Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

August 3, 2011

Open24 Adventure Race, Lake District, 30-31 July 2011

I had packed my kit bags thoroughly before the start of this 24 hour adventure race, but the pre-race briefing, and special stage additions threw us a few curveballs. After frantically plotting points and calculating potential routes, we spent a few minutes rearranging gear, packing up the tents, unloading the kayak, getting bikes and kit bags turned in, and finally suiting up for the first paddling stage. We made it with about 2 minutes to spare, including a brief time of me thinking I had lost my maps (calmly found by my levelheaded teammate), and by the start I was later told I had "a deer in the headlights" look. I sure felt like a wreck. Usually I'm the calm, prepared one watching everyone else skitter around, but this race was too big to comprehend, and I was lucky to get everything arranged in time for the start.

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Stage 1 - Kayak
Photo courtesy of James Kirby
Under beautiful blue skies 39 tandem kayaks took off with a splash from the shores of Ullswater. The first point was quite near the start, so in anticipation of a big fight to dib in, we skipped it. I know, I know, big mistake. What was I thinking? Making up those points later cost oodles of effort. I suggested the move, so my bad. Let's move on, shall we?
My team partner Jon and I spent the next 2 hours paddling around to most of the other kayak points, on calm lake water with no wind. It was such a nice day to be out on the water. Navigation was easy (follow other boats) and it was a relief to be out on the course and on our way. I felt much better now that I was past the anticipation and surprises of pre-race jitters. 

Special Stage: The Tunnels
Tunnels - Photo courtesy of James Kirby
Directly after transition where we deposited our kayak and picked up the mountain bikes, we got our first surprise of the race. Told we needed to bring a light and full body cover (hence the last minute rearranging), I was expecting to get soaked, and not excited about wet feet so early in the bike portion. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the dry tunnels were part of an Outward Bound confidence course. We wiggled through a few twists, turns, and ladders before popping back out just a few feet from where we started. Jon was not nearly as excited, as his height advantage on me made it impossible for him to get on hands and knees at all. 

Stage 2 - MTB

The first mountain bike path - Photo courtesy of James Kirby
The tunnels conquered, we were off biking again, in a short stage that seemed mainly to get us to the big trekking section to follow. We only picked up 2 points and most teams seemed equally happy to do the same. That could have been because the track up and over the ridge was steep, rocky, and generally un-rideable. By the top we were carrying our bikes (ok, Jon even carried mine a short way after getting to the top with his). The downhill wasn’t nice either, and we were walking down parts of it as well.

Special Stage: Pinnacle Ridge

Photo courtesy of James Kirby
The next stage was a long trek but soon after the first climb we encountered the next special stage, which require climbing helmets and harnesses, plus a homemade rope and carabiner setup close to that of a Via Ferrata kit. Surprise! The stage turned out to be a rock scrambling section with safety ropes where we could clip in, climbing exposed pinnacles in relative safety. The slow nature of the route created a backlog of racers, but as we had been “timed out” for the duration of the ropes, the delay didn’t matter. Plus it was a beautiful afternoon, so we took the time to sit down, munch on snacks, chat with our neighboring teams, and recover a little from the first 6 hours of racing.

Stage 3 – Trek

After enjoying the break during the via ferrata, and the sunny views from our perch on top of the rocks waiting our turn, the remains of the trek awaited us. We were short of water by then as the climbing section had taken quite a bit of time. Limiting our eating and drinking, we ran along the ridge past St. Sunday's Crag, Fairfield, and Great Rigg. We finally dropped down to a point along a stream to refill our waterbottles before bushwacking down to a point in Rydal Beck and our next transition. It was a beautiful evening so the views from the ridge were awesome. Sorry no camera as I was limiting weight and photo-taking time!

Special Stage: Rydal Gorge Canyoning

The "Jump" -Photo courtesy of James Kirby
Coming into transition we could see our bags and bikes but not allowed to access them before completing next Special Stage at Rydal Gorge.  We suited up with full waterproofs, helmet, and climbing gear, then hiked up to a small damn on the creek.  First we had to get in and get even our head wet, and then walk up and over the bridge and make our first jump.  It was only about 10 feet tall, and after the heat of the trekking portion it actually felt good to be wet for a change!  After the jump, we worked together to climb our way up a few hundred meters of slippery waterfalls to the final jump.  This one was much higher, perhaps 25 ft or so, and tall enough that I had time to think of a few choice swear words before hitting the water and sinking deeply into it.   With that jump complete, we were done, and running back down into transtion to dry off and find our bikes.

Stage 4 - Night MTB

This was another short section of the race, mostly on roads and level bridleways.  It was just getting dark as we started and so full bike lights were soon needed.  Highlight of the stage was stepping across the rocks over the still water in a large cave, to get to a checkpoint in back.  On this stage we also started seeing runners from the Lakeland 100, as they were meeting us on the trail for a mile or two.  I even bumped into my friend Nick Ham, with just enough time to see his distinctive flag-colored shorts and shout a greeting as I rode by!

Stage 5 - Night Kayak on Windermere
Photo courtesy of James Kirby
As a first for me, we shoved off in our tandem sit-on-top kayak for a night paddle.  I had the map but soon realized that I had no idea how to navigate with no reference points.  Luckily for the first few points, there were other boats around, and we played follow the leader to get dibbed in to a few high-value controls.  After a few points, we settled into a rythym of shooting a compass azimuth and then shutting off our head lamps and just navigating by shore lights.  With no wind, it was quite an enjoyable night out on the water.

Stage 6 - Night MTB

Sarah and Andy starting the MTB - Photo courtesy of James Kirby
Well, this was the big one.  The long night mountain bike, with a final push up and over Gatescarth Pass into Hawewater.   We randomly met up with the other pair of our 4-man Terrex team, Gavin and Tony, and then stuck together to make night navigation a bit easier.  There were a few fast road sections, and I was happy to see that my 29 inch mountain bike wheels allowed me to keep up with or stay ahead of my teammates riding their full-suspension bikes! 

We made a pretty big tactical error on this stage, though, as we skipped a long road section in favor of a shorter off-road section.  It turned out to be a beast of an unridable, hilly, rocky path, so we gained no time and lost a few points.  Unfortunately none of us were familiar with that path or we would have known to skip it.  And of course, waiting for us at the end of the bike was the high pass of Gatescarth.  With 2 kilometers left to the top, we were already pushing our bikes and out of breath.  Well at least I was, and Jon took pity on me and was towing me even as we were both pushing our bikes up the hill.   It did take forever to get up, and going down was just as rough on loose rocks and dangerous switchbacks.  It was a relief to come into transition and give up the bikes for the final time.

Stage 7 - Trek

Photo courtesy of Andy BD
With the sun coming up, we were off on our last trekking stage, which started off with a monster of a climb up to High Raise.  We wasted a bit of time looking for a point by a waterfall in the valley below the cairns, which didn't leave us enough time for the orienteering section over on Rest Dodd.  Working our way back to the next transition instead, we came in ahead of schedule and picked up a few more controls near Hallin Fell.  By that time I was almost completely spent, and the towline between Jon and I was taking more and more tension.   Another relief to arrive at transition knowing that we would no longer need to run anywhere!

Special Stage:  Kailpot Traverse along Ullswater

Photo courtesy of James Kirby
Just around the corner from the kayak start in Howtown we came to the last Special Stage.  Ditching our kayaks, we walked around to the headland for some bouldering.  The stage consisted mostly of clinging to slippery rocks just above the water line, but what's a stage without some wetness, so of course at two points we had to jump into the water as well.  Gavin and Tony were just behind us again, and got a few extra dunks as their feet slipped on the rocks!

Stage 8 – Kayak

Gavin and Tony - Photo by Andy BD
We had left ourselves just under 2 hours for the final kayak stage, which turned out to be a bit much, so we cleared the small course before arriving 20 minutes ahead of our time cutoff. I was happy to be off my feet after a long trekking section, but soon cold after the drenching we got on the rock section. In a confused move (blamed later on lack of sleep), and anticipating another warm day on the water, I hadn’t even put on my spraydeck. I got progressively colder as the wind got stronger, and even adding a waterproof jacket didn’t warm up my freezing feet. I was as close to hypothermic as I had ever been by the finish, and it was a relief to walk up the finish line, dib in, and head straight for the car and some warm, dry clothes.

Jon and I relieved to be finished! -Photo courtesy of James Kirby
But that didn’t dampen our excitement that we were finished and had some great memories of an exciting race.   With 2000 out of 3000 points collected on the course, we were quite happy to finish 14th out of 39 teams (and beat Gavin and Tony!).   In warm sunshine we got to hang out on the grassy knoll and watch the other teams stagger in, to more high five's and relieved grins. 

Sarah and Andy at the finish -Photo courtesy of James Kirby

Sarah waiting to climb Pinnacle Ridge - Photo courtesy of Andy BD

Kayaks ready for the start - Photo courtesy of Sarah

Andy dibs in below the waterfall - Photo courtest of Sarah

Getting up the nerve to jump - Photo courtesy of Sarah

Carrying bikes up the first pass - Photo courtesy of James Kirby

Jon and Dawn looking over Pinnacle Ridge -Photo courtesy of James Kirby

Tony anticipating his demise -Photo courtesy of James Kirby

Photo courtesy of James Kirby


  1. Sounds a cracking wheeze. Saw a few of your fellow competitors on the descent to Ambleside on the L50

  2. I think I missed out! Thanks for taking the time to write up.

  3. Ah yes, now I do recall seeing several serious-looking mountain bikers with dazzling headlamps going in the opposite direction just after dark on Saturday and I do recall someone calling out. It must have been after Ambleside, near Skelwith Bridge. Am I right? That was about 90 miles into our race. I wish I'd known it was you, Dawn. All I saw was dazzling lights, which I tried not to look at too much.
    Yours was an epic race and report. Good stuff.

  4. Ian, you did miss out, these events always supply a big adrenaline rush along with the suffering!

    Nick, you're right! It was on the path just past Ambleside before hitting the tarmac near Skelwith Bridge. After 90 miles I'm suprised you were still running! Jon and I were chasing a couple of other competitors and didn't have time to stop and chat. Amazed how hard we had to race for the whole 24 hours and how close the competition was in the end.

  5. I notice that you beat Gav and Tony - I heard that you only just beat them, and principally because they messed up on the night kayak and you got lucky!