Sunday, October 21, 2007

Helly Hansen Adventure Challenge

Dubbed the "Weavers Down Autumn Assault" this was the third of four events which make up the Helly Hansen Adventure Challenge Series 2007 organised by TrailPlus for teams of three, and TCA(UK)'s first foray into the world of multi-sport, long the staple of TCA(NZ) activities. John had spotted an advert for the event and he, Al and Jon all hoped the rather steep entry fee of £125 a team would prove good value for money.

Having topped up with a high-carb breakfast John and Emma picked Al up at 07.45 on a cold, frosty morning for the short trip up the A3 to the Longmore Camp army base near Bordon; Emma had volunteered for marshaling duties and we were bound to arrive well before the start. Early arrival gave John and Al plenty of time to register the team, pick up the finalised itinerary, check out the transition area and discuss tactics as they waiting for Jon (who had a cross-country journey following a wedding in Gloucestershire) to arrive. We wondered what kind of state Jon would turn up in; whether he would have been able to avoid temptation at the reception the night before. With the ample car park steadily filling up Jon finally arrived at 09.00 a little tired but having only had a small glass of wine to toast the happy couple. Jon reassured the others that his breakfast of buffet leftovers: Pizza; quiche; sausage rolls; crisps and sandwiches, was what all the elite athletes were eating these days.

Pre-Event Fettling

Wrapped up against the cold we assembled our equipment in the frost then made our way to the transition area to set up our bikes, accessories and nutrition - finally assembling with the 750+ other competitors for the first leg of the challenge: The pre-event instructions had suggested that we would have (in no particular order) a 10km run, a 20km cycle, a 1 km kayak and some 'surprise challenges along the way'. We were issued with final instructions as we registered and considered the implications of the finalised itinerary: 3km run, 25km cycle (2 x 12.5km laps), 3km run, kayak, 3km run and an assault course. ASSAULT COURSE? We certainly hadn't bargained for that!

Team Titchfield Cycling Association, ready for anything
(Left to right: Al, Jon, John)

The horn sounded at 10.10 and we set off at a reasonable pace towards the back of the 'first wave'. There followed an uphill run on sandy terrain, though some woods and finally a descent back to the transition phase. It was incumbent on all teams to stay together for the full course of the event and the first run provided us with an early opportunity to get the hang of communicating in a pack of other athletes, pacing ourselves and generally sticking together. We were so confident towards the end of the stage that we even up-ed the pace a little, overtaking a few of our competitors on the downhill section.

Entering the transition we were amazed to see how many of the bikes already seemed to have disappeared. Nevertheless we took our time changing shoes, taking in fluids and gearing up for the mountain biking. It soon became clear that the field had not spread out as far as we thought; the early single-track sections of the route were clogged with competitors. Again we had to put some work in simply to stay together but we effectively started to work our way past natural obstacles and other competitors stranded in the mud. The course itself was a undulating track over variable, occasionally muddy terrain: The early sections of the course were sandy, heavily rutted and hard-going; the course then opened out onto the heath-land of Weavers Down and into the woods. On both laps we chose to take a break in a clearing at the top of the most punishing climb; it seemed that many of the other competitors chose to get their breath back here too and there was some friendly banter amongst the teams. There then followed a descent through the woods which made up approximately a quarter of the route and which was the most enjoyable section with steep drop-offs, jumps and perhaps more significantly a break from the unrelenting climb. As usual where Jon and John had pulled away up to the apex of the course, Al made up for his lack of progress on the way down. Clear of the other competitors, and with a mutual understanding of each others technique after hours in the saddle together on weekly rides, team TCA really came into it's own; the second lap seemed much easier desite a few minor gremlins in Al's front mech and we entered the transition together and relatively happy with our performance.

The TCA in their natural environment

Off the bikes and into running shoes once more; yet more sports drink and a welcome breather at the transition. We set off on the second run of the day bound for the kayaking event. While we did feel tired it was disconcerting just how much our legs were complaining about being made to run again. Our pace was limited as we left the transition and settled into a jog. All the training seemed in vain as we struggled to run at any sort of pace and were forced to walk up even the slightest incline. The run took us through a wooded section, over some heathland and then through the marshy bed of Woolmer Pond, often ankle deep in mud.

Like fish out of water

Eventually we reached the lake and listened to barked instructions relating to the next stage: Two out of three competitors were to paddle the kayak a third of the way round the lake while the other ran to the same point. The runner would then swap with one of his team members who would continue the run, returning back to the starting point while the others completed the lap of the lake (this longer run section suspiciously felt as if it had been cobbled together at the last minute to keep the third team member occupied!). Since John H was the only team member with any significant experience he was chosen as the only member of the team to stay in the Kayak for the course of the section; Jon P had demonstrated that he had the freshest legs and was up for the longer run; Al therefore pulled on a life jacket and set off on the shorter run to the rendezvous point while the others grabbed a two-man inflatable kayak. Al observed the other team's techniques as he waited for his by-now water-borne team mates: A pair had capsized their inflatable kayak and others were struggling to find their footing on the unstable fringes of the lake while swapping crew. When team 39 Kayak arrived Al hauled the bows ashore to help John disembark onto sound footing before he got in and pushed off. We had a sense of satisfaction with our change-over as we watched others get into a terrible mess with their's. Al and John's morale was further boosted as they steered their way through the numerous rudderless teams having trouble even paddling in the right direction. There were even some close encounters with more competitive teams, at one stage Al caught the rear crew member of another kayak in the face with his paddle... but stopped short of pulling his cutlass - avast me hearties!

John and Al completed the course, disembarked and hauled their inflatable kayak onto the shore where a scene of confusion and disarray greeted them: Other competitors with (and without) life jackets waiting for their team mates on the longer run, some setting off to meet them. John and Al waited a few minutes and finally saw Jon approaching them through the marsh. Having discarded our life jackets we jogged back out to the first rendezvous point and on towards the rather ambiguous point where Jon had had to run to on the longer leg. This section was treacherous under foot and made more difficult by competitors running in either direction. Still, we gained some sense of satisfaction that we had miraculously understood the instructions as we saw whole teams still in life jackets, or individuals who had misinterpreted the instructions in some way.

By now our legs were really complaining; stride lengths getting involuntarily shorter and shorter as we followed the track back to the transition on our final 3km run through Woolmer Forest. With no hydration since the bike stop our resources where running out and many others running along side us seemed in similar shape. We re-crossed the A3 and finally made it back where the elements of the 'assault course' were explained:

'Walk the Plank' entailed the three of us standing on two planks (one for left feet, one for right) with loops of rope for the toes of the persons at the front and rear. Teams had to walk on these like some bizarre snow shoes around a marked course. It took us a while to figure out the best technique but after much wailing and gnashing of teeth we could eventually give up the planks and jog to the 'Sack Race'. Here we were each required to put one leg in a single sack and navigate another short course. This we did without too much fuss before another short run to a more conventional element of an assault course; the Cargo Net, under which we had to crawl. This inevitably ended in a muddy puddle a few inches deep from where we had to tackle the final obstacle - the Slippery Wall. We watched as the team in front made a complete hash of this, their final stranded member struggling to grab the apex of the wall before sliding back into the mire from whence he came. Somehow, instinctively we knew what we had to do to end our ordeal - John and Al, with their low center of gravity conquered the leading edge of the wall, sitting astride the apex, before grasping Jon's hands as he reached up and helping him over, the perched pair finally descending. The applause from the crowd which greeted our efficiency was almost worth the effort! Crossing the finish line felt even better.

Teamwork proves the key to the 'slippery wall' obstacle

Finishing the event 91st out of 132 all-male teams (134th out of the total 219 teams) we had our official photograph taken and were presented with our 'goody bag' which contained all those things an exhausted athlete might require after 4 hours rigorous exercise: the obligatory t-shirt,a packet of pretzels, a Helly Hansen catalogue, numerous fliers advertising future TrailPlus events and a box of 10 Yorkshire Tea bags: "They're just on the sell!" exclaimed Jon. Fun though it was we were expecting better considering the comparatively high entry fee. Between us we had few minor gripes about the event: It could have a been better organised (an apparently hastily arranged 'wave' start, further delay to the start because registrations could not be processed quickly enough, hurried final instruction issued via megaphone before the start and incomprehensible instructions barked at us before the kayaking event); it could have been better marshaled; it could have had more water stops (it was incumbent on competitors to be self sufficient in terms of hydration 'as part of the challenge' but we felt this was a cop-out on such a long and grueling event). What did TrailPlus do with the all the money... teabags? I ask you! We wait in anticipation to see the inevitably exorbitant prices of the 'official' event photographs!

Thank God it's all over!

Typically the completion of such a strenuous event should leave competitors with a sense of achievement but we just felt worn out; it was difficult to benchmark our performance against other more standardised formats of event or anything else we had taken part in. While this event certainly provided a unique challenge we found it frustrating to have to complete such random exercises at the 'plank walk' and 'sack race', losing time we had tried hard to accumulate in the running and riding sections (and put weeks of training in to attain).

Nevertheless, back at the van we reflected that the real achievement was that our differing personalities complimented each other so well when team-work was required. We already have an ethos of sticking together, going at the slowest participant's pace for the benefit of collective enjoyment at the TCA, but our teamwork as such had never been tested. For this reason it was deemed a highly worthwhile and enjoyable exercise, worthy of a second attempt at a similar event in due course.

The camper van was a God-send - providing a place to get changed and allowing John (above, left) to whip-up a cup of tea to compliment the fresh cream scones and custard tarts he had bought in advance; now THERE'S organisation for you!

Area Map (Click to Enlarge):
(Posted by Al; Photos by Em)

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At 8:30 am, October 25, 2007, Blogger Maalie said...

Sounds like a fun day out! A very good account of it all!

At 10:16 am, October 25, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well done Men, If I was wearing a hat i would take it off to you! Let me know if you are planning to write to Trial Plus specifically, I may be able to help if it comes to it.

It sounds like you turned into Pirates on the way around, next time you could go in character dress, bound to get the same applause that was restricted to the slippery board!

Good on you guys, let us know when and what the next event is!!!


At 10:17 am, October 25, 2007, Anonymous Paul Magner said...


Pity your blog forget to mention the drinks bottles, energy gel and powder pre race plus Helly Hansen karabina torch and the crisps. Shall we forget about the event tee shirt like your blog copy below did? Shame that it didn't highlight the fact that the probable wave start was flagged up during the week before the race. Pity that when the pre event literature informs teams that they need to fully responsible for their own nutrition and hydration yours presumably copped out and, in stead of taking personal responsibility just sought to lay the blame elsewhere. And 'numerous fliers advertising future TrailPlus events'- there was only one item of TrailPlus literature.

Quite frankly Alun, and of course you are entitled to your opinion, if this is your idea of constructive feedback or maybe an attempt at humour, then , in adventure racing parlance , your team would appear to have gone off course.

I, of course , could be a myopic , prejudiced event organiser, so it in these circumstances it is always important not to believe either all of the good things one hears nor indeed all of the negative, but to step back and take an overall view of what is said.....

Really good on Sunday
The course was excellent and organisation couldn't be faltered
It was the first adventure race we had done and we all thoroughly enjoyed
A brilliant day! We're definitely up for Hawley!

Top race on Sunday. Fantastic. Well organized and brilliant fun as ever. Thanks to you and your team for putting on another first class event. Been doing 1-2 of your trail plus races a year since 2001 and never failed to challenge, entertain and be a great fun day out.We had several teams from our club there this Sunday, most never tried AR before, and think we have many new recruits now.

It was our first team adventure challenge and it wont be the last
according to one team member 'its the best thing I've ever done!'

Well orgainised,
varied course, well marshalled and the unexpected surprise of the water
courses!. I thought the 2 wave start worked really

Just a quick note to say thanks for such a great day...It was our first Adventure race, and we're hooked!Your race officials were really upbeat, helpful and encouraging, and the whole day seemed well organised and gave us lots of confidence.

I am awaiting the results/photos from the event last Sunday which, incidentally, I found extremely enjoyable and well-organised.

Just a quick note to so thanks, well done and what a very well organised and ironically enjoyable event

Just to say thankyou we had a great time. it was the first time i had tried anything like this and I'll definately be doing it again

I guess we will just have to take these views in the constructive way that they are offered. Don't you think democracy is a wonderful thing Allun?

Paul Magner
TrailPlus Ltd

At 10:36 am, October 25, 2007, Blogger TCA said...


You're right that I forgot to mention the the pre-race pack of SIS products - that was welcome.

We WERE fully stocked up on adequate hydration, nutrition etc; we read, understood and acted on all pre-race advice and instruction. However, a water stop between the Kayak and the finish in particular would have been a nice addition. Even the most loley charity event provides adequate hydration all the way round for competitors and it would have been great to be relieved of this burden.

Helly Hansen karabina torch? What a knackered competitor needs is (a) a chocolate bar and other edible goodies (b) a ready-made isotonic drink. Consider that this is the highest entry fee of any event I have ever entered.

By the way we only considered these points minor gripes, not major issues - like I said we had a great time and appreciate the work that went into organising the event.


At 1:36 am, October 26, 2007, Blogger simon said...

I am "rooted" just reading about it!

I would have thought the Kayaking would have provided some respite.. but run ride etc.....woah!

At 1:40 am, October 26, 2007, Blogger simon said...

ps- I just took the time to read Paul Magners comment.

I am not even going to grace it with a lengthy reply...

Simply, in Australian terms:- you're a fuck wit.

At 9:29 am, October 26, 2007, Blogger TCA said...

Steady on there Simon! I think it is great that Trailplus are motivating people to get off their fat ones and have a go at adventure racing ( although I am not so sure about the obstacle course at the end?). The TCA are always stocked up on adequate hydration.

On a seperate note, the third photograph looks like the TCA boys are escaped convicts running away from a police van?

Good work fellas by the way.


At 1:01 am, October 28, 2007, Blogger simon said...

I agree TCA- we have similar events here. However, I feel Manger completely mis-understood what you had written, and. if an organizer is too thin skinned to take objective commentary "on board" to improve what they do, then they simply turn people off.

Maybe its just me. I thought good management was about continually learning and improving a product based on customer feedback.

Imagine if you received a comment like that from Scott or Cannondale after you wrote abut one of their bikes and or events.....

Maybe its just an Aussie dislike of authority after all we are convicts ;o)

At 11:59 am, October 29, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I want to add my thoughts and make some constructive comments:

Our team were well prepared for the race in terms of nutrition and training. I would also add that I and another member of our team had enrolled on one of your race training camps, which had to be canceled due to lack of customers.

If you have taken time to look back at other blogs on our site you would have seen that they are intended to be light hearted and we often take the mickey out of ourselves

Constructive criticism/comments:

One week prior to the event you were still asking for marshals.

The fact that the marshals did not have clear instructions from you indicates that your briefing process could be improved. My wife was one of the marshals so we have first hand experience.

The marshals did not have walkie talkies so could not communicate with you or each other easily. This lead to one of them having to call you on a loaned mobile phone to report an incident of an injured competitor to you.

To my mind there should have been more marshals around the course, particularly on some of the elevated bike route, that could be classed as a technical sections, and therefore the likely hood of an accident was higher.

The so called wave start did not appear to happen, the majority of teams formed up to try and listen to the guy ( was it you?)give instructions on a loadhailer. Instructions which for those of us at the back were very difficult, if not imposssible to hear. So when the horn went off, most of the teams went as well. Perhaps these instructions should have been given on registration and your team assigned an actual start time.

To participate in your event was expensive, and I also feel the goody bag was disapointing.

Now clearly Trialplus are running overall good and it seems very popular events.
But you have a responsibility to ensure that as your events get larger, that organisational and contingency plans are put in place to cope with not only a larger number of people, but also by default a broader range of abilities and experience of competitors.

Overall our team and my wife did enjoy themselves, this was our first and it won't be the last adventure race we take part in.

Clearly alot of work and preparation had been put into the event, but for Trailplus to stay ahead of what is now becoming an increasingly competitive and busy adventure race calender with many companies organising events, you need to look at how to improve and show the added value of your events.

So our comments are intended to help you acheive this added value.

John and Em Helyer

At 2:30 pm, October 29, 2007, Blogger Tortoiseshell said...

The comments by Paul Magner are over-sensetive to say the least. Here in the world of geocaching, constructive criticism is actively sought by any self-respecting event organiser etc.

Perhaps Paul Magner's over-sensitivety is explained by his previous form on such matters...Enjoy!

At 2:31 pm, October 29, 2007, Blogger Tortoiseshell said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 2:33 pm, October 29, 2007, Blogger Tortoiseshell said...

Correction -

At 9:12 pm, October 29, 2007, Blogger TCA said...

It should be said that although SleepMonster are less than favourable in their review of the Cannock Chase event the give this, the Weavers Down event, a good write-up Here

At 9:50 pm, October 29, 2007, Blogger simon said...

so my summing up was a little too harsh? seems not.

We have a kayak race here called the bridge to bridge. 114km. Well run, with first aid check points throughout the course on water and land. drinks and energy bars etc.
Organisers make you feel welcome and understand the different levels of entrants.

When you finish the race and receive a medal you feel you have achieved something (even if you are one of the last)

If there are any concerns for an entrant they send a first aid kayak out just to paddle beside to see if you need to stop etc...

Any complaints are dealt with so as to continue to improve a well run event.

At 10:38 am, October 30, 2007, Blogger Ju's little sister said...

Hi All,

TCA, I loved this write up, and now feel especially guilty about a couple of off-hand remarks I have typed in the past. I love very much not just that you guys went out there and gave it your all, but that you conciously and successfully worked at a team. Huge Kudos and Much Mana to you all. If I had been there as a spectator (cos I'm not sure I'd have the heart to be a competitor) then I would have been whooping with the best of them to see you come over the slippery wall to the finish line.


John seems to hit the nail on the head with his comments about event growth and safety, and I also congratulate the respectful way you have replied to his offense. Simon - I love your passion, and your loyalty!

One of the best posts and comments sections I have read in a long time.

JLS (aka Sarah)

At 10:31 pm, October 30, 2007, Anonymous spm said...

Well done the TCA. Methinks the Trail Plus guy doth protest too much which usually means he is in the wrong and knows it!

I have one complaint and its not the one you are thinking of Al - my complaint is about the mispelling of Longmoor.

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