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!
The series finale!
To sum this race up: sun, hills, friendly locals, roads, prizes and my best ever supporter!
The race was in the area known as the ‘white peak’, starting at a little village called Alstonefield. This is in between Ashbourne and Bakewell and less than an hour’s drive from my mum’s house.
Having taken a long weekend off work, we went out for a recce on Friday. Whilst my mum pottered up and down the Manifold Way on her Brompton, read a book, ate ice cream and found where the river had disappeared to, I hauled myself up and down a 53km figure-of-eight loop with 1135m of climbing. It was handy to stop back at the car in the middle to have lunch with her in the sunshine! I did my best to seek out every little bit of bridleway and byway and pack it all into one ride :-).
By the end of the day, I thought I might have guessed the map area the wrong way round – portrait instead of landscape. As it turned out that was the case, but I’d had a rather fun ride anyway! Some further map study at home on Saturday made up for it. For me, this kind of ride is all about getting a feel for the topography and the terrain of the area, plus putting my head into ‘mountain biking mode’.
This race was going to be the decider for the series, and I didn’t even know if Lucy was doing it! I was a bag of nerves. This showed when we nearly left the house without my bike wheels! Thank goodness I went back in for just one last trip to the toilet and saw them sitting in the hallway!
I kept an open mind on whether to run or bike first. After looking at the map I decided to get a good strong bike in first again. It was a different course to usual. Lots and lots of road riding. To the east there were a few low scoring controls – but after going out to collect a little clutch worth 40 there didn’t seem much point missing the others out, so I blasted along and collected the lot – a first for me! Looking at my heart rate graph afterwards I noticed a general dip in the middle. Maybe I unconsciously dropped my effort a little, something to watch out for. I haven’t got any more scientific than that though!
I forgot to pack any Nuun (a sports electrolyte-only drink i.e. no sugars) and couldn’t find any in the buzzing metropolis of Lichfield. So at 9pm the night before the race, I had decided to resort to the internet to find a ‘home-brew’ recipe. I would make this the race when I tried out a return to a carbohydrate-containing sports drink! Andy says this will be essential for the Celtman. I’m a scientist, so after reading several suggestions, I went with the modal average. Sort of. It tasted OK!
1 litre water
250ml orange and mango juice*
2 tbsps lemon juice
1 tbsp lime juice
2 tbsp runny honey
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
* Because there was no plain orange in the house
It was a hot day though, and by the time I got to transition after 63km I was already a bit dehydrated. I gulped down some water and set off on the run. I‘d already planned a likely loop when I was cycling up the last hill. It felt hard going and slow. After three controls, I got into a total dither about which of two options to take. I kept thinking “Don’t take any silly risks!” In the end, I decided it was an acceptable risk and set off in a determined fashion, collected a 15-pointer and nipped across the river Dove, just by a spot where I swam once :-).
At this point total confusion set in. I crossed a wall, but thought it was the one 500m further up. Which meant the control I thought was 100m away was actually 600m away – I was having a panic! It was all totally clear looking at the map in retrospect, but I think the dehydration was messing with my normal thought processes. Why didn’t I drink more of the water I was lugging round with me?!
On the plus side, the locals here were the friendliest I’ve ever encountered in a race. Some were cheering and clapping, people were telling me the control was on a tree ‘just up there’ and others were commenting on my ‘series leader’ label. Earlier on, one group of cyclists told me to ‘just follow them’! Shame they weren’t going my way ;-).
I finally got to the control, but was seriously short of time and had to miss out two nearby 10-pointers. My legs were really hurting and I didn’t feel like running anywhere. I also remembered that we had started the race on top of a hill, which could only mean one thing …
However, it was 4.5km to go. I told myself that in the Celtman, I would feel much, much worse at the end – so I had better get on with this as it would be good practice! After that, I felt better; I ran at a consistent pace and was smoother with the navigating. Still, it didn’t stop me getting back over 6 minutes late – 14 penalty points! Gargh!
I got 506 points – my third score over 500 this series. I didn’t know if it was enough though, especially when I saw Lucy at the finish! I was left on tenterhooks as the female solo category was last in the prize giving. When it was finally announced I was so happy – I won the race and won the series :D.
Lucy did well, got a good score despite a dodgy hip and moved up to second in the series, with this event’s course planner, Karen McDonald getting series third.
I also proved I can do a half-decent race even when the weather is nice!
Finally, I got my bottle of champagne for getting 5000 points ever in Open 5 races, and a special Haglöfs gift for doing all 7 races this series. It’s not easy staying fit enough to race every month through the middle of winter. I started with a twisted ankle and no run training, progressed to a muscle strain in my leg, flu, and some mysterious virus that left me wheezing for a month.
But I don’t care, because in amongst all that I also got in some great riding and running, learnt from a few mistakes, experienced loads of new places, made some great friends, and achieved something that eluded me last year!
Now, what’s next?!
One of the best things about going to stay with Andy is that he lives on the edge of the Peak District in a little village called Broadbottom. There are lots of opportunities for interesting runs (even the short ones) and big walks, right on his doorstep. After Christmas I sat down to amuse myself with Andy’s truly enormous 1:25k waterproof map of the area. I call it “Andy’s” rather loosely, as I always seem to find it just where I left it on the previous visit 😀
I came up with the following route, which was perfectly executed.
Catch a train to Glossop, as early as you can. This involved me getting out of bed, so we set off just before 10am. Walk up “Doctor’s Gate” assessing it for mountain biking suitability on a later date. It’s a bridleway but I fear there would be rather too much pushing for my liking, in both directions! Stop out of the wind for a pleasant first sandwich and piece of homemade fudge brownie.
At the top, where this Roman Road joins the modern Snake Pass, turn left and follow the Pennine Way through a peat bog. You go from a rocky little climb to an engineered walking highway, which still has its charms as the path literally bounces, you splash through rivers and stare down into dark little pools.
At Bleaklow Head, bear left into a biting westerly headwind. Stop to put on spare jumper, even if it means taking off two other layers first. Get to where two rivers meet and the path crosses them in a little gorge. Take shelter and eat second sandwich and brownie as quickly as possible. Stop every 10 minutes for the next hour to re-tie shoelaces, because hands are too cold to properly carry out a task requiring such fine motor control!
Locate the left turn-off from The Pennine Way, which starts with an exceedingly deep boggy bit – let someone else find that out first! 😀 The map gives clues to the terrain … all those spidery blue lines on a flat moor! It is wet, but the path is punctuated by helpful wooden bridges and walkways.
Cue your best Billy Goats Gruff impressions; “Trip trap, trip trap! Who’s that trip-trapping over my bridge?!” Try not to jump too far out of your shoes when someone sneaks up behind and says “Boo”!
Descend back towards Glossop on a double-track, taking a shortcut to Swineshaw reservoir that gets you stuck at the top of a small quarry. Really, either the ground did not match up with the map here, or I was too fuddled to figure it all out. Allow Andy to take one last photo – this time of a pig. Get back into town just before dark and grab a sweet hot drink and emergency third sandwich in the café before heading home to tea and curry*.
* I had made a tasty shepherd’s pie but confused the paprika and chilli powder – oops! Second mealtime around with all the (non-spicy potato) gone, it went well with chickpeas, a tin of coconut milk and plenty of rice!