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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!

Moody skies

Moody skies

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.

Registering

Registering

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!

We ran round the reservoir

We ran round the reservoir

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.

Snowy hills

Snowy hills

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!

Planning to ride through the bog of doom

Planning to ride through the bog of doom

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!

Nice bike ...

Nice bike …

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 😀 .

Podium

Podium

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.

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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! 😀

Misty moisty Welsh mountainside, anyone?

Misty moisty Welsh mountainside = time for a good day out

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’.

Anyone seen Santa round here somewhere?

Anyone seen Santa round here somewhere?

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’.

Making the picture all soft and blurry at the edges doesn't make the contours disappear...

Making the picture all soft and blurry at the edges doesn’t make the contours disappear…

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!

Here we come

Here we come

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.

Nabbing a bike control

Nabbing a bike control

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!

Lucy

Lucy

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!

Having a good time! (pre mud fest)

Having a good time! (pre mud fest)

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.

See ya!

See ya!

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.

Si (course planner) looking pensive before the start. Don't worry: it was great!

Si (course planner) looking pensive before the start. Don’t worry: it was great!

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.

Did I mention it was wet?

Did I mention it was wet?

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.

Catching up with Terrex teammates

Catching up with Terrex teammates

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.

Both descending carefully!

Both descending carefully!

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 😀 .

Think we cycled up here, but this track was nice and wide for easy chatting

Think we cycled up here, but this track was nice and wide for easy chatting, so I wasn’t paying full attention …

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…

Fording the river (hi Eddie!)

Fording the river (hi Eddie!)

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.

TAKE CARE!

TAKE CARE!

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.

I love an exciting waterfall

I love an exciting waterfall

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 🙂 .

Prizegiving. Still wearing *that* jumper

Prizegiving. Still wearing *that* jumper

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!

Edale-run-1

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.

Did someone say 'team' ?"

Did someone say ‘team’ ?

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!

Making Important Decisions

Making Very Important Decisions

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.

Shame we didn't have a view like this on our way back!

Shame we didn’t have a view like this on our way back!

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!

Just about warming up, wearing almost all the dry clothes I had with me.

Just about warming up, wearing almost all the dry clothes I had with me.

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!

Cycling up the hill we'd run up later

Cycling up the hill we’d run up later

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.

Biking fun

Biking fun

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!

Oh, please can't we go this way?

Oh, please can’t we go this way?

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 😀 .

Couldn't be happier

Couldn’t be happier

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!

Will we ever get out?

Will we ever get out?

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!

The Yorkshire Dales - scenic and snowy

The Yorkshire Dales – scenic and snowy

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.

Hard core planning in progress

Hard core planning in progress

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.

Running up to a control

Running up to a control

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 🙂 .

Who wouldn't want to run around here in the sun?

Who wouldn’t want to run around here in the sun?

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.

Crazy face!

Crazy face!

You'd think we'd never found a control before

You’d think we’d never found a control before

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.

Hills for running and biking on

Hills for running and biking on

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!’.

We pushed and carried our bikes up this hill

We pushed and carried our bikes up this hill

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 😉 .

Apparently, this happened

Apparently, this happened

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!’.

Making tracks. We saw 'quite a lot' of mud today.

Making tracks. We saw ‘quite a lot’ of mud today.

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.

Prizegiving

Prizegiving

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.

Open 5 Lake District Windermere

If you’ve been keeping up with my previous race reports, you’ll know that I’ve been busy falling off my bike, limping around and generally wreaking havoc on my legs. This has meant no running of any consequence in the last six weeks, although I have been biking more-or-less merrily.

It was time for the first Open 5 in the winter series. With only five races this year, Lucy and I decided to give this one a go, even though I came with a health warning. I hadn’t run at all in 3.5 weeks and had no idea what would happen when I tried it. We had seen the entry list and knew there was some strong competition. With some good strategy and fast bike riding we thought we might still be in with a chance though.

We had a plan: do a long bike (about 3.5h) and a short run / jog / walk or whatever I could manage (about 1.5h). Unfortunately, when we got the map, it wasn’t easy to string together a nice short high scoring run loop like it normally is. You had to run a fair way to get to most of the controls. I think this may have encouraged us to stretch a bit too far on the bike.

Anxious look!

Anxious look!

At first it was all going well. We were moving at speed. In fact, Lucy was going so fast I was working very hard to keep up at all! We collected a 10 point control down a steep single-track, but the climb back up was so long I questioned whether it had been worth it. Lucy had enjoyed the descent though. Myself less so, as I did the worst possible thing on one section – starting then changing my mind, braking and going over the handlebars. Remember, commit or walk!

Apart from that tumble I was really pleased with the way I was riding some of the technical stuff. I found myself thinking ‘this is mental’ as I tried to keep up on the descents, and was amazed at how my tyres stuck to slippery looking wet rocks.

We sped over to Coniston Water and blasted along the road by the lake. Everything still felt like it was going well and we were making good time. In hindsight I think we had under-estimated how long the second part would take. It feels like you’re ‘almost back’ to Windermere when you’re in Grizedale, but there is still a big hill in the way.

There were some fantastic views and it didn't rain!

There were some fantastic views and it didn’t rain!

This problem was compounded as we spotted a better way to join up a control we had initially decided to miss. It was only worth 10 points but in the end really wasn’t worth it as on the way we hit a rough bridleway climb that had us walking and climbing round fallen trees.

It didn’t end there though! I noticed that the sole of my shoe was flapping off at the heel. No worries, I thought, it’s fine when riding. Next I knew, I tried to unclip when on a road, my cleat just twisted in the shoe and I fell sideways onto the tarmac. Ow!! One of my newly-healed knee scars had torn open again and my hip was bruised. More to the point, we had to fix this shoe. Zip ties at the ready and Lucy tied my shoe back on for me. I felt like I was being treated by a medic!

Shoe evidence

Shoe evidence

We set off again and the repair was 100% effective. But not long after Lucy got a puncture. She had a tubeless tyre and there was lots of new sealant in it. But re-seal it would not, despite us pumping it up and spinning it round a lot. We resorted to putting a new tube in. Unfortunately, this means removing the tubeless valve from the rim. It did not want to come out. Lucy talked of running back but it was miles and I was determined that this would not beat us. We sacrificed an important looking rubber bit on the valve and yanked it out with a pair of pliers. Tube in, pumped up and we were on our way.

At this point I switched from practically having to ask Lucy to slow down …

“I thought you said you hadn’t been biking much?” “I haven’t, I’ve been running” “Well, that running is doing a lot for your biking”
(I sent a banana and a choc chip and blueberry coconut rice cake down the hatch to see if my legs would magically stop burning)

 … to being full of adrenaline and feeling like nothing could stop me now.

Meanwhile Lucy was feeling the effects of not having had a transition banana an hour before. I didn’t realise until we’d finished how bad it was, else I’d have made more of an effort to pass over a rice cake and hook up the tow.

The two incidents took 20 minutes in total to sort out, which was 20 minutes we could not afford to lose, considering our over-reach! Our plan might not have been all that bad if we had not added the extra control in or had the shoe and puncture to deal with but, as it was, we sprinted into transition with (as Lucy was at pains to point out later), only 29 minutes to run.

So, we ran. Three out and backs from transition. It wasn’t particularly interesting but I didn’t care as I was dying! My hip held up, but I definitely knew all about that 4.5h of hard biking and the total lack of recent running practice. I struggled to keep up and breathe and ignore my mind telling me to stop. On the way back from the last control I hooked onto the tow – we should have done it earlier as it was like magic.

The finishing pictures clearly show me in a worse state!

In the end we came 4th (results). Even with my hip problem we could have done better, though we had a mix of bad strategy and bad luck out on the course. We missed the podium by 2 points (and had 12 penalties!). However, I did truly enjoy the biking and am full of confidence despite the couple of tumbles. It was also a relief that my hip held out. Time to start a few regular runs so that I can be in better shape for next time. I am sure Lucy will be plotting payback with a killer run before the series is over!

Fresh cooked wood-fired pizza went down a treat at the end 🙂 .

Also, hello to James who was doing his first Open 5 and recognised me from this blog! Hope to see you again at the next one!

Haglöfs Open 5 Coniston

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

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

Lake District rain = impressive waterfalls

Lake District rain = impressive waterfalls

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

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

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

How not to find a knoll!

How not to find a knoll!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

coniston this race

This race

Coniston series

The series

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

Lucy and Rosemary: Female pairs series winners

Lucy and Rosemary: Female pairs series winners

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

Haglöfs Open 5 Cannock Chase

This month’s Open 5 was on Cannock Chase, close to where I grew up.

On Saturday I met up with a friend (Emma) from university that I haven’t seen for about 15 years. She has three energetic young boys and we went out for some fun on the Chase. My memories of coming here as a child are quite dim, but I do remember dragging a large branch around for a whole walk, only to be told when we got back to the car that I wasn’t allowed to take it home. I was so disappointed! Emma’s oldest son decided we should try and re-enact the scene:

Cannock branches

A jolly time was had by all and I enjoyed soaking up some sunshine. I could tell the trails were going to be good going for the race. They were all stony, gravelly and sandy – you could hardly tell we have had a lot of rain recently.

Cannock young face

My brother and I on Cannock Chase – I was 6.

Also with my dad, he still wears a bobble hat!

Also with my dad, who still wears a bobble hat!

On Sunday I was picked up by Ed and Sophie. Lucy was at a wedding, so we couldn’t race together. Sophie was one of the event planners for the February event, and had agreed to race with me this time. We had only spoken a couple of times beforehand, but I had a feeling we were going to have fun!

An innovation for this event was to try out some recipes from the new ‘Feed Zone Portables’ book that Andy bought me. The premise is that sports bars and gels can be hard on your stomach when racing / training, and you can do better with home-made stuff that is higher in water and tastier. I don’t do things by halves, so went for three new things all at once: sweet potato cakes (gluten free and also containing sticky rice), banana and walnut two-bite pies (made with an almond milk crust) and spinach and courgette frittatas. I think Sophie was jealous! They were very tasty and easy to eat – I’ll make them again.

Feed Zone Portables, the result of a busy evening in the kitchen

Feed Zone Portables, the result of a busy evening in the kitchen

When we got the map you could tell it was a committing sort of bike route. There were a cluster of controls at the far bottom of the map, involving riding a lot of the one-way man-made singletrack with no get-out routes across the main road. Trails like this also tend to do lots of little wiggles that don’t show on the map and are generally slower to ride than an open wide track. This means it can be hard to judge distance and speed. For these reasons (and because heavy rain was forecast for later), we chose to bike first.

When we got the control values we did some hasty re-planning and set off to navigate the maze of tracks in the forest, some marked on the map, some unmarked. Yes, it was another one of those days, it seems to be a bit of a theme this series! As we headed along a bridleway to a short stretch of road, the path got narrower and we could hear guns. The path appeared to be blocked off and we were on the edge of a grouse shooting area. Looking at our gps trace later, we were definitely in the right place, but someone had obviously decided they didn’t want the public using the right of way. As we found a way out and pedalled up the hill, the sound of shots being fired was quite stressful – I was glad to get out of there!

The ride was going very well. Sophie was better at the technical riding than me, but we were both having fun. I did have to persuade her that we were going the quicker, more boring way a couple of times (“but I like the singletrack though!”). We decided to go for two extra controls at the bottom, before rejoining the trail. As we passed two guys, one said to his mate: “prepare yourself for a whole world of pain now” … well, we had to zigzag up a hill just to come down again, but I wouldn’t say it was that bad!

Colour coordinated planning (we had the same colour highlighters as well!)

Colour coordinated planning (we had the same colour highlighters as well!)

A bit later we had to deal with the disconcerting feeling of riding across open heathland, where the map said there were trees. We were trusting in all the other features that said we were in the right place (contours, a car park, a bridleway sign, the other tracks in the right places). At times like this you wonder if you have just made the map fit what you want to believe, but it was with some excitement that I confidently said, pointing: “and the control should be on that corner over there” … and it was! High fives!

As we went round I was enjoying Sophie’s ‘helpful hints’ for the navigation. ‘So we turn left now’ (no, right), ‘Is it here?!’ (no, another km to go), ‘are you sure this is the way to number 17?’ (no, it’s not, because we’re not going there yet) etc. Afterwards, she said it was a good job I had applied the ‘Soph Filter’ 🙂 . To be entirely fair, some of the suggestions were actually useful!

Cannock view

We got back somewhat later than planned, after 3h35. However, we knew this had been the risk and was the reason we had biked first. Our transition was slow, but we spent some time planning a sensible shortish run, taking account of the control values.

When I race with Lucy, who has a lot of orienteering experience, I don’t even look at the map for the run. This time was different and I was out of practice! With the pressure to get back on time, I felt a bit stressed. We kept going though and Sophie was decisive and confident enough in our speed to take us to an extra control which was high scoring. Minor panic as I had read the description as “on fingerpost”, but there was no fingerpost! We checked the map, definitely the right place … but I had got the wrong description. We needed a tree, and there it was! Phew.

Luckily it was downhill almost all of the way back and my running legs seemed to have warmed up. We made good progress and finally crossed the line only 62 seconds late (4 penalty points) – 3 seconds earlier and we’d have only lost 2! Not to worry, it was a respectable score and we were happy with how things had gone. To round off a fab weekend, the heavy rain even arrived two hours late, so we got packed up in the dry.

Female pairs podium

Female pairs podium

We had done enough to win the female pair category, which we were both really pleased with for our first time racing together. Sophie was super-cheerful all the way round and we had a great time. We didn’t make any significant mistakes and weren’t very late back, for once. Still, it is only Caroline who has yet made me get back on time (at Innerleithen) 🙂 .

This result also means that Lucy and I have won the series even though there is one race left to go, as no-one can catch us up now.

I loved my weekend on Cannock Chase and can recommend it for a visit! Now looking forward to the last Open 5 in this series, in the Lake District.

Haglöfs Open 5 North Downs

The one we got away with.

The North Downs are a long way from where I live, but close to where my aunt and uncle live. I went down for the weekend with my mum and spent a happy couple of hours on Saturday riding around the trails near Epsom. This is a spot with many horses and many bridleways. I was hardly on a road for any of the route, though I got a taste of the conditions I might face a bit further west during the race.

Andy did his first ever trail race in the dark the night before and loved it. You can read his report here. I was teased for not doing both races, and though I was tempted, common sense won for once!

Lucy had put in a fantastic effort at the Marmot Dark Mountains event the week before this race. 68km non stop in the dark in the Peak District in 12.5 hours – respect! It was a last minute decision for her to come down. We want to win the female pairs category in the series, and for complicated reasons it turned out we’d have to do this one. Unfortunately, Lucy was racing tired and with a sore knee.

Planning to bike and bike ...

Planning to bike and bike …

We had a plan. To bike a lot and run a little. So we planned an insanely ambitious bike route. After a last minute mechanical panic we were the last to start and headed off into the sunshine for a bike ride. I have to admit we might have been enjoying it just a little bit too much. There was the ‘path’ which resembled a small stream, the mud baths, the hills, the huge puddles so deep my bottom bracket needed attention when I got home … and it even seemed quite warm. No Buffs necessary! We managed to keep up a good conversation and all was going well.

That is until we made a bad navigation error and didn’t realise until one muddy, hard going kilometre later. A road? There should be no road down here … after some circling in the forest on tracks marked and unmarked, we followed Lucy’s trusty nose and came out at a bunker. We were back on track but had lost a whopping 20 minutes of time.

Transition - muddy!

Transition – muddy and late!

Just after this, we got a bit crazy. We debated bike controls vs. run controls and just how well Lucy would actually be able to run. We decided on the madness of just a bit more biking, then overshot the turning twice. What a comedy of errors! On a road back to transition we time trialled it into transition with Ant Emmet, who was telling us he had over-cooked the bike. So had we, but sort of on purpose!

For the first time, we were arriving at transition as everyone else was heading back to the event centre. We had to be careful to dib the right box (‘transition in’ not ‘finish’) and had just half an hour left for the run. For optimal scoring in an Open 5, the consensus is usually to do roughly 3h of biking and 2h of running. But the race is also strategic and we had to have a strategy that would work for us on the day.

Transition action shot!

Transition action shot!

Unfortunately, we still managed to stretch ourselves too far on the run, collecting 3 controls but clocking in just over 10 minutes late. We got 25 penalty points, which was not great. I was more concerned though that we weren’t making Lucy’s knee worse as we picked up pace back to the finish.

Our score was very low and we sat anxiously at prize giving. Would it have been enough? It turned out most scores were lower than usual; the course had been a tough one. However, we only came 29th overall, when we would be aiming for the top 10 on our best days. Still, we just about got away with it, and won our class, giving us 3 wins to defend the series with two races to go.

Matching kit on the run

Matching kit on the run

Many thanks to my mum for doing a lot of driving and to my aunt and uncle for their hospitality. It is amazing how you can fit three people and a mountain bike with big wheels into a small Ford Ka. As we set off after the race I nipped into the nearest shop for some food – a bag of Flamin’ Hot Monster Munches, a can of Dr Pepper and a yoghurt; salt, sugar and protein – all essential post-race nutritional groups covered!

Despite the lack of racing ‘class’, I still had a fabulous day and we both agreed what a fun bike ride we’d had 😀

And finally, I was presented with my ‘10,000 points’ award. This means I have done enough Open 5s in my lifetime to amass this many points and join the club with 4 other women (for now). Hurrah!

10 THOUSAND points!!

10 THOUSAND points!!

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