Quest have popped up on our radar, appearing to be the must-do adventure series of the moment, so who better to send down to check it out, than our resident adventurer, Rosanna Kuit?
I’ve wanted to do an adventure race ever since I read a book about a street dog that latched onto a team in the Ecuadorian jungle (James Appleton read it the right before winning team gold at OCRWC 2016, so it’s powerful stuff)!
Quest Adventure Races kept popping up on my Facebook newsfeed promising “unique and scenic races that take you to the edge of your physical ability,” so I signed myself and my sister up for their race in Wales - not as exotic as my Amazonian inspiration but hopefully without bullet ants and piranhas.
The distances on offer were 25km, 42km or 53km, broken up into trail running, road cycling and kayaking. My sister thought we should do the shortest race but I argued strongly for the middle 42km sport distance, mostly because I liked the idea of doing a marathon but cheating by pedalling and floating some of it!
There was a small amount of mandatory kit to accumulate for race day but nothing fancy; some food, a waterproof coat, hat, gloves, basic first aid kit, foil blanket, whistle, map and a bike repair kit. Double kayaks are provided except for the first 5 speedy racers who paddle solo, so there was no chance of that applying to me! The website said that a road bike with gatorskin tyres would be the most suitable, and a mountain bike the least suitable, but having done the race I’d worry that advice might put people off if they only have a MTB. Yes, your tractor tyres won’t roll as fast but you’ll still get there. I took a steel framed bike with heavy touring tyres and my sister had a hybrid with gator skins, and both did the job most excellently.
Race HQ was located on the village green of a gloriously sunny Betws-y-Coed in North Wales. Registration was effortless and we adorned our bikes with our race number stickers before parking them in the racks. The 25km Challenge competitors headed off first, followed by the 53km Expert course and then us 42km Sport racers last. I’m not sure why it was scheduled like that but presumably there was a logistical reason.
After a safety briefing in both English and Welsh we set off on our first stage: a 6km run that climbed 300m up winding woodland trails with a good splattering of waterfalls and views over the Conwy Valley. I love a waterfall, so I’ll blame my scenery ogling for my back-of-the-pack position! At the top of the climb, we popped out of the trees and weaved downhill through fields of bemused looking sheep, with the peaks of Snowdonia lining the horizon. I was so captivated by the views at this point that I didn’t pay enough attention to my immediate surroundings, and I managed to catch my foot between some rocks, catapult forwards and land in a crumpled heap with a muddy backside and an ouchy ankle. Idiot. We continued downhill alongside the cascades of the River Afon Llugwy on one of those dream paths with a perfect gradient and springy leaves underfoot, where suddenly you feel like running is the easiest thing in the world. The forest to our left was carpeted with bluebells and wild garlic and the path crossed over quaint wooden bridges and stepping-stones. As we crossed the stone bridge back into the village I couldn’t believe what a beautiful and varied route we’d run in a distance that amounted to a little over a Parkrun.
Next up was the first bike stage. It began with a very pleasant 6km cruise along quiet, bluebell lined roads and I remember thinking how much easier cycling is than running, but not for long, because the organisers were about to deliver on their promise to take us to the edge of our physical ability! We turned onto a smaller tarmac lane with a procession of cyclists pushing their bikes up as far as I could see. I’d just put a bigger cassette on my bike and I was up for a challenge so I zig-zagged my way up the mini mountain, only to arrive at each bend to find it was yet another false summit. I’d felt pretty pleased to be the only person pedalling but it wasn’t long before the gradient defeated me and hike-a-bike commenced. I spent the winter pushing a heavy touring bike up hills but I still arrived at the top a shaking, sweating, heaving mess. A 300m climb over 1.5km was an utterly brutal contrast to the blissful final few kilometres of the run and beginning of the bike section!
With wobbly legs we climbed back on our steeds and enjoyed a gradual descent along gravelly farm tracks to a lake where our kayaks awaited. A friendly marshal decided to test me on my Welsh pronunciation, and it turns out that when I’m tired I can slur Llyn Geironydd quite well! We clambered aboard our kayak and were immediately grateful it was a sit-on top so we could stretch our almost cramping legs. The route was a simple loop around some buoys and other than listening to my sister moaning about me soaking her it was jolly relaxing, gliding across the water. It came to an end rather too soon and I’d have quite liked to do another lap. Looking at my watch afterwards it only clocked 500m, so I do wonder if we were meant to go around again!
The next stage was a 10km run around Llyn Crafnant. Our mountaineering efforts on the bikes meant that we were no longer very last, but we were conscious that we were still straggling near the back. Other runners were finishing the route as we set off, but persuading my legs that they did belong me to me and that they did know how to run was really hard. After an initial hands on thighs climb and steep descent, the loop around the lake was pretty flat and we were cheered on by groups of hikers and picnicking families. We knew there was a large hill to conquer to return to the neighbouring valley, and sure enough, we turned off the sun drenched lakeside path into a cool dark forest. The trail climbed steeply past moss-covered boulders and the eerie vines hanging down from the trees helpfully distracted me from the effort of the ascent. It felt like somewhere I wanted to stop and absorb rather than rush through to avoid the sweeper.
Getting back on our bikes and being locomoted downhill purely by gravity was fantastic. There were a few small inclines but they were mere bumps compared to the horrors of bike leg 1, and once over them, we knew it was a 10km roll back down to Betws-y-Coed. One of the lanes was so steep it was deemed too dangerous to cycle so there was an enforced dismount zone for a kilometre. It seemed like overkill at first but then it steepened yet more, and rounding a corner I saw a bike on the ground and a man lying next to it. After rushing over it transpired that he hadn’t crashed and instead was immobile with killer cramp. I gave him a salt tablet from the packet some American hikers had given me in Chile, and seeing as he was Irish, I was pleased to continue the international relay. Cramp assistance duties over, it was time to enjoy the last few kilometres of the course as we hurtled down the tarmac past Swallow Falls and into the village for the final time. We jogged our bikes into the transition area and then ran the remaining few hundred metres to the finish where we received our medals and sunk into deck chairs, satisfyingly exhausted.
Moments after we finished, the event crew began dismantling the barriers, and an announcement asked us to vacate the area and retrieve our bikes within 20 minutes, as there was a football match on the green. It was lucky I hadn’t taken much longer admiring the scenery! It would have been nice to look at the trade stands and use the stretching area with foam rollers, but the people of Betws-y-Coed had allowed us to run, cycle and kayak around their village so it seemed only fair that they could play their regular Saturday game.
I absolutely loved this event and it far exceeded my expectations. The route planning was so cunning in sending you through absorbingly stunning scenery that lulled you into enjoying yourself before ambushing you with something that was hideously hard work. If you hadn’t paid much attention to the route maps (guilty!) this left you constantly wondering if what lay around the corner was something from your dreams or your nightmares, and pushing a heavy bike up a steep hill is immensely satisfying if not tremendously enjoyable at the time. Heading off on foot, by bike and in a kayak was a brilliant way to see a new area and having multiple run and bike sections kept it snappy and exciting. The organisation of the event was seamless right from registration through to pre event information and race day logistics, and I’d jump at the chance to do another Quest event.
If you’ve got even an inkling of a desire to do a race in the Quest series then you should absolutely go for it. All you need is a functioning bike, which you could borrow or hire, a pair of running shoes and a few mandatory items that you probably already own. Their remaining races this year are all in Ireland so what better way to explore the Emerald Isle? There’s a 12 and 24hr race along the Wild Atlantic Way that I’m quite tempted by… But I might check out the route profile first this time!
[Photo: Rosanna Kuit]