Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

August 31, 2012

Adidas TERREX Sting Adventure Race, Part 3

Continued from Part 1

and Part 2

Watch the video of our race here

Stage 6: 160k Bike-26 hours

Grandtully was the major transition of the race, as this was the middle of a giant figure 8, and we would be back here final morning to rejoin our canoes and finish the race.  But there was a lot of racing left before we could see our boats again.  Starting with a very long bike ride, which was luckily broken up into a couple of stages.  It was here at Grandtully where we had to make our biggest decision of the race, whether to send our bike boxes on to a close transition or to a much farther one, both in biking and trekking.  After much dithering, we finally decided on the strategic choice, to push to the far point in order to be more competetive.  Oooh, our aching butts...Tony looked a little green at the thought of adding more biking but we all manned up and agreed it was the right choice.

The first section was a slow climb on fire roads up to a high ridge in the sunshine, with brilliant views and a nice descent.  Perhaps the only exception to the hike-a-bike boggy bits?   Hard to say.   Our brakes were screaming on the endless descent, luckily there were frequent puddles to cool them down!   Then it was more flat, fast SusTrans routes all the way to the canyoning stage, except for a cheeky little hill that left us all huffing (and me walking!)

Special Stage:  Canyoning, Falls of Bruar
Luckily we were able to arrive at the canyoning in daylight with some warmth left in the day, and got kitted out in thick wetsuits against the chill of the water.  Sarah and the army of volunteers were there as well, to stuff us with hot drinks before and after the plunge.  We asked Sarah where we were in the rankings, and she said she didn't know, while juggling 3 cups of hot chocolate and directing traffic (she said after the race that we were almost dead last at that point and she just didn't want to tell us!).

I have to say that while I enjoy canyoning, in reality it can be a bit scary.  Well, especially on legs that have already been exercising for 34 hours!  High jumps, cold water, powerful waterfalls and slippery rocks began to take their toll on all of us about halfway through the canyoning section.  We enjoyed it up until then, but started to get cold, tired, and sore from thumping into hidden rocks on the sliding portions of the falls.  I was happy not to get permanently trapped under a waterfall, but was moving pretty unsteadily by the end. The cold water was probably really good for our muscles, though!

Back on the Bike

For the middle half of the big bike stage, we slowly and steadily gained elevation on what might be the most scenic part of the route, Glen Tilt.   The River Tilt crashed down along side us in the steep-sided valley, with more waterfalls to distract us from our saddle sores.  We had an enjoyable ride up the long, U-shaped valley, with daylight lasting just long enough for us to see it.  All good things come to an end, though, and what followed was too many kilometers of single-track trail, too skinny to ride or walk.  Calm conditions brought the midges out, too, so it was headnets on and stopping was verboten.  We seemed to go on hiking for hours, with room on the trail for either me or the bike, and sometimes the bike didn't win.  Othertimes it did, leaving a welt where the pedal kept hitting me in the calf as we tried to share space without falling off the cliff into the river. 

Once on the descent, the track was good again, allowing for quick speeds in pitch darkness, slowing only to wade across 3 or 4 knee-deep rivers.   We were down at the next transition before our feet had time to freeze into lumps of ice.   We forgot our feet when we walked in the door of Mar Lodge, where there were several thousand deer antlers hanging from the ceiling!?!

Here we had an option to do some orienteering.  In the middle of the night.  In a forest.  We took a look at the map, which was much bigger than we imagined, and unanimously voted to skip it.  The better option, which we took, was to grab some steaming pasta from Clive Ramsey's mobile catering van...I think he got as little sleep as we did during the race!  Hot food was wonderful, and gave us the motivation to those wet socks back on and head out on our bikes, again.

Back on the Bike.  Again

The longest leg was left, 70 km which would take us all the way to the start of the long trek.  But that didn't sound very motivating at 1 am, with bellies full of pasta.  We made it a few miles down the road and then found a soft mossy spot to pitch our tent and grab a couple hours sleep.  Tony and I found this doubly welcome as this would be our first sleep since the start of the race.  It was equally nice to hear the rain start to fall just after we had all crawled in the tent. 

Nap time had left us with only a small amount of darkness left to ride in, and then it was a long stretch of road riding along a river.  But it was a pleasant morning of downhill, clear skies, sunshine, wind at our backs, and decent temperatures...we couldn't really ask for more on the hump day of a week-long adventure race. 

The Sting in the tail came when we turned off road to go through the Queen's forest.  It was still pleasant riding, but now slightly uphill through gorgeous thick pine forests.  But we knew that the end of the uphill would put us on top of Mount Keen, the easternmost Munro and theoretically the only one that bikes can reach.  Well, if they get there, it's only because they have been pushed, pulled, lifted, cursed at, and tripped over...it was a long slog up a rocky trail to stand at the summit.  The guys saw me struggling and took both my pack and my bike near the top, thankfully giving me a chance to gasp for air.  At the summit, the decent started no better, since the newly paved trail was littered with 10 inch high rock water barriers to be jumped over.  I must admit they scared me silly.  First I got off my bike at each one, then attempted to ride over them, but I never managed to lift my back tyre over them without a hard thump. It took a toll on my bike by the end, in the form of a flat tubeless tyre.  Gavin the mechanic quickly stuffed in a tube and we were off again, where I promptly fell over on the next uphill because I was in too hard a gear!   I limped/rolled my way to transition and waved a non-fond goodbye to my bike for a while. 

Stage 7: 75k Trek-30 hours

The big, scary trek.  We ended up doing at least 70k but the whole route was over 100k.   This, too was divided into three sections.  The first one was a long, boggy, peaty slog.  There really were no trails in this wild country, and unending over the rounded hills were the scary scars of black bogs. A few other teams were around to give us company, but it was big terrain and took a long time to cross. In fact, about 7 hours to get over the bogs, and it wasn't until near the end that we realized the black dirt wouldn't swallow us whole, in fact held up fairly well under our feet.  We came down out of the bogs with clean shoes, even...unbelievable.    The rough terrain was demoralizing, though...darkness was falling as we found the trail down into the valley, just in time as I was ready to sit down and have a good cry.  Just kidding.

The Scramble ascent in the distance,
which we did mostly in darkness.
Climbing out of the valley into the second section brought us into a dark, windy night.  The glow of my headlamp was mesmerizing, and every time I looked away from the rocky trail, I would lose my balance and weave sideways a little.  It was so dark that trail decisions took 5 times as long as normal, even though we could see lights ahead of us.   Rapidly approaching was the first rock scramble, the thought of which was scrambling our brains at midnight.  We collectively decided that we were too tired to risk the climb in darkness, and set off to find a place to pitch the tent.

This was harder to do that we imagined, as the slope around the lake leading up to the gully was steep, rocky, and rough.  We spread out and managed to find the only semi-flat grassy spot in the whole place, crawled in the tent, and waited for daylight.  The wind was gusting so badly in my sleep-deprived state, that I kept imagining it would blow away, and that only me staying awake would keep the rain cover safe.  I didn't get any sleep.  Neither did Tony, shivering in his one-man bivy.  He crawled into our tent to warm up, but with the slope putting all our heads at the top, our shoulders just wouldn't fit.  No sleep for him either, back into the bivy once he warmed up.  It was a long night. 

At Glenshee midway through the trekking stage
 At the first crack of daylight we were climbing the slippery rocks to the scramble.  Luckily the wind diminished in the crack of rock, and I think we were all happy to be moving again.  What followed was a long slog over a lot more terrain, but thankfully this time there were more tracks to follow.  Shortly past midday we arrived at the second pit stop, the ski lodge at Glenshee.  Sarah was waiting there along with Clive Ramsey's catering van.  We arrived looking almost dead and left an hour later looking slightly more alive, and ready to start the 3rd leg of the trek. 

On paper, the last trekking leg looked fairly pleasant, first a climb up to a ridge and then a relatively flat walk along it.  The changing winds gave us the same trouble we had all day....first we were cold when the sun went away, and then suddenly we were hot on the climbs.  Our Paramo jackets, while brilliant in cold,wet weather, were just a little too much for the mild conditions.  It was a pleasant walk, though, for a while, until we came to a steep valley with nothing but bogs waiting for us on the other side.  I was quite tired by this point, it was now Thursday and I hadn't slept but 2 hours since Monday morning.  I think I started weaving a bit and falling even further behind the guys than usual.  They took pity on me and carried my pack, still managing to walk faster than me. 

I'll spare you the pain of the next several hours, it was basically lots of climbing, descending, bogs, and a rain shower.  Just when we thought we were near the end, there was the worst bog of all, a really steep descent, and a long road section.  Our feet, which had been soggy for 4 days now and used to soft terrain, suddenly hurt worse on the tarmac than ever before.  We walked fast to stay ahead of the midges, and were grateful to see the transition bike boxes appear on the road side. 

Stage 8: 29k Bike-3 hours

We were in an out of the midge-infested transition field as fast as we could assemble our bikes.  We were also chasing darkness, which fell somewhere along the fast road bike section.  While sitting on our saddles wasn't fun at all, being off our feet and in a pace line was a relief.  The road biking lasted until just the last couple of kilometers, but the last hill was a douzy.  I was in a fog of exhaustion by then, and with Jon pushing my bike and his, I still couldn't keep up, falling behind as I slowly walked up the hill.   Normally we would have stopped to sleep at that point, but we knew that the next transition was a time-out area until 6 am, so we could get there and have a long sleep with no penalities. 

Sitting in a chair...lovely!

I'm sure that no health and safety inspector would have passed me the ok to still be riding my bike, though, especially when the descent turned into a long, steep, rocky, muddy singletrack.  All of our lights were starting to dim, as we hadn't expected to need them much on the road sections.  Jon gave me his brighter headlamp but I was still in danger of crashing at every bump in the road.  In daylight it would have been a fun descent...at night and extremely tired, I'm just glad to get down it, as somehow we did. 

Grandtully transition showed bright lights and our welcome kit bags.  I crashed in a chair and didn't move for a long time, except to eat a little.  Even walking out to the tent seemed too much effort.  The guys kept saying things like "Dawn, get your sleeping bag and go out to the tent and sleep."   I've never in my life felt so out of it as at that moment.   By midnight, we managed to sort a little gear and then crashed hard until the alarms went of at 5 am for a last day of racing. 

Stage 9: 60k Paddle-7 Hours

Back in the dry suit and now in the front of the canoe where my tired self belonged, we set out on the last paddling section of the race.  It was nice to be sitting again, but that also made it easy to lose concentration.  Although the river was pulling us along steadily, we paddled to get even more speed and keep ourselves awake.  Although I often would find myself paddling with my eyes closed, jerking back awake when a stroke would miss the water completely and catch air.  Tony in the other front boat was in the same boat , and we stopped after a few hours to dig some caffeine tabs out of my pack.  There was another orienteering stop halfway through the paddle, but it was optional, so we skipped it.  None of us felt like moving on foot any longer, with blisters and sore feet appreciating the break.  Arriving at the rapids helped us concentrate, too, although they weren't as bad and we managed to stay dry this time.  
Stage 10: 60k Bike - 4 Hours

The last stage!!!  By this time butt meeting saddle was terribly painful to everyone.  We just wanted to hurry through the stage and get to the finish line.  A large rainshower tried to slow us down with big drops, but we outran it and got into dry ground again.   One last silly hill stood in our way, but we raced it standing up like our bottoms were on fire and enjoyed a fast descent into Stirling.  Ok, well maybe we took a teensy weeny wrong turn and had to hike up a steep hill to get back on the right road!  We still managed to run into the finishing chute and get our medals, and then got to stop racing.  It felt weird, actually! 

Total race time was about 99 hours, with a lot more added for penalties of missed controls.  We finished 9th out of 36 teams, which we all found amazingly high!  I guess we just continued to move at a steady pace, while a lot of other teams went out to fast, got injured, and then slowed down. 

A BIG THANKS to all the volunteers out there on the race, moving bike boxes and kit bags and cleaning up after the tornado of racers moved through each transitions.  From Jon, Tony, Gavin and myself....We appreciated it!!!!

One week later, post-race note

Phew!  After eating everything in sight for a week, and sleeping the rest of the time, I still feel a little dazed by the race.  I tried going out for a walk today, and quickly realized that a nap sounded much better.  My dreams are totally weird...I dream of nothing but walking through endless bogs, sometimes while dragging a canoe or a bike along.  Perhaps my brain is trying to process through the race, somehow?  I know it took a few days before I could slow down and not feel like I had to hurry through my activities.  Anyway, it was quite an experience and one I am not likely to forget! 

We (tried to sleep) some where down there!
James Kirby the cameraman, finally gets a nap...


  1. Wow! Awesome! Way to go! What an achievement just to finish. I now feel truly pathetic trying to get Joe, Dustin and I ready for the 24 hour in NY. What a story, what an adventure.

  2. Eric,

    Thanks! Every race is an adventure, so go have one in NY! Good luck and I'll try to follow the race online! Watch out though, I started off with 24 hour races and just kept going longer.... :)