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Spring 2000 Polaris - Peak District

Ok We might be Trailquest and Polaris virgins, but after our first event we have gathered some good advice and tips for anybody out there who wants to do one of these challenges. We didn't do too bad coming 152nd out of 376 in the seniors category with 305 points for the two days. 195 points on Saturday and 110 points on Sunday, and on both days we finished early. To do this event took quite a bit of planning, some training and a bit of luck on the weather front.

Every check point seemed to be on top of a mountain, even the 10 point ones !! The two top guys totaled a massive 750 points over the weekend.

Map plotting
Route planning 
Kit       see also:   Kit Checklist Full list of what to take with you!

Some people are natural endurance athletes, others need to train over long distances. Trailquests (5 hours) make good training rides, both from the physical aspect, and also from the tactical aspect of MTB orienteering. Having improved your endurance, you should work on your speed using interval training. Most events involve significant uphill pushes and therefore running and step machines are valuable preparation. 


Making sure you have enough carbohydrate before you start the event is essential. Eat as much carbohydrate as possible on the 2 days prior, I recommend a pasta party!!

Do not have a large cooked breakfast on the Saturday morning . During hard exercise blood is diverted away from your stomach to provide energy and oxygen for your leg muscles etc, a cooked breakfast would just sit there not being able to be digested ! making you feel ill.

You need to take lots of energy type of foods with high carbos, like Power bars or cliff bars, you could also take sweets like jelly babies and Joosters which are high in carbohydrates. Eat these during the event on Saturday and make sure you save some for Sunday. I would take 3 large bags of jelly babies and 3 cliff type power bars.

Use your favorite energy powder in your drink. Take Sachets of this and keep them to hand in your backpack. The volume of fluid will depend on the weather, but 3 bottles is a minimum. There are often places one can fill up on the way round (pubs, garden taps, shops, and streams). Check on the maps for public toilets as these are good places to fill up your water bottle.

On Saturday Evening eat as much carbohydrate within 20 minutes of finishing as this is a time when rapid replenishment of glycogen can occur. The food for the rest of the evening is largely determined by personal preference but should be high in carbs and low in fat. A good food I would use is Beanfeast mixed with super noodles, on the evening we ate a packet of noodles and bean feast each. We had a meal as soon as we arrived and them one later about 8pm.

We also drank, drank and drank more , Cups of tea, water and Hot chocolate. I wish we had taken more hot chocolate, it also warms you UP!

Sunday morning Drink some more ,(Tea) and we ate a couple of Nutra Grain bars each.

Map plotting

Take advantage of the Polaris Laminated Map service, its better than having lots of OS maps stuck together, this special Map is designed to cover the whole area used during the event, it also makes a good memento when the event is over. When you've marked the out of bounds areas and checkpoints, cut the map down so it fits into your map holder. Take time to mark the check points, most new compasses have a scale to divide the map grid in to 10 points.

Highlight each control in green or pink - then count up to make sure you haven't omitted any. Write the control description on the map. Use a yellow highlighter to mark all the possible off road routes between the checkpoints.

Mark the out of bounds areas with a red pen.

MAKE sure you use permanent marker pens!! (DOH - ed.)

Route planning

Spend a long time working out all the possible routes between the controls. Look carefully at the contour lines on the map , are the check points down a valley or on top of a mountain!! Always look to Ride up roads and down bridleways , its a lot easier to ride down a very muddy bridleway .Try to gauge the terrain from the map - look for signs that would indicate whether a bridleway is on a track (fast), boggy (multiple small streams), steep or gentle gradient. Can roads be used to cover long distances between controls. There are normally a few different routes to the check point, the shortest route is not always the easiest.

Work out possible routes depending on where the overnight camp may be. If all this information is already worked out when you get given the control point score values, you can make a good decision about routes quickly. You should have a rough idea of the distance you will be able to cover. You will be able to plan 2 or 3 possible routes - count the points score for each - then recalculate the points score for 2 separate scenarios:

1. Things go really well and you have time to spare. Could you pick up extra control points on a longer run in?

2. A bad day. The paths are atrocious and you tire after 5 hours. Could you shorten the route without missing some high scoring control points?

A good route will allow a choice of routes in the last 1 - 2 hours. Sometimes a decision has to be made about going clockwise or anti-clockwise. The golden rule is always to head for the area with rich pickings first - certainly never leave this area till last - you may not get there. Remember - the person who planned the course will have had a good idea of the route he would like you to take. It's his local area and he wants you to enjoy yourself. The obvious route is often ride-able and good fun. However, if you are to win, you either have to ride like the wind, or choose a novel route which isn't readily apparent to others (the road is often good for this). Don't worry about coming in a few minutes late, especially if the extra time enables you to get an extra 30 points. Most top riders arrive within 10 minutes either side of the 7 hours. After 10 minutes you are deducted 2 points per minute, but it only starts to bite when you are more than 20 minutes late (5 points per minute).

The key to accurate navigation is good map contact - this means always knowing where you are by constantly checking that the features on the ground correspond to those on the map. It is rarely wise to assume that the map is wrong. I find that an altimeter is occasionally helpful E.g. when trying to find a control along a long track with few other features. A trip computer may be helpful but I find that it distracts me and so reduces map contact. If you think you may be on the wrong track, look at the ground - if no other bikes have left a mark then you're on the wrong track (unless you started at 8am).  


Ok you need some light kit, and a good sleeping bag. Both our rucksacks weighed in about 14Ibs which is not bad. Do not duplicate tools or other camping equipment like stoves etc. Pack all of you stuff into a plastic bag in your rucksack, so it doesn't get wet if it rains. Take Spare Clothes and don't skimp on food or drink to make space for equipment. Take a Thermarest 3/4 length mattress, really comfortable small and light. A good sleeping bag is also essential for the spring and autumn events as the evenings can get very cold, for example the overnight temperature at our camp site dropped to -2deg. most good 2 season bags are rated down to -5deg. To increase the rating of your sleeping bag your could use a silk liner, these are available from most good outdoor shops.

See our Checklist for the event


Keep it well serviced. Never change one part of the drive train just before the event or the chain may start to slip. The extra weight of full suspension will be compensated by the extra comfort over the 12 hours. Narrow tyres can make a big difference to overall weight as well as speeding you up on the roads and well-surfaced paths. Use 1.75 or 1.5 inch tyres, which give good traction in the mud. Pump them up extra hard to prevent pinch punctures (60psi). Take it easy down the rocky and wet descents, as they are not as forgiving as wide tyres. A crud catcher is essential, front and rear because a wet bottom can get very sore in 7 hours.

Make sure that you have plenty of wear left on your brake blocks, if you're not sure change them before the event.

Check all nuts bolts for tightness.


Stop in a B&B over night , better than camping two nights in a row, you will feel more refreshed and ready for the day ahead.

Don't dawdle at control points - the time saved can add up and allow you to get more points. Remember to Drink Plenty, takes sips every 15 Mins or so.
Make a checklist of everything you will need.
Be obsessive about punching the correct space on your control card. Wrong box = no score.
Take spare socks and 2 freezer bags. On Saturday night, change into the dry socks and then put the freezer bags on. This should keep them dry all evening.
A map board is essential. 

Take a small tube of chain lube for use after Saturday's ride.
Rucksack versus pannier? No contest, a rucksack is much easier when you have to push up the hills and over the boggy tracks.

Earplugs are useful as some people snore so loudly they can be heard the other side of the camping area. The yellow foam ones are brilliant.

Don't forget to take a water bladder to carry water from the camp supply. Make sure that you pan is non-stick!! its a real pain to clean otherwise.

A good first aid kit , with some pain killers and deep heat would also be useful to soothe aches and pains.

Keep all the clothes i.e. your helmet, shoes and jacket in the tent with you over night , otherwise they will be frozen or soaking wet in the morning.

Also take along a small piece of shammy leather , this is really useful for wiping your map clean, and also drying out small sections of the map when you need to add information. if it rains, adding the points to you map when its wet is nearly impossible.

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