Sunday, October 18, 2009

South downs DAR

Dynamic Adventure Racing Challenge - South Downs, Sunday 18 October 2009

They say time heals all wounds, distance makes the heart grow fonder, and there's no fool like an old fool. With this in mind, I was looking forward to the South Downs DAR Challenge very much for three reasons: It had been over 6 month since my last one, there was a long way to go and I was feeling old.

Having missed the Isle Of Purbeck event due to a very inconsiderately-chosen wedding date by my wife's closest friend ("You are NOT leaving me with two children in Cornwall at 5am on Sunday to drive there") I had more or less lost my AR groove. The draft AR packing list compiled from the first two DAR experiences had been lost in the huge pile of school notices and bills composting on the kitchen bench. So it was the inevitable 9pm Saturday flurry of lost socks, missing lids and empty food/squeezie/lube packets. Of course in the end all one does is wildly overpack, knowing all the while that there is some critical thing missing. What are we but private parts to the Gods of Adventure Racing, they toy with us for their sport (apologies Mssr Fry).

Sunday dawned a true autumn stunner, just above zero with a few wisps of cloud. The setting of Duncton nestled at the foot of the South Downs north of Chichester couldn't have been more perfect. For a village of around three hundred souls they have a pretty swish community hall, which was well-populated with AR folk by 9am. Numbers looked good, there were rumours of a few burglars about who normally did the Endurance events, as well as two complete AR novices who had Simon 'concerned' according to the crew, due to their incredibly bubbly, "No Worries" enthusiasm. While getting ready for the run, the critical thing that was missing became apparent in the lack of orthotic insoles. Beware red insoles and red-lined shoes, when packing late at night. Luckily the 15-year old inserts from my cycling shoes were a close enough fit to be workable.

Looking at the run course, it was pretty obvious you had two choices: clockwise or t'other. Basically it came down to "Shall I climb the nasty hill at the start or halfway through?". Opting for the latter to allow for a warm up, the first two CP's were more or less follow-the-leader. Going from 11 to 9 however was a lesson in racing your own race. Simon had said exactly this in the brief, but sometimes the brain just doesn't listen. Trundling along following a spread-out bunch to the junction at what would be 28 on the MTB course, I completely and utterly disregarded the very wide, obvious bridleway to the right and ploughed on up the hill to the left. Herd-Follow-Moo-etc. After a few hundred yards the thought did arise that this was a tad steep for a path that should be - er - flat, but the appearance on the left of a decent-size quarry *as marked on the map* allayed my fears. Must be a slow day to warm up. Arriving at the track intersection part of a bunch of around 10, we started looking for the "tree with bent trunk 6m NE of waymarker post". We found that, and indeed it was a tree, bent trunk apparent. But no sign of a clipper. After 5 minutes of casting about I remembered a salient lesson from an Orienteering event earlier this year, where I was absolutely 100% certain I knew where I was. Until finally backtracking after 35 minutes to find not. So heading on up the track seemed the right thing to do. After 100 yards open fields appeared, and it dawned that this was indeed the wrong intersection. So a quick about-turn and back down the intersecting track to 9, past those still hunting around, imagining them thinking "He gave up easy". Heh.

Between 10 and 8 was located the world's entire population of Pheasants. Hiding from the guns, one imagines. And someone had even put out food for them, how nice. Probably the Pheasant Preservation Society. Up the hill to 7 made you really appreciate the dry conditions, as the slick hard chalk covered in leaves would have been near-impossible to clamber up in SPD shoes had it been wet. Coming out onto the plateau and into semi-managed forest allowed for a good stretch of legs, the decision to go for 5 and clearing the course only requiring a little deliberation. Here was met a bunch of folk converging on 6, including a large bloke pushing an off-road pram complete with small blonde passenger (not his wife, either). 4-3-2 were a lovely doodle with stunning views along the ridge, and then into the forest for a slightly out-of-control hare down the ridge to the flat and the last CP at Burton Park. The slight uphill slog back to the hall with 30 seconds to spare had the heartrate at 99%, cursing the earlier nonsense climbing the hill at 9 which probably lost a good 15 minutes and any chance of good bonus points.

Today's inter-stage food of choice was well-cooked porridge with sultanas, mainly because the pantry had run out of pasta. It went down a treat, and will be used again. Planning for the MTB section was the complete opposite to the run. With no obvious geographic clues (apart from "don't climb lots of hills") it was very much a mixed bag as to who would go where and how. Option for a more-or-less circular route with a few get-outs or ins along the way was the plan, foregoing the 3 CP's in the middle (26 / 27 / 32), all of which had a lot of climbing between them if one stuck to the open forest roads and didn't poach footpaths.

So the first bit of the ride followed the run, along the bottom of the escarpment and up the same hill to the plateau. Only one real surprise on this stretch - a seemingly fit and healthy pigeon dropping dead at my feet out of a clear blue sky. A portent of doom? Bird Flu? Pinin' for a Fjord? we will never know. Once into the forest a good deal of speed was possible, the wide roads and easy junctions allowing a rapid progression. That is until turning right too soon after 33, therefore coming at 30 from the South via Braer Rabbit's Blackberry patch (Luckily this wasn't entirely out of place, 33 itself being halfway up a Holly tree, 5m into a mass of brambles, the flesh of yesterday's competitors hanging in shreds from the foot-long thorns. Well, maybe not that bad). Off to the distant wilderness of the Other Side Of The Map next, and through the lovely village of Charlton. Here someone had just trimmed a thorny hedge resulting in a loss of rear tyre pressure. Thankfully as this was a Slime tube, all that was required was a frenzied application of micro pump and we were off again. God Bless Slime.

35 & 36 lead through the charming village of East Dean, then on to 25 past a large mountain boarding park, which looked quite fun to this ageing snowboarder (though maybe not to his health insurer). A steep climb in granny gear to Selhurst Park road was rewarded with stunning views all the way down to the channel over Chichester.

24/23/22 were a grin-inducing blast along gently rolling bridleway, leaves crunching and miles ticking over nicely. Where to go from 22 was a poser. A pair of male competitors were studying the map in close deliberation, but I'd already decided on the way up to go for 21 and miss out 20, which would have required a lot of climbing on sore legs with only 25 minutes to go. The bridleway down to 21 was a mass of trimmed branches and rocky water ruts, a very technical challenge to do at speed with tired arms. The flat Folly Lane afterward around the eastern side of Barlavington Hanger was a joy, past picture-postcard farmhouses. As this section only took about 5 minutes, I arrived back at the foot of the hanger wondering could I get up to 20 and back in 17 minutes? With a fresh squeeze in the tum 15 minutes ago it was not as bad as expected, pushing a full-suspension rig up to the CP taking about 7 minutes where I met the two gents last seen at 22. We concurred that either route was valid, and it was only later (and with just a tiny hint of smugness) I found out they had not collected 21 en route.

The blast back down to the lane was all that it should have been, then through the trout hatchery to nab 19 and returning to the hall with 5 minutes to spare.

While stretching on the grass the couple with the pram (Karin and Steve) returned from their ride, this time towing their 'Chariot'. Inside 2-year old Orla was all smiles as dad recovered his breath. Their team name was "I want normal parents" - I'd go further and say that Orla has fabulous parents, if they are prepared to drag 25kg of pram and child around for 5 hours. It's wonderful to see parents involving children in AR, and with a son on the way our family will be getting one of these for sure. Maybe DAR needs a new race class for those with under-5's in tow? If those sans-children want to compete, BYO trailer and large sack of potatoes? (compulsory kit check: potatoes must be kept amused, fed, watered and all in the sack for 5 hours). To top off the day for Karin and Steve they won their Mixed Pairs class with a respectable 756 points.

The two women AR novices Lucy Funnell and Claire Connolly (aka Wylie Coyotes) won their class with a very respectable 672, surely a sign of great things to come as they hone their strategy, navigation, and ability to hold on to Control Description cards (apparently). The top scorers with 1300 were Richard Phillips and Hugh Torry (Chuckie's at a Wedding), only missing CP 20 on the ride and coming in a staggering 27 minutes early on the run for 105 bonus points. Competition in the solo male category was fierce, with only 30 points separating 2nd, 3rd and 4th place. Personally I came away pretty chuffed with 1082 and the prize of a decent-size pack towel, which will get used every week for the office run. Simon suggested I give the Endurance race format a bash - but having spent the last two days hobbling about and being overtaken by pensioners in Zimmer frames, I don't think 8hrs on the go is quite on the cards just yet. Maybe next year. Or the year after.

Being within latte-sniffing distance of W1, December's event on the North Downs will bring out the city types for sure. Already places are filling up, so if you want to be in on yet another fabulous DAR event there's no time to waste. Looking forward to the re-introduction of the night run - a real test of nav skills. Many thanks to Nicky, Sarah, Simon, Flossie and everyone else who helps make the DAR events such a fabulous experience for novices and experts alike.