘if Lucy were here, would I be running faster now?’.
I did a quick transition and was back out on the bike, up a road I had checked was clear of ice as I had run in. Two easy controls on the long climb up to the woods. Here I was very careful to stay on the rights of way (byways), though there were faster routes on the fire roads. Clearly there had been some frozen puddles earlier in the day, which were now pools of water filled with shards of broken ice. I just went through the middle of most of them, getting a shock when they were deeper than expected!
There was a muddy slog up a hill. I was with another team and a solo, who stopped to check our direction. I said: “If anything we’re heading east instead of southeast, which would take us directly to the control”. I continued on and came out at a junction with a big track in front of me that I wasn’t expecting. ‘Hmm, funny’, I thought, ‘but this is the byway’, so I turned left for an out and back. Suddenly it occurred to me – was that the junction with the control? That I had been heading for? That was where a big track led off? I shouted to the others to ask if they had checked – they said no, it definitely wasn’t there. We rode the distance I expected, but the trees were now too close, and there was no control on the posts. Darn! Now I was convinced it was back where we had come from. Yes, the map was wrong, but if I had engaged my brain and not got distracted I probably wouldn’t have made the mistake!
It had cost me about 9 minutes, and I was determined to make up time by pushing on. Fortunately, the riding here was amazing. In contrast to the roads of last month, this time we were up on the moors. What might normally have been straightforward wide tracks were made fun by snow. I even had a chance to notice some of the amazing views, briefly! There followed a twisting, winding bridleway, where I was relieved that others had marked the way before me – I wouldn’t have wanted to be the first, trying to work out where it went.
As I popped out near the start, I allowed myself a minute or two to work out where to go on a second loop. I could definitely get all but one remote control on the moor. But as I calculated things, I realised I would definitely be back about 15 minutes early if I did that. I hedged my bets, going round the controls in such a way as to leave the decision to the end. Yes, it turned out I had to go out and back to the trig point hidden on a hill in the clouds. Tom went past me again, and gave some words of encouragement. It was actually a nice section to finish with, even if I did fall off on my way back down!
As I hit the road, I was short of time. There were a final 15 points on offer on a route that was no further but was off road. I simply didn’t have time. I shot off down the tarmac, just as a hailstorm whipped up and combined with a headwind. It pelted my face and felt like hundreds of stinging needles. I shielded my face with my arm, and peered out from one slitted eyelid, hoping nothing would come the other way … Finally, I got back to the finish, narrowly avoiding a car which turned without indicating. What a stressful end! I dibbed, 1 second over 3 minutes late – ouch! 8 penalty points, not too bad.
I got changed rapidly as the descent and hail had chilled me. It was a strange experience having to queue to download and not having to queue for food. That’s what leaving half an hour earlier does! I had got a high score but, like last month, realised so had many other people.
When results were announced, I had won the female solos, but it was close. Overall I was just outside the top 20. Despite having done some amazing fun running and biking, I felt a little flat. I know there were a couple of minor changes I’d make, but no race is ever perfect. Maybe I am out of practice, or maybe pairs suit me better, but I definitely missed having someone to push me on, to chat to on the way round and to share the ups and downs with! At least next time I’d know to say yes to Jon. And get better soon Lucy! 😀
Glen had a good time too, didn’t get too lost, and finished in time. I think he’ll be back 🙂 . It only remained for us to drive home by the scenic route, watching a beautiful sunset over the snowy moors, before descending into darkness and more falling snow.