Dearne Valley Quadrathlon – Race Report
Eight weeks after injuring my achilles, during which time I missed the first Quadrathlon race of the season, I felt as though it was mended enough to run again. I wasn’t 100% sure how it would cope with a race situation but I was looking forward to the Dearne Valley Quadrathlon so decided to give it a go. I did manage a couple of very easy, very short, runs the week before. First just 3 minutes, then 5 minutes and finally a 10 minute jog. My achilles was a little tight and sore during these test runs but was fine the next day. That was good enough for me to risk it, especially as the run section would be last in the race and was ‘only’ 5km. I could always walk it if needed – as if that would happen!
Manvers Waterfront Boat Club
I left home early on Saturday morning for the 4 hour drive to Manvers Waterfront Boat Club not far from Rotherham. I’d paid for camping and fancied a little camp trip and a chilled weekend along with the racing. Getting there early would allow me to check out the course as well as have a weekend away in the vamper. The drive there was fine, the usual Welsh roads and scenery, followed by the motorways of the North West, and then a more scenic but somewhat busy jaunt across the Peak District. All finished off with a never ending series of roundabouts and ring roads before I arrived at Manvers Waterfront Boat Club in the Dearne Valley.
It was certainly a lively place. There were people everywhere; swimmers swimming, stand-up-paddleboarders paddling, canoeists canoeing, kayakers, kayaking, fishermen fishing, sailors sailing, windsurfers windsurfing, remote controlled boats being remote controlled. It was a hive of activity, and that was just on the water. Off the water there were picnickers, dog walkers, cyclists, runners and people just enjoying the blazing sunshine. The café was packed, the boat house was busy and it was all go.
I managed to find Mark who runs the place and he told me where I could park up. I found a nice secluded grassy spot, but it took me a while to get there as everyone was just so friendly and wanted to chat. I soon knew more about Manvers Waterfront Boat Club and it’s people than I had expected. They were all really enthusiastic about the place and seemed to love it. Manvers Lake was created in the 1990’s as part of the remediation works following the closure of the Wath Main & Manvers Main colliery complex and associated railway yards. The former open cast mine was now serving a functional purpose as a balancing lake forming part of a sustainable urban drainage scheme for the surrounding residential and industrial developments. Mark who runs the boat club saw the recreational potential of it. In 2011 various grants and charitable schemes saw the boat club formed. It has a huge purpose built boat house and now has over 600 members. It is owned by the Manvers Lake & Dearne Valley Trust Ltd, a charitable company formed to look after the lake and surrounding area and is run by a team of very enthusiastic staff and volunteers. The lake is a watersports paradise and the old railway lines are now footpaths and cycle paths. It certainly seemed to be thriving today.
I found a nice seclude grassy spot to park up in overlooking the lake but a short distance away from the main boathouse, cafe and slipway. I could still see all of the action but had a little bit of privacy too. There was a short kids Quad going on today for a Scout Group so the lake was busy and everyone was having a glorious day.
Course Recce – Kayak
I didn’t have time to play at camping yet though as I had already been talked into going for a paddle with a lad named Blake. His Dad had been chatting to me by the club-house and had told me to get out on the water with his son who was out there training in a sleek looking K1. I didn’t need much persuading to be honest. After a long drive the sun-sparkled waters of the lake looked quite inviting.
I was soon on the water and pootling around what would be the kayak course for tomorrow. It turned out we were going the wrong way around it but it didn’t really matter as it was a fairly straight forward four sided ‘loop’ around the main lake. We paddled around the islands at the far end of the lake as well and then had a faster loop of the course racing each other. Blake was pretty good in his kayak, but I couldn’t let a 14 year old beat me!
Once off the water I chilled by the camper for a bit, had some lunch and soaked up the sunshine.
My secluded spot wasn’t quite a secluded as I had hoped though with groups of walkers passing by at regular intervals all admiring the camper as they did so. There was a planned bike recce run by the organisers at 4pm so I sat in the sun waiting to get ready for that. I’m not too good at sitting and chilling though so I was soon wandering around where I bumped into Cliff and Jacqueline and then Bryce and Helen all of whom would be racing in the Quad tomorrow. We ate ice creams and chatted for a while and then decided to head off on a course recce of our own as Cliff and Jacqueline knew the course so could show us around. Bryce and I hadn’t been here before so followed Cliff out onto the course.
Course Recce – Bike
The track was narrow and gravelly with a few obstacles in the form of kerbs, railway sleepers and huge boulders in the middle of the path. These were all in an attempt to keep motor-vehicles off the path but would be quite a hazard if cycling at speed. In fact, Cliff soon ended up the wrong way up as his wheels caught a little kerb as he rounded one of the boulders. He got back on his bike unscathed though and we continued on. The track was narrow and overgrown in a few places to start with so we’d have to be cautious here too as there would be oncoming cyclists, joggers or dog-walkers around any of the bends. It did widen up a little after a couple of road crossings. The road crossings involved threading ourselves through little squeeze gates too. Even once the track was wider there was little chance to really get into a fast rhythm or going flat out on a course like this. Dog walkers and their dogs could be a nightmare once we were trying to race along here. There was also a couple times where the track went under road bridges. There were small dips into blind corners here and short sections of rutted muddy track before another set of blind corners as we emerged from under the bridge. All places to be cautious, but at least we now knew what to expect.
There was plenty to chat about on the ride which took us along part of the Trans Pennine Trail and alongside the wetlands of RSPB Dearne Valley Old Moor. I chatted to Jacqueline and Cliff got to know Bryce for the first time. I’d raced against him in Shrewsbury last year where he beat me by about 30 seconds having done no real training for Quads, but I had never chatted to him. Having seen his name on the start list for tomorrow’s race I was expecting him to beat me and chatting to him today only reinforced that. He’s certainly fast on the bike having racing for years including Time Trial World Champs and such like. His background is in Surf Life-Saving too so no doubt having trained this year his swimming would be pretty good and he’s pretty handy on a Surf Ski too. He’s competed in Surf Life-Savings championships on the ski and has recently been racing SUP at quite a high level too. At way over 6ft he towers over me and is certainly built for speed.
I still hoped to beat him out of the swim and having now seen the bike course thought I might be able to hold him off on it until just after the turn-around point as it wasn’t going to be fast for anyone. I expected him to overtake me on the way back on the bike and then pull out a healthy lead on the remainder of the bike and throughout the kayak. I might be able to hold that gap or even claw back a little of it on the run but only if my achilles held up.
As we came back from our bike recce to the lakeside I had neighbours. Jean and Dave were parked up next to me so we all stopped there and sat in the sunshine drinking teas and chatting for a while. I think we all got our excuses in ready for any poor performances in the race tomorrow. As the afternoon turned to evening Cliff, Jacqueline and Bryce left for their friends house / hotel. I had a shower in the club house and collected a key fob so that I had access to the facilities overnight. I then found a quick geocache that was 50m from the camper and walked into a nearby Tesco for some supplies. Dinner was eating al fresco beside the camper as the sunset over Manvers Lake.
I didn’t sleep much as per usual, despite the cosy, comfortable van. I was up again by 3am and wandering around the lake by 5am. Eventually, after breakfast, a few coffees and watching the mist rise from the lake for a while things started to liven up as people turned up ready to race.
It was always going to be a fairly laid back affair. Mark the organiser was as chilled as you can get and his army of helpers seemed to have everything under control. Most things were in place the night before and the finishing touches were being put in place as we started setting things up in transition. The organisers were super keen to make sure everything went well, make sure everyone had a good time and to continuously make improvements. It seemed to be working. Boats and paddles were set up beside the lake.
Transition areas were set up with bikes, helmets, sunglasses race numbers, cycling shoes, running shoes, buoyancy aids, visors and the other paraphernalia of a Quadrathlon. The above list was mine and I tend to travel light, other people had much more. More clothing and more things as far as hydration and re-fuelling went. I hoped it wouldn’t take long enough to necessitate such things. The visor and sunglasses were an addition to my usual kit. Having ridden the bike course I was expecting lots of flies so sunglasses were a good choice. The yellow lenses would help with visibility in the shade of the trees too. The visor is for the kayak section not so much as to minimise the glare from the sun as today was looking a little overcast, but the towelling headband of the visor keeps some of the sweat from stinging my eyes while paddling. It doesn’t make that much difference but I think it helps.
Conditions looked perfect. Warm, but not hot. No wind and perfectly calm waters along with hazy skies to keep the sun at bay. We couldn’t have asked for better race day conditions. The mist had burned off too so spotting the buoys in the swim would be easy.
The kids races got underway at 8:30am and everyone seemed to be having a good time. Those that were fast were giving it their all, but those that weren’t so fast were supported well the whole way around. The ethos of the Manvers Waterfront Boat Club is one of inclusivity and giving everyone a chance, which is just how it should be, especially where children are concerned. This was clear throughout the weekend and it was good to see the kids giving it their all. One or two gave a little too much and returned from the bike bloodied and bruised after overcooking it on a corner or capsized their kayaks but from what I saw they all continued on and had a good time despite a few mishaps. Blake who I had paddled with the day before got second in his race and was pleased with his time. The kids presentations were made at around 9:30am. The jubilant podium finishers collected their certificates, proud parents cheered and the adult Quadrathletes and Triathletes assembled ready for their races.
I know what you’re thinking, get on with it Alan, that’s over 200 words of preamble, just tell us about the race! OK, OK here goes, but not before a comical few minutes as we got ready to go. The Triathlon and Quadrathlon were taking place at the same time so it was a mass swim start for all of us together. The race briefing was simple and laid back and brightened somewhat by one of the safety cover kayakers falling out of his boat as he tried to get into it on the slipway. This happened just as Mark was telling us that there would be safety crew everywhere on the water to look after us should we need it! We then had to get into the water and swim 10m out and back just to make sure we could all swim!! As I said earlier, the ethos of inclusivity extends so far here that they had to check that no non-swimmers had turned up by accident! I’m only joking as it’s good to see and that inclusivity explains why they get over 100 swimmers a couple of evenings a week for their open water swims here.
Once they were happy we could all swim we lined up ready for the start. Bryce and Helen seemed to be shadowing me, no doubt expecting me to go off fast in the swim and hoping they could get a good tow.
5 – 4 – 3 – 2 -1 – Go! We were off.
I was straight into the lead and sprinted off for the first few metres. This gets me a nice clear view of the buoy, gives me some space and hopefully drops anyone hoping to get towed along by me. It sort of worked, except for the fact that there was someone on my toes with a yellow hat on. I thought it had to be Bryce, but also thought that he had a different colour hat to that. I wasn’t sure though so assumed it was him. As I rounded the first buoy I sped up a little to try to drop him. It worked and I opened out a gap before easing back into a better rhythm. I was swimming well but keeping it within my limits. I glanced behind me at the turns and the yellow hat was dropping back a little, but not by much. The swim route consisted of two 400m squares in the fairly warm waters of the lake. It was perfect for spectators as we were never out of sight and swam one side of the square right alongside the edge of the lake. As I headed out onto the second lap I could see that I would soon catch the tail-enders and lap them. Sure enough, between the second and third buoy I caught them and started weaving my way through them towards the finish. I began thinking that I hoped the officials would know that I was on my second lap already and wouldn’t send me out to do another one along with all the people I was now lapping! Hopefully the speed differential was fairly obvious.
I exited the water in first place with a short lead over the guy in the yellow hat. It was a little slippery on the slipway but once out of the water I ran across the gravelly road and up the grassy slope into transition taking my goggles, hat and top part of my wetsuit off as I went. The guy in the yellow hat followed me and it was now that I discovered it wasn’t Bryce after all… Phew, maybe I had pulled out a bit of a lead over him as I’d hoped.
T1 wasn’t quite as slick as usual. I had planned to put my road pedals on my CX bike so that I could use shoes that were quick and easy to get into. I hadn’t done this so had to deal with the fasteners on my new CX shoes that I’m not used to. I got them on but never got them quite as tight as I would have liked. Mind you, I’ve never worn them barefoot either so maybe they just won’t go that tight! What is it they say about never trying anything new in a race!
Sunglasses and helmet on and I ran out of T1 mounted my bike CX style and headed off.
As I said in the section about the bike recce, there was never any chance to really get up to speed on this course, but the CX bike was the perfect choice. I was soon racing through the narrow sections, shouting (as politely as possible) to dog walkers that there was a cyclist coming through. Being first onto the course they weren’t expecting me and did look a little perplexed as I hurtled past as fast as I dared with a quick shout of thanks. I even surprised a few marshals who were still walking to their designated spots carrying bright yellow signs. I don’t know if it’s possible but maybe the organisers could put up some polite signs warning the other users of this shared path that there is a race on and asking them to keep to keep dogs close to them and to keep to one side of the path. Maybe there should be some warning that cyclists will be actually racing and therefore going fast too. Everyone did get out of the way without any complaints but when you are approaching someone from behind it’s difficult for them to move out of the way in time without causing an obstruction. This was especially the case as I was the first rider through. By the time I’d shouted that I was coming through, they’d stop to turn around and see what the shouting was about, their dogs would inevitably run across the path. By the time they had clocked what was happening I’d be almost upon them so would have to slow down to give them time to quickly control their dog and get out of the way. Everyone seemed quite happy to do so, but if they aren’t expecting it there just isn’t enough time for them to react.
Inevitably there was a lot of slowing down and accelerating and I had to stop completely and put my feet down at one of the road crossings. I also didn’t take too many risks through the boulders or the gates or under the bridges. It just wasn’t worth it as you never knew what was around the next bend. I certainly didn’t want to crash and more to the point I didn’t want to injure any unsuspecting walker on the path either. The technicalities of the trail and the blind bends made it feel fairly fast and furious even if it wasn’t. I made it to the turnaround point still in first place and expected to see Bryce closing in on me. It wasn’t Bryce in second place though, but someone in the Triathlon. I soon spotted Bryce. He was probably a couple of minutes behind me. I wasn’t sure how much time I’d gained on him the swim though so couldn’t tell if he was now catching me or not. I still expecting him to come flying past at any minute. On the ride back to the lake I now had to contend with all of the cylists behind me heading in the opposite direction. There was no etiquette as far as which side of the path to ride on – again maybe in the briefing we should be told to keep to the left so that everyone at least knows which side to pass each other on. It’s not that simple though thanks to the blind corners and such like. I had to stop completely at one of the squeeze gates to let 4 or 5 people heading out through but soon found myself still in first place heading around the lake and into T2. I’m sure everyone behind me would be having similar issues and hold ups of their own on the bike so it was the same for everyone.
I hopped off my bike and ran into transition area. The CX shoes were good here as I can at least run in them. Bike racked, shoes, helmet and sunglasses off. Buoyancy aid and visor on and it was off to the kayak. I nearly went out of transition the wrong way but remembered at the last minute, turned around and went for the other end of the transition area. My buoyancy aid wasn’t quite right either so I was trying to work out why my arm was tangled in the straps as I ran onto the grassy bank. We had been warned that it was steep and slippery and sure enough whilst my left arm was busy trying to untangle my right arm I slipped over and slid down the bank. I bounced back up from my shoulder without stopping, managed to sort out my arms and straps and headed to my surf ski. I man-handled the ski into the water, grabbed my paddles and got onboard. I remembered that I hadn’t pressed the lap button on my watch going into or out of T2 so sat there pressing buttons before starting to paddle. These little things in transition take no time at all, but when you’re racing even a second of not actually moving feels like forever.
The kayak course was 5 laps of the 800m course on the lake. Essentially a large, wonky square around the lake. My cornering in my ski isn’t great and yesterday whilst practising it I’d been working on turning right. Today we were going clockwise around the lake so I’d be getting some practise at corning left instead! I’m never quite sure if it’s best to slow down, corner tightly and then reaccelerate or to keep the power and speed up and take a wider line. I took the latter approach at the first corner and it seemed to work well. I tried it again at the far end of the lake, but the turn here is much tighter and I found myself heading for the trees! Clearly each corner was going to need its own approach. As I extracted myself from the trees and got back up to speed heading back to towards the clubhouse I could see Bryce just starting his first lap. He was about half a lap down on my so I probably had about 2 to 2½ minutes advantage. More than I was expecting but with kayaking being still fairly new to me it was an advantage that could be easily lost. Afterall, at my first Quadrathlon in Brigg last year I lost over 20 minutes to everyone else on the kayak section.
I’ve improved since then but it’s still all new to me. I couldn’t go any faster than I was though so that was all I could do. I headed out onto my second lap keeping up a good pace. My only chance to see what was going on behind me was just after the tight turn at the far end of the lake. As I rounded it the second time (avoiding the trees this time) it looked as though Bryce was catching me. I then realised that it was someone just starting their first lap, not Bryce and he was still about the same distance behind. Maybe I would be able to hold him off after all.
As I went out onto lap three things were getting a little more crowded on the water as more quadrathletes had finished the bike and were heading out for the first lap in the kayak.I weaved my way through them during the subsequent laps, trying to squeeze through on the inside of the bends where I could. I passed Jacqueline and seemed to be more than holding my own in the boat. This time last year the kayak section was a constant stream of people passing me. This year I was overtaking people throughout and didn’t have a single person catch me or pass me. Improvement indeed. My pace was good as well. My GPS showed an average speed of 6.77mph over the 4km course, the fastest I’d ever paddled and even better considering the fact that there were so many turns, and that it was the third leg of a Quad. I even got the Course Record on the Strava segment for the lap.
Kayak deposited on the beach with no nasty mishaps, a quick run into T3 and it was once again time for something new in a race. New running shoes. I know that’s a complete no-no in a race but it was ‘only’ 5km and my achilles injuries had meant that I hadn’t had chance to try them out! Getting them on wasn’t as slick as it should be and the tongues got a little rucked up but I was soon off and running out of T3 onto the run course.
The run course followed the same route as the bike course for a while. A lovely running track as it weaved it’s way through scrubby woodland along shaded paths and then out onto sunnier wider tracks. Off road all the way, but the dry spell we’ve had meant that there was little mud and the surfaces were good.
My plan had been to start off relatively easy on the run, see how my achilles felt and then build into it. I’d hoped to start at around 6:30 min/mile pace and build to around 6:00 min/mile pace – gone are the days when I could average closer to 5:30 min/mile pace! I was however in the lead and probably had around 2½ minutes advantage. I couldn’t afford to go too easy to start with. I did ease into it though and things felt OK. I have however discovered that gone are the days where I can manage even 6:30min/mile pace.
My first mile was ticked off in 6:49 with a grade adjusted pace of 6:46. My achilles was feeling OK though so it was time to try to pick it up.
The second mile had a few little slopes in it but was rattled off slightly quicker at 6:45 with a grade adjusted pace of 6:41 – 5 seconds faster. The little descent into the turn-around did have my achilles tightening up a little but there was only just over a mile to go now. The end was in sight, I was still in the lead. Time to see if I could pick up the pace a little more.
The third mile was another 5 seconds faster at 6:41 but a grade adjusted pace of 6:36. That was the sort of pace I’d hoped to start at but clearly I’m not capable of that at the moment.
The final few hundred metres to the finish line were a little faster again and by now I knew I’d won.
I crossed the finish line feeling pretty pleased with myself. I had to wait longer than expected for Bryce as I must have pulled out more of a lead on the run. If I’d know that I may have eased up but in a race you have to keep pushing as you never know what is going on with everyone else.
As everyone else was rolling in I started to pack up and re-fuel. The sun was coming out now so it was lovely on the lakeside. I was soon showered, clean and smelling like a girl thanks to the girly deodorant I’d bought in Italy recently! The van was packed and ready to go, the mini cheddars and granola bars that had been freebies in our race packs were polished off and I was trying to work out what the little asics freebie was. Lip balm in a weird finger carry case maybe? I still don’t know!
We waited around for the presentations, had a few photos and then said our goodbyes. Helen, Jacqueline and Jean were on the ‘podium’ in the women’s race. Myself, Bryce and Chris Carter were on the men’s ‘podium’. I’ll add some times once the actual results are out but my finish time was 1:31:50.
The next Quadrathlon race next race is in month or so – no doubt we’ll all re-convene there ready to do it all over again.
Dearne Valley had been a success. My achilles was a little sore but seemed to have held up. I’d won which is always good – ‘Winner Winner Chicken Dinner’!. More importantly it had been good fun. New friends were made, old ones had been caught up with, the camping was perfect and the event itself was well organised and attended. It has a real friendly feel whilst still being competitive if you want it to be. A good weekend away and well worth the 8 hour round trip!
I’ll get some photos from Jean as Dave was out on course taking some and will add another post with them later.