It’s more than a bit late for this report. Life seems to have been getting in the way of write ups!
I stayed at my mum’s with my friend Jim the night before. It was an early start, driving through temperature inversions that meant we alternated between bright sunshine and fog. The race venue was still more in the latter state and there was mention of snow on higher ground. I was more confident for sun!
I was racing with Lucy again and we did debate whether to bike first, but stuck to ‘what normally works’ and ran first instead. By the end I was wishing we hadn’t, though unlike the last time this happened, it was less a strategy miscalculation and more of a ‘might have saved ourselves’ option.
Off we went, almost, but not quite last out. Straight up a hill and back down again for the first control. Lucy had the end of a cold in her lungs, but I wouldn’t have known it as we were flying along and I was breathing hard trying to keep up. Navigation in the town was tricky and we ended up the wrong side of the canal and unable to get on the bridge. I later found out there was a route through a beer garden, but we never spotted that! We lost about 5 minutes here, take note.
Onwards and up onto the hills, where navigation was a bit easier. We found a control on a footpath / stream crossing, where I’d say the ‘footpath’ was only barely hanging on to its status. We were up high and scooting along a ridge with great views. Stoodly Pike (with a great big tower) was like a siren, with a 30 point control on it.
We got another control then paused to contemplate our options. I had roughly estimated the bike length at 32km. We needed to allow 3h. Though sometimes, depending on terrain, we’d do it quicker than that. How long left for the run? 7-8km at 6-7 minutes per km. Just over 40 minutes then (see what I did there?). Lucy really wanted to go to the tower. Well, we had won the series already and it looked fun, she said. I was more anxious but, yes, the tower did look inviting, it seemed it was almost as long to take the direct route home and if we weren’t going we should have decided a control ago … so off we went.
Darn, we ran round the tower looking for a balcony, before realising it we had to go inside, up a spiral staircase in the pitch dark, no lights. This was slow!! A couple more minutes lost.
Running back down, Lucy had to wait for me, though I found my legs again on the flatter road section. It was along drag back along the canals and through Todmorden. We came in 49 minutes after our deliberations, with only 2h40 left for the bike.
As previously ascertained, there really was no other option for the bike leg but to go all the way round the big loop. I couldn’t see any other sensible alternatives, so off we went. Maybe we both already had a sinking feeling about this, as I’m not sure our usual ‘drive’ was in evidence.
I navigated well through town, only for us to promptly get confused and take the wrong bridleway, ending up pushing in hot sunshine. Studying the map very carefully afterwards, I can see the bridleway we took was on the map – I just couldn’t see it at the time. It was tricky to read due to the hundreds of paths, contours and ‘stuff’. Yes, it was hilly. We turned too early, which I kicked myself about, as usually I have an eye on the distance as well as the junctions. This cost us about 7 minutes – are you keeping a tally?
Once on the right track it was a ride / hike mixture until we hit a road at the top and flew like maniacs with a tailwind. This felt better, maybe we had enough time after all, our average speed was going up. Off road again onto a fun track to a reservoir. We were heading for a ‘permissive bridleway’ – sometimes these indicate high use paths and are better quality, but sadly, not the case today. I briefly considered going the long way round, but we didn’t – others reported doing this and having a much better time.
Anyway, after another km of pushing we finally made it to a decent track. 40 minutes left, we had to go fast. Unfortunately, it wasn’t towing territory. And besides, my stomach was not feeling great, I was queasy. Maybe I hadn’t been drinking enough in the unaccustomed sunshine! We got to the control that was missing (luckily we’d heard someone shout something about it), so we took a photo to prove we’d been there and headed off again.
We were nearing the end and got to a section with loads of gates. We were doing ‘gate relay’ – one of us go through, ride ahead to the next one, whilst the other shut the first and caught up, to switch over again. We were nearing a farmhouse and it was my turn to hold the gate. I shouted “200m past the farm, then turn left!” Unfortunately, the message didn’t land, as Lucy turned at the farmhouse and I was chasing her down the road shouting “um, I don’t think this is right!” whilst desperately trying to work out how this way went (it was a sort of square). Eventually Lucy stopped, we had overshot the alternative junction and had to turn back. Another 2 minutes gone.
Things were getting pretty bad by now, chat was rather minimal. We both just wanted to be home. It should have been ‘all downhill’, but it wasn’t. The final turning had a ‘Road Closed’ sign. “Do you want to find out why?” asked Lucy. “Yes!” I said emphatically. We really didn’t have time to faff about. I was encouraged when a group of motorcyclists roared past and when we got to the point, it was only half the single lane road dug up, so we had no problems getting through. There was a possible shortcut through town but we weren’t certain of it, so we stuck to the main road and finally drew into transition.
19 minutes late. The sad sight of only our shoes and bags sitting forlornly in transition by themselves.
This was a disappointing end to the series. Despite the lovely countryside and demanding course, I think we weren’t quite on it. Even so – frustratingly, if we had eliminated the nav errors we’d have only been about 5 minutes late – and have had an excellent score – which goes to show that it wasn’t our planning that was out as such, just our execution of it!
We came 2nd female pairs, only 5 points behind 1st (penalties go up at 5 points per minute after 10 minutes). Results here. Although this wasn’t the end I’d hoped for, we had already done enough to win the series. I had a pleasant train journey direct back to my mum’s and a hot dinner waiting for me!
Until next winter …
Pre-race preparation was perfect, with a café stop, a wander round an outdoor shop, a photography exhibition (tweed making in the Hebrides) and a pub dinner. Shame about the early start, but we successfully navigated round all the closed bridges and got a space in the village not too far from registration.
Whilst waiting for Lucy to arrive I got chatting with a few people about the routes. The bike looked fairly straightforward – with the main decision being two controls stuck up on a fell. The advantage of them was that they were on the Roman road (High Street), so visiting them would make my dad happy.
When Lucy appeared we got ready remarkably quickly and headed up to the start. But then some last minute gear fettling threatened to eat up all that spare time we had. Luckily the right screw was twiddled in the right direction first time, and we were ready to go!
Run first as usual, and we set off at pace, soon hitting a long road stretch. My shins were complaining but I just ignored them. We had to leave an out and back fairly early on – as it turned out that might have been our best chance at more points but it just didn’t seem worth it at this stage. We were soon enough heading up onto the hill and I was enjoying the softer ground, even if we had to leap over tussocky stuff.
There was a choice to be made between a straight off-track line to the furthest out controls, or a route on tracks that we decided would be faster. We also got to check out a section of bridleway we’d potentially be riding up later. Even better, we got there with a mountain biker and were able to see that a) he was riding but b) only a little bit faster than we were running.
Descending a steep bank I was left behind (as expected) but generally I was feeling good. Lucy had raced the day before as well and was only just back from the tooth infection that had done for her last month. I was keeping up without dying, which only tempted me to look at the map, which wasn’t too helpful. We stopped at a control, ‘ignored’ it, ran downstream, then back up. A mistake from a combination of the paths on ground looking a bit different to the map (which fooled me) and me distracting Lucy (who wouldn’t otherwise have been fooled by that).
She was getting a bit tetchy as we were running out of time. I hadn’t noticed, but she was right. 1h55mins gone already, and there was no way we’d be back in 5 minutes! Nothing for it though but to stick at it. I looked at the bike map to check our route still made sense in the light of reduced time and to make some comparisons between different point collections.
We flew down into the finish. The longest run time-wise in a while and I think our longest distance Open 5 run ever! Close to 20km. Off on the bikes and it was an ‘easy’ road loop to start with. The sun came out and the lanes were pretty even if they went up a hill. We feared this would be a repeat of the Forest of Bowland, where the optimal points route was short run and long bike.
However, as I pondered I wasn’t so sure. I still thought we could get round all but two controls, and maybe even out and back to one more. It was tempting as it was the one on the Roman road. We calculated 30 minutes to get 15 points, an hour to get 55. As we rode we debated and thought it would be close for the 15 pointer. We thought about other combinations – would cutting it short on another loop on the way back be worth the offset? Sadly, no, we decided it would be nuts to try and we should play it safe. Then I think we relaxed slightly, alarmed at the prospect of getting back 20 minutes early.
Realising what was happening, we changed gear again and hurried up a bit. Lucy led the way down a fun, fast rocky descent towards the shoreline of Ullswater. It was impossible to read the map at that speed with those bumps, but we pulled up just before the bridge with the control. The furthest one out was up a sharp little kick to a church. We tackled it off road, deciding it was shorter and better graded than the road – and we were right.
Typically, having gone from thinking we had loads of time we now realised we had to get a proper move on. We estimated 14km and we had 40 minutes.
Pushing the pace along the lakeside I wondered if Lucy would need a tow, but she was safely tucked in my slipstream and that was enough. Good thing too, as I didn’t have it in me to go any faster and felt slightly queasy! It wasn’t until we turned up the final hill some time later that I gave a short helping hand. There was No Way we could get back late on this one after all our earlier debates!
I didn’t dare think we were safe until we hit the final bit of bridleway, screeched down the hill, faffed with a gate and hammered into the finish. 5 minutes early! Brilliant.
We decided it hadn’t been so crazy to do a long run today after all, even if it had been slightly unintentional. It had been a race with much thinking and strategizing on the move. After so many previous events where high scores had been the norm all round, we hoped that our high score this time would be a little more out of the ordinary.
At prize giving when the scores were read out, we were mentally counting the number of people ahead of us. Gargh, missed top 10 by one place – 11th! But we had much improved and won our category, so we were happy. Results here. One more go at it this season!
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.
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!
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 🙂 .
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
Day 3 Schematic
Stage 6: Bike (Machynlleth to Glasbury via Devil’s Bridge, the Elan Valley and Builth Wells)
I think our race turned a point here. We had saved up some time at last and we set off on a hunt for some controls! It was raining when we left transition and then it got worse. As we lifted our bikes over yet another locked gate and bombed along some fire roads, the heavens opened, we were soaked, it was windy and we were cold. But we were just a bit too cold to risk stopping and getting more layers on – no-one dared stop moving!! As we ‘waited for a sheltered spot’ we started going uphill again and the rain eased off. By the time it was warm enough to stop, we didn’t need to! 😀
This stage took in a big loop of the Nant y Arian mountain bike trails. The first section was a natural double track with some fun rock sections. Looking at the map later, we probably could have taken a shortcut, but we’d have had to make assumptions about the likely control positions. There were 4 controls on the route, but not marked on the map. Anyway, even now I don’t care, as I had fun here!
At one point it was my team’s turn to make fun of me. I felt behind to check my rear light was still attached to my bag, but couldn’t find it. It must have popped off on one of the rocky sections. I announced this to my team, glad that I had a back up light on my bike, but sorry to lose a decent rear light and clip! (I get sentimentally attached to objects). Paul brushed it off (he does not get sentimentally attached to objects). As I mourned, I moved in front and, to my surprise, the others told me the light was still there. I felt behind me again. I was teased for not believing them. Of course, I believed them, but needed to touch it for reassurance… and kept doing so for the rest of the ride, much to their amusement!
We zipped round a section of trail I remembered doing in the Trans Wales. Sam and Jon had also raced here at different times. Then we were out on the road sailing down towards Devil’s Bridge and the waterfalls. We were hungry again and there was a café here. We weren’t certain to make it to the Elan Valley before the place there shut at midnight so we had a bright idea. We instructed the girl that we’d like to order food now, to be ready in 30 minutes when we came back, and that we wanted it to come out all at once.
We trotted off down to the falls, collected a control and came back again. No sign of our food. 45 minutes after ordering, a soup came out but nothing else. The whole thing had got lost in translation, and although they cooked everything else as quickly as they could, we saw other teams come and go as they wolfed down fast chips. On the plus side, I had one of the best meals so far in Wales (a sweet potato tagine with rice and an orange salad, plus a huge portion of crumble). A lady with her family at the next table was entranced by stories of what we were doing and took Jon’s phone number, promising to track us throughout the rest of the race!
As we set off through some industrial landscapes, it was getting cooler as dusk fell again. Sam had found her biking legs after day one and had had no trouble keeping up. However, here on the roads her low body weight for the descents and heavy full suspension bike meant she was finding it hard going. She suggested we either slowed or she went on a tow. I was more than happy to tow as I still felt great on the bike. But Paul said I should save my energy for later and so we slowed down. This was probably one of the hardest parts of the race for me. I felt we were crawling along and I was getting cold. I had tonnes of energy but nowhere for it to go, which was frustrating.
I could tell this would be an awesome place for road riding though, and vowed to come back sometime with Andy. Shooting down a fast track in the woods cheered me up and eventually we made it to the Elan Valley special stage. Because we were a short course team, we were advised this wasn’t worth our time to do. The café was still going strong, so we had drinks and set off again. Oh how I wish I hadn’t drunk hot chocolate! The perfect sleepy drink … now I was drifting off as we rode along in the dark.
It started pouring with rain again, and as we sheltered under some big trees I began to wake up. Good job too, as Jon was suffering from the same hot milky drink syndrome as me, and we were the two in charge of the maps! Now I was on it again, feeling responsible for guiding us out of here and on to Glasbury.
We were doing the short route, on the race planner’s advice. It turned out those who went the long way had to contend with some crazy weather and waist high stream crossings, so this was probably for the best! It was a bit dull though, so we livened proceedings by making up special ‘adventure race bike riding in the rain’ versions of Billy Joel’s song ‘River of Dreams’, first line: In the middle of the night … We had only one slight hiccough in route finding, and as we neared the end I was able to shout “I recognise this church! We sat and had lunch here 14 years ago!”. Weird.
We rolled into Glasbury with Jon and Paul very grateful for making it. As Sam and I got the tent up, we conferred and confided that we both felt a bit woozy as well, but weren’t showing it as much! So we were probably all happy to fall asleep for another couple of hours. Second blog was also written here.
Day 2 Schematic
Stage 4: Paddle + bike (Tan-y-bwlch to Barmouth)
We got down to the river and looked at it, confused. We were fairly sure the sea was to our right and were looking forward to a nice, downstream paddle. But the river appeared to be flowing to our left. We double-checked the maps. Yep, we had to go right. We had not accounted for this being a tidal river, and the tide coming in. We launched anyway, and set off into the teeth of a roaring wind, which was funnelling into the valley shaped by the river and twisted as we did. Each new bend brought new paddling challenges as we occasionally struggled to make any forward progress at all.
I was relieved to get to the portage section as it meant we had got somewhere! The portage turned out to be a nightmare, as James (race director) had warned us at transition. We took the boats to a road one by one; all four of us lifting each one out at another improbable ‘get out’. We used the trolleys to wheel round the railway bridge which was under construction. Then we were faced with a flooded field, not quite deep enough to paddle. We had to pull and shove our boats across, taking care not to lose our feet in the deep and narrow underwater channels.
Then we were battling for Portmeirion. The weather conditions meant this paddle was also shortened, and we all had to be held at another time out until it was safe to cross the bay. However, we arrived relatively late due to the sleeping and hitting the tide at the wrong point. So by the time we had finished the amusing orienteering (Paul: “We have 1cm to go. The scale on this map changes with every step we take from the centre”) and partaken of the Italian gelato / sorbet (mmmm) it was already time to go again.
A short paddle and a long drag across the sands and we were back on the bikes to finish the stage. The team had mixed feelings about this kayak stage. Personally, I enjoyed the feeling of taking on the challenge and succeeding, but it was hard work!
In transition, Paul panicked when he thought he’d lost his skewers (which hold the wheels onto the bike). “I’ve left them in the car park at Ogwen!” he declared, in a state of high stress. We sent him off to enquire whether the marshals had any to spare or could help in any way. Jon, Sam and I wondered how this could have happened (Sam was meticulous at sweeping any area for left behind stuff). I knew how well daft questions went down with Paul … so I saved it and just as the marshals were telling him there was a bike shop in town, I had a little look at the bags next to his kit, ‘just to make sure’. There they were! What a huge sigh of relief! It was just one of those things that can happen when you’re tired and in a hurry.
The main road hugs the coast, but going that way would not be in the spirit of adventure racing. We rode / walked up and over a long road section, which I recognised from a tour I did in 2000. It was very wet then, today was much better weather. As soon as we reached the sea it was time to go up and descend again, this time largely off-road. A lot of this climb was rideable, which was a relief. The view at the top was stunning, and the ride back down technical. This was one of Jon’s favourite sections!
When we got into transition and saw Andy again, I felt quite teary. It had been a tough day so far, the paddle was such hard work and the bike wasn’t easy. I was also navigating on the second half of the bike stage, taking over from Jon as we crossed a page on our maps. I was acutely aware of the need to get it right first time as the team were getting tired and having a little dip.
We had a slow transition. I was naughty and hopped in the shower to wash the salt out of my hair. I felt guilty for holding the team up, but wasn’t really thinking straight. We also went to the chippy and stocked up on huge quantities of food. Paul had 4 cans of fizzy pop lined up! I settled for just one, but also had a veggie burger in a bun plus a jacket potato with beans and cheese.
As it got dusky outside it was time to set off again.
Stage 5: Trek (Barmouth to Machynlleth)
By cutting the first trek stage so short and getting a sleep, we had hoped to start this stage with plenty of time and energy to take in the big mountain top of Cadair Idris. However, the trials of the day had almost put paid to this idea, and by the time we had crossed the bridge we had decided to miss it out. As we trekked upwards I started feeling quite ropey. I think the emotions and physical exertions so far had got to me. A common thing we found throughout the week was an inability to keep our body temperature ‘just right’. At this point I was waaay to hot. I was taking off clothes but feeling uncomfortably warm. I took any confusion over the map as a handy excuse for a little sit down. I think this was the trek where we stopped in the woods for a 10 minute rest and snack stop. We all turned our torches off and enjoyed the darkness.
After one steep forest climb, we emerged onto a fire road and I just collapsed to the floor, not wanting to move. I ate and drank, and realised I was probably dehydrated as my body craved the salty Nuun solution I had made up. Eventually I got up again and went on a tow to Jon, who pulled me onwards through the darkness. I was getting some interesting ‘sleepmonsters’ now. I saw things like scary men looming out of the shadows, an imaginary dog that jumped from behind a wall and various buildings that didn’t actually exist. I also heard phones ringing and disembodied footsteps behind us.
As we made our way along a road 2.5h later, the rhythm and lack of technicality lulled me and I found myself falling asleep as we walked. We had to stop at a handy roadside lay-by with a bench and small grass section. I pulled out the small sleeping mat / back support from my bag, put on all my clothes and curled up. 30 minutes later I was awoken by a cold team and we continued. I felt much better though!
Before long we found ourselves stuck in a quarry. There were many other teams all around. We struggled to find the right path out and kept trying every likely looking track, following it until it stopped or turned the wrong way. I did a bit of digging into this after the race – look here if you want to know more! We’d been about an hour and Paul was losing his patience, suggesting we might have to just sit it out until light. Jon kept popping off into the quarry or up little paths to see if they went anywhere, while we stood together waiting for news.
As we walked back to a known spot on the map, Sam pointed to a stile we had in fact seen on the way in. “Look – perhaps if there’s a stile there, then there’s a path behind it?”. She was right, and I launched up it with enthusiasm. The others weren’t so sure, but there was no stopping me now as I marched across a recently deforested area. My headtorch picked out where it went, though it was hard to find in the dark and with the trees down. We were on a path we had seen others on earlier, but not been able to find. It was eventually even in the same place the map said a path would be 😀 . On we went, over a stile and across a bog-fest of a field. Jon announced he definitely knew where we were. Music to our ears!
As dawn broke we were in mists and light rain, contemplating a quick jaunt up a nearby hill for a control. I am still not sure if the suggestion to go up there was a joke or not. We were all pretty tired and wanted to get to transition, but again, in retrospect getting this and possibly another control on this stage might have been a smart move. We made our way down. The last tarmac section was hard on the feet. I think we all felt a bit jaded. It had been a hard day / night and, except for special stages and one that was on the short route, we had not got a single one optional control yet.
Time for another sleep in our tent before we started a “new day”, even though it was 8:30 in the morning!