Questars Brecon Beacons

29 May 2010
My Race
This did not go at all well for me, at the beginning it was going ok but the rain meant my feet got damp and some blisters started on the run stage I opened with. Then I got them properly soaked in the kayaking stage and my blisters got a lot worse on the run back to collect my bike. I dried my feet at the transition and put my cycling shoes on, but they were pressing directly on the raw skin. I thought I could continue and set off on the bike stage. It was apparent very quickly that I had a major problem, every cycle of the pedals was agony. I made three checkpoints on the bike and just about made it back to transition without vomiting from the pain. Amazingly I didn’t come last and didn’t accumulate any penalty points.

What I didn’t know at the time was that this was to be my last in the race series. A few weeks later I was rushed into hospital by ambulance with a serious liver infection of unknown origin. None of my doctors could identify the cause, but it put me out of action for the rest of the year. I had endless blood tests and liver function tests and in the end since nobody could find the cause. My liver function had returned to normal and I was feeling fine so normal life resumed and my doctors gave up the hunt for the mysterious cause.

Official Race Report
It was a typical Bank Holiday weekend weather forecast as teams approached Brecon from far and wide to take part in the second Questars one day event of the 2010 adventure race series. The steady drizzle though did not dampen the enthusiasm of the participants as they foregathered in a spacious sports hall for the pre event Race Briefing.

There was also an element of surprise as teams eagerly reviewed the event map discovering that it extended onto two sides and covered a huge swathe of the best areas of the majestic Brecon Beacons. Which would be the dummy checkpoints only to be revealed at the Start? Would it be worth making the big loop south on mountain bikes and would we have enough time to make it?

Some of these questions were answered as teams set forth, as the rain eased, from under the big yellow start arch, on their personal challenge. Each team created their own course by linking together as many of the optional checkpoints they wished in either the 6 hours for Masters or 5 hours for Novices and Questars Duo teams. In order to get the most out of the terrific terrain their were more checkpoints to go for than ever before with only two of the pre marked red mountain bike checkpoints being dummy ones and a similar number of the blue trail run ones not existing.

All six of the green kayaking checkpoints existed. But here was another challenge and strategic choice. Whether to go for all six and risk picking up a penalty for being late off the water? It was a tough call. Four teams did go for all 6 checkpoints placed out on the north bank of the tranquil Monmouthshire and Brecon canal. They were enticed by the 45 points earned from visiting the furthest one near the lock. As it turned out all these teams just missed the cut off and picked up a 50 point penalty.

Most other teams were content to go for fewer kayaking checkpoints and enjoyed their paddling on the very stable sit on top kayaks. The water level in the canal had dropped considerably during the prolonged dry spell running upto the event. This made for quite a steep climb down the canal bank at the transition point. The rain returned at periods throughout the day interspersed with sunny intervals. This created enough mud for some competitors to use it as face paint!

Low clouds did on occasion obscure the best views, during the running phase of the event, of the Brecon Brecons that dominate the southern skyline from Brecon. With trail run checkpoints strewn liberally across both sides of the canal and River Usk another key question was posed. Where to cross these water obstacles?
Most chose to do so at a very scenic spot where the canal is carried on an aqueduct across the River Usk. With checkpoint number 9 also located there it was a natural choice for the event photographer Rob Howard to capture images of most teams in action. He didn’t expect one participant to cut out the dog leg around the southern loop of the aqueduct by swimming across the canal to visit the checkpoint!

Then to another question. Whether to attempt the full circumnavigation of the mountain bike checkpoints or not? A good show of hands went up when asked at the prize giving who had taken up this challenge. Those that did were rewarded, after a punishing ascent to near on 600m to checkpoint 32, with a breathtaking descent on the other side of the Beacons and some further exhilaration on the circuit around Talybont Reservoir and Forest.

The clouds lifted as teams raced back to Brecon and the welcoming sight of the big yellow Finish arch and hot food and drink. There were some heroic runs to the final checkpoint as teams were determined to make it back in time. Eventual overall winners Paul Pickering and current world champion Nick Gracie just made it with seconds to spare. If current Questars series leader Patrick Meldrum had been a few seconds faster on the water he’d have won but on this occasion had to settle for second place.

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