Posted by: Bruce Duncan | October 7, 2009

Coast To Coast Open Adventure Race

Most people over the August bank holiday weekend usually relax, go to the park, enjoy bbqs and have a nice time.
For 100 people however this was the last thing on our minds, we were set for a 4 day stage race from Whitehaven on the West coast to Robin Hoods Bay on the East coast, travelling by foot, bike and kayak with a wee swim thrown in for good measure.

Starting on a cool windy morning in Whitehaven we set off on mass to St Bees, the original plan had been to kayak, but the sea was too rough, so a run over the cliffs was put in instead.  I felt good on this first run, up near the front, but mindful of the fact I had a long day ahead, and also another 3 days of racing after this.

Starting the Coast to Coast race in Whitehaven

Starting the Coast to Coast race in Whitehaven

Getting into St Bees in 2nd place I had a quick transition, and headed off on the bike to Crumock water.  I had a good ride and finally caught the leader, Mike Bradwell just short of the kayak transition.  A slow transition here as I’d had no food on the ride, so wanted to stock up, and then my boat was a bit of a struggle to get to the water.  A nice tail wind blew us down the lake, and then the worst part of the entire race for me, the portage to Buttermere, it was a tricky rough track, and my boat was just too heavy to move at any sort of pace and I had to stop a number of times to change shoulders.

Starting run from Buttermere day 1

Starting run from Buttermere day 1

It was on this stage that eventual winner Liam Drew came past me very fast in his surfski, something I will have for the next event like this!   I pushed on hard on Buttermere and came out about 15mins down on the leaders.  The last section was a run up Robinson, Dale Head, Maiden Moor and Catbells.  I was feeling tired and sore on the climb up Robinson, and with the worsening weather I was struggling.  Near the top the clouds came in and the rain started with a strong wind, full waterproofs were needed to keep feeling reasonably ok.  I caught Ant Emmet up just after the top, and we pushed on together, and then as we dropped off Dale Head and the thunder and lightning were in full force Tom Gibbs and Nick Gracie caught me, we were all pretty scared of the lightning which was striking only a few hundred metres from us!  I stayed with Tom and Nick for a while but couldn’t keep up their pace, I reeled in Team Accelerate at the top of Catbells and dropped them on the decent, a run I knew well living only a few minutes from the hill.  I was slow at the transition at Nichol End getting into a wetsuit, maybe if I’d run straight into the water I might have been ok, but I was worried about cramping and really suffering on the swim.

The final run into Keswick was tough, I was very light-headed after the swim, and my legs were trying to cramp, but I held on and finished wet and cold in a time of 5hrs 52minutes

Day 2 started near the centre of Keswick, with the first ride up and over to Thirlmere it really got the legs and lungs going.  I didn’t feel great on the paddle and Team Helly Hansen/Nuun (HHN) were catching me quite fast.  Another slowish transition saw me go out last onto the run, and I was determined to get back amongst the others.  I followed HHN up through the forest to take a wee shortcut, and got back ahead of Liam.  We raced together for a while, and when I realised he wasn’t going as fast as I could I pushed on to try and take some time out of him.

End of first stage day 2

End of first stage day 2

I couldn’t quite get back to HHN on the climb but I soon caught them and a number of other teams and solo racers on the decent to Patterdale.  Having to change shoes and put on a spray deck really slowed me in the transition compared to Liam in his surfski who ran in, put his BA on and was away running with a super light boat.

I pushed hard and felt good on the paddle and managed to stay with HHN, but Liam came flying past me, I kept my eye on him, but it was all I could do to only lose about 10minutes to him over the length of the lake.

Getting out I felt ok, and wanted to push hard on the bike to Kirkby Stephen.  I was at the back of a wee group of people after losing a few minutes going the wrong was out of the transition.  I pulled ahead on the climb, and as I had knobbly tyres on I was fast on the downhill off road section, whereas those with slicks had to hold back to ensure no punctures, this probably made up for my lack of slicks on the road.Cycling to Kirby Stephen

I caught and past Kim Collinson who looked to be struggling, and was going hard when Team Accelerate caught me up, I stayed with them, then took a better route choice at the end to beat them to the finish line.  I was also very surprised to see a yellow jersey behind me, Liam had left the transition a long time before me after the paddle.  He had made a very bad route choice, with the northerly flatter route being the far faster route.  He was also very surprised to see me, my Dad had confirmed that it was me ahead.  Dad later told me he wished he hadn’t said anything, Liam might not have pushed so hard!

I had managed to only lose 8minutes to Liam on day 2 finishing in a time of 6hrs and 4mins, with 2 long kayak stages I was pretty pleased with how I had gone, but now I was 45minutes down overall, if I was to compete for 1st place I was going to have to push really hard the next 2 days.

Getting some much needed food in, lovely apple crumble and custard!

Getting some much needed food in, lovely apple crumble and custard!

The first stage of day 3 was a long run up over the Nine Standards and down to Keld.  As usual I felt rough on the first stage of the day, but as I started to see people and slowly catch teams up ahead I felt better and pushed to try and catch them.  Going over the top in the 2nd fastest time I carried on as hard as I could and arrived pretty tired at the transition to the mountain bike stage pretty wiped out.  I took a bit of time to eat and drink before setting off, heading out with Team Accelerate, (we seemed to race a lot together over the 4 days.)  The ride was rough and took its toll on the body, and with a bike carry up a steep hill I caught a lot of the other solo racers, spurring me on to push harder.  The climbs were going well for me, and I was really enjoying the downhill sections.

Coming into Castle Bolton I quickly topped up on food and drink and raced off for a long road section.  I started with Steve Fisher, who is a great rider, but sadly with my bike having gear issues, and my legs having fatigue issues I couldn’t hold onto him.  The rest of the ride I was on my own, having no idea what speed I was riding at, and not seeing any other teams to judge my progress.  I rode as hard as I could manage, and with a tough head wind for the last 5km I arrived really tired at the finish line, I’m not sure what happened but all of a sudden I was going over the bars, and landed in a mangled mess with my bike on top of me, I tried to crawl to the finish punch, but luckily Lisa Thurlow saw my predicament and brought to me to finish in a time of 5hrs 38 minutes

I waited painfully with the new indents on my shin after my finish line antics, for Liam to finish, he took longer than the 8 minutes he started behind me, finally finishing almost 13minutes slower than my time, I’d managed to eat into his lead, but had still a long way to go to get back to anyway near first place.  Liam and myself discussed our tough day, and he said he was struggling on the run, and had had a few mechanical issues, something I has been lucky enough not to have had yet.

Landing in a heap after going over the bars on the finish line of day 3

Landing in a heap after going over the bars on the finish line of day 3

Day 4 dawned with the slowest teams setting off at 5am, with a 5minute start stagger I was off at 8:35.  As I waited to go, Liam hadn’t arrived which got me wondering, and as it turned out was his plan to get me thinking what had happened to him.  On the first cycle I had to tell myself to ignore him, I had my own race to do, push as hard as I possibly could and hope for the best.

The first ride was tough, a fast flat section then a gruelling climb followed by a slippery steep road decent.  Coming into transition I saw Liam’s support crew, so I knew he was still in the race.  Tom, my stand in support crew had everything totally set up for me and I had a super fast turnaround and was out up the road on the run before HHN came into view.  I ran as hard as I could on the long section over Carlton Bank slowly catching the teams up ahead of me.  I didn’t quite get Team Accelerate, but after another superfast transition back onto the bike I was right with them.

The mountain bike section started with a tough carry up a steep hill, and then a nice steady climb on a good track then onto a flat very fast old railway line.  Riding with Team Accelerate spurred me on and they were encouraging me to go as hard as I could.  We raced this section together recording the fastest times of the day.  The ride was great fun with technical single track and fast rough descents.  Dropping into Glaisdale for the last transition I changed my map over and exchanged water bottle and headed straight out.

Right from the word go the road went up, very steeply, and with

Crossing the final finish line, exhausted after giving it everything

no granny ring I worked really hard on this hill.  I kept in touch with Accelerate and passed them after seeing other racers up ahead.  The fight was really on now, everyone became a target to get past.  Kevin and Dave from Accelerate couldn’t believe how fast I was still going, but I knew this was the last section of the race, I had to give it everything.  Overtaking Mike who was placed 3rd over all gave me another spur, and then near the end when I just squeezed across a busy A road before the lights changed I spied the 4th and 5th placed solos, Ant Emmet and Andy Conn.  I gave it my all on the last wee section along the old railway line, and luckily came through the town of Robin Hoods Bay with Andy Conn who knew the route, which saved me a minute of having to do some fine nav.  I sprinted to the line, stopping my time at a total of 22hrs 2minutes and 14 seconds.

Now the wait.  I’d done all I could over the last 2 days, pushing my body to the limit, I was exhausted, my legs felt like jelly, and if I’d had anything in my stomach I think I would have thrown up.  I started to do the sums, I was 31mins 49seconds behind after 3 days, so the race clock needed to read 1:41:08 for me to win.

Then cheers went up, and round the corner the yellow top of Liam Drew appeared, 6 minutes 11seconds too early.  I had taken almost 26 minutes back during the day, but it wasn’t enough.

Congratulating Liam on an excellent victory and close race

Congratulating Liam on an excellent victory and close race

It had been a brilliant 4 days of racing across stunning scenery, with great competition and a great atmosphere both during the race and also in the evenings.  Event director James Thurlow and his wife Lisa had done an amazing job, the race ran like clockwork, the course was brilliant, and everyone had loved it.

The race will return in 2 years, and I will be champing at the bit to get back to it and see if I can improve and go one better than this years result.

Massive thanks must go to my Dad for being my support for the first 2 days, and then to Helen Jackson, Anna Gracie and Tom for being my support over the last 2 days, and all the other people who helped me out too, Paddy’s porridge must get a mention!



  1. Hello from Russia!
    Can I quote a post in your blog with the link to you?

  2. […] rest of the time filled with bike tinkering, eating, resting and socialising with the other teams. I did this race 2 years ago as a solo athlete, narrowly missing out on first place after spending too long eating pies in transition!  This year […]

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