Friends Are For Life…

…just maybe not for adventure races!

American president Abraham Lincoln is quoted as saying “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” American president Abraham Lincoln would have made a great adventure racer.

Saturday was my first experience of a new race format combining riding, running and kayaking in a 5 hour time limit. In a team with two blokes I have been friends with for decades, between us we had masses of experience in biking, running…but none whatsoever in kayaking or adventure racing, and it started to show very early on!

When we arrived the “masters” had already received their race packs. (we were in the novice class, and rightly so). They were all huddled in their teams in every available space at race H.Q. poring over the maps planning routes, contingencies, timings etc. We actually laughed at all the people taking it so seriously…

Then it was our turn to pick up our pack, and we eagerly unfolded the race map and looked at the location of the checkpoints. Whilst our competition used measuring wheels to calculate efficient routes and wrote copious notes on strategy, we glanced at the cartography and surmised “we’ll ride round the hill, then run to the kayak, run back and ride to the finish”. It turns out adventure racing demands a little more preparation and forethought than that.

Should have spent a bit longer studying this

Should have spent a bit longer studying this

Even so, we set of at 11.30am with a rough game plan, plenty of energy gels and some friendly banter…none of which lasted very long.

We started strongly, riding between checkpoints much faster than we’d anticipated. We were ticking off checkpoints with surprising regularity and very quickly things got a bit more serious as we realised we had an opportunity to do okay at this. There were a couple of navigational errors, mostly by me, and I was feeling the pressure of trying to navigate, think three moves ahead and watch the clock all at the same time. We’d all adopted roles, me with the map, Russ with the checkpoint descriptions and James with the checkpoint recorder. Let me make it clear now that if you ever think about entering a team in to an event like this, adventure racing by committee is an absolute impossibility. I couldn’t navigate with my teammates already 100 metres up the road and I’m trying to keep up. Russ couldn’t offer constructive advice about the location of the checkpoint when he hadn’t seen the map. James couldn’t easily find the checkpoint having seen neither the map or description and being reliant on the two blokes who are now arguing about the next step. If you want to do this well you either need planning with team consent every step of the way or a designated captain who makes the decisions. Still, our bickering and slapstick violence amused other racers so at least we served a purpose!

After an hour of riding we changed tactic. I wasn’t in favour of this move, working out our speed so far, the distance we had to cover and the checkpoints on offer I wouldn’t have chosen to ride/walk up the side of the only big hill on the course but as the alternative didn’t involve any real mountain biking I was quickly out-voted and we went in search of adventure if not success. I guess it is called an adventure race and we did ride some great trails…but the deviation from the plan meant more time trying to navigate and more errors. As a result we got to the bike/run transition later than we’d planned…and as that was pretty much the only bit of planning we’d done that was a shame.

After attacking the hill and powering to transition I was surprised at how easy the running felt. I’m sure the little bag of morale I pulled out of my pack helped, who wouldn’t love some foam milkshakes after 2 hours in the saddle?! We left transition with a renewed energy and happiness…and instantly went wrong. It was the smallest of navigational errors, we left a field 20 metres from where we should have done, spent a few minutes looking for a checkpoint in completely the wrong place and lost even more time searching for an acceptable path so as to stay within the rules. Only picking up 2 checkpoints on the way we arrived at the kayak transition 20 minutes late…

Once on the water, we didn’t drown. From that viewpoint the kayaking was a success, but with only 40 minutes to play with we managed two checkpoints out on the water. I was solo on my kayak, and hard work it was too! No matter how even I tried to make my stroke keeping myself going straight was an impossible task, and the other two in their kayak were virtually spinning their way along the river! We did agree that we enjoyed it though and I think there may be plans for some more fun on the water soon.

With just over an hour to get back to the finish we ran back to the bike transition picking up three more checkpoints on the way, then blasted the 4km back to base on our bikes. We finished well inside the 5 hour time limit, but I don’t think we could have picked up any more checkpoints in that time and seeing teams crash over the line a minute outside the limit and pick up penalties as a result I’m glad we played it safe.

Amazingly, despite our lack of knowledge, planning, no particular attempt at speed and with all the mistakes we made, we still managed to come 10th in our category! We’d never expected to do so well and I think that might be success enough to ensure we come back for another go some time…although the disappointing race memento of a fridge magnet was almost enough to put us off!

£40, 5 hours of hard work, arguments and energy gels...for this!

£40, 5 hours of hard work, arguments and energy gels…for this!

So, what would my advice be for me if I was to ever do this again?

  • Take the time to understand the map and estimate the time between checkpoints
  • Have a map board on the bike. Trying to get it out of my pocket, unfold it, read it whilst riding etc made life difficult and cost valuable time
  • Plan routes several moves ahead. Understand the next few directions and make sure you know what you are looking for before you get there.
  • Assign a team captain, one decision maker, and agree that their word is final.
  • Never let the competition get in the way of the fun!

I just hope I listen to me when the time comes.

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3 Responses to Friends Are For Life…

  1. cindysleepspinresearch says:

    That sounds like an intense experience! I hope you did enjoy yourself, even with all the “struggles.”

    • James Clay says:

      Somehow, despite it all, it was a really great day out. I love my friends because they are strong characters…but 3 strong characters does not make an effective race team!

  2. Charles Montgomery Speakeasy says:

    Dear James, I have checked the results and I have to correct you, your team did in fact finish 14th. Kind regards, The Organisers

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