Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Misadventure Racing - Open5 Grassington

So, for once in the whole ‘Misadventure Racing’ topic, I’m going to start with a massive bunch of positives about how the latest Open5 race went, as barring a couple of things I’m fairly happy with my performance.

Firstly, I felt way better than I have in any of the races so far. Obviously conditions help, it was a really pleasant day and stayed dry, but evidently my fitness is also bit closer to where it should be as well.
Secondly, my score was my 3rd highest ever at 385, behind a 430 at Broughton way back in 2006 and a 415 in the snow at Blanchland in 2016.
Thirdly, I nailed my second longest bike leg on an Open5 - 44km behind the 50km I did at Todmorden in 2016 - and my 3rd longest run. The latter is maybe more significant, because in both of the higher distances (Muker and Slaidburn, 15/16 series) I ran first rather than biked first.

All really good stuff. Unfortunately, those positives are tempered by a few issues:
Firstly, my CPs score was 445, but I ended up with -60 in penalty points for being 17 minutes late in.
Secondly, I made a big navigational error on the bike that probably cost me half an hour - you see why that 17 minutes is an annoyance?!
Thirdly, I could have lost more time on the run. I thought I’d made a big nav error in the woods, but looking at the GPS track after I actually wasn’t a million miles off where I planned, and I was always moving in the right direction. I just wasn’t 100% sure where I was at the time.

So, as a very quick TL;DR summary for the short of concentration, before I get into the play-by-play:
I had a damn good day, and while I’m annoyed about the mistakes, they’re something to learn from for next year.

Right, now for the long, involved, boring bit! Pull up a coffee...

Marking up at the start. Pic: James Kirby
The last race of the ‘17-18 Open5 Series ran from Grassington, which was lovely for me since it’s only about an hour from home, I didn’t need to book a Youth Hostel for the night before, and it’s an area I know a bit of from various kayaking and biking adventures over the years.

I pitched up for 8am after an early start and a decent breakfast, headed up to Registration to sign in and grab a coffee and a chat with Joe again. Looking at the map I'd guessed the area for the biking fairly well - Mastiles Lane at one end, Burnsall at the other. A few tracks on the board that I'd ridden, a few that I hadn't, but a couple of decent looking loops to get stuck into. I nabbed Ian Furlong's highlighter (note to self: add one of those to the kit, it makes spotting bridleways - like the one you missed last time! - so much easier...) and scribbled a bit, planned a couple of things, and headed back to the car to kit up and get started.

Bike: 44.10km / 740m ascent / 3:38:37

I started early and set off on the bike as usual. A first loop north from base, getting nicely warmed up climbing through town and up the road to pick up an easy CP and loop east across the old lead mines and down a lovely bridleway and track down the Hebden Beck valley. A few riders I saw taking this loop the other way had definitely picked the short straw, it was much easier (and more fun...) to descend the rough stuff than climb it!

Dropping onto the road again in Hebden itself, into a back lane behind the church for another CP and then down a very muddy, rubbly, smelly lane out to the road again. There were probably marginally faster routes for that leg, I'll admit. Down the road towards the footbridge and stepping stones below Hebden - which we were forbidden to cross! I was expecting the bloke with the 3 questions out of Monty Python - turning left and heading towards Hartlington for another CP, then over the bridge at Burnsall, hitching on behind a couple of road bikers and getting a little bit of a tow up to the bridleway entrance down to the footbridge again. The nice policeman pulling out of the little layby at the entrance waved me in ahead of him, I hopped off and walked with my bike down the steep slippy steps, punched in and watched a certain male pair walking back across the bridge (stuck behind a woman with a pushchair) having obviously dropped their bikes at the north side and walked across. As Mark Chryssanthou pulled up just behind me, I pointed it out and we had a quick chat about how that should be deducted from their score, as the map plainly said "Do not cross the river", not just "Don't take your bike across the river".

Smiling for once! Must be early, I'm clean... Pic: James Kirby
Anyway, away from that grumbling, up a muddy, grassy bank with Mark C and Ian Furlong alongside, both moving faster than me. Across a couple of fields and out onto the road, taking a slightly longer route rather than a short steep shock, out-and-back to CP12 and down the singletrack bridleway through CP13 and down to road, into Linton and over the gravel track to CP10. I'd been debating this loop with myself a bit, and with 20/20 hindsight I should have been more confident and gone 13, 12, 20, 10, 7. Playing it probably a bit too conservative, I opted to drop 20 when, realistically, I was going quite well and should have gone for it.

After a quick stint along the road and onto the gravel track to 7, the decent day I'd been having came unglued and I made a massive nav error. My plan was to go from 7 to 5, up on a road/bridleway crossing up on Malham Moor - see illustration. I had two route choices, with little distance difference, maybe 500m, but a difference in the gradients. The slightly shorter road route descended away from CP7 to climb again very steeply whereas the off-road route climbed gradually along it’s distance. If the surface was as I expected it to be, decent 4x4 shooters access track, I didn't think there'd be a massive time loss by taking the longer off-road route. Mark Cryssanthou arrived at the same time as me again (I'm assuming he'd been further than I had!) and again, a quick chat about route choice. He opted to take the road, I decided to take the off road route, fixed it in my mind, set off from the CP, and promptly took the wrong track…

Spot the non-deliberate mistake...
With the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to see where I went wrong: the track I took is marked just as a footpath - pink dots - but on the ground is another decent 4x4 track. I took it because I was looking for a track, not just a path, which I guess I expected to be just to be pedestrian-sized, not vehicle-sized. Looking closer at the map, the track I should have been on left the CP to the right, with a left-hand bend to turn it in the direction I was expecting to go. Evidently I should have just been paying more attention, which is probably the story of my life. It cost me 20-30 mins at least, which is a huge pain given how well I was going. It also added about 5km to my ride, which I probably could have done without, saving my legs for the run a bit might have been nice.

I turned it around a bit on the return leg, having re-arranged the order of some CPs during my little navigational embarrassment to pick up CP3 at the top of Mastiles Lane first, then dropped down the road to 5 then across the grassy bridleway to 6 - or at least where 6 should have been. I arrived to another racer searching the area and looking puzzled, no SI box to punch in on: Description said it should be on the fingerpost; definitely not on the fingerpost. I wasn’t in the mood to hang around so told him I’d vouch for him being in the right place if he’d reciprocate, swapped rider numbers, and headed off down the track at pace, only to spot the SI box on a completely different junction half a km down the lane. Very strange, but I checked the ID and punched in anyway After that it was across Conistone bridge, where we put on for trips down the Wharfe with the Canoe Club, and down the back road to pick up one more CP before the dash back to transition

Run: 8.99km / 171m ascent / 1:35:15

Lack of running time/fitness is still making the run harder than it should be for me, but for once the run was a good one. I was in and out of transition in a decent time - 2:51, including raising a couple of protests/comments with one of the transition staff (the misplaced CP6 and the naughty pair on the footbridge). 15th overall for that leg, and at least I'd remembered my running shoes this time so there was something to actually do in transition! I grabbed a chocolate waffle from the transition bag and shoved it down my neck as I jogged out of the car park, sucked the last of the water out of my reservoir and trotted off.

Navigationally complex? Just a little bit.
The run route looked good, a chance to pull in a few more CPs than I've hit normally, in a decent sub-10km loop. An easy start down Sedber Lane to the bridge at Linton Falls, dodging tourists and walkers gawping at a section I've kayaked many times - it looked in good condition as well! - to the little stone bridge and the first CP. Two more CPs alonge the riverside past Ghaistrall's Strid and up towards Grass Wood. I had a bit of an internal battle going on, knowing my lack of run fitness but not wanting to trot home on the road with 40mins remaining, so decided to go for the wooded loop. The wood was a maze of small paths, some mapped and some not, so it was always going to end up complex. I hit both 36 and 33 spot on, despite a modicum of confusion, and opted to ditch 35 (just on the edge of the illustration) in favour of turning home via 31 and 27. Simple tracks running to the marked crossing point, then hit some smaller paths running the way I wanted to go, and then it all got a bit sticky. The series of question marks are to indicate that this was the way I went, but I'm not sure how the hell I did it...

I never saw the wall that route assumes I crossed, just after the marked crossing point. I popped out into an unmarked clearing with a couple of major cairns, also unmarked, so sighted off Grassington bridge, took a rough bearing and continued. Bushwhacking between a couple of rows of rock outcrops, I eventually spotted a wall below me, the bottom edge of the Bastow Wood enclosure, and followed an unmapped track parallel to it, popping out at the gate right on top of 31, utterly by chance. Serendipitous, but likely slower than I could have been if I'd gone to 35 and used the bigger paths and top wall as handrails. Again 20/20 hindsight and probably a lack of confidence in my running.

I knew I was running late by that point, so the final stretch across the fields to 27 and then down through town to the finish was done as quick as I could manage. Okay, not that quick overall, but more continuous pace that I'd had hacking through the woods. Punched in in 1:35, putting me 17mins over. I know I could have avoided that on the bike, so the slower section of the run would have been fine. With a bit more confidence in myself, I could have taken an extra two CPs for an additional 45 points as well: That's annoying, but something to learn from.

Queueing for Nav4 chilli, coffee and cake! Pic: James Kirby
At the end of it all I ended up 28th out of 38 male solo racers on the day, and 21st in the series, out of 26 that completed at least 2 races, 80 that completed 1 or more. Without the penalties I'd have been 15th place on the day, plus 2 places higher in the series standings, which would have been a major results, but you know, some times s**t happens. In spite of the penalty points, I'd class these as my best bike and run legs of the season, and while I'm disappointed in myself for the mistakes, I'm also very heartened by the work I put in and the distances I covered.

Big thanks as always have to go to James Thurlow and the team at Open Adventure for putting on 3 fantastic races for the winter series, to the planners of each of the events, to the marshals for looking out for us and to NAV4 Adventure Catering for caffeinating and feeding us. This was an awesome way to cap off a brilliant series.

I'm off to clean and dismantle the race bike, since I'm building a new one for next year. Well done to anyone who made it this far!

Cheers all


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