Open 5 – Blanchland (North Pennines)
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.
Thanks to Open Adventure for putting on the race, Joe and friends at Nav4 for food, and James Kirby for photos.
Open 5 Slaidburn – Take 2
I last went to Slaidburn 5 years ago and it was memorable for several reasons. I stayed for a long weekend. Andy came with me, and finally got back in the pool after years out. We got wet and cold more than once and had an ‘interesting’ ride in and out from the nearest (not very near) railway station. Meanwhile, at the Open 5, I did my first ever event as an anxious solo competitor. My pedal fell off halfway round the bike. My write up reports that I had “been working hard on my running over the summer” … some things never change!
This time round, I got a lift down with swimming pal Jim again. The road over the moors was rather too exciting at night in driving rain, but we arrived in one piece, just in time for dinner at the pub and a little walk around in the pouring rain to explore the village. It is small, so didn’t take long!
The next morning dawned … DRY! This was a surprise as the forecast 24 hours earlier had been for heavy rain all day. Registration / breakfast logistics were slightly complicated but I ended up studying the map quietly over my cereal with plenty of time to think clearly.
Someone was betting Lucy and I would start at 09:59 and 59 seconds. We were getting chivvied along a lot, both at registration and up at the remote start area. We confounded everyone’s expectations by starting at 09:55. Ha!
We chose to run first, as usual. Due to weather and ground conditions, the bike course was more ‘road’ than usual and had lots of exit options. What I didn’t notice when we started and I marked up the bike control values was that there were high value points on both main loops and that made it committing in a different way.
We set off running happily. I had a slightly dodgy tummy, but both of us had legs that were feeling good at the same time for once! Despite some wet and muddy conditions, we were mostly on paths and moving fast. We caught up male pair James and Chris. Lucy chatted tactics briefly before pulling away. They kept getting closer on the downhills (my fault) but we were faster on the ups and flats. Great motivation. Unfortunately, we then ran straight past a control and had to double back, costing us a couple of minutes. Darn! They ran by laughing!
Lucy was on a mission to catch them up as we hammered down a fast track. I was at my limit, hanging on for dear life, but up for it! Up onto a grassy hill and we reeled them in again, joking. Final stretch and we found ourselves in a wood peering at the map. Uh-huh, we’d taken the wrong footpath. We re-emerged, seeing Chris and James ahead in the distance. One final push and we caught them again on the final hill.
As Lucy said, we proved our point and they proved theirs. What an effort! It was one of our longest Open 5 runs together so far, we only missed one control and we came in spot ‘on time’ at 2 hours. This is usually a good split of time to aim for in one of these events.
Out on the bike and we decided to go up and down a hill for the first 30 points. Then we headed across a field of mud and onto the bridleway over the moor. We knew the top and far side was ‘boggy’ enough to be marked as such as on the map, though we hoped that we wouldn’t be hampered too much by choosing to approach it downhill.
But first we had to get up and it wasn’t the rideable track we were hoping for. Instead we had to push and push and carry and haul our bikes up what had turned into a rocky streambed complete with icy cold water. James and Chris were just in front, carrying their bikes on their backs (an art I have not yet mastered).
Suddenly, up at the top, Lucy took a step into some soft green stuff and disappeared up to her thighs! Luckily, her bike did not 😀 . I stayed on firmer ground, grabbing both bikes and offering a shoulder for her to haul herself out on. We both were glad we weren’t crossing this alone. We might have sunk without trace!
Finally we came down the far side, half running, half stumbling until we reached a track we could ride. Then we hit the roads. I had had some woozy moments at the start of the ‘ride’ due to lack of food and the effort we’d put in on the run. I managed to eat some more and was now feeling good. Where we had long flat or uphill stretches we joined up with the tow to stay together and make efficient progress.
A couple of out and backs were nice and quick – no more nasty surprises. But the moor hike and taken an age and we were running out of time. After concluding we could not do the final loop and would have to drop 65 points as a result, I was peering at the map and starting sentences with ‘maybe if we just … ‘ – which were quickly quashed!
At least the weather was still being kind. The occasional hail shower, a nippy wind and, remarkably, enough sun at one point for me to see my shadow cast onto the hedge at the side of the road.
One final long out and back and we were smashing it up the final hill. We overtook one of the tandem teams, people Jim and I had whiled away the time with the previous night. They joked and shouted at us, then laughed even harder as they flew past on a slight downhill! We repeated this a couple of times before we finally overhauled them on the run in to the finish.
Well, it was a novelty to get in under 5 hours for once … this might almost be a first for us. We thought our score was pretty good and we had raced really hard. But once back at download we could hear everyone else’s chat and knew scores were high all round.
Whilst in the queue for a cup of tea we had another look at the map and realised that one small strategy mistake had cost us a lot of points. This was the day when we should have cut the run short, come in after 1.5h and saved the extra time to get more bike controls. Swapping 30 points on the run for 65 or possibly even 75 on the bike would have shuttled us back up near the top of the leaderboard. At least the post mortem was quick and straightforward 😀 .
As it was we only finished 22nd overall. We held on to 1st female pair but it was a tight race as we were only 10 points ahead of Jill and Sharon, snapping at our heels! However, we both agreed that we had put in the sort of effort that we haven’t managed for a while. Now we just need to combine that speed with the right tactics to see what we can achieve. Three more chances in this series!
As usual, thanks to all involved; Open Adventure, course planners and photographs from James Kirby.
Open 5 North Wales
The trip down to Wales was quite eventful. I was travelling with Jim, a friend from the Wild Ones (Edinburgh’s outdoor swimming group). As we approached the summit of Shap on the motorway it was snowing hard and we were driving slowly, trying not to become one more of the various cars and vans strewn around the carriageway. Jim remarked he was anxious as it was 40 years since he did his ice driving training and some time since he’d practised in a car park. I was thinking I probably couldn’t have picked my driver much better …
We arrived at our accommodation safely, a cheerful pub with a spacious room and extensive menu. As we settled down in the bar we chatted to some guys who were racing for the first time. Their ‘main man’, an Ironman veteran, had bailed at the last minute. I joked that maybe it was because there wouldn’t be enough sun or perhaps he was worried about his shorts getting muddy … In any case, after I’d given Jim his detailed tutorial, I passed on a few more tips and we left them still cheerfully partaking of beer when we went to bed! 😀
We were so close to the registration area that we shouldn’t have needed to rush in the morning. But what with a slightly more leisurely breakfast than planned, helping Jim with route ideas, needing to get to a remote transition and the new, earlier start times, Lucy and I were almost last to start for the second month in a row.
We dithered about what to wear as it was cold standing around and forecast for rain. We started straight up a hill and Lucy’s running legs had obviously returned. I had to concentrate hard to keep up and felt a bit queasy from eating so much dinner and breakfast. I was also soon boiling and wriggled out of my waterproof as we walked a steep bit.
The hills were shrouded in cloud. As we approached a high point, I spotted a couple of Santas emerging from the mists. Then another, and another! We ran for a while mingled in with all these people in another race, before we struck out to go ‘off piste’.
The map had looked daunting with lots of tightly packed contours. But I was having a surprisingly good time, despite the fact I still didn’t have enough breath to chat. What?! Quite a change from last month! Following Lucy downhill is hard enough at the best of times. The hillside was covered in heather and bracken and her movement reminded me of startled deer bounding away at high speed. I lumbered behind, feeling my ankles go a few times before deciding to take it a ‘bit more slowly’.
We were moving well but kept debating where to go to next. Out of two controls on Lucy’s ‘optional’ list, we went for one and left the other. At the time it seemed a good decision and we came back to transition after just over 2 hours. The route was interesting and I was happy that I had been pushed hard but still had fun!
After a change of tops, still anticipating rain, we set off biking. As soon as we were up on the hill proper, the going got more difficult, with variously mud, rocks and bits steep enough to have us off and walking! Over the top we went and as we flew down the other side I wondered if I should have checked the contours more carefully when I was planning. Maybe the ‘shortest’ route wasn’t the best? We also had a decision to make about control ‘number 9’ – worth plenty of points but a bit stuck out on a limb. After changing our minds twice, we went for it, out along a fast road round the bottom of the hill.
Tom and Chris (eventual winners) flew past us, so we thought it wasn’t a bad choice. Lucy had told me about her extreme lack of sleep in the last few days. As we bowled along there were mutterings of tiredness and we might have passed a coffee place, but we only had £1 on us!
As we turned off road, the mud got stickier and deeper than anything we’d encountered so far, but we were still pedalling. It was not the same story after the control though. My wheels stopped turning as they jammed up. We were pushing heavy reluctant bikes through a mud bath of doom!
We stopped to poke the mud out with a stick and I swiped vainly at my map board to try and see through the smears. I decided we ought to have turned back, lost height and gone by the road. But hindsight is a wonderful thing and now we were committed. I kept hoping it would be better just round the next corner … A kilometre later we finally got to something rideable. Never have puddles been approached with such intention – we needed big splashes to clean some mud off!
Our route choice kept changing as we bumped down a rocky track and then decided to go the long way round via another control and a road climb, rather than retracing our wheel tracks back up the difficult way. And now we were concerned about time. With several high value controls left up on the hill, we had to go up and get them.
I was very relieved to find ourselves on a rideable track, gaining height at speed. We were tempted, so tempted, to go and do an out and back to some more high points on the ridge line. But Lucy’s sane brain got the better of the situation and we pointed our wheels down a wet grassy track, onto some more slidey stuff and eventually out onto a hard packed track we’d run earlier in the day.
The last control wasn’t straightforward to ride in and out of (or to dib without standing in a river), and suddenly we seemed to be very short of time. We hooked up the tow for the last km dash back to the finish and managed to arrive 2.5 minutes late.
Not too bad, but on reflection we could definitely have been slightly smarter in our route choices … one less run control and two more bike controls in a different order perhaps. But it’s a sign of good course planning that the ‘best’ route for us wasn’t immediately obvious. At least we didn’t have any disasters! Plus, the heavy rain never did materialise.
We were good enough to win female pairs, and 10th overall. I was also pleased about how well we were moving … still some challenges to set ourselves if we can combine both smart racing and high speed at the same time 🙂
My pal Jim did brill to finish well inside the top two thirds, with a big smile on his face as well. And this from someone who still finds mountain biking scary and proudly has ’60+’ next to his name! Our friends from the pub seemed to have a harder time of it; looks like they had some ‘issues’ on the bike and only just squeezed in one run control. But if you’re reading this, I hope you still enjoyed yourselves?!
Many thanks to James and all at Open Adventure for putting on the event, James Kirby for photos and Si Enderby for course planning. Time to go and run around in the hills in between eating mince pies 😀
Open 5 Muker (Yorkshire Dales)
It’s November already, which means it is time for Open 5s!
Following the last of the summer’s antics, I spent 4 weeks feeling endlessly tired. Then ‘ping!’, like a switch had been flicked, two weeks before this race my energy came back. I felt all bouncy, even if my running legs had taken a short sabbatical. So I was looking forward to the start of the Open 5 winter series.
Lucy had warned me of various potential impediments to our performance, the most serious of which was a sore wrist. Any little niggles I had paled into insignificance next to how I felt at the first race last year (injured). So we planned to bike first, with lots of options to bail out early if it was too bumpy and Lucy couldn’t hold on any more! We were both happy to try and run as far as we needed to.
It was a scramble to get ready on time as James had ‘put the clocks forward’ half an hour and we only had until 10am to faff! It had already started raining before we set off. So we donned our waterproofs and started almost, but not quite, last. First challenge: writing control values onto wet maps. I tested out the free all-weather pen I got at Ötillö and it did the job! We did have to adjust all our routes though, because the controls we had planned to miss were high scoring 🙂 .
Straight up a hill and I was very hot, glad I hadn’t put on a warmer jersey. About an hour later on top of a wild and windswept hill, I really wished I had. We were soaked and the rain was pelting into our faces, stinging our skin as we squinted ahead. At the very top of a hill we had to search for a control ‘on a rock’ … We must have examined 20 rocks and gone back and forth a few times with two other racers without finding it. Just as we were about to fish out the phone for a photograph to prove we’d been there, the little flutter of red and white tape caught my eye. Got it!
Time to descend… slowly for Lucy’s wrist. Slowly for me it turned out too, as my front brake decided to fail. Later it came back, just as my rear brake got all sticky. Trip to the bike shop in order.
We got colder and colder as we descended to a raging stream and old mining buildings for another control. Eating had seemed too much of a hassle with wet gloves in the cold, but we both paused to get something before turning to ride back up the hill and wait for some warmth to return.
Soon we were off the hill and could hear our voices above the wind again. This was important as we hadn’t seen each other for 6 months and had some serious chat to catch up on. Lucy kept telling me we had definitely ridden up this road or track together before – apparently in the first race we ever did together! But it all looked new to me 😀 .
We completed the second circle on our figure of eight route, picking up all the higher scoring bike controls and coming into transition after 3h:20. This was actually longer than we’d normally plan for. Luckily Lucy’s wrist had held up well enough and we were happy with our route choice. We also found the benefit of having multiple watches and knowing the ‘real time’ we had set off. One of them had claimed we had gone into a time warp and had given us several extra minutes!
After we had worked out how much time we really had left and done some transition teamwork (me tying Lucy’s shoelaces whilst she ate and checked the map), we were off again. Still raining, so we kept our coats on. I wasn’t paying attention to the route but very quickly we arrived at the river we had been warned ‘might’ be difficult to cross. After a summer of swim-running a bit of water didn’t faze me, but we linked arms for extra safety and waded over. I just about escaped with a dry crotch…
We joined up with Lucy’s friend Angus, who just wanted some chat as we hauled ourselves up a near-vertical hillside. No problems providing that! I took the opportunity of the slower pace to wolf down a chia charge flapjack – always taste good. Every time I put my hands down for support, I hit a prickly baby thistle. My calves and back were burning. But then we were up, on a rocky technical path. Lucy flew ahead whilst I did my best to minimise the size of the gap. Down to a spectacular waterfall (TAKE CARE warned the control descriptions, and we certainly did), then turning to cross the hill we had previously biked over. Ideally, the return route on the other side of the river was the one to take, with higher control values, but it was also longer and we didn’t have time.
We battled a headwind before cresting the hill and flying down the other side. My big toe (which I hurt in my last race) started complaining again, but by now it didn’t matter. We could see the finish down below us and just had to zigzag down and do a couple of wiggles and we’d be there. I was up for a sprint finish, but remarkably we didn’t need one. I slowed back down and we cruised in more than 2 minutes early! We must have been feeling off colour 😉 .
Lucy’s new yellow van was right by us, so we got the boot up and hid from the rain whilst we rapidly changed. One of the advantages of running second in bad weather is that you can finish all nicely warmed up. Before long it was back to the hall for a cup of tea, some veggie chilli and prize giving. We were delighted to have won. We had a fairly low score, but so did most other people too.
It felt like we had ridden within ourselves on the bike, but we could definitely feel our legs on the run, so perhaps that wasn’t a bad thing. I thoroughly enjoyed myself getting out in the wild and catching up with Lucy. Looking forward to the rest of the series. Many thanks to the organisers, Open Adventure, all the marshals, Nav4 for the food and Mandy for giving me a lift and braving the insane weather conditions on the way home 🙂 .
Pentland Solstice Triathlon
For a few years I’ve had the Solstice Triathlon on my radar, but the day or date have never been suitable until this year. Opening of entries was delayed due to issues with landowner permission. But Twitter told me it was suddenly available and I jumped in – it was sold out within a day or two. The race didn’t have anything to do with my swimrun or other racing plans, but I knew it would be fun!
This is an off-road triathlon in the Pentland Hills, just outside Edinburgh, where I train a lot. The week before, a group of us went up to ride the course, led by Andreas who is also in my club. We got a good look at some of the best lines and I went home satisfied I had done some prep. Next week we got an email saying the bike route had changed! Oops. Oh well, at least I had made sure everything was working on my mountain bike 🙂
Jo Thom has won this race since it started and I was looking forward to a close battle with her. Sadly, with an on-the-mend injury she had to make the decision to play it safe and withdraw. I think resisting the urge to join in and defend her trophy was the harder thing to do.
I got a lift up from work with Andreas. I could tell there was some tension – this was his first triathlon for 6.5 years! It was colder than I expected and there was a strong wind. We shuttled back and forth between the car and registration, with Andreas picking up a puncture from a massive thorn! Better then than before the race, though now I was paranoid about my own rear tyre which had been slowly deflating in previous days. I hoped the extra slug of sealant the night before would keep it up.
Before the briefing I got right into my wetsuit, jumped up and down and swung my arms around to keep warm. It felt weird to be in a full length swimming wetsuit again. We got into the water and people were oohing and ahhing about how cold it was. ‘I think it’s about 10 degrees!’ someone exclaimed. I said ‘nah, about 13’ … who knows for sure, but it was definitely warmer than 10 😉 .
Off we went, heading towards an invisible buoy. I started off trying to sight but soon gave up and followed everyone else. I did my usual and got into no-man’s land in a gap between two groups. As we neared the finish I just about caught up with the lead group, but really I should have been trying to draft them all the way. Another lap and I’d have been right past 😀 . These 750m swims seem short these days.
My transition felt slow but I was methodical. I was soon off on my mountain bike with the wind at my tail, racing off to the first hill. Andreas passed me here, powering past and away. My glasses had steamed up which was extremely irritating. I had lenses in, so considering stuffing them into my trisuit pocket, but wasn’t sure they’d be secure. Down the other side and I still couldn’t see; not ideal! The next turn was a sharp hairpin straight into the next hill. My calf almost cramped so I eased off for a minute or two. Up this side I was glad it had been very dry recently, as it is rutted and would be hard going when wet. As it was, I still picked the wrong line once or twice and had to jump off. At least I could see again now.
A fast descent on a deep loose stony surface followed. A couple of guys flew past, but I wasn’t taking any risks. I don’t need an injury now! I also slowed for the water bars to make sure I didn’t hit them too hard or at the wrong angle. I think a few people punctured coming down here, but I was soon through and firing on again.
Compared to the old course, this route was more technical and harder going. The climbing isn’t over after the first two hills. There are couple more ‘stings in the tail’ to come. I actually started feeling really good on the last one, which was fortunate as then we turned into the headwind towards transition. I was in a little world of my own, as there were very few other riders about. As I rounded the corner, I was met by loud cheers and clapping and the hustle and bustle of transition. I was a bit taken aback!
Bike times on the new course were 10-15 minutes slower than last year. The run had been shortened to make sure everyone could get home in time for bed. So it was just a 3.5km blast round Harlaw reservoir to finish. This route is really familiar to me as I’ve trained here many times with Izzy, ‘finely honing’ (ahem) our swimrun technique. I felt pretty good. I ran not knowing how close the next lady might be and soon was over the finish line and sat in a little heap.
Final results were that I had won and was 6.5 minutes clear of 2nd place. I was 9th overall. Andreas had smashed it round the bike course 2 minutes faster than anyone else and held on to win the men’s race. An Edinburgh RC win-win! It was suggested we drive home shaking our splendid trophies out of the window and shouting …
A great wee race, well organised and complete with free transition towel, banana, hot food, water and waffle. I’ll keep an eye out for it again next year!
Many thanks to Pentland Triathletes for organising the race, Andreas for giving me lifts, Bob Marshall and Hamish MacDonald for the photos (the labelled and unlabelled ones respectively) and to everyone who cheered, held open gates and helped make it a great event.
Now, back to swimrunning and other endurance adventures …
ps rear tyre has stayed more inflated than it has been for months!
Haglöfs Open 5 – Peak District
The final of this winter’s Open 5 series was in the Peak District. Practically ‘home ground’, as Lucy grew up near here and Andy lives ‘just over the hill’. Unfortunately Andy was away working on Saturday, so I came down and stayed with Lucy and her dad instead.
I was annoyed to have forgotten to take my Feed Zone Portable snacks out of the freezer, but Lucy had some recipes and ingredients for other treats. I was also suffering from muscle complaints. A sore shin had appeared on Monday (I thought ‘what would Graham (the physio) do?’, the answer: rest, ice, gentle massage), plus an achey hip and a funny back muscle getting out of the station. I was getting paranoid, but had a happy evening chatting and constructing what were, in effect, homemade Nakd bars. Soon I had forgotten about aches and pains and it was time for bed.
Next morning I woke up and the first thing I noticed was a parched and sore throat – uh oh! We set off almost on time, but still had to park in the slightly more distant parking area. The map was interesting and we had quite a bit of discussion about it. We also debated what to wear (cold in the wind, warm in the sun, rain forecast later) and engaged in our usual faff.
We did manage to set off a little earlier than normal, but not much! We also decided to stick to ‘tradition’ and ran first. Lucy has obviously much recovered since the previous two races as we were speeding. I was back to my usual position i.e. following. But I was keeping up and enjoying the trails. We had what felt like hundreds of little gates with latches to fiddle with and stiles to clamber over. I paused to avoid Lucy’s trailing leg each time and then scampered after her.
We only had two minor hiccups. First, Lucy’s plaits fell out! This is the only time we’ve had ‘hair issues’ in a race, though I was also keeping my buff on to keep mine in place as I really need a cut! Next we made one small nav error, quickly corrected but to the puzzlement of a couple with a dog. We ended up running past them three times 😀 .
We chose to go for an ‘optional’ 10 pointer, adding about 1km to our run. Just after that we caught up with two guys on a stretch of road. One of them clearly decided to race us and picked up the pace. Lucy responded and I came up next to her. His pal was getting left behind. We did not slow. I thought: ‘you’re just leaving your partner behind, and did you know we can comfortably keep this up for another hour?’. As we crossed a stile into a field, they both disappeared behind us and we had a little chuckle about it. Sorry guys!
The hill was tough, but the ridge was fun with the wind behind us. I tripped for the second time in the race and sprawled onto the ground, my map blowing across the hill in the gale. Luckily Lucy caught it and we were off again. Down the final hill my knee was a bit sore and I became more cautious. Lucy had to wait. But when we got to the road we were pushing along to the final control.
We came in after 2h9mins. A little longer than planned, but not unreasonable and my shin had been fine :-). I’d had a few looks at the bike map on the way as I was concerned about getting caught at the end. We wanted to go round clockwise to enjoy the best descents and the easier (better surfaced) climbs. But this meant leaving a committing big hill at the end. After a quick discussion, we made a decision before we set off to drop a control early on.
On the first very steep hill, Lucy stormed up whilst I got off and pushed a bit. “Good effort!” I shouted, but Lucy responded “I’ve got other issues now!”. Put delicately, we had some severe ‘lady pains’ to deal with. Cruising and downhills were fine, but efforts were impossible. Sadly our first aid kit had no pain killers, so we are very grateful to the fellow competitor who gave us some paracetamol whilst Lucy rolled on the ground in front of a bemused photographer. A technical downhill that had me walking more than once cheered Lucy up a bit, but some more on-the-floor manoeuvres were carried out whilst we waited for a mountain biker to rummage in his bag for Ibuprofen. He couldn’t find them! So we carried on and implemented use of the tow on the uphill tracks and on the roads.
We were making fair progress now and feeling more chipper, but decided to miss an awkward control for 10 points involving extra climb and instead bombed along a road. About 10km to go, an hour left and our average speed so far was over 13km/h. Looking good!
Unfortunately, halfway up the next hill it started raining. We came out of a small valley onto an open, flat and exposed moorland just as the heavens really opened and the wind got up. We were battling straight into the gale and were staring at the tarmac under our wheels as hailstones clattered off our helmets. I knew we had to turn right when the bike computer said something-point-two km, just after some trees on the left. But we couldn’t check to see the turn off by just looking up, and we seemed to be barely inching forwards. I managed to stay upright (I’d already been blown off once, earlier on) but we were both having trouble riding in a straight line.
Eventually we got to the control in the corner of a wall. We decided to duck down and throw our coats on even though we were already soaked to the skin and ‘nearly there’. It helped, but I went from ‘OK’ to shaking with cold. Suddenly we felt we had to get back very urgently. We knew we’d now have to miss an accessible control on Mam Tor and just return as soon as we could. There wasn’t even any debate. Hands were frozen and on the next uphill headwind section Lucy couldn’t even hold the tow. I tried to push her instead but it felt like a loosing battle against the elements. Scientific studies show that swearing can make you feel better, so we turned the air uncharacteristically blue until we turned with the wind and headed downhill for the final run back to the big yellow finishing arch.
We actually came in 3:40 minutes late, despite missing a control at the end. Thank goodness we’d also chosen to be slightly conservative earlier on!. But oh how we’d wished we’d set off earlier in the morning 🙂 . The finish area was almost deserted and the marshals told us people had been bailing out early. We’d had no choice! We rushed to the car but had to ask someone else to undo our buckles to get at the keys. I haven’t been so cold all winter. After a rapid change and some hot veggie chilli I was feeling better, but excessively tired!
We won our category, came 11th overall again and won the series. Full results here. I also think we had one of our best ever runs in an Open 5 together. When I got back home I was feeling a bit ropey and by Monday morning had a full blown cold. That would explain the sore throat and some lacklustre training the week before – but I’m just grateful it didn’t arrive a day earlier!
Thanks to Haglöfs for sponsoring the series, their kit is really great for outdoor adventures. Also to Open Adventure for the events, James Kirby for photographs and all the marshals and course setters. Looking forward to the next lot already!
Haglöfs Open 5 – Yorkshire Dales
I am still slightly bemused about how well this race in the Yorkshire Dales turned out for us. In the days and hours before the start, I was getting messages from teammate Lucy such as: ‘I think I might be able to do 5 hours’, ‘this is damage control’, ‘I’m totally broken’ and ‘I wouldn’t have made it here if it was just me’. Yikes. I wasn’t feeling 100% tip-top myself, having had a funny tummy for a few days, feeling lethargic and carrying around a hip that was still grumbling from last week’s round of fun. However, I did feel fit and was able to muster up enough enthusiasm for two of us!
The weather forecast was due to be wet and cold, getting worse as the day went on. Normally, we’d run first, but this would mean getting hot and sweaty and wet in the rain (I can’t run these speeds / distances in a waterproof!), only to get on a bike and freeze. It’s much harder to generate enough heat to stay warm when you’re cycling. For this reason, we switched round and biked first. As it was, we got dry weather until just before the run started but then it got pretty bad – perfect!
At the start lots of people couldn’t decide what to wear, Lucy included. In the end we both played it safe – I wore a coat for the bike and she had on full waterproofs, top and bottom! It was a good move though. I was under no illusions about what was required today: conservative, steady and, apparently, fun! We both stayed warm all race, which psychologically and physically was what we needed.
We had drawn up a proposed route for the bike, and after we got the control values decided to tweak it only slightly and to go round in the opposite direction, collecting more higher value controls on the bigger hill first. There was more road riding than we sometimes face, but when we did go off road there were some high quality bridleways. Limestone all the way! We were particularly pleased with ourselves as we blasted down a long bumpy hill, passing people walking up and knowing we had gained most of our height on a road.
Lucy was right that she didn’t have her usual zip up the hills, but we were moving much better than last time. We didn’t even resort to using the tow. I thought it was better to conserve some energy for the run so long as we were moving smoothly. I nipped ahead at gates to hold them open and let Lucy get a head start if I needed any map checks! We were also fortunate this month that our route looped back close to the transition area and had loads of shortcuts if we needed them. We didn’t, but the knowledge was reassuring.
The instructions I was given at the start could not have been clearer: “Rosemary, you’re taking us on a 3h loop, and nothing more. NO ‘let’s just go …’ allowed!”. Consequently, as we neared the end of our loop and had the option of a 3km (total) out and back for 15 points, we let it go and carried on round.
Just under 4km from transition, Lucy cried out that her rear tyre felt bouncy. Whaaat?! A puncture! Darn. We whipped out the pump and blasted some air in, hoping it would only go down again slowly. Lucy set off, I got my kit back in the bag and chased after her. Halfway back, I could see it getting squidgy again and the extra drag was having a detrimental effect on the little rises we still faced. We really didn’t want to stop again, so I gave a push up the last hill and we gingerly slid into transition. Phew!
Somehow, even despite this minor mishap, I achieved the impossible and got us back a ‘little bit earlier than expected’, a turn of phrase which does not normally enter my vocabulary. 2h50, plus 5 minutes to transition. Time to hit the run.
We adjusted our plans due to the control values, then set off cheerfully. As we dibbed out, we told the chap who had gone out of the wrong funnel to watch us professionals to see how it’s done. Then we promptly went the wrong way, much to the amusement of the marshals. We like to entertain!
We left one optional out and back only worth 10 points, but went for the other. Lucy vetoed crossing the cool looking stepping stones; probably wise! Heading up the first hill, we were walking, which is most unusual. I felt a bit anxious that we’d need to move faster than this, but Lucy’s heart rate wouldn’t rise and there wasn’t much we could do about it except chat and keep cheerful.
There were a few interesting controls on the run. The first was at the base of an amazing waterfall, that you couldn’t see until you were right there. I admired the view whilst stopped for the longest wee EVER, while Lucy started back up the hill. Soon we were at the top, running along a short stretch of road as it started snowing! This was fun. Slight mistake going into the next control, but nothing serious and we were heading into a cave. I half expected to see James the photographer here, but he had already been and gone.
Lucy can always fly down the hills, and the reward for all that up was that we were now going down. We cruised alongside a railway to another unusual control location – inside an enormous kiln. I wish we’d had time to explore and read the info board! As we padded along next to the river I sensed that Lucy was tiring a bit. The solution was jelly babies and getting the tow out for the last hill. The second unheard of event of the day, as we hooked up the ‘wrong way round’. This is a strange sensation for me. The little tugs I could feel on the tow were hardly noticeable, but my legs were telling me that they were indeed working harder.
Now it was really snowing, we knew we had nearly finished and spirits were high. Earlier on, some people had remarked on our level of chat as we went past on an uphill, and we weren’t stopping now. Lucy was navigating as well as ever and we flew down a hill, past a control and James with his camera. We could see the event flags, but we had a little detour for one more high scoring control in a narrow tunnel under the road. By now we knew we’d be getting back early, but we kept running just in case time mattered. We came into the ‘back’ of transition and found it amusing to make sure we ran round under the big yellow arch to finish.
Third unheard of thing – we were back 7.5 minutes early! We knew we had a good score, but weren’t sure if it was because the course was a bit easier than usual or whether we had done well. We didn’t feel as if we had been ‘smashing’ it. But what really mattered today was that we had definitely met the FUN criteria. Our bikes and other transition kit was rapidly disappearing under the falling snow and it was a second race to get changed into dry warm kit before a chill set in.
Our category was the first to be announced at prize giving, so we were on edge, not having a sense of how our score compared. But we ended up winning by a clear margin of 44 points, and finishing 11th overall. We’re usually over the moon if we make it into the top 10, so we are pretty pleased with this result! And the race back to the finish meant we beat the leading female solo – who had the same points as us but came in 13 seconds later 😀 .
On reflection, our performance in this race far exceeded our expectations. I wonder whether moving at a consistent fair pace, combined with a commitment to stress free racing, helped us make better tactical choices. We might have been able to squeeze out 10 more points or so, but we made the right decisions for us at the times when we were faced with the options that would have got us those points. In any case, it all worked out. We will go into the last race as series leaders, but Sue and Louise are not far behind, so it will still be all to race for!
As we tried to leave the race HQ the snow was falling hard. The steep little hill was too much for a van and we had to wait a while for them to be pushed out and for a tractor to clear the road. My friend Kim wasn’t sure of her snow driving abilities. We all lined up along the drive as if we were in a time trial. As we approached the line nerves were running a little high. The marshal waved us through as did the spectators along the verges! Luckily we made it to the top unscathed and had a very scenic drive home.
As usual, thanks to the organisers (Open Adventure), course planner (Chris Maudsley), volunteers, photographer (James Kirby) and series sponsor (Haglöfs). Also to my mum for having a perfect dinner on the table when I got in!
Bowhill Long Duathlon
It feels like it’s been a long time since my last race. I could pretend this was because my physio had drummed into me the message that I should spend time ‘building a base’ whilst letting my hip recover and not always interrupting training with another hard race. But really it was because there had been nothing on for a month! 😉
I had been anticipating this, the last race in the Bowhill duathlon series, for a while. I had won the previous two, but knew I would still be under pressure for this one. To make me even more nervous, The Adventure Show from BBC Scotland would be there filming for their next programme. Gulp.
By the time we got to race morning, I was more than a little nervous. To compound this feeling, Glen was a bit late arriving, then we headed off down the A1 … which does not go to Bowhill! After a rapid correction including a sneaky back road that Andy knew, we got there not quite early enough for the good car park, but only just down the drive 🙂 .
No sooner had I started queuing to register, than the camera crew asked me to go over for an interview when I was ready. They had lots of questions, and I talked a lot! As soon as I walked away I started thinking ‘why didn’t I mention ….?’ Since I definitely remembered telling them that it was important to warm up for such a short race, I headed out on my bike to ride up the hill and down the last technical section, plus a bit of the start climb to keep warm. This also helped me to calm my nerves and ignore irrational thoughts about my back tyre going flat.
I always find the mass bike start tricky but soon got into a rhythm climbing the hill. I didn’t really appreciate someone riding into me sideways, but I stayed upright. Twice I jumped off and ran steep bits before going on. There were lots of muddy sections, as usual. Unfortunately, it wasn’t wet enough to have washed away or got to firmer ground underneath, and it was not cold enough for it to have frozen. So we were often riding through a sticky gloop that grabbed at my tyres and pulled me this way and that.
I felt more anxious than usual descending. I’m not sure why; perhaps it was a heightened sense of not wanting to crash out or maybe my head was just not quite in the right place. Still, I attacked the hills and passed a few guys. At the end it got technical through the woods. I walked a short section but was then riding again. At a tricky corner, I was just about to put my foot down and scoot, when someone yelled ‘well done, keep going Rosemary!’. It was just what I needed as I thought ‘I can do this’ and rode on down :-).
Into transition I knew I was first girl, but didn’t know what sort of lead I had. The film crew were there interviewing me as I tried out using a little shoe horn for the first time and got it back to front! They asked if I felt confident about the hat trick now, but I said you never know until the finish, and I meant it.
Off I went, determined to run well. Despite what it may seem, I *have* actually listened to the physio. Injuring my hip has been a good thing. It made me go back to basics and build up properly. Although I’m not totally fixed yet, I’m well on the way and I’ve had several weeks of consistently running a lot more often and a lot further than I have for many years. Our Ötillö race entry is also helping motivate me to keep going out in the dark and cold. Slow it may mostly have been, but it has really improved my running.
The course goes up and down, then up a lot more before coming back the same way. My feet kept falling into soft muddy sections, which dragged you in just when your muscles were burning from the effect of cycling! Up we went, clambering over fallen trees and picking the best lines. I didn’t walk a step, even when it got tough. I never knew whether there’d be someone behind me spying a weakness!
I collected my lollipop at the top, waved at the cameras, noted my time and started descending. The next girls I saw going the other way were Caroline and Elizabeth. From pervious form and races, my guess was that Caroline was moving up the field and had just overtaken Elizabeth, which turned out to be the case. Last year, Caroline caught me on the descent and I couldn’t respond. This year I estimated I had about a 4 minute lead. Would it be enough?
Through the trees again and a clubmate came past, nimble like the deer I had seen racing across our path earlier. I decided it was time to take a few risks and let go a bit, so I did my best to keep up with him. He was slowly pulling away, but I was actually having fun and it was enough to keep me motivated. I also got in a mini battle with a guy in red and yellow. He’d catch me on the downs only to drop back on the ups!
The final hill is the sting in the tail of this course. I allowed myself one or two glances over my shoulder to see if there were any Caroline-shaped people coming behind, but it all seemed clear. I wasn’t taking chances though and pushed on, even managing a sort of sprint finish. Hurrah!
Deziree from The Adventure Show was there for a post race interview, though there was an awkward moment where it seemed like I was supposed to talk but I hadn’t been asked a question! I just started anyway, but who knows whether I made any sense. Pretty soon Caroline came in, followed by Elizabeth. It’s always nice to have a podium of friends 🙂
I hadn’t really noticed the rain and snow when I was racing, but got cold much more quickly than normal. I dived back to the car to strip off wet things and get warm and dry, though my lips stayed purple for ages!
The post race analysis of results made happy reading. My bike time was almost the same as last year, but my run was more than 8 minutes faster. This is over a 9.6km course. Somehow I placed better (out of everyone) on the run than on the bike (by two places). This is unheard of for me! I’d like to have biked faster, but maybe I had left more in the tank to do well on the run. It can be a balancing act between the two disciplines. It’s a fabulous feeling to think maybe I could discover that inner runner again, instead of seeing it as an inherent weakness.
I’d like to thank everyone at Durty Events for putting on the series again and keeping us all happy with never-ending mud supplies. Also to Glen for taxi services and various photographers. At this race in particular, I noticed loads of people cheering me on by name, even people I didn’t recognise. Thanks to you all, as it does make a difference! A great race, lots of fun, I lived up to the pressure of expectation (my own, mostly) and I left much more chatty than when I’d arrived 😀 .
Full results for the race here and the series here.
Photos this time from Andy Kirkland, David Hogg and RM Photography.
Bowhill Medium Duathlon
The first race of the year! This weekend it was also the Strathpuffer 24h race which I almost got sucked into with a last minute invite … but I resisted.
And so I turned up at Bowhill ready to try and repeat my performance from the short one. Speedy Jo was busy showing everyone how it’s done at the Strathpuffer (winning the female pairs), so I knew I might be the one to beat today.
For some reason I felt more nervous than usual. I do get a bit stressed before the start of such short races! My tummy was playing up a bit and a short warm up ride was needed. I coaxed Glen out of the car and onto his bike – he had had one too many alcoholic beverages at his mum’s birthday party the day before – and off we went. It was cold and when it wasn’t muddy it was frozen and icy.
It was nearly midday and I had timed it quite well, taking off my last two layers sufficiently late not to get cold before the hooter went. I started off to the side because I am nervous in a mass bike start as it is, without all the snow and slidy stuff on the road. I soon found my place, though it was hard overtaking on the climb when there seemed to be just one line through the snow that everyone was following. If you got stuck behind someone going just a bit slower than you wanted, it took too much effort to get off the line and plough through to overtake!
A small group of us from the club had come and been round the course the week before. Although some of the tracks were easier to ride because they were now more solid, I knew the first descent was all churned up by heavy forestry machinery. Last week it was just muddy and slidy. Today all the ruts and ridges were frozen and covered over by a layer of snow. I couldn’t see what was going on and caught my wheels, falling off once and nearly repeating the trick further down.
Luckily I escaped and got going again through the woods. As I took a sharp turn onto a slippy looking road I was surprised to see Kirsty McPhee overtake me. At the last race we had played leapfrog during the run but I had been faster on the bike. Yikes – this wasn’t in my plan! I had wanted to get a nice cushion on the bike and see if I could hold it on the run! I accelerated past again and it was just the incentive I needed to work properly hard. I didn’t look back, but as we came into transition, sure enough she was hot on my heels just 3 seconds behind 🙂
I had a quick transition, easily spotting my place in the racking thanks to my bright red new shoelaces that were a Christmas present from my mum. I left before Kirsty, praying that all my recent run training would make this part less painful than last year …
The run starts with a long, rough climb with squelchy bits. I was lucky that a club mate was right next to me. It was the motivational pull to keep me going as the path got steeper and I stuck to his heels like glue. I even went past near the top and descended the snow covered track the other side ‘somewhat competently’. At least, it felt like it, and not many people over took me.
Off the tricky bit and although we could catch glimpses of the house through the trees that meant we were physically near the finish, but we still had a big loop round by the lake to do. I concentrated on doing ‘triathlon arms’ rather than ‘adventure race arms’. This means I had them high and pumping, trying to drive me onwards, instead of low and energy conserving!
I hadn’t looked back and every time I heard footsteps and heavy breathing behind I was trying to gauge whether it was a man or a woman. Not far from the end, as we did a sharp turn, I glimpsed over my shoulder and couldn’t see anyone. I couldn’t be sure though and kept pushing on. It was like doing a Parkrun – I was beginning to feel a bit nauseous! I did want to do a strong sprint finish, but my legs weren’t having it. I got to the line, dibbed and turned round.
I was clear. Woohoo! In the end I had in fact won by just over 3 minutes. I was delighted. Kirsty held onto 2nd and my friend Caroline was 3rd.
It’s hard to tell how times compare when course conditions change. So I had a look at the top 10 fastest bike and run times last year and this. Everything was a little bit slower this year, but my run was nearly a minute quicker and I placed much higher. Things are moving in the right direction! Full results here.
I had five goals for this race and met 3.5 of them:
1) Sub 65 minutes. Total time = 1:04:12 – CHECK
2) Top 25 overall on bike. 12th – CHECK
3) 5:15 average per km on run. 5:18 – just missed it!
4) Enjoy the run. Sort of, it wasn’t total hell anyway – HALF!
5) Win. – CHECK
The final of the series is in February and The Adventure Show TV crew will be filming. Just a bit of added pressure!
Thanks to Durty Events for putting on such a fun race again, and to Andy Upton at Zupix for the photos.
Haglöfs Open 5 North York Moors
It’s been a few weeks since the last Open 5. In the intervening period I have ridden my mountain bike more often than I ever have – 11 weeks in a row and counting! I’ve also been trying to get my running back on track after straining a muscle in my hip, on top of a niggly problem that’s been annoying me since June. On the physio’s orders I have been running little and often and never fast. Unfortunately, my hip is still complaining, but at least I lined up for this race knowing I could run some, which was better than last time.
Lucy warned me that she had been manic at work and was feeling tired. When we met up at the event base I knew I needed to loan a few bits of essential kit (which we have to carry one per team). I wasn’t expecting a request for cycling shorts though. Astonishingly, due partly to my indecision about what to wear, I could proffer a brand new unworn pair of thin padded pants! Perfect to go under running leggings, which Lucy did have.
So, we were all kitted up and set off running after the rain had stopped. I commented that it was nice that it wasn’t too windy. Famous last words. We trotted up a hill on the road (due to a last minute change of map plan because a crazy lady didn’t want people on the public footpath on her farm) then dived onto a path. The way was not clear and was blocked by gorse bushes. But no! Apparently this was a path and we fought our way through, sometimes ducking as the gorse closed over our heads like a tunnel, sometimes brushing through, getting prickled head to toe.
We were lucky finding the next control quickly in a slightly confusing wood, then hiked up a steep hill, taking the chance to chat and catch up on life. When we emerged at the trig point, the sun was shining and the views were glorious.
Lucy had initially planned a nice circuit, perhaps a little longer than I’d ideally like, but doable and what looked like the only sensible option. However, when we got the control values we had to change our minds as many of our chosen controls were worth zero, or just 5 or 10. So instead we were running along the top of a ridge on the Cleveland Way. I was feeling good and wondering why Lucy was dropping back on the uphills. This wasn’t right! Luckily it was just tiredness rather than anything more serious like a breathing problem. I did not think it would be wise to try and tow (just wrong!) but perhaps even mention of this gee’d Lucy up a bit as she started running in front again 🙂 .
After a while my hip was grumbling a bit but was not painful. I was also remembering why I keep fighting these niggles, as it was joyous to be moving fast out in the hills and for it not to feel like torture. My hip might not be right yet but the consistent training has brought all the rest of my running muscles back to life.
After 1h11mins we had a decision point. To do an extra 4km loop for 45 points or head back straight away. Of course we did the loop! It was worth it as we saw James, the photographer, out on course. He got a hug and we got some great photos! Reviewing it later, this was a good decision – it would have been difficult to get that many extra points in the same time on the bike. Leaving here the paths turned muddy and it started snowing. Our friends said it snowed for 10 minutes but I only noticed it for one or two. My mum had been right in forecasting this and I hadn’t believed her 🙂 .
As we trudged up a hill I took the opportunity to re-evaluate the bike plans. We were going to get back later than expected and we would need options to cut things short. My decision was to reverse our planned loop. This meant we’d have the easy road section at the start instead of the end, but it did get us through the committing bit early and gave us at least 3 short cut options when we might need them later.
It was a long run back from the last control to transition – 43 minutes, a lot of that on a sticky slidy bridleway into a biting strong wind, then down a steep road. I had to laugh; last month I had told Lucy we’d do 3.5h of biking and then led us on a merry dance of 4.5h. This time she said she’d take me on a 1h45m running loop and we were out for 2h25m – even longer than usual! Payback came quickly this time 😀 .
In transition, I switched as much kit as possible from Lucy’s bag to mine, ran through the new plan and off we went biking. Since Lucy had been feeling tired after less than an hour, she made it clear there were to be no hard efforts … I was annoyed with myself for forgetting my bike tow as it would have been perfect here, cruising along a road. I’ve carried it so often and not needed it, so Sod’s Law we needed it now. Instead, I kept a fair pace but not too hard, and we still overtook people. I was conscious that the wind was behind us though.
At one point we could choose a short route through the muddy wood we had encountered on the run, or the long route on the road. We went road and I started giving Lucy a helping hand up the hills. My hip wasn’t entirely happy about this (darn, why was the tow at home?!), but I kept switching sides and it got no worse. We had a long hike-a-bike to get on top of the moors but it was worth it for a stunning ride on a great quality path up to a trig point.
When we turned from there we got the full force of the wind in our faces. We had been warned at registration that it was ‘cold on the tops’ and they weren’t wrong! The gorse had pulled my buff off earlier, and it was now in my bag with my coat. I was getting ice cream head just riding along even though it was sunny! As we descended a horrible mud slide in the woods I was getting frozen. Lucy was flapping her hands madly and I was thinking: ‘If I feel this cold she is probably colder!’.
Maybe we should have stopped and put coats on here, but we hoped the next road would bring a nice warming hill climb, and it did. I did some vigorous pushing, but it was not only for Lucy’s benefit. The extra effort was warming my body, and my hands were getting toasty wedged between her bag and her back! We were getting good at riding very close together and only nearly came to grief as our handlebars locked once 😉 .
There was a certain control, number 9, that I wanted to go and get. It was an out and back for 10 points, an extra 1.8km in total. We just missed the turnoff though and Lucy looked like she might just sit down and refuse to go on if we went for it. She said ‘if we lose by 10 points, it’s on my head!’. Lucy’s such a fighter that I realised things must be bad and so we carried on, up and up a long hill. We kept on chatting, it’s a good way to distract from an unending road.
Soon we were we flying down the hill towards the finish. But wait, we had a little flat road detour to make for another 35 points. This was already in plan. But suddenly I realised Lucy’s hidden genius. By missing out number 9 (10 points, on what we heard later was a difficult track) we had saved enough time to go for number 3 (25 points), another 2km each way from home, but along a road and good track. She had already turned her bike to go back but somehow I persuaded her. I think it was the thought of coming in 10 minutes early that did it – it just wouldn’t be right 😀 . I said ‘if we win by 10 points, you can take the credit for it!’.
We slogged along into the wind and, as it turned out, a slight uphill. Got the control, turned back. I was pushing as hard as I could and my legs were really burning. But I needed this to pay off since it was my decision to take the slight risk. Finally we could see the last junction, we were turning and we were there. Just under 7 minutes late, 14 penalty points. Yes! Number 3 had earned us an extra 11 points.
Lucy was so cold, we had to get inside and warmed up as soon as we could. Cups of tea were drunk with shaky hands as we waited anxiously for the results. Female pairs were announced first. 3rd place had 380 … phew, back on the podium at least … 2nd place, with 400 points … woohoo! That meant we had won as we had 441. I was immediately chastised as we didn’t need those 11 points after all! But Sue and Louise (who came 2nd) are strong competitors who won last month. You never know when you’re out on the course where you are, so you have to give it everything you can, just in case.
As the other categories were announced we realised we had actually done OK and had a respectable score. Results here. It wasn’t our fastest day, but we had made good strategic decisions, worked as a team and done the very best we could.
I’ve now got 6 weeks without a race. Time for me to get on top of this running and for us to both come back fighting in February!
Thanks to the organisers, Open Adventure, to photographer, James Kirby and to race sponsors, Haglöfs.