Sunday, December 06, 2009

North Downs DAR

Dynamic Adventure Racing North Downs Challenge, Sunday 6th Dec 2009

At the end of an event, it's always nice to say things went swimmingly. Driving down the M3 to Peaslake for the last DAR challenge for 2009, it did indeed look like swimming would be involved. When you are doing 40 and still cannot see where you are going, you just know it's going to be a damp one. Loading up the car at 7am was like packing in the middle of a carwash. Extra dry socks then.

A full house at the Peaslake village hall was already evident by 8:30, a good sign for some stiff competition. The rain had gone north by this time to bother the flatter, less interesting parts of the UK and just a hint of blue sky was seen lurking. The hall was a lovely venue, tons of room and several toilets for changing, with a good start area right outside. An analysis of the map was initially comforting - how cheery that Simon put all the controls so close together - what a nice man. Oh, and look, what's this orange terrain here - fruit glades? volcanic soil perhaps? Then it dawns - those are contour lines, so tightly packed that to anyone with less than 20/20 vision they resemble a flattened Terry's chocolate orange. This realisation along with the aforementioned rain made me think that you wouldn't need spiked shoes so much as ones fitted with caterpillar tracks. And a winch. And snorkel.

By the time of the run start the weather had smartened up markedly. Departing the hall there were people going in all directions, the location of Peaslake at the convergence of two spurs giving a number of strategic options. Opting for an anti-clockwise direction with the aim of clearing the course, the start could not have gone more wrong. Due to a major geographic embarrassment I headed due north out of Peaslake, almost 180 degrees from my intended direction. The situation of the hall just off the confluence of 4 roads (that would be a crossroads, then) had confused me to such an extent that after two planned left turns, the desired bridleway was not 500 yards on the right. No. There was a field full of shooters in green wellies, but no bridleway. To further confuse things there was a carpark of sorts (where expected) and other competitors disappearing into the distance along what should have been the way (also expected), but no. It just didn't feel right. So backtrack to the main road, map to ground analysis, press on, and sure enough the true way became apparent. From thereon the nav was spot on. Just as well given the myriad of tracks, trails and roads littering the pineforest. People going in all directions, cyclists and ramblers all over too.

The run down the ridge through the Duke of Kent school was stunning, if not near-lethal underfoot. The nav up from Holmbury St Mary to CP3 was a mixed bag of luck, determination and, er, luck. Pressing on back to the hall via 2 and 1 required a bit of flagellation given there was only a few minutes to spare, and much cursing of the nonsense right at the start. In the end clearing the course with a few minutes penalty was a welcome relief.

A bowl of Flossie's Bolognase sauce, bread and tea was fabulous, and much nicer than a thermos of lukewarm porridge like the last time. Into the planning for the MTB section it was apparent that those contours weren't getting any flatter. In fact the northern section of the loop looked like it might require grappling irons and a scaling ladder. No way were these legs going to get them all, so a good selection of must-do's and nice-to-haves was marked up. Best wet-weather merino waterproof SealSkinz socks and neoprene roadie overboots on for a toasty toe-warming time, and we're off. Progress went quickly along the Greensand way, through Holmbury St Mary once more and along the escarpment to Leith Hill Tower for stunning views along the coast (and quizzical looks from walkers). The byway was so muddy that a longer route via road through Coldharbour was taken, then along Wolvern's Lane replete with foot-deep puddles from the 4x4 greenlaning activity. Down a spanking bit of new bridleway that was so steep the next rain will have washed it all away into the Thames again, and across the flat to Coomb farm and a very well-hidden CP by the rail underpass. The next 200 yards across a flat field was a hint of what was to come, so slippery that it was hard to walk let alone ride. The track along the base of the escarpment was a continuous power slide 6 inches deep in what can only be described as oatmeal on ice. Now turn left. By my maths to gain 100m altitude in 200m of travel requires a gradient of 22.5 degrees. Whatever it was, you wouldn't want to try riding down it without either a) very good healthcare or b) a bouncy castle at the bottom. So I assume the two gents I met at the top had option a). Once at the top (rather unsatisfying view, but maybe that was just my state of mind by then) it was flat along the road through 29 and 30, then a ferry fast and sketchy downhill to say 'Hi' to the donkeys at Colekitchen farm. Through Gomshall (with just a bit of swearing at the never-ending mud) to the final CP, then a 'dash' back through what seemed to be the longest village in England to the finish. Really Peaslake, you are not that big. If I see a village sign I expect to be within a minute of a pub, not needing a cache of food en-route.

The reduced interval of 45 minutes until the night nave was a new feature, and did require focus on personal admin skills. Got out the door and into the dark with about a minute to spare, raring to go. History repeated itself (again with a lot of swearing) before heading back past the hall in the correct direction this time. Up into the hills anti-clockwise with full beam on the Petzel Ultra, the CP's visible from about 500 yards away due to the pine-wilting capabilities of 6 LED's. There's nothing like buying yourself time, and as my bike is 8 years old I think it was OK to splash out on lumens. The close pine forest and many tracks had people all over the show, but some faultless night nav (if I do say so myself) meant getting back well under time for bags of bonus points.

Once again bringing a trug along was a godsend, perfect for filthy shoes, leggings, tops and jackets. Then into a hot Pastie (is there a better post-AR food?) then cake, tea, cake and more cake as the prizes were gone though. Greg Keers and Lee Jackson cleaned up overall with a stonking 1435 points in the Mens Pairs. Karin Heath won Womens Solo with a very respectable 890 - Karin racing this time without husband Steve or baby Orla (they won Mixed Pairs last time with Orla in her Chariot trailer). The winning Male Team only scored a few more points - 906 from Team M.A.S - so that's a great result from Karin. And blow me down with a feather If Team Kiwi42 didn't bag a prize again, edging out Ken Jones by just 5 points (1308 vs. 1303) after 6 hours of racing. Goes to show that every little, tiny bit of effort and concentration can make a difference. Never give up. Even if you just made the biggest numpty of a mistake ever, or have run out of bars, legs or both.

Once more a fabulous day's AR from the Dynamic Adventure Racing team, faultlessly organised and executed (despite a few CP's being nicked and the kitchen counter needing re-enforcing to bear the weight of Flossie's cakes and chocolate flapjacks). Can they do no wrong? Well, let's have the next Peaslake race at the height of summer eh? ;-)

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