Saturday, 18 April 2009

A new outdoor adventure races North East

After the slightly unfulfilling 'outdoor' experience of the Outdoors Show a few weeks ago (see blog post from 28 March), I was delighted to be on hand to witness the start of a proper grass roots event on Saturday. iROC introduced a new concept in adventure racing and made its debut over the weekend in the beautiful surroundings of the Durham Dales.

iROC, sponsored by Weardale based outdoor brand inov-8, used a new format that combined a series of different races across three different disciplines that included fell running, mountain biking and orienteering. On Saturday and Sunday, there were six individual races, with varying periods of down-time (hours or minutes) between each. The close succession of these six races made iROC a true adventure racing weekend and the different skill sets required to complete the various disciplines meant that only a true all-rounder could become outright winner. The organisers also staged races for novices and families, so iROC offered something for all kinds of outdoor enthusiasts.

iROC marked the start of a summer in the North East that will be packed with outdoor events and initiatives. North East tourism organisations have put the theme of ‘Outdoor and Active’ at the heart of their plans for 2009 and attractions across the region will be playing their part in a sustained push to encourage the public to explore the great outdoors that surrounds them. Press Ahead has been hired to promote Outdoor and Active, so look out for much more on this during the next few months.

iROC certainly got the region's outdoor programme of activity off to an energetic start and was based in an ideal location, at the heart of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Upper Weardale and the Durham Dales in general deserve the well worn phrase 'hidden gems'. That neck of the woods is a wonderful part of the world - lovely villages, a gorgeous landscape and not too many people. Don't get me wrong - I'm no misanthrope, but it's sometimes a real pleasure to go for a walk in the hills without bumping into anyone else (or at least very few others). You can do that in Upper Weardale and part of our job this summer is to encourage more people to try the experience. Success in the latter might seem to make the former less likely, but in truth there is loads of empty space up there.

I took my two sons along to see the start of iROC on Saturday. The first race of the weekend was a 13km fell run, which was well contested by a strong field. Watching the runners as they made their way along the horizon, we were amused to spot a herd of cows who took an interest and started to criss cross the hillside, following the runners back and forth. I think they provided as much of a natural obstacle as the steep climb, rapid descent and the river.

The winner of the first race was Morgan Donnelly (right) and afterwards, the organisers were getting plenty of positive feedback about the course. I'll update this post with more results when I have them. I had to leave after that race, but based on what I witnessed, I think that iROC will be judged a big success and I hope that it becomes a regular date on the outdoor calendar - I may even have a go at one or two of the races myself next time.

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