Adidas Terrex Adventure Race (Forming part of the AR World Series) 26-30th Aug – English Lakes
How do I start my account for an event of this duration, before I present the gritty details, the headlines are: gutted not to have finished as a team, but I want to do another for sure!!!
So imagine a 3 year old scribbling on a map of Cumbria – that would be the route that this race took, it just kept coming and coming – to me it was as much a team journey as an out and out race and it was brilliant all the way (almost)! The Haglofs team consisted of Mick Kenyon (a Settle Harrier) Karen MacDonald (seasoned racer bird) and Paul Vousden (the Haglofs guy and our captain) and myself.
32 teams of 4 entered, so not a huge amount for a race forming part of a world series, the trouble is that not too many folk do this sort of stuff – especially girls (there had to be at least one female in each team). These races are ‘team’ events, so it is key for success to look after each other – especially the girl! our team (Haglofs) had perfect team dynamics, this was evident in the race as there were no quarrels or fall outs, maybe the odd bit of sarcasm now and then.
So the race… basically it is a 400km linear route comprising (wait for it!) 265km Mtb, 100km running, 65km kayaking, with a whole host of other tasty little Special Stages chucked in, such as ghyll descents, abseils, scrambles and orienteering. The competitors do not need to visit every checkpoint, but for the ones they miss a time penalty added to the total time (penalties 60min – 210min depending on the location of the CP). The race started at 07:00 Fri and teams had to be back at the finish in Keswick, by 12:00 Mon, choosing to sleep as little or as much as they liked, wherever they could find – it was basically non-stop 77hrs of racing.
It started with a 25km run across Morecambe bay, so apart from Karen who does not do ‘flat’ running we all liked this, or at least the first half – with the views to the fells and lovely blue skies, (it seemed strange after 10km into the race, after about 1hr on the go, thinking only 76hrs to go). The novelty of the beach soon wore off with sand filled shoes and lots of gloopy mud around Humphrey Head where the first CP was, this was not the perfect way to try to protect yourselves from the dreaded chaff (the ultra runners nemesis!). There was a nice transition in the lovely grounds of Holker Hall, we had to sit a time penalty here (this came from the prologue race the previous evening – time difference to winner x3 = 36min for us). The next section was an epic 80km Mtb which took us to Ravenglass and then back to Coniston, in the middle of this where a couple of special stages – an orienteer in Eskdale and Ghyll descent at Coniston. We did the orienteer, but it was a little slow as Karen could not run – indigestion problems! we left Eskdale after a quick pint (Coke) and toilet stop at the George Inn, this was as the sun set, to start the first of the big ‘bike hikes’ crossing Harter Fell (this was cruel of the route planner making us go over these un-cyclable routes! – we even had to carry the bikes down the hills!) …and then it was onto the dreaded Walna Scar, not much better under wheel and yet twice the height – imagine Penyghent but from sea level almost. Cycling down Walna at night was a pretty exciting (aka scary) experience, after having already had one ‘over-the-handle’ bars experience earlier in the day, I was perhaps a little timid, the rough did not bother Karen as she rode virtually all the way, but did get a puncture. The transition nr Brantwood eventually arrived in the early hours, here we took on lots of tea, coffee and butties ready for the kayak around Lake Coniston. We were all looking forward to this as we had trained hard for the kayaking sections, and we had some nice fast boats. The moon was bright and the lake totally flat, the kayaks had glow sticks on each end and so did the paddlers, so seeing these lights move around the water was a surreal experience, we passed a number of teams here and wanted to keep going round the lake, but a trek over to Windermere loomed and had to be done.
The trek started over rough ground south of Grizedale, we and a half dozen other teams had a dreadful job trying to locate a checkpoint here, a lesson learnt – some times better to take a longer route on paths than go for the shorter b-line – especially at night on feature-less moor (Alex had nav failure here!) With dawn of the second day on its way we decided to take a short sleep under trees in a pine forest as Paul and Karen were walking sideways and just falling into bushes, Mick and I found it comical entertainment. It is amazing what a 10min rest can do – but is no means ideal, we had some life back in our muscles and brains and made short work to the next stage. Next transition was at YMCA centre on Windermere again more tea and food and a 45min sleep in a tepee, this was so nice!!! By now it was Lakeland weather at its best, but it didn’t matter as we were on the water anyway, the kayak was a long down leg to the bottom end of the lake with a checkpoint just above the wear at Newby Bridge, so some good boat control required here, after that it was up to the other end, to where the river came in. I was paddling with Karen and she was spotting hippos and things at the edges, being tired does do some pretty mind bending things to you, but sometimes a waterlogged log can look like a hippo, we did not see any crocodiles just as well. The Windermere experience was now getting tedious – it was certainly not the Coniston experience of earlier, with steamers and skiers passing in all directions. Eventually after 4 long and wet hours we got out at the lovely Bowness, re-fuelled on some nice cheese-burgers and yet more coke, then we jumped on the ferry to cross the lake to start a short bike section to Langdale, nothing amazing to report here, but it was wet, we lost some time in Langdale as we had marked up an in-correct route on to the map.
The transition at Stickle Barn was done in steady style as we wanted to refuel for what was going to be a tough night stage. A lot of familiar ground here for me and others on the team, we had a small posse following us over the Langdale Race route from Pavey Ark to Angle Tarn, here we had a CP, the next one at Sprinkling Tarn, then the next at the base of Piers Ghyll, the rain came in thick here so it was time to done full body cover, night time had arrived also. Here we met the 2nd and 3rd placed teams who where still managing to do the full route, this was good for us as we where now on steep ground following a small climbers path up the edge of the Ghyll leading to the summit. The water below sounded deafening and there where some ‘badsteps’ to contend with, head torch beam just disappearing into the black! The next CP was 200m on the other side of the summit of Scafell Pike – it was wild up here by now. Still not being surprised at our own stupidity for being here, we where amazed to pass and help out a bunch of youths in shorts, trying to get to Wasdale Head (presumably the pub!) one was using a red bike light as his torch! We reached the summit cairn and had to hide behind it as the wind was horrendous, breaking down communication and making nav harder still. To get to our a checkpoint a puddle sized tarn not far from Mickledore we decided to go on a bearing, this proved impossible due to the rough boulders, preventing ‘straight-line’ track. We got stretched out here as I was wanting to keep sight of a team up ahead, meanwhile Mick at the back was suddenly having to deal with blurred vision, causing loss of depth perception. After what seemed an age we re-grouped and beat a retreat back to the summit cairn. A firm decision was made by Paul here – Get Mick off this mountain – Quickly as possible! So with this in mind we planned our route out – Esk Hause – Langdale, should take a couple of hours… trying to locate the path off the summit was difficult enough and I had brain fade on using the compass, I wanted a nominal NE but seemed to think it was SW, Paul backed me up here and after a bit of faffing we found a path cairn, it is surprising how hard the path was to follow in the wind and rain and cloud. It was real slow progress coming off. Once at the col for Broad Crag, we had to don the rest of our kit, we where getting seriously cold due to the slow progress – Mick had to walk by feel. About 45 min later we where on better (smoother) paths that lead to Esk Hause, Angle Tarn, Rosset Gill then down into Langdale. The path from Rossett to Langdale seemed to take forever and it was coming down here that I started to experience the falling to sleep while walking thing. We eventually reached the transition back at Langdale at about 02.30, it had taken over 4hrs to get here.
Once in Transition, the plan was to get drink, get warm, get sleep and get Mick’s eye checked. His eyes looked like they had been pocked, the medic washed them and said he needed to get a good rest. The transition was like a refugee camp, it was still raining hard and there was absolutely no dry floor-space anywhere, so Mick got put in the back of a van, we had to sleep outside in the bivvy. After 45min in the bivvy bag I woke up shivering, I tried to sleep again and got another 15min, but realised I puddle was forming beneath me. Slowly we all got out, Karen sneaked into the dry van with Mick, leaving Paul and I to sit in the transition, we where just milling around for 2-3hrs. I had to do stuff to stop me getting bored (and cold) so I oiled and checked the bikes and packed my rucksack ready for the next cycle stage, which was another biggy. Teams where still coming in off the mountain, reporting that they where almost hypothermic while waiting to do the abseil of Esk Buttress, the abseil was later stopped as the rope got frayed due to the lighter people getting blown around so much while descending. It looked like our slow retreat, was no slower and in most cases faster than a lot of the other teams, so a good decision! By 06:30 teams where waking ready to start the Mtb, by now I was sick to death of the transition and wanted to get the hell out – I needed some proper sleep too. Paul and I got the other 2 up and Mick had his eye cleaned again, it had green stuff coming out and still could not focus properly, the medic suggested a few options, but it wasn’t until the organisers sister (who works in an eye hospital) said he needed proper medical attention – so game over for Mick – very sad and tearful.
Paul, Karen and I set off a short time later or what seemed it and headed to Ambleside for coffee warmth and food. We found a café open (Apple Pie) and ordered plates of food. By this stage I had lost all my adrenaline and passion for the race, I told the other two I did not want to carry on. After eating breakfast (and spilling the first one on the floor- co-ordination problem!) we set off up the Struggle (the route proper went over Garburn and High Street), we decided to straight-line it as we where no longer competitive. The Struggle was a struggle!, it was also busy with bank holiday traffic. We cruised down into Patterdale and then cycled round the Lake to the next transition at Pooley Bridge. I pulled out here at the 53hr stage, we had 24hrs left and I just kept thinking no point in carrying on if we are going slowly and not in the race anyway, additionally I did no fancy another night mountain trek (although it would have been a lot easier than the previous nights). Paul also pulled out here. We had no passion to continue the race. In retrospect I am kicking myself for pulling out here. It was gutting for me the following day being at the finish line seeing all the other teams come in, we could have finished as a 3 albeit with a much reduced score. At the time pulling out seemed the right thing to do. No use deliberating it anymore.
Lots of things where learnt during this event, and I will write them down so I do not forget them. I certainly want to do another and have a lot more to give, we pooled our strengths and where possible I had Karen on the tow. The Haglof’s kit we had was excellent, especially my gilet and Oz jacket. I am now planning future events and hope to do well in the Rab MM, I aim to enter the Open 5 series and again, but essentially I want to do another expedition adventure race as soon as possible to settle the score! Also I blame Mick for getting me into this!!!!
Photo’s courtesy of John Allen / Open Adventure