I am massively behind on writing this up but quite a few weekends ago a friend of mine that I met in the Marathon des Sables and I headed for the Isle of Purbeck to compete in an adventure race. I was certainly looking forward to it and hoped that I could make up for my previous attempt at doing one and getting horribly lost.
It all began with a very early start for a Saturday, luckily meeting at my house, for bacon baps and large mugs of coffee before making up for lost time shooting off down the motorway to the south coast. We were leaving London early in the morning and according to the thermometer in my car it was already reaching 20°C. It was certainly going to be a hot day and as we drove down catching up over what had been happening over the last wee while the car was heating up considerably. Just towards the end my gps decided to stop working completely and we were left following a car in front hat was kitted out with some good mountain bikes and a load of kit in the boot, we could only assume they were heading to the same place. Luckily they were and we were soon at the start area getting ready and making sure we had plenty of sun cream.
The race was to be a slightly different format to usual with us carrying all the kit we needed for the day and switching between foot and bike at various stages depending on each teams strategy. It was a bit disappointing this as our mid race plan of stuffing our faces with pasta salad and other goodies were quickly stopped. Instead we had a pre-race munch.
Our strategy was pretty simple cycle to the nearest running section, get that done and dusted before picking up a load of cycling points with the aim of making it to the coast for the second run. Then all that would be left is a quick sprint back. Easy.
With all our kit we headed for the start point, we had the map ready and were soon going to be told which points were worth what and which didn’t exist. We dibbed in our electronic tag and were off. First part of any adventure race is route planning, we sat down and worked out where we wanted to go. This is almost the hardest part as every part of you just wants to get started but without a decent plan you are stuffed before you even start.
Onto the bikes and we were soon on our way to the 1st checkpoint and the transition to the running stage. We made it without a hiccup and dumped all our kit as we didn’t think we would be out long enough to need water or anything else. Picking up the first couple of checkpoints easily enough was a great start to the race. It took us through a village and past many onlookers who were enjoying the sun by a river and slightly shocked as runners came past in varying degrees of sweatiness and lycra covered athletes. The second section of it took us round a lake before heading towards the transition zone again. It started with almost overshooting a checkpoint before a good mile or so run along the riverside with thigh high stinging nettles and an ever increasing feeling that my legs and knees were covered in a new version of prickly deep heat. The day was certainly heating up and we both wanted a big drink as we ran it in back to the transition trying hard not to think of our thirst or stinging legs.
We were soon on our bikes and flying along the country roads and tracks. We could make out in the distance the ridge that we had to climb and could make out a huge set of ruins that resembled a church or similar. Now the interesting thing with some adventure races is that you can never tell how you are doing till the end of the race as you constantly pass people heading in the same and opposite directions, even at the same checkpoint you can head separate ways as your strategy, physical fitness and ability to map read can all vary greatly. It is still slightly disconcerting as you pass people travelling in the opposite direction to you. We were now on a mixture of farm tracks and single bike tracks some of which were impossible climbs. It was just lucky that the weather was good otherwise it could have been much harder.
We had been going for a few hours and our legs were beginning to feel it. My water was almost out and we came squealing into a village as my disc brakes needed some work doing to them. A pub with 2 other races topping up with water was a tempting stop but we kept going. Chasing down some cyclists in front and heading up towards the where the coast would be and our next transition.
It was here that the mountain biking got very interesting we were coming along a ridge with beautiful views of the coastline and the sea beyond. We were picking up speed on the downhill sections which felt great but soon it became incredibly steep. Our arms, teeth, bodies and bikes were all being shaken over the hard rocky ground. My bike at this point started to sound incredibly bad but I assumed this was down to the terrain. At the bottom was our next checkpoint and I checked my front wheel which swayed from side to side. Not great at all but explained a lot! It turned out it had shaken itself loose.
We had a quick stop for some food and water before the run as again we wanted to travel light as possible. We headed to the closest checkpoint which turned out to be a bit of a tactical error as it was down a steep hill and the next was to be back up and along form where we had just come. But never mind it was great being back on our feet. Making our way along a ridge into a military zone open at weekends with an entire cove opening up beneath us was a fantastic sight. The water looked a cool blue colour and small boats and sea kayaks dotted its surface. It is certainly a place to go back to.
Heading down to the coast and we were soon at the sea front smelling the salty air and passing an ice-cream van wishing we carried some change for an ice lolly. Our final checkpoint on the run was at the end of the beach and we hoped it wasn’t up the small but steeply stepped hill that was there too. It turned out that it was and after a quick look round its bas ewe had no option but to head to the top where we picked it up. Running back to the transition and I could tell my legs had done enough running; I was glad that all that was left was a good hard cycle back.
Some more food including a recent addition to my race pack of jelly cubes and we were ready to go. We knew there would be a hard climb but looking at the map after that it would be pretty much all downhill to the finish. We weren’t wrong, after a good climb before deciding we could get some more points and a bit more of a climb we started making our way back down. We absolutely flew down a road trying not to touch the brakes too much and just letting the bike go. Adrian on his slick commuter style tyres was flying a long easily and my knobbly wheeled bike couldn’t really keep up without putting in some extra leg work too. The steep section was all over so quickly and at a cross roads we found ourselves standing in front of a path leading down to what looked like Bruce Waynes house from Batman. After a couple of pictures we were off again, it was looking pretty tight so we really started picked up the pace and drafting off one another like something out of the tour de france.
We made it with loads of time to spare (5 mins or so) and could final get a decent lunch in. After almost 5 hours running and riding we could shower and relax with a bbq before the prize giving. We caught up with some friends and it turned out we had done really well coming a very respectable 4th in our category. All that was left was to head to an awesome pub called the Square and Compass looking out over the coast with a pint of lemonade and a pasty.
The journey back was slightly unusual after placing our full confidence in my GPS system which decided to take us on a route that included a ferry crossing to Bournemouth whilst listening to the euros.