Posted by: Bruce Duncan | July 28, 2010

Open 24 – Anglesey to Betws-y-Coed

As I sit and catch up on the Tour de France, and watch the rain pour down outside, its time to reflect back on the weekend.

24 hours is a long time, when you get some sleep overnight, you never realise just how long it is, but when you are outside racing non stop for 24hours, it seems to take forever.

You don’t just turn up to a 24hr race either, there is a lot of planning and preparation before hand, food shopping needs to be done, kit needs to be found and sorted, equipment needs to be fettled and got to the start line, and as often is the case you need to communicate with your team mate to make sure you have everything you need.

Nicola and I however didn’t manage to do any of this!  We were both really busy, and were trying to ensure we were as organised as we could be for the start, this involved chasing people all over the Lakes to get a kayak, and getting all the bits for it.

I had a great few days in Wales nr Harlech with my oldest friends, climbing mountains, swimming in the sea, and playing beach cricket! So when I got the call from Nicola to say she was on route I headed off up to Betws-y-Coed.

We registered, chatted with friends, sorted kit, faffed around, ate chips, and finally went to bed for the last time in a few days.  We woke early the next day and headed back to Betws to jump on a bus out to Anglesey for the start.

Sorting out all the kit before registration

The start proper would be in Rhosneigr, but before this we had a wee coasteering session from Rhoscolyn to Silver bay, which was great fun, if a little jellyfishy! At the end of this we had a quick rib boat ride across Cymyran Bay, this was brilliant, we were all in hysterics as we flew over the waves James Bond style, with a helmsman who looked like a pirate!!

Coasteering nr Silver Bay

The start was altered to a mountain bike as the seas were too rough, so it was a 55km bike lane quest with a trail run in Newborough Forest thrown in.  Everyone had started at 30second intervals, so it wasn’t long before a few trains formed.  We were joined by Ant Emmet and Helen Jackson, and Fi Spotswood and Steve Fisher, so we were moving fast, this could possibly be the top 3 in the race.  Sadly Fi punctured, so we lost them, but we pushed on with Ant and Helen. We shared the nav, and the boys spent most of the time being the wind breaks!

Getting the final checkpoint on the trail run by the Lighthouse

We arrived at the first transition at the same time as John Houlihan and Tom Gibbs, our adidas TERREX team mates, so were pleased how we had gone on the first stage.  The kayak section was to be up and down the Menai Strait, and with the famous tides to take into account we were going to be monitoring the time closely.  With our last minute kayak issue, neither of us had had time to get into the boat to get it set up, so the first time either of us got in was there on the Strait!  Luckily it wasn’t too bad for size, but the bigger issue was that the rudder didn’t seem to work very well; this was really not what we needed in a complex channel with sand bars, fast tides and strong winds.

Exitiing the kayak stage through the mud!

We kept up with the other top contenders to the first control, but then had lots of issues trying to paddle downwind, resulting in us dropping further and further behind, and as we continued to battle with the kayak we made the call to drop the control below the famous Menai Bridge.

This gave us extra time on the next bike leg, and as we set off in the continuing dreich weather we felt good and pretty fresh too.  This bike section was pretty easy going, as most of it was on roads, although some of them were pretty steep.  Our route was pretty good and smooth, and we managed to clear the stage, but we were pretty surprised how much climb there was on the ride up to the transition near Llyn Ogwen.

Our transition here was pretty smooth, eating plenty of food, getting all the mandatory mountain kit and sneaking in a cup of tea we headed off up onto the hills at 8.30, trying to make the most of the daylight.  As we headed out another 4 teams quickly got on our tail and a small train of people followed up the hill.

The first few checkpoints were relatively straight forward, on big features and in good conditions, but then as we descended off Y Garn to Llyn y Cwn the light really faded and the clouds were pretty thick, making things very tricky.  The control was a tough one, and with no obvious path it was compass bearings all the way, Nicola spotted the control, we quickly turned our lights off to not lead in the other 5 teams that were all around us!

Devils Kitchen and Llyn Idwal before it got totally dark!

We then dropped off down the Devils Kitchen, around Llyn Idwal and then back up towards Tryfan.  Looking back up to the Devils Kitchen from the lake was amazing, the trail of lights coming out of the clouds and down to the lake level was really special.

We were out of the clouds for an hour or so before heading back into them again, making the navigation really tricky, but we were massively helped by our Exposure Lights, i was using the Joystick, and Nicola had her MaxxD, these really made a huge difference in the gloom.  Finding a tarn in the cloud on a plateau wasn’t easy, but luckily we met Paul Pickering and Gary Davies, and Jake Morgan and Emily Brooks, so more eyes on the lookout spotted the control pretty quickly.  Paul and Gary stayed with us to the end of the stage, which was nice to share the workload a little and have a chat with good friends.

Once in and out of the transition my race began to fall apart.  I had been navigating solidly for about 15hrs and my brain was fried, and I made some really stupid mistakes on the short bike leg, tempers were frayed as they often are in the middle of the night, and I was annoyed at myself for making the mistakes.  We pushed on, trying to forget about them, and getting onto the next section.

The final foot section was tough, mostly uphill on super tired legs and sore feet, I think mine had been wet right from the word go.  We made some good route choices here though, and managed to sneak an easy control in with little effort.  We were also very glad we didn’t try for the check point up high, as the stiff climb up to the open moorland was really hard, and we would have really suffered with another climb.

We hit the moorland in the mist, but with Stu Lynch, ex World Adventure Race champ along side, I knew we were in good company, we chatted and navigated together, and found the next few controls together, before Stu and Simon raced ahead into the underground world of the old mine.  The sun also mades its first appearance in a long time, with stunning colours basking all of us in a a warm glow.


The final check point of the trek was in a mine, we descended down a pretty slippery slope to some depth below the surface, and were told that there were 4 controls to find down some tunnels, but we were on our own as to where they were!  There were a lot of teams walking around looking confused, trying to remember which tunnel they had or hadn’t been down.  We finally found all 4, but then couldn’t find the exit, finally following the flow of water to find a short cave kayak section, no paddles, just a rope to pull yourself along with!

The long descent into the mine

Exiting down a very long tunnel with really cold water up to your ankles, it was a great relief to get out into the sunshine and warmth.  It had been warm the entire event, which made life a lot easier in the driech weather.  The final wee bit of this stage was to drop through the very muddy forest and slippery quarry to the bikes, and we were very surprised to see so many bikes still there.

Getting out of the mine by Sevvy!

We lugged our bodies onto our bikes for the last time, looking at the clock and realising we still had over 4 hours to go, that in itself is a long mountain bike stage!  We headed off at a steady pace down the valley, tying to work out the optimum route, and soon noticed that there was going to be a lot of climb on this stage.

The first few controls were up steep forest roads and tracks then zooming back down again before the next climb!  We were moving really slowly by now, and you start to think that everyone else will be flying along, but the fact that we hadn’t seen anyone else suggested that we were going at the same pace as all our competition.  We finally got caught by Steve Fisher and Fi Spotswood, and rode a fast downhill together, before we doubled back on ourselves to bag an easy control on the road, which turned out to be up a steep climb, but at least it was fun on the way back!

With the final steep climb up into a wee section of forest just south of Betws-y-Coed out of the way, we embarked on a short orienteering loop.  It looked easy on the face of it, but with a totally addled brain I really messed up on the 2nd control, and dragged Nicola through some horrid forest before Nic made me get back to the track, I really wasn’t thinking straight at all.  We finally got the control and found the rest ok, and were pleasantly surprised to see we were equal with Steve and Fi still.

With just a few more controls to get on the bike in the block of forest we pushed on hard to see if we had time to nip into the next section.  We decided that with the huge climb up the roads to get anymore we would be pushing to get back in time, so turned and headed along the road back to a very welcoming finish line.

Nicola and Bruce crossing the line

After a few hours of recovery, sleep, eating, chatting about the race, the results were read out, and Nicola and myself were incredibly pleased to find out we had won, by a mere 35 points, 2635 vs. Steve and Fi’s 2600! There had been one control in it after 24hours.

Tom Gibbs and John Houlihan also won the male class, so it was a clean sweep for the 2 adidas TERREX teams.  Tom and John also won the series prize after winning every event in the series, so a great result for our new sponsors.

The event was brilliant fun, I think the Open24 is like the 1500m of the adventure race world, not quite a long distance race, so you have to go hard all the time, as was seen by the close results.  Andy Wilson and James did a great job with the route, and it was testing and challenging all the way.

I must say a huge thank you to all our supporters, adidas TERREX for the great kit, the Halliday family for their cheering all the way around, Paul Noble from Windermere Canoe and Kayak for the very late loan of a kayak, and Nicola for putting up with me for 24hrs!

I look forward to seeing everyone on the start line of my race in August, the 400km adidas TERREX Adventure Race.

Photos all by James Kirby


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