Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

August 31, 2012

Adidas TERREX Sting Adventure Race, Part 3

Continued from Part 1

and Part 2

Watch the video of our race here

Stage 6: 160k Bike-26 hours

Grandtully was the major transition of the race, as this was the middle of a giant figure 8, and we would be back here final morning to rejoin our canoes and finish the race.  But there was a lot of racing left before we could see our boats again.  Starting with a very long bike ride, which was luckily broken up into a couple of stages.  It was here at Grandtully where we had to make our biggest decision of the race, whether to send our bike boxes on to a close transition or to a much farther one, both in biking and trekking.  After much dithering, we finally decided on the strategic choice, to push to the far point in order to be more competetive.  Oooh, our aching butts...Tony looked a little green at the thought of adding more biking but we all manned up and agreed it was the right choice.

The first section was a slow climb on fire roads up to a high ridge in the sunshine, with brilliant views and a nice descent.  Perhaps the only exception to the hike-a-bike boggy bits?   Hard to say.   Our brakes were screaming on the endless descent, luckily there were frequent puddles to cool them down!   Then it was more flat, fast SusTrans routes all the way to the canyoning stage, except for a cheeky little hill that left us all huffing (and me walking!)

Special Stage:  Canyoning, Falls of Bruar
Luckily we were able to arrive at the canyoning in daylight with some warmth left in the day, and got kitted out in thick wetsuits against the chill of the water.  Sarah and the army of volunteers were there as well, to stuff us with hot drinks before and after the plunge.  We asked Sarah where we were in the rankings, and she said she didn't know, while juggling 3 cups of hot chocolate and directing traffic (she said after the race that we were almost dead last at that point and she just didn't want to tell us!).

I have to say that while I enjoy canyoning, in reality it can be a bit scary.  Well, especially on legs that have already been exercising for 34 hours!  High jumps, cold water, powerful waterfalls and slippery rocks began to take their toll on all of us about halfway through the canyoning section.  We enjoyed it up until then, but started to get cold, tired, and sore from thumping into hidden rocks on the sliding portions of the falls.  I was happy not to get permanently trapped under a waterfall, but was moving pretty unsteadily by the end. The cold water was probably really good for our muscles, though!

Back on the Bike

For the middle half of the big bike stage, we slowly and steadily gained elevation on what might be the most scenic part of the route, Glen Tilt.   The River Tilt crashed down along side us in the steep-sided valley, with more waterfalls to distract us from our saddle sores.  We had an enjoyable ride up the long, U-shaped valley, with daylight lasting just long enough for us to see it.  All good things come to an end, though, and what followed was too many kilometers of single-track trail, too skinny to ride or walk.  Calm conditions brought the midges out, too, so it was headnets on and stopping was verboten.  We seemed to go on hiking for hours, with room on the trail for either me or the bike, and sometimes the bike didn't win.  Othertimes it did, leaving a welt where the pedal kept hitting me in the calf as we tried to share space without falling off the cliff into the river. 

Once on the descent, the track was good again, allowing for quick speeds in pitch darkness, slowing only to wade across 3 or 4 knee-deep rivers.   We were down at the next transition before our feet had time to freeze into lumps of ice.   We forgot our feet when we walked in the door of Mar Lodge, where there were several thousand deer antlers hanging from the ceiling!?!

Here we had an option to do some orienteering.  In the middle of the night.  In a forest.  We took a look at the map, which was much bigger than we imagined, and unanimously voted to skip it.  The better option, which we took, was to grab some steaming pasta from Clive Ramsey's mobile catering van...I think he got as little sleep as we did during the race!  Hot food was wonderful, and gave us the motivation to those wet socks back on and head out on our bikes, again.

Back on the Bike.  Again

The longest leg was left, 70 km which would take us all the way to the start of the long trek.  But that didn't sound very motivating at 1 am, with bellies full of pasta.  We made it a few miles down the road and then found a soft mossy spot to pitch our tent and grab a couple hours sleep.  Tony and I found this doubly welcome as this would be our first sleep since the start of the race.  It was equally nice to hear the rain start to fall just after we had all crawled in the tent. 

Nap time had left us with only a small amount of darkness left to ride in, and then it was a long stretch of road riding along a river.  But it was a pleasant morning of downhill, clear skies, sunshine, wind at our backs, and decent temperatures...we couldn't really ask for more on the hump day of a week-long adventure race. 

The Sting in the tail came when we turned off road to go through the Queen's forest.  It was still pleasant riding, but now slightly uphill through gorgeous thick pine forests.  But we knew that the end of the uphill would put us on top of Mount Keen, the easternmost Munro and theoretically the only one that bikes can reach.  Well, if they get there, it's only because they have been pushed, pulled, lifted, cursed at, and tripped over...it was a long slog up a rocky trail to stand at the summit.  The guys saw me struggling and took both my pack and my bike near the top, thankfully giving me a chance to gasp for air.  At the summit, the decent started no better, since the newly paved trail was littered with 10 inch high rock water barriers to be jumped over.  I must admit they scared me silly.  First I got off my bike at each one, then attempted to ride over them, but I never managed to lift my back tyre over them without a hard thump. It took a toll on my bike by the end, in the form of a flat tubeless tyre.  Gavin the mechanic quickly stuffed in a tube and we were off again, where I promptly fell over on the next uphill because I was in too hard a gear!   I limped/rolled my way to transition and waved a non-fond goodbye to my bike for a while. 

Stage 7: 75k Trek-30 hours

The big, scary trek.  We ended up doing at least 70k but the whole route was over 100k.   This, too was divided into three sections.  The first one was a long, boggy, peaty slog.  There really were no trails in this wild country, and unending over the rounded hills were the scary scars of black bogs. A few other teams were around to give us company, but it was big terrain and took a long time to cross. In fact, about 7 hours to get over the bogs, and it wasn't until near the end that we realized the black dirt wouldn't swallow us whole, in fact held up fairly well under our feet.  We came down out of the bogs with clean shoes, even...unbelievable.    The rough terrain was demoralizing, though...darkness was falling as we found the trail down into the valley, just in time as I was ready to sit down and have a good cry.  Just kidding.

The Scramble ascent in the distance,
which we did mostly in darkness.
Climbing out of the valley into the second section brought us into a dark, windy night.  The glow of my headlamp was mesmerizing, and every time I looked away from the rocky trail, I would lose my balance and weave sideways a little.  It was so dark that trail decisions took 5 times as long as normal, even though we could see lights ahead of us.   Rapidly approaching was the first rock scramble, the thought of which was scrambling our brains at midnight.  We collectively decided that we were too tired to risk the climb in darkness, and set off to find a place to pitch the tent.

This was harder to do that we imagined, as the slope around the lake leading up to the gully was steep, rocky, and rough.  We spread out and managed to find the only semi-flat grassy spot in the whole place, crawled in the tent, and waited for daylight.  The wind was gusting so badly in my sleep-deprived state, that I kept imagining it would blow away, and that only me staying awake would keep the rain cover safe.  I didn't get any sleep.  Neither did Tony, shivering in his one-man bivy.  He crawled into our tent to warm up, but with the slope putting all our heads at the top, our shoulders just wouldn't fit.  No sleep for him either, back into the bivy once he warmed up.  It was a long night. 

At Glenshee midway through the trekking stage
 At the first crack of daylight we were climbing the slippery rocks to the scramble.  Luckily the wind diminished in the crack of rock, and I think we were all happy to be moving again.  What followed was a long slog over a lot more terrain, but thankfully this time there were more tracks to follow.  Shortly past midday we arrived at the second pit stop, the ski lodge at Glenshee.  Sarah was waiting there along with Clive Ramsey's catering van.  We arrived looking almost dead and left an hour later looking slightly more alive, and ready to start the 3rd leg of the trek. 

On paper, the last trekking leg looked fairly pleasant, first a climb up to a ridge and then a relatively flat walk along it.  The changing winds gave us the same trouble we had all day....first we were cold when the sun went away, and then suddenly we were hot on the climbs.  Our Paramo jackets, while brilliant in cold,wet weather, were just a little too much for the mild conditions.  It was a pleasant walk, though, for a while, until we came to a steep valley with nothing but bogs waiting for us on the other side.  I was quite tired by this point, it was now Thursday and I hadn't slept but 2 hours since Monday morning.  I think I started weaving a bit and falling even further behind the guys than usual.  They took pity on me and carried my pack, still managing to walk faster than me. 

I'll spare you the pain of the next several hours, it was basically lots of climbing, descending, bogs, and a rain shower.  Just when we thought we were near the end, there was the worst bog of all, a really steep descent, and a long road section.  Our feet, which had been soggy for 4 days now and used to soft terrain, suddenly hurt worse on the tarmac than ever before.  We walked fast to stay ahead of the midges, and were grateful to see the transition bike boxes appear on the road side. 

Stage 8: 29k Bike-3 hours

We were in an out of the midge-infested transition field as fast as we could assemble our bikes.  We were also chasing darkness, which fell somewhere along the fast road bike section.  While sitting on our saddles wasn't fun at all, being off our feet and in a pace line was a relief.  The road biking lasted until just the last couple of kilometers, but the last hill was a douzy.  I was in a fog of exhaustion by then, and with Jon pushing my bike and his, I still couldn't keep up, falling behind as I slowly walked up the hill.   Normally we would have stopped to sleep at that point, but we knew that the next transition was a time-out area until 6 am, so we could get there and have a long sleep with no penalities. 

Sitting in a chair...lovely!

I'm sure that no health and safety inspector would have passed me the ok to still be riding my bike, though, especially when the descent turned into a long, steep, rocky, muddy singletrack.  All of our lights were starting to dim, as we hadn't expected to need them much on the road sections.  Jon gave me his brighter headlamp but I was still in danger of crashing at every bump in the road.  In daylight it would have been a fun descent...at night and extremely tired, I'm just glad to get down it, as somehow we did. 

Grandtully transition showed bright lights and our welcome kit bags.  I crashed in a chair and didn't move for a long time, except to eat a little.  Even walking out to the tent seemed too much effort.  The guys kept saying things like "Dawn, get your sleeping bag and go out to the tent and sleep."   I've never in my life felt so out of it as at that moment.   By midnight, we managed to sort a little gear and then crashed hard until the alarms went of at 5 am for a last day of racing. 

Stage 9: 60k Paddle-7 Hours

Back in the dry suit and now in the front of the canoe where my tired self belonged, we set out on the last paddling section of the race.  It was nice to be sitting again, but that also made it easy to lose concentration.  Although the river was pulling us along steadily, we paddled to get even more speed and keep ourselves awake.  Although I often would find myself paddling with my eyes closed, jerking back awake when a stroke would miss the water completely and catch air.  Tony in the other front boat was in the same boat , and we stopped after a few hours to dig some caffeine tabs out of my pack.  There was another orienteering stop halfway through the paddle, but it was optional, so we skipped it.  None of us felt like moving on foot any longer, with blisters and sore feet appreciating the break.  Arriving at the rapids helped us concentrate, too, although they weren't as bad and we managed to stay dry this time.  
Stage 10: 60k Bike - 4 Hours

The last stage!!!  By this time butt meeting saddle was terribly painful to everyone.  We just wanted to hurry through the stage and get to the finish line.  A large rainshower tried to slow us down with big drops, but we outran it and got into dry ground again.   One last silly hill stood in our way, but we raced it standing up like our bottoms were on fire and enjoyed a fast descent into Stirling.  Ok, well maybe we took a teensy weeny wrong turn and had to hike up a steep hill to get back on the right road!  We still managed to run into the finishing chute and get our medals, and then got to stop racing.  It felt weird, actually! 

Total race time was about 99 hours, with a lot more added for penalties of missed controls.  We finished 9th out of 36 teams, which we all found amazingly high!  I guess we just continued to move at a steady pace, while a lot of other teams went out to fast, got injured, and then slowed down. 

A BIG THANKS to all the volunteers out there on the race, moving bike boxes and kit bags and cleaning up after the tornado of racers moved through each transitions.  From Jon, Tony, Gavin and myself....We appreciated it!!!!

One week later, post-race note

Phew!  After eating everything in sight for a week, and sleeping the rest of the time, I still feel a little dazed by the race.  I tried going out for a walk today, and quickly realized that a nap sounded much better.  My dreams are totally weird...I dream of nothing but walking through endless bogs, sometimes while dragging a canoe or a bike along.  Perhaps my brain is trying to process through the race, somehow?  I know it took a few days before I could slow down and not feel like I had to hurry through my activities.  Anyway, it was quite an experience and one I am not likely to forget! 

We (tried to sleep) some where down there!
James Kirby the cameraman, finally gets a nap...

Adidas TERREX Sting Adventure Race, Part 2

The overview of our route over the 5 days!
The Adidas TERREX Sting is a 5-day, non-stop, expedition race for mixed teams of 4.  It covered over 600 km in disciplines including running, trekking, mountain biking, canoeing, and other special stages.  

If this adventure race was described as the hare vs. the turtle, then our team, WCP AR, were definitely in the turtle class.  We had a good look at the maps before the race and decided that taking all of the shortcuts early on would save our legs for the long trek later in the race.  We figured many teams would go too far, too fast, too early and then implode, leaving us to steadily plod onwards and make up ground.  And so it went....

Stage 1: 10k Run - 1 Hour

Just like the speedy prologue, this short, sharp 10k was tough on legs that hadn't done any running since before the taper and my hiking holiday in Italy and Slovenia.  I felt really slow, but we knew  that a few minutes here wouldn't matter much.  The route took us down from a lovely start in Stirling Castle, over to the Wallace Monument, and then back to the base of the castle.   Mostly on roads, it was tough on shins that were trained for hill walking.   I think we were all just eager to get on the bikes and out onto the race proper.  Our transition didn't win any speed awards either, but repeat after me "It's a long race...."

Stage 2: 90k Bike - 7 Hours

Ah, finally out on the bike, with fast roads and my 29er tyres I was easily keeping up with the guys.  Tony started muttering early about his derriere, having forgotten to apply Sudocream from the start.  Oops.  Luckily there were some nice breaks in this stage, including a walk into Doune Castle to bag a control, and then a paddle across Scotland's only Lake.   This was a real rowboat trip across Lake Menteith, with me taking my proper place (as the girl) in the bow, and having the guys row me across the lake.  It also gave me a chance to capture some GoPro Video footage, since anytime I would actually "stop" to use it during the race, it got me dirty looks from the guys.  We were "racing", after all :) 

Island on Lake Menteith
Back on the bikes, we quickly missed our turnoff into the woods and had to backtrack, but only a short distance, a paltry amount in our week I have to admit.   Onto the Rob Roy Way, we found the first of our mountain biking stages would set a pattern for the week.  First there were enjoyable, fast fire roads, then would come a boggy, unridable middle section, and then there would be another fast descent to a road.  I wasn't complaining as this terrain let me keep up with the guys a little easier...they only really put me to shame on those technical riding sections where I usually get off and walk.  And wish I had a full suspension bike!  But no worries for this race, the 29er tyres were the right choice.

Then came the first of two route choices to stay flat along SusTrans bike paths, or go up and over more hills.  We halfheartedly discussed taking the tough routes but the time penalties didn't make them seem worth it.   From the 100-yard stares and hang-dog looks of teams that did go over the hike-a-bikes, we were later glad to have stayed low. 

Stage 3: 5k Paddle - 1 Hour

Late afternoon had us out paddling on Loch Tay, after a madhouse transition that sucked almost an hour from our lives.   Bike boxes packed on one side of the building, kit bags inside, and canoes waiting out the other end...I think I ran a few miles just hauling gear to the right places.  The worst bit was trying to carry the loaded canoe between Gavin and I down to the water, it was a long ways...I started gasping for breath about the time that Jon and Tony came back to make it an easy 4-man carry.

We didn't really have time to get into a rythym on the water, either...after 50 minutes we were pulling into another transition and getting our trekking shoes on. 

Stage 4: 16k Trek- 8 Hours
As you can see, all photos are courtesy of James Kirby Photography
and Open Adventure.   Great photos as always, guys!!!

We had a few hours of daylight left and hoped to make the most of it by first bagging the most difficult of the 4 controls we could visit on this section.  After a steady climb, though, our plans inexplicably changed into getting the easy controls first and following another team , then finishing up with the harder ones "if there was time".  This backfired on us, as Team TotalXC pulled away from us immediately when we stopped to put on jackets against a rainshower, but it gave us a nice track up to follow to my first Munro, whose name is unpronouncible but is next to the higher peak of Ben Lawers!  (A Munro being any Scottish peak over 3000 feet high.)  We did get to see a really nice double rainbow so all was not lost!

Backfire #2 happened as we reached our second Munro...darkness was falling but it was just light enough to show us the bogs waiting for us in the valley before the next control.  Our Peak District-based team got scared of getting stuck in them forever, so we opted, after much discussion, to go back the way we came and just get a little extra sleep before the canoe stage could start again at 3 am. 
We were carrying our sleeping bags and bothy shelter, so before getting back to transition we found a nice spot of wet grass to sleep in.  It was a warm night, and in a spot of good luck there was no wind nor any midges.  I was too amped up to sleep, but I had a nice time snuggled in my sleeping bag watching the stars...we had a great view of the Milky Way.   At least, it was nice until it was time to get up and I discovered a huge slug crawling across my sleeping bag!  I must admit I let out a yelp and made Tony scoop it off...yuk! 

Stage 5: 40k Paddle - 7 Hours

The night paddle across Lock Tay in calm conditions was fairly tedious.  It was cool at first, as we shut all of our lights off and just had the glowsticks from other canoes to light our way.  Then I started thinking that the water looked awfully black and the canoe was rather tippy, and it wouldn't be fun to go for a swim at 4 am at all.   Then the lights we were aiming for turned out to not be at all where the end of the Loch was located so mentally we all suffered a setback.  Needless to say 4 hours of paddling down the Loch with partial headwinds and gathering rainshowers wasn't the highlight of the race.  We were relieved to see the mouth of the river and stop and stretch our legs.  I was chilly already, and got the jump on the river by donning a borrowed drysuit, soon the envy of all the soaked racers we saw.

At least the river was more interesting and slightly less demanding of hard paddling.  Well, until the rapids arrived.  I was driving the boat for some reason, and managed to keep Gavin and I inside of the canoe until almost the very last rapid, where we got turned around backwards and then went for an adrupt swim.  Luckily everything was tied down except for the bailer, which we had been using as a pee bottle (hey, desperate times in the middle of a Loch in the middle of the night call for desperate measures!).   Luckily, my dry suit kept me dry, but Gav wasn't as lucky and shivered his way into our final put-in.  Tony and Jon managed to stay dry until the landing area, which was pretty dicey, and our canoe took a header into theirs and swamped it, so we had both boats full of damp gear to deal with.  And another significant portage to the transition at Grandtully.  Although it was fun stopping traffic on the street with a canoe. 

To be continued in Part Three....

Control at Rob Roy's Grave...he's a pretty famous character in Scottish History

August 30, 2012

Go Pro Video!! Sting 5-Day Adventure Race

Grab some popcorn, and sit down to live (or relive) the Adidas TERREX Sting Adventure Race.  I know it will seem we are moving pretty slowly in some of these clips, but remember we didn't stop for 5 days!

If the one below doesn't download well for you, here is a lower quality video to try.

To read more about the race, check out Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of my race blog.    Hey, 5 days of racing can't be compressed into a paragraph, you know!

And for something a little silly, a limerick about adventure racing.

A few other teams have some hilarious stories to tell as well, check them out!

Team Salomon-Running Free

Team Sardine (multiple blog entries)

A blurb about the AR World Series

Team AttackPoint AR

Lucy Harris in Team Lastminute.AR

Rosemary Byde

Team Goals ARA

Nav4 Joe

Team Delan Training

Team TotalXC

August 29, 2012

Adidas TERREX Sting Adventure Race, Part 1

What is this race?  It's a mouthful, really.  The Adidas TERREX Sting is a 5-day, non-stop, expedition race for mixed teams of 4.  It will cover over 600 km in disciplines including running, trekking, mountain biking, canoeing, and other special challenges.  

My team was #24, WCP AR, consisting of Jon, Gavin, and Tony.  We hadn't been able to do much training together during the summer, but we were confident that we were all trained and mentally prepared for the race.  Oh, and uninjured...getting a full team to the starting line is the toughest challenge of all.


Let's face it, packing for an expedition adventure race can take up more time than the race itself.   Without the maps, it was hard to know what to pack in which bag, so I did what every racer was doing pre-race...packing every bit of technical gear I owned into my car to sort out later. 

The biggest moment of fear came on Friday evening after Rob had dropped me off at Tony's for an early start up to Scotland the next day.  We were mentally running through our packing lists, and at the same moment looked at each other and said "Paddles!".  Unfortunately I had remembered the canoe but hadn't thought about how we were going to paddle it!  

Frantic phone calls ensued, but Jon came through for the team, as he had picked up 6 paddles from his rental place rather than the 4 we had agreed on.  Crisis averted, thanks Jon!

After a rainy Saturday drive up to Stirling, Scotland (is this going to continue all week?) by mid-day we were united with Jon and Gavin and ready to get the race started.    Oh, right, more packing. 

Registration gave us the packet of maps, which covered such a huge area that we had to lay them out end to end using both sets to get the route in our heads.  Frankly, it looked scary. 

More packing, this time in bright sunshine, lucky for us, as we spread gear out over half the parking lot.  Finally knowing where our bags would be allowed us to pack food (20,000 calories each), plus multiple sets of clothing, shoes, and spare everythings.   It rained moments after we had finished and put it all back in the van.  I'm happy to say this pattern of timely rain showers would continue for the race. 


Midpoint control in Gavin's bike section,
and also on the 10k run the next morning.
 Sunday was more packing, more briefings, more eating (yay!), and finally bag turn-in, where we waved goodbye to our bike boxes, kit bags, canoes (and paddles!), and that special bag for the special canyoneering stage. 

To save us a boring evening of relaxing and more eating before the main race, race director James started everyone off with a prologue.   This was open to teams not in the main race, hopefully to get them thinking of entering the big event in later years.   For the main racers, this was a short, sharp challenge for legs that had been tapering for at least a week.  Just riding up to the start from the event center was a bit of a shock, actually!

There were 4 stages in the prologue (hey, there are 4 people on a team, that works out...).  First a run stage, then orienteering, then two mountain bike stages.   I claimed the run stage straightaway, hoping that would do the least amount of time damage to our team.   The start was at the main gate of Stirling Castle, and the run took us up and down on trails around the castle.  It was hillier than I hoped and longer than I wanted, but 20 minutes later I was huffing my way up the final hill to hand off the race to Jon.

Jon had the orienteering stage, using a map of the city published in 1898!  The race director got a bit of an evil grin when he told us about that particular challenge.  Luckily the city streets haven't completely changed since then, and Jon was back in good time without getting too lost.

Tony and Gavin had the last two biking stages, which included some hills and mud, but luckily for our team no flat tyres or crashes.   In the end we were about 15 minutes behind the leaders, which would give us a 29 minute penalty to serve sometime in the main race.   Is that enough time to get a nap in?

The main race recap is in Part 2 and Part 3

Check out a video of our race here

The army of volunteers did a wonderful job all week.

August 19, 2012

Live Tracking for 5 day Adventure Race

I'm up here in Scotland for the 5 day non-stop adventure race that is the Sting in Stirling!  Live tracking will be updated all week long, the website www.live.adidas-ar.com

The race starts tonight with a prologue, and then kicks off tomorrow at 9 am.  The highlight of the race may be the canyoning on day 2, as long as we don't capsize the canoe the night before!

August 14, 2012

Venice, Italy

Rounding out our journey to the mountains was a last day on the Adriatic, in Venice.  It was hot, it was sunny, it was crowded, but heck, it was Venice.  This was Sarah's first visit to the sinking city, and just the last of many for Rob and I.  Definitely worth a day in anyone's itinerary.  This time I spent a lot of time window shopping, the glassblowing creations by Venetians are mindblowing, really.

This time Rob's photos get to tell the story.

These two photos are from our first day in Piran, Slovenia!