Seeing the snow fall in Leeds the night before the race, I was not sure I would get an opportunity to write this. Fortunately, the roads were sufficiently clear in the early hours for the team to travel up in the van to be greeted with stunning views of the Northern Dales.
When we entered the event, we had decided to race as a team of 4. Our over-riding aim for the year is to compete together at the TERREX and our year is planned accordingly. Officially the Open 5 series is a solo or pair event, so we entered as a male pair and a mixed pair but raced together. We discussed before the race what we would do if this is deemed an unfair advantage. It was decided that we would get on and race, and accept whatever decision event director James Thurlow made on the situation. There is always debate around if racing as a solo, pair or group is an advantage or disadvantage, and I’ll touch of a few aspects of that below.
Running a bit behind schedule, we rummaged through our new kit bags from Sea 2 Summit, selecting our preferred combination of Montane clothing. This was our first opportunity to use our new team kit and the cold conditions gave us the opportunity to play around with various layering options and see what worked for each of us. Unfortunately bike prep let us down, as Renee peddled off to transition, she discovered her brake pads had worn through, so she had to race the whole day with no front brake! (Lessons learnt – always pack spare pads and check the bike over before leaving home!). After a short ride and paddle in a stream to get to transition, we left our bikes behind and commenced running.
We took a clockwise route, picking all the CPs except the 10 pointer on the open fell and the 3 CPs on top of the hill (halfway up was enough for now). We worked well as a team, Stu and I taking on the nav, getting used to each others decision making and thought processes. One advantage of solo racing is that decision making is often faster, as you only have to convince yourself you are right, but racing as a team can potentially lead to delays while you decide by committee on the best course of action. Fortunately most our discussion was done on the move, so minimal time lost. It’s often nice to have a second opinion, to reduce silly errors. Well worth practicing this now rather than coming together for the first time at the TERREX.
We arrived back in 1 hour 40, lost a few too many minutes in transition and set off clockwise again this time with wheels. A few minor nav errors, but we were moving well passing a few familiar faces along the way. The advantage of a second navigator paid off when Stu intervened to stop me taking us down the wrong turn along a bridleway. Then things got tough. There was an obvious loop to take to gain 80% of the CPs, but this included the rather large hill again, but this time all the way to the top. The mornings snow may well have been receding quickly at lower levels, but for some reason it did not register that it would still be plentiful high up. 45 minutes later we were on top after a leg sapping push and just 20 points to show for out efforts. The bike/push/ski along the top for an extra 15 points was not much fun either (except the downhill bits!). We descended at our first opportunity and set about picking up as many low lying CPs as we could in the last 80 minutes.
Kit wise, I don’t think I could have made a better choice. I’d opted to wear just a base layer with my Montane Oryx fleece. I wanted to keep the chill off but not over heat when the work rate went up, and that’s exactly what I got. At the start line I recited the ‘Be bold, start cold’ mantra, but it paid off within minutes of starting. If the wind picked up, I would have thrown on a windproof, but conditions were great and all I had to worry about was moving quickly. Renee took a similar approach, where Andy and Stu decided to combine a little warmth with a windproof selecting the Krypton Jacket. I was convinced they would overheat and sweat too much, but they were just fine all race.
With an hour to go we had the choice to push on to a CP (17) in the wrong direction from home, but worth it if we would be back on time. Normally I would have gone for it on my own, but unsure of our average speed or the terrain we would encounter, plus not wanting to make a critical error on our first outing, I was easily persuaded to err on the side of caution. We quickly picked up our remaining CPs largely on tarmac roads and finished with 26 minutes to spare. Viewing the results post race it was the right decision not to grab CP17, as it would have likely taken us 35 minutes to complete, thus taking us 10 minutes over and losing us our extra points!
Knowing that we had so much time to spare, we were not too hopeful of a top result, but pleased with how we worked and moved as a team. And most importantly we were snapped by event photographer James Kirby more than once, as you can see from the fantastic photos here. Just before the results were announced, James Thurlow had a quick word with us about where we stood regarding racing as a 4. He told us that we had actually managed to score highest in mixed pairs and second highest in the male pairs. However, as the event was essentially a solo or pairs race, we accepted it was fair to be classed as non-competitive. As we had discussed before the race, we were happy with the decision, but mainly happy that we had done so well! It would have been an interesting end to the series if Renee and I would have qualified for the mixed series score.
So a successful day out; 5th highest score of the day, 2nd in male pairs and 1st in mixed pairs (albeit it as non-competitive). An improvement on any race I’ve done solo, so racing as a team must have some advantages. Bring on the rest of the year!