Team Orion – Adventure racing on Holy Island Part 1

Open5+ Adventure race, Holy Island 21st May 2011

Round one of the Open Adventure Endurance series was the Open5+, a 5 hour rogaine style multisport event held on Holy Island on the coast of Anglesea.  Myself and my partner Fiona have entered the three race series as Team FGS! Berghaus.  For Goodness Shakes supplies us with quantities of yummy recovery shakes and Berghaus have supported me for a number of years supplying great gear for adventure racing.  The three race series consists of a 5, 12 and 24hr race, held at the end of May, June and July respectively.   The races are a multisport rogaine format where competitors have to navigate to as many checkpoints as they can within the time allowed on a course split into running, mountain biking and kayaking sections.

The Open5+ began with a staggered on the beach at Port Dafarch on the West side of Holy Island.  With a rogaine format competitors can choose the order in which to visit checkpoints, picking a good route becomes part of the challenge. We opted to head straight for the kayaking section just a couple of kilometers down the coast at Trearddur bay.

Because of the rough weather conditions the kayak course had been shortened to a small loop within the bay. A bit disappointing for us as we are strong kayakers and enjoy adverse conditions but probably a wise call by the organisers with regards to safety.  The kayak was all done in about 15 minutes and we were back on our bikes intending to pick up most of the mountain bike checkpoints before heading to the run stage on Holyhead Mountain. With very strong winds from the south it was a battle heading to a checkpoint at Borthwen beach at the southernmost point of the island. We got a jump on a few teams who seemed to be a bit confused about where exactly the checkpoint was while we dropped the bikes and ran along the beach to find it just where it was supposed to be.

The ride back up to the North of the island was good fun with a strong wind pushing us along most of the way.  Fi’s knee that she had injured on our recent cycle trip to Spain (coming soon in another blog) was beginning to hurt as we headed through Holyhead and out along the breakwater but fortunately we did not have much further to go before we could drop the bikes and start running. Coming back (into the wind again!) along the breakwater we passed Tom and Astrid of team Addidas Terrex coming the other way.  They were probably going to be our toughest competition for the mixed team category, difficult however with the rogaine format to tell who was in front or behind at that point.

At the base of Holyhead Mountain we left our mountain bikes behind and set out on foot to visit all the checkpoints on the run stage. With the shortened kayak (and also a short swim being cancelled) we thought we had enough time to get all the checkpoints within the 5 hour limit so we had plotted a route to let us do this. The run across the mountain was good fun with some parts of tricky navigation where the tracks were hard to spot or not there at all. Running down to the furthermost checkpoint at the South Stack was an exciting experience with the wind so strong it almost felt like we were going to get blown right off the side of the cliff!  Collecting more checkpoints we made our way up to the North Stack where we had an abseil to complete.

The race organiser had arranged 6 abseil ropes and staggered the starts to ensure that there were no delays at the abseil and so had not planned to make any adjustments for teams who had to wait. Unfortunately when we arrived there were only two ropes left in use and then they stopped using even those ropes as they were suspected of being damaged on the cliff edge. As frustrating as it was we just had to wait while the rope safety crew replaced the ropes and started working through the queue of racers in front of us.  We could hope that the organisers would make an adjustment for the delay but in the meantime we still had to finish the race.

The abseil was well worth the wait! We descended a vertical wall for about 10 metres before that stopped and we were left suspended over a great cavern hollowed out by the sea. We continued to abseil down into the shallow water beneath us and then once off the rope were directed towards a cave at the side of the cavern. Fumbling through in near darkness we waded into deeper and deeper water until we were swimming out of the cave and along beside the sea cliffs. Directed by some more marshals we timed the swells to land on the rocks at the base of the sea wall and made out way back up the cliffs to where we had left our packs at the top of the abseil.

High on excitement we ran on towards the end of the bike stage a bit too quickly and had to backtrack for a few minutes when I ran right past a checkpoint that we needed to visit.  A bit angry at myself for  my silly mistake but still in good spirits we arrived back at the bikes for the short final ride to pick up the last two checkpoints and then to the finish.   Despite the delay at the abseil we finished with 25 minutes to spare having cleared the entire course.

Team Adidas Terrex finished 15 minutes in front of us and were given the win on the day for the mixed teams however the timing data shows that we waited about 20 minutes longer than them for the abseil.  It’s a tough job for the organisers to work out a fair way of making adjustments and at the time of writing the official results are still not confirmed however we do know that the next race should be an exciting and close fought battle!

Photos courtesy of Open Adventure More Photos.

Part 2