Ellis Brigham Adventure Racing athlete Andy Mitchell has had a sabbatical from racing for just over a year while getting married and becoming a father.
After finishing on a high by winning the Black Mountains Stage of Might Contains Nuts Welsh Adventure Series back in August 2013, it was with some trepidation he hunted around the house trying to find AR-sized first aid kits, food bags and a map board. With almost all the previous months training involving a running pram and a golf course, the thought of heading back up some Lakeland hills was both exciting and worrisome.
"Once the car was packed with the bike and pram, it was just a case of feeding baby Lucy and getting on our way. Slick transitions are not so quick these days, so we were pushing the cut off for registration by the time we arrived at the National Trust Low Wray Campsite, on the shores of Lake Windermere.
"After a few minutes orientating myself, I set off along the lake path towards Wray Castle, I was pleasantly surprised to be keeping up with the competitors around me, at least on the flat! The pull up to Latterbarrow afforded some great views of the lakes, but suggested a very conservative run was in order, so I dropped the next 3 controls I had planned. This meant it was up to the high point on Black Crag next. I found cutting across the open access area wasn't possible due to felled trees, so I ended up on a circuitous route to the top, however that had the bonus of great views in the autumn sunlight. Coming down through my second to last checkpoint went a bit wrong as I misunderstood the intention of an Open Adventure sign and ended up fighting through a patch of stinging nettles only to find I was fenced in and had to back track, then I fell in a rocky stream/path and by the time I had recovered my wits, I realised I had run straight past the checkpoint – with time ticking away I decided not to go back and headed back for transition.
"After a quick hello to my wife, Katinka, and Lucy, it was time to see how my legs would hold up on the bike. The 'best this way' arrows made an anti-clockwise loop look attractive and I was soon sweating my way up the climb out of Hawkshead. So far so good, legs were still working for one hill at least. Soon it was time to join the Northface trail and swoop down keeping an eye out for the checkpoint 'on the singletrack'. We needn't have worried, it was marked with 3 A3 sized fluorescent arrows on an open section of track, so difficult to miss. The long climb back up gave me a chance to eat and plan the rest of the route. Dropping down to Coniston water didn't seem like a good idea on untested legs, so the next 3 checkpoints heading South then East were beautifully arranged to take in some great bridleway descents. Great thinking by course designer, Joe Faulkner. Riding with Ben Turner, the eventual male solo winner, we whooped and scooped our way down some rocky, rooty, wet descents before climbing back up and doing it all again.
"After the 3rd descent I opted for the road route round as I knew another big hill would be one too many for my increasingly heavy legs. This meant I could do an out and back for one more checkpoint before heading home. A squall passed through, chilling me and tying my legs in knots. I stopped to put on my superlight Arc'teryx Squamish jacket and gulped a nectar gel at the checkpoint before working my way back up the hill toasty warm and recharged. One more leafy, wet descent and I was on the shores of Windermere, spinning for home. Time was ticking on and my legs were wobbly, but I'd timed it right and finished with 5 minutes to spare. Thanks to Open Adventure for another great day out, continuing to find the hidden gems even in popular areas. I could still walk down the stairs on Monday morning, so the pram running is obviously keeping the legs ticking over. Strategy and navigation were a little rusty though, so we'll have to find some more orienteering events to get my eye back in.