Friday, October 7, 2011

Getting adventurous

Something a little different - a Questars three-discipline adventure race weekend, comprising kayaking, trail running and mountain biking. I took part in this along with Clare and Rosie (as Tri-Girls Cubed), and Trish, Debbie and Debbie's friend Birgit (as Adventure Girls), making up two teams of three in the Novice Ladies category. The overall event consists of a number of rounds combining kayak, run and/or bike with a few other activities. In each round you have a map and notes for number of checkpoints for each activity; CPs have a points value attached and you 'dib' an electronic widget to get the points. The route and the number of CPs you do are totally up to you, but there's a bonus for completing a colour set and a penalty for coming back late.

The weekend went like this:

Friday evening: arrived and set up camp. The campsite (ok, field - this was not glamping!) was gently buzzing and the friendly atmosphere was one of the things that really made the whole weekend. Clare, Trish and I got our tents up in the dark, tucked into nachos (pre-race fuel of champions) from the catering tent, enjoyed a fabulous view of the stars in the absence of light pollution, and then retreated for the night as the cold and damp drew in. Well, Trish retreated to her four solid walls at home, while Clare and I toughed it out under canvas...

Saturday morning: a dewy and misty start (and early, with trains whooshing past from 0630), but the temperature soon rose as the sun appeared just in time for breakfast. Our team mates arrived and we prepped the bikes and enjoyed the campsite banter before heading off for the race briefing - thankfully pretty comprehensive, which allayed some of our novice nerves. An hour later it was time for round 1: up to 50 minutes' kayak, followed by running to make a total time allocation of 200 minutes. Paddling straight in a two-person kayak was the most difficult of the weekend's activities, and must have provided much entertainment for those watching. Still, we got a few CPs, returned the kayak on time, and headed out on the run. By now (~11am) the sun was blazing but thankfully the trails included many shady forest paths. We completed about 7 miles of running plus the teambuilding type activity (a compulsory check-in, even if you chose not to complete it) to finish in around 150 minutes - strategic thinking having suggested that finishing early and saving our legs for the bike was better than breaking our necks to try and get to and from just one more CP. Our score of 185 put us in third place for our class, with Adventure Girls ahead on 195.

After a couple of hours' break and it was on to round 2, a 150 minute mountain bike course with the challenge activity being a sample of the High Lodge orienteering course. We found this tough going after a morning on foot, but with 40 points on offer (as much as the highest-value CP) for a couple of miles, we decided to go for it at the start of the round. After that we clocked up around 13 miles on the bike trails around Brandon Country Park, and a rather nice fast stretch of the High Lodge exit road, pausing to help out when we stumbled over Trish dealing with a puncture, but clocking up 190 points to come top of our class in that event.

Another change of kit, some dinner (curry was on offer from the caterers, not ideal but it was that or nachos again!), and round 3 saw a night trail run of up to 75 minutes and the surreal experience of scampering around the forest with a bunch of other people wearing head torches. Feeling pretty weary by now, and mindful of the big final round in the morning, we took it easy and stayed close to home while the Adventure Girls ventured a little further and picked up 20 more points. We weren't the only ones run-walking, with some people obviously limping or otherwise suffering a bit. I managed to twist my ankle on an uneven track, and Clare's knee was also becoming painful, but we both held up well to complete the round and pick up 15 bonus points for coming in under 60 minutes. We sat around for a little while to wind down, but again it was getting chilly so we called it a night pretty early.

Sunday's round was all three disciplines, 240 minutes for novices, with a fixed 60 minute slot for the kayak and then the split between run and bike up to each team. With a couple of injuries between us and some impressive blisters that I seemed to develop overnight, Tri-Girls opted to play to our strengths and maximise bike time.We still had to hit one run CP to avoid a 100-point penalty, but with one about half a mile from transition that requirement was taken care of quickly to leave us three hours for the bike and the challenge activity (a brain teaser this time). We followed our previous successful strategy of heading for the distant, high-value CPs and covered around 18 miles in total, with just one "where the hell is it?" moment and one particularly slow trudge up a tortuous sandy hill (Harling Drove, which some may remember as the old off-road section of RNR stage 13). We came in with 15 minutes to spare and 335 points gained, second in our class just ahead of Aventure Girls with 300. We celebrated our finish with a dip in the river (some dipping more than others...)

All told, we amassed 800 points in just over 9:30 total time, coming second in Novice Ladies, with Adventure Girls hot on our heels in third, getting 753 points in 10:30. Nice job, ladies!

Overall verdict: absolutely fantastic! Of course, the incredible weather helped, and I'm not sure what I'd be saying if it had been pouring all weekend, but we had the most amazing time. We came home tired, sore, sunburned, blistered and bruised but with very big grins! The best thing was that the whole weekend was really friendly with lots of hellos and smiles when you passed other competitors on the trails, and a good buzz to the campsite. The team aspect was also a nice contrast to the often solitary nature of triathlons.

The season's over now, but I would really recommend these races to anyone looking for something different for next year. Entries open soon, and you can enter solo as well as in a team of 2, 3 or 4, and you can do a Duo event if you don't want to kayak. This particular one's right on our doorstep (and uncovers some glorious bits of Thetford forest to boot), but there are others, mostly down south, and including one-day events as well as weekends. The challenge is pitched just right so that you can push yourself a bit whatever fitness/experience level you start from - it needs a bit of thought and strategy as well as speed and endurance, and of course you can have your own little competition going if you're with friends! Here's hoping for more next year...