The Rivette QUESTars Adventure Race Series

Wiltshire Downs Q2 Adventure Race

 

Race Report

The 2017 Questars Adventure Race Series was wide open going into the final event of the year, with a different winner of each adventure race to date. For those vying for a series position this is what it all came down to after six months of trail running, mountain biking and kayaking in the Chilterns, New Forest, South Downs and Brecon Beacons.

Wiltshire played host to the 2017 season finale and the venue for this two-day adventure race was ideally located in the heart of this great area for off road running and cycling. With the Pewsey Downs to the south and the Marlborough Downs to the north there were lots of different routes for participants to explore over the four different stages that lay ahead.

Stage 1 & 2

Stage 1 and stage 2 were combined together - as has become the norm for this event in recent years - to form one big stage with an optional timeout available for participants to take a break part way through the stage whenever they wanted. This gave participants more flexibility over what they did, when they did it and how long they spent on each of the 3 disciplines; trail running, mountain biking and kayaking.

The crux of the stage was deciding how much kayaking and trail running to do. Participants could do the full course option which - in a first for Questars - saw them do a long linear paddle and then run back (or vice versa). The alternative was shorter and more flexible. It followed the traditional one-day adventure race format, where participants do a circular paddle and trail run, starting and finishing each discipline at the same location. How big a loop each team kayaked and ran was up to them and dependent upon how many checkpoints they visited.

Nineteen teams selected to do the long paddle along the Kennet and Avon canal. Unsurprisingly it was Olympic canoeing silver medallist Campbell Walsh who set the fastest kayak time of the day paddling the 10.3 km to visit all the kayak checkpoints (300 pts) in a little under 84 minutes. By doing the long paddle, these teams committed themselves to also running a minimum of 15 km along the Downs that line the north side of the Vale of Pewsey. Campbell Walsh was also the only person score more than 300 points on the trail run. He covered some 20.2 km with 440 m of ascent within two hours to visit all but two of the trail run checkpoints.

There was plenty of good mountain biking up over the chalk grasslands and along Wansdyke – a medieval earth embankment and ditch that stretches as far as the eye can see over the rolling Wiltshire countryside. With the mountain bike checkpoints spread along the tops of the Downs, and the event base on one side and the kayaking on the other, it was difficult to know how best to tackle them. Some teams picked off a few of the bike checkpoints as they crossed the Downs on the way to and from the kayak transition whilst others decided to link them all together by cycling along the length of the Downs in one go.

This latter option may not have been as efficient but it certainly provided some of the best uninterrupted off-road riding. It also provided some of the best views, once the cloud lifted and persistent heavy drizzle ceased around the middle of the day. And this was the approach taken by Campbell Walsh who was the only person to visit all the mountain bike checkpoints. In doing so Campbell cycled over 39 km with 700 m of ascent in 2 hrs 35 mins to earn 350 points.

All this meant that Campbell Walsh had built up a commanding lead by the end of the stage, despite picking up a small penalty for running a few minutes over the six-hour time limit. Campbell’s stage winning score of 945 points was a massive 130 points ahead of his nearest competitors. Both Clare Dallimore and Kevin Stephens scored 815 points but it was Clare who recorded the faster time and hence she ended the afternoon in a very impressive second place overall.

Stage 3

After several hours to eat, drink, rest and recover (as much as possible) it was time for participants to stretch their legs - and minds - with a short run around the woods in the dark. The evening air was notably chilly compared to the warmth of the hall where participants gathered prior to the start. Novice teams set off first at 20 second intervals from 20:00 hrs under the illuminated start arch and they were followed by the Masters.

The first kilometre was easy going along country lanes and got everyone both warmed and loosened up. With only two approaches to the woods and an activity point on one of them, the first thing to decide was whether to go to the activity point straight away or leave it until the end. Of course, teams didn't have to visit the activity point at all but as it was on one of the approaches it made sense to stop and see what the task was. A matchstick puzzle awaited which at first glance looked simple and straight forward enough but in fact turned out to be quite difficult for many to solve. Fifteen teams persevered on until they had correctly solved the puzzle with many spending some time doing so.

For the forty teams that ventured to (and found) the second activity point, there were a number of animals hidden in the woods. Teams had to find a matching pair of animals using trial and error, and a bit of memory too. It wasn’t difficult to do in comparison to the other activity; it was just a case of how quickly and efficiently teams could do it.

Finding the checkpoints at night was always going to be a bit more challenging and this was definitely the case. Not only did participants have the darkness to contend with but they also had to navigate the myriad of trails in the woods, some of which were waterlogged and ankle deep in mud. This tested even the most competent of navigators and challenged the fastest runners as they tried to amass as many points as they could within the time limit. Some teams sensibly decided to conserve their energy for Sunday by finishing early and collecting the 2 bonus points for every whole minute not used after 70 minutes, whilst others went for it and used all of the 90 minutes available to them.

Campbell Walsh completed both activities and ran some 14 km with 300 m of ascent to visit all but one of the checkpoints in 1 hr 27 mins to win stage 3 with a score of 316 pts. Kris Smith came second with 285 pts whilst leading lady Clare Dallimore put in another excellent solo performance to come fourth overall with 244 pts. A special mention also goes to the Novice men’s pair of David Powesland & Martyn Driscoll who with a score of 264 pts not only scored 50 more points than any other Novice team, but also outscored all but the top two people in the Masters category!

Stage 4

After a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast, participants found themselves back on the start line for the final stage. There was virtually no wind and the sun shone down between the breaks in the cloud, giving near-perfect weather conditions for what lay ahead: 3-4 hours of trail running and mountain biking, with a couple optional activities thrown in for good measure. The first decision was whether to run or bike first. There was no right answer; it just boiled down to personal preference and timings. The majority of teams decided to mountain bike first, which was perhaps slightly favourable due to the size of the course. But 23 teams did choose to start with the run including race leader Campbell Walsh.

The trail run took teams back into the woods they’d explored the evening before. For those that had struggled in the dark it was a chance for them to see if they could do any better second time around, in daylight. It also revealed the hidden beauty of the autumnal beech woodland together with just how wet and muddy some of the trails were – two things that could not fully appreciated in the dark. Eighteen teams ran a minimum of 10km with 200m of ascent to score 180 pts by visiting all the run checkpoints, with the eventual stage winner doing so in 1 hr 12 mins having mountain biked first.

The mountain biking made full use of the network of byways and bridleways, which provided some great off road riding up on the Marlborough Downs. Despite the surface of some tracks being wet and muddy in places, the going was on the whole very good. And this was reflected in the times recorded with Kevin Stephens taking just under 2 hrs 40 mins to cycle over 45km with 700m of ascent. Kevin was the fastest of six teams who cleared the mountain bike course to score the maximum 480 pts for this discipline.

As usual there were also a couple of activity points where teams could earn bonus points by successfully completing additional challenges. The tasks were not particularly difficult but they did require a bit of thought and some memory - something that’s not quite as easy as it should be when you are both physically and mentally tired. Of the teams that visited Activity Point 3, 38 correctly solved the ‘Start to Finish’ puzzle whilst 50 teams completed the construction task at Activity Point 4.

Kris Smith completed both activities, cleared the run and visited all but one of the bike checkpoints in 3:53:28 to win Stage 4 with a score of 686 pts. It was close though with Campbell Walsh coming home 14 points behind Kris on 672 pts, and just 5 points ahead of Tom Hards in third. Natalie Taylor was the highest scoring lady; she scored 605 pts racing together with her mixed team partner Gary Davies.

Results

After two days and four stages, and almost eleven hours of running, biking and kayaking, Campbell Walsh was declared the race winner with a huge total of 1933 pts. Kris Smith (Team EnduranceLife) had steadily improved his position throughout the stages to finish second overall on 1775 pts whilst Tom Hards took third place with a total of 1637 pts. Clare Dallimore finished first in every stage to top the ladies class and come fourth overall with a high score of 1619 pts.

And in the mixed team class it was close at the top with just 1 point separating Natalie Taylor & Gary Davies (Team EnduranceLife) from Molly Ralphson & Peter Stobbs (Trawden AC) at the end of stage 3. After stage 4 the gap had only marginally increased, with Natalie & Gary beating Molly & Peter by just 3 pts with a class winning score of 1539 pts.

Phil Carrivick & Tom Powell Tuck won the Novice category with a total of 1338 pts, 50 pts clear of veteran Keith Brewster (Exmoor Triathlon Club) in second place. Clare & Katy Howes were the highest scoring novice ladies with 1130 pts whilst top of the novice mixed team class with 1044 pts were Serean Von Der Heyde & Dave Pepper.

Congratulations to the aforementioned winners of each class who each took home prizes thanks to the kind support from our event partners Likeys, Clif Bar, Amphibia, Stique & MapDec. And well done to everyone who took part and completed their own personal challenge. See the full race results. As this was the last race of the year there was also the ‘small’ matter of awarding the series trophies and some super series prizes which this year included a free weekend away worth up to £450 courtesy of MuchBetterAdventures and £400 of vouchers to spend on outdoor clothing and equipment at Likeys.

Campbell Walsh scored the maximum 3000 series points by winning this race and the Chilterns adventure race back in July to be crowned the 2017 Questars adventure race series champion. Kris Smith was also a late series contender and only took part in the last couple of races, but he scored highly in these to finish second in the series with a score of 2746 pts. Third place went to Tom Hards who scored consistently in every race to remain in the top 3 throughout the year and finish with a series score of 2664 pts.

Helen Chapman ended the season on 2509 series points which saw her clinch the ladies 2017 Series Champion title and finish in eleventh place overall. Karen Jones competed in every race with mixed team partner Andy Jones and came close to Helen a couple of times during the year but her final series score of 2371 points meant she finished as the second placed lady in the 2017 Series. The battle for the final spot on the ladies’ podium was closely fought with Emma Gill’s series total of 2196 pts just five points more than that of Maggie Salter who had to settle for the fourth ladies place. See the final 2017 Series Leaderboard.

Questars adventure races will be back in March 2018 for another exciting series of adventure racing. Keep an eye on the website noticeboard for the 2018 race dates and locations which will be announced over the coming weeks.

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