Terrex 2010 Planetfear B - Jake Morgan (me, far right), Anthony Cooper (left), Matt Martindale, Emily Brooks.
Team planetFear B pre-race.
I had been looking forward to the Terrex for over 6 months. Often with big ‘Can I really do this?' type questions. I guess I always knew I could. Even so the fear of the unknown and the fear that it might be a horrible experience, or that you might let your team mates down is always at the back of your mind.
I had been on holiday all summer thinking about nothing else and when it came round to Wednesday before the race I packed and headed north to the Lakes with a van load of kit. In my experience, however ready I feel, the last day before the race always ends up being a hectic rush of kit faff that should have been done before. But you didn't quite get round to it and all of the little things add up to a days worth of packing. The Thursday morning was registration at the new planetFear shop in Keswick and a chance to collect our new Bio-racer bike kit.
The rest of the day quickly disappeared in a rush of packing and sorting kit into holdalls at Emily's in Braithwate. We also had an interview with a film crew from Bufo Films who were going to follow us around parts of the course and make a fly on the wall documentary about why we do it.
Ant scopes out the Prologue map.
Soon it was time for the prologue - a four part relay around the streets of Keswick which comprised of run, orienteer, swim and then kayak. The difference between your team's total time and the first team's time was multiplied by 3 and you would have to sit out that time at a transition early in the race. The pace was furious and I can't remember the last time my heart pounded as fast, we ended up 11 minutes down on first place.
Emily after the swim in Derwent Water during the Prologue.
We headed back to Braithwate to mark up the maps, leaving it late to do this and only getting one set marked up properly with our expected route. Hitting the hay at 11.30pm with my head full of map and routes and what's going to happen, for a 4.15am wake up call to get on a coach to Slyne with Hest to start the main race with a run across Morecambe Bay. I hardly slept at all.
The race started with a big countdown on the clock above the gantry and suddenly we were off. The field quickly spread out in a long line, with some at the front setting off at a fast run. Too fast we thought and restricted ourselves to a fast walk, confidant that we would catch most of the other teams later. We covered the 24km across the sands and arrived as one of the last teams at the Holker Hall transition.
Matt pre-race on the sands of Morecambe Bay.
The next leg was 110km on mountain bikes that we opted to cut short, it involved an orienteering special stage that we completed efficiently. Next came something I had been dreading since I had seen it on the map. A big hike-a-bike over Harter fell as it went dark. Followed by another carry up to the top of Walna Scar. Memories of hardship on the climb were soon forgotten as we flew down what must be one of the Lake District's longest descents.
After the epic hike-a-bike was a special stage in Church Beck, Coniston. I had done the jumps there before but never at night. As it turned out the first jump that involves landing in a narrow gap between the walls of the gorge was replaced with an abseil in to the water. The next was a bottomless slide that was very intimidating in the dark. Emily hates jumping in to water and after not managing to throw herself off got Matt to push her in. Shivering we headed back to our bikes to change, elated at a successful stage. The mountain bike orienteering - scheduled for after the Church Beck special stage - had been cancelled as the route was proving too long even for the top teams to make it round by Monday.
Following the Church Beck stage we found ourselves paddling the length of Coniston, not our favourite event and it was 3 in the morning. Our eyes were starting to droop and we needed to sleep. Because you only use your arms kayaking your heart rate slows and you start to get colder and sleepier than you would running or biking. At the end of the paddle it started to rain and we got out our bivi bags and had 2 hours sleep in the woods.
By the time we woke up we were behind schedule and after doing the trek leg over the Furness fells with some tricky navigation we arrived at transition at the time it was supposed to be closing.
Into boats again on Windermere we dropped the controls at the ends of the lake and paddled towards the Bowness egress. The weather was deteriorating rapidly, heavy rain and a headwind made the journey tough, which the Channel 4 film crew were capturing as the helicopter buzzed around overhead.
We caught the ferry across to the west side of the lake and got on our bikes. A friend Adam was coming back into transition with a team mate on tow with a worn out freehub. We pointed him back across the ferry in the direction of Windermere Canoe and Kayak where they luckily managed to lend him a wheel off a hire bike.
On arrival in Langdale the rain was still heavy. Emily had her rapidly blistering feet bandaged by the field medic and there was some discussion about dropping a lot of the checkpoints to try to save her feet but they seemed ok, so we decided to carry on. As it went dark the nav got harder and as we crossed the top of England's highest mountain at midnight, in lashing wind and rain, I wondered if we had done the right thing, we were committed now though as we were at the far point of our trek. The next few checkpoints were found without problem including a tarn the size of a garden pond that we walked straight to. Shortly after that we saw another team who had clearly over shot it. The next special stage was a massive abseil off Esk Buttress in to darkness. This felt pretty ‘out there' as we were a long way from help and it was a massive abseil, with the dark of night making the exposure feel infinite.
Langdale valley transition.
Eventually over with, we carried on our way and were passed by the other planetFear team who were moving faster than us and still hadn't dropped any checkpoints. The walk down the Band in to Langdale is mentally one of the longest descents I have ever done. It felt like someone was at the bottom digging a hole to make the descent longer. Eventually we were back in transition soaked through, exhausted and needing sleep. There was a small area in the corner of the marquee, I clambered in to my wet sleeping bag for 2 hours, waking up feeling cold but as soon as I got a hot drink and started moving I felt great again, it's amazing how much 2 hours sleep refreshes you. The next bike leg was through familiar territory and took us through Ambleside and over to Troutbeck, before an epic carry over High Street, followed by a long descent to Pooley Bridge, leading to a paddle down the length of Ullswater.
Jake and Ant discuss control options.
Having covered so much terrain we were in to the last stages. One more trek, then bike, then paddle. Nearly there! Since when did 16 hours left of racing start to feel like nearly there? Emily's feet were getting worse but from the Patterdale transition we had no option but to head up on to the ridge that leads from Helvellyn, north over Raise and the Dodds. The medic applied more taping and bandages and on we went. The sky was clear and the moon nearly full, with a cold north wind blowing it was freezing cold. I was walking uphill in more clothes than I would wear on a winter belay in Scotland and was still cold. The descent from Great Dodd to transition I have done before in 20 minutes. It took us the best part of 2 hours. Matt's ankles had swollen to twice their normal size, Emily's blisters were sore and Ant had a knee problem. We were all tired and could hardly keep our eyes open. It was hard to remember to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Eventually we arrived in transition at 4am and settled in for another shivery 2 hours sleep.
I woke first and tried to get hot drinks for everybody but was shaking so hard that I couldn't hold the cup still. It's a horrible few minutes getting up cold and pulling on cold wet clothing but once you are through it and moving everything is good again. We flew down the coach road gradually warming in the morning sunshine. We must have all had a big adrenaline rush because our last few mountain bike checkpoints seemed to go by at 3 hour trail quest pace.
The final section was an open boat orienteering section on Derwent Water. The end was in sight and strangely despite the tiredness and the sore bits I didn't quite want it to be over. The finish was on a packed Keswick High Street with crowds of cheering people and cameras.
We were presented with medals by James Thurlow and Bruce Duncan the race organisers and were asked a few questions by a Channel 4 TV crew. I have no idea what I said.
Team planetFear B post-race.
I feel very proud of what we achieved and know that I will be back for more. We finished 12th of 32 starters. A result I am well chuffed with. It was the first expedition race for all of us.
Need to find another one to do now.
Images - Dave Mac