Posts Tagged ‘adventure racing’

Wiltshire Down Adventure

Tuesday, September 14th, 2021 | Sport

Adventure race number two! Like the Chilterns Adventure it is a sprint-based scorienterring event composed of trail running, mountain biking and kayaking. You have five hours to get around as many checkpoints as possible.

I started on foot and decided to tackle the checkpoints in the woods as they were clustered closer together, even though it would make for more challenging navigation. Things started well and I made it around the first few. The forest was beautiful.

After that, I missed a turning and had to retrace my steps before finding what I thought was R12. I was nowhere to be found. I spend like ten minutes looking for it but nothing. Worse still, the mud swallowed my feet.

By this point, I was fed up and cursing having driven all the way down to Wiltshire for a stupid race. It then occurred to me that I was probably hungry. I ate something and found the next checkpoint so I am not sure what made me feel better. In the end, it turned out I probably was in the correct place as multiple other athletes could not find it and someone said it was pretty well hidden.

After transition, I headed out on the mountain bike. Most of the race at Questars is getting to the kayak transition and back so I set off following the roads picking up four checkpoints on the way. It was made easier by a long descent. I made it to KT early despite having a little jog between the area where we leave our bikes and the kayaks themselves.

There were three checkpoints up the canal and two down. I made the strategic decision to turn around after getting the first two upstream ones to ensure I had enough time to get the downstream ones, too. In the end, I got back with 12 minutes to spare so maybe I could have collected them all. More importantly, I actually spotted them this time: last time I got all the way upstream without seeing any and had to pick them all up the way back.

Kayaking was still hard. My quads hurt a little less this time but my lower back really lock a hammering. My flexibility makes it difficult to reach forward with my upper body, which you need to do to take the work into your core muscles rather than your arms. I also kept catching my right thumb on the side of the boat which hurt like hell.

The KT transition team were lovely (all of the marshalls were) and one of them even recognised me from the Chilterns Adventure and remembered that that had been my first race!

On the way back, I had a choice to make. I could take the road route all the way back, miss any further checkpoints but not having to deal with any off-road cycling. Or I could go the off-road route and pick up some more. This was a battle: part of me said to challenge myself as I was doing this to push my boundaries. But another part said that I was here to have fun and it was okay to enjoy myself.

In the end, I compromised. I took the road route back up the big hill and then switched onto a byway. This started by going uphill through farmer’s fields with big gates I had to open and close. Most of it was grass and dirt track with big groves I wasn’t sure whether I should ride in or not. It ended with a fairly steep downhill covered in rubble. I hit a big rock on the way down and nearly came off. After that, I decided I had pushed my boundaries enough and it was now time to push the bike. But I managed o find some grass by the side that made it easier to descend and finished off the hill that way.

I picked up a final checkpoint before climbing back up to transition to finish the race with a couple of minutes to spare.

Questars Chilterns Adventure

Thursday, July 8th, 2021 | Sport

Like many people, I watched World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji with Bear Grylls during lockdown and thought “that looks cool”. When I mentioned to Mark from Cycle Care Leeds, it turned out he was a serious adventure racer and recommended Questars as a good beginner-level event. So, I signed up.

It was down in the Chilterns so the three of us decided to make a weekend of it. Thanks to a rolling COVID start policy, my race did not begin until 11:31 so I had plenty of time on the morning of the race to get ready. One kit malfunction: one of the Salomon soft flasks leaked and so I could only carry around 450 ml of water in the remaining one. That said, once I arrived at the revenue and the clock was ticking, everything happened much faster.

I had a specific kayak slot towards the end of the five-hour time limit so I concluded I had to run first as the kayak transition was a 10-kilometre cycle away.

The video

Trail running

I didn’t get a chance to look at the map before I started and my experience of orienteering was a couple of YouTube videos and a long phone call with Steve Rhodes who offered me plenty of helpful advice. I decided to head off in the same direction as most people, reach a checkpoint to prove I could read and follow a map and then work it out from there.

Luckily, the first control was easy to find and from there I was able to see a clear loop that wound bring me around several checkpoints and back in time for the two hours I had allocated to running. I got lost once or twice but quickly managed to find my way again and hit the two-hour window perfectly. The biggest problem was working out what was a public footpath and what was someone’s garden.

Mountain biking

I had rented a mountain bike from Cycle Experience. It was a nice enough bike but could have really done with an ass saver for the muddy parts and a bottle cage so I could take a bidon with me. It took me a bit of time to get the saddle right and in general, my lack of skills on a mountain bike were evident.

Some bridleways were gravel and dirt tracks, or wide forest tracks. Others were winding overgrown footpaths covered in rocks, roots and branches. on the latter, I did not have the skill to navigate them. One particularly narrow track had deep mud, a barbed-wire fence to one side and a huge amount of nettles to the other. Any fall would have ended very badly, so I decided to get off and push at that point.

I got chatting to someone before the race who said he had brought his cross bike and was going to avoid the trickiest terrain and stick mostly to roads and hard surfaces. I probably would have scored more points if I had done the same but as it was I made it to three controls. Not a total disaster given I got lost far more on the bike and ended up late to my kayak slot.


Everyone says that you need to engage your core when paddling or you will tire your arms out. For me, it was my quads that were screaming. I am not sure whether it was how I was sitting, or whether I am simply the first person ever to be too inflexible to kayak. Trying to master the basics, I made it 1500 metres down the canal without seeing any controls.

Luckily, on the way back I spotted two, with may have been the only two given the distance I managed. I felt a little more in control on the way back and I did not fall in the water, so definitely something I would do again.

The finish

Arriving at the kayak point late meant I only had 30 minutes to make it back to the finish. I stuck to roads on the way back and navigated without any problems, with a little careful checking of most junctions. I put my bike back into transition and sprinted for the finish line, crossing it with 72 seconds to spare!

In reality, I had more time than that as the kayak transition is deducted from your time but I wasn’t sure how much buffer I had when I finished. My score of 395 was good enough for 30th out of 59. Not too shabby for a first-timer and ultimately, I had fun, which was the aim of the race.

Kit list

If you want to see how I packed for the race, check out this kit video: