Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

January 10, 2011

Open5 Adventure Race, North York Moors, 9 Jan 2010

I just did my first Adventure Race!

Ok, it wasn't point-to-point, I didn't have a team, and there was no sleep deprivation involved. 

But... I did come in 4th in the Women's Solo division!!!  Considering I was on a rented mountain bike wearing my running shoes with no toe clips, I was VERY happy with my score.

To explain:  The Open5 Adventure series are 5 hour events (hences the 5 in the name) where entrants get to run, then bike (or vice versa) their way to as many controls points as possible without getting back late and incurring time penalties.  

At check-in, I was handed a waterproof map, with run points on one side (OS 1:25000 map) and bike points printed on the other side (OS 1:50000 map).   After some fiddling, I got my race numbers attached to the front of my bike and myself, and worked out how to zip-tie on my newly purchased map board on the bike handlebars.   The I spent a rather frantic bit of time trying to make sense of the maps and decide which paths to take to get to the most points. 

It was an absolutely perfectly sunny day out (sshhh, don't tell anyone, I don't want you all to think that there's ever nice weather here).   In the wintertime, sunny weather and freezing temperatures seem to go well together, and we were all shivering as we arranged our gear and stripped down to race clothing.  In my rant about horrible UK weather in my previous blog, I seem to have missed a few key problems, namely ice and snow.  In late May during the running of the annual hundred miler, I guess these aren't normally big issues.  Today, they were.  More about that later.

After ditching my bike and helmet against a tree in the transition area, I was ready to start the run.   Unlike a traditional race, where everyone starts together and does the same course, the start window was an hour long, so when I felt ready, I walked to the gate and puched my dibbler.   Affixed to my wrist, the dibbler would record each checkpoint I visited, along with times and total points.   It beeped and I was off!  At least, until I was handed a list of the control point descriptions (how to find them) and how much they were worth.  A couple of marked points were bogus and worth nothing, and other controls were worth between 5 points up to 35 points.  My planned route immediately changed, as I crossed off the bogus points and rerouted. 

Right about then, the sun rose high enough to feel the tiniest bit warm, and I set off onto the Clevand Way trail to the first checkpoint.  There were still sections of snow on the trail, which ran along a high ridge, and the strong winds blew coldly from the west.  The first control was attached to bench, and then I dropped down into the forest on the steep descent to the valley.   In the shelter of the trees, it felt much warmer, and I doffed hat and gloves and loosened my waterproof smock as much as I could.   Around a frozen lake, across a muddy, frozen cow pasture, and back into the forest.   After finding a point over a small stream junction, the next one led me straight up a steep round hilltop.  For 35 points, it was worth it!  Although everyone was choosing their own route, there seemed to be someone around most of the checkpoints, and I used them to help find the tiny streamers, sometimes well-hidden behind trees.   I skipped a few points that I deemed too far away, and in two hours made my way back to the transition to start the bike. 

My first thought on starting the mountain bike leg was...."when was the last time I rode a mountain bike"?   I couldn't come up with a good answer, which means many years ago, which means I have no skills, so I took it nice and slow.   After a couple of miles of roads, the checkpoints led me back onto the Cleveland Way via a field path.  It was alternately frozen, muddy, and snow-covered, and I spent a good portion of it doing what is known as "Hike-A-Bike", in other words, walking and pushing the mud-covered thing.  The wheels were already weighed down with pounds of mud, and in the snow I could walk faster than I could ride.  It was a frustrating section to reach a couple of points, including one that was located at the bottom of a steep pasture.  The grass made for a quick bumpy ride down, leaning back as far as I could, and then everyone had to push their bikes back up.  (The rules state that you must be within 100 meters of your bike, therefore I couldn't just leave it at the top of the hill and run down.)

Once I reached a normal road again, I determined to find only the points where no trails were required.  Happily for me, there were a couple like that, and although steep hills were involved, at least they were paved.  The hidden danger here, as I found out, was that the tiny roads were still partly icy from recent bad weather. More "Hike-A-Bike" was required, but at least my wheels flung off most of the mud.  I did a mental cringe as mud splattered everywhere, coating my bike, clothing, and my new Nathan race backpack.   It was white when I started....maybe white isn't a good color for adventure racing?

With time counting down, I went for one last point.  It was across another half-frozen pasture trail, including a locked gate where we had to lift our bikes over it both ways.  Mud flew everywhere again (poor white backpack), and with 45 minutes left, I headed for home.  It took much longer than I expected, uphill and into the wind, and I arrived with just 10 minutes to spare. 

After downloading my dibbler, I was estatic to see a total of 380 points, which wasn't too far below the winning woman, my new friend Karen, who had told me about this race series in the first place.  Definitely gonna try to get to more of these events.  I like the level of navigation planning, thinking, rerouting, and decision-making needed to succeed at this type of competition.  I'm not fast, but maybe I can make up for the slowness by being smart.  Hmmm....

No photos for you this time (I was busy racing, after all), but check for photos on Open Adventure's website.


  1. Good going Dawn, and great report. You and Karen are making this sound very attractive, but the required mental acuteness probably excludes me ;-)

  2. Sounds fun! Congrats on a great race.

    Just saw you signed up for a 100 miler ... awesome! One of these days I will tackle the ultra, I am just not mentally ready yet! :)

  3. Nick, the bonus here is that mental sharpness can make up (a little) for lack of raw speed. I like that!

    Anne, I'm scared about the 100, but gotta give it a try. You're already an Ironman, so you're used to the time out on the course...an ultra at least saves getting wet on the swim! Embrace the pain!