Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

February 6, 2012

Open 5 Adventure Race, North Pennines, 5 Feb 2012

I've always wondered what it feels like to bonk hit the wall.  In a race, that is.  (My British teammates have appraised me as to their meaning of that word, and that assuredly isn't what I meant!)   A more appropriate definition is here
Photos courtesy of James Kirby and Open Adventure

However, before the Warcop Haglöfs Open 5 (days before, in fact) I was more concerned about just getting to the race, as snowfall predictions were sounding dire. 

When race day dawned with just an inch of snow (and I was already on location courtesy of a fellow racer's 4x4), I was so happy that the race wasn't canceled, I didn't worry about anything else.

Wellies help in the tunnel....

Well, except the tunnel.  We had been warned about a tunnel under the A66 between the registration and transition areas.   My race partner Sarah saved the day with an extra pair of galoshes, or wellies as they are known in the UK.  Although I must confess that I've always known them as "pig-kicking boots", since they were the only things our pigs (back on the Iowa farm) couldn't bite through when loading them onto the truck to take to market.  Pigs are stubborn creatures...think they can sense they really don't want to get on that truck.  But I digress.

It was a long cold 3 mile ride to transition, including the dreaded tunnel.  My wellies were relative unknowns, so I crab-walked along the concrete edges while pushing my bike through the middle, and managed (yay!) to keep my feet dry.  For the moment.    This ride took a bit longer than we though, while carrying all our transition gear, so our start was later than normal, but finally we were off and running.  

Well, almost...first Sarah commandeered James Kirby's camera backpack to use as a place to write control scores on her map.   He seemed to take it with good humor...but you notice that there are no photos of us the rest of the race.  Hmmm.  (just kidding, James...seems you went on the higher fells and we were glad we made the decision not to be sliding around up there!)

The run was an absolute joy, as an inch of snow was fun without being too much of a hindrance.   Well, at least it cushioned the fall when I went sliding down a hillside.  

It became immediately apparent that I was wearing too much clothing, including the chemical handwarmers (added after our freezing misadventures in the Bacup Open 5 two months before).  Off came the gloves and hat, and I was sweating through my heavy Paramo waterproof jacket immediately.  Yes, I know waterproofs tops are required kit, but what made me think I needed to actually wear it on a day when the sun was shining and the wind calm?!?!     The jacket got stuffed in the pack after a big hill climb, and suddenly I was running with just long-sleeved base layer in the middle of winter! 

Run nav went great, although I wasn't feeling that spunky, and we were back in our usual 2:15 to save the rest of the time for the bike.   We were inspired to run faster at times by the sound of gunfire, provided by military troops out on training maneuvers (on a Sunday?).  Controls placed on tanks and bunkers made us wonder if we might be little moving targets for the guys wearing camoflage! 

Anyway, with plenty of time on the bike, we had a figure of eight to make, with a trip past the finish in the middle to make us drool in anticipation.   We could have made our route a true circle, but that would have involved a huge hike-a-bike up onto the fell where the snow was much heavier.  We had concluded earlier during our run up said hill, that we absolutely didn't want to waste time biking there.  It was a good decision as other teams spent hours pushing through snow. 

Unfortunately we blew by a control early in the bike route and overshot it by at least a kilometer.  Ok, so I was following lots of snowy bike tracks and another racer up ahead of me.  (Turns out non-racing people ride bikes too...and that particular racer had lost his control descriptions and was in la-la land).   Oops.  

On our next point, we were concerned about missing a turn, and so we turned too soon.  Another oops.  10 minutes of mishaps wasn't feeling too good, but the second loop was shorter.  We blew past the finish with an hour to go, looking for 4 big controls to the south.  Our run route had already taken us by a couple of them, so we were confident they were on tarmac roads and easy to find.  Well, except for the last one.  That was a hike-a-bike.  And there were hills.  Not big ones but the kind that go up and down so fast that the legs never recover. 

I knew we were in trouble when we still had 3 miles of hills to ride with just a few minutes left on the clock.   It was time to put our heads down and just speed home to the finish.  Except I wasn't speeding anywhere, and to my thirsty chagrin, my drinking tube was only producing fumes.  My legs felt like jello and I literally wanted to lay down on the side of the road and just...take a nap.  The final hill up to the finish was small...and I could barely ride up it with Sarah easily pulling ahead of me (probably in disgust).  Definitely hit the wall big time and even bounced backwards :(  10 minutes late to the finish was a big blow to our score. 

Took a few minutes of total rest before I could speak...and about 24 hours of eating and drinking before I felt alive again.  Guess I totally forgot to eat, besides a few gummies and some drink mix in my bottle.   The long ride to the start added to our exercise, and the cold, wet feet didn't help after the snow melted into mud on the trails. 

The 20 points in penalties made our 2nd place finish (losing 1st by only 5 points) look like a missed opportunity.   I'm sure Sarah will be stuffing cake down my face the next time we race together! 
Results are here
More of James' awesome photos are here

Read Lucy's (Team Accelerate) blog here
Rosemary Byde's blog here
Simon Walker's video of the day can be found here
Madman's first Open5 race is blogged here

Another trip through the tunnel on the way back to the car.


  1. Hello Dawn - your great blog came up as a Google alert for "North Pennines". I'm with the North Pennines AONB Partnership and we've tweeted a link to your blog - hope that's OK. Our website is at www.northpennines.org.uk if you'd like to check us out! James Kirby's pics are fantastic too and I'd like to ask him if we can use some of his photos - credited to him of course!

  2. I hope Sarah did the sports-womanly like thing and gave you a push at the end! More carrots next time ;-)

    1. Rosemary, more of anything would have been a good idea! Also, just had my blood checked this week, turns out I'm a bit anemic at the moment, that certainly didn't help with my speed. Now that I know I can come back stronger next time!