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Cycling - 20. May 2007.

Berson Winter Challenge - Adventure race report

By Alli Northcott


Adventure racing is all the rage these days and Scotland is hosting the AR World Champs in 2007. SheCycles contributor and regular adventure racer Allie Northcott will be reporting for us and keeping us informed of how her North Face team get on. In the meantime here's a snippet from a race earlier this year in Poland….

10.5 hours to do 73kms on my bike…that's got to be a record! However when you find yourself knee deep in snow trying to break trail through soft powder with your hardtail pinned on your shoulders, you can see why it took such us such a while!...i am of course talking about the Bergson Winter challenge, held in Poland earlier this year….As part of the training for the World AR Championships soon to be held in May, The North Face adventure racing team decided to enter the only winter Adventure race on the calendar.

Due to time constraints, the week long 400km “masters” race wasn't on for us.. however the Polish had also organised a 163km “speed” race which spanned a long weekend…ideal for an intense training weekend we thought!!!

Now this was only my second race abroad, so I was so excited (but maybe I'll always get excited about these things)! With bikes safely packed and bags carefully weighed travelling was pretty straight forward, the preparation of the race organisers was faultless, and they even managed to get my race partner to the start line on time despite him making a small flying error and arriving a day later than originally planned!

So without too much stress I managed to sort maps, race food and kit for our 30 + hour journey through some fantastic Polish wilderness…this preparation in itself is a challenge; (especially for me) it takes time, needs to be carefully thought about and planned and needs to be right. Nutrition is always tricky, too much food = too much weight = slower pace = lower placing! Too little food on the other hand, or running out of food = potential for hitting the wall (hard!) and not finishing at all! The balance between sweet and savory is a fine one, all food of course needs to eaten “on the go” so it does restrict the choice. There was also the shopping issue, and I hate shopping, plus the usual hunt for soft white rolls which I never seem to find soft enough.


We also had to be prepared for the potential winter conditions that we may experience on the course, this made what clothing to wear and what extra clothing to carry on each section an interesting choice, weight is always an issue, but get this wrong in nasty winter conditions and the price to pay is potentially very high. We had been told that at this time of the year we could expect temperatures of -20, but at the time, outside the hotel, we had about +2 degrees, relatively warm, but wet, would it stay like this? No-one seemed to know. What was evident from the Polish competitors on the course, was they were travelling very,very light! However, they were very, very hard!

After hours of preparation at 10.00pm on Thursday night we found ourselves on the start line, the countdown began and I suddenly found myself sprinting down the main street of town gasping as we set off on the first 5km of night time urban orienteering. A fast start soon split the teams and Ant and I found ourselves setting off on the bike leg amongst top quarter of teams. The first few km were pretty much vertical, no easing the legs in to a tough 73km of bike through the night! The ride was at times on road and trail, with some sweet technical sections to keep you amused, there was some carrying of your bike up steep steps to the top of hills to explore castles or pushing through knee deep powder. Then there was riding along XC ski trails competing against each other to see how long you could stay in the ski tracks before hitting the deck. It was tough!

We made the first transition at about 7.00am and quickly changed and headed off for the hills…lying in about 12th place, we heard many stories of teams having pulled out or having been timed out on the course already. Without the need for snowshoes this year, we made good progress up onto the ridge of the highest mountain in the area “ Snzeika”. Due to high 150km winds on the summit itself the race organisers had re-routed the course taking us up..then down…then up …then down and then…yes back up again! A real kick in the chops motivation wise to pass the race base again after the first ascent! It was during this fine walk that I began to feel sick, now I've been sick before, but this was intense, as much as I tried to force down food, I couldn't and I began to struggle, at one time hardly being able to walk ten steps without having to stop and wretch! However I wasn't the only one, Ant was feeling the pace too and we began to wilt! With all the will power I could muster I forced us up to the 3rd control point, luckily it was based in a mountain hut where we allowed ourselves to collaspe into a deep sleep. An hour later we woke and feeling more than 100% better we ran off down to the next control - sleep deprivation can be a beast!

Trek completed, we sneaked another 45mins nap uncomfortably on the second transition base floor and again woke raring to go, the final sections a 25km ride, 30km trek and then 17km bike were all that was left, we'd done the tough stuff, few teams had survived to this point and we now lay in 10th place!

A dark short ride and a technical swoop into the valley floor saw a relatively flat ride to the next transition, here 20kms of forest orienteering and rope challenges needed to be completed, We were feeling strong again, our pace increased and by the end of the section we had caught and overtaken the other UK team “live life” who had unfortunately got themselves lost in the woods. They hadn't slept at all - could this be the sleepmonsters boys?

A quick 17km ride towards the finish and suddenly realising we had to complete one final rope section, we arrived at the top of the gorge, oops we should have been at the bottom! Worries aside and a quick scoot down and around we hooked ourselves onto a rope and monkey'd across! The dash to the finish wasn't such a dash, waiting for the Live Life Boys who were just behind after our navigational error, we finished together in joint 8th. Only 18 teams out of the starting 56 making it to the end. After photos and sparkling wine guzzled on the line went straight to my head, we searched the search for a café, which were all shut, and suddenly realised it was only 6.50am!

Given with kind permission by Shecycles.com

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