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.

If you enjoyed this post, please share on social media and subscribe to this blog in the top right of the page!!!


No comments:

Post a Comment