The Open 5+



Beautiful bright sunshine greeted the racers at Coniston on Sunday for the Open 5+, the first in the 3-race adventure racing series forming the Planet Fear Endurance Series. The Open 5+ event is the shorter of the races, with the next being 12 hours and the final being 24 hours long.

Our team, For Goodness Shakes!, had 3 pairs racing; two mixed and one male. We had spent the previous night camping by the lake and chatting over the event in the pub. We are all experienced adventure racers so the mountain biking and running and navigation elements did not worry us, and round Coniston we knew we would be treated to some fantastic technical riding. But, it was the  ‘+’ bit that was the topic of our conversation. James Thurlow of Open Adventure also puts on an ‘Open 5’ series, but these are simply mountain biking and running, using navigation to collect as many checkpoints as possible of varying values during a 5 hour time limit. The ‘+’ adds a hidden element which you do not discover until you register and read through the briefing notes. The week before this ‘5+’ event, the website had been changed to read “the special stages this time are full on, even by our standards”.  We waited in trepidation.


Collecting the map and briefing notes early on Sunday morning, we piled into respective cars and pored over our options, planning routes, back up plans and contingencies. We had to get as many points as possible and not be late. Despite leaving heaps of time, the start still creeps up on you and before we felt fully prepared we were racking bikes in transition and lining up for the mass start trail run. The sun was up and the adrenaline was pumping through the crowd as we all raced up the gentle incline of the field towards the trail head. The trail run was a 45 minute marked route around Tarn Hows pond. Walkers were out in force and we got lots of cheers. We must have been quite a sight as pair after pair of racers, wearing numbered red bibs, sweated and puffed passed them on the trail.



Open 5+ canoe2

Photos thanks to James Kirby


On the way back to transition we entered a small dense wood for the first special stage; orienteering. This was a long 15 minutes. The challenge was to find the four checkpoints but also not to mistake yours for the other category’s checkpoints. None were labelled on the ground and all close together. This was a real challenge and many pairs, including some of the top teams, were caught out and given penalty points for dibbing the wrong one.


We were slow but spot on and ran confidently down the final stretch, through transition, to the lake for the kayak stage. We threw on a life-vest and jumped into one of the sit on top kayaks and started powering down the lake to collect the first of the four checkpoints. There were lots of teams on the lake now and the atmosphere was electric as some teams were overtaken and the order shuffled around. Unusually for an adventure race, an hour in and you could still see what position you were in the rankings. We were creeping forwards after our slow start on the run and were enjoying the paddle, with the sun beating down on the water and the Old Man of Coniston towering above us.

Kayaking done and it was time for the mountain bike stage, which we had been looking forward to the most. We were an eclectic-looking pair. He was riding a Santa Cruz Nomad with 6inches of travel front and back. I had intended to ride my Kona Hei Hei Supreme but last minute mechanical issues meant I was forced to take out my Whyte 19 trail hardtail instead. My hardtail is built specifically for trail riding and adventure racing and has 130mm forks and high riser bars with tubeless tyres and not much psi!. The relaxed head angle makes it a comfortable ride and great on really rocky technical terrain (but being a hard tail also snappy on the climbs). Although we looked a little odd, we were perfectly matched and our trail riding skills eventually ended up winning us the race!

As predicted, the mountain bike stage was superb and the route we chose took us to some of the finest trails in that area of the lakes. We were screaming down loose shale descents, picking our way through dry streambeds and climbing endless rocky and rooty singletrack to high points on the fells. Half way through the mountain biking stage was a special stage – previously described as “full on” in the briefing notes. It involved scrambling up the rocky sides of an abandoned quarry and then leaping into the freezing floodwater from a 4 metre high cliff. The cold water took your breath away and you then had to fight for air as you swam, in full bike kit, across to the other side before crawling through flooded tunnels back to the scramble down. Drenched through, we climbed back on our bikes and carried on, willing our feet to come back to life.



Open 5 rider2

Photos thanks to James Kirby


Steve and I were in our element on the mountain bike stage and feeling strong, having a lot of fun on the descents and climbing well. That is, until we punctured and spent 14 minutes fixing it due to a pre-punctured spare tube with two holes in! We set off again, pretty sure we had slipped a position or two but confident we could still clear the course, which was important for the way the series was ranked. Climbing the final hill we were overtaken by last year’s series winners who looked strong. We glanced at each other and without having to utter a word we knew they had also probably cleared the course and it was going to be a sprint finish.

Luckily, entering the woods topping the hill above the finish, we had a slightly rooty and steep descent down to the road. We seized our chance and steamed past the other mixed pair and applied all the tricks we had learnt in years of trail riding to pull a gap on them. By the time we reached the road we had 100 metres and we held it to the line, beating them by 6 seconds and, as we discovered later, winning the race too!

As the pairs streamed down the hill into the finish, each had a story of drama and daring to share. The male pairs category was won by 2 seconds after an exciting sprint to the line, and several of the top teams had been caught out by the tricky orienteering, letting the underdogs step up to podium positions. Racers sat around on the grass drinking tea and sharing tales of their day and all looking forward to the next edition; the Open 12 in June.

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Words: Fiona Spotswood

Images: James Kirby

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