Wednesday, 27 August 2014

ITERA World Series Adventure Race

Stage 11 of the ITERA is almost over! In the last week or so, in between sleeping, eating and working, I have finally managed to put the finishing touches to my PhD thesis which is currently being bound in time for my final deadline on Friday, phew! No mean feat given there were two chapters missing at the start of the week....whether the last 10,000 words of it are in English remains to be seen at my viva....

Stages 1-10 of the ITERA were a little different...from the 11th-15th August I was making my way across Wales by foot, bike and kayak from Caernarfon to Cardiff . I was racing with Tim Higginbottom, Chris Near and Bruce Duncan as Team Haglofs Silva UK.

The race started on the Saturday evening with a fast and furious prologue in Cardiff, a 10km run around the bay stopping off at the white water centre to get a bit wet. Unfortunately, within 500m it was very obvious that my lungs were having a bad day, making running fast rather difficult. We got round, 7minutes or so down on the leaders, Team Adidas Terrex. This time would be multiplied by 3  and serve as a penalty in the main race.

White Water Centre....I am in the boat, honest!
After the prologue, my chest was really sore and I was more than a bit worried that there was only just over a day until the main race.
Thankfully by the time we'd caught the coach up to Caernarfon on Sunday, I was feeling a lot better.

The Start in Caernarfon Castle
The main race kicked off from Caernarfon Castle at 8am on Monday 11th and day one was an action packed day.
A couple of laps of the walls and it was into kayaks, up the Menai straits to Bangor. There was a big tide and the wind was behind us, making this far faster than on our training weekend in May which was straight into a headwind.
Originally we were going to paddle to Conwy, however given the conditions post hurricane Bertha it was onto the bikes from Bangor to Conwy, pretty much cycling past Chris' front door. So far, our pre race training had been very relevant!
At Conwy we did a short orienteering section around the castle, baffling tourists along the way. Then it was back on the bikes for a trip to Zip World.
Me and Chris heading down the zip line at Zip World

Zip World is the longest zip line in Europe. Heading down through a quarry and over a lake, you reach speeds of up to 100mph! As with jumping off cliffs into water, this doesn't rate as one of my favourite activities in every day life, however it certainly was a highlight of the race! Having done it, I'd certainly give it another run :-).

Arriving at Ogwen (Photo Mick Kenyon)
A short section of biking and we arrived at Ogwen for the start of the first trekking section through Snowdonia. Summiting Tryfan, Glyder Fawr, Snowdon, Yr Aran, Cnicht and Moelwyn Mawr this was a stage that we were looking forward to as it should suit us well!
At this stage we were a bit unsure where we stood in terms of race time as we'd had a timed out section at Zipworld (as had Adidas and Sweco, the two teams to arrive there ahead of us), but we were all there for different lengths of time. So we made quick work of Tryfan and Glyder Fawr in an effort to catch back up to the teams ahead, reaching Pen Y Pass just ahead of Sweco. Time for a bit of a race up Snowdon. We aimed to summit with enough of a gap that we could disappear off the other side before Sweco summited. In the last of the daylight we did just that and were rewarded with some excellent views of the sunset.
Setting off from Pen Y Pass with purpose
I think somewhere along this leg I got the first warning signs that my chest was a bit unhappy again, feeling a bit rough and finding it hard to eat. But we got off the trek and onto the water well and were off onto the estuary in the early hours of Day 2, heading for Portmeirion, a unique little Italian style town tucked away in the middle of Wales. After collecting a few orienteering controls we had about half an hour of time out before we were allowed back in the kayaks. Not to waste an opportunity, we lay down for half an hours sleep. As soon as we lay down I started coughing, sounding quite a lot like I had a chest infection. This wasn't going to work. Chest officially unhappy I found a bench to sit on instead, disturbing the Rounsley's sleeping arrangements instead of the rest of the team, sorry girls!

Italy or Wales?
24hrs into the race we set off in the kayaks again with Adidas, heading for a control across the bay. I say in Kayaks, the best way to move forward against the tide and headwind was to pull the boats along in the water, directing the back using a paddle. Using this technique, we made it to the point we needed to head out across the bay. Just as we set off we were informed this part of the stage was cancelled. That would have been hard work!
Heading back with the tide and wind we transitioned onto bikes and headed for Barmouth. Again we set off within a few minutes of Sweco who had arrived at Portmeirion for the orienteering just as we'd started paddling.
Against the tide and the wind
The second big trek of the race started from Barmouth, heading straight up Cadair Idris. We set off just behind Sweco, overtaking them on the run over the bridge and along the flat, hitting the climb once again with the aim of gaining some ground before the summit so as to disappear off the top.
I was struggling with climbs at this point, now taking ventolin ever 4hrs in a bid to keep things under control. We got up Cadair Idris ahead of them and put in a good descent to disappear, keeping a good pace for the rest of the stage. By the final two summits I was having some real difficulties, now coughing like I had a chest infection again, almost to the point I couldn't catch a breath. If it had been a fell race and I didn't have Chris towing me up the final summit I'm not sure I would have got up it under my own steam. Thankfully I did have a tow rope and we made it to all the checkpoints and down to transition, where Charlotte checked me over.

Coming into transition after the trek
Due to the amount of Ventolin I'd been taking, my resting heart rate was 105bpm (therefore my racing heart rate was.....well, pretty high). However, the only way to improve things was to take more ventolin, sending me into the salbutamol shakes for a brief period. Since the race, Charlotte told me that me oxygen saturation was also not as good as it could be at this point (not too surprisingly), which might explain my inability to transition. Imagine finishing an intervals session where you really pushed yourself into oxygen debt and on the finish line being presented with a bag full of things from which you have to select everything you need for the next 24hrs+.....needless to say I was not slick!
Eventually, at the start of Day 3, we were off on the bikes for the big stage of the race, 220km of MTB with a stop offs at Devils bridge and Elan Valley. Within the first few km we found a nice bit of forest for a quick, well needed sleep.

The long MTB stage
One of very few James Kirby photos in which I am not smiling
I don't remember an awful lot from the first 110km of riding. Generally I was concentrating on breathing. I lost the ability to talk and eating was getting progressively harder given my inability to breathe. A lot of towing ensued.
At Elan valley we arrived 15minutes or so behind Sweco and once again, managed to pull back this deficit during the trail run in which we caught and overtook Sweco with the incentive of food and sleep at the end of the run.
At this point, we served a compulsory stop aimed at getting everyone back into race order and time on the ground. We had 1hr42 to eat, sleep and be ready to go again. The eating part didn't go too smoothly for me as, from half way round the trail run, my stomach was now rejecting anything put into it. I think I had enough oxygen to either move forward or digest food.
Elan Valley
Leaving Elan Valley it looked like we should make it to Glasbury with 4-5hrs before we were allowed on the river Wye at 8am. Free sleep!
However, a combination of my inability to eat food and the terrain (some river wading and bracken hacking in the dark) meant the second half of the MTB route took a bit longer than planned. At 7am on Day 4 we had breakfast from a lovely bakery in Builth Wells, just as Sweco caught us once again. After the last stretch of biking, we arrived in Glasbury just as Walhalla, who we hadn't seen for the rest of the race, came flying past. Although we didn't have free sleep, we did have sleep at Galsbury as we all needed it!

Sleeping arrangements at Glasbury - barely noticed it was raining...

After 2hours we got up and ready to go down the river Wye. Whilst getting ready to go, I realised my chest was in the worst state yet, I was struggling to breathe just walking about. So another less than slick transition, enough ventolin to send me into uncontrollable shakes and a bit of food and Charlotte gave us the go ahead to leave.

I was now also taking 2 puffs of ventolin every 2hours and this, paired with a less than urgent pace down the river (we almost had a grade one sit on top capsize after Chris fell asleep) gave my breathing a bit of a chance to recover. We passed through Hay on Wye for the street O, picking up some food on the way.
After our drift down the river we hit the bikes with a bit more purpose, trying to get as much out of the remaining daylight as possible. We were sitting in 4th and our target now was to get to the Brecon Beacons and try and reclaim a podium position on the last trek of the race. Thankfully all the ventolin was paying off and my legs had a bit more in them.

What we weren't expecting was to hit the final trek ahead of Sweco, in 3rd. We'd overtaken them at transition strangely, but pressed on to make the most of this advantage. We made it over Fan Y Big but before we reached the top of Cribyn  four lights started gaining on us at an insane speed. We couldn't hold them off, so on top of Cribyn we sat down.
Sweco arrived and asked 'is there a control here?'. We gave nothing away, they found the control and headed more slowly down the hill to the col.
It appears their race tactics involved following us, as at the col they stopped to get their maps out. We headed down behind them and got the bivvy out for a 10minute nap to give them a bit of time to do their own thing.
Classy sleeping location next to the bins

When we set off again, we thought we were stuck in fourth position. The pace certainly wasn't what it had been, we were tired, Chris had damaged his knee somewhere along the river Wye and the motivation to push hard evaded us a bit. We stopped for another couple of sleeps and after the last of these made a decision to try and move at least a bit better or we wouldn't even be fourth!

So it was a complete surprise to find Sweco leaving the caving section just as we got there. We were then informed that Walhalla were just ahead of them! The race was back on!
A quick whip around the caving and we set off on the final 6km of trekking, overtaking both Sweco and Walhalla along the way to reach the final transition in 2nd.
Off on the final bike section
We hit the last stage as hard as we could, giving it everything to stay ahead of Sweco and Walhalla. It was a lovely morning and the views from the singletrack were ace. From the top it was a matter of heading down to the Taff trail then following it all the way to Cardiff. One small bit of nav confusion and we reached it. By the sounds of it, following the Taff trail was much easier in the daylight and we managed to hold and even grow the advantage we had to the finish line, finishing 2nd!

This was my first full course expedition race finish and my first podium position. Thanks to the guys for keeping me going and to Tom and James for a great route. Also thanks to Charlotte and Jacqui for getting me in a state to continue and letting me back out on the course!

Time for a bit of a rest now before the Mourne Mountain Marathon in September!