Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

May 22, 2011

Open Adventure 5+ delivers a BIG "+" in North Wales

After completing two previous Open5 Adventure Races, I already knew to expect a mix of running and biking during the 5 hours of racing.  However, the kit requirements on the website listed climbing harness and helmet as well as spare clothing.  Spare clothing?  Uh-oh, I’ve already heard stories of race director James’ penchant for adding water events (he calls them “trouser fillers”) to nearly every race, so I am mentally prepared for…something.

Photos on Flickr here.

Teammates Tim, Sarah, and Jon showed up just before the registration window opened with staggering news.  What, KAYAKING?   Then we got our maps, with more confusion.  A BONUS SWIM?  Abseil with sea-cave exit?  THREE possible transition areas? This is only a 5 hour race! A frantic shuffling of gear ensues among the four of us.  "Have you got a bigger pack, my shoes won't fit?"  "Do we need to carry everything on the swim, it will get soaked!"   Tim and I study the map, conclude that our bike section would be the smallest portion of the day, and decide to bike with just running shoes to avoid changing shoes a minimum of 4 times.  Unfortunately we only had tiny clip pedals, so we wouldn’t be speedy on the paved roads while riding our mountain bikes!
(Photo courtesy of Open Adventure)
 Of course, the event was for pairs, so with staggered start times, our two teams saw each other only in passing.  Tim and I set off first, stuffing our control descriptions into our pockets without even glancing at them, and heading straight for the kayaking portion.  In the face of gusty Welsh winds and heavy surf, the sit-on-top kayak section had been shortened from what would have been suicidal, to a meandering short course in the bay.    And so I found myself fully dressed, with water splashing over me at every stroke, and getting passed by teams who evidently had been practicing paddling much more often than we had.  Grabbing the buoys to punch our dibblers was a bit wild as well, while maneuvering around other teams with the same intent and trying mostly to avoid falling overboard at all costs.   It was luckily over in less than 30 minutes, and then we finally had time to look at our maps and point counts and start plotting the rest of our race.  It figured that the bike points would worth more on one side of the island, while the large run points were to be found on the south side. 

 The cliff abseil (Photo courtesy of Sarah)
 In my recce the evening before, Holyhead Island (off the coast of Anglesey) in Wales didn’t seem very large.  But our race would take us to almost all four corners of it and many points in between.  We plotted a course that would skip some of the bike points (as we could always come back for them later), and sped off to the 50 meter Abseil portion, nabbing huge bike points enroute off a ride out to the end of the windy pier.

There were a few run points on the way up to the abseil at the North Stack, and then I found myself wearing harness (and PDF!) and roping into a sheer cliff over the sea.  Literally.  After lowering myself about 30 feet, the cliff became overhanging and I found myself dangling in midair far over the crashing surf.  A volunteer holding the rope below guided me into the beach, but I still landed about waist-deep in crashing surf, tumbling about a bit until I could stumble into shore and get my rope unhooked.   After dibbling in, I followed a small sign into cave blackness.  Luckily a team had gone through just before me, and I followed them down
 (Photo courtesy of Sarah)
 towards the exit, which was unfortunately was filled with water!  Soon enough I was swimming (SWIMMING! while wearing shoes, gloves, long-sleeve shirt and waterproof jacket!) for my life, trying to get around the corner to where I could climb out again.  After a frightened gasp at the absurdity of it, I had time to think, “Hey, the water isn’t very cold”, before losing sight of everyone and frantically climbing up onto sharp rocks, happy to be wearing gloves.  The waves were quite gentle considering the winds speeds, and I worked my way around to where spray-soaked volunteers helped me find my way back up the cliffs.   
 Cave swim exit (Photo courtesy of Open Adventure)
The experiences of such an abseil (and swim!) were not to be missed, and I was glad that I had gone for it, soaking wet or not (My teammate, with a fear of heights, had taken a pass, but we later were awarded half points, as there were quite a few teams with only one member completing the abseil).   Only two hours had elapsed at that point, which gave us plenty of time to continue bagging run points.  I put on my long tights again, wrung the salt water out of my gloves, and set off with water squelching out of my shoes and waterproof socks, which now seemed absurdly pointless.  I still felt quite warm even in the face of drenched shirt and jacket, plus high winds and only 10C/50F temps.  

The highest points on the run controls were down at the south stack and over the tallest point on the island, small at just 220 meters.  With time in hand, we set about clearing the run points, skipping just a few that seemed like a waste of time.  With the winds blowing us sideways off the tops, my drenched thick socks finally came into their own, as a deterrent for the spiky gorse bushes poking through our clothing.  We still were both muttering “ouch!” at various points on cross-country forays, but at least I couldn’t feel the spikes through my shoes like Tim did. 

An hour later we were dibbing in at the windy bridge bottom over South Stack, and climbing back up the steep stairs with the realization that we had to get all the way back to the other side of the island to find our bikes again.  We pushed on a bit faster, but on a lower route the winds weren’t so bad, and we had time in hand once back on two wheels.  Too much time, in fact, as we found a couple more bike controls, but didn’t have enough time to go back for the distant ones anymore, and finished 15 minutes early with 60 points left out on the course.  We were quite pleased, though, to have done so much in just 5 hours!

A HUGE THANKS to all the volunteers (and qualified safety personnel) who were manning the kayaking, abseil, transitions, registration, start and finish.  It takes dedication to stand around in mist and cold and wind and waves for hours waiting for us to run through and head on out again.  We couldn't race without you all!
Trying to formulate a strategy for the race

Frantic last-minute planning by everyone involved

Sarah and I rolling with new 29 inch wheels!

Pre-race briefing

(Photo courtesy of Open Adventure)

(Photo courtesy of Open Adventure)
Old meets new:  checkpoint in a burial chamber
 (Photo courtesy of Open Adventure)

 (Photo courtesy of Open Adventure)

 (Photo courtesy of Open Adventure)
 (Photo courtesy of Sarah)
Abseil cave exit via a swim!  (Photo courtesy of Sarah)
Sarah climbing up from the abseil and cave swim (Photo courtesy of Sarah)
North Stack (Photo courtesy of Open Adventure)
The pier (Photo courtesy of Open Adventure)
If it had been sunny, the run course would have looked like this...


1 comment:

  1. Plenty of adventure in that race - the abseil is spectacular. It's great that you enjoyed yourself so much even though it was cold, wet and windy.