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24hour Adventure Race July 2010

Open 24 Adventure Race 2010

How quickly things can change!
Just over a week before the Open 24 I was all ready to race with Jo Spivey, with a plan to take a more sociable approach to the race to build on endurance for the upcoming Terrex race. However, whilst training Jo picked up and injury and my plans quickly changed to finding a last minute replacement.
Call it fate, but at about the same time I received an email which ended with a comment that Stuart Lynch, the 2008 world champion with Orion Health, was looking to get a late entry and did I know of anyone he could race with.
With a bit of apprehension I offered the place and we teamed up to race the Open 24.

It did not take long for me to realised that the original plan for a more sociable race was out of the window, and my focus now turned towards planning on how I could survive what was going to be an interesting 24 hours.

Race day started early with a 06.00 wake up for a quick breakfast and look at the maps before a transfer by coach to the prologue start on Anglesey. The prologue was a coasteering stage, with a swim across the bay to start. Once on the rocks we followed the instructions of the marshals and jumped, climbed, swam and clambered along the coast line. Although not timed, we seemed to be moving fast through the prologue and soon found ourselves on the coastal path to the Silver Bay. After a short wait on the beach the rib arrived and we swam out to meet it. The next 10 minutes or so were nearly as exhausting as the coasteering, trying to keep hold of the grab handles as the rib bounced and lept over the waves on its way to Rhosneigr. With a short swim to the beach we were back with our kit bags for the start of the race proper.

photo1 24hour Adventure Race July 2010Due to the worsening weather conditions the organisers had moved to plan B, this shortened the paddle stage with an initial MTB section on Anglesey taking us to a revised transition on the shore of the Menai Straits.

Setting off at 30 second intervals it was not long before we were on the bikes and tearing along the lanes. Again, and not for the last time in the 24 hours, Stuart sped off and I tucked in behind as we navigated to the controls. Keeping a good pace, it was not long before we had passed most of the teams who had started before us, with several trying to tag on the back and draft. This worked for a while until Stuart took a track off road which had us hurtling downhill ducking and weaving, and trying to stay upright as the overgrown vegetation grabbed at us and braches tried to take our heads off. As the hill bottomed out we hit a stream which was in flood resulting in a short push before climbing back on and hitting the roads again. This seemed to have done the trick and the followers were now some way behind.

An optional section on Anglesey was that of a trail run around Newborough Forest. We arrived with only one or two other teams in front of us and set off at a good pace to clear the longest of the three routes. This was a nice change from the fast biking but Stuart kept the pace up, and I did my best to follow.

photo+2 24hour Adventure Race July 2010Once back on the bike we picked up a couple more controls and headed to the next transition to start the kayak.

Quickly picking up the compulsory kayak kit we jumped into the boat and headed off. The plan was to clear all the controls along the Menai Straits with a route that took us up to the Britannia Bridge before returning to the transition at Felinheli. We were swift at each control and soon found that we were pulling ahead of the others around us. With the paddle having being shorted, it was not long before we were surfing the tide back to transition to meet up with our bikes again.

The next stage was to take us from the shores of the Menai Straits up into the mountains, to the transition near Idwal Cottage. The majority of this stage was on roads and cycle paths resulting in a fast pace, yet again. The initial plan was to clear the stage, but with the option to drop a 15 point control later on dependant on time, as we did not want to be late into transition. The initial fast pace had now started to catch up with me and I resorted to grabbing a tow now and again on the hills. Getting all but one control we passed by Bethesda for the 7km or so rise up into the mountains.

photo3 24hour Adventure Race July 2010Arriving at transition we had a quick change, coffee and kit check and then set off on foot up in to the Glyders. It was clear from the start that this stage would not be clearable, so we picked a route to hit the high scoring controls and any others we would pass on route. After collecting the control at Llyn Idwal we started the long hard slog up to Foel-goch. On route we caught up with several other teams, and then steadily pulled away with Bruce Duncan and Nicola MacLeod, to summit in very poor visibility. The next control was on Y Garn and after descending for a while we started the next climb to the summit. The descent from Y Garn saw us land straight on the stile crossing point and then hit the area of Llyn y Cwn, but then the path seemed to disappear and we found ourselves knee deep in bog. Taking a bearing we quickly headed off to find the control at a fence corner.
Our next plan maybe should have had a bit more thought, as we climbed up on to Glyder Fawr and then Glyder Fach for a 15 point control, which was not the easiest to find in the boulder strewn summits of the mountains, before descending to Bwlch Tryfan and then again to Llyn Bochlwyd, only to be confronted with a retrace of our steps back up to Bwlch Tryfan and then up to the miners track back on the ridge. This out and back saw us descend and then climb back up nearly 200m vertically over about 1km, however it was for a high scoring control. It was also at this time that Stuart found a large and quite heavy flash unit for a camera, and asked me to stuff it in his pack as he would take it to the next transition. The next few controls proved tricky in the poor visibility, but once we had found them we started the descent of the ridge, out of the cloud and onto the transition in Capel Curig.

From previous experiences it was anytime now that I would start to go really slow and hit a seriously low patch. However, it was not happening. I was slowing but it was relative to the initial fast pace and probably inline with other people, with the exception of Stuart who just seemed to keep on going. Had I finally got my food/energy intake right, had my body decided to stop fighting and just let me get on with it? Who knows but I hope I can repeat it in future races.

The next bike stage was relatively short, albeit over a hill into the next valley. As we descended I was grateful of the Exposure Maxx d and Joystick lights I had which lit up the track like daylight. On reaching the main road, after a slight nav error, we were left with two opposing out and backs to clear the stage and the transition window was fast approaching. Pushing hard we got both controls, forming a partnership with Tom Gibbs and John Houlihan to open and close several gates along the route.

The transition was essentially a bike drop with no access to your kit bag, so we were quickly back out on foot heading into the forest alongside Tom and John. After the first control our routes differed and we headed off on a relatively direct route to the special stage at Rhiw Back Mine. On route we caught up with Bruce and Nicola again and whilst trekking across the open moor caught a glimpse of the sun rise. This quickly disappeared as we descended in to the depths of the mine to find controls.
The initial descent was steep down a tunnel flowing with ice cold water. On reaching the bottom we were instructed that there were four controls to be found. Running though numerous tunnels and blind headings we finally found all the controls and then donned on buoyancy aids and used inflatable kayaks to cross an underwater lake to reach the final tunnel leading to the transition.

This final transition saw us meet up with our bikes again for some single track action around the Penmachno and Marin MTB trails. Clearing the controls around Penmachno we headed north to an optional foot orienteering stage around Llyn Elsi Reservoir. After completing the long course we assessed our time and Stuart came up with a plan to best utilise our time. This resulted in us hitting some big hills, getting to the point of having to use the granny gear for what seemed a life time. However, in addition to the sweeping downhill single track, we did have a fun moment where we caught, past and then dropped a roadie on the road up past Swallow Falls, and this after some 23 hours of racing.
Picking up our last control we turned and headed for the finish in Betws Y Coed, crossing the finish line in a race time of 23hours 52 minutes and 58 seconds.

Reflecting back on the race I think I did more than just survive. There was certainly times when I was holding Stuart back and I benefited from his tow, but other times where we seemed to be cruising along together.
The whole experience was fantastic, racing with an ex world champion, on a great course from sea level to the high mountains and topping it all off with a second place.

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