Tuesday, 17 September 2013

C2C Adventure Race - 'A Baptism of Fire'

Pete Keron undertook his first Adventure Race, teaming up with the experienced pairing of Jill Eccleston and Sharon McDonald, in the NAV4 Adventure Race Team. Pete is a very experienced elite 'paddler'.. with some interesting observations during his 'Baptism of Fire':

My first experience of adventure racing was a bit of a baptism of fire for someone who has specialised in short (20-40 minute) time trials. Jill asked me if I would be part of the team for the coast to coast race and it sounded like it could be fun, although as the start of the race approached, it seemed less and less so! I was daunted by the combinations of events; the transition between running & cycling is physically hard but the transition from canoeing to running (and vice versa) can be excruciating. It is really easy for legs to go to sleep in the boat and trying to run on sleepy legs is only funny for anyone watching. 

As the event approached the ladies impressed upon me more and more forcefully how it was a short, fast event…. the word ‘Sprint’ was even used. This was amusing to me because anything over 2 minutes is generally regarded at predominantly aerobic, but Jill and Sharon were dead serious and I had to ‘gulp’ hard when I realised the extent of the commitment they were expecting on each of the stages. My trump card (my only trump card) was that I was an experienced paddler and a bit of a rarity in the world of adventure racing. The girls put faith in my ability to paddle fast and make good tactical decisions about boat choice and racing strategy. 

Unfortunately the very first leg was a paddling leg and turned out to be a tactical disaster! We used a marathon racing K2 for the paddling sections and although this is exceptionally fast on flat water, it is extremely unstable. We paddled quite easily away from most of the field off the start line, but as the waves got bigger, I was gripping the paddles harder and harder. The waves got bigger and the narrow bow of the boat was burying with almost every wave. Each crest was coming over our decks and before long we took on water, after which point a capsize was almost inevitable. We managed to save it a few times but in the end we fell in about 2 minutes shy of the finish line and 100m from the shore. I remember thinking that it wasn’t such a bad swim, but I am quite used to swimming and only afterwards did it occur to me how traumatic it must have been for Jill who put her faith entirely in me and had to suffer the unfamiliar feeling of battling against wind and waves just to get to the shore. 

Jill and Sharon set off on the next bike leg and I had time to regroup, empty the boat and get ready for the next paddling leg. The girls rolled quickly into the second transition and we set off up Crummock Water. The waves were straight and small here and although the field had started to string out, we did manage to pass a few crews. Especially on the portage between lakes, where we easily shouldered our 14kg boat and trotted past a couple of teams struggling with heavy boats and tired arms. The run over Robinson, Dale Head and Cat Bells was hard work but incredibly enjoyable, and aside from the constant feeling of impending cramp, the swim across the cool lake was an absolute joy after so much heat and stress. If ever there was a better recipe for cramp than a 2.5 hour fell run followed by a dip into a cold lake then I would like to know - we must have looked like a right bunch, as one after another the competitors seized up, clutching hamstrings or groaning in agony falling victim to the cramp monster. 

Up until this point I had scarcely noticed the support team, but once we had finished their contributions suddenly became really obvious. Graham and Joe had calmly given us absolutely everything we had needed exactly when we had needed it all day and once we finished they were on hand for food, rehydration, results analysis, moral support and advice, not to mention the pitching of tents! The sign of a strong support team must be exactly that - unnoticed during the race and dependable after it. The fact that our transition times were consistently around (or under) three minutes is a testament to their skill, knowledge and organisation. 

Day Two was probably the hardest day for me (or so I thought!) as I had a back to back paddle along thirlmere, run over Helvellyn and then paddle along Ullswater. But it turned out to be by far the most enjoyable, easing along a placid lake, running through the mist over a beautiful hill (and loving the steep and challenging descent down Swirral edge) and then gliding along Ullswater. In fact by the time we got to Ullswater I was starting to feel rather jaded, but Jill was pushing the boat forward and we overtook the whole field (including the overall leaders!) which gave us a great feeling and so we were the first team out of the lake and the girls set off on their bikes to Kirkby Stephen. 

More moral support arrived at Kirkby Stephen as Craig, Edie and Connie came to cheer Jill on and Jules and Bram arrived in style in the caravan to look after me, and how gratefully received was their company after the brutal practicality of tactical advice, nutritional instructions and clock watching of Joe and Graham! First thing on day three was a run over the nine standards where Sharon clearly had ghosts to lay to rest from 2011 when she got lost. The conditions couldn’t have been more challenging with the clag down, indistinct paths and intricate navigation, but Sharon was right on the money as we charged over and down to the transition without so much as a moment’s indecision. 

Day Three was a relatively easy day with only three stages, but the final one was nearly the undoing of me! Jill and I set off on a 28 mile road cycle into Northallerton. With Jill having done the previous cycle leg, it made sense for me to do some towing (being on a road bike and having fresh bike legs) but having never done this before I was unable to anticipate the ‘husky dog’ response that towing seemed to trigger in me! for almost all of the 28 miles I seemed to be grafting and working and flaying myself down to the bone, and by the time day three ended, I was in pieces. 

Day Four proved rather pointedly that the exhaustion was not due to the towing but the accumulated fatigue! Jill had removed the tow because it was actually rather stressful to hang on (travelling at 30mph only 18 inches from my back wheel) but I hadn’t realised it was no longer there and so when it felt like I was towing, but in actual fact I was just a bit weak and struggling up the hills into the wind I had a road to damascus moment where I realised that yesterday the towing effect had been minimal and in actual fact Jill was whipping along just nicely without it! 

Next came a hilly run over Carlton Bank with Sharon and she was on form again, running strongly on both hills and the flat. in anticipation of the long bike leg coming up (and because I was knackered) she even towed me up some of the hills… past several other teams, one of whom commented on the comical scene (the 6ft tall 35 year old man, with his hand on the bum bag of the 40+ year old, 5 ft 6 woman) “...hang on a minute, I thought he was pushing you, but actually you’re dragging him along!”. This moment fairly typified the teams performance and competing with two women and one man competitively against formally sponsored teams with two men and one woman shows the strength and outright performance of Jill and Sharon. 

The penultimate leg of the race was a long bike ride incorporating a fast off road section and then a road section. Jill opted for knobbly tyres on her mountain bike and I rode landcruisers on my cross bike. To my utter amazement, even on the road sections, Jill rode hard and strong all the way and I rarely had to even look up to check she was there! Even on the road sections where the bike was probably 50% heavier than mine and the tyres must have made it feel like treacle, she was still tapping along at 16-18 mph, which considering the preceding three days was a very humbling thought. 

At the end of this leg I felt no fatigue, just incredible satisfaction at an arduous race completed and a great sense of camaraderie with my new teammates and the other competitors I had got to know over the course of the three days. Jill on the other hand had to get out and complete the final leg of a 10 (ahem) km run along the coastal path to Robin Hoods Bay with Sharon. a particularly brutal stage to end with, for anyone who has experienced the unending undulations and been surprised by an unexpectedly hot and sunny day! 

The girls finished after scything through the field and ending the race on a very strong note, and only a minute behind the team in front. Normally this would have been a frustrating gap but on the occasion the enjoyment of the race and the overall performance of the team left me feeling nothing but achievement. 

A great event brilliantly thought through and run. A great team to race with and some fantastic support from Joe, Graham, Craig, Jules and all the children. Thanks to everyone for their support and I hope everyones experience was as positive as mine!

Monday, 9 September 2013

Open Adventure C2C Race report from Jill Eccleston

22/8/13 6pm Upon arrival at the sleepy village of Stainton we found TD (team director) Joe Faulkner all ready for action.   


 After a slight lack of nuts situation,  thanks to our team mathematician getting his calculation wrong, the lads soon fettled the kayak carrier with a bit of extra strapping and we headed off to St Bees.  Conditions upon arrival were amazingly mill pond like and I prayed that they would remain so until kick off next day at 10am 

Our non-standard two girls one boy team set off for the first stage to find the atmosphere at the harbor at Whitehaven the next morning was buzzing as teams did their last minute faffing prior to launch.  Lining up on the grid, Pete's tactic of not getting to near the front and setting off steady soon changed as we realized the starting boys were very close together.  So pretty much at the front of the bunch we were off, hoping not to get hit in the early few metres as the teams headed out of the harbor.  The swell seemed relatively calm and we continued to make great progress soon ending up with a certain male solo trailing in our wake.  ‘I bet your glad its as calm as this in that thing’ he commented, trying to relax my butt cheeks but not daring too look back, apart from sideways at the safety boat that also had a camera man on board, ’Smile’??!! I was trying..

Several more miles around the coast line down towards St Bees and the breakers just kept getting bigger and bigger and I could feel the water slapping on my calves as we fought to keep the boat upright.  I had never thought that I could wish for a first stage of a race to be over as much as this one…Then we could see it, the pink transition flag only 500 metres away, we went wider to try and surf in but the river racing machine had taken too much water in, and was impossible to maneuvere so out we popped to see the male solo take the lead.  Arghhh, spray deck lost, must keep hold of the carbon paddle and swim for it…Pete quickly emptied the boat. Soon at the shore which unfortunately consisted of very big barnacly/sea weed covered rocks that you could not see until so had slipped and lacerated yourself on them.  We trotted into transition with badly bleeding shins and lots of salt water in every orifice.  Quick dib in and over to the bikes to get ready for the next bike stage over to Buttermere.  Sharon spent the first half and hr listening to me waffle on in my state of shock about the whole first stage experience and how I would never again paddle in what looked like a calm sea.. Several miles along the disused railway path I had forgotten I was running on slicks and for the 2nd time that morning another slide off on a gravelly bend, lucky for Sharon following close behind she was riding Graham’s new bike with shit hot brakes so she did not park her bike in my accommodating rear!

A great bridleway down past Loweswater and we were into transition ready for my 3rd and final stage of the day.  A paddle across a fairly choppy Buttermere with a very slick portage just carrying the light weight machine on our shoulders was so nice, getting the exit from the lake right this time and overtaking teams who were faffing with trollies.  Crummock did not take long and the batten was handed over to Sharon and Pete for the final 2 stages of day 1.  Consisiting of quick trot over Robinson and Dale Head down Catbells to Derwent for a 400 swim, then last few k trot into Keswick.  Support crew loaded up the boat and gear whilst I got dry kit on and took some time to clean the barnacle rash just in case…I love sudocrem…

Tents pitched at the FC and trainers dropped at the Lake side we waited in the market place anxiously watching the dots.  Pete had dived into Derwentwater and loved the swim but Sharon had got bad cramp in her calf so she held on to his ankle for assistance, good team work and great result, fifth team at the end of day one

Day 2

Sharon and Jill set off on bikes at 8am a steady climb out of Keswick and then onto the dual carriage way down to Thirlmere.  Rushing the exchange of bikes for paddling gear the girls made their worst ever transition so far as Sharon cycled off back to the van with the tracker and mandatory kit bag, luckily only costing us a minute thanks to Joe remembering in time!  The lake was pretty calm so again we made up time only just giving the support crew chance to round to the other end.  In transition we stuffed various bits of food into Pete’s mouth (he was getting used to us know you could tell) as he took of all his wet gear for his 2nd run of the wknd the team looked lively as they headed off up Helvelyn. Plenty of time for support to get round to Patterdale whilst I prayed again for more calm water on Ulswater hopefully allowing a more relaxed paddle stage, still in shock after the sea stage sorry..  Upon arrival we yet again shoved various gels and items of sustenance into Pete’s cake hole for his final paddle of the wknd and stage of the day.  Great, the river was higher than 2011 so we managed to fly all the way down into the lake overtaking several teams along the way, ‘Sally was that you tipping out of your boat, surely now’?  As the end of the lake came into sight Pete said ‘I’m about done’ and I replied ‘you’re not done until we hit that river bank Mr’, only a 5 more minutes nearly there..

A slick transition assisted by all team and support crew (down to sub 3 mins now!) and the girls were off on the final 28 mile stage to Kirby Stephen, first off road to Askham and then picking off the lovely villages one by one. The sign saying 7 miles to go was a big fat porky pie but we pushed onto the market square to finish a great stage and still holding onto 5th place in our category.  The Eccleston support crew arrived to take over from Joe.  We all enjoyed a fine fish and chip supper on the main street and listened to his calming ‘just keep it simple’ philosophy…and a few cheeky ales…oh and yes a glass of wine..to help us sleep obviously

Day 3

The clag was down and parrots perched on the chimney stacks of houses in the market square (a but freaky) we waved off Pete and Sharon as they set off over the Nine Standards.  Graham and I soon arrived at a very chilly Ravenseat, hats and gloves on to watch the teams come in and get Sharon’s kit ready for the next off road bike stage to Castle Bolton.  They had clearly overtaken several teams even after some falls in the bogs, doh!  Transition down to nearer 2 minutes now..It took a while for Sharon’s legs to come round and the gels to kick in so I took great pride in being able to tow my teamie, (as this does not happen very often).  Some great riding and great to see Alex, Kerry and the boys along the way.  Turning off after Crackpot, what a great place name, makes me smile after time I whizz past it.  Here we over took the foreign lads who were very amused when Sharon’s pace picked up on the 1 in 4 climb and then realized why when they saw the size of the very chilled out bull to our right…she was off again and no more towing required thank goodness.  Picking off teams quietly away we arrived in Castle Bolton where again the support team changed wheels/shoes and fed me ready for the final 30m road stage of the day.  Pete’s first time to tow and tow he did as we got our heads down on the straight, flat roads into Catterick.  A sharp right soon after took us onto a bridleway where I was glad for my slicks on the MTB and relieved for Pete that his new wheels would bare up under the pressure. Whizzing through the hamlets we arrived in Northallerton to find sunshine and smiles all round.  Another fantastic stage to end the day.  A lovely meal at Pizza Express with the families and now Pete’s support squad Jules and Bram had caught up with us again which was really nice as my girls went into full on mothering mode…

Day 4 the final push – Pete and I raced out of the town and a quick 10 mile road ride in 41 minutes shaving 6 mins of the 2011 time got us off to a great start.  Quickly dispatched into his running stuff we saw them off and loaded up the van and headed round to Clay Bank. Again they came in front of teams who had gone off before us earlier in the day…others were fading whilst we were just gently injecting the pace knowing only a few hrs of this craziness remained…Edie was in full on transition mode making sure maps, gels, laces bla bla bla were sorted before Pete and I were off up a nasty steep set of gnarly steps for several hundred metres, this where I wished I had a carbon bike!  Then came the fastest most exciting off road ride of my life, not on tow but so focused on staying on Pete’s wheel along the cinder paths and trying not to get grit etc in my mouth…We passed the team in 4th place which felt brill as were only half way into the 30 mile stage.  Then bang 5 minutes later a pinch puncture on the x bike.  The fastest pit stop I have ever done and a result got the friggin gas canister to work for a change, but bugger that team over took us again.  Carefully back onto the road as no more tubes or canisters in stock (school boy error!)  The final 10 miles with some challenging climbs struggling to keep my front wheel down with Pete totally wired yet coming back down to help push me up…then he nearly ended up on a car bonnet..christ I just want to get my running shoes on I said, ’You’re a nutter’ he replied, ‘But I haven’t run all wknd’ I huffed back… Another sub 2 minute transition back into running stuff, hat on as the sun was scorching now.. Seconds later the towing aid was out (will use bungee next time!) and I hooked on.  A mile or so of climb on the road taking a few scalps on the way then onto the coastal path for the final 10k, whoever said that was definitely fibbing more like 14!  On and on and on, ‘you’re not talking to me are you ok’,’ I’ll tell you if I am not!!…’Easy’ through the kissing gates with the tow or we might have too snog!  The yellow jersey was getting ever nearer but surely she would arrive at the finish before us?…No way!! You could still see the dots heading round the coastline further on.  @Were coming through Sally on your right!! ‘Go Girls’  well go Sharon, like a freight train…’why is that lady towing that lady mummy’ we heard the kids on the path ask. Just keep picking your feet up a face plant on tow could be messy and then a diversion omg can’t manage much more of this, and then at last the end of the path and Pete ready to run the final few hundred yards with us down to the finish…we had made it to Robin hoods bay, what a journey, what a team for our first event together and what a place to end up.  Photos, medals and a brief wobbly moment as I nearly fell down the banking and took the scaffolding with me…Finally a gentle stroll down to the sea with the kids and support crew for a sensible recovery paddle (not in a boat again don’t worry) stage.

For anyone who has not tried this type of adventure race it is a great way to get into the sport.  If you get a decent support crew lined up and recce the runs, that’s all you need to do prior to setting off.  One chap who entered this year after seeing the 2011 event on TV was fundraising for his daughter with diabetes and was out for 12hr days now that what I call value for money, good on you mate!!

Looking forward to racing with Pete again, just hope Sharon and I haven’t put him off too much with being shall we say a tad bossy??!!

Huge thanks again to Joe Faulkner for helping keep us calm and washing our duds for us at the end of day 2 now that’s what I call support.!!.  Also to our respective partners and family for coming along to the finish is was even more special to have you all there.  Who’s on for 2015 then?!