Open Adventure Series

Over the last few months, Kim Threadgall has participated in perhaps the toughest series of adventure races in the UK, Open Adventure.  The races took place over 5, 12 and finally 24 hours.  Here, Kim recalls how she got roped in to competing in the series, and some stories from the three races.

Last weekend I took part in the third and last and race in the Open Adventure Series which is a series of adventure races in the North of England made up of mountain biking, hill running, kayaking, navigation and special stages….

I received an e-mail from Andy Wilson who races for ‘For Goodness Shakes!’ asking me if I was available on the 15th of May which was in ten days time as he had entered the Open 5 with his girlfriend Fi Spotswood  who was injured and couldn’t make it.  I had deliberately kept that weekend free as I was starting a new job on the Monday and wanted to be fresh for my first day…however, I might as well start as I meant to go on I thought and replied that yes I would do it thinking I could recover on the flight down to Bristol the following day.

Having never even met Andy we exchanged various e-mails about the race and I met him near Keswick the night before at a large bunkhouse he had booked me in to where all the race organisers and marshals would be staying.  Unfortunately we didn’t receive any inside information from them though….  I was quite nervous about the race as I was taking the place of Fi who is one of the country’s top endurance mountain bikers so I had a lot to live up to!

The race went well and Andy’s navigation was excellent thank goodness as we would have still been wandering around the Lakes looking for check points if it had been left to me.  The special stages were the most memorable, gorge scrambling and jumping into pools of water which were very refreshing!  The second stage was a swim about a couple of hundred metres out to a check point in Lake Windermere in our biking kit which wasn’t very waterproof.  Out of all the sports I have tried swimming is my least favourite and I tried to talk Andy out of it but it was worth 60 points which is a lot more than the average 15/20 so we had to do it.  Although we did it, it took us a long time to recover from the cold and we struggled to speak for a while as our jaws locked.

The rest of the race was made up of lots of mountain biking and also hill running.  5.5 hours was enough though and we made it to the end still smiling and as we waited for the prize giving we found out we were second in the mixed pairs category!

Fast forward 6 weeks and I was dreading the thought of racing for 12 hours.  Fi was still injured so Andy asked me to take her place again in the second race of the series.  I wasn’t looking forward to it – after six weeks of courses, exams, early mornings, late nights and very little training I could have slept for a week.

This time the race was in North Wales and to make things even more difficult we had a mountain bike prologue at 6pm which consisted of half a lap of the blue route which was about 30 minutes and if you made it into the top 30 teams you had to complete a second lap.  Thankfully we didn’t have to do a third lap and although we weren’t setting off until 1am I didn’t have time for a pre race nap which is what I had been praying for.  As with the previous race we started on our mountain bikes and headed off in to the Welsh countryside with our night lights on our bikes – courtesy of Exposure Lights – and helmets.  I was so impressed with them that I have bought one of the smaller lights as it makes such a difference having good lights.

We headed south first and this time the special stages were rock climbing and swimming down white water.  Luckily for us the water was very low but unluckily for us the heavens opened up during our climbing sage which made it slippy but we both managed it and then went on to collect a few check points on the foot stage.  The first eight hours couldn’t have gone any better but by then my lack of preparation and the steep Welsh hills began to take their toll.  On the biggest foot section we lost the path and it was a real struggle hiking to the top, my chest began to feel tight and generally I felt awful.  The backs of my legs were burning and it slowly dawned on me that I had another 4 hours of this to go…I pushed on but I felt absolutely wiped out.  With a couple of hours to go we also managed to score no points on an orienteering section that had taken us an hour and our prospects of placing weren’t looking good.

We eventually finished and I sat in my car tucked under my duvet with my head in my hands trying not to cry….  I eventually hauled myself out of the car to the prize giving and we were astounded to find ourselves in second place again!  Due to the difficult route selection and tactics a lot of teams found it really difficult.  Although this gave me a bit of a boost I swore that I wasn’t designed for over night races and that I definitely wouldn’t be doing the 24 hour race….

Four weeks passed and due to the prospect of hopefully making it on to the podium for a series prize and obvious short term memory loss I once again found myself on the start line, this time in Northumberland.

However it felt different this time, I actually felt really up for it and I had taken it easy the week leading up to the race.  We had also been given the number 1 race bib to wear for the race and I told Andy this was a good omen.

And it was…..although I had to tell Andy to slow down after about 5 minutes in to the race as he set off at a pace that wasn’t dissimilar to the pace of the Open 5!  I didn’t want a repeat of Wales and I wanted to set off at a pace I was comfortable with.  We spent about 4 hours on the first mountain biking stage which then went on to a special stage…gorge scrambling!  I was really excited as I had loved it in the Lakes however, the big 50 pointer was at the end and I was scared.  We had to jump in to a pool but it was pretty high up and it took me a while to build up the courage to do the jump….I knew there was no point in trying to talk Andy out of doing it so I crossed my arms over my chest and went for it.  It seemed like forever before I sunk into the deep pool and prayed that my buoyancy aid was working.  My head finally bobbed above the water and I swam to the side breathlessly with my hand shaking as I made sure I ‘dibbed’ and felt a wave of water push me to the side as Andy also jumped.

With that over and adrenalin sweeping through us we jogged the last 100 metres or so to transition where we got ready for the foot stage which was around the Cheviot Hills.  We spent about 5.5 hours on this stage and scored more points than any other team.  It was also one of the highlights of the race for me as we watched the sun set at the top of the Cheviots… stunning.  However, it was also a low point as it was soon dark and it didn’t take my body long for it to realise I should be going to bed soon.  We hacked our way over the heather and tussocks to get another 50 pointer and it wasn’t long before we were back on the bikes where I seemed to perk up.  An hour on the bikes and it was time for a short orienteering section on foot followed by a tandem abseil off a castle which was fun!  Back on to the bikes and we made our way towards Banburgh Castle for the next stage taking in the most spectacular red sky across the sea.  We were heading to the sea for the kayaking stage however, this was cancelled due to bad weather which never arrived in the end.  Although frustrating there was nothing we could do about it so it meant spending more time on the next foot stage which was a two hour coastal run.  Once again it was good to get back on the bikes as we began to feel the 20 hours of racing in our legs.

I was amazed at how good I was feeling at this point although I had experienced a few waves of tiredness, the most surprising occurring after 3 hours…I tried to split the race in to sections after that rather than looking at it as a 24 hour race.  We couldn’t have done any better, Andy’s navigation and tactics as always were brilliant and he steered us in to Alnwick with a couple of minutes to spare.  I wasn’t expecting a sprint finish after 24 hours of racing though J

We were really happy and my omen was right as we ended up winning the mixed pairs category beating Accelerate and North Face into second and third place!  I never thought that I would end up enjoying the 24 hour race but the 12 hour race taught me a few big lessons about preparing for a race.  I can’t wait for more adventures and hopefully I’ll get to do some more racing with Andy and the squad in the future.

I would definitely recommend giving it a go, it is an adventure you will never forget www.openadventure .com – if you are on facebook you can join the open adventure group and you can also watch a short video of the Open 24 race which should give you a good idea of what it is all about.

Some more pictures are over here.

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