The Bike List

Ride Report: Haglöfs Open5 Adventure Race Series - North Downs – 2nd February 2014

Team Bike List (Oli and Tom) arrived in Cranleigh, Surrey, feeling nervous as neither of us were too sure of what to expect. This was Oli's first adventure race and this was our first Haglöfs Open5. We knew that because of the amount of rain over the past few weeks that the ground conditions were going to be muddy and wet. It was unlikely to be a fast race, although we were happy to see that he weather forecast for the day was dry but cool.

We parked up and headed straight over to the registration area. We had about an hour before we had to head over to the remote start/finish/transition area, so we had a cup of coffee and a snack, whilst waiting for the event briefing. Unfortunately, the caterer for the day had not turned up and so the team at Open5 were laying on free tea, coffee and biscuits. We had a quick look at the map and made a basic plan for the day, but as some of the controls were dummies, we didn't spend too long on route planning at this stage. After the event briefing we planned our route properly and then headed back to the car to get changed and organise our kit ready to take to the transition area.

The Haglöfs Open5 Race Series is held between Autumn and Spring with 7 events in total. The first event is in Ilkley, in October, and the series finishes in Coniston, in April. As the name suggests the races are 5 hours long, with the aim of visiting controls to collect as many points as possible within the time limit; late finishers have points deducted. The courses are planned so they are a challenge to experienced racers and yet accessible to complete beginners. To achieve this Open5 set up the multisport courses with the high point controls closest to the start/transition/finish area and the further out the controls are the lower value they hold. The control values are weighted to allow roughly two hours to be spent running and three hours are spent on the bike. However, the route choice and actual time spent running and biking is up to you.

Due to Oli's strength being cycling our plan was to spend about 75 to 90 minutes running, covering about 10 to 12 km, and then transition onto our bikes and spend the rest of the time riding. Once we had all our transition kit ready to go, we headed over to the start/transition/finish area, about a kilometre and a half down the road.

We lined our bikes up in the transition area next to our kit bag. After one last check of the kit we needed for running, it was off to the start to dib our electronic score card and be given the control description. We spent a few minutes checking our plan and then set off. We opted to head out along the road for the first couple of kilometres before going off road into the mud. To say the 'going was soft' would be an understatement. It was very wet under foot in the lower sections of the course but we felt 'lucky' that a number of the controls were on well drained forest tracks up a 20% gradient hill. We had set off at a steady pace and were able to maintain that pace once we were up on top of the ridge. All was going well, we were on track, it was dry and the views were great. We'd been out about 50 minutes when we reached the highest point of our run, we'd picked up four controls. As with many popular viewpoints there were a lot of paths heading away from the top and only four marked on the map. We discussed our options, took a bearing and headed off on what I thought was the right path. It turned out I was wrong. After about a kilometre of running we arrived at a crossroads and looked for the control that 'should' have been there. It was not. Luckily for us another team came through at that point and were happy to point out our error. We had only gone about 800 metres out of our way so we picked up a nearby control and headed off to get back on our route. From that point the run went well and we got back to the transition area in two hours, longer than we had planned but our spirits were high as we changed socks and shoes, got some food and fluids inside us and rode out of transition.

Our plan for the bike section was to stay on the roads as much as possible, due to the boggy conditions and the fact that we were both using cyclocross bikes. The first task was to get up onto the ridge that we'd run along earlier, this meant climbing about 100 meters in the 500 meters travelled. Once at the top, it was back into the forest that had confused me so much on the run. Once again we spent longer than planned looking for our second bike control. The next control took us along narrow country lanes that did not seem to have been repaired for a long time. The roads were in awful condition with regular 'wheel eating' pot holes.

We continued along our planned route at a good pace, which did mean at times I was trying to read my map whilst heading down the hill, not something I'd suggest and not something I'll be repeating again as there were a few hairy moments. The plan seemed to be working with mainly road riding and then out and back sections, from the road, for controls.

With about an hour left and 'only' about 10 km to ride we decided to head back and get in a little early, as agreed in our plan. About five kilometres from the end, up to our last control, and on the last climb of the day my energy levels crashed. It should have been a straight forward climb but I had clearly not taken on enough calories during the day and so my legs were having none of it. It felt like a very long slow walk as I pushed the bike up on cold wet feet. Once at the top, we dibbed the control and turned to head home. Unfortunately my brain also refused to work and what should have been an easy navigation decision turned into a drawn out process. The route we chose turned out to be a steep technical decent that challenged my cycling skills. Once at the bottom, however, we had a quick four kilometre sprint home along the roads requiring only straightforward navigation.

We got back to the finish ten minutes early and dibbed the finish control. We grabbed our kit bag and headed back to the registration area to download our electronic score card. There were many comments from the organisers about the cleanliness of Oli's legs compared to the other competitors and looking back on it I reckon he must have had them Teflon coated for the day.

This was Oli's first adventure race and my first Open5 event. In five hours of racing we had run about 15 km, ridden about 32 km and had climbed a total of 1000 meters. We had fun and felt proud of ourselves.

The thing that always strikes me about the adventure racing community is the friendliness of the organisers and participants. Everyone is willing to help you if you look lost. In how many other races would you see your 'opposition' happily helping you out with navigation and passing you with words of encouragement? The Open5 set up is efficient and well organised, with the route planners and organisers on hand to offer route advice. There are no assumptions that you 'should' know what to do and you can ask for as much or as little help as you need. It was a great event, a challenging course and a pleasure to complete. We would totally recommend Open5 events to first timers and more experienced adventure racers alike.

To see the routes taken by each of the teams Open Adventure have published them here.

Words by Tom Crossland & photography by James Kirby 

Event / Organiser Details

An Open5 is an Adventure Racing style event where you visit as many points (controls) as you can by bike and on foot within a 5 hour time limit. There are five entry categories; male and female solo; male, female and mixed pairs. You navigate to each control location using an OS map with pre-printed controls on it (see example map extract on the right). Each control is assigned a value that you get when you start (see example control sheet extract on the right). But beware - some controls are not live, so you can't completely plan your route before you start! The winner is the person who has collected the most points. You can make the event as hard or as easy as you like as there are no fixed routes. You can either run or bike first - it's up to you

Races left in the series

  • 2nd March - Cannock Chase
  • 6th April - Coniston

Entry price - £28 plus £2.50 to rent SI Card if you do not own one.

Other events organised by OpenAdventure

  • Silva 10 trail series - 10km night trail runs the evenings before the Open5 races - £10
  • Coast to Coast in a day Sportive - 28th June
  • ITERA Expedition Adventure Race - 9th - 16th August 
  • Coast to Coast Adventure Race - not running 2014 back in 2015