Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

August 30, 2011

Adidas TERREX Coast To Coast Adventure Race, 26-29 Aug 2011

The Adidas TERREX Coast To Coast Adventure Race is a 4 day stage race from Whitehaven to Robin Hood's Bay.  Following in the footsteps of Alfred Wainwright and his idea for a walking path, this race adds a bit of a twist in the form of kayaking, bicycling and swimming sections, as well as some hilly running stages.  With 17 stages over 4 days, teams of three (with only two competing at a time) and solos will attempt to cover the ground as quickly as possible.  Luckily each night there is a chance to sleep, eat, and recover a little bit!

James Cracknell joins the 2011 Adidas TERREX team
Rob and I were both a bit nervous as we got up early to drive up to the start.  This would be my longest race to date, and Rob had never actively supported me before in a race.  We were both hoping that the logistics would go smoothly and nothing/no one would get lost.  I was doing the race as a solo (here's my profile), so there was a lot riding on my ability to navigate, stay motivated, and pace myself over the long 4 days.

The big excitement of the race was that James Cracknell was participating as part of Team Adidas TERREX.  As an Olympic Rowing champion, I figured he would definitely be in the kayak stages, but as it turned out, he wasn't.  Rob chatted with him in a transition later, and he said he preferred to stay away from the water (sick of paddling, I guess) and do the Bike/Run stages instead.

Somehow I ended up with race Bib #1, so I proudly shouldered the leader's number, although I knew my "lead" would only last until the gun went off.  I just hoped I would beat someone to the final finish line, so that the headlines wouldn't have to read:                           "Competitor #1 comes in last place!" 

Stage 1: Kayak around St. Bees
Luckily the weather was cooperating to start with and under blue skies and calm winds we were able to start the race with a kayak section from Whitehave around the cliffs to the beach at St. Bees.  The alternative was to run there if the winds were too strong, and with a lot of biking and running awaiting us later in the race, we were all (I think) happy to save our legs.  The water was gently rolling as we came out of the harbor, and soon the tandems and speedy surf skis were pulling away from me like I was going backward.  I had left my map behind to keep it dry for the next stage, and so just paddled quietly along the cliffs at the headlands, marveling that the seas were so gentle and the sun was shining. 

Stage 2: Cycling over North Western Lakes
That said, it was nice to finally see the beach, and not get rolled over in the surf while trying to get ashore!  Rob was there waiting for me, and together we carried my borrowed blue sea kayak up to where the car and my gear was waiting.  A quick change of shoes and gear and I was off on the bike, down country roads, along a cycle way, up a few hills (this is the Lake District after all), and then quickly down past Loweswater Reservoir to the transition at the top of Crummock Water.

Stage 3: Kayak Buttermere & Crummock
Magically the car was at this transition too (Rob would do a wonderful job all week of getting my gear everywhere I needed it.), and the kayak was awaiting me down at the waterfront.  The winds were still calm but raindrops were falling as I changed shoes and gear in transition, so on went a waterproof jacket.  Once in the water it was again a magical paddle, as the the foreboding hills reflected gloomily over the water and raindrops splashed everywhere.

The two reservoirs on this stage were both quite small, but between them was a portage that I had been dreading since deciding to sign up for the race months before.  About a kilometer in length, the portage was as bad as I had feared (and perhaps worse).  I regretted not being able to recce this section, as I saw teams heading off to the east side of the lake, where there was a longer portage but perhaps with smoother paths.   I took my chances and followed the bulk of the racers to the shorter west side.  After dragging my kayak out of the water and strapping it on the two-wheeled dolly (ok, it fell off a few times in the process!), I started pulling it up and over the rocky path, bogs, puddles and hills to the other lake.  It was awful.  It took forever.  I lost a lot of time to the folks with lighter kayaks they could carry rather than drag, and to the teams who could each pick up an end and lift them over tough sections.  Another solo racer was right behind me, and with no one else in sight, we cursed and shoved our way over the slowest kilometer of the whole race.  Finally the water came into view, but first there was a locked gate in the way, meaning that we had to lift our kayaks over it!  Alex and I, who would end up crossing paths many times, helped each other with the lift over to spare our boats a lot of scratches.

The rain had stopped, the winds were calm, and once back in the water it was a magical trip across Buttermere knowing the hardest section was behind us.  The water was glass calm and the hills were perfectly reflected, and in just a few minutes we were bumping into the other shore.  Rob was there to meet me and show me the path to transition, but he couldn't help me with the kayak, and unfortunately it was a long slog across a pasture. The wheels went back on to save my arms from having to drag it but more time was lost in the process.

Stage 4: Run over Cat Bells
Finally I was off on a run section, although walking was the most I could do on the steep, steep hillside up to Robinson.  No danger of me winning the King of the Mountains prize for the fastest competitor to summit the first peak of the run stage...   But the weather was holding out and the views were clear as I ran across Littledale Edge and Cats Bells.  I must admit that I got distracted by a member of the film crew on top of Dale Head (how did he lug that huge camera up the mountain?), and while contemplating that idea ran off the trail a ways.  But it was a minimal detour and I managed to catch a few teams before arriving at the water's edge of Derwent. 

Stage 5: Swim across Derwent Water
I am a wimp when it comes to cold water (and this water couldn't have been much above 10 C), so on went the wetsuit, although it couldn't have be more than 1/3 of a mile across the lake.  I was freezing by that time even with the suit, but I tried to think of it as a much needed ice-bath for my sore muscles.  With a measly 10 feet to go to the shore, my calf cramped up and I splashed about a bit with a grimace on my face. 

Luckily there were shoes waiting for me, and as I found out later Rob had run all over the lakeshore with my shoes (for hours) searching for the hard-to-find transition, and barely arrived in time to drop them off and get back to the finish area.  After slipping them on, I ran in my dripping wetsuit the mile into the center of Keswick for an emotional finish.  I must have looked somewhat idiotic with shoes on, my wetsuit half off, goggles and swimcap still on my head, and a silly grin on my face! 

The Day 1 results are here

Next... Coast to Coast, Day 2

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