Tuesday, 16 July 2013

The UK challenge - Stage 2 - Minimal Intelligen5e

Stage 2 was a 2.5 hour fastest to finish run and kayak. Team of 4 - 2 runners, 2 kayaking. Result = time taken - bonus + penalties. The scenario was to capture spies by collecting their coordinates at 'Intelligence Points' (IP) - some on land, some on water, then decode their grid reference and running as a team to the Spy Point (SP) to take them down. Each team needed to capture at least two spies to avoid a penalty and there was an added complication of package drops. Teams could chose to pick up and drop off dossiers at several points in a specific order to gain bonuses, however start a dossier without completing it and all hell would break loose.

Thankfully I was tooled to the max with several AKs and a Magnum for some serious pistol whipping, but they proved too heavy and we decided to ditch them and use our stealth instead. Vanessa 'The Hot Ness Monster' Harding had spent the previous evening strategising and had selected several alternative routes that allowed us to pick up two spies and the two dossier bonuses, we didn't have a map yet, but we knew the points available, so we would need to quickly establish the distance per time bonus of each route, once we saw the map. We wouldn't know how much running a spy point entailed until we collected the coordinates, so there would an element of luck involved. Running again - kerpow, Ness and I would team up, with Leo and Vicky taking the main kayaking duties. We could change the sub-teams during the stage, as it was likely we would be weaker on the kayak and might need to share out the duties.

Becky Green from Accenture 5, red left at start

Simon sped off in the mass start and we immediately started hoisting the kayak into the water. All four had to kayak to the transition point before splitting and there were only two paddles, so I started off as the power, Leo the steering (some would say finesse), Ness calculating the best route on the map, while Vicky, our most experienced kayaker, saved herself for the epic effort to come. We got out clean and fast to try and avoid the demolition derby enfolding behind us and ten minutes later we were first into the transition, route set and feeling confident.

Accenture at the top of the picture leading out
We started off with the hardest spy worth the most points. We quickly sailed past our first IP point, noting down the coordinates 2nd - 19, a bit too quickly, a minute later remembering that we needed to both dib at the checkpoint. A quick backtrack and we were back on schedule (this was to remain our secret - no mistakes etc.). We passed Dame Kelly Holmes, looking strong and smiling, sadly her running partner was not, but that's hardly surprising - get yourself a bungee chord Kelly. The route was about 4.5 miles, but the navigation was easy, so we quickly finished our loop, noting down a couple of unmarked checkpoints - possible spy points, on the way. We were back ten minutes ahead of schedule, but with only half the coordinates there was nothing we could do, so we started planning. The kayaking was definitely the longer leg, but Leo and Vicky powered back, two minutes ahead of schedule. We calculated the SP - holy f to the moly,  the Spy Point was at least a 5k loop straight up the only hill on the course - far longer than we had expected; we needed to rethink our strategy. Vicky and I bungeed together, allowing Leo and Ness to bang heads; the kayaking was hard graft and going for even the third highest scoring spy would risk being late if the SP was a similar distance. The fourth highest would still allow us to get all of the dossier drop bonuses and could allow us time to go for a third spy if were ahead of time.

Dame Kelly landing
Ness and I set off again on a far shorter route. We were picking up one of the dossier packages, but we had to dib after twelve minutes, to give the kayakers time to make their package drop off first. We were there in 8 minutes, so we waited, then the fear crept in. What if Leo had taken longer? We were blitzing the run routes and didn't feel tired, so we decided to dib as late as possible and then sprint back to make up the time. We nectar gelled up, gave each other massages (might not be true) and 16 minutes in dibbed and dashed. We suspect Leo may have stopped to feed some passing ducks, as they didn't reach their checkpoint until 15 minutes - call us Uri Geller; our time delay had been vital. We regrouped, rebungeed and headed to our next SP. The map wasn't obvious, our coordinates were off and we only discovered afterwards that the scale of coordinates wasn't 1-10, but 1-6, so 41.3 was halfway across a square of the map and not a third. We couldn't find the spy, rechecked then ran to the only other place it could be - four minutes wasted, not a huge amount, but it was on me, aaaarrrrgggghhhhh.
The SP was close to the start of another Spy loop. It was a short one, so if we went flat out and got lucky on the next SP being close, the bonus time gained would be more than the time taken. We knew we were behind on the first stage, so we had to take some calculated risks to catch up.

Leo and I bungeed up and went flat out back to the kayaks. We were paddling manically, but after 90 minutes of running, my legs were cramping, kneeling in the kayaks. After the first IP we realised it was taking too long, the risk hadn't been worth it, but by then we were committed. We skirted the second IP to try and read what it said - if the number was low, it meant that the SP was going to be a long way away and it made more sense to abandon the loop and head home. The IP was high, the SP was across the dam, it was far - over a k away, but not too far. We dibbed, ploughed back to the transition and as we neared started screaming to Ness and Vicky 'dam, run to the dam'. They eventually heard and started running. We beached, strewing paddles and life jackets everywhere and set off after them, knowing we were going to be late, so every minute taken counted double. Our legs weren't really working after the kayak and we were struggling to catch the girls. Vicky, expecting a bungee taxi ride, put her hand out for the karabiner, as I neared, I mustered "I've got to catch you first." We were going flat out and I was broken. We all dibbed and headed back, as I started to contemplate the kayak back, my lungs burning like as if in an 800 meter race. As we neared the kayaks I asked Ness how she felt about kayaking back, she realised it wasn't really a question though. We boarded and Ness powered away. Three minutes in, I felt fine again and I started to feel a bit guilty, as Ness was clearly tiring. I tried paddling with my hands, but Leo pointed out I was filling the boat with water rather than adding to the push, but she's not the hot ness monster for nothing and the monster took over, catching another team and bringing us back within ten minutes.

Team Holmes at the finish L-R Charlotte Hartley, Toby Garbett, Dame Kelly, Martyn Bernard
We were just under ten minutes late - a 19 minute penalty, the extra spy hadn't been worth it, as we would have saved time by coming in early. Still we'd made all of the dossier drops and captured two spies, not a bad hall. With penalties we ended up on a negative time of -0:20:15, third position for the stage, a good result given the amount of kayaking. We'd moved up into 5th, but were 42 minutes behind the new leaders - AWE. Next up was the cycling stage - traditionally a strength of AWE's and this year a bit of an unknown for us, we were going to have to take some risks or else AWE would be out of sight and that's exactly what we did.

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NumberTime TakenBonusPenaltiesStage Time

Monday, 8 July 2013

The UK challenge 2013 - Stage 1 - Going to Pieces

The UK challenge is a three day corporate challenge, combining trail running, mountain biking and kayaking with puzzles, problem solving and advanced strategy.  It's unique in its level of complexity and the highlight of my racing calendar.

Split into six stages, around fifty teams of six compete, trying to finish each stage in the quickest time. Teams can reduce their stage time by completing tasks, often against strict deadlines, but also face time penalties for any incomplete tasks attempted. The winning team therefore requires not just a high level of fitness, but also must be acutely aware of their abilities and not overestimate how much they can achieve in each time frame; one mistake can cost you the entire challenge.

2013 was my third year.  Racing in one of the two Accenture teams, we had a strong track record - winning a trophy or two each year, but losing out in the best mixed category to Capita Symonds in 2012  - a team led by a Duracell bunny, with a jet engine strapped to his back, and AWE in the overall team category - a team who I'm pretty sure were designed in the same lab as Ivan Drago. Despite Accenture's success, in my previous two challenges I had yet to win anything other than the highly coveted best photo award and having already blown the royalties received on a wham bar, it was fair to say l had a King Fries sized plate of chips on my shoulder.

Last year's Grand Prix Podium L-R AWE, Capita Symonds, Accenture

Stage One - Going to Pieces.
The first challenge was a fastest to finish, 90 minute night run stage. Teams can visit up to 12 checkpoints, displaying the segments of five pictures that had to be pieced together. You needed at least two complete pictures to ensure you didn't incur a large time penalty and correctly answering both picture 1 and 5 achieved a bonus worth at least twenty five minutes more than any other two combinations. Teams of four could split into pairs to visit the checkpoints, but the pictures had to be completed as a four at the answer point before heading home.  Stage time = time taken - bonuses + penalties.

Sprint start
Each stage starts with a mass sprint, akin to the opening of the Harrods sale, but with much more day glow and slightly fewer hand bags.  Each runner retrieves an envelope containing a map and typically some critical information about the stage, which you cannot fully plan your strategy without, forcing teams to plan against the clock, adapting their strategy as they go.

Envelope grab
We knew we were likely to be the quickest team on foot, so planned to visit at least the two highest scoring checkpoints, unless it added five miles to our route.  How much else we went for would depend on the distances vs bonus gained. Vanessa, who was staying behind to figure out our strategy for the next two stages and therefore only doing the sprint, took position before hurtling off into the night towards the envelopes.   Speeding back, she pulled out the map - the scale was huge, so these were small distances; we were going for the full monty. We split our teams - Leo, our fearless captain, was to run with Vicky, a challenger virgin, south through the fields. Simon, a 3.01 marathon runner, and I went for a smash and grab through the woods.  

GCHQ navigating at the start line
It took us a few seconds to get our bearings and we set off at a jog to the first checkpoint, aware that pumped full of adrenaline from the explosive start, it was all too easy to set off at break neck speed in the wrong direction.  The checkpoints were small sandwich boards covered in glow sticks, where both runners had to dib and the pieces of the pictures were displayed. The first two pieces were from a picture of a castle and of a cathedral. We had agreed a way of sketching the pictures, concentrating on each edge to ensure our pieces matched and that both runners would sketch all of the pieces. My drawing skills are about as good as Cecilia Gimenez's, but glancing across I saw that Simon's, were making as much sense as a weekend with Hunter S Thompson. Caution took over and we spent an extra 15 seconds or so at each checkpoint to make sure we had all of the details.

The map didn't offer many alternative routes, so navigation was relatively easy, even in the dark. We knew we were likely to be the fastest team on foot, so we started to turn the course into an extended interval session, knowing that each checkpoint gave us a chance to catch our breath. The pictures were beginning to take shape - a marina, a bottle of cider and even the nine-piece cathedral was starting to make sense.

The Start and Finish

We headed to the answer point to find numerous teams already there. Leo had arrived a few minutes earlier and begun making sense of the pieces and we quickly started matching our drawings. The majority were straight forward, the six piece puzzles taking a bit more time, we saved the nine piece until last and already had the top and bottom rows complete, having matched them to each other on route. For some reason we rushed the middle row, which cost us dearly. The first four were correct, but a mistake on the largest puzzle meant we missed forty minutes of bonuses (the other four combined were only worth thirty minutes) so this was a huge mistake, especially since we'd taken the extra time to run to every check point. We ran home, third team in, finishing in 59 minutes. 

I didn't want to show it to the rest of the team, but I was pretty gutted. This should have been a stage we nailed and our rush at the crucial moment, meant that instead of a 15 minute lead, we ended up in fifth, 25 minutes behind the leaders - team 5 - Accenture. You always want Accenture teams to do well, but knowing they had a strong kayaker and some good cyclists in their ranks, it was worrying to lose first blood. We refueled with our For Goodness Shakes and headed back early to strategise for the next day's first two stages -  a 2.5 hour kayak and run, followed by a 3 hour bike.

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