Bude Awesome Foursome Quadrathlon – Race Report
Wow, what a race! I’ll spare you too much preamble about this race but needless to say, I found myself in Bude on Saturday morning for the Awesome Foursome Quadrathlon. With around 100 participants everyone will have their own story to tell from what turned out to be an epic day. What follows is a race report from my perspective. Organised by Shoreline Extreme Sports the Awesome Foursome Quadrathlon is billed as
an extreme multi-sport race for individuals, pairs and relay teams to enter. This is an established event in the British and European Quadrathlon calendar regularly being a World Cup ranking event.
I’d already ridden around the bike course the day before and had walked some of the run course. It did seem as though it might actually live up to its ‘extreme’ billing. It was also an important event in the British Quadrathlon Association trophy series. As I mentioned in a previous post there was a very slim chance that I could still win the trophy series but to do so I would have to gain the full 120 points for the top BQA finisher on the day and Julian would have to be out of the the top three. Not likely but still possible so the pressure was on. Actually I wasn’t feeling too stressed about it as this was my first year doing Quads and so far it had all been good fun. Today was going to be the same. The course didn’t really suit me and it was quite long too. I’m used to Sprint distance triathlon events but this was going to take 3 times as long. It was therefore all a learning experience for me and I had no idea how it would go. The race day nerves were beginning to kick in.
Setting up in Bude
I’d spent the night camping in the camper just up the road and thanks to the never ending wind and rain didn’t get much sleep.
I can’t blame the weather entirely as I rarely sleep well the night before an event. I was up and breakfasted early so headed into Bude to get a good parking space on the quayside. I met a guy called Bob there who was doing his first Quad and therefore a little unsure of things. He was also a VW fan so admired the camper and got chatting. I also had a little chat with Simon the organiser who was busy setting things up.
The race itself didn’t start until 2:30pm as it was dictated by the tides. It wasn’t even 9am yet so I had a long wait with little to do. This build up to the race is always the worst part as far as nerves and uncertainty goes so 5 hours of it wasn’t ideal. I placed my surf ski in the cordoned area along the quayside and then wandered around checking out the canal, taking a look at the beach and chatting to people as they arrived.
Other than that I sat in the van drinking coffee and reading an amusing book about two guys who cycled from Lands End to John O’Groats starting off with nothing but a pair of boxer shorts each and relying on peoples generosity for everything they needed – food, accommodation, clothes and even their bikes!
The wait was punctuated for a little while at 11am when I registered. I was given a nice looking T-shirt, my race numbers and had my limbs body marked.
I also checked out the course map to make sure I was going where I expected to be going. The sun was shining nicely now and things were drying up along the quayside. Quite a contrast to the soaking wet, storms of the previous day.
I had some lunch and then as the race start approached set my bike and kit up in the transition area and started to get ready. It was all fairly laid back with no transition security or anything like that. Everyone just set up where they wanted to as holiday-makers and ramblers strolled through the transition area as well.
Finally 2pm came around and all the competitors gathered outside the race HQ tent for the race briefing given by Simon who was obviously an old hand at such things. It was the usual stuff warning of us of the dangers we’d face. The main points were
- Strong currents and waves in the swim
- Traffic lights on the hill out of Bude
- The treacherous, slippery, steep descents around Millook on the bike ride (he kind of glossed over the ‘little climbs’ here!)
- The tight 3 (or maybe 4 or 5) point turns around the buoys on the kayak
- The low bridges on the kayak
- The muddy slippery trails on the run
Usually these things are exaggerated to make sure everyone is safe but somehow today I think they were actually down-played a little so as not to scare too many people! With that done we all headed off to the beach where we were to start the Bude Awesome Foursome.
With wetsuits zipped up, hats and goggles on we all entered the water and lined up ready for the start. The river current was indeed strong, the previous days rain was rushing out through the river and into the sea – something to take advantage of in the swim section. Simon counted us down and we were off, following the flow of the river out towards the breakwater where apparently an orange buoy was waiting for us.
The water was brown and thick with river sediment and there was quite a bit of chop so from our vantage point in the river it was impossible to see the buoy at this stage. After a few strokes most of the field were behind me. There was one other guy off to my right and we weaved our way out through the moored boats next to each other. Once we could see the buoy we headed towards that neck and neck and with no idea how close behind us anyone else was. With the help of the current we made it to the buoy in no time, rounded it and then rather than swim back into the current we both headed off parallel to the beach for a bit so as to get out of the current before heading for the beach. This may have made the swim slightly longer but it made sense with such a strong current and once out of the protection of the breakwater we might even be lucky enough to catch some waves to body-surf back to the beach.
We did indeed have a little help from the surf but not much and we both got to our feet on the sand together. We then ran towards a flag on the beach. Being based in Cornwall, this event is well attended by teams from the various local Surf Life-Saving Clubs. I used to work as a lifeguard on the beaches many years ago and guessed that the young lad next to me was a surf-lifeguard and hopefully a member of a team rather than a soloist. He was quite young (late teens probably) so a ‘whipper-snapper’ in my books and he had the pep and verve of whipper-snapper too.
Running through knee deep water over soft sand is quite an art. It involves a powerful, high knee action, flexible hips and the bounce and energy that only young whipper-snappers have. I used to be quite good at it but I quickly discovered that age and experience are no match for youthful exuberance at this particular activity and he pulled away from me through the shallows and then extended that lead a little through the shallow water back to the swim start point. I took a glance behind me and couldn’t see anyone else emerging from the water yet. We then had to dive back into the water for a second lap.
Taking it slightly easier along the beach paid off as I still had plenty left for a second lap of the swim and by the time we got to the turn buoy at the breakwater I’d caught the ‘whipper-snapper’ back up and we rounded the buoy together. (His actual name was either Rhys, Noah, David or Keiran by the way and he was indeed part of a team). I then pulled out a bit of a lead over him on the swim back to the beach and emerged out of the water in first place. He caught me up during the run through the shallows again though and commented on how tough the swim had been as he did so. I asked if he was doing it all and he said that he was just doing the swim and then he decided that the thing to do at this stage was to fist bump his fellow competitor. I’m assuming it was as a sign of admiration for the sporting prowess displayed by a worthy opponent. I reciprocated with a fist bump back – ‘coz I’m down with the kids like that! We then ran across the beach, over a little bridge up along a tramway, up a flight of steps and then 400 metres along the quayside to the transition area.
I started taking my wetsuit off during this run which allowed the whipper-snapper to pull out a bit of a lead as he didn’t have to take his wetsuit off, nor did he have to do anything else after this run. Once in transition all he had to do was tag his team-mate who was waiting ready to head off on his bike and his job was done. I on the other hand had to take off my wetsuit, put on my helmet, get my bike and then head off onto the bike course whilst getting my shoes on. Needless to say the team ahead extended their lead further but I was second out onto the road.
Yep, it was the bike section next – a slightly unusual order for a quadrathlon so I had to concentrate to make sure I was doing the right thing. The bike course turned right off the quayside onto the coast road and up a hill out of Bude. The traffic lights that had been mentioned in the briefing were on green so there was no need for me to cut inside of the cones and I could ride straight through them. The road then climbed up through Upper Lynstone and passed the campsite I had stayed at the night before. It then crested the brow at Upton and undulated its way along the exposed coast towards Widemouth.
I could see the guy ahead of me and I was catching him fast. I was just about to overtake him and move into first place but before I did so someone else overtook me. I then overtook the early leader and was still in second place. During the climb out of Widemouth Bay I actually started catching the guy who had just overtaken me again but we then turned right onto the narrow coast road towards Millook and were greeted with the first of the tricky descents. I was really cautious down this, on the brakes the whole way and teetering around the slippery corners. The gap between me and the leader increased on this descent but once again I clawed some of it back on the steep climb that followed. Before I closed the gap though we were once again descending down and even steeper hill into Millook. Once again I was extra careful and slow on this descent and lost sight of the leader on the road.
Next we faced the monster 30% climb out of Millook. For those that don’t know 30% is crazy steep. Cars struggle up it and I imagine that many people behind me would be pushing their bikes up it. I felt good though and once again caught sight of the leader and was closing the gap. He summited about 15m ahead of me and I crested the hill still in 2nd place.
The next section of the bike ride was along fairly flat twisty country lanes with high hedges on both sides. The sun had gone but it was perfect weather. There was a tailwind here and the temperature was just about right. I was still a little cautious along here though as I couldn’t see what was around the bends and didn’t what to plough headlong into a tractor (or anything else for that matter). As it happens I didn’t see any traffic along here. There was one car reversing into a driveway that I had to stop for but otherwise it was clear all the way. I should probably have pushed a little harder along here as I took it quite easy, but I prefer the safe rather than sorry approach when on the roads.
Another guy overtook me towards the end of this section putting me into 3rd place. We then turned left onto the main A39 and headed back into the wind towards Bude. The wide road with good visibility meant that I was now able to put some effort in and I soon caught and re-passed him so I was back in second place. This didn’t last long as someone else then overtook me. I was going well though and kept them pretty much in sight.
As this was quite a long event I had planned to take on some nutrition during the race. I don’t usually eat or drink anything in a Sprint distance triathlon, but they only take an hour or so. This however was a ‘middle’ distance quadrathlon, it therefore had the extra kayak discipline which would take about an hour on it’s own and everything else was longer too. It was going to take around 3 hours if all went well. I wouldn’t be able to eat or drink on the kayak without falling in so the bike was my only opportunity. I had stashed an energy bar up the leg of my shorts before the swim so extracted that and started to eat it as I headed back towards Bude. I had some energy drink in my bottle too so forced myself to drink most of that as well. As I did so, the guy who I re-passed earlier passed me again as did another guy so I was now 4th on the road but fuelled for the rest of the race.
We were soon back into Bude and at the transition area. I racked my bike, took off my helmet and headed off to my surf-ski that was waiting on the quayside.
It was at this moment that my lack of experience paddling revealed itself. I only started paddling earlier in the year and all of my practise had been from the beach or estuary. Even the quadrathlon in Shrewsbury a couple of weeks ago had been a launch from a little beach on the riverside. All of a sudden I was presented with the puzzle of getting into my ski in deep water from the side of a quay. Not only had I never done this before but I was forced to do it from the right side of the ski. I usually wade into knee deep water and get on from the left side. I sit in the ski, put my right leg in and then paddle off with my left leg hanging over the side for extra stability until I get going. I couldn’t do that here and didn’t really know what the preferred technique was.
I placed my boat in the water and then sat on the quay beside it and kind of shuffled in. I wobbled around a bit grabbed the side of the quay to stabilise myself, grabbed my paddles and carefully pushed off. A little more wobbling ensued but once I got a few clean strokes of my paddles in I was comfortable and raring to go.
The course took us down to the sea lock and around a buoy before heading up past the main race HQ and up the canal. I saw the three people ahead of me starting ont heir paddle up the canal as I headed towards the first buoy. It was quite a tight turn and I did indeed have to take a couple of attempts at it as I wobbled my way around.
I then started on my paddle up the canal. We ducked under a low bridge and emerged out onto the canal proper.
It’s a lovely stretch of water. Quite narrow in most places with a towpath along the nearside side and low hanging trees along the other. There are a few nice houses on the far side but no time to look at them as my gaze was focussed on the people ahead of me. I did seem to be catching two of them but only very slowly. The canal gently weaved it’s way up to and under another low bridge called Rodd’s bridge. As I went under it the leader was going back the other way so it was a bit of a squeeze. Another hundred yards and we came to the top turn around point. The next two guys on the water went back the other way as I headed towards it.
If I thought the bottom turning was tight this one was impossible. My 6.2m long ski would barely fit across it the canal here so I wobbled my way backwards and forwards in what turned out to be about a 9 point turn and eventually set off back down the canal. I think I may have lost some time here and there were now people bearing down on me as well. We paddled back under Rodd’s Bridge all the way back down the canal, under the road bridge and back to the bottom buoy. There were now plenty of other people in their kayaks heading up to the top buoy so I smiled to them and spoke to those familiar faces that I knew. I rounded the bottom buoy and headed off for the second lap.
I’d been going well but it now felt as though the kayak had already been quite long and I was only halfway around it. I lost concentration a bit I think. Not only did I lose ground at each of the turns but the guys in front were now slowly pulling away from me all the time. A few other people passed me too on the second lap but I couldn’t be sure if they were on their first or second lap themselves. I also managed to pick up some weed on my rudder as well. I’m sure it didn’t make much difference and I can’t be the only one it happened to but as I removed it from the rudder later in the day after the race I noticed that many of the K1 kayaks had a little deflector in front of their rudders, presumably to stop weed getting caught on the rudder. Maybe that’s something I need to look into.
The top turn wasn’t any easier the second time around but I got around it, paddled under Rodd’s bridge, back down the canal, under the road bridge and off to the bottom buoy for the third time. As I passed the main race HQ I heard the announcer on the PA mention that someone called “James Escott was just getting into his kayak to start his paddle, He was 24 years old and an international kayaker so would likely make up some places now”. I wobbled my way around the bottom buoy for the final time and as I paddled away from it I heard a big swooshing noise behind me as presumably James Escott showed everyone how it’s done with a fast turn on the spot. He then flew past me in his sleek looking K1 and out onto his first lap as I headed to the quayside to finish my kayak.
I climbed out of my surf-ski and left it there for the helpers to extract from the water and headed off to the transition area with my paddles in hand. There was very little to do in this transition, just slip on my running shoes. That seemed too easy so I sucked on a quick energy gel and drank the final swig of energy drink that was in the water bottle on my bike and headed off onto the run.
Those of you who have done triathlons will know that running off the bike isn’t easy. I’ve always been OK at it though and various brick sessions in training have improved those skills. Running after kayaking is a completely different ball game and apparently much much harder. I’d never done it before so expected the worse! It kind of makes sense, although running off the bike is difficult, the general movement pattern between biking and running is fairly similar. Not so with kayaking and running and you actually use your legs far more than you would think whilst kayaking. You are supposed to drive your legs with every stroke, counteracting the forces generated by the paddles and bracing against the stroke whilst rotating your upper body. You are of course also sat in an odd position. It usually take me a few seconds to even stand up after a kayak session let alone run.
I was therefore pleasantly surprised when all felt fine. My legs seemed to be doing what I asked of them and I was running well. This is probably more a reflection of my lack of paddling technique than any inherent ability to run well after kayaking. Clearly my leg drive while paddling is rubbish and I’m relying on my puny arms too much!
It was paying off at the moment though as I soon overtook someone who commented on my ‘good effort’ as I sped past him. By now I’d lost count of what position I was in but thought it must be around 5th or 6th.
The first part of the run was perfect for me, flat and fast along the canal towpath. I saw familiar faces still out on the kayak as I headed off on the final part of the Awesome Foursome Quadrathlon. Just a mere 10km run to go. I say I was running well and it all felt fine, it wasn’t crazy fast but fast enough and my watch was telling me that I was doing around 6:45mins/mile pace. This slowed a little as I negotiated a gate and Rodd’s bridge but the first mile was still under 7 minutes. Having crossed the bridge we continued along the tow path and up past a couple of sets of lock gates before being directed off into some fields. This is where I knew I’d struggle as I only had my fast race shoes with me. These are lightweight shoes with no tread at all. They are also quite old and need replacing. Sure enough as we entered the field and headed uphill I started to slip. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been but there were a few times where my foot slipped backwards rather than propelling me forwards and I had to put a hand down to stabilise myself. I did see one guy up ahead of me though so maybe I could catch him.
I fumbled with the latch on the next gate and then headed out across another field and then down through a field of recently cut corn stubble, This section was even slipperier so I gingerly made my way down through this field splashing through muddy puddles and aiming for the solid looking patches of mud. My left quad decided to cramp up on this descent but I ignored it. There was one more field that we ran around the edge of and then we emerged out onto the coast road. We crossed this and passed a drinks station. I stopped for a second to grab a drink. It was enough for the cramp to ease slightly and for me to glance back across the fields to see if there was anyone catching me. There wasn’t so I had nothing to worry about in that respect as I headed off up the long climb along the coast path.
The coast path was a narrow rutted path, muddy and slippery in places and rocky in others. I could see the guy in front of me and I was catching him quite well on the climb. The path then levelled off a bit and undulated along the rocky coast. I lost some ground on each of the descents as I made my way carefully down them but gained some time on him on the climbs. Luckily it was mainly climbing so I was closing the gap, although he was still quite a way ahead. After a couple of miles on the coast path we reached Upton and headed out onto the pavement along the coast road. It was now a descent back into Bude. I was still running well but the gap was staying about the same along here. Once in Bude we ran first along one side of the canal, across the lock gates at the end of it and then back up the other side to the finish line. I could see the guy ahead of me already heading towards the finish as I approached the lock gates. There were also plenty of people still out paddling their kayaks in the canal. I wasn’t going to be able to catch him and there was no one visible behind me either. I kept running hard until the end and crossed the line feeling good.
That was it, I had conquered the Bude Awesome Foursome.
I collected my finishers medal and headed off to start packing up, cheering others across the line as I did so.
After the race Jean and the unenviable task of sorting out the points for the trophy series. I don’t think her head was quite in maths mode so soon after the race so we left her to it. I knew I hadn’t won the overall trophy though as there were a couple of BQA members ahead of me today. They wouldn’t win it either but they had prevented me from getting the full 120 points so that would still go to Julian. I should however get the over 40’s trophy so everyone would be a winner!
The prize giving was done before the race was finished and people were still crossing the line long after it. As it had been a mass start it was clear who the winners were so Simon announced these and gave out the prizes as people were still finishing. I picked up second on the day in the V40’s with a time of 2:51:13 and did indeed win the over 40’s trophy series as well. A good day out!
I now however had a long drive back to my parents house and it was already getting late. The M5 was closed too due to a crash and there would be detours to follow and to top it all the drive was in the dark and through torrential rain. I made it though and settled down after an ‘awesome’ day of racing at the Awesome Foursome. Thanks as always to the organisers, marshals and fellow competitors. I can’t wait to do it again.
I had a burger before I left Bude but that’s not the takeaway I’m talking about. Quadrathlons are new to me and every race is a learning experience so what can I take away from this one? First up my swimming is fine, I don’t need to concentrate too much on that and time spent elsewhere will be more productive. I do need a new wetsuit though.
Kayaking is the obvious place where I have most to gain. It’s a new sport to me and the main attraction at the moment as it’s something I can actually improve at. It’s made of of three elements, skills, technique and fitness. I should be able to improve at all three. Skills such as mounting and turning clearly need some work and will hopefully just come with more time on the water and more experience. By technique I refer to the actual dynamics of paddling. Hopefully some sessions over the winter working on this will help, and paddling with others will give me the opportunity to study some proper technique. I’m hoping to join the Chester Canoe club for some sessions and do some of the Conwy Paddlers Time Trials over the winter. Fitness and specific paddle fitness will develop as I do more of it and start some actual proper training sessions rather than just playing in my ski. Who knows, maybe a K1 kayak will be faster than my ski as well!
On the bike I need to improve my descending and maybe take a few more risks here and there. Hopefully the Cyclo-cross season will help somewhat with this. My road bike was the perfect tool for the job here in Bude, but for some flatter races maybe a Time Trial bike would be nice!
As far as running goes then it’s all about losing a bit of weight really. I need to work on some downhill running too as I seem to be slower downhill than I am up. I’ll also bring trail shoes next time I’m at the Awesome Foursome!
Plenty of areas to work on and hopefully I’ll be back again next year.