If you live in most parts of England, there isn’t a great deal of choice when it comes to seeking out mountains. The Lake District is a phenomenal location to go and it’s by far one of my favorite places in the UK, and Scotland, well, Scotland’s on a completely different level when it comes to mountains – without heading to a different country. But Snowdonia holds a special place in my heart. It’s the first place I ever really did any sort of mountain hiking and even though I’ve been a fair bit, I seem to be heading back there more and more every year. If you’ve never been, book a trip now. Trust me.
So, when the guys over at Quest invited me to take part in their Wales event I didn’t need any sort of persuasion. One, because I’ll happily head over to Snowdon at the drop of a hat and two, because the Quest Adventure Series, unlike most multi-sport events, don’t have any swimming in it. To be honest that probably wouldn’t have stopped me, but I definitely wouldn’t have enjoyed it anywhere near as much.
What is it?
The Quest Adventure Series is a fairly well know race organiser over in Ireland with a number of one-day events that run throughout the year. Those individual races take place in mountainous terrain and combine running, cycling and kayaking. The Wales event is the newest addition to the roster and the first to take place in the UK. So it’s kind of a big deal for anyone who’s into their adventure sports.
The 2019 Wales event started and finished in the beautiful village of Betws-y-Coed, a sort of holiday resort for people that love the outdoors and mountain activities. A place that’s surrounded by trails, lakes and some of the most impressive landscapes you’ll find in the UK.
The race itself has three different participant options: Expert – the toughest option covering 50km, 8:30am, Sport – a 38k route and Challenge – the 23k course. The one I chose to due – because I lack the ability to say no to the toughest option – was the Expert route, a course made up of six stages split across the three disciplines. 24km of running, 25km of cycling and 1km of kayaking.
Here’s the guide map that shows that breakdown and where the various stages took place. Something I didn’t pay enough attention to before the event, which meant I spent a fair bit of time asking people “how far is this bit meant to be?” as I panted my way up a steep climb.
How was it?
I haven’t actually done many multi-stage events before, save for a couple of triathlons, so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect with something that had six stages. I also, and I tend to do this a lot, assumed the hills would be fairly easy. 50km, when you run marathons, sounds pretty manageable when half of it’s done on a bike. Any cyclists out there probably cover off four or five times that amount on a weekend. As a result, I turned up in Betws-y-Coed feeling fairly (and unjustifiably) confident about the whole thing.
As I left the hotel on Saturday morning it was raining, as it had been for many days before (it’s the Welsh mountains, it’s normal). That didn’t worry me in terms of being wet, but it did mean that it was likely to make for some tricky terrain.
After the 130 or so people in the expert wave set off at 8.30 (there were about 600 doing the whole event), I soon realised that it was going to be tougher than I thought, largely because the first km of the race was a steep uphill slog into the mountain trails. Not only was it a tough climb, but the ground was, as you’d probably expect, quite muddy.
As an opener for the race, it was a tough one with a lot of fairly technical ascents and descents covering 332m overall. It was also ridiculously scenic as well, taking us through the forest, past a river and out onto some impressive views overlooking the area. Not that you can enjoy a great deal of it when the rain is pummeling you and you’re already covered in sweat trying to get up a hill. Luckily the transition zone was the same as the starting point, so after an uphill slog, there was a very enjoyable downhill that led us past an impressive river – some of it which required jumping. Lovely stuff.
Once done (and when I was actually looking forward to a bit of cycling), we nipped through the transition zone and set out along a fairly enjoyable road. After ten minutes we came of the easy bit and hit the route which would take us back uphill towards the second transition area. Not going to lie, my cycling powers are fairly weak, so this was by far the toughest part for me. A steepish incline that seemed to go on for miles meant a fair bit of pushing the bike. Not my finest hour, but it made me look forward to some running again.
Once at the top, the path was a nice ride past Llyn Geirionydd as we made our way to the kayaking area. Something I hadn’t done since about 2005.
Kayaking was probably the main reason I wanted to take on the race, largely because I’d never seen it done in an event like this before and, in my head, I wasn’t that bad at it (unlike swimming). Unfortunately, due to the weather, the course was cut a fair bit short of the full km, so it didn’t take very long to get around. It was a nice break from the road though and actually made me want to have a proper go at it in the future. Despite my delusions of being able to pick up an oar and gracefully move through the water, I was in fact fairly bad at understanding how the kayak moved, with constant shouts of “left a bit more”, “no, too far” and “just let me do it”, coming from Oli sat behind me. Annoyingly I also forgot to switch my Suunto to kayaking mode, so it looks like we went wildly off course during the cycling stage.
From there it was back on the trails for a second time for about 9km. Probably my favourite part of the course, a route that led upwards (obviously) and around a series of winding paths that leveled out fairly quickly and meant for a damn enjoyable run.
The penultimate stage was another bike section, but one that led down a very steep slope to the point we had to walk for safety reasons. From there it was an easy 8k lap around Betws-y-Coed and the River Conway, before a final jump of the bike and one more trail section.
The final run was by far the toughest of the lot, a finishing 7km slog up a steep climb, a lap of the beautiful Llyn Elsi then a full on downhill sprint to the finish. By this point, I was actually feeling the strain, presumably because my legs aren’t used to cycling. The uphill was a tough one which generally saw everyone walking it. Oli at this point said he’d meet me at the top, but when I got there I realised he’d done me over and was sprinting off into the distance. In what was probably my fastest and most reckless attempt at downhill running, I didn’t manage it. He was stood there at the end laughing.
What did I think?
I really enjoyed it. Unlike a marathon or a triathlon, the format of stages and variety of sections was really interesting. With everything included it was a fairly tough 4 hours and 40 minutes of exercise, and some section were a struggle, but the breaking up of the disciplines meant it seemed a lot easier than it probably was. The total elevation for the race was just over 1,000 meters, which sounds fairly impressive considering that’s higher than the highest mountain in England.
In terms of marshalling and guidance, it seemed to go pretty much perfectly, save for a couple of issues with overcrowding at the main transition zone. I even enjoyed the weather. If it had taken place in anything remotely warm then I imagine it would have be significantly tougher.
All in all a great event designed to cater for anyone out there who fancies something different.
Who’s it for?
They suggest that the race is designed for all levels. I reckon that the full expert course is probably the equivalent to a tough half marathon trail run. To be honest it didn’t feel like there was a lot of pressure to go quickly though. Of course, there were some ridiculously fast people doing it, but like with any adventure race, most people are there to enjoy it. There were shouts of motivation from everyone as you made your way past them and the general feel of the whole thing seemed like an experience as opposed to a serious race. Which was good for me.
For more information on the Quest race series, head over to the website here.