Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Misadventure Racing - Open5 Edale

I might have to go with a Friends-esque episode subtitle for this particular blog entry.
Unfortunately, that subtitle would have to be "The one with loads of Rookie Errors."


There are some races you relish and reminisce about, and there are some you just have to chalk up to experience and try and learn from: Edale was one of the latter. Some good bits, don't get me wrong, and no issues that weren't entirely of my own making. Not the worst score I've ever had on an Open5 event either, I think. But too many little things wrong..

I hadn't had the best of preparations for this one, not that that's an excuse. Not enough time on my bike over winter, and while I'd tried to do a bit more running after the December race, tearing my left calf just before New Year put paid to that. The weather's been awful, the motivation has been low, the pizza shop is oh-so-handy, all the usual cobblers. I'm carrying a few extra pounds, I know. I'm working on it...

First I drink the coffee, then I do the stuff. (Pic: James Kirby)
Being awful at mornings, I did the customary thing of booking into the nearest YHA for the night before the event. Edale hostel was plenty handy but very full, so a relaxing evening was spent reading a book and drinking a beer on my tod in the quiet entrance/boot room bit of the annex block. Got an early night but didn't sleep particularly well, though not due to a snorer in the room this time round. Early start, up at 6:45 just after another racer in the same dorm room had got up - I was awake anyway, and there was no way I was getting back to sleep before my 7am alarm anyway. Headed to the kitchen to put the coffee pot on admire the inches of snow that had fallen overnight while prepping breakfast. The sun was coming up, the snow was still coming down at varying rates, so it seemed like an idea to head down to Registration to have another coffee and a chat with Nav4 Joe on catering duty again. The usual confusion of trying to do some rough route-setting while still not quite with it, then back to the car to get kitted up and discover...

Rookie Error #1: When packing the car for a biking and running event, it helps to remember to pack your running shoes.

It wasn't just the running shoes, really: I'd neglected to load the drybag rucksack which is my normal transition bag. That tends to contain a small paktowl, spare gloves, spare buff, spare warm layer and bit of extra food as well as the trail shoes. Everything bar spare shoes I had in the car, including another dry bag, so that lot got made up into a transition bag. The shoes part was a worry though, even though I knew the run would be the smaller part of the day. The end solution was to ditch my normal stiff carbon-soled MTB race shoes for the pair of Specialized Cadets I fortuitously also had in the car - a more trainer-like, less stiff shoe that I only normally use for casual bimbling and commuting. They wouldn't be great across muddy fields on the run, but they'd be better than the race shoe for as and when I ended up pushing the bike as well.

Off early for once! (Pic: James Kirby)
That terrible decision dealt with, I got myself kitted up - not excessive numbers of layers given the conditions, but enough. Come 8:55am I was ready and ahead of my own schedule, ending up being one of the first to roll up at the start. I knew my time of trail-breaking wouldn't last for long as there'd be plenty of faster people starting behind me, but it was a novel situation to be in, as I rolled across the start line at 9:03am (by Jim's watch as the big race clock was on the fritz...)



Bike: 33.34km / 765m ascent / 3:54:24
https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/2492396344

I started off pretty well. The first couple of CPs were an easy spin along the tarmac, and both being high points they were a no-brainer. After that it was a split decision, whether to dogleg back along the road and commit to the climb up-and-over to the end of Ladybower reservoir or to stay on the road  and low in the valley. I opted to risk the climb and it was well worth it. The wind was behind me, which made it an easier go, and the snow abated briefly. James Kirby, the regular Open 5 Event Photographer (whose fine images adorn this blog regularly) appeared, so there's actually a shot of me on the hill for this race, unlike Coniston. A grin and a greeting exchanged, onwards and upwards. One easy CP on a gate at Jaggers Clough and then a second climb where the wind made itself known, glasses back on as scoured snow whipped into my face and stung. A few drifts to trap your wheels if you weren't paying attention, a few comedy offs, but soon into the shelter of the forest and a steep, nasty rocky descent to the reservoir that mainly ended up being a walk. On a social ride on a good dry day in summer I might have ridden a good chunk of it, but not on a cold snowy day during a race, discretion over valour and all that jazz.

First climb, wind at my back (Pic: James Kirby)
Down by the reservoir it was beautifully sheltered, and I think I got lulled into a false sense of security. A fast spin along the shoreline track, picking up another CP opposite the Ladybower Viaduct, then past the dam - the sinkhole roaring with overflow water - and down into Thornhill on tarmac, with a short zig-zag down and back to pick up another 15 points. Gentle road climb into Aston, chasing down the guy on the fat bike whose tyre prints I'd seen in the snow up on the top, and then turning south and across the main road into Bradwell and a short steep climb up to CP15 at the road end. A quick look at the map, slightly fuzzy through the melted snow and spray on the mapboard, down the road and start turn left onto the climb towards...

Rookie Error #2: Look at the map. Look at the map again. Really, really, look at the map. Seriously...

I'd half discounted CP10, or decided I'd climb up the road the south side of Hope Quarry and drop down to it before climbing back up to CP7. That seemed better than dropping back down almost to Hope village, going a decent way out of the way and descending further only to have to climb back up. What I'd failed to spot on the map was the neat, almost contouring bridleway through the woodlands at the east side of the quarry and into Pin Dale, which would have taken me nicely past CP10 on the way to CP7: no dog-leg out-and-back required. I don't know whether I'd missed it entirely,  or half spotted it and discounted the pink dashed line as a footpath, but I obviously hadn't clocked it as a far better route choice than the one I ended up taking. Steeper - the same height gain total but all in a shorter distance on the climb out of Pin Dale - but considering how my actual route went probably little difference in time and one extra CP to be gained. Ho hum.

Wintery hill, teeth gritted (Pic: James Kirby)
The climb was a slog, no two ways about it. A couple of inches of compacted snow, plus low-ish profile rear tyre, plus headwind, plus gradient meant off the bike and push. Not an issue in itself - I'd been vaguely proven right about the shoes - but slow going. A few attempts to remount and ride were fairly abortive, I'd get on, get clipped in, get a few yards and have to unclip and step off again: It was less faffy just to push. I got up to a decent point where the gradient eased a little and hopped back on, feeling better for some opportunity to actually ride for the first time in a while. The road was still covered in compacted snow, but was surprisingly ridable when the wind was playing nice. A few hard gusts and a few ruts meant a foot down intermittently, and while it was hard going into the direct headwind, it wasn't as bad as the climb - at least I was pedalling rather than pushing. As I started to curve northwards the block-headwind became a side-headwind, and started causing more problems, pushing me towards the hedges and ruts I was trying to avoid.

Just as I was resettling myself after a near-off, I'm jolted by a furious revving and honking behind me. I hadn't heard a car, and thought that any driver with any sense and anything other than a 4x4 would have stayed down in the valleys, but no, there's some numpty in a relatively sporty looking rear wheel drive Lexus slithering his way up behind me. I won't say I dived out of the way, but I did make sure I was well clear as he slid past, revving furiously to keep momentum up. He disappeared off around the curve, though I got the last laugh when I came across him 10min later, trying to dig himself out of a three foot deep snowdrift. "I've got winter tyres on, I thought it would be alright!" he moaned. I gave him a brief hand trying to push the car out while his partner sat in the driver's seat, but it was going nowhere and I wasn't exactly kitted up to stand around in the snow for too long, I needed to keep moving.

I made it to the junction of the tracks, opted not to drop down to CP10, the climb had taken me far too long, even without the RAC-stop. I met up with a few people making their way up from Pin Dale and turned back into the headwind toward CP7, fighting through the wind, trying to avoid the ruts, trying not to get blown off the bike again. Starting to feel a little the worse for wear and lashed by spindrift, I pulled my glasses back on and a Buff up onto my face to get some protection. Finally slogging over to Oxlow House and the top of Winnats Pass, I'd given up any thought of dropping down the broken road so hauled myself up to Windy Knoll and the notch at the end of Mam Tor. Looking on the map, there was one CP I could get on the way back...

Rookie Error #3: When you're handed the control descriptions at the start, cross out ALL the 'No Control' CPs.
And also...
Rookie Error #4: If you haven't done this, don't lose your control descriptions sheet on the hill.

I joyfully, wearily, hauled my backside up to the notch, and pulled over where the bridleway leaves the road, down to CP5. Checked my control descriptions - oh no, hang on. They're not in their usual location, in the mesh side pocket of my feed bag. They must have blown out or been dropped somewhere on the hill. No matter, I'll drop down to the CP, do a very quick check, and if I can't see it within 30 seconds, that's it. Get the hell out of Dodge.

The first 30 yards of the bridleway was ridable, the rest would have been more suited to a luge track, quite fittingly. Sliding ever downwards with the bike, laughing quietly at how idiotic this 'Dubious Mountain Judgement' was, to paraphrase Mr Faulkner. Slipping and sliding, I made it down to the junction of the bridleways and headed right through to the stream crossing where, utterly predictably, I couldn't see a CP unit. I searched around for a moment, but the utter lack of other tyre tracks didn't inspire any confidence, so I binned it and rode back as quickly as I could. I made it to transition in a shade under 4hrs, knackered and annoyed with myself. While I hadn't yet realised my error around CP10, I was annoyed I'd wasted time on the 'No Control' CP5 when I could have been back a good 10mins quicker if I'd just come down the road from Mam Tor. 'Fuming' didn't cover it

Anyhow, at least the lack of a change of shoes meant my transition was fairly swift, sub 2 mins, probably the only thing I took a Top 20 time for that day (16th overall in 1:54, apparently!). The lovely transition staff handed me a replacement set of descriptions, and I headed out the gate again with roughly an hour available for a short shuffle.

Run: 6.55km / 58m ascent / 1:08:39
https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/2492399807 

The run route was pretty nice for me, despite the discomfort of running in biking shoes. The planner had very nicely located five CPs within a 1.5km radius of the Start/Finish area, so that gave a nice looking 6km-ish run with 120 points available.

First one was easy, just down the road from the transition. Trotting up the lane towards Ollerbrook Booth, chatting with another solo who had loads of time to spare having started well behind me. Perhaps I should have moved a bit faster and chatted less, but we got to the CP and turned left again back towards Edale. I should have paid more attention again, but I was starting to flag after the hard work on the bike, and missed a turning onto a slightly shorter footpath option, ending up going further north to emerge by The Old Nag's Head and Cooper's Cafe. Pulling myself together, I stopped myself from shuffling off down the Pennine Way and turned onto the right footpath, slithering my way acros s sodden fields south-eastwards to pick up another CP near Shaw Wood, then on to Barber Booth and a fourth on a footbridge over a the river but under a railway. One more CP to go and I could go home, but I was flagging badly...

Rookie Error #5: Even if you're blowing hard on the bike, remember to eat and drink. It helps keep you moving.

I'm told I look this p***ed off 60% of the time. (Pic: James Kirby)
I knew that was what had gone wrong. Thinking back, I should have been eating and drinking more as I was pushing up the hill out of Bradwell, but I hadn't, and I was starting to pay for it. I threw one of my 'emergency' gels down my neck and washed it down with the last of the Tailwind in my bottle, and trudged across yet another muddy field, munching down a cereal bar to try and render myself human, if only briefly. Strangely, when I'm having a bit of a low, I invariably feel too hot, so the skullcap came off, the gloves came off, jacket and gilet unzipped as I punched in at the last of my loop CPs and contemplated the return route. Continuing on the field-edge footpaths east then north down a bridleway was ever-so-slightly shorter, but I was slipping and sliding enough. retracing my steps to the road and trudging home on tarmac was maybe a little further, but flatter and likely to be easier. I turned tail and headed for the road, climbing the last stile and heading for home, alternating a jog-walk to try and hold pace but also avoid damaging my calf any more. The cleat bolts in the shoe sole made their presence felt more on the tarmac, but I trundled on regardless.

I'd love to say I put in a glory sprint, but I'd be lying. I jogged up and dibbed in, pretty well spent. I'd run slightly over time, a touch over 7mins, so took 16 penalty points to drop my score from 340 to 324. Again, that's not my worst score, but I could have realistically had another CP in there and no penalties if I'd not made the Rookie Errors. We all live and learn, though, and there's one more race in the series to try and correct a few of those, at Grassington in the Dales in March.

Until then!