All that in just one weekend?
I think any 24hr race is always a mixture of highs and lows. I'm still not totally sure what motivates me on these longer races - I think it has to be a love of adventure, a burning desire to test myself, a real committment to my team mates and perhaps just a bit of stupidity as it never actually occurs to me that there's an option to give up. If it did, I'd probably take it! I think the team thing is important though, if I lose respect for my team mates (like if they leave me behind) then I start to care less and move slower. Luckily I had a fantastic team mate this year for the Open24 and, despite it being a less than wholly successful result, we still had a lot of fun.
I knew in advance that Maria was going to be pretty nails but it was 20min into the race, with my calves screaming and full of lactate that I realised just how tough and how fast. This was not the pace for a 24hr race! As it turns out we bit off substantially more than we could chew on this stage, even with energy drink! We though 60km in 4hr was realistic but it turned out to be more like 40km in 6hrs as we hiked our bike up tussocky hills and through narrow, muddy, rooty paths (they looked like fire roads on the map!) A more conservative race strategy would probably have got us twice as many points in about 2/3 of the time. Ahh, you live and learn!
Realising we were going to struggle to make it onto the next stage before transition shut, we had to skip loads of the obvious high-pointer checkpoints and hightail it North to the first transition. We got there too late to the gorge walk, which was going to be one of the biggest scoring stages as well as the most exciting. Gutting! Reaching our transition box, we were like a pack of hungry wolves in a butchers shop. Ramming food into our mouths, it was a bit like a competition at a student party - how many jaffa cakes and pringles can you fit in your mouth at once. Teams can lose a lot of time faffing in transition but we were in and out faster than you could say, well, anything really, given the jaffa cakes.
After the manic panic of our beginning, stage 2 was a pretty chilled out affair with some steady walking or slow jogging up and down a few hills to get as many of the easier checkpoints as possible. Watching the sunset over the hills was one of the best moments of the race and Maria admitted that this was the first time she'd actually enjoyed an adventure race at the time as normally she's too tired and sore to be having fun! Obviously being ultra competitive has its downsides!
This time we made it back in loads of time for the transition (queue more pringles and breadsticks) and then set off on the bike, only to find out I had a puncture. By this time it was night and getting pretty nippy so not the best time to be messing around. Just to make sure the night had time to rob us of all body heat and turn us into shivering wrecks, it took us a gob-smackingly impressive 45 minutes to fix the puncture! During that time Maria slit her knuckles open on my disc brakes. Being hard as nails, she just wrapped her buff round it and carried on trying to pump the tyre up for 15minutes before noticing the valve was shut. While she was doing this I completely failed to find anything in the tyre that caused the puncture so of course the second the new tube went in it punctured again!! The camera crew caught all of this on film and eventually decided we were so pathetic we deserved to borrow their track pump so we could finally get on our way and cycle hard til we stopped shivering!
The next stage was another long cycle but broken up with a midnight visit to Chillingham castle where we toured the torture chambers (complete with a skeleton in a competitor race bib), did some orienteering from hand drawn map and launched ourselves off the parapet for a tandem abseil down the side of the castle. The castle is haunted by the ghost of a tortured child but I think the only screams we heard were due to wrecked muscles and saddle sores. I got a very welcome 2 cups of coffee at the checkpoint, which I think is what saw me through the race -nescafe never tasted so good!
Then it was back on the bike again (thank goodness for bike shorts), with the frustrating news that a Force 6 gale was being forecast and the kayak stage was cancelled. Instead, we had the exciting option to do... yep, more biking (woohoo!!). By now, most competitors would rather stick pins in their eyes, or at least shut them for a bit rather than get back on a bike. On our arrival at transition 3 to 4 we found it already full of competitors huddled together, with their feet in plastic bags to try to keep warm. Instead of going out to get extra checkpoints in stage 3, during the allocated kayaking time, they'd opted for some shut-eye then a slow ride to T4/5, with more waiting about until we were allowed to start stage 5. The most disappointing thing about it was that, instead of the Force 6 hoolie, there was a flat calm and we could have kayaked after all. Such a pity it was cancelled but not the race organisers fault as you couldn't have risked having people out there if the weather had turned nasty.
Stage 5 was a stunning run south along the shoreline, visiting a cave and running up the occasional sand dune. I can't believe that 20hrs into a race I was still running but I must have had a second wind as we were keeping up with the leaders in their yellow jerseys for a good part of the way. Then it was back on my mediaeval torture device (mountain bike) for another ride to pick up the last points before heading home. Was feeling strong till all but that last miles where I suddenly lost the ability to turn the pedals any longer. Going uphill to the finish was the hardest part of the race but we got there eventually, 23hrs in and done in.
We came 3rd out of the female pairs. For cynics looking at the results table, it may look like we were last but I can hardly help it if the opposition don't show up! We did get a great goody bag anyway and I'm pretty confident that we worked harder than the other teams and possibly ran faster - it's just unfortunate that there was a fair bit of that in the wrong direction!! We'll be chalking this one up to experience and maybe I'll use the winter to practice navigation and route choices. Trailquests anyone?
Northumberland isn't a place I've been to before but I'll now remember it as somewhere with a lot of castles and beautiful sunrise / sunset. Caught some lovely sleep in the car and then felt awake enough to drive back home, aiming to be safely tucked up in bed by 7pm. Sadly, fate and one of the pistons in the engine had other plans and , following a rather nasty explosion and black smoke on the M8, I'm sorry to say our car is now residing in a carpark in Bathgate as that's how far Mr RAC was willing to tow me. Dad had to come pick me, bike and gear up there. Thank goodness for parents and bah to cars!