The Dell Challenge 2015 - ouch!

Team Exertis - (nearly!) all smiles before the start!
The Dell Management Challenge 2015 - Team Exertis UK

It was back in May 2015 that I heard about the Dell Challenge and that my company, Exertis UK, were entering a team for the race in September.
A team of 6+1 was required for entry and a communication was sent around to the 1200 or so UK staff to recruit interested parties - I however was "informed" that I'd be on the team so didn't need to apply - lucky me!

I won't bore you with the details of team selection, kit planning, logistics and training leading up t the event in any serious detail suffice to say that I was planning right up until the last minute and had a number of people drop out who needed to be replaced, right up until the day before the event which made things even more challenging and resulted in a team pretty much meeting up for the first time at the College in Brecon that was to be the HQ for the race weekend - not ideal!
The final Exertis Team for 2015 was to be;
Millie Woodman
Ryan Kahr
Ros Marsh
Laurence Lai
Adam Verity
Me (Capt)
John Cleary

Anyway, the morning of Friday 25th arrived and it was suddenly too late to be worrying about anything other than getting to Brecon and starting the competition the next morning.
The van was loaded up with bikes and a phenomenal amount of kit (my view here was that we had a van so may as well load it right up and take everything we could possibly think we might need - and if we didn't end up using it then hey, it would be better than not having it!

Bad packing?! A van full of kit, and bikes!
Traffic would have been a nightmare on the drive to Wales as the M4 was shut around J20 but thanks to Google & Nokia's navigation with traffic we managed it in around 3hrs, so not too shabby.  Ryan and John however struggled somewhat to find the cottage and after an extra hour of driving here and there they abandoned all hope and waited for us at the College in Brecon - I still think they just fancied a pint and chips and not having to help unload the van!!

Before I dive into the stages and the in's and out's of the weekend I've listed the compulsory individual and team kit items that we had to have across all stages;

Compulsory individual equipment list 
This MUST be carried at all times by each team member and will be checked before your team departs. There will also be random spot checks: 
Waterproof Jacket 
Water Proof Trousers 
Upper body Long Sleeve base layer or Thermal (warm) top 
Warm Hat 
Footwear with adequate grip for slippery off road conditions (see point 4) 
Water Bottle 500ml minimum
Appropriate food for the 2 day race

Compulsory team kit list 
The following MUST be provided and indeed carried at all times by each team and will be checked before your team departs. There will also be random spot checks. 
1 Compass (which can take a bearing) 
1 First Aid Kit (to include as a minimum: blister plasters, sterile dressing, bandage, wound dressings)  
1 Survival bag (NOT Foil blanket ) 
1 Mobile phone 
1 Map and instructions (provided) 
1 Puncture repair kit and pump (for bike stages)
1 Thermal and/ or fleece top (in addition to compulsory long sleeve top)
Failure to produce these during morning and random spot checks could result in penalties!

The Friday evening was a case of meet and greet (read; scope out other teams for competition!) and then a series of talks with Greg Searle as key speaker.  This was actually really interesting but a slight challenge as we arrived back to our cottage at around 11am and my instructions to pack bags, sort kit and make lunches for the next day didn't go down that well initially.  But we got it done, decided on a strategy (of sorts) for the next day's stages and then set alarms for pre-6am the next day....

And so, on to the race!
A beautiful morning in Wales, the view from our cottage
Saturday 26th September (2015) was a beautiful day, as was the whole weekend actually, but when we awoke it was dark and very cold - some serious motivation was needed to get us up, packed and away in time to be at the college on time (we also had to drive to the day's final stage and leave the car there as 7 of us in the van wouldn't have been advisable!) - thankfully Laurence's sterling effort with the bacon and eggs sorted everyone out and by the time we got on the road everyone was really up for the competition.

The race was split into a number of stages, spread over two days.  So in the interests of not boring anyone reading this too much and keeping the word count down I've detailed the stages below, with some pictures and Strava plots where possible and a few words on my experience of the stage itself;

Here are the stages, as we raced them.......

Day 1
Stage 1 – Canoe & Run – 5.5km
Leg 1 - 2 in canoe, 4 running canal path – all finish at CP1 then Change Paddlers
Leg 2 - 2 in canoe, 4 running canal path - all finish at CP2 then Change Paddlers
Leg 3 - 2 in canoe, 4 running canal path – all finish at end of stage

I may have messed up the placing of people to stages for the canoeing in hindsight but it worked and we did well against everyone else.  My paddling stint (1st) was ok and the subsequent running legs were not too bad although running isn't my strong point and both Adam and Ryan excel in this area.

Stage 2 – Team Run – 2.2km
No pictures I'm afraid - we were too busy running.  But we did it and managed to keep up a reasonably decent 9m/mile pace.

Stage 3 – Team Biking – 14km
Ok, this one was tough, especially for the non-cyclists.
The initial part of the stage (3-4k) was along a narrow tow path beside the canal and both Ryan and I were itching to get the speed up higher than was really practical or possible.
Then we turned onto the Taff Trail and things got technical, and steep!

After about 1km of this Mille started to struggle, both with the terrain and the amount of people around as there were some pinch points at gates.  She had the first of a couple of panic/asthma attacks here and, although mild, were a challenge for her and us - credit to her though, she kept going and rode a fantastic ride.

Once off the 2km of technical uphill we moved onto another 8km or so of gravel fire road - again uphill!  Ryan and I shared "assistance" duties with Mille which took its toll on our legs but we made really good time and the looks of other teams as we went past them pushing one of our group made all the effort worth it!
A lovely backdrop to some brutal MTB rides
The stage finished in the car park at the foot of Fan-y-Big which was to be the start of the final days' leg - a walk across Pen-y-Fan and down to the Pont ar Daf car park near the Storey Arms - joy!

Stage 4 – Team Pen-y-Fan Mountain Hike – 10.4km

After a brief rest we headed out of the car park onto the immediately steep path up towards Fan-y-Big - yes, I'm giggling as I write it so it's ok to chuckle at that name but I did speak to one of the Welsh teams and the correct pronunciation of that particular hill is; van uh beeg - not quite as funny!

About 15 minutes into the first ascent we took a decision for Mille to turn back as her hips were hurting and the ride had taken more out of her than she realised.  I walked back down with her accompanied by some incredible "amusing" comments from teams passing us the other way and then had to walk/run back up to catch the team on the summit of Fan-y-Big - I didn't have the spare breath to say anything to those teams as I passed them on the way back up but it would have been something witty if I had!
**we took a 10% time penalty on this stage (about 35mins) as we finished with 5 people not 6 but our overall time would have been greater if we hadn't made this descision and it wouldn't have been fair on Millie to make her carry on.
The weather on Pen-y-Fan doesn't get much better than this.... ever!
From here the walk was uneventful and for those in the team who hadn't walked in the mountains or in Wales before (Laurence, Ros, Ryan) it was a great day to be doing it.
The views were stunning and there was no cloud or wind (unheard of in Wales) all day making it (in a very British way) almost too hot!

Pen-y-Fan summit - Team Exertis 2015

A brief rest stop on the summit of PyF
I won't lie, my legs were burning by the time we reached the summit of Pen-y-Fan and the long walk back down to the Pont ar Daf car park seemed to go on and on - but we got there in the end and the wonderful cameraman took great joy in asking me questions about the stage and the team, which I appreciated immensely - honestly!

Evening - business case study (worth up to 1hr off overall time!)

We headed back to the cottage to shower and change after the walk and then drove back down to Brecon for the evening's activities - the management case study - awesome!

After a bite of dinner and about an hour of talking we called it a night and headed back to the cottage where the girls slept and we attempted to watch the rugby while I typed away at our case study response accompanied by a bottle of wine. The case study was worth up to 1hr off our time when marked by the judges so we needed to do it however much I really didn't want to - we ended up with getting 54 minutes back so not bad at all for 1000 words of Sauvignon inspired waffle!

Day 2
After another early start we arrived at the college to realise that the day's activities actually started 20 minutes down the road at the Garwnant Visitor Centre - oh crap! So we headed off down there fairly rapidly and after a few false turnings we arrived just in time to save embarrassment and the associated time penalties for me being late to the captain's briefing.

The first 3 stages of the day (5, 6, and 7) were run as one and I decided to step out and act as Enabler for this bit to let Ros have a go on the mountain bikes and to save my legs for the MTB stage.
Garwnant Visitor Centre - the base for Day 2
Stage 5 – Team Bike and Hike – 5.8km Hand in or email case studies as per case study instructions by 9am
Stage 6 – Tandem Canoeing – 1.3km
Stage 7 – Bike and Hike – 5.8km
Morning, Day 2, leg 5 - ready for the off!
Ryan took a fairly nasty tumble on the return bike stage when he locked bars with Millie while trying to push her along and (as he wasn't wearing gloves) lost a lot of skin on his palms, arms and knee but after some attention and bandaged from the medics carried on - a hero as his help on the bike stage later in the day was invaluable.

Stage 8 – Team Orienteering – around 6km (1hr15m)
This became the best sight in the world!
The orienteering stage was good fun and a mix of running, walking and trampling through brambles (my legs are still showing the scars of this whilst I type up this blog a week later!) - a 10 minute time penalty was awarded for every minute you were late (75 minutes was the stage time) and a 2 min penalty for every "base" you didn't get.  I think we missed 5 or 6 of the bases out of 26 but came in on time.

Stage 9 – Team Biking – 17km

The start of the bike stage, Day 1
We decided to let Millie take the Enabler role and also for Ros to sit out this stage - again incurring another 10% time penalty.  The thought being that Ryan and I could keep the pace up (and assist where needed) enough to make this back overall.

The ride was good, some decent uphill stretches and some fast downhill - we finished the stage in 1hr and with the average being 1hr30 this was a great time.

Laurence and John were feeling it on the uphill sections of the ride but helped occasionally by Ryan and I we powered through and overtook around 4 other teams which was great for our moral - not so good for their's!

Stage 10 – Team Run – 3km

The last bit - and I hate running!

We all just got through this section.  Ryan and Adam were still feeling fairly strong (how I don't know) but the rest of us managed to get through the 3km to meet Millie just before the finish flag and try to put on a slight burst of speed to propel us over the line with some look of a serious bunch of athletes when in fact we were just broken!

Final results
Team Name


Adv Race Time
Case study (deduction)
Final Time
Ordnance Survey S
GE Aviation
Ordnance Survey 0
Dell Elite
Dell Marketing
Kelway 1
LinkedIn 2
Kelway 2
GE Capital
Dell Scotland
LinkedIn 1
Dell Brk B
Dell Brk A
Circle IT
Dell Ireland
Llanedeyrn Primary
AB Vista
Ingram Micro
CPS Group
Cambridge Judge BS EE (*)

So that was it, all done and still smiling!

We had a great weekend, well I certainly did and I'm pretty sure that everyone else did too, made some good friends and proved to both ourselves and everyone else that we could do it!  Yes we were all slightly gutted that without the time penalties we'd have ended in 6th place but you know what?
 That actually wasn't that important - we all performed as a team and did a bloody good job.

So to the Exertis team of the 2015 Dell Challenge, well done and here's to the next one!

For me, yes it was tough. One of the toughest things I've done to date but it's made me realise that I can run (not very well but I can do it) and that I can push myself a little more than I thought.   So I'm looking at the upcoming triathlon on the 11th October in a different light and have already started thinking about what to do next year (aside from the 140mile Dragon Ride in Wales that I've already signed up for) but more about that another day - I'm off to eat, lots!

Finally, the end - the smiles mask the pain but not the achievement


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