The Bike List

Ride Report: Questars two day adventure race - South Downs, West Sussex, Oct 2013

It is 7.00 am on Saturday, the bikes are on the car, the food and kit is in the boot and the coffee tastes good. We were ready to set off for the QuestAR two-day adventure race, based in Duncton, in the South Downs. When we arrived the Quest kitchen was already serving a great range of food and drink and would stay open throughout the weekend.

We headed over to register and we were handed our maps for stages 1 and 2. It was then back to the kitchen for tea and then to the car to study the map and to sort out our plan.

For those of you who are not familiar adventure racing it is one of the most unique sports on offer at the moment. It has been described as "the sport of strategic wilderness travel." (Adventure Gear Review, 2013) and it usually includes the core sports of trail running/hiking, mountain/trail biking and canoeing/kayaking all linked with orienteering-style navigation and route choice. Teams must decide their route and which checkpoints to visit. Is it better to go for all the checkpoints and risk penalties for late return or to visit fewer checkpoints and get back on time?

On top of these core ingredients, organisers may also add in other activities such as logic problems or crystal maze type challenges. Favourites can become losers with one big mistake, and weekend warriors can be the unlikely victors with a perfectly executed race plan! It truly can be anyone's game until the final results are in. That's what is so special about the sport of adventure racing.

Adventure races can last anywhere from 2 - 6 hour sprint races to 5 - 7 day non-stop expedition races. The QuestAR we entered was a stage race set over two days with 4 stages lasting between 100 minutes for the night navigation stage to 7 hours for the combined stages 1 and 2.

Back in our car we were trying to work out our race strategy. Our kayak time was 11:00-12.45 so we reckoned our best option was head straight over to the remote kayak transition point, whilst picking up a four checkpoints on the bike, do the kayaking and then spend a couple more hours picking up bike checkpoints on the way back to the base. We would then take our compulsory hour break before heading out for the run.

At the event briefing we were told that since we were in the novice category, for every minute earlier than the allotted seven hours we finished we would get 2 points. The potential for 120 easy points was too tempting and we decided to keep the run short get back early and rest our legs for the night stage.

So at 10:15 we headed over to the start, 'dibbed' the EMIT scorecard and we were handed the checkpoint descriptions for the stages. A quick check of our route, some small adjustments and we were on our bikes. The ride went well, if not on road it was on fast bridleways and tracks. We were moving fast until we arrived at a cross road that wasn't marked on the map. After much deliberation we decided that the map wasn't wrong, we were in the wrong place. So a quick scamper back up the hill we'd just come down put us back on track.

The set up at the bike/kayak transition was excellent. There was a trailer with the buoyancy aids at the road side and then a path lead down to the river where we could leave our bikes. The kayaks were piled up and we just had to grab one and get moving without falling in.

The check points for the kayak were spread over about 4km, with three to the right and five to the left. We headed right and then decided to grab the closest two on the left. As we passed a marshal, he told us that the second checkpoint had been stolen. So this changed our plan; a quick paddle for the closest one only. Back at transition we grabbed our bikes, topped up our water, checked the map and headed off to the next checkpoint.

The bike up to the kayak had mainly been low level tracks. The next section felt like we were riding over the South Downs with some nice ascents and superb descents. By this time the sun was shining and we were having a brilliant day.

When we got back to the event base we took an hour break. This gave us the opportunity to change clothes, eat and relax before the run. Our plan for the run was to be out on the course for 50 - 60 mins to get back 50 mins before the cut-off, gaining the early return points.

The plan worked until I realised I'd eaten too much during the break and felt very unwell. We had to slow down and cut the run short. We jogged back to the base to download our scorecard for the stages and collect the checkpoint descriptions for stage three.

After racing for over 6 hours our aim was to recover so we were ready for the 100min night run. We were currently in 12th place after stages one and two, which we were pleased with on our first QuestAR event.

The night run had a remote start so everyone headed down the road together. As we dibbed to start we were handed the map for the stage. We moved over to mark the optional activities on the map and then set off at a steady pace. We collected a couple of checkpoints and then completed our first activity, which was a tough logic problem.

It was a great night for a run and we picked up the pace, passing a few other teams. We both felt strong. To our horror one of the checkpoints would not dib but we did not want to waste too much time and set off again for the highest point of the run. The long uphill was followed by a steep technical descent and after a tricky navigation decision there was only the dash for the finish. Our efforts were rewarded with a second place for the stage moving us up to fifth in our category.

On Sunday there was just one stage and no kayaking. Our plan for the day was to start off on the bike. This was to get our legs moving and warmed up and then we would take the hour break followed by the run. There was only one bonus point per minute back early so it was better to stay out.

The time to start came and again we got the map and decided our route for the bike. We headed out and our legs were feeling great. Today it was only a 4 hour stage with 3 hours of actual racing, a real sprint. We had a fun bike again with one tricky descent that we ended up walking down. Following this descent it was all pretty fast riding in brilliant sunshine, on well-defined tracks in a great part of the world.

The day was warming up nicely and back at the event base, before the break, we opted to complete the two optional activities. Dave did a superb job of getting through them quickly. We were then able to enjoy the hour break, in the sunshine, with the banter from the other teams. This left with about 70 minutes for the run, we picked a course of 10 km, which would be easy as long as we did not get lost.

We headed out at a good pace and held this until about 4km before the end, it was then that Dave's feet started to trouble him and we ended up walking some of the way back to the finish with a final sprint for the line. We were back with ten minutes to spare. It was a great day for us and our efforts on this stage had left us in sixth place, meaning we finished in fifth overall in the novice men's category; a fantastic achievement for our first QuestAR.

What we thought of the event:

We were especially impressed with how smoothly Quest had everything running. The great thing about QuestARs is that whether you are looking for your first two-day adventure race or if you're a seasoned pro, the course and set up should be flexible enough to be a good introduction as well as a more challenging event. The base was well equipped and if the weather had not been as good, it would have been perfect place to warm-up with something hot to eat and drink from the Quest kitchen. We are definitely planning to race in the other QuestARs in the series.

Words by Tom Crossland