2nd Time Around

Haglofs Open5 – Peak District

A chilly start to the day and the last in this year’s Open5 series. The start was in the picturesque village of Alstonefield, somewhere between Ashbourne, on the southern edge of the Peak District and Buxton. It’s actually in Staffordshire and not Derbyshire as I thought.

By the time I arrived, just after 8:30, the car park was already busy and filling up fast. With transition in the same field as parking as well as the catering van and the sun shining overhead the day was looking great. With a big mug of tea and water for the day bought from said catering van it was off to Registration to see what delights had been cooked up for us for the rest of the day.
Registration found and signed in, SI Card attached and the first look at the map. It looks daunting, the Peak District isn’t a high up as the Lake District but by the look of those contour lines it more than makes up for it in steepness and there’s lots of “steepnessess”! Back to the car and set the bike up properly. After a glimpse at the map I’ve stuck with the decision to run first and by the look of the bike route there’s quite bit of road and hard track in the form of the old railway line and what with the dry weather, those tyres need pumping!.

There’s a huge mixture of anticipation and panic and doubt at this point in the proceedings. You have the map and begin to know the terrain but only from a theoretical point of view, you haven’t yet experienced it. Nor have you the complete information required, you don’t know where the dud controls are! the pointless ones, the ones that can make or break your route planning. Then there’s the weather but at least this time, unlike many of the events this year, the weather is set to be “kind”.

Right, last minute checks, gloves, skid-lid, food, drink, shoes (i’d opted for SPD’s this time) all stashed in transition beside the bike. Better be off then. “any last minute questions? asks the Start Marshal, nope, gimmie the control list! let’s go! Bollocks! It might be my imagination or my determination to do better this time but the “duds” seem more significant this time around and really muck up my proposed south westerly leg on the run.

Now I’m off and tracking, that first few moments trying to make you have the lie of the land and are on the right track. Two other runners going my way and we start to run as a small group. Big mistake! we end up off track and almost half a mile re-route to the first control.

Lesson 2: Follow your own navigation not someone else!

The next few controls are off to the left of an obvious road / track and necessitated an out and back approach. One, two, where’s the third? I’d run past it and lost 5 or more mins in the process. It’s not the time in the end, that kind of loss isn’t going to affect my overall score but the loss of confidence hits home. The last control on my list is on the roadside at the bottom of the long hill back up to transition from the river. That hill was hard in the heat and my platypus is empty and legs showing the first signs of cramp, back in transition almost 15 mins over plan.

No hanging about this time, change shoes, food and top up the platypus with juice and electrolytes in a hope to stave off the cramp. Another look at the map and plan, this time I have to do better, last time the bike leg was a bit of a poor show. Well I started well enough but I crashed, not once but twice. The first time coming to a stop at a gate going to CP18. That dry-stone wall was hard!. The pair behind me check that I’m OK and speed off into the distance. The second time was out of sight from anyone and that’s a plus because the rock I tripped over was tiny! Up and onwards, by the time I reached the railway line and heading towards CP14 the cramp was back, with a vengeance!

The next few controls are all along the railway, the hard packed track easy going and fast.

The crowds of people walking and riding, sympathetic to we competitors some cheering and shouting words of encouragement. The cramp is really getting to me now and I abandon hope of CP3 and 4 and 50 odd points and set off back up the hill to the finish. It’s a long way back, that’s it I’m done, done in.

So another one done, harder than the last one, more points than the last one (could do better), better weather, more friends, more fun, more to do next time but there will be a next time!

Thanks to James Kirby for some of the photos.

Haglofs Open5 Adventure Race

North Pennines – Warcop Army Training Centre


I’ve been looking at the Open Adventure web pages on Facebook and elsewhere for more than a year now, thinking “If only I was fit enough”, or “can I persuade A.N.Other to do that with me”. In the end I took fate at its face value and signed up a week ago for the latest event the “North Pennines”; ordered a Mountain Bike and prayed for some good weather.


The Sky Today

With all the fear and panic in the press over the British Weather, including Heathrow cancelling 50% of all flights during Saturday (4th Feb 2012) for the following day. With the falling snow and icy conditions on the East of the Pennines, there was more than a little concern over my ability to get to the event. 6 am on Sunday and there’s still lying snow on the main roads at home. In the end the trip to Warcop was uneventful. The snow all but disappeared by the time I’d got to Hexham on the A69 but the fog closed in and renewed my anxiety until we reached the M6 at Carlisle whereupon the sky lit up a gorgeous shade of pink. This could be a good day…

By the time we get to Penrith and turn off on the A66 there’s obvious fellow competitors in the traffic, mountain bikes strapped to the back / roof of the car a dead giveaway.


Gear Prep in Transition

Once passed the gatehouse, (the complexities of security and car park passes was nowhere near as bad as was anticipated) parked up and then on to check-in. Signed in, SportIdent tag attached to right wrist, maps acquired, now the planning starts.

For those of you who don’t know the Open5 Series, the map you are given at this stage is double-sided, on one side a 1:50,000 OS map of the MTB section with all the Control Points marked. On the other side there’s a 1:25,000 OS map of the RUN section, again with all the control points (CP) printed. However at this stage we’re not told of the value of the controls or which ones are ‘fake’ or ‘non-existent’, we only get that information at the start and after the clock starts ticking. So planning is virtual, with best guesses and contingencies held in memory waiting for the final seconds before the off.

Lesson 1

Transition isn’t the warm organised place just beside the car, it may be a bike ride away so the big box you planned to stash all your kit is bugger all use. Get a Waterproof hold all or sturdy DryBag that you can carry on the bike with ease and ride with.

Now with all that nervousness and complexity in my head there’s the Start come Transition to get to, some 20 mins cycle ride and a cave dive away over the other side of the A66. It’s now of course I remember that I’ve left my wellies by the back door at home and the thought of wet and cold feet just adds to my anxiety. I’m not good at the start of any race, stage fright seems to gobble up all my glycogen and this is infinitely worse that anything that’s gone before, so much to organise. But the organisation, re-packing of kit for Transition, route planning, topping up on food, actually seems to help and takes my mind off things. The Cave Dive is as bad as expected, the feeble attempt to protect my feet with supermarket carrier bags fails completely and I have wet and very cold feet before even getting to Transition.

The Start/Trans is indeed 20 mins away and up a steep hill, with all the gear and the bike it is truly a warm up. I convince myself that’s GOOD. Final prep, change of socks and running shoes, coffee, yet another look at the map, yes run first, 2hrs then back for the bike. Last photo before packing the iPhone away in the rucksack.

Start, quick re-cap on rules and so on from the ever helpful marshalls, who hands me the CP list. Good my guesses on the NO-CONTROLS are pretty much spot on; the revision of past events has paid off. I mark the CP values on the map with what I believe to be indelible OHP marker, remember those? It’s not, they smudge but I have a plan and am sticking to it. Now I’m off and running and its starting to feel OK.


I’ve picked my route around what could be considered as the inner loop of CPs on the RUN which dives in and out of the live firing range which is definitely OOB. This route has several plusses I thought, some fairly high scoring CPs and a couple of contingent extras should time be on my side towards the end. It also kept off of the high tops, I doubted I would manage those and still have anything left for the MTB section. The advice beforehand from anyone I spoke to was “don’t be greedy, and don’t be late”.

If you pardon the mixed metaphor, there’s a hell of a buzz when the dibber goes BEEP for the first time. The feeling of success, no matter how small at this stage, is a very positive one, yes I CAN do this. In fact as each CP is logged that BEEP gets better all the time. Even the slip sliding run walk up the icy slope(s) seems like fun, but damn it hurts.

Keep to the path!

The downhill run from 37 to 29 past the “Beware Unexploded Ordnance” signs is over what seems more like a fallen drystone wall rather than a track and it takes a lot of concentration to keep the speed up. As I approach 29 on the track proper a fellow competitor, approaching in the opposite direction, shouts out a warning of “sheet ice at the next control”. 45 seconds later I’m flat on my back, sheet ice indeed, I didn’t have a chance. I’m not sure if my pack absorbed some of the shock but I’ve still got pulled neck muscles and a sore head 3 days later. I did my share of warning shouts as I passed others by. I hope you all fared better than I did. There is a great deal of camaraderie amongst competitors, well at least in the lower ranks, as exemplified by the hurried advice given to me at the crossroads, “go grab CP30, it’s only a few minutes down there”. To be fair it was on my list but the fall earlier had shaken me an I’d probably have gone past it on my way back to Transition. Then it’s a long pull back up the hill, collecting the last RUN CP 27 and I am indeed back at Transition bang on my 2hr schedule.

All the elements

I do take the time to rest and grab food and something to drink. I’ve never done this transition thing before, certainly not in anger and the run-stop-cycle combination was the bit I was dreading the most. Well apart from the Mountain Bike that is! For the other thing is that I’ve never ridden a mountain bike off track except once about 2 days before; just after I took delivery of it! Now I have a road/cross-bike and have done many miles but all on road. When I took the new one out the previous day it became clear this was a very different experience. The tyres for one thing and the pedals; although I fitted a pair of SPDs I found getting off and on in the deep muddy places way too scary and thus swapped them back for the big flatties it came with, for the race itself. I could probably handle falling off in the snow but I’d rather not be fixed to the machine while I did it.

15 mins. in Transition then I’m off taking the lower loop, mostly on road to the four highest scoring MTB controls. I knew it was going to be hard but bloddy hell getting up to CP12 was a killer. I had to push the last few metres up to the control itself. Coming down really showed my lack of experience for what it was, dreadful. While I’d seen others pedal down at speed. I crawled brakes on and totally out of control. The remaining controls on that loop were just a matter of efficient navigation and grinding. Then a pull back up past the start gate an on to see if I could pick up more points on the upper section of the map. I get to CP4 but by them I’m shattered and my feet are so cold I can’t feel them, I call it a day and finally clock into the finish 4 hours after I left it.

So lots of lessons learned, not just about kit and planning but the fact that this is hard work but fun and rewarding. That the event is friendly and the format means it’s only as competitive as you want to make it. Would I do it again? Hell yes! I’ve booked a place on the appropriately timed Peak District event, the last one in the series on the 1st April!

There’s loads of photos of the event by James Kirby on Open Adventure’s Facebook Pages and North Pennines Open5 results are there.

The new mountain bike


The New Mountain Bike

This is the new bike, a Pinnacle Iroko One from Evans Cycles on it’s maiden shakedown ride just 2 days before the event.

Northumberland Coastal Run

Beadnell Beach

Entries are now open for the Alnwick Harrier’s Northumberland Coastal Run. I missed it last year, missed getting an entry and then booked a holiday at the same time. Missed it too because of the goal / milestone it represents and thus my training lacked some objectives. So this year I’ve ‘booked early’. Get your entry in soon, last year they sold out very quickly. Book your entry for the Northumberland Coastal Run.