Lost Soles on the Front Foot
The fine morning of 18 May found the ‘Lost Soles’ – aka Rebecca Topham, Kate Browning, Laura Price (Dursley) and Denise Evans (Gloucester) – heading to Pershore, Worcestershire, for their first foray into adventure racing. During the course of the 5-hour race, the women would find themselves mountain biking, trail running and kayaking to reach checkpoints around the course. The day’s winners would be those with the highest point scores, but teams only collected the checkpoint values and descriptions once their 5-hour clock had started. This meant decisions had to be made swiftly – so, four women, one (or two) maps, one compass … bring on the clichés? Not at all. Demolishing all gender stereotypes, the women were soon speeding on their way, opting to start with a steady road-based biking section to stretch their legs and get their first points.
The comforts of the tarmac were soon lost as the team took to bridleways to reach the more elusive checkpoints. At one point, Browning, a confident biker, demonstrated how to cross a deep ford without dismounting. Her team mates expressed admiration while hastily dismounting, electing to soak their feet rather than attempt anything quite so daring.
Not only did teams have to plan and navigate their route, they also had to keep careful checks on the clock. The women could only be in their kayaks from 13.00 to 14.00, so they had to ensure they reached the run transition in good time to get to the kayak transition on time. Leaving a men’s team in their dust, the women got into their kayaks with 5 minutes of their hour lost. Topham and Price were soon off down the river Avon collecting points while Evans and Browning, nursing a shoulder injury that hampered her oar skills, remained close behind. With 75% of the team never having kayaked previously, the women were delighted to make it back to transition within the hour having collected the majority of the points available.
Calm negotiations, which saw Price decidedly overruled, meant the team spent the majority of the remaining time on foot, running (mostly) around and over Bredon Hill. Browning and Topham were visibly tortured by having to run so slowly, but they were frequently reminded by their team mates that “there’s no ‘I’ in team” – the race rules state that all members must stay with 10 m of each other at all times. Browning eventually resorted to bribing Price to reach the last and highest-scoring checkpoint by promising her some food … an extremely effective tactic, and one to be remembered for future races … The women were slightly daunted by the fact they seemed to be running in the opposite direction to most other teams they encountered, but then discovered that their route entailed practically freefalling off the top of the Hill as the footpath was so steep.
A gentle bike back to the finish was made all the more enjoyable for Evans when the full extent of her ladybike gearing was explained, though tactically, leaving this till the team re-entered the car park was, in retrospect, a mistake. The women finished in 4:35:57, well inside their 5-hour slot. Even more impressively, they found themselves taking top slot in their ‘Novice Ladies’ category, 70 points and 24 minutes ahead of their closest competition, and were 20th out of 51 novice teams overall.
Topham was praised by her fellow Soles for her navigation skills during the day. On the journey home, Evans announced her retirement from adventure racing, claiming she had enjoyed it immensely but wanted to leave the sport while at the peak of achievement … The team will miss her enormously and were full of praise for her biking (with smaller wheels she had had to work twice as hard as the others).
The next race for the Lost Soles is in Wiltshire on 13 July. Sign up at www.questars.co.uk/adventure-race-wiltshire-2013.html if you think you can beat them!