The Rivette QUESTars Adventure Race Series

Exmoor Q2 Adventure Race


Race Report

Exmoor was the setting for the final event in the 2016 Questars Adventure Race Series, which saw participants take part in four stages over two days. Many of the top adventure racers took part, hoping to improve their series score and become the 2016 Series Champion. Alongside them were a good number of people who had never done an adventure race before, and at the pre-race briefing they were warned not to try and visit every checkpoint but rather to concentrate on what they enjoy most - whether that be running, biking or kayaking.

To those that don’t know the area, Exmoor may conjure up idyllic images of gently rolling hills and moorland but this is somewhat misleading as the terrain is cut in places by steep-sided valleys that are largely hidden from view. Experienced map readers may have spotted this when they studied the stage maps that they were given at registration. For others though it was not until they encountered them that they truly understood just how big a challenge the terrain was going to be.

The Saturday morning and Saturday afternoon stages were once again combined into one stage (Stage 1&2) to give participants maximum flexibility over what they did and when. However, this time rather than a mandatory set-time break, teams had the option of taking a time out at the remote transition point whenever and for however long they wanted - they just had to make sure they got back to the finish before the stage closed at 17:30.

With the trail run and kayaking both starting and finishing from the same remote transition point, everyone set off on bikes from the event base at Wheddon Cross. The sun was out and there was a glorious blue sky early on. But it didn’t last long and by the time the last Novice teams started the clouds were already beginning to roll in.

The Masters teams were first to kayak with many choosing to take the off road route, downhill along a bridleway to Wimbleball Lake. It was all good going apart from one particularly muddy gateway which just delayed the inevitable for those that tried to cross without getting their feet wet and dirty. The water level on the lake was low (the reservoir was only half full) which meant participants didn’t have so far to paddle. It also meant that when the heavy showers arrived around midday the surface of the water was a little bit more protected from the squalls. Fourteen teams visited all seven kayak checkpoints (250 pts), paddling a total of 9 km in the process. Of these, the fastest time of the day was recorded by the mixed pair of Karen Dunford & Allen Kelly who cleared the kayaking in 1:11:59 – a good couple of minutes quicker than anyone else.

The big decision on the Trail Run was whether to run all the way around the lake or just visit the concentration of checkpoints located on its southern side. On the map the path around the lake looked fairly flat but in reality it was up and down most of the way. This coupled with the rain that made the trail slippery in places and the fact there were a couple of deceptively large inlets to get around, made going around the lake a bigger challenge than it perhaps looked. Of the seven teams that covered the 15 km (minimum) with some 350 m of ascent to visit all 10 trail run checkpoints (250 pts), Rob Smart was the fastest to do so in 1:41:31.

Most of the top teams took their time out after their Trail Run to rest and refuel before getting back on their bikes. The mountain bike checkpoints were spread far and wide. Some could be reached on roads whilst others required venturing off road onto the byways and bridleways which quickly turned to mud in the rain. The trick was to link the check-points together so most of the uphill was done on roads, and to stay on the high ground if you didn’t want to endure a long climb back up out of one of the steep-sided valleys. Kevin Stephens visited all but one of the Mt Bike checkpoints to earn 470 pts (the highest bike score of the day) covering some 50 km with over 1200 m of ascent. This saw Kevin finish the stage in second place overall 52 points behind Rob Smart who despite getting two punctures and finishing 20 minutes late, still managed to score 905 pts.

There were a good few hours to recover before the start of the night stage but this time disappeared all too quickly for tired limbs and participants were soon congregating under the start arch once again. The darkness, steep sided valleys, multiple woodland trails and wet conditions underfoot all made it tough going. And then there was also the mist on the high ground which caused particular problems for those who wore glasses and meant the few people that did make it up onto Dunkery Hill were precluded from seeing the twinkling lights of distant towns and villages. But at least the earlier showers had passed and back at the event base the full moon made fleeting appearances through the thin cloud.

The stage was won by Novice Ladies Pollie Boyle & Allegra Dowding, who despite returning 12 minutes late, visited all but one of the checkpoints to score 261 pts, covering a distance of about 12.6 km with 430 m of ascent. Kevin Stephens was the highest scoring Master with 245 pts whilst rival Rob Smart played it safe - perhaps too safe - finishing early to benefit from the points available for doing so and to save himself for what was still to come. Rob’s score of 193 pts meant he was tied with Kevin on 1098 pts after Stage 3. So the race, and the series, all came down to the fourth and final stage.

Sunshine and scattered clouds greeted participants on Sunday morning as they started Stage 4 on bikes. The course was a big one for the time allowed (4 hrs for Masters) and even the top teams would have to pick and choose which checkpoints they visited. Most realised that to score highly they would have to visit at least some of the trail run checkpoints and planned a route accordingly.

The trail run took place in the woods near Dunster and everyone adopted a different approach as to the checkpoints they visited and the order in which they did so. Kevin Stephens was the only person to visit the checkpoint on the trig point at the top of the hill, setting the highest score of 160 pts for the trail run. It would have been more but he misread the instructions and missed out on 20 pts for visiting the tallest tree in England. Physical exertion tires the mind as well as the body and this was starting to show especially when teams were presented with an optional cerebral activity at the remote transition point. Some passed on the opportunity straight away, others deliberated on whether to do it, whilst virtually all those that gave it a go did complete it – it just took some longer than others!

Half the teams choose not to do any running and spent the entire time mountain biking. Most cycled over Dunkery Hill where the climb up was rewarded with far reaching views over to South Wales and beyond, and some good off road riding along the top before a thrilling bone-rattling descent back down. Magnus Mill scored 390 pts on the bike - the highest of the day. This coupled with his trail run and the fact he finished a couple of minutes early saw Magnus win the stage with a score of 482 pts to take third place overall across the two days with a total of 1477 pts. Kevin Stephens collected 480 pts in total but was 9 minutes late back to end with a score of 435 pts for Stage 4 whilst Rob Smart played it safe (again) and finished early to score 446 pts.  And so by just 11 points the race win went to Rob Smart who after almost 12 hours of running, biking and kayaking scored 1544 pts. Kevin Stephens was second with 1533 pts.

Carol & Andy Yarrow won the mixed class with a round total of 1400 pts from the two days whilst 1152 pts saw Pip Hare & Isla Reynolds come first in the ladies class. The Novice category was won by the mixed team of Alanda & James Scott who scored 1131 pts. Andrew Coombs, Andrew Ridley & Tommy Murrin were the top men’s team and second overall in the Novice category with 1102 pts whilst the Novice ladies class was won with 1048 pts scored by Pollie Boyle & Allegra Dowding. Well done to them and everyone who took part - see the full race results.

In the series, Rob Smart’s race win in Exmoor was just enough to see him crowned the 2016 Questars adventure race series champion with a series total of 2952 pts - only 7 pts more than runner-up Kevin Stephen. Adam Jackson didn’t compete in Exmoor but the 2868 series points that he had amassed from races earlier in the year saw him end the season in third place. The Exmoor race results made it all change at the top for the ladies with Carol Yarrow and Laura Ashfield both making up lots of places to take first and second with 2683 and 2466 pts respectively. And Amy Bryant also improved her series score to come third with 2404 pts. See the final 2016 Series Leaderboard.

Thanks to event partners Muc-Off, Clif Bar, MapDec, Stique & BCH Camping for providing both the race and series prizes this year. Questars adventure races will be back next spring for another series of events in 2017.

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