Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Adidas Terrex Coast to Coast 4 Day Adventure Race

Being fairly new at adventure racing it was with a little apprehension that we decided to sign up to a 4 day challenge. I blame Jiri myself after meeting him at a QuestAR event and sold it to us. He was coming over from Qatar and doing it solo, so, we couldn't exactly not do it. The months flew by and the training went well but every time we thought we had a 3 person to do the event with something fell through. With time running out Jake had found the perfect partner, Ben, an experience adventure racer who could show us the ropes. He also had a support crew for us in Gill and so, we were ready for this big challenge that awaited us.
Heading up on the Wednesday in the driving rain and a half comatosed Jake. Gill was having second thoughts on crewing for us. She had an option of racing instead. This caused all sorts of panic and confusion as Ben and Gill were heading up tomorrow in a separate van. The morning brought better news in that Gill was happy to crew and look after us for the event. Good news and the weather was perfect, so we headed out for a pre race warm up climb. We were in the Lake District after all. Little Chamonix is an easy climb but so enjoyable and doable in short time allowing us to head over to St Bees and go shopping and set up my tent. We also met up with Jiri and his brother Jan and enjoyed catching up over a couple of beers. I had thought driving up from the south coast was bad but they had just driven near on 24hrs from the Czech Republic. That evening we enjoyed a short walk and watched the sunset over the Irish Sea. Ben and Gill arrived shortly after to set up there gear and for us to have a 5 minute race preparation. Agree on who's doing what stage, good. Don’t get lost, good and no slacking, sorted. The Adidas Terrex team must be quaking in their spd's.
The day of the race arrived. I had yet another lacklustre nights sleep. I had busted my ribs biking 3 weeks ago and have struggled to sleep well since and sleeping in a tent did not help one bit (even with a mat and 2 pillows). Although today was a comparative lay in at 7am get up. We drove into Whitehaven fuelled up in eager anticipation of the race. Ben managed to deflate this with a 'Sorry guys I left the oars back at camp'. D'oh, back to St Bees to pick them up. Let's start again. We had finally arrived at the start of this amazing race. The atmosphere was buzzing, competitors were to-ing and fro-ing getting those last minute adjustments done. The setting looked well organised and professional. People were taking pictures of people and the cameramen were following James Cracknell around (he is a superstar I have to admit, full of admiration for what this guy has done and achieved). A quick race briefing and we were soon slotting ourselves into our kayaks for the off.

From 2011 Coast to Coast

Stage 1 Kayak to St Bees 7miles 1hr6mins
A mass start in Whitehaven marina. Couldn't have asked for anywhere better. The weather was perfect and this just felt like a big event. We made a good start in our double Necky kayak. A few argy bargys and we were not far of the lead. Once out the harbour we just got a good rhythm and only a couple of the lighter faster kayaks managed to overtake us. Landing in the surf of St Bees we waded ashore for Jake to dib out and get ready for his bike turnaround.
Stage 2 Cycle to Loweswater 25.0mi, 1hr19min ^1549 v1230' (Transition 5mins. Lost 20+mins)
Boys nailed it - transition team didn't - lost 25mins because we arrived late. Extremely annoyed here as Ben and Jake and ridden their asses of only for us to negate any benefit due to us flaffing around back at St Bees. Forget about it and make up the time was the superb attitude from all.
Stage 3 Kayak Crummock Water and Buttermere 4mi, 1hr5min (T: 25mins. Lost 5mins)
A quiet paddle interrupted first by a huge downpour and then a portage over to another lake. This was about 1 km long over rough terrain. We had brought some portage wheels for the kayak but after every 10yards they just broke away and so after the 4th attempt we gave up and carried this bulk of a canoe. I think Jake must of been peeved as we boarded the next lake he decided to tip me in! Accident, I'm not so sure. Another carry to the dibber and we had completed a great kayaking section.
Stage 4 Climb Robinson 10mi, 2hrs40min ^4000 v4000' (T:8mins. Lost 10mins)
After drying myself off and getting new cloths on it was all up. A steep ascent. This section not only had seemingly vertical ups but the downs were no kinder. For me this was one of the hardest stages. The endless steeps was a killer on the legs and I had been on the go all day (Even the transition drive was stressful). Ben even tested my ability to hold my stomach contents in by first dry retching for an age and then abruptly pouring gallons of his contents over the mountain in front of me. I quickly averted my eyes and managed to contain myself. Phew, I was alright and Ben quite rightly apologised :) It was all down from here to Derwent and Ben quickly gathered himself and was flying again.
Stage 5 Swim Derwent Water 500m and 1mi Run (T:7min)
The changeover and jumping into the lake was fun. But soon after the body was tiring and it was hard work trying to crawl in a wetsuit and sore ribs. It could of been worse we overtook one fella holding on to a support canoe in pain from cramps. The short road run into town was infact a mile mainly on rocky tracks, which killed my barefeet. Lost a load of time here, which was extremely frustrating at the end of the day. Although the finish was a good emotion running up Keswick highstreet with the supporting crowds.
Day 1 Whitehaven to Keswick 7hrs23mins 40miles ^5413 v5164'. A solid start only wishing we got the second transition right. With all things going for us we could of saved at least a half hour.
A relaxing evening with Gill cooking up some lovely pasta. I then had to leave them all to set up my tent. Both Jake and Ben were sleeping in their vans (I either need to buy a van or stay in B&B's from now on when I am out with them) and Gill just had a small pop up tent, which goes anywhere. I have to say that out of all 4 days this was the most knackering for me. I felt drained and only wanted my bed but we had to hang around for an age for the 9pm race briefing. After this I went to bed as it was up early for 3 consecutive stages for me.
Stage 6 Cycle to Thirlmere 5.56mi, 27min ^869 v446'
A 7.20am start and quick road cycle to the lake. Uneventful apart from one big hill.
Stage 7 Kayak Thirlmere 4mi, 46min (T:4mins)

From 2011 Coast to Coast

Wow, stunning scenery all around. An easy enjoyable kayak in the morning dew. Only incident here was Jake keeping hold of the dibber and so Ben having to run back up the slope to take it. Once we had finished the kayak it was a quick pull and carry through the boggy wetlands to the end of the stage.
Stage 8 Climb Helvellyn 8.5mi, 2hrs ^3100,v3100' (T:9mins. Lost 5mins)
Awesome section. A longer transition as we had to change into dry cloths for one of the tougher stages. The climb started near on immediately, steep and constant into the windy clouds of Helvellyn. At the top visibility was poor and we missed the cairn and so descended the wrong way for a 1/4mile. We made our way back up begrudgingly and descended down swirral edge. This was fast, exciting and non-stop to the end. My day was done and a deserved rest after 6 straight legs.
Stage 9 Kayak Ullswater 8mi, 1hr32mins (T:4mins)
The last and longest kayak and it was a great oar from the boys. And a deserved platter of goodies awaited them. What foods to have out is a difficult choice as on these races your appetite can change all the time. So rather than just leaving out a biscuit or banana etc it's always best to leave a big selection. On the table here we had Ham and Cheese rolls, Pot Noodles, a selection of cheeses, crisps, tomatoes, biscuits, pepperoni, coke, tea. The bonus here is that they don’t have time to eat most of it and so it’s left for me to polish off.
Stage 10 Cycle over Shap Fells 25mi, 2hrs29mins ^3400 ,v3100' (T:10mins. Lost 20mins)
What was looking like a great ride from the guys but unfortunately took a poor track over great Ashby scar, which put the breaks on their time. We ended the day in Kirkby Stephen high street and made our way to set up camp in the local school. That night we ate out to save us cooking yet more pasta. Again after the 9pm debrief everyone made quick exits to bed. Tomorrow was an earlier start of 7am.
Day 2 Keswick to Kirkby Stephen 51miles, 7hrs49mins, ^6500 ,v6100' A better day for me, just overall more enjoyable and I didn't feel beat up at the end of the day. Think the others were tired though.
Stage 11 Run over Nine Standards Rigg 11.5mi, 2hr37min ^2014,v1424' (Lost 10mins)
Another great run - hilly, muddy and boggy and great views all around. Ben aggravated his knee so had to take it easy on the way down from the top. Also took a minor wrong turn and so lost a few minutes, worse was that we had to climb back up a steep hill to regain the missed path.
Stage 12 MTB along Swaledale 15.5mi, 1hr51min ^2000 v2250' (T:3mins)
After a quick half pastie, it was on the bikes. This was a superb mtn section. Some tough hills but with great descents. Although I am still a little nervous on the steep rocky descents - I continually feel as though I will fall over. My ribs still hurt from crashing 3 weeks ago are a constant reminder of how easy it is for me to fall. I think I will bin my Spds technical sections in future. Lost time with Jake helping out a fellow competitor with a puncture. All in the good spirit of the event. The finish was at the spectacular Castle Bolton and a smooth transition - we were starting to get better at these - saw the guys fly out.

From 2011 Coast to Coast

Stage 13 Cycle through Vale of York 28mi, 1hr29min ^1000 v1750' (T:2min)
The boys were thrilled with their ride. Minutes away from the top elites and this was on mtn bikes and not highly specialised cross bikes. Take a bow. This awesome ride gave us a sniff that we could win our category tomorrow, we were now only 15mins down after being over half hour at the start of the day. Finishing in Northallerton town centre parking was hard so I just did a pick up and run with the guys and the bikes as we were staying at the leisure centre a mile away.
We ate out again that night in which I had a 3 course meal so that I wasn't lacking any calories for tomorrow’s final day.
Day 3 - Kirkby Stephen to Northallerton 54miles, 6hrs, ^5000 v5500'
From 2011 Coast to Coast
Stage 14 Cycle through Vale of York 10.5mi, 41mins ^984,v860'
Easy morning ride to get the legs going after 3 hard days racing and another early rise for a start time at 6.32am.
Stage 15 Run over Carlton Bank 9mi, 1hr42min ^2100 v1950' (T:2min)
Jake took over running duties with Bens knee not 100percent. And for a person who didn’t want to do any running he sure did start out quick and didn’t let his pace slacken at all through the stage, especially as I was trying to take it easy as I was dreading the next mtn bike section.
Stage 16 MTB across North York Moors 19mi, 2hrs9min ^2000 v2000' (T:3min. Lost 25mins)
I was not looking forward to this ride. I expected a lot of tough hills and unnerving descents. thankfully there were very few. Hard hills but all extremely enjoyable and with this being my final leg I pushed my legs hard to stay with Ben. It was all going to well, overtaking teams and being in a fine place for biking. We then went to far down a road and then choose a poor route over the moors. this cost us twofold in that it took us to the top of the hill (could of been avoided) and then the path disintegrated into a bog and so was unridable. It took an age to regain a decent path by which time most of the riders we had overtaken were now back in front. So valuable time lost and realisation that we wouldn’t win our category. The end of the ride was all downhill, fast and fun. A good way to finish my work.
Stage 17 Cycle along Esk Valley 14mi, 1hr11min ^1400 v1250' (T:27secs. Lost 10mins)
Final leg. Ben and Jake are fast but not enough to catch any of the teams above us and by missing a turn added distance and time to their journey. Once they did arrive we all donned shoes and sprinted to short distance to the finish in Robin Hoods bay. An exhilarating finish in a breathtaking location with great support from all around.
Day 4 - Northallerton to Robin Hoods Bay 53miles, 5hr51min ^6400 v6400'.
My post analysis/lessons learnt.
We did well there is no doubting that. For a team put together and meeting up at the last minute organisation and pre planning would always be inadequate and proved a major factor in losing time and frustrating us all. All in all with what we had I'd say we could of been 2 hours quicker if things went for us on the days. As for the disciplines, I was heading into the unknown, untried and untested. In hindsight now (and for future races) and to give us a better competitive edge I would for the kayak - use a lighter fibre glass one and we wont be far off the elites. Running - hill training hill training hill training (hard when you live in Hampshire). Mtn Bike, get more confident on faster descents. Road bike - boys smashed this but get road tyres, could and would overtake the elites. Navigation - more pre planning, lost a load of time on missing turns and using wrong paths, local knowledge was a massive benefit for a lot of people. Transitions, probably our worst discipline - could of and should of been an hour better. Again better organisation on getting the right foods and equipment ready to get us out the blocks fast and not to be late at any CP.
Still it was an unknown race style with a new group of people so all in all plenty to improve upon, which is also a pleasing factor but, what a great experience and superbly run by Open adventure. I race with Jake and we work well together but it was a pleasure to race with Ben, very motivated and a great person to be out in the hills with, totally dependable. And Gill, who crewed for us. Always a word to keep us going. Like a drill sargeant she keep us on our toes and never slacking off. Thanks for the help and support you gave us all during this race.
We just missed out on the prizes this year but I would like to give out some in-house prizes:
Jake = best beard.
Ben = best puke.
Gill = best socializer.
Andy = best moaner.
Adventure racing allows you to train hard in a multitude of disciplines and then complete against great athletes, professional teams, likeminded teams, yourself both physically and mentally. To sum up it is intensely satisfying. Next years event is a non-stop 4 dayer in Scotland. Sign me up.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Training weekend in North Wales

With less than a month to go to our 4 day Coast to Coast adventure race, we thought we would get ourselves to North Wales for a few days training. So finishing work and flying up the busy motorways we managed to get to Idwal Cottage for around 4pm. The weather was perfectly stunning and we kept the plan easy of just doing some easy climbing on Idwal slabs to get back in the grove of rock climbing - it's been a while. And so we ticked off Hope (VD 450ft), Lazarus (HS 150ft) and Grove Above (S 100ft). 3 Superb climbs each above each other and so we finished 700ft above the valley floor enjoying the beautiful summers evening (shame the midges could enjoy our company this high up).
Enchainment Day (Travelled over 10km with 1400m of ascent and descent)
We awoke to a grey morning but were excited about the day’s big plan. An enchainment of the Glyders, linking in 3 or 4 climbs on different peaks. We headed up into the Devils Kitchen and scrambled up Idwal Buttress (D 300ft) and then traversed over to the base of Glyder Fawr as the wind and rain started to pick up. With some interesting greasy pitches we topped out from climbing Central Arete (VD 650ft) and found a small cave to shelter from the driving rain whilst having our lunch. Getting cold we made our way down Y Gribin undecided on what to do and jumping from choice to choice - keep climbing, go biking, maybe running or just go home. At the bottom the weather cleared significantly for us to take the gallant approach and carry on climbing we were ,after all, in the midst of the mountains. We deferred on climbing a route on Glyder Fach and moved over to the east face of Tryfan where Grooved Arete awaited us. I have wanted this climb since I had started climbing years ago and Dave would bring me up to Wales time and time again and with an endless list of reasons we never got around to climbing it. And so, each time I now visit Wales it’s at the forefront of my mind. With the weather brightening things were looking hopeful. That’s when Dr 'Jinx' Jake piped in that he would be doing this climb on his very first attempt. Thanks Jake. We found the heather terrace and the heavens opened up. We huddled up in another cave and had another lunch but it soon became apparent that things weren't changing soon and so we descended. On getting to the bottom the weather gods gave us one last dilemma and with Milestone Buttress right there in front of us we decided to have a go at another climb, Direct Route (VD 200ft). I started the first pitch not feeling it. I liked the climbing but constantly thought I was going to slip on the smooth polished limestone, which didn't sit well in my mind. Most of the way up the pitch the first drops of rain started to fall and that was my ticket to get the hell of this crag. And as Jake was belaying me off the rain hurtled down and kept us company all the way back to the hostel. It also kept me up and wet all night in my soaked tent (hmm another route I will have to complete one of these days).
Coed Brenin (Biked/Ran 40+km)
Wet and tired we awoke to another dreary day in the mountains and headed south for some biking. This wet weather won’t hinder us riding, I so wrongly assumed. Within 2 minutes of starting on the trails I had fallen over twice and by wearing Spds (clip ins) and not releasing quick enough I took a couple of hard knocks. We did a short circuit and returned to change to normal pedals. I was not liking the wet terrain and being stuck in the pedals, which I had, only used a couple of times previous. We hit the next trail a 20km black. My mood was downbeat and I was still massaging my confidence, so it was hard going in mind and body. I took a couple of half falls, one of which raked the back of my calf and put me in a fouler mood. Nearing the end I bumped down a steep and as per usual I just couldn’t seem to turn the handle bars the way I wanted and I careered straight into a boulder and tumbled head first. Initially I was just peeved of but, then was concerned with my arm but it was just cut up. It was the knock to my chest, which would be the most hindering and still today, days later I struggle to breath fully and get a good nights sleep in. So with battered confidence I took the short cut home while Jake continued his ride. Which he was loving. Back at base I reflected and decided it stupid to get back on the bike after lunch. It seemed I was just getting myself into accidents no matter how I rode. This I could ill afford with me dependent on being able bodied to work. A good plan was hatched in that Jake could continue to ride and I would run the trail. We took on another 20km black, MBR. With things brightening up we both enjoyed the trail. Good things couldn't last though and at one point I took a short cut, which turned out to be a bad choice. An old track I followed soon disappeared, so I headed directly up the very steep forest embankment. When I popped out of the woods thick brambles and thorn bushes confronted me. I waded my way up through this never ending bush cutting experience and finally came upon a track and feeling hacked off I powered my broken body home. The only things I can take from this day is that it was one of Jakes best - so at least someone enjoyed themselves and I can put it into that character building bracket.
Taking the long way home that evening turned out to be a refreshing end to the day. Sat in the evening sun on a bar terrace in Abersoch listening to live music from a guy singing acoustic feel good tunes.
Half Enchainment (Travelled 6.5km with 600m+ of ascent/descent)
After a nice dry nights sleep in the hostel, which was damn good. What was bad was being in a room full of snorers. Still it beat being in the wet tent with sore ribs, arms etc etc. It was a familiar day. It sucked. Grey and threatening to chuck it down at any time. So our plan of a long day on Amphitheatre buttress in the Carnedds was scraped and we decided to stick fairly close and to do easy climbing. So back up Cwm Idwal to find the start of Sub Cniefion (VD 300ft) and get that deju vu feeling of arriving at the foot of the climb and it begins to pour down. Undeterred, I sent Jake up for what was a great lead in awful conditions. I was soaked and frozen by the time he finished. No, I am not having a go at how slow he went, just to point out what the climbing was from my perspective (just do it quicker next time Jake). My lead was an easy zig zag who’s only difficultly was the rope drag I had to contend with. When Jake joined me we could not fathom where the route went and so he went straight up the face. Another good lead but again I was pretty cold by the time I started and within a few metres I could see where the original route went off to the right. Oh well, a first ascent for Jake. On finishing this climb we headed up the Cwm in ever worsening conditions. At one point I questioned where we were but in negligible visibility it was hard to pin point our position. A gust of wind faintly showed the outline of Cniefion arete (M 400ft). Jake again lead (in trainers, climbing shoes seemed pointless by now) in what can only be described as a heavy downpour. It was a good easy short pitch and I followed up an enjoyable chimney pitch. After this, to quicken things up as we were getting a little tired of the wind and rain, we simu climbed the remainder of the route.
Again the weather brightened in the evening all to late to dry our soddened gear. But our training weekend was over it was time to get back to work. Something I was pleased about, as I do not think my body would be able to do much more. R&R until I am able to breath more easily.
With the usual poor weather in Wales I think we were able to at least get out each day and cover a lot of terrain, do some different disciplines and be out for long days. So it was not wasted, as we are now a little more ready for the Coast to Coast at the end of the month.