It was the first weekend in January and I had managed to sign my self up to my first adventure race as a solo competitor under the great “team” name of “Billy No Mates”. This was thanks to my brother’s kind contribution on what my team name should be over the Christmas period. The race is part of the Haglof Open 5 series which take place across the country. This one was being held in Crowcombe, Taunton in and around the Quantocks. If you like the sound of the race check out the other races in the series.
After a very early start of 5am, marginally helped by a fresh bacon bap we were on our way to Crowcombe. I say we, because somehow I had managed to convince my girlfriend to drive me down, watch me (even though it would turn out to be only possible at the start and finish only) and then drive me back. After a bit of a drive with radio 1s standard role call programme, where people text in with what they are up to, we arrived there to a view of lycra, buffs (kind of like scarf but can be made into everything from hats to a neck warmer) and lots of mountain bikes.
I registered, collected all the info including the map with all the points marked on and bumped into a mate from the marathon des sables and his team mate. After a quick chat it was definitely time to get ready, rather quickly as I suddenly realised I still had to put my bike together. According to the map it was only a short walk and cycle to the start line which turned out to be up a pretty steep hill that saw most people jumping off their bikes just to reach the top. I was hoping that the whole course was not going to be up and down hills this steep.
Now the race format for the day was a 5 hour cut off where you had to go between points a bit like orienteering and with no set route on a mountain bike and on foot. You had to select which one you did first and could only change once, choose a route, go to as many of the checkpoints that you wanted to go to and then switch to the other discipline and do the same all over again but to different checkpoints. Each checkpoint carries a different number of points, so the person with the most points at the end of the day wins. In principle it is all straight forward, there are the points on the map, a plan and me raring to go. However I was to find that it doesn’t always go to plan.
I decided to run first, I reached the start line, was told that some points didn’t actually exist, put my timing dibber in the machine and checked the map. I thought that I would mark on the map which points I should do and more importantly couldn’t do as they weren’t there, but found I had forgotten my pen, so instead I started running.
The race was on! It was quite hard going, not running wise or at least not yet but more keeping pace with where I was on the map. I overshot the first point. Not a great start but I decided to keep going as I could get it on the way back.
This was possibly a sign of things to come.
After continuing I managed to pick up a number of points, the day was dry with the cloud level above the hills and my legs felt good. After dropping down into a valley to grab a checkpoint and making my way through a rather smelly and boggy bit of ground I grabbed my second furthest point. I decided a bit of food was required and so walked up a slope while having some munch while planning my next move. Adventure racing I was finding more and more isn’t all physical but mental and strategic. My plan was to drop down to a series of points and do a loop back towards the start to switch to my mountain bike. I planned the route quickly from where I reckoned I was and started. Whilst heading down another wet and muddy track I began checking the map. The more I checked the more the map, the direction I was heading and the landscape didn’t match up. I was lost….
As time was of the essence I reckoned heading back to my last know point was the best decision and make a new plan. After making my way back towards what I thought was the main route back to the start I continued on my way with the plan of heading down to some different points on the way back. Even this proved challenging as the paths of the Quantocks marked and unmarked criss crossed along my route. I needed some different points of reference but unfortunately the cloud levels had dropped, preventing me from getting my bearings. Fortunately I bumped into some of the mountain bikers and then a fellow runner who kindly pointed me in the right direction. I ended up reaching the points I wanted almost by mistake, it just took a whole lot longer to reach them than planned. After grabbing a couple more points including having to run past numerous duke of Edinburgh looking expeditions and running through several large patches of gorse bushes I made it back to the finish. My legs by this time felt pretty knackered, I had spent far too long running at around 3 of the 5 hours but I was looking forward to some speed on the bike.
A quick bite of soreen, banana and topped up on water and I was on my way. I dibbed in with the timer, started checking the map more thoroughly and mentally kicked myself for not doing so whilst eating. I decided on a bit of a loop which wouldn’t get all the points but took me over ground I thought I would recognise from the run before ticking off some higher points that were near to the finish. It felt great being on my bike, the wind was blowing against my face, splashing through muddy puddles and generally having a laugh. I picked up the first point pretty quickly before heading to the second. On glancing at the map it looked like it was slightly down a path, however I was flying down this path for what seemed like ages and nearly shot past the checkpoint. At which point I realised that the reason why there were hardly any tracks to this checkpoint was that no one wanted to come to it as it was in the middle of nowhere and down a long a steep track. I slowly made my way back up the hill reach the top and planned a route that would take in a couple of the further points before heading back to the finish and collecting some of the higher points along the way. There wasn’t much time left so I decided to crank the pace up a bit and was flying down the track, or at least it felt like it compared to running. I had a nagging feeling that the way I was going wasn’t quite right. After checking, then rechecking the map I decided I had spent too much time on it and wasn’t 100% sure I could get the point and make it back to claim some of the bigger points. My plan was to head back towards the finish and try and do a sort of spiders web from it, so not straying too far so that I shouldn’t get a time penalty from being late but still able to pick up some more points.
With a new plan and the clock ticking I headed for a point in some trees, the mud was super thick and with tired legs it was pretty challenging keeping the bike in the tracks. This resulted in a couple of minor bails and yet more scratches and bruises down my shins. Reaching the checkpoint I made my way towards another point, now I am still not really sure how it happened but I think in my haste to get to the next point I didn’t go quite far enough and went up the wrong path. This resulted in missing the checkpoint completely, a rather convoluted route back to the finish, passing through a fort (I found this out afterwards), before having to pedal like crazy to get back to the finish. I must of looked a strange sight to some people driving past in cars, caked in mud, bloody shins (small cuts always seem to bleed more than they should) and a grimace on my face. I almost shot into the finish line, after being told that I need to get off my bike to finish, and dibbed my timer in. I was late....
After chatting to some of the other races that I knew I made my way back towards to car, for a bit of a hot drink and I managed to find a tub of flapjack waiting for the competitors. I was knackered, elated and pretty happy with the days performance, I hadn’t got completely lost even though I found out I spent almost 2 hours being lost but I had completed it. I also learnt a shed load and I’m sure it was only beginner lessons!
Time for the drive back.
Have you got stories of being lost? Whether it is on the way to an interview, a little walk or some other story let us know.
For those interested in what I would do differently here we go.
- I would have carried a pen so I could cross off all the points that weren’t there or that I had done makes it a bit simpler, maybe even have marked a route that I could follow.
- Checked right at the start which was worth more biking or running, turned out biking was worth far more. So would have spent longer on the bike and less running.
- Spent longer checking my progress on the map and hopefully as a result less time getting lost.
All pretty simple things but the best plans are almost always the simplest.