Once again this annual competition for Business Teams came around, this time based in Minehead, Somerset and using the hills of Exmoor to test the 85 teams taking part. This is a 4 day event starting on the Wednesday evening and finishing on Saturday afternoon with teams facing running, orienteering, mountain biking, canoeing, problem solving and other team working exercises to test them across 8 stages.
We’d grown the reputation of our AWE team steadily over the last few years by winning the event in 2007 and then second place for the last two years so other teams were aware of what we could do. So there was some expectation on us for the event, not least from ourselves who wanted to win it rather than collect another silver medal!
The weather for the four days was pretty horrible for June with high winds and heavy rain – not nice for adventure racing, but you just have to get on with it!
We started on the Wednesday night with a couple of hours running around very sharp hills playing Boggle. Essentially visiting checkpoints to collect the letters and spell the words. After some good words and one small mistake we were in first place. Onto the next morning and we had a 5 hour bike stage ahead of us with a very complex strategy that took several hours to plot out the night before. Weather conditions were pretty horrendous out on the Crossocks. The stage was based on the film Inception and is far too complex to explain here. The planning time was well spent as we again won the stage, extending our lead. Heading into the evening we had a build stage ahead of us. Normally its just about trying to survive these as we set about building a device capable of picking up 4 wooden blocks and placing them in a stack. We only came second on this stage, though but still kept our overall lead.
When Friday dawned the weather was still pretty terrible and we were told that our planned canoe stages were cancelled. This was pretty disappointing as canoeing was one of our strengths. Fortunately the organisers sorted out some back up stages, the first of which was a championship of losing draughts. Basically you play draughts as normal but the aim is to lose every game. This is actually harder than it sounds as if one of your pieces is in a position to take another then you have no choice but to take it. As teams were pitted against those teams closest to them in the competition and with 20 minutes bonus available per game, winning games was important to retaining the lead. We knew the basic strategy to this and managed to get through this normally high stress event by winning 3 out of 5 games.
The organiers then converted a canoe stage into a run stage but as we knew we had running the next day we backed off a bit on the strategy, thinking this would be a hard stage. As it turned out we could have cleared the stage, as other teams did and we dropped to second place by 6 minutes as we failed to collect some of the big bonuses.
This may or not have been a bad thing as Saturday dawned with more torrential rain as we headed to the highest point on Exmoor. Another complex strategy stage (and another late night working through the strategy for it) but we nailed it despite the tough hills making it too difficult for us to achieve our full plan. However, those teams who’d beat us the previous day suffered badly and dropped back down again, allowing us to regain our lead.
Heading into the final stage which was a straight race involving running, then biking up a big hill before running back down and across the sand to the finish. Of course it was never going to be that simple as we had to solve puzzles at regular intervals along the route. We pushed hard up the hill and solved the puzzles pretty quickly putting us several minutes ahead of the other teams and enabling us to come in first. As this was the stage that gets shown on Channel 4 we were pleased to do so well in it. As we crossed the finish line it was good to have our overall win confirmed.
The UK Challenge is an excellent event and if you get the opportunity to take part then grab it as you’ll find its one of the most exhilarating events you can take part in.