Third race of the Open5 Series, with some things changed, some kept the same, and a faintly interesting end result.
The same: I'd been kayaking the day before. Come on, I'm not changing that unless I absolutely have to. We'd had a good day on the Leven, though I took another swim at Backbarrow, which seems to have become an annoyingly bad habit recently. Poor line and a failure to roll, the latter being the more annoying part as I've actually worked on my rolling recently and re-outfitted the boat to help with that, and in the end didn't even try, just panicked and pulled the rip cord. Something to work on anyway.
Different: I've been struggling with a calf injury since just after the Slaidburn race, picked up at a parkrun while trying to get some actual training in. I wasn't even pushing hard, heading for a similar 'around 30min' pace when, at the 4km mark, I felt like someone had stabbed me in the back of the leg. So since then it's been a case of rest, ice, compression and gentle functional movement to try and recover without making anything worse.
I stayed at Edmundbyers YHA overnight, with a few other racers. Got a decent nights kip despite at least one snorer in the dorm (probably two once I'd dropped off...). Driving into Blanchland in the morning was a little skatey and skiddy in places, and despite thinking I'd never been there before I recognised the village. Turns out an old kayaking friend got married there a long time ago, and we made merry in the Lord Crewe pub and then us poor impoverished student kayakers who couldn't afford hotels or holiday cottages slept in our tents on the village playing field, apart from the one who'd broken his collarbone biking the morning of the wedding who got given the groom's brother's bed.
Anyway, leaving the half-recalled drunkenness aside, there had been snow during the Saturday afternoon and evening and a freeze overnight, but the morning itself was bright and calm with the odd snow shower and squall. Joe Faulkner and Nav4 Adventure were providing the catering, so I grabbed a coffee and a Danish and settled down with the maps to delay my start a little bit. Early starters would have the joys of both trailbreaking through the four inches of snow on the higher trails and risking ice on more major tracks and roads. I set off about 9:25 and reckon that was about premium; the snowy trails were compacted enough to be firm but without having yet turned slushy and muddy, and any ice on the tarmac was thawing and becoming less of a hazard.
Because of the weather and the leg issue, I changed my gameplan for the day and biked first rather than running, reasoning that if I ran first and blew my calf up, it would knacker both disciplines, whereas if I got a good long bike loop done in a decent time I could take a token leisurely stroll round a couple of run checkpoints to validate that section and not risk further injury. That worked out well, and kit choice did as well, no issues again, with enough layers to stay warm without overheating. There was a pretty wide temperature difference through the day, alternating between cold grimaces while pushing through the snow squalls and enjoying the sunshine and blue skies between them. Technically, I had a couple of minor chainsuck issues late on on the bike, but I'm sure that was just mud and snow gunking up the drivetrain and nothing like as bad as the Muker race.
Had problems with my bike GPS turning itself off mid-ride, think it twisted on my stem while I was pushing at some point and the power button pushed on the bolt for my map board, but this is the route and the relevant time. The route itself worked out well, did the major climbs on tarmac and/or good gravel track, descended on the rougher stuff. Could be faster if I was fitter, as always, but tactically and technically no mistakes this time, which is nice to say. Following some of the smaller trails would have been hard for the first off, the moorland singletrack would have been nearly indistinguishable under the snow. A couple of judgement calls about which direction to take certain loops worked in my favour and I cleared all bar one of the bike checkpoints in 3:42. The one I dropped looked like a bit of a deathmarch, a 3-4km of out-and-back moorland singletrack, worth 30 points but likely to have been slow going.
My transition wasn't too slow, sub 5mins, and the plan to take it steady worked out well as there were four CPs making for an easy sub-5km loop without too much climb. The tarmac up to the first two was patchy with ice, so taking it gently worked well, then a slippy, muddy field-edge bridleway linked across to the third, with tarmac and then a lovely clear wooded trail to the final one on a waterfall just outside the village. I jogged gently on the flat and down to test the muscle a bit, backed off if it twinged and just enjoyed the stroll. Made it back well in time, 4:48 in total, having enjoyed the day at a pretty steady trot.
Got myself changed and then headed back to the hall to download and eat (soup, chilli, flapjack and coffee, thanks again Joe!), and ended up surprised that I'd actually scored higher here than I have in either of the previous two races, obviously the enforced tactical change paid off, and I probably made pushier choices on the bike rather than playing it safe and dropping CPs. I just need to keep rehabbing the leg and try to build the fitness (as always!) before Lowther in March.