Wet, Wild and Windy – A Day in the Dales With The Open5
This year’s Open5 made a welcome return to the Yorkshire Dales, with a new location for the event HQ at Cracoe Village Hall, and courses mainly set around Malham, including some of the famous visitor spots like the foot of Malham Cove and Goredale Scar.
It’s fair to say these were not as visitors normally see them on this particular day as storm Ciara swept in with high winds and heavy rain which flooded the streams and rivers ... and the paths and roads ... and the fields. It has to have been the wettest Open5 ever in its 14 year history.
The majority of those who entered made their way to Cracoe in the tricky travelling conditions and 130 set off, either in pairs or solo, after receiving maps showing the checkpoints for the run and ride stages. They had to ride out to the run transition at Malham, complete as much of the run as they wanted, then ride back to the HQ to finish, collecting more checkpoints on the way back.
The event was started inside the hall due to the weather, and they were then given a tracker so the organisers could monitor where everyone was, plus the CP points values so they could start working out their route. Event Director James Thurlow made regular announcements about the wind direction and in his briefings suggested a route which limited riding against the wind, but many took an alternative way! He also told those new to the event (and others) not to be too greedy in the tough conditions and attempt too many checkpoints resulting in losing points for a late return.
The beauty of the Open5 format is that you can choose exactly what you want to do within the 5 hours (or less), and to register a result only have to get one bike and one run CP. So you can mostly ride, or mostly run, or mix it up and choose your own route to suit yourself. You can go flat out or stop off in cafe if you want.
One competitor who appreciated the format was Martyn Pegg who has taken part in a few Open5’s including the very first one back in 2005. “I like knowing exactly how long I’ll be out,” he said. “I think I will run as much as possible as I’m slow on the bike. I usually bite off a bit more than I can chew on these events.” Then he added, “There is little chance of me learning from that experience today!”
He was already quite wet having ridden to the start from Skipton 6 miles away. Others had also ridden in, including Eddie Winthorpe, a very experienced Open Adventurer. When I asked him what his expectations were for such difficult conditions he replied, “I’ll be happy if we don’t lose the map in the wind.” When pressed he said he’d also be happy to get 320 points.
As everyone set off the wind was still gusting fiercely, and a small lake was forming under the bridge below the hall. The competitors were going to have to make careful decisions on where they went in the conditions, and that’s another big attraction of the format. An Open5 is not about just about how fast you move around the course, it’s as much about outdoor skills, navigation and planning.
One pair who quickly found they had a choice to make were Sharon McDonald and Richard Hey who rode to one of the nearest checkpoints planning to cross a small brook beside it. They decided it wasn’t safe to cross in the fast flow of water and had to double back. “I think it cost us about an hour,” said Hey, “so it wasn’t the greatest start of us.”
There was a split in the route choice (something the planners love to see) with one group of riders heading North to take in cycle CP’s and a larger group aiming to get to the run transition by a more direct westerly route and so spend less time riding into the wind.
One obvious decision was to ‘stay low’. Carrick (Pyro) Armer is another regular competitor and this was his choice on the run checkpoints. (The fact the majority of the checkpoints were low lying and there were none in forestry were factors in the event going ahead.) Armer was with first time participant Rachel Turner who said she was ‘slightly worried’ to be trying her first adventure race in the stormy conditions. It was brave to start as a first timer at all in such conditions!
Some of the competitors returned to the finish within the first couple of hours, and others chose to complete a few checkpoints on the bike only, just for the challenge rather than competing. One pair who did this were Sue and Andy Lawrence who had been regular competitors together until 3 years ago. Since then Sue has been affected by ME and this was her first time back in competition.
“Just walking was hard when I was at my worst,” she said, “so it’s great to be competing again. It’s the first time I’ve been back on a mountain bike and I punched the air in delight at the first checkpoint. After that we collected some biking checkpoints, before deciding not to push too hard and come back. In this weather we didn’t want to ride too far out or try to get the run transition, then struggle to get back.” [They also helped a rider who had fallen and injured himself, and then rode back to the finish with his partner.]
Not getting a run CP meant they won’t register a score but that clearly didn’t matter at all, and both were smiling broadly at the finish.
Through the day the weather conditions did improve with the rain easing off, the cloud lifting and the sun even came out for a brief while. Water levels stayed high and all the competitors came back with tales of riding (and pushing) along flooded roads and tracks, some having taken dips in the water, which was necessary to even reach some of the CPs! A few jokingly asked why Open Adventure had not turned the event into a triathlon or included kayaking in this one.
“We struggled with the bikes on the river crossings,” said Eddie Winthorpe. “We’ve got these super light bikes now and they were floating off downstream, or down the road! It was definitely Type 2 fun some of the time”. With partner Matthew Barsby they had finished with 320 points – and impressively that was exactly as predicted!
The wind kept blowing and gusting throughout and everyone said how hard it was to ride and that they’d been blown off at times. “At one point we could not even ride downhill against the wind and another time both ended up in a ditch together.” Said Sharon McDonald. “It was a strange feeling riding with the pedals underwater, and it was so disorienting I was getting dizzy. It was a very sporting day and definitely an adventure!”
Rachel Turner said of her first adventure race, “It was a baptism of fire ... no of water! It wasn’t as scary as it had been in my head before the start, and though I navigated to one or two of the run CP’s I stayed behind Pyro and took shelter on the ride!” Her partner pointed out she was still smiling at the end, as were most of the finishers.
Once changed and warmed up in the hall they could enjoy hot food, drinks and cakes to recover, swap stories of an epic day out, and wait for the prize giving to round out the day.
When the results were announced there were a few surprises, some resulting from penalties (applied for every minute late back to the finish). In both the male and female solos the highest points scorers lost top spot due to penalties. The female solos was the closest with Molly Ralphson and Lindsay Marks equal on points and split by time with Ralphson winning. The top 4 male solos all had some penalties. Ross Jenkins was top scorer of the day on 455 points but with 60 penalties finished second behind Andrew Douglas. In 5th was Martyn Pegg, who it seemed had learned from past experience after all and finished within the 5 hours!
David and Kim Spence were clear winners in the Mixed Pairs with 340 points while in the male pairs David Lawrence and Warren Mason were 40 points ahead of Matthew Barsby and Eddie Winthorpe (who didn’t lose his map).
The day was summed up nicely by Andy Pettit who was third in the male pairs with Nick Hayward. “It was physically and mentally testing and the best bit was finishing! That said it was a really enjoyable day and we’re smiling already remembering the day.”
For all those who took part the 2020 Open5 in The Dales will certainly be a day and an experience to live long in the memory.