Ever since reading a blog* about a pair of girls who entered an adventure race ‘just for the fun of it’, I’ve wanted to give it a go. But finding and building a like-wise team can be pretty difficult, even if I do surround myself with like minded adventure-crazy friends.
Adventure racing is one of the largest growing multi-sports in the UK, typically combining a mix of mountain biking/ cycling, trail running and kayaking. Soloists through to groups of 4 or 6 will navigate their way around an outdoor course with the aim of checking in at as many check points in the given time – anything between 2 hours to 2 days.
The UK Challenge takes the concept of Adventure Racing to the endurance level, opening the field to up to 70 corporate teams and pushing the notion of ‘team building’ beyond limits previously known. Held over 3 days, teams of (ideally) 6 are put through physical and mental team challenges. Fitness, they say, is not enough, “you will need patience, strategy, humility, leadership, intelligence, compassion but most of all teamwork” as teams work to complete anagrams, algebra and riddles at various check points on route.
Our team was made of a mix of fitness capabilities and a selection of people from across the business, providing us with some maths wizards and strategic planners. Unfortunately for us, one of our team members had to pull out only 2 days before due to a chest infection, leaving us a team of 5 and poor Pawan, the only guy to a team of girls. Myself, Jen (who’s competed 3 times previously), Eve and Katie making up the rest of Team 47. We knew this would be hard going, but not as hard as it was…
In the words of Bridget Jones: GO GO, GO GO, GO!
We arrived at our very nice and comfortable accommodation at Exeter Uni (thankfully no camping!!), from which point it was all go! Dinner at 5pm, first stage briefing at 6pm, first stage start at 7.30. But, we wouldn’t only have one stage on Thursday evening, but two. Sleep? Ha! GO GO, GO GO, GO!
Stage one: “You need to restock the plane. To get items from warehouse to the plane you need to build a drawbridge”
We always knew the first stage would be a challenge. We still had a lot of learning to do together as a new team – what each of our core skills and strengths were and how best to utilise those in different ways. And the first stage didn’t hold back. Sponsored by United Airlines, all stages had a travel theme. Tonight:“You need to restock the plane. To get items from warehouse to the plane you need to build a drawbridge”.
In an ideal world, 2 people would have stayed to build the bridge, comprised of wood, some screws/ hinges and a rope; whilst the other 4 would split into two teams to run to check points and collect as many points as possible; returning to cross the bridge and double our points where possible. That is the ideal strategy. But as a team of 5, 3 stayed back to build a bridge, taking on an Agile Methodology (yep, you read correct) – testing as we built and of course sharing some rather dirty innuendo jokes about screwing and hammering – whatever gets you through 😉 The other two meanwhile, ran. We started out great – our first iteration was strong; let down only by our plank – splitting as Jen took the walk of death. Each iteration we made thereafter seemed to weaken the rest of our design. Eventually we gave in and decided to run for an early finish. Not the best start, but on-wards and up-wards!
Stage two: “You are the airline’s kitchen. Select some recipes and then collect the ingredients”
Needing to pick ourselves up a little after the first event, we were raring to go. Katie ran the sprint start to collect the briefing pack, where we then split up – Jen and me, and Pawan and Eve taking to the bikes – riding 5km to a forest to then run 3km to find the check points to select the recipes. May sound simple, but by this point it was 10pm and pitch dark. We had to navigate our way around the forest by map and compass. Although, we did surprisingly well, not losing our location or turning a wrong direction once. Our strategy seemed to pay off too. Jen and I going for the longer distance recipes knowing we’d get to the forest by bike a lot quicker.
We managed to meet back at the bike point at the same time, enabling us to work out one of the math’s questions as a team and unlock an extra recipe. A quick pedal back to base to collect Katie, we then had to run around a field, again in total darkness, locating ingredients in the right order. This was hilarious, not forgetting the 70 other 6 man teams running around this small area too, resulting in a lot of screaming and running into other people. Somehow you learn to shut out the other voices and hone in on your own team. “FORTY SEVEN!!!!” became a common shout for the rest of the weekend. This can only have looked and sounded crazy to one of the many marshals.
Having got to bed at 3am, the 7.30am start wasn’t most welcome. But still on a high from the night before we were ready for the day ahead. Finding out we were 2nd from last at breakfast wasn’t the greatest start. But, we still had 4 events to bring it back. And we had to keep reminding ourselves we were in the minority with only a 5 man team.
Stage three: Row, Row, Row your boat – “It was easier to jump out and swim”
Oh what a funny stage. Arriving at the magnificent Meldon Reservoir it was clear there would be water involved. Katie donned her wetsuit and went for the triathlon style start, swimming 700m around two bouys and back to collect the briefing pack. The idea of the stage was that 4 of us would then jump in the canoe and paddle across to the other side to a ‘meeting point’ where 2 of us would jump out and each split team would make their way (run / canoe) to a check point, note down what we find and head back to meet at another meeting point and swap notes. Sounds great. If it wasn’t for the gale force wind!
With Eve and Jen in the boat, and Pawan and I set ready to go on foot, we set out to the other side with good intentions but soon found ourselves drifting. So, we quickly changed our plan to land at the closest point. If we’d read the instructions a little closer, we would have realised that this effectively disqualified us from this round. Doh! Having decided on our next meeting points, we each set off. Pawan and I tramping through bogs and sticky mud. When we finally got to the meeting point, we discovered Jen and Eve in the safety boat, having decided it was easier to jump out and swim than to paddle up wind! We quickly decided to cut our losses and paddle back across shore. Safe to say, we cocked that one up!
Stage four: Just. ill.
I should have loved this stage. 4 hours in at Haldon Forest, a mountain biking forest with endless trails and single track. But just before dinner, my stomach decided to hate me. I felt awful so I had no choice but to sit out for as much of the stage possible and try and recover for tomorrow. If we’d had a team of 6, this wouldn’t have been such an issue, but it meant the rest of the team had to spend the whole 4 hours on the bikes.
Again, Katie ran the sprint start to collect the briefing pack. A quick look through the checkpoints and maps, we worked out one of the shortest/ quickest routes and whilst they got cracking on that I stayed back to work out the next routes. Our challenge was to estimate the time it would take for each route, which is pretty hard when you only have a map to look at – working out distance and change in elevation gain/ loss and based on an average cycle pace. But the team did a cracking job. I couldn’t appreciate how hard it was until I subbed (due to the rules of the stage) to take one of the routes. The terrain was challenging and the checkpoints weren’t obvious. The views however over Dartmoor were worth it! And, we finished the stage with 20 mins to spare, giving us additional points and having collected all checkpoints required within 20% margin of estimated times for each route. GO TEAM! We had finally moved ourselves back up the leader board!
Stage Five: OUR CAPTAIN HAS BEEN KIDNAPPED!! – “That got me right in the heart!”
The 6.30am start hurt. None of us knew how we were going to get through the day and the car journey was exceptionally quiet.
Stage 5 started out with a mass meeting of all teams to be told our Captain’s (Jen) had been kidnapped! We were to make our way to the start location where would then have to locate her using an 8 point grid reference. The sprint was a brutal downhill and back up start. We knew everyone would have the same grid reference, so ditched the map and got to running, following the crowd! Locating Jen, we then opened the brief and discovered we were drug barons for the stage and needed to collect our drugs and deliver them. This stage was all 100% running. Have I yet mentioned I hate running?
We split the team based on fastest runners, who would then run to the furthest points, identifying times in which we all had to check in at different points. This plan worked fantastic, until Jen pulled her Achilles Heel (and later went on to electrocute herself on a fence – hilarity ensued) in one of the sticky-muddy- bogs, which turned our run into a walk. However we had still worked out the timings which meant we were still on par to complete without being penalised. This actually played in our favour – we finished the stage 30 mins early, which meant additional bonus points and no penalties trying to go for extra points elsewhere. A massive thank you to team 46 for pulling me out of the mud at one point!
Stage Six: Oh. My. Goodness. FINAL STAGE!!! “Please! Hold my hand”
The final stage took us to Saltram Park for what was effectively a back-wards duathlon – starting out with a 3km run followed by 15km on the bike. By this point, due to lack of sleep, food and pure adrenaline exhaustion, we were flagging. This stage was all about solving puzzles, riddles and algebra. For each one you couldn’t complete, you had to wait 10 mins before moving on. That was not going to happen!!! Jen sat out the run, saving her injury for the bike leg. And we ran! This was going to hurt. We surprised ourselves, averaging each checkpoint with a turnaround of 2 mins; finding ourselves towards the front of the pack; only let down by our tired legs. The last 1km hurt – my shin splints starting to set in; calling back the others to hold my hand and drag me the last 500m.
There, we jumped straight onto the bike, finding a second wind! The first part of the route was bike paths, followed by some technical terrain (more climbing! At one point I turned to see Katie running alongside me, a member from another team running up the hill with both his, and her bike! Well done that man!) and single track routes back. We were flying. By completing the puzzles so fast, we managed to complete the stage 30 mins early, crossing the line as a hand-holding team. WE HAD DONE IT!!!
We celebrated with a bottle of fizz, some photos and some stretching and later that evening the prize giving and party. We celebrated even harder after finding out we’d climbed 11 places since the morning before, and were no where close to coming last (that place was saved for the sponsors!!! ha ha). Through the hard work and the pain, we had a fantastically-dirty weekend and came home stronger as a team.
As for my experience of an adventure race… I loved it! I may even be tempted to sign up to one in September.
Team work: I don’t think this kind of racing would be the same without the team around you. The laughs, the tears, the laughing-tears. I certainly wouldn’t have made it through the weekend without Team 47!
Don’t Panic! One of our 2 motos for the weekend. The last thing you want to do is panic. This leads to bad decision making and poor planning. By ensuring we read the instructions and gave our selves time to plan we didn’t make as many mistakes as we could have and in situations where you need to wait at certain points for team mates, the last thing you want to do is wonder off in the hope to find them. Stay put.
Taking meds: It turns out that you shouldn’t take Imodium until 75 hours after your stomach turns on you. You also shouldn’t take Ibuprofen on an endurance event as it puts pressure on your kidneys. And too many electrolytes can give you chest cramp. I won’t do any of that again! Apparently, strapping your ankle when you’ve pulled your Achilles won’t help either. Thanks to Extreme Medics for that info.
Fitness: Although they recommend you can run a comfortable 10km, it’s clear that a good level of fitness with some endurance practice is all that is required. What’s more important is a can do attitude and an appreciation for team work. We didn’t have to run a full 10km; but over the course of day 3, we did total around 15km – no wonder I was hurting so bad towards the end!
Weather: Being Britain, the weather was of course hit and miss. But do you know what? When you’re concentrating and the adrenaline is flowing, you really don’t notice or care that it’s raining. Just be prepared to get wet and muddy!
*Annoyingly, I cannot find the original article now.