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Open 5 – Church Stretton

It was touch and go whether Lucy and I would race together at this one. Logistics, health and work for both of us getting in the way a bit! Anyway, by the Sunday morning we were both present and correct and admiring the fresh dump of snow on the Long Mynd 🙂

A bleak start. No-one looks in a hurry to set up transition!

We had decided last month that we were going to break with (our) convention and bike first, to try and get all the good points on offer even if it took more than 3 hours, then trim our run accordingly. I was under strict instructions though – no smashing it allowed – Lucy had a big race the following weekend. My coach had said: “may we be blessed with no navigation mistakes and fabby route choices, smooth n silky….”

It was working out like that on the bike at least 😀 After a quick out and back along the road, we set off clockwise, doing the big climb all the way on the road, with the snow rapidly clearing. A horse trotted across the road across us, which was most unexpected. On the way, we figured out a slightly smoother way to get to the controls we were now after, having seen the values (we’d ditched a couple far off on one side of the map). Smooth n silky!

The first big descent was extremely wet. My saddle has a cutaway section and the icy cold water was spraying up right through from underneath … ugh! Then we hit a road in disguise. I got a clod of mud right in the eye and it took some time before it stopped feeling as if someone was sandpapering my eyeball. We were cruising along with a delightful tailwind. I imagined what Andy would have said if I’d planned a road ride along this mud encrusted tarmac 😀

Steep sides…

Although on some of the hills I was dropping Lucy, it was only because my gears don’t go as low as hers – I was happy to let her pull back again. We were making good progress and only really ground to a walk on the final climb back up the Mynd, on a track with deep tractor ruts. It would probably have been ridable if the wind hadn’t been blowing us sideways so hard it was impossible to stay riding on a narrow enough line.

We flew *down* here when it was just soggy grass

Popping back out at the top it was all downhill from here. We laughed as we passed Jon slogging up the wet grassy hill as we flew down! Lucy took a tumble on a short section of boardwalk just as I was thinking it might be slippy. I could tell it was a hard one as she didn’t bounce back up immediately, but little was said and on we went. We both got super cold on this descent, not enough pedalling going on. But soon enough we were back for a slow transition whilst we fumbled the changeovers and rammed our unfeeling feet into running shoes. We were so fuddled we both ran off with our bike helmets still on!

Transition – biking done

As we made our way along the road, my little toe felt as if it was broken under the others! The bike had been good, but now we needed to adjust our run to the shorter time we had left (1h42). The points allocation and our remaining time was making it tricky to decided a good route. I let Lucy consider whilst I did my second wee stop of the day. Most unusual, I must have drink too much tea! Ha. Unfortunately we got disorientated near the start, following a path not on the map and losing the map detail under various other markings.

We righted ourselves and were soon moving at a reasonable and maintainable speed. A chap going the other way warned us it was slippery (?!). We did a hard right and the path headed uphill. One control was cheekily placed on the other side of a stream, forcing us to get wet feet. As we ascended a valley with steep sides I realised this was where Lucy said we’d have to escape from at some point … she was kind, as we carried on up quite a while before cutting cross country up the sides.

Hills for running around

We came out on top and I was worried about time. Half an hour left, the finish seemed a long way off and what was this, why were we running uphill again?! It was an out and back to the top and then we really were descending, with more urgency now. The final control at the reservoir was misplaced vs the map, meaning we lost a little time before turning down a large tourist path back to the town. This was no longer ‘steady’, nothing like it … but we minimised our losses and were only 4 minutes late.

Sprint finish!

Enough to win female pairs and secure the series (which we wanted to do as Lucy really can’t come to the last one), and still tantalisingly close, but not ahead of, the mixed pairs 😉 15th overall. Results. This area is a great place to bike and run in all weathers.

Been finished a few seconds now, must be time to review the map and route choices!!

Thanks to Open Adventure for organising, James Kirby for photos, all the volunteers and to Jon and Andrea for a lift home with inbuilt small child entertainment in the back (just don’t get me started on the female representation in ‘Adventure Stories’…).

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Haglöfs Open 5 Church Stretton

An amazing end to a successful series!

There was an Open 5 race in Church Stretton in November 2011. I enjoyed that race, did well and was looking forward to repeating the experience this month. Lucy has had issues with a chest infection and her asthma. Earlier in the week it was looking doubtful whether she would be able to race at all. When she decided she could, I was so pleased! We caused some confusion though, as we appeared on the start list as solos – I didn’t check in at 11pm on Thursday night to combine our entries online :-).

"But what about ...?"

“But what about …?”

We did our usual planning, with a bit of squabbling (James K – how dare you say we were like an old married couple?!). I came up with an inspired bike route option at the last minute. It turned out to be useless though, as the control values meant it was sub-optimal – it was back to plan A when we started! The values also threw out our expected run course, so Lucy did a hasty re-plan before we set off up onto the Long Mynd.

As Lucy was still recovering, our speed on the flat wasn’t as rapid as usual. However, we kept a nice even pace and covered about the same amount of ground. We didn’t see James the photographer when we were out on the course. Now I know why, as he was taking pictures of people on footpaths, whilst I was being whisked around on the ‘direct’ routes straight up and down! This was all very well, except for my inability to go downhill at anything like Lucy’s speed. I felt guilty as I saw her standing around waiting at the bottom more than once, but marvelled at the accuracy at which we arrived at controls.

Footpaths are for the faint-hearted

Footpaths are for the faint-hearted

I vetoed a detour to a 5 pointer even though it wasn’t that far away. But I couldn’t get away with the one final trip up and down a short steep hill near the finish for a final 10 points. We finished the run in 2 hours and had only missed out 10 points altogether. A good start!

We set off on the bike and immediately got caught up in bank holiday traffic jams. We pondered what James T would say if we asked for time credits … “well, we got stuck behind all these cars for like, ages…”

Even though we were soon pedalling up an insanely steep hill on a road, I still felt this sense of mental and physical relief that I had finished the run without mishap and could get on with cycling :D. It wasn’t long before we were up on the ridge of the Long Mynd, enjoying a fast grassy out-and-back, then zooming along the ‘motorway’ of the ridge, dodging everyone else enjoying the bank holiday at a more leisurely pace!

After we came down the other side we had a decision to make about how many of the controls dotted around the lanes to go for. We chose ‘most of them’ on the assumption of a brisk pace. It was a bit optimistic, especially when we added in an extra couple of km for another control! But I also came up with a cunning plan to save us some time on the way back. It meant missing out the fun singletrack descent, but would be shorter and faster.

We had to push our bikes back onto the top of the ridge and it was a struggle. It was hot, steep and my calves were screaming. Our rear wheels clicked in unison as we ascended in silence. But it only took us 15 minutes rather than an estimated 30, so we regained some time.

We flew down a fire road (apart from my hesitation at the wrong forest edge) and popped out onto the road. At the next junction we had a decision point.

My legs hurt ....

My legs hurt ….

I had estimated it was 6km back to the finish (actually 6.2km; not bad). It was on roads, but they were lumpy and Lucy had warned me she didn’t have a sprint finish in her legs. So I thought 3 mins / km = 18mins. Let’s say 20. We had the option of an out and back to a 25 point control. On the way there I said “We need another 10 minutes for that”. Lucy looked at the map and said “you must be joking. That’s 3km! It will take longer than that” (actually, 3.1km – see, we’re good at this map lark!). I thought maybe she was right.

We got to the junction with 24 minutes left but an estimate of 30+ minutes to go. I was trying to be sensible and told myself I’m always too optimistic. I was getting resigned to a cruise back to the finish, when Lucy turned left.

What?! This is crazy, how come Lucy is taking more risks than me?! Later she said it just wasn’t worth dithering and she didn’t want to finish the series coming in slowly. She was right. We took off, got the control and back again in 11 minutes. Now we just had to get home along the road, not forgetting the final control we passed on the way. It was my turn to make up for being slow on the run descents, so I gave Lucy a power-assisted finish and 14.5 minutes later, we blasted in, dibbed and collapsed! Only 2.5 minutes late (6 penalty points). Brilliant!

My legs still hurt ...

My legs still hurt …

Like the end of the race, it was fantastic to end the whole series on a high. We have got better and better at working together and the results show it. This time we were 8th overall (one up from last month) and well clear of all the other female teams and solos. A win in our category and a win for the series! Hurrah!

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