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Explore Sweden Race Report 2009

They say getting to the start line is the hardest part of Adventure Racing. After months of training and preparations, Helly Hansen UK only had the small task of driving to Sweden from Scotland before they could finally get under way in the 2009 Explore Sweden Monster. After four days of driving, Bruce Duncan, John Laughlin and support man Marty Lee rolled into Sundsvall in Mid Sweden, while Nicola MacLeod jetted in from a wedding in South Africa with final team member Nick Gracie and support crew Nicola Wiseman completing the UK posse.

The maps for just one bike leg at 1:100000 scale
The maps for just one bike leg at 1:100000 scale

Together at last, we were anxious to see what had been prepared for us, as the only details released beforehand mentioned some of the disciplines and an approximate breakdown in percentages of the time each discipline would take. We were comfortable with the 38% biking and 30% trekking but it was the 6% inline skating that we had our eye on, with an assumption that it would take us far longer than estimated for the native Scandinavians. Once all was revealed we were taken aback. It was definitely a monster of a course, the longest race in the world this year, however, 840km of the total distance was on bike and we were promised the winning team would only take four days to complete the course, so it would be fast progress.

Race Director, Mikael Lindnord, speculated that the race would be extremely technical and our skills would be tested in every single stage, right from the start. “It will be”, he proclaimed, “the shit!”. Of course, the start was just the one we had dreaded; a short run followed by an inline skate up one of the steepest road hills we’d ever seen! After a mass start and the bustle of the first checkpoint where skates were fitted, it suddenly fell quiet as we looked around and realised we were already bringing up the back with the American team Yogaslackers. Thankfully we made it up the hill in one piece and could ditch the skates for the run back down to town. Once there, we quickly donned via-ferrata full body safety harnesses and completed a circuit of a rooftop wire course after which it was back to transition where we collected a map and ditched the skates for 14km of orienteering around Sundsvall. The pace around town was the usual manic style that we all dread in expedition races so we were glad of a little refreshment with a short 150m swim across the harbour. All done and dusted with the short, sharp stages we were glad to get out on the first decent leg, a 120km bike stage.

The stage should have been noted for taking us to the mid-point of Sweden, ‘conveniently’ located at the top of a big hill, but was more notable for the colourful vomit John was projecting after downing too many electrolyte drinks and gels too quickly. Aside from the technicolour masterpiece on show, the associated bout of leg cramps brought the average pace down a few notches until we got sorted and comfortable on the bikes. We were still near the back of the race but feeling buoyant as we began to pass a few teams by riding strongly and navigating smartly.

The end of the bike brought a change back to the dreaded inline skates along a rolling road section with our first taste of extended downhills. Surprisingly, we managed to survive this unscathed with no falls although progress couldn’t be described as rapid! The section finished with a stomp and swim through a filthy marsh in our socks, (everyone else walked around the outside!), then across a warm cleansing river and into a lagoon at the centre of ‘Mid-Adventure’. A low flying helicopter buzzed us as we splashed into shore and set about completing the tasks here to the backdrop of an all-night (though it barely got dark) dance party. A short kayak, run and ropes course followed by a team slide down a water chute and swim were quickly knocked off before getting dried, fed and comfortably clothed for the first major bike of the race.

We set off around midnight for the 250km cycle on a mixture of tarred and gravel roads and had hoped to make the most of the cool night to push hard. However, Bruce was having a hard time with “hollow legs” and generally feeling devoid of energy, so John took his pack and the team worked in a chain gang to give Bruce a rest at the back of the line. Eventually we got a good pace going and caught another team as we rode towards transition at the top of a very long gravel climb. We’d stopped a couple of times on the route for quick cat naps to stave the sleepmonsters off, but in transition we took the opportunity to get into a tent for a good 45 minute doze.

At this point we were all feeling physically and mentally strong, and reasonably fresh for the 60km mountaineering section. This took us, first of all, onto Sweden’s most southerly glacier which we traversed to bag a checkpoint at the foot of a great couloir. Unfortunately, the warm weather had created unfavourable avalanche conditions, so we didn’t get to complete the planned near vertical ice climb and instead had to run the 15km to the next mountain with the added burden of our heavy mountaineering boots in our packs. Many other teams had been made aware that the climb was cancelled and had just brought running shoes, not the stipulated boots, so we felt a little miffed at the extra load, but nonetheless, we managed to catch and pass two teams before we ascended the next mountain. The drawback to this fast progress was the pounding our feet were taking and John began to have blisters that would gradually get worse for the rest of the race. To keep our minds off tiredness and pain, the entire local midge population decided to come out for dinner; the problem being, we were on the menu!

The sun set beautifully as we climbed onto the ridge and we roped up for the extended knife-edge arete that straddled the Norwegian border and ascended to our final summit. The ambient light barely dimmed before the sun was back above the horizon again and we had completed the most technical ridge we’d ever encountered in an adventure race. Race Director Mikael’s prediction of high technical difficulty was holding true on this section at least, but we were comfortable with the exposure but once we’d completed the final fixed rope jumar to the summit we were keen to get down as quickly as possible. The map said this would be a long tricky descent down a ridge, but common sense said we should follow the tracks in the snow slope beside the ridge. So with ice axes ready we jumped over the side and slid about 150m down on slushy snow, closely followed by photographer Wouter Kingma with thousands of pounds of cameras swinging from his neck! The 20km trek out that followed was slowed by John’s struggle with blisters and overheating but Bruce was able to tow to repay the help he’d received earlier. After what seemed like an eternity, transition was reached, a quick cooling shower was had and the team remounted their bikes and sped off on rough gravel towards the first of the watersports with John feeling much better.

The watersports consisted of Nicola and John kayaking down a Grade 3 white water river while Bruce and Nick riverboarded. Unfortunately, for John and Nicola, hoping to have a nice rest in the boats, the river turned out to be quite flat for the first 4km meaning they had to tow the lads to speed things up. This was hard work but was well worth it once we reached the whitewater which brought massive smiles all round.

After a short ride into the lakeside mountain resort of Åre, we headed off in the early evening sun for our favourite activity – inline skating. Once again this was up a massive hill, but not before a short downhill to the lakeside road that Nick split into small sections by falling on his backside twice, making the rest of us wince and fear for his coccyx. He bounced well for the old man of the team and thankfully showed no ill effects. It didn’t take long for common sense to prevail and we took the skates off and walked up the steep hill in a heavy rain shower that we decided had very handily made the road too slippery to skate.

Eventually, we dropped the skates with Nicola W and trekked off into the mountains, Bruce picking a great route that avoided major climbs and took us past one team and within sight of another. Reaching the top of the mountain we were excited at what lay ahead. Strapping on body armour, full face helmets and ‘No Fear’ attitudes we grabbed hired downhill bikes and sped off down the mountain trail, becoming very quickly aware that the brakes were set up ‘euro’ style, the opposite of what we are used to.Within ten minutes of starting, the excitement ramped up several notches when a heavy thunderstorm swept into the valley and emptied its contents on us. Thunder crashed, lightning flashed, hair stood on end and stinging rain pummelled our scantily dressed bodies. The spray from our front wheels was like being shotblasted and before long we had lost each other and the right way down. Bruce ended up 2km past town, John and Nicola finished by the lakeside but Nick, the most anxious at the top of the hill, was the only one who managed to find their way into transition correctly!

The next stage was a Canadian Canoeing leg on an open lake, which was looking quite dangerous with all the lightning, so our ever-attentive support crew pulled off a master stroke by setting up camp with two tents in an outdoor shop’s doorway. Marty and Nicola W were really proving to be the best support crew we could have wished for with psychic ability to think ahead about what we might need or just be dreaming of. Nick’s requests for food types were getting stranger as the race went on, but somehow Nicola kept managing to produce the goods in the most far-flung reaches of Sweden!

A brief sleep later, we portaged the canoes across the town’s railway station and into the lake that we paddled to its river outflow. The river, featuring grade 2 rapids, was a great thrill in a canoe and we managed to pass another Swedish team who’d capsized. We were grateful to stay upright after spending a while getting dry and warm following the downhill biking; another unexpected soaking was the last thing we wanted right now.

Passing another team in transition, we were really moving up the race order and spirits were high as we had a feeling that we were getting faster while other teams were slowing. Of course, we’d like to say we’d planned this all along, but the reality was that our inline skating was the discipline keeping us back in the rankings! Completing another linking bike stage we could see we were only minutes behind another two teams, so completed our quickest transition of the race and ran off after them for 3km to the start of the whitewater rafting. We’d been really looking forward to this section and once we’d changed into wetsuits, met our guide, defeated the best efforts of the worst midges in history, carried our boat to the river and jumped aboard, we were totally pumped up! We set off to chase another team one minute ahead of us and enjoyed the thrill of the race, combined with the rush of paddling the grade 4 river, the steepest in Sweden. After a series of waterfalls and mandatory portages, the river shallowed and our guide left us to paddle out across a lake to the next transition.

The support guys had setup our tents again and we got our heads down for two hours to recharge our brains before taking on the longest single stage of the race – a 270km mountain bike leg to Solleftea. Getting comfy in the saddle, we made steady progress and passed another weary looking team and arrived at a ferry to find we’d caught up Team Explore, one of the best teams in the race. They’d been having a poor race, but we’d had our own troubles, so were glad to be getting towards the sharp end of the race. Once on the ferry we had left the team we’d overtaken behind, gaining at least 30 minutes while they waited for the next ferry. The ferry took us to a small island which we had to cross to another ferry to get us back onto the mainland. Team Explore had already figured out that to make the next ferry we would have to time trial at maximum effort across the island and cover the 2.5km in about five minutes. This seemed like an ambitious plan, but when they decided to attempt it we had to follow suit. The sprint across the island must be up there with being one of the fastest sprints ever in an expedition race and it was a successful one! We all collapsed on the ferry and agreed to work together for the rest of the stage at a much more reasonable pace.

Soon after leaving the ferry we passed an excited woman at the side of the road, whom Fredrik in the Explore team announced to be his mother. Not long later we passed an excited man who turned out to be his father. Soon we passed another stationary car where Fredrik’s cousin was yelling encouragement at us! It was a really fun period and eventually we stopped for a break, some photos and a chat with his cousin. After a long spell of riding we all realised we were running short of Clif Bars and set our sights on finding some food in the town of Hammarstrand. However, on arrival we found everything closed and the only food available were a tray of chocolates handed out by a kind lady filling up in the petrol station. Another man said he ran the burger restaurant but had closed for the night, yet he said we should keep on riding and he would bring us some food en-route! Ten minutes later a van sped past us and he jumped out to hand us cold hot dogs fresh from the packet! It was the tastiest nondescript meat product we’d had in several hours…

The long bike seemed to be nearing an end when we sped past a rapidly slowing Norwegian team, but at the same instant John’s brain decided to go to sleep and he began to suffer a serious dose of the sleep-monsters. The rest of the team had to shout, swear, and scream to keep him awake and riding upright while he was off in a dream world of safari animals for the remaining 30km of the ride. The weather was incessant drizzle and stopping for a sleep would have been a cold waste of time, so we had to push on despite John’s constant falling asleep at speeds of up to 50km/hr. Thankfully, a huge team effort got everyone to the next obstacle in one piece and after a coke and some singletrack riding John perked up. We then had to contend with a rather convoluted double crossing of a river on a wooden raft with some hike a bike thrown in for good measure. To further drag out the stage we had to find some orienteering checkpoints, which to Bruce’s clear frustration weren’t accurately described but we had to remind him how important it was to remain positive that we’d done so well so far and were still going strong.

On entering transition in Solleftea we were given a one hour mandatory rest, which we slept most of and used the rest to patch up blisters and saddle sores. Typically, when the time came for us to set off on the inline skating ascent of another big hill, the heavens opened and streams were flowing down the roads. This wasn’t slowing down Team Explore who came flying down the hill into transition at breakneck speed but perfectly in control! As was our more relaxed style we soon ditched the skates when the climb steepened up and jogged around the orienteering controls we had to collect, making up some time lost on the skates with Bruce’s efficient navigation. Back at transition we were able to leave the skates and headed off on foot for another foot orienteering section encompassing a climbing wall challenge that was completed with more brute force and ignorance than skill and grace. The navigation on the loop was probably the most technical of the race, but Bruce did a great job and we were soon facing our final control, on an island in the middle of a very fast flowing river. Local fishermen were proudly displaying some massive salmon they’d caught at the same spot so we took inspiration and swam for all our worth to avoid being swept downstream.

Once the orienteering was complete we were mentally beginning to feel on the home stretch, with a relatively short ride through the forest taking us to a beautiful Thai Pavilion and the start of the sailing leg. We were lucky to have Marty, a sailor, in the support team and Nicola, a sailing instructor, in the race team, so by the time we had arrived Marty had prepared the boat, Nicola Wiseman had prepared a lot of food and drink and Nicola MacLeod had figured out how to sail our dinghy as fast as possible. With 56km to cover we were lucky to be sailing in a wide river with a tail wind and immediately Nicola’s sailing skill was obvious as she positioned us in the boat for the best trim and we began to really move. By halfway we had made up about 90 minutes on Team Explore in front and were close to catching them, but the wind that had been so good simply disappeared and we slowed to a crawl. Determined to sail and not paddle, we moved slowly for many more hours and watched as Explore paddled away and Team Finland approached us from behind. We knew that both teams would be much faster than us on the final inline skating so we had no reason to rush and enjoyed the opportunity to sleep in the boat and be carried by the current. Eventually, we succumbed to the inevitable and began to paddle to keep warm, with transition finally appearing after 16 hours in our little ‘Fisher Price’ dinghy. It was fun, but it was cramped for four adults and not a place designed to spend such a long period of time, so we were glad to see the back of it!

Having sat on our backsides for so long, it was like watching four young deer on ice as we left the transition on inline skates. Co-ordination and balance had deserted us and we weren’t helped by the increasing traffic flow on the road. Once we’d summitted the first and, thankfully, only hill, we felt better and began to enjoy the long gradual downhills, even picking up some speed and letting ourselves go, all the way down into Sundsvall. Despite this, it still took us twice as long as most of the teams in front of us, so it was driven home again just how much we need to improve for future races.

Our final watersports stage was a very tame, relaxed and enjoyable rafting section on a flatwater canal for 7km, taking about an hour and bringing us into the heart of Sundsvall. From here we had a very quick transition to put some cycling kit on and jumped on our bikes for one last time, to ride through town and up, up, up the switchback climb to our hotel and the finish line!

We crossed the line in a time of 121 hours and 39 minutes, giving us 8th place, behind winners Lundhags, which we were pretty satisfied with. We’d traversed Sweden and back again, in the process riding more kilometres than in the first five days of the 2009 Tour de France! Our support crew had been fantastic and a vital part of our race, so it was great to have them there at the finish line to celebrate with the obligatory champagne spraying. Marty and Nicola had never done anything like this before so they performed above and beyond what we’d hoped for and we owe them a great deal. They were always in the right place at the right time, with the right kit and just the right food, drink and encouragement. They looked after us like children and with the mess we made in every transition it was no wonder they described us as ‘four toddlers’! Thanks Mum and Dad, Nicola and Marty!

The race was a spectacular success as always for Mikael Lindnord, despite being involved in a car accident himself mid-race (he’s fine now), and we felt proud to have completed his ‘Monster’. Everything was top class: the variety of activities; the terrain; the adrenaline and excitement of the discplines; the quality of maps and transitions; and the race hotel headquarters.

We have to thank our sponsors for making our great adventures possible, so thank you to Helly Hansen, Nuun, Paramo, 2 Pure/Clif Bar, Marin Bikes. OMM, Exposure Lights, For Goodness Shakes, Nordenmark and Willow, for the loan of our support van. We use our sponsor’s products because we believe they are the best available and we feel we are lucky to work with such great companies..

Explore Sweden 2009

As soon as I heard about Explore Sweden I knew it was a race I had to do at some point. Race Director Mikael Nordstrom has a great reputation for organising exciting, adventurous and interesting courses with one of his last offerings, the 2006 AR World Championships, being hailed by great racers such as Ian Adamson as the greatest race course of all time. With this near guarantee of quality, we knew that travelling all the way to Sweden would at least give us a great race experience regardless of our performance.

Over the months leading up to the race we changed team members a few times and lost our main sponsor Aberdeen Asset Management. Thankfully we got a settled team together and some help from interim sponsor Helly Hansen, however, it was still a tough call for me to commit to such a huge race and financial commitment with current personal circumstances. However, the opportunity was too good to miss and my chances of getting away to major expedition races in the next 4 years look to be few and far between so this was a last chance to lay it all on the line.

It was everything it was billed to be and the only thing I could say it was lacking was technical mountain biking. We spent a long time on roads and gravel tracks but a tiny amount of time on technically challenging and fun mountain biking. This was made up for though by the awesome variety of activities we completed including some exposed mountaineering, whitewater rafting on a grade 4 river, white water kayaking on a grade 3 river, canadian canoeing on a grade 2 river and a lot of inline skating! I’ve written a full race report that will be published in either the UK Adventure Sports Magazine or Sleepmonsters, I’ll post it here too when I know.

The final rafting section. 6km on flatwater!
The final rafting section. 6km on flatwater!

The race went pretty well for us and my only personal problems were my feet blisters sustained on the 60km mountaineering section and a bit of overheating on the same section. I did fall asleep a bit dramatically and get a serious dose of the sleepmonsters on the long 270km bike leg. I was seeing all sorts of safari animals, though was lucid enough to tell teammate Bruce Duncan that I realised he probably couldn’t see them. Still, didn’t stop me ‘sprinting’ when he shouted that they were charging after us! We finished 8th in the end and were satisfied with this. We lost maybe 4 or 5 hours on the inline skating compared to the Scandinavian teams ahead of us, so potentially we could have been nearer the top 5, but for now it just gives us another discipline to work on and bring up to par with the rest.

Helly Hansen UK at the Finish Line
Helly Hansen UK at the Finish Line

It sure as hell was fun and I did what I went there to do – give it my all. It was hard work and very painful at times and 2 weeks later I’m still suffering with tendonitis and am on antibiotics for infected blisters and a haematoma I developed, but that’s what adventure racing is about for me – seeing how much I can push my body and mind through and this time it was pretty far!

Helly Hansen Adventure X

I had a great weekend at the end of March down in the Lakes supporting the team as they competed in the first Helly Hansen Adventure X. Bruce, Nick and Tom worked really hard all weekend and I worked as their ‘pit bitch’, fetching, fixing, planning, recceing, photographing and generally shouting abuse. The result was the first race victory of the season and a bumper cheque for £2500, large in size figuratively and literally…

Bumper Cheque Time!
Bumper Cheque Time!

A full report is on the team website http://adventureraceteam.wordpress.com/reports/helly-hansen-adventure-x/

The Turas in reflection

The Turas Adventure Race in Ireland that we competed in during June has been thrown out of the World Series because of financial difficulties, so says a statement on the AR World Series website. This comes as a disappointment but not really as a huge surprise. We finished 6th and were thankful of just finishing inside the prize money as reward for some hard effort, but alas the prize money has not been forthcoming and, so it seems, we are not the only team to have been let down on this. As the race slipped further into the memory it seemed more and more unlikely that any money would appear and with the ever deepening financial hole that is the Irish economy it was presumed that the Irish tourist board, who were presumably putting up the prize fund, had blown their budget on prawn sandwiches and were scraping the whisky barrel for shavings to keep the fires going.

It seems that local businesses involved in the race haven’t been paid either, which makes it all the more likely that a bitter taste will be left in the area and the likelihood of it going ahead in 2009 is probably waining, so thoughts of a 2010 World Champs there should be far from the mind.

At the time, our own feelings on the race were a bit mixed. We’d mostly had a great time and really enjoyed (most of) the course, which was pretty well planned and executed on the whole. There were mistakes, some big, some small, but none serious enough to really harm the race and as far as I am aware most of the teams had a great time. The most obvious failing with the race course was a late start time for the rowing section which was clear from the start was going to mean all the top teams would reach it long before it opened, negating any need to push hard for the first two days, as all the teams would restart on an equal footing on the Thursday. Arriving earlier than Thursday morning just gave time to sleep and eat and on restart it was essentially a 30 hour blast to the finish, so not a true expedition race.

On the plus side the hospitality was phenomenal, the value for money from the entry fee was superb, the race course sections were pretty much all interesting and of good length and the scenery was amazing. The organisers had taken a lot on in staging such a big race in such a short space of time and we did have fears before we arrived that it would all work out, however, most of the niggles were minor – like issuing a specific kit list that was repeatedly altered right up to the race start, that wasn’t actually adhered to in kit checks anyway. Then there was the much publicised but, it seems, never actually confirmed (or even properly recc’ed) zip line across the Gap of Dunloe, which never happened because it simply wasn’t practically possible to do and the repositioning of the activity caused a whole bunch of problems for some teams. They worked hard to include the zip line and fair play to them for making it happen, but promoting something that wasn’t going to happen just to generate media interest was pretty poor form.

Niggles aside the race was good fun and was a great chance to mix it up alongside some top teams, but whether the race goes ahead again and whether any top teams would actually sign on we’ll just have to wait and see.

(P.S. If anyone found all my kayaking gear at the hostel at the end of the race then I’d really like to hear from you, there was some quite distinctive stuff in there…)

The OMM 2008 – Reporting In

Back from racing in the Original Mountain Marathon and briefly have time for a post. This is what I wrote earlier for The Independent, which may feature on Monday 27th October. Will write more in due course.

My Danish race partner, Thure Kjaer, had joked beforehand that it has rained everytime he has been to our green island, but this time the weather forecast had indicated that we were in for some truly exceptional weather. We were racing in the Elite class, (the longest of 7 categories in the race), effectively running a marathon distance, as the crow flies, over the mountains, before camping and completing a similar length of course the next day. We have competed in long adventure races like this for a few years and knew that preparation and selection of the right equipment would be essential. There’s a saying in the outdoors community – “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing”, so being well equipped and prepared for the worst conditions as well as adopting a positive attitude is vital to complete the course and to cope with the conditions that prevail.

Being on the longest course we started early on Saturday morning, with conditions breezy, but dry, though we knew things would soon change. As we climbed our first few hills on the lookout for the orienteering flags indicating our checkpoints, we were a bit on the warm side though were comfortable and enjoying the wind in our hair and the great views over the Cumbrian fells. The sun even came out to guide our path, though around 10am conditions changed and the rain began to fall.

The organisers had already taken the sensible step of shortening all the courses reducing our distance and time at altitude significantly and the planners had intelligently created courses that mostly kept us low in the valleys and away from the many high peaks in the area. Mountain marathon runners are a hardy bunch well equipped with studded shoes for secure grip and a mandatory kit list, designed to ensure participants can be self sufficient in the hills for 36 hours. Participants always race in pairs for safety and must meet minimum experience requirements to enter, nevertheless, we realised that some people would find the conditions difficult and may have to take an early decision to realise their limitations and withdraw from the event. We were revelling in the adventure and competition with the teams around us, my Danish teammate enjoying running with a Swedish pair, such is the international reputation of the OMM.

As the afternoon progressed the rain fell heavier, the wind increased and streams became torrents. Good course planning meant that all the major water crossings were possible by bridge, and smaller ones by working together with other teams to form chains for support. On the highest hills it became difficult to continue running and gusts would occasionally blow runners around us off their feet, but we helped each other out and checked on every team we met to make sure they were looking after each other. The camaraderie between teams was admirable and part of the appeal for doing these events. Thankfully visibility was still good and as every competitor had a map and compass, we were able to navigate ourself back to the overnight camp without too many problems, though as we descended, the volume of water in the flooded valleys became ever greater and the waterfalls took on a Himalayan nature. It was possibly the worst sustained weather I had ever been out in but at no point did we feel in any danger: we were well trained and well equipped, despite carrying lightweight gear. We knew those with less experience would carry even more rations and equipment to survive most eventualities. We arrived at the overnight camp after 6 hours of running, to be told that the event had been cancelled and to make our way back by road to the event HQ at Seathwaite Farm. Unfortunately, communications were poor and conditions were ever worsening, meaning that a decision was made by the police to close Honister Pass leaving some participants stuck without transport in the Buttermere Valley, while others had already returned to their cars at the HQ. We managed to get a lift with one of the last cars out of Buttermere before a landslide closed the road, and learned later that others had been taken out to Cockermouth by Emergency Services. The dispersal of people around the area caused the difficulties in accounting for everyone and we were confident that everyone would be safe and dining out on adventure stories for some time to come. The OMM is a fantastic event and I for one will be back in 2009, though my partner would like some sunshine for once!

The OMM Kit List Pondering

Every week we seem to keep saying that autumn has finally set in and summer, (or whatever that thing between spring and now is really called), has left us, but for two weeks running now we’ve had glorious sunny Sundays with the London Rat Race taking place in glorious weather and then Sunday just passed being one  of those blue sky days to remember where we were in the Lake District. Of course, the day beforehand we were sure the apoclypse was on the way and the racers taking part in the Dirty Weekend Adventure in Grizedale, Cumbria were wondering whether arks or kayaks were being supplied during the race.

I’d been feeling rough all week so decided to skip the race and spend a nice weekend with Mrs L in the same area. After a non-event for us on Saturday other than some Adventure Driving on the Lake Districts flooded, narrow roads, we had a glorious little ride up to Skiddaw House above Keswick and around Lonscale Crags. Just wish I’d brought a bloody camera!

Just looking forward to the OMM now and thinking about kit.

Here’s the kit list with my current ideas:

Rucsac – OMM Adventure Light 20

Tent – Polaris Eventlite or Vango Ultralite 200

Sleeping Bag – Macpac Epic 300 or OMM 0.5SSL

Sleeping Mat – Balloon Bed

Full length tights – Skins or iRule Whistlers if weather really cold

Baselayer top – Helly Hansen Lifa Versa

Underwear – Smartwool boxers

Fleece top/warm layer – Patagonia R1 pullover ( or howies NBL Baselayer

Waterproof Trousers – OMM Kamleika (250g)

Waterproof Jacket – OMM Kamleika Jacket (400g) or Smock (300g) – need to decide

Windproof – Depending on conditions I’d probably like a Pertex Quantum Gilet but who makes them? Montane do a Pertex Microlight one…

Hat – Smartwool Training Beanie(40g) – If weather really shit then perhaps need Paramo Balaclava or Lowe Alpine Mountain Hat

Gloves – Smartool Liner Gloves

Socks – Smartwool Running Light Mini Crew (44g) or Bridgedale X-Hale (30g)

Shoes – Inov8 MudClaw 330

Headtorch – Hmm tricky one do I need enough light to navigate in the dark or just enough light to see around the camp? We have a late start so will have to think carefully about this.  Choices are a Petzl Tikka XP (95g) or getting something like a Petzl eLite (27g)

Stove – MSR Pocket Rocket (86g) and some tin foil for wind break

Pans – 2 x foil takeaway dishes (12g) and some tin foil for lid

Other kit – 3 x sealable food bags. Spork. Ear plugs. Casio Altimeter Watch. OMM 500ml water bottle. Plastic camping mug and small karabiner. Tiny amount of first aid supplies

London Rat Race

Until late on Thursday it was looking very much like I wouldn’t be competing in any Rat Races this year, and my only taste of the urban phenomenon would be the Edinburgh event that I organised. Our search for a girl to join our team for the final race of the season was more difficult than I could have imagined but we finally found our star in Chez Frost, who was up for competing in only her second ever adventure race.

Meeting up for the first time early on Saturday morning, Paul Currant and myself joined Chez in Penrith and sped South to London, arriving in just enough time to do a quick tv interview and get our race kit on before listening into Nick Gracie’s race briefing. He outlined what was happening on Saturday night, with up to 3 hours to collect as many of 42 checkpoints as we could in an area that took in Central London West of Tower Bridge.

At 5.00pm we shot off and joined the scrum trying to get across Tower Bridge heading on an anti-clockwise loop. Immediately making a mistake and missing the stairs to get down to the riverside checkpoint by the Tower of London, we ended up running around the Tower reaching the checkpoint after everyone that had gone the right way. For the next while we then had to fight our way through crowds at some of the activity checkpoints including a quick circuit session in the Crisis charity offices, another chaotic boxing circuit session in the Real Fight Club Gym, and a Homer Simpson donut eating CP.

Meeting Homer Simpson - Copyright Rob Howard. www.sleepmonsters.com
Meeting Homer Simpson - Copyright Rob Howard. www.sleepmonsters.com

After stuffing donuts down our neck we set off for a quick kayaking stage on a canal and it was there our troubles started as PC’s guts began to explode at regular intervals. We headed ever northwards to King’s Cross area taking in the Temple area made famous by the The DaVinci Code novel and Secrets, a pole-dancing nightclub where Chez swung like a natural. I then had the chance to cool off a bit with some star jumps in the Ice Wall Chamber at Ellis Brigham while Paul found the loo.  By this time it was now just after 7pm and we had to deal with manic Saturday night crowds as we ran through Covent Garden to Picadilly Circus towards a checkpoint in the plush Third Space Gym run by Bruce Duncan.  Time was running out now and we were soon accruing penalties for lateness as we sped along the South Bank taking in a spot of Parkour by the National Theatre and chasing the nurses at Guys Hospitall. We finally collapsed into the finish 7 seconds before 8pm and the possibility of accruing massive penalties. We’d had a good run but along the way had to stop about 10 times for Paul’s gut problems, so probably lost about 15-20 minutes which cut into our total putting us back into 4th place. We were happy all things considered, but we soon had bigger things on our mind as Paul became violently sick for the rest of the evening. Time sped by and we had over an hour to drive to get back to our accommodation, maps to mark up, food to eat, more importantly a call to make on whether or not to take Paul to the hospital to get fluids into him and something to stop him being so sick.

Early Sunday morning we rose to find Paul looking still very ill but no longer being sick, however, he was keen to still come along and see if he could at least complete the first run of the day and take it from there. The first section of the race involved some score orienteering around the South Bank where we had to collect 100 points worth of checkpoints before getting on our bikes and heading off over Tower Bridge. Amazingly Paul seemed to have perked up after eating nothing more than two slices of toast and we were the first team back into the transition and onto Tower Bridge. To our incredible misfortune the bridge was in the process of lifting to allow a ship to pass underneath and we missed getting over by barely 3 seconds, so had to stand and wait for 20 minutes until the bridge had lowered again as we were still on a mandatory route! To make things interesting though, they were filming a movie on the bridge with us as the backdrop and a romantic reuniting as the main scene.

Continue reading London Rat Race

Wan Dae

It’s looking like a reasonably busy month of racing ahead which will make a nice change as I’ve not really been in proper action since The Turas back in June.  On 20th September I’m putting on my own Wan Dae race in the Pentland Hills just outside Edinburgh, a favourite location and so close to our capital.  More details can be found on the race website here.

After that I’m done with race organising for a while and it’s time to get back into action myself. First up – the London Rat Race on 27th September, then the Dirty Weekend on 4th/5th October, then at the end of October the OMM which I’ll be racing with my good mate from Denmark, Thure. Somewhere in between I had plans to do an attempt on the West Highland Way by bike, end to end and back in 24 hours. Daylight is slipping away as time marches on but with some good Exposure lights I don’t anticipate it being a problem but fitness might! As winter rears it’s head then ideas of another attempt at Tranter’s Round have been surfacing, with sometime in November pencilled in before PC heads back to New Zealand…not sure where I’m going to get the training in for it…

The little things in life

I’m celebrating FINALLY having figured out by trial and error how to upload images into posts without getting error messages or linking to another URL. So to celebrate, here’s one of my favourite photos from last year’s AR World Champs. Here I am half way up Buichaille Etive Mor in Glen Coe on day 6 or 7. Photo taken by Rob Howard.

Johnboy on Curved Ridge, The Buckle, Glen Coe, Rannoch Moor in the background.
On Curved Ridge, The Buckle, Glen Coe. Rannoch Moor in the background.