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The Ford Lakeland Challenge.
24 Sep 2010
I thought I’d stray from my usual on-line related topics this month to write a brief race report from the recent Ford Lakeland Challenge the Epiphany Directors have just completed. A number of our clients and many staff were generous enough to make donations for the Wooden Spoon Charity we were supporting (a really great and little known outfit that does some amazing and innovative work to bring smiles to disadvantaged children in the UK - www.woodenspoon.com). All we had to do was canoe Britain’s longest lake, cycle its steepest pass and climb up and down its highest mountain, how hard could it be?
So, our race day started at 5am which gave us chance to get a carb-filled breakfast down us before we began up to 12 hours of racing at 7:30am. The first surprise of the day was to awaken thinking the shower had been left on, only to realize that torrential rain had started (and would stay with much of the day). After a very subdued breakfast, the team boarded our Epiphany Battle bus (very kindly donated by Ford for the event) and began the first navigational challenge, to get from the hotel at the top of Lake Windermere to the Canoe start at the bottom. This was a battle of wits across the 16 teams taking part, as no one wanted to set off first and take responsibility for leading the whole group. Trailblazers that we are, the Epiphany team set off first and led the way. Canoe On arriving at the canoe start Shane, Robin and myself loaded up the canoe with energy drinks and gels, registered with the marshals and hit the water. Our training from a few months ago came back quickly and we headed out to the start line. A few minutes of positioning and 16 teams were then lined up in the water ready to race. 3,2,1 and we were off, let the mayhem begin! It was a hectic start with boats battling for position, often colliding and trying not to be the first team to capsize into the cold water. After 10 minutes we had navigated through the hazards of other competitors and boats moored in the lake and hit open water. The following 2 hours and 16 minutes are something of a blur. Most vivid memories are Robin counting consistently to 10 to keep our stoke timing smooth for the entire time and the occasional need to bail out the boat due to the intense rain throughout. After crossing over from the east to west sides of the lake and avoiding the Windemere ferry that was never going to stop for a 3 man canoe, we had land in site and thoughts finally began to turn to the biggest challenge of the day, the bike section! Bike After dragging the canoe out of the water and registering our race time we ran to meet our driver (Ryan) who had brought the battle bus to the northern tip of the lake with our bikes. A quick change from drenched clothes into the bike gear and a mandatory hand and face wash to remove any blue/green algae from the lake and we were ready to hit the hills! Our race plan of keeping Robin at the back of the group to stop him riding away into the distance soon fell apart and he was a spec in the distance only to be seen when we reached a turning in the road that would require directions from my bike GPS (as team captain I had obviously put in the hours ahead of time planning race nutrition, equipment, directions and associated technology needed). We kept a steady pace of fast down hills and slow spinning uphill until we hit the infamous Wrynose Pass. We all valiantly tried to keep on our bikes but at a gradient not dissimilar to trying to ride up a staircase we were soon pushing the bikes. Thoughts of walking the bike being an opportunity to recover our breath were soon lost as the gradient and the rain meant it was a challenge simply walking up such steep tarmac. Even cars passing us on the narrow roads were struggling and stalling with the gradient. The team dug deep, kept our heads down and pushed on to the top of the hill where we re-grouped, took on some food and headed on to the second of Britain’s steepest passes, Hardknott pass. My enjoyment of the initial downhill after our steep ascent was soon lost for 2 reasons. Firstly the descent was so steep the entire time was spent trying not to fall over the front forks of the bike, and secondly because as we hit the flat with the chance to get up some speed and make progress before the next big climb, my chain snapped in 2 places leaving me with a useless mode of transport. At this point both Shane and Robin were out of earshot and off making progress towards the foot of Hardknott pass - we had agreed that we would next re-group at its peak. This left me with a very long run ahead as I attempted to catch them up. 15 minutes later I could see the outline of Shane and Robin in the distance beginning the second major climb. Again cycling soon gave way to pushing the bikes up the many switchbacks. One big effort and I finally caught up with Shane to explain our predicament, I then pushed on to catch up with Robin in an attempt to get to the top of the pass where there would be a marshal who may have some equipment to help repair my bike. After more yomping up the steep incline I reached the top, found the marshal but was disappointed to find that he was armed only with jellybabies rather than any spare links for my bike chain. Just as we thought all was lost and I would be retired from the race, I did a final search through my spares kit (always prepared) and found not one but two spare emergency links that I had packed the week before. Some speedy repairs later (and some assistance from a marshal who’s hand’s were warmer than mine) and the bike was back! We were told that we had completed the last of the big hills and that everything would be downhill from here. That turned out to be untrue but certainly what lay head was manageable by comparison. After many more miles of further hills we had Wastwater in sight which lies at the foot of Scafell Pike, indicating the mountain section would soon be upon us. We had to push hard in the final miles to ensure we didn’t miss the safety cut-off time for the bike section and with 500 meters to go, I pushed my bike too hard and the chain snapped a 3rd and final time! With the end so near it was another run with the bike to cross the line and start preparations for the mountain. The Mountain In the final section of the race we made a driver change as Shane’s long-standing foot injury meant he wouldn’t be able to attempt the mountain section. In stepped Ryan to take his place and after changing into our walking gear we completed the mandatory safety kit check and began our ascent. Preparation again served us well here, as we had completed a practice climb some weeks before and with the assistance of our iPhones running GPS mapping software we were confident of our route to the top. This was our chance to claw back time lost on the bike section as we made swift progress up the mountain in terrible conditions with driving wind and rain and visibility down to 10 meters. What we didn’t know during our journey to the top was that we passed 5 teams who were all struggling with navigation. This would ultimately cost them dearly because any team who cannot make the top of the mountain within an agreed safety time limit will be forced to go back the way they came rather than continue down the far side and head on to the finish line. We made it to the top with time to spare, didn’t waste any time admiring the view (we were stood in a cloud and there was nothing to see!) and began the final push to the finish. The descent was an unknown as, we had not been able to practice this particular route and despite one wrong turn which had us climbing up a waterfall at one point, we kept to the correct route. One final obstacle lay ahead which was to cross the weir at the bottom of the mountain leaving a short run to the finish line. Due to a full day of torrential rain, a crossing that should have simply wet the soles of our boots had us wading through water just below our knees! We knew the finish was in sight so we gritted our teeth, adjusted our clothing ready for the finishers pictures and ran for home! It was a welcome sight to see the Ford Lakeland Challenge banners and the line as we rounded the last corner. Shane had competed the long drivers route around the bottom of the mountain and was there to meet us at the finish with the good news that we had passed 5 teams and finished 9th overall. Finally, many thanks to Shane, Robin and Ryan for being such a great team and to everyone who sponsored us, it’s a very worthwhile cause. Now we just need to decide what to do next year….!