Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

December 5, 2011

Open 5, South Pennines, 4 Dec 2011

Photos courtesy of James Kirby at Open Adventure
Whew, another epic day out in the hills...although this was due mostly to the bad weather for sure.  The 3rd race in the Haglöfs Open 5 series was held near Bacup, and featured the mountain biking singletrack of Lee and Cragg quarries.  I had been really excited to do this race, as the quarry riding would introduce some uncertainty into the navigation and route choices.  Unfortunately both Sarah and I came down with colds a few days before the event, and with the weather looking pretty horrible agreed that we would maybe take it bit easy.    

Still, pulling out our bright yellow race numbers with "Series Leader" written on them in place of a number...well, that was just too cool.  I suspect a few competitors might follow us around today in hopes of good nav choices...but I'm sure we'll get good and lost just to put that assumption to rest! 

It was raining on us already as we started the run, and with clogged noses, hacking coughs, soaked gloves, and soaked feet (already), we immediately wrote off the day as a probable loss.   
The elusive control #28
That was helped along by the second run point in Lee Quarry, which we could not find, as the description said "Largest boulder under cliff in southernmost end of quarry" or something to that effect.  There was a house size boulder in that location, no control there or on any other boulders, and so we shrugged, hoped it really was nonexistant, and kept going.  Turns out there were two cliffs, and we had been looking on the high one instead of the lower.   Us and the 6 teams around us at the time were all stumped, and it was bummer to miss that one out. 

From there the run just got worse, as our route took us over the windy moor, which was partially frozen boggy terrain with unexpected deep holes, of course all filled with water because it was raining.  It was very slow going over that crap, and we detoured father south to get a control worth only 10 points, just because it would get us out to the trail faster.  I think that was a good decision, unlike some others we would make during the race.  Sarah was great with the compass, as usual...I really should learn how to use one!   Halfway across the moor, a loud clap of thunder made us jump out of our shoes, and wish to be anywhere but exposed on a hilltop. The rain turned to hail and then snow, and trudging into the wind with my hood up and my beanie over my ears, I couldn't hear a thing Sarah said.  Thankfully after another couple of controls we were back down into the valley and coming around into transition again. 

I had managed to get my permanent marker to write the run points on the map, but the rain then soaked the map and my pen stopped working.   Should've had a grease pencil or something, so we pretty much had to memorize the bike controls' values to get our route planned.  We attempted to do this while finishing the run, and I think both our speed and our route planning suffered a bit. 

Lee Quarry
Normally I can make an educated guess before race day about what territory the MTB might cover.  Wow, was I ever wrong on this one.  Sarah and I had previously ridden the quarries, and although our recce hadn't taken more than a couple of hours of easy riding, I had narrowed my focus to the race being mostly in the quarries.  Whoops.  The area was miles larger than I had expected. 

To throw another loop in our route planning, the quarry controls weren't plotted on the map in an effort to get us to ride the whole loop rather than shortcut straight to the points.  The control descriptions of "signpost" and "stone structure" didn't help much either as I could remember several stone buildings in Cragg Quarry, and Lee was just a maze of trails.  Added to that, the transition area was changed from the map location, which we recognized right away, but heard later that many racers got quite confused trying to figure out where they were. 

We started the mountain bike with Lee Quarry and found one hidden control, then left the singletrack to make a big loop on bike route 92 to Whitworth.  It was fast riding with several points captured quickly, although we did ride up the wrong trail to a reservoir following another pair who had been on the right road, got confused, turned around, and then led everyone around them up the wrong way.  Why do we keep following other people who often are quite simply as clueless as we are?  Hmmm. 

At the bottom of the loop, getting off our bikes on the bridge control was the first time where I felt slow and sluggish...my hands and feet were getting numb and I wondered if it was safe to be outside soaking wet in these conditions.  Uh, duh.  Obviously not!  Joining the Mary Townley Loop/Pennine Bridleway, our next few miles were uphill, so we warmed up a little and walked our bikes a ways to get some feeling back in our feet.  Sarah's hands went completely numb and frozen part way up, and she was starting to sound rather incoherent, so I cajoled her into switching to dry gloves and walking for a while, plus eating and drinking.  It was difficult to do any of it as my drink tube was almost frozen, and my hands were muddy (crunchy jelly babies, anyone?).   Sarah revived quite quickly and we slowly rode up the bumpy bridleway. 

Cragg Quarry
Near the top, we made our biggest route choice error in heading into the windmill farm for a control.  The b ridleway to get there disappeared into another quarry singletrack, and the route was partially flooded and was really slow going.  We watched a guy ahead of us sink with his bike halfway into a bog, and found a way around that particular trouble spot!   The windfarm roads were really nice, but leaving them again was on another slow bridleway.  I did enjoy riding under the huge windsmills, which were cranking in the high winds.  Our cold feet were begging to get back early, but the slow going meant that we would be chasing the clock back to the finish instead.  We skipped Cragg quarry entirely and double-timed it back to the finish, picking up a last quarry control on the bottom section of Lee (an educated guess based on the fact there were no trees in the quarry!) It was almost on the way anyway.  Coming in late meant that we couldn't try for the last mystery point in the quarry, bummer as I had a good guess where it might be. 

Finally getting back to the car and finding warm dry clothes was the best part of the day.  My feet were so numb that it took a good hour before I felt warm again, even sitting in the finish hall drinking hot chocolate.  Others around us looked much worse for wear, with space blankets pulled up tight to speed the warming process.   Scores for the event turned out to be all over the board, and we were amazed to finish a distant 3rd in our category after all our mistakes. 

I normally wait a few days before writing about an event, as it helps me gain perspective on the race, and find a good story angle.  However I was so wired after the crazy day that I couldn't even get to sleep, and so the whole race (and our mistakes) kept replaying in my mind.   Perhaps that is due to having a sub-optimal race, or just the fact that once again I had survived some extreme conditions!   Judging by the repeated stories of late finishes, navigation troubles, and freezing extremities, there may have been lots of sleepless people last night!  Hoping all competitors made it back safe and sound, and I was grateful to see there were race vehicles high on the moors in case of an emergency. 

Definitely have to compare this race to the awful high winds and flooding we had in the Yorkshire Dales during the Open 5 in February 2011 .   This one comes a close second on the torture scale, due to the colder temps (hello, it was snowing on us!) and tough terrain.

Sarah slides down the slope...then wonders why her tights are wet?!!?

Attempting to keep maps dry to mark the controls...a futile effort
Wading in that water (Control #28) does not look fun
Pennine Bridleway/Mary Townley Loop



  1. That sounds hostile, Dawn. Well done for surviving unscathed.

  2. David HetheringtonDecember 07, 2011 6:34 AM

    Well done Dawn, great result considering you were both poorly. I'm glad to hear that it was only the 2nd worst O5 you've done after my Kirkby Stephen one, Emma thought she was going to steal the title! ;)

  3. Nick, in a race like this the goal gets narrowed down to just survival. Everything else is peripheral. So, it was a success!

    David, I will never forget those winds on the bike, getting blown to a standstill riding downhill! And riding through the flooded roads was a blast, despite the freezing water!