Last year the Open5 series by Open Adventure were some of my favourite races of the season. I was disappointed to have to pull out of both their December and January races due to injury/illness, so as you can imagine I was very excited to be back up and running (kind of!) for their February race in Blanchland – North Pennines.
About a 3-hour drive from Sheffield, I worked out I needed to leave the house at 5.30am latest. For once I had got myself organised and went to bed the night before with everything packed up and ready to go – it was all going to go smoothly…
As if! 6.00am on the dot I woke up and panicked! For some reason, my alarm hadn’t gone off, or rather had gone off but not made a noise. I worked out I could just about make it for registration if I left the house in the next 10 minutes, so stuffing some toast in my mouth I did just that. Luckily being the first thing on a Sunday morning, there was no traffic, and I made good progress until I was about 6 miles off Blanchland – here I met a slight obstacle – a lot of snow! Thank goodness I was in Bertie (my old and rickety but very trusty 4×4). Continuing with debatable control, the weather slowed me down considerably, but fortune seemed to be on my side, and I made it to registration with about five minutes to spare and a very elevated heart rate despite having not started racing yet!
I soon calmed down! The atmosphere at these events is so lovely, and everyone is so friendly you can’t be stressed for long. I quickly packed up my kit and headed for the start line. The plan for the day was to run first then bike second – the idea behind this was to try my best not to get too competitive and overdo it with the ankle (bearing in mind I’m not really meant to be running yet). So I was under strict instructions to walk to one checkpoint then bike the rest – this loosely translated in my head to gently running to four!
Map and compass in hand I set off into the snow. Soon the sun and blue skies came out; it was absolutely stunning. Despite only doing a very short run the trails I did were beautiful, my favourite section was a snowy path alongside the river up to a waterfall to get a checkpoint. Short but sweet, I’d have loved to do more on foot, but the ankle just isn’t ready yet.
After a relaxed turn around I was on the bike and ready to push things a bit harder – which was a good thing as the route I had chosen went straight up a 20% hill (hello legs!). Having done a few of these events before I have learnt the hard way to make sure you look at what sort of terrain you are climbing and descending on. Typically I would end up slogging up a technical muddy track and descending on the road, however, this time I got it the right way round. Climbing along the road I eventually turned off into Slaley Forest.
This was the best section of the day for me – cycling between the trees with the snow falling, it was so peaceful. I had to keep reminding myself to crack on a bit and stop admiring the view! From here the forest opened out to reveal a picturesque Blanchland Moor. The tracks here were super slippery but fun – covered in mud and snow I was falling off the bike more than staying on it, but having a great time. I was also pleased to see that I was making real progress on bagging checkpoints too. A few hours later I had managed to get all bar 3 of the mountain bike ones.
Heading toward the finish in a snowstorm I had already decided this had been one of my favourite Open5’s so far. I may not have placed particularly well having not actually run, but I was thrilled to be back out and racing.
I know there is a lot of hard work and rehab still to be done on the ankle, but the great thing about these events is that they are there to be enjoyed. There is always a good range of abilities and ages, but everyone is there for the same reason – to have a great day out – and the atmosphere reflects that. As I have said before, I would totally recommend giving these events a go if it sounds like your sort of thing. The next Open5 event is on the 13th March in the Lake District for more details on that just click here.
Finally, I would like to say a quick thank you to Adventure Sports Photographer – James Kirby for letting share his photos from the day – for more info on his fantastic work just check out his website.