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Open 5 Todmorden (South Pennines)

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.

We're sure there should be a control here somewhere

We’re sure there should be a control here somewhere

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.

So forlooorn ...

So forlooorn …

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're finishing quite late

We’re finishing quite late

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!

Here and here a couple of reports from other friends at the race, who weren’t so busy getting back so late 😉

Many thanks to Open Adventure, James Kirby for photos and all the course organisers and other volunteers.

Until next winter …

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Open 5 – Blanchland (North Pennines)

It was time to head down for another Open 5, and this month I was going with Glen, another newbie who I’d convinced this would be a good idea! Due to snowy conditions, we headed for the coastal route. Numerous signs announced the presence of coffee chops, but it took a couple of detours and a double stop at a level crossing to find one open and willing to serve us. We continued the theme once we arrived in the Pennines, as we visited three pubs before getting to one that a) could serve us and b) had something I wanted to eat.

Snowy hills greeted us in the morning

Snowy hills greeted us in the morning

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!

The engine house

The engine house

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!

Controls peeking out from the snow

Controls peeking out from the snow

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!

Blanchland bike 2

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!

Happy days

Happy days

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.

Podium

Podium

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! 😀

Snowstorm!

Snowstorm!

Glen had a good time too, didn’t get too lost, and finished in time. I think he’ll be back 🙂 . It only remained for us to drive home by the scenic route, watching a beautiful sunset over the snowy moors, before descending into darkness and more falling snow.

Thanks to Open Adventure for putting on the race, Joe and friends at Nav4 for food, and James Kirby for photos.

Still looking at the map ...

Still looking at the map …

Haglöfs Open5 Series – Warcop

Warcop is in the North Pennines, somewhere not too far from Penrith. Despite the snow afflicting other parts of the country, I cruised in on the train on Saturday afternoon and made use of the shiny new bike path from Kirkby Stephen train station down into the village. I was booked into the youth hostel there and was pleased to find plenty of fellow racers setting up residence. It was positively arctic in the main room. It’s a converted chapel, and what church has ever been warm?! So we soon decamped to the pub, where I stuffed myself silly. I was having no repeat of last month on the food front! Perhaps we were lucky to get served after one of our number told the waitress their menu was boring …

Sunday morning and we set off for the race. Tom kindly offered me a lift. I think with the ice on the road it was a good choice as his car soon left the others trailing. When we got there to register we found transition was quite some way away. I was glad I left in plenty of time as it turned out to be mostly uphill and rather icy in patches! We knew in advance about the special water filled tunnel under the A road. I had solved the problem of how to carry welly boots down by just wearing them all weekend, and I’m glad I had them with me.

Collecting a run control

This event was on a military training area, which is only open to the public one weekend a month. I was alarmed by all the guns firing on my ride up to the start/finish, but am pleased to report I saw none of this during the actual race!

I think my run was pretty sensible; I did a nice efficient loop and started late enough to follow the snowy footprints of other racers in the off-piste parts. I was also very excited to meet James Kirby, the photographer, en route – a rare occurrence.

A quick transition (12th!) and I was off on the bike. I started slow and a bit muddled … again. This seems to be becoming a bit of a habit and I’m not sure why. But after fumbling around for the second and third controls I got into a much better rhythm. When I had finished doing a loop to the west I was left with a decision. To stay low, go back past transition and do another circuit on what I knew from the run were mostly tarmaced, clear roads to the east. Or to do the long climb up onto the fells and cut back down. Checking my time, I went for the high loop.

Big mistake! Even though I expected the last push up to the top, I had not anticipated the amount of snow that was lying everywhere. Even once up, I was having a lot of trouble riding. I was determined to give it a go though, as the race would be a total write off otherwise. I gave myself a pep talk, and started a tally of the number of times I flew into the snow. Snow is pretty soft and doesn’t hurt, though I have since discovered some random scrapes and bruises :-).

Lots of snow, lots of spills

I quickly lost count of the falls, but eventually managed to escape with a fast blast down the hill. Sadly, this plan was only going to work if I had enough time to get all the really high pointers down at the bottom. I hadn’t. A last second decision to take a time penalty hit and backtrack to get an extra 25 didn’t work out either! It would have been a good move if I’d thought of it 4 minutes earlier, but still wouldn’t have been enough to get me the win.

 

That honour went again to Lucy Harris, who is now in a very strong series position. In retrospect, if I had done the low figure of eight on the bike I’d have probably avoided penalties and got a couple of extra controls. Sometimes a race just comes down to one of these key decisions. Lucy also went up high, but biked first and was smart to avoid making a similar mistake on the run.

On the upside, I felt very much better in this race than I had in January. The bike worked as it should, my body worked as it should, I ate as I should and my brain almost worked as it should! 3 out of 4. The weather was also sunny and dry, and despite my little panic up on the fell, I did have a chance to take in the fantastic scenery and feel the sense of adventure. Something I wouldn’t have got if I had been sensible and pootered around at the bottom!

I topped the day off by getting a lift all the way back to Edinburgh – big thank you! I was home by 8, in front of the TV, watching Dancing on Ice, eating pasta and drinking Dr Pepper. What luxury 😀

Full results here and photos here.

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