Dyffryn Conwy Mountain Challenge 2016, the view from first timer Lance!

BQA Member Lance Ball has done us this account of the race, it was his first Conwy Race he has shared his story and hopefully it will inspire you all!

It may be the middle of September but we were to be graced with a glorious day ahead. As we picked up our kayaks in the car park, competitors were taking thermal tops off and were applying last minute sun cream ….  maybe I should have brought some!

The tidal flow in the middle of the estuary could easily be seen from the bank travelling at a fast pace to help us upstream. Having sought advice beforehand, I decided not to use my flat water racer, but instead, play it safe and borrow a friends stable sea kayak.  I was one of the first onto the water at 11am to paddle down to the start and get a feel for this kayak that I hadn’t used before. The start was at a bank near to Conwy Castle. The bank was smooth except for a tiny small jagged part which I spotted and thought would make a good point to hold on to whilst waiting around. Unfortunately it was a bit too jagged and I cut my finger on it. Not the best way to start my race.

Everyone was making light hearted banter and it was clear that this race appealed to a friendly bunch of athletes.

At 11:30 we were off. I was initially boxed in, but quite happy as that just gave me more people to potentially draft. I was never going to be near the front, there were some seriously good paddlers taking part. Everyone appeared to set off at a fair rate of knots. As the fastest paddlers pulled away into the distance, I fell in behind a middle group of paddlers that were generally quicker than me, but by putting a large amount of effort in I was just able to keep up with them. I’d get in their wake as much as possible, but it wasn’t easy staying there. With no skeg or rudder I found it difficult in the current to stay on the back of them. Now and again I got dropped, but continually tried options to get back behind them. Sometimes by looking for a faster way around a bend, sometimes making the most of the wave created by the passing safety boat. Often by sheer bursts of effort. I knew that if I didn’t keep up, that I would quickly get left behind if paddling on my own. The fast tidal flow was great for assisting us to the end, but I found the conditions hard work.

I covered about 80% of the kayak leg before I started to get dropped and just couldn’t keep up any longer. The person ahead was pulling away and over the next 5 minutes just increased their gap considerably. Then suddenly I started to catch them very quickly. As I started to overtake, they commented that they must have something caught on their rudder as they were hardly moving any faster than the flow.

I stopped and pulled in behind them to have a look. They appeared to be dragging an entire hedge through the water behind them. I cleared the debris off and they were very grateful, telling me to stick in their wake and that we would both make up for lost time. I stuck with them to the finish of the kayak leg and as a result, I probably finished quicker than if I hadn’t had stopped at all.

A very quick drink and a few jelly babies and I was off on the run. Total time for the 13mile kayak plus transition 1hr 11min 14secs. (Compared to the overall winner who took 52min 3secs.)

Considering how much effort I had put in on the kayak, I felt pretty good starting the run. It’s always the discipline that I’m happiest in. After crossing the road, the path became very steep, so then it was just a hard walk most of the way until the flattish track that leads to the reservoir. Once on this track I got into a rhythm running alongside someone wearing an Eryri Harriers top. We chatted and swapped stories. I know Eryri runners like their fell races, so thought that I couldn’t be doing too badly if I was managing to keep up with one of them.

I only momentarily stopped at the check point before the reservoir, for a very quick gulp of the water on offer, grabbed a few more jelly babies and continued at the same pace to the reservoir.

Just after the reservoir I overtook a few competitors but the path wasn’t so defined. I ended up trudging through rough areas a little off the ideal track. Not good since debris was now going into my shoes and making progress uncomfortable. However I wasn’t going to slow down and I found myself behind someone who appeared to be quick and knew exactly where they were going. I stayed on their heels putting all effort into staying right behind them rather than needing to think where I was going. Together we overtook quite a number on the way down.

Into transition at the centre grounds it was a relief to get to the end of the run. Having decided not to wear socks, to speed up transitions, I’d got blisters and both my Achilles were extremely sore and bleeding. 12km fell run time 1hr 42min 56 secs (Overall winner took 1hr 22min 57secs)

I got the debris out of the shoes and briefly washed my Achilles before setting off on the bike. How I wished that I’d have left some socks in transition just in case, but too late now.

After a brief road section we turned onto a very steep section up towards the Marin Trail. I had made a mistake on which bike to take, having opted for a rather heavy dual suspension 29er rather than my much lighter hardtail. I didn’t know what the course would be like so opted for safety and comfort rather than all out speed. The extra weight was going to be detrimental going up these hills.

All was going o.k. as I continued up the wide, fairly smooth forest type paths when suddenly as I changed gear, the chain came off and my derailleur went into my spokes. A slight problem I thought as I put the chain back on, but no, it wasn’t slight. I couldn’t get the derailleur and chain to move. Several people went past and we exchanged comments about how the race was going. One of them thought that there might be a check point further up where there may just possibly be someone who might be able to help. So I decided to carry on pushing the bike up the hill.

After several minutes I made it to the point where the first technical trail started. Unfortunately there was no checkpoint here and no-one to be seen, so thought that my race was finished. However I wasn’t going to give up just yet. I emptied what tools I had onto the floor, grabbed something to eat and drink and tried what I could to un-jam the derailleur. Unfortunately, the bracket holding the derailleur had bent and it wasn’t going to be fixable there. Several more competitors went past and asked if I needed anything, but unsurprisingly no-one had a large vice and a big hammer in their back packs.

After what seemed like an eternity, I managed to get the derailleur to at least be in a position where it gave me one single gear. I couldn’t even use the front sprockets to provide a second ratio, since even that slight movement caused problems, so that was it, I had one gear and I was going to finish on that, even if that meant pushing it up the hills. I commenced on the next technical section and the gear that I did have at least seemed to be suitable to make reasonable progress.

I made it to the checkpoint and had a brief chat with the marshal who wished me luck in getting to the end with the problems I had. One of the competitors encouraged me by suggesting that we were now at one of the highest points, so most of the course would now be downhill at least. They were certainly correct and I made the most of the downhill sections, keeping my speed up on the technical sections, so as not to lose too much time.

On the last uphill section, I was pushing the bike along, when I came across a fellow competitor half sitting and half lying on the path. He looked in some pain and said that he was having severe cramp. I stopped and grabbed each of his legs in turn to massage their calf muscles and stretch his tendons. Then passed him some drink and an energy gel. Meanwhile another competitor went past joking that they were a tortoise but destined to beat the hare’s in this race. The person appeared to be recovering and told me that after this last hill we were on, it was then all downhill. That was great to here, I knew that I could finish now, as once I had pushed my bike to the top, I could always freewheel to the end if I really had to.

I really enjoyed the last section, knowing that I would now make it to the end, I could enjoy each small jump along the trail, the banked bends and the final descent through patches of water. When I crossed the finishing line it wasn’t so much a relief as wishing the downhill trail continued a bit further, as long as there were no more up hills! 19 km bike leg time 1hr 48min 35secs (overall winner took 1hr 5min 37secs)

Overall finishing time 4hrs 42min 45secs (overall winner took 3hrs 20min, 37secs)

Lance’s Summary below, truly describes the essence of this Race. Once again a big Thank-you on behalf of the BQA to ‘Ellie Salisbury’  and all involved, I’m sure there are so many more stories being shared!  (Jean)

‘What a fantastic race …. It’s tough, but wow what a day! The organisers and marshals were fabulous. It can’t be easy putting together a race like this, especially where the start is so far away from the end and sections of it are away from civilisation. Then there are the competitors who were all so friendly no matter how tough the race became. 

We appear to be at a time where dozens and dozens of commercialised races are appearing that make vast profits for the organisers because people are happy to pay big sums to join large crowds and get muddy in a field.

But then there are unique races like the Dyffryn Conwy Mountain Challenge. Unheard of by most. Put on by a group of dedicated people for a particular type of individual. This is the first time that I have taken part in this race. Despite the blisters, cuts, sores, aches, pains and sunburn, I certainly intend to be back to take part again. Just next time with a sleeker kayak, lighter bike and definitely a pair of socks.

Thanks to everyone involved in making this event happen’.