Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Lastminute.AR Sting in Stirling

Team Lastminute.AR at the end of the Terrex Sting in Stirling

This is going to be a long one, it's been a busy month and for the first time this year, due more to excessive amounts of exercise than excessive quality time with my computer :-).

Firstly, and pretty importantly given my plan to race the Sting in Stirling, I taught myself to run again. It had been so long since I'd been out on foot that the first four mile attempt left me grasping at the banisters in order to make it down cure this I went out for 9miles the next day....and then almost had to resort to bum sliding downstairs. I take back anything I ever told my cycling friends about running being easy :-).

Thankfully given a couple of days to recover my third attempt at running was less painful and by the following Friday I found myself running into the night, carrying an obscene amount of lucozade and fruit cake, as Wil completed his Bob Graham Round. Two legs of the BG felt like a good bit of training for the Sting.

Visiting Dollywaggon1....and Dollywaggon2...

I get all the best jobs!
 My next problem was having a team. With a late decision on the Accelerate Team, Lastminute.AR were formed 1.5weeks before the start date and met for the first time pre race on the Saturday. We also had an unorthodox line up with 2 guys and 2 girls, JD Eskelson, Jon Ellis, Vanessa Harding and myself. So it was off into the unknown....

We registered and got the maps, then came some plotting...made rather difficult by not really knowing or having any idea how fast we were likely to move!
After looking at the maps we decided our plan was to go for full course for as long as possible, expecting to be able to keep to this for stages 1-5 before making  a call on the long trek when we had determined our pace a bit better. Then came the kit faff..

So on Sunday evening we found ourselves at Stirling Castle, a pretty stunning location for the prologue to the Sting. The prologue consisted of a trail run (Vanessa), an Orienteering section with the added twist of the use of an 1898 dated map (Jon - phew, escaped any nav disasters..I can manage those on a 2012 map, never mind 1898 :-)), a MTB round the golf course (me) and a MTB to the Wallace Monument (JD). Teams had to serve a time penalty of 2xtime behind the winners later in the main race at Grandtully.
If this was a sign of things to come...well, it wasn't a good sign. Vanessa had a stormer to bring us back well up the field, Jon maintained this in the Orienteering, then I went out on the bike. By the bottom of the descent it was apparent there was something up with my bike, I thought I'd hit it on a drainage ditch during the descent, but when I checked my back wheel for looseness there was nothing wrong. So back on with it. Then I 'changed gear' or rather tried to.....I looked down in horror at what appeared to be a bent and non functioning front mech! After an epic effort to get myself back up the hill in far too high a gear my bike got a thorough inspection. Thankfully it wasn't bent, instead it had been shunted round when somebody caught my bike in their desperate leap for the start line. By the time JD got back my bike had a full range of gears again :-). Then bike mechanical no2. JD had come off whilst trying to avoid a dog and discovered his hire bike had a rather short seat post...and now a rather damaged frame....
Thanks to some incredible generosity from Team TriActive Stirling JD was sorted out with a lovely Scott hardtail to race on!
After all of that we didn't come off too bad, a 21minute time to be served at Grandtully.

Day 1
Stage 1: Run around the Wallace Monument, 8.64km 212m climb
Stage 2: MTB to Killin (full course), 88km2065m climb
Stage 3:Paddle to the run on Tarmachan

The start of the race was fast and furious and we tucked in to a comfortable group, just behind Mountain Hardware and got round the first run without incident. Onto the bikes and we were working well as a team and keeping the pace going well. We arrived at Doune Castle just as the leading teams were leaving. Here we got to explore in the castle itself, whilst doing good impressions of olympic race walkers!
Back on the bikes we headed for the Lake of Menteith, the only lake in Scotland where we jumped into a rowing boat! It was good fun and we even had time for a rendition of 'row row row your boat' with Mountain Hardware (heading in the other direction). Half way across we had a small hiccup when we didn't spot FGS heading towards us from the opposite direction and the two boats got intertwined. Thankfully no lasting oar damage!

The final leg of the bike over to Killin took us up a good steep climb or two. It wouldn't be Lastminute.AR if we didn't have a bike mechanical....Jon got a puncture that wouldn't seal just as I inadvertantly hit a ditch and got a good bruise down my left knee. A change to an inner tube and we were off...until the next climb when my crank fell off! That has never happened to me EVER! This was starting to take the p*!%.
The last mechanical for us for the rest of the race thankfully was JD's brake stopping working. This made for some interesting descents but we were at least back on the move!

Riding the bikes - all 3 working....JD hanging on round the corner with only 1 brake!
 At Killin I'd like to say we smoothly transitioned into the canoes, but this would be a bit of a lie....we did get into canoes, around 45minutes slower than the teams around us on the results....transitions it turns out were not our strong point.

Day 2
Stage 4: Run on Tarmachan, 27km 1819m Climb
Stage 5: Paddle down lake and River Tay to Grandtully, 38km
Stage 6: MTB to Mar lodge with Canyoning and Orienteering, 82km, 2029m climb

Here our plan began to fail. Transition faff left us with a hard tactical decision. We had to reach the river before 10am the next morning, we estimated 4hours to get there and wanted to allow an hour leeway which meant leaving on stage 5 at 5am. That left us roughly 8hours to trek.
Could we get all 4 controls? There were 2 on either side of the valley with a drop to a big climb between each set of 2. It was going to be tight and as such we chose an anticlockwise route as this offered the most flexibility, with easy access to a third and possibly 4th control if time allowed. As it happened we might just have got the 4 if we'd committed early, but as it was we got three, made it back to the boats and down to the river in time, now officially short course.
The river had some good rapids to negotiate and I'm happy to say we all stayed in the boats! Not bad for 4 people who had never met let alone paddled together before!
 The portage at the end of the river hurt, but it hurt Vanessa most as we were about to find out. Off on the bikes again we made quick work of the section over to the canyoning, however it became apparent that Vanessa had hurt her back whilst carrying the canoe. After a bit of medical attention it was decided it would probably not be best to go slamming her back into would in fact be much better to spend some time with a chiropractor!
The Canoying was ace, even if I did hit my tailbone on a rock whilst on film! Some good jumps into white water were pretty exciting!
When we finished, Vanessa was still in quite a bit of pain so after a short deliberation it was time to scrap the plan and make a new one. At this point there was an option to short course so we took it! Hike a bike into the second night felt like it went on forever but eventually we reached the top and after a mandatory pushing section were off down the hill. I wish I'd put more layers on at this point as my wet hair had made it hard to get warm again after the Canyoning. By the time we arrived at Mar Lodge I was freezing. Here we planned to get our first sleep of the race and the sleeping bag was more than welcome! A couple of hours later we were ready for some orienteering....until advised this was a silly idea as it was taking the leading teams almost as long as the time penalty. So plan revised again, it was now an easy decision on the long trek. The bike up Mount Keen just wasn't an option with Vanessa's back and it made much more sense to try and clear the trek from Glen Muik.

Day 3
Stage 6c - Mar Lodge to Glen Muik, 44km 818m Climb
Stage 7...a...Trek as far as Glenshee

The bike over to Glen Muik showed some good teamwork, with the weight of Vanessa's bag reduced and tow underway. We made it up there and were the 3rd team to go through the transition. The first 2 Munro's had 2 checkpoints a piece, one for the scrambles en route up and one at the summit. The techy scrambles were good fun and took the mind of the height gain. On the summit of the second scramble we set a good pace across to the next control, spurred on by the thought of getting all the controls before Glenshee in the light.

Then came a bit of a bog trot to the 6th control on the route...but thankfully a good route choice. Coming off the marshy tussocks was great! Just after the 7th control adidas Terrex caught us (having completed the full course of course). We had a bit of a chat before, at the 8th control we made the decision to miss the last optional control and head for Glenshee as it was getting dark...and we'd just inspected the second half of the trek properly...
Glenshee - a quick nap

 At Glenshee we were met by Nick and James with cameras that were blinding in the dark! Inside there was space to sleep and we met up with our 5th team member: Clive Ramsay, who did an excellent job of keeping us fed throughout the event! We planned an hours sleep, however I got a bit carried away at the 'coffee bar' chatting to Sally and Claire...Sarah had to send me to bed as soon as I'd finished my risotto (thanks Sarah ;-)).

Day 4
Stage 7...b..Glenshee onwards, total trek length 55km 2665m Climb.
Stage 8 MTB to Grandtully, 48km 929m Climb

The night air was cold, made colder by how warm inside had been. We headed onwards and me and Jon shared the nav in the dark, checking up on each other and meaning we got through the stage without incident. At least 3 more Munro's bagged I think....

Heading up the last one and 3/4 of the team were starting to drop. Somehow my brain was still functioning. I'd not had one sleepmonster yet and was still wide awake, especially now it was getting light. This was new!
A ten minute power nap while I surveyed our route down to the track and transition seemed to perk everyone up!

Although the thought of sleep must have been pretty strong at transition, we went straight through and back onto the long course route (not without a faff of course....oh and a bike mechanical). By the time we left  Terrex were with us again and we rode with them for the best part of this section, sharing the gate opening and closing along the way.
I was carrying a lot of stuff on this stage as we weren't sure at what point we'd see our bike boxes at Grandtully and once we arrived we were going to be timed out! Free Sleep! So I had the tent and half of Vanessa's stuff to lighten the load on her did look a bit ridiculous....
However it wasn't until we were collecting the last two controls on the route that I felt it. I must have forgotten to eat enough along the way bacause I was getting pretty tired, but ever time I ate a mouthful of sweets was fine. Here I had my first and only gel of the race.
Once on the road again we sped along to Grandtully, helped out by team mate number 6: Terry, the 10 year old on holiday who wanted to race against us just outside of Grandtully.

We arrived at around 5pm so had 13hours timed out. Of this time I spent 1hr sleeping, 1hr faffing and eating,3hrs hoping Clive was about to turn up, another 1hr eating and blogging, 5hours sleeping then some time eating at Clive's and taking boats and kit down to the water.

Day 5

Stage 9 Paddle to Perth and Orienteering 60km
Stage 10 MTB Perth to Sterling, 64km 864m Climb

We had a fun paddle down to Dunkeld, again with Terrex for a bit. At Dunkeld we flew round the orienteering, good to see the trek hadn't completely distroyed our running ability.
The river to Perth was loooong however a bit of fisherman slalam livened things up, as did the more rapid sections. 2 paddles and 0 swims!

Leaving Perth, those lights cost us ages! :-P
At Perth we transitioned. Yes that right, we didn't faff (well, not as much) and set off on the bikes! We rode strongly for the first half of the ride, it wasn't until just before the last climb of the race that the pace dropped. Here I found pushing hard in a big gear up the hill kept my back in a better position than twiddling away so injected occasion bursts of speed. Shame my legs weren't actually capable of pushing that gear all the way! Cam racers were moving off into the distance ahead, and in doing so consolidating their 1st position of the short course and 5th overall.
Once at the top we sped down into Sterling, catching back up to Cam racers and arriving at the finish pretty much together.
Punching the finish
We finished the race having covered a total of 518km and 11,400m Climb, in 6th position. This was more than we had hoped for on the start line and a well earnt result! Thanks to Open Adventure for another amazing journey, the added detail of Clive's van and the friendly volunteers at transitions made for an excellent race!

I have just about stopped eating twice as much twice as often now and have even made it out on the bike and for a run....and an accidental intervals session (my legs didn't thank me for that), but the plan for the next few weeks is to get ready and rested for the this space!