Quest Wales has been one of my most anticipated events of the year. Firstly, because it’s different to my normal races and secondly, because it sounded pretty awesome when I was approached to take part! The Quest Adventure Series combines trail running, cycling and kayaking into one race; who wouldn’t want to try that out?
I’m not one to turn down a challenge, so I laced up my running shoes, pumped my bike tyres and head to Wales. Let’s jump into my Quest Wales review.
Choose your distance
There are three distances to choose from; Challenge is 25km, Sport is 40km and Expert is 50km. Having the choice of three distances was always going to leave me with a dilemma! Interesting fact about me: I learnt how to ride a bike really late in life so I’m not a confident cyclist by any means, especially on roads with actual moving cars. You would think that would push me to make the intelligent choice and opt for the shorter Challenge distance right? Nope! I signed up for the 50km Expert course (and later found out why I am by no means an expert).
The Kit List
With the mixed terrain and wet weather (despite it being June!), I packed a good windbreaker/waterproof jacket and my trusty trail shoes.
What to Expect at Quest Wales
My friend and I started race day with very little sleep (we arrived in Wales at 1:30 am!) and we headed to the starting point. On top of a lack of sleep, we somehow managed to not have breakfast so we weren’t off to the best start.
I needed to collect my bike from a hire company and of all things to happen, my bike wasn’t there!! Things were about to end before they could even start. A third party company were responsible for rented bikes, so the Quest team weren’t to blame, just someone who forgot to turn his bike sheet over and see 2 names (mine included) for the total amount of bikes needed. Luckily, Betws-y-coyd is known for its mountain biking and cycling routes so there was an amazing company called Beics Betws who loaned us some mountain bikes (which definitely worked out a lot better!). Thanks guys!
8km Trail Run
With the bike racked, it was go time. The first section of the race was an 8km trail run. Perfect! Exactly what I’m used to and what I do most weekends. The first trail was pretty tough terrain; Uneven rocks and slippery slate on steep hills didn’t make this a smooth run. My main focus was making sure my friend made it through this first run as up until this point his longest run had been 5km! With the first run complete, it was time to head towards the bikes for the first transition.
The one thing I knew about Wales from when I was last there (doing the 3 Peaks Challenge) is that it is hilly! I’m used to running up hills, but cycling them is a different story! Cycling is something I’ve never been too comfortable with but having a ‘screw it, let’s do it’ attitude definitely helped me during this race. Plus, the fact that the majority of the 11km cycle stretch was mostly downhill massively helped! It was a great chance to pick up speed, except I was very heavy handed on the brakes due to my nervousness on the bike. We passed through the very picturesque town of Llanrwst towards my favourite section of the course, the kayaks!
Two people in a kayak and one of them can’t swim… sounds like the start of a joke right? Nope! I think the life jackets definitely helped my friend get over his fear of sinking like a rock and he jumped in the drivers seat of the double kayak. Unfortunately, because of the non-stop rain and horrendous weather, I think the kayak section was shortened, but it was brilliant. Trying to coordinate our rowing was a task; ‘Left! Right! Left! Right!’, it was great fun!
Tip: Opt for the front of the kayak unless you want to get ALL of the backsplash from the water!
9km Trail Run
For me, this is where the event started to take a turn. From here it was onto a 9km trail run over at least 3 types of different terrain. The views were amazing over Snowdonia National Park, and the hills were ever so slightly decreasing in incline, but I could feel my energy draining. The gels and quick sugar hits didn’t seem to work anymore. My legs were starting to feel pretty heavy and I became slower. My pace from the last running section dropped considerably.
While I was tired, my friend was attacked with cramp which further slowed us down. I think he was shocked when he realised you could get cramp in both legs at the same time! After he stretched out, we jogged through the mostly downhill route, anticipating the final bike section.
Next up was a 14km bike ride on mostly downhill and flat terrain. It felt good to be off of our feet as we cycled, but the roads had become a lot busier than they were in the morning. I just focused on getting this section finished as I was still nervous on the bike.
My confidence grew out of nowhere and I attempted to overtake my friend. The last thing I heard was him shouting “You’re going to want to slow down Mike!” as I peddled on. I felt fine, I felt strong, I felt… wow my legs felt like they were about to completely seize up! I pulled up on the curb and slumped to the floor in anguish as my short burst of energy and fast peddling led to the worst cramp I have ever had to date! As my friend filmed me in pain (great friend right?) I had to just sit on the pavement and wait it out for 5 minutes.
7km Trail Run to Finish
After I recovered from the horrific cramp, we hopped back on the bike to reach the final stretch. All that was left was a 7km trail run with a nice sprint finish to get over the line and collect our bling!
Will I be at Quest Wales next year?
Quest Wales was an amazing event and I am very happy that I was given the chance to take part! Don’t get me wrong, I found the 50km distance tough! However, that’s coming from someone who never cycles anywhere, is ever so slightly fearful of road cycling and furthermore, didn’t train to the level I should have. Has that put me off going again? Not one bit! The variety is great, the trails and views are amazing (even with non-stop rain) and it feels like a proper adventure when you’re out there.
I think if you are new to adventure racing, then be smarter than me and opt for one of the shorter distances. However, if you are ready for a great challenge or are just a bit of a nutter like myself, then the Expert 50km is one you need to add to your bucket list.
I’d like to thank the guys at Quest Wales for the opportunity to take part and hopefully I can do it all over again next year!