The Questar Q2 returned to Thetford Forest last weekend after the inaugural race in 2010. The flat topography and dry trails make for fast racing, particularly on the bikes. In turn though, this lack of contours adds to the navigational challenge offered by thick tree cover and variable forestry rides, compounding the risk of error at speed. Quest chose Little Lodge Farm on the south bank of the Ouse as event base and the hub for each stage and transition. The four stages criss-crossed this central point, or radiated out from it, allowing a huge area to be covered without complex logistics. The farm sits in a valley between the northern and southern areas of the Forest and away from any road. It’s an idyllic place to base a race, but also means you are guaranteed a climb, or descent, in and out of transition. A rare thing in Norfolk!
Tom Davies, James Brown and I entered as a trio under the Tri-Adventure banner, racing together for the first time in preparation for next season. It looked like we’d have stiff competition too, with familiar names in both the Masters and Novice categories. Quest run a second class in their events for competitors with less racing experience. It’s a great way to maintain competition throughout the entry, and in fact my first AR was at the Purbeck Q2 as a novice trio with a couple of ex-downhill bikers!
Saturday dawned on a chaotic spread of tents, bikes and gear. Dan’s registration was brief and we were off on foot before we knew it. 320 minutes on foot and in kayak. Two running loops hinging on the event base, with the paddle in between. It was as fast a course as expected and, with clustered check points based around a rugby team and a bonus for clearing each ‘pack’, strategy was key. We had a surprise when we launched the kayak too. Just upstream the river shallowed and we kept having to hop out and haul, sapping strength and time. We thought we’d save time coming back downriver, but over-cooked it, catching a penalty for a late return! It was a strong stage though with Russ Ladkin just behind us and Kevin Stephens ahead when the results were pinned up.
The mountain-bike stage a couple of hours later took us all over the map with less emphasis on route choice and more on accuracy at speed. We made two unforced nav errors early on and with hindsight I can see that that was really the fault of James and me, pushing Tom (navigating) too fast. We were just happy to be in the saddle! It was a fun stage though. Good riding and 99% off road. Although, as a masochist with a fear of heights, the orienteering activity point was tantalisingly close to Go Ape! After the initial issues we had quite a fast stage, but the competition were faster, Kevin way out in front with Hobnobs hot on his heels and Russ Ladkin closing the gap after stage 1!
Another short interlude, some food and faffing, and we were off on foot again for the night run. We trailed the lead by 105 points and knew we had to pull out the big guns to have a chance of winning the weekend. James and I paced Tom’s navigation and we aimed to clear the course. It was close! Night trail running is fantastic: torch-lit, star-lit and the occasional eyes glowing back at you from the woods. Thanks to Quest for including it. We arrived back at the same time as Kevin and eagerly compared notes. He’d had a fast run, but hadn’t swept up the further cps; we’d only dropped one low value so crept up on him a little. It would all come down to the final stage.
The mist was down over the dark campsite and we were getting damp just standing around. A bit more food and a change of kit were essential, but we were into the tents as soon as possible.
Sunday was going to be another hot day and, with five hours of racing on foot, bike and kayak to come, hydration was a major consideration. I carried 3 litres of Nuun and re-filled a 750ml bottle at the activity point: 750mls an hour. James carried 5 litres and every drop went! Food also needed to be managed differently. Cereal-based energy bars are hard to digest in the heat but Cliff Shot Bloks and Powerbar Ride Shots were a decent substitute, if a little sticky.
The Masters class kayaked first, most teams blitzing downriver to the furthest cp and back within time. We then ran, heading south along yesterday’s bike route. We wanted to start biking halfway through our time and had to make a difficult call about one of the furthest run cps: 20 minutes for 40 points, but eating into our bike time. We dropped it and transitioned to the bike, picking up the activity point, a spatial challenge fitting shapes within an outline, on the way. It was a long loop along the Northern border of the map area and the trails turned out to be very fast rolling. Despite repetitive problems with a rear tyre flat on James’ tubeless 29er (we ended up fixing it with a 26” tube) we worked harder than we needed to and made it back with ample time.
That last stage was really enjoyable. The layout and level of difficulty, even the placing of the out of bounds areas, all added to the challenge. Hindsight is powerless though and as it turned out we did need that 40 pointer to win. Kevin had maintained his consistent speed and had a great stage, holding onto 25 points of his lead at the close. Competition in the Masters and Novice classes was fierce throughout the weekend, with some particularly strong performances from Novice teams in the early stages (where their results can be compared with Master’s scores). The top Masters teams raced very seriously, but there were still smiles every time we passed on the course. The next Q2 beckons in the spring, Tom will be looking to maintain his series win and we’re all hoping for a new course and challenge from Quest. Thanks for a cracker in Thetford!
James Brown, Tom Davies and George Neville-Jones
Questars have written an excellent race report here.