There is Life in the Old Dog Yet … (4th and Final Part)

So to the main The Team : Steve Smith, Dave McMahon, David Hobbs-Malyon, Tim Leung, Steve Loader, Gavin Osbornevent, if you’ve been following my series on the Challenger Event this year, you’ll know by now that Team Tutti Frutti started to gel together really well in the third weekend training in the Peak District.  So now it was to the real event which took place over three and a half days from 10th to 13th June 2009 in an around Aberystwyth in Wales.

The final team was (from left to right as shown in the photo) Steve Smith (SharePoint User Group), Me, David Hobbs-Mallyon (Microsoft), Tim Leung (VBUG), Steve Loader (Microsoft) and Gavin Osborn (Vista Squad/The Edge).  Some essential facts:  We had never actually managed to all come together as a team prior to the final itself, though we all knew each other through various training meetings; our average age was 38, with 4 team members being over 40; Gavin was the youngest at 27; I was the oldest at 47; Tim had never done any sort of training prior to January 2009;Steve Loader had seriously injured his foot in the final training in May;David is a really tall bloke! 

The event eventually consisted of 8 stages in total, you can see the official commentary about them here.  A team is scored in terms of cumulative time taken over all the events.  Teams can earn bonus times (i.e their overall time is reduced) by doing extra things such as visiting optional bonus point locations or carrying out optional tasks.  The opportunity to earn bonuses is pretty much outweighed by the seemingly infinite amount of ways to incur penalties (i.e the overall time is increased!).  You avoid penalties by doing the minimum amount required by the rules of each stage, by not going over the times allotted for the stages – this means you really have to read and understand the rules of each stage and to spend time constructing a strategy for each stage.  Overall Team Tutti Frutti did this – though we failed on a couple of occasions which cost us – but not too dearly thank goodness!

I thought I’d give my personal slant on each of the stages so here goes:

Stage 1 – (One Hundred and) 24 – Night Biking/Navigation

This event was pretty simple all told, a quick dash around the Welsh hills on Mountain Bikes after a brief dash to the start line by Tim Leung to get the full instructions and maps.  I paired off with Steve Loader, whilst Steve Smith and Tim did the other pairing.  Strategy?  Simple, “Do No More!” meaning, if you hadn’t already gathered – do no more than the minimum required.  We did the bare minimum of getting in a couple of checkpoints and headed straight in.  No real problems, found what we needed to find, dipped our electronic dippers into the relevant points – job done – nice easy start. 

Lasting memory – trying to determine which of 2 dipping points was the correct one, as several ‘dummy’ dipping points has been placed to really test your map reading.  We got the right one by just spending a few minutes checking and double checking!

Stage 2 – Tucking Hell – Daytime Run/Navigation/Problem Solving

This event was the first of a two-parter and involved gathering up fictitious driving licenses for different typeTim and Gavin plan out Trucking Hell ...s of vehicles which we would ‘drive’ in the second part in the afternoon.  Certain vehicles could only carry certain loads and only go on certain roads, so it was important to plan correctly and to get the strategy right. 

I didn’t do this phase ‘cos I hate running and also keep injuring myself when I do it and Steve Loader of course still had a dodgy ankle, however the Stage Team of David, Steve Smith, Gavin and Tim certainly did the business.  In the end, we got a couple of Articulated Lorry Licenses which could ‘carry’ the biggest loads but could not go on all the roads, as ‘low bridges’ prevented them from passing.  We also got a couple of 3 Tonne Truck Licenses which could go on all the roads but could not carry the biggest loads.  The boyz came in with 3 seconds to spare!  Gavin says he was sweating over that one.  Coming in before Stage Close is very important, as otherwise you get hit with progressively bigger and bigger penalties.

 Stage 3 – Keep on Trucking – Daytime Biking/Navigation/Problem Solving

Having gained the licenses in the morning, we then had to ‘deliver’ loads of goods from various depots to various locations.  You had The Competitors wait for the start of Stage 3 to deliver a certain amount of Goods A  to So from the starting point you had to decide which routes you were going to travel with which loads.  It definitely paid to spend a decent amount of time planning this one out, which we did and again, sticking to the “Do No More” we succeeded in delivering our various goods to and from the depots without incurring any penalty points.  The only thing that could have been improved here, was our final meeting up point prior to heading back to the finish, as if we had studied things properly it would have saved Steve Loader and Me having to slog it up a huge hill twice! 

My lasting memory of that Stage is the phenomenal amount of bikes rushing madly about the narrow hill biking tracks – it was manic.  There were people screaming past through narrow gaps between cyclists, overtaking on brows of hills at breakneck speeds – a road safety nightmare – but funny all the same.

 Stage 4 – Pentago

OK, so this was a bit weird and different.  All we had to do was play a game – yep that was it.  Nice and easy huh?  Simple game, a a bit like naught and crosses (tic, tac, toe) but played on four little boards, and you aim for 5 marbles in a row of the sMC-2009 S4001ame colour. if you want to find out about it go here.  The idea was were were in groups of 5 teams and we have to play 5 matches, so we’d play one team twice and just win as many as we could!

Never been so stressed or nervous!  It was weird.  A room full of people, but intense concentration.  Team-mates could help you but when it was your term it was one-on-one with the opponent.  We had actually as a team worked out a couple of strategies which worked really well.  We had a Plan A and a Plan B.  In the end we did really well we won 5 and drew one!  The Draw was amazing, the opposing team thought they had us and for a moment so did we, but then I noticed that we both had a row of five marbles!

Overall we cam 4th in that event – our best ever event and after this the Tutti-Fruttis would be in 18th Position – height we would never reach again …


Stage 5 – I May Be Some Time

The Friday morning saw us heading for the source of the River Severn and a kayaking,running, biking event.  We had 4 Checkpoints we Getting ready for the Kayakshad to visit, plus we could visit bonus points and also do ‘expeditions’ which could gain us more points. This was a long and arduous event and involved initially a kayaking session which was hard work and of course wet … followed by a very long cycle ride up a very long hill.  Still it was a great mornings effort.  In the afternoon we elected to do the water expedition and headed back out into the lake.  This was a fairly arduous affair again and Gavin now has a fear of kayaks which probably has something to do with having an iron support digging into his back for 40 mins!  I was in the back steering, or at least so I claimed, but I think we did a few more hundred meters than we needed to after several zig zags …

After that it was back onto the bikes for David and me and we shot off to get a bonus point and if we’d planned a bit better, two other guys could have got another but hey, that’s the way it goes. We were happy and it all worked out for us.  We booked in inside Stage Close and set off back home for a nice shower and tea. Job done!

Stage 6 – Intelligent Sport Frustration

Stage 6 saw us joined by Alex Hoy our team exec who was to accompany us on the next 2 stages.  The execs don’t have to do too much running, but they do get involved.  It took me ages to figure out what this stage was about.  Basically it wasJames Crowley (Developer Fusion) from another Microsoft Team does 'Frustration' based around the board game frustration.  The idea was for us the team to run around and get ‘dice throws’ and give them to Alex who would plot them on a board and get our ‘counter’ home.   You couldn’t land on the same spot twice and you had to get two counters home.  It took a whole lot of calculation by Alex and Steve Smith to work out which dice throws we needed to get. Luckily the area wasn’t too large and Steve and me did the nearby stuff whilst David and Gavin did the longer stuff.

After a few jogs around the forest we had our counters home “we hoped” and we all set off running back to the finish.  It was a nervous wait for us as we waited for the computer output to confirm the results – but we’d got it right!  Well done to Alex and Steve for getting the strategy right on that one!  Some of the top teams made errors and didn’t get the results they wanted.

It was a late night and we headed for bed after a brief discussion about the next stage which was a build stage.

Stage 7 – Anoga One Bites the Dust

By now we were starting to feel a little bit tired.  The long day before had done it’s damage and we ended up paying for it on this one.  By now we were about 27th overall – but this one nearly sent us plummeting …  Why? We didn’t read the instructions properly!!!

Dave looks on prior to the near disaster ...Very simple – retrieve an egg from it’s resting place on a golf tee using only the bits and wood and string you were given.  There were areas you could not step etc, etc.  One egg was inside a hoop the other behind a board.  We got stuck in quickly building a long reachy arm thing, only to immediately be penalised as NO WOOD COULD ENTER THE OUT OF BOUNDS area.  Simple rule but we missed it!  Not only penalised, but had to wait 40 mins until we could attempt the next one.  I was furious with myself for missing that.  Several choice expletives were uttered.  But we decided to get ready for the second egg.  When our 40 mins were up we set about using a pulley system to retrieve the egg through the hoop, which we hid on the second attempt breaking only one egg!  We rushed around to the finish and managed to get in a reasonably decent time – success snatched from the jaws of defeat … we hoped. 

Stage 8 – Intelligent Sport Grand Prix

And so … to the finale. No strategy on this one – this was a pure muller it around the course as fast as we could, but try to solve some puzzles on the way.  The start was on top of a dam which was pretty impressive and involved Nice Dam, Shame about the Hill!a run  down a hill for a km to get the map and then up the hill for a km.  I had not had a good morning, after the screw up in Stage 7, I’d left my carefully prepared camel-back rucksack at Stage 7 and whilst I knew it would be safe and collected it really threw me as it had the water, snacks etc I needed for the Grand Prix.  Steve Loader was a real hero here. He sorted out his camelback – refilled it with what I wanted and gave it to me. Meanwhile I stripped off in the heat so just my underpants were under my jumpsuit, I felt a bit silly but boy did it pay off! 

As I got ready for Tim our runner to return from his gruelling run, the guy from Airbus team came storming in, got his backpack, got on his bike and went off with the team!  Unbelievable!  When Tim arrived we decided to solve the first problem whilst we still had oxygen in our brains, as if we got puzzles wrong we ended up in the ‘brain cell’ for a penalty period.  All around us team members were coming back from the start run exhausted and just lying on the ground, Tim did a great job and was totally shagged …

Still we were off now, with Steve Smith leading setting the pace on the Bikes followed by David, Gavin and me at the back.  Cycling was always my strongest event, and we needed to stick together.  We pounded it up to Checkpoint 1, handed our answer in and set off for Checkpoint 2 at the top of a hill. Nothing like the hill on Friday, but still a decent climb.  We were pretty tired by now and the puzzle was to work out the area of carpet in a house which was not drawn to scale.

Tutti Fruttis Are Coming In! “I can do it! I can do it!” yells Gavin, he sits down draws out the house then spends the next 5 mins just staring blankly at the paper as he attempts to get his oxygen starved brain functioning.  Meanwhile David and me are bickering over which way to add up the squares, in the end we spend 7 mins gettin g the wrong answer – so into the cell we go!  We should have just taken the hit! Still we had a nice rest for 7 mins then headed off to checkpoint 3 at the bottom of a long long downhill.  That was great.  Steve Smith was in his element and went roaring off with David and Gav close behind.  Me being bit more of a chicken went a little more sedately but I always caught them up on the flatter bits :-). 

Puzzle 3 at Checkpoint 3.  Locate NSPCC collecting boxes hidden in a roped off area.  Get it wrong and it was a 10 minute run up and down a hill.  Gav counted 6, David counted 8, Steve counted 5, I counted 10 three times, 11 once.  How many? The guys asked. “Ten” I  said, “But … I probably missed one, and 10 seems too obvious a number, so let’s say eleven.”.  The answer?  Ten!!! Doh!  So up the hill we had to run!  One the run back down, I started to laugh.  There I was with only my underpants on under my clown suit (they looked like clown suits!), my reading glasses in my pocket running down the Welsh hills – bizarre!  Quickly back onto the bikes and then to the bike drop-off point and onto the running stage which was up a big hill and across a couple of small peaks back to the finish.  At this Tutti Fruttis Finishing At Last!point I was dreading the running but off we went.  As we got along I felt great and started to really enjoy it.  We stopped for short sessions and then carried on.  Steve Smith like me doesn’t really do running so David and Gavin helped by greatly pushing Steve which helped him keep up a pace.  I helped too every now and again, but mainly I set the pace.  We got over the mountains in good shape back to Checkpoint 4, very out of breath – had a puzzle to try to identify city names from a grid – knickers to it – take the hit, into the brain cell for a nine minute penalty.  Out we came last stretch, a simple run back to the finish about 2 miles, boy did it seem to go on and on, around each corner we expected to see the dam and the finish, but time after time, no finish to be seen. 

Finally there was the finish, we upped the pace a bit, there were Steve, Alex and Tim waiting for us.  Onto the dam, poor Steve Smith having to pound every step but still going, we linked arms and ran into an amazing crowd of cheering teams, we were exhausted, the stress flowed out of me, I felt my eyes water up with the release, but managed to just not blub like a baby.  What a great event! A bottle of champagne was thrust into our hands, photos were taken, hugs, slaps on the back, what a feeling!  We were some minutes over Stage Close but we felt we’d done enough to maintain a reasonable position.

We joined the crowd cheering in the teams, another emotion stirring site.  People of all shapes and sizes running in exhausted but jubilant.  The final team came in about 20 mins after everybody else and we lined the whole dam and clapped them in.  What an event! What a feeling. 

After that, more photos, more shaking of hands and we returned to home for the evening celebrations.

Stage 9 – PARTY!

The evening was kicked off with the awards ceremony, where many prizes were awarded for various categories.  Airbus were again the overall winners (many congrats) and 15 teams including 2 from Microsoft qualified for the semi-finals in Portugal in November – so good luck to them! Just after that we found out we had finished 39th overall – a result we were all really chuffed with.  Top 40 for the old buggers!  Job done! 

After that it was party on!  Everybody was so tired the booze hit pretty quickly so we were all in bed pretty early.  Next day it was packing up and leaving.  Like with all really enjoyable things it was sad to have it all finish.

Final Thoughts

Firstly a huge thank you to Microsoft for the invitation to take part.  I nearly didn’t do it but I was so glad I did.  It was all immense fun.  Hard work, but fun.  My thanks to UPH (now Monkey Business) for organising the various training weekends which helped tremendously.  Thanks to my team mates of course: David, you were a great example All the Microsoft Teams Togetherof a top team captain, we’d have followed you anywhere! Steve Loader – you were the guy who always kept us going when things didn’t go so well, heart of the team!  Steve Smith – what a cyclist and what a great mind for strategy! Gavin – you were the driver in the team, kept pushing us when we needed it! Tim – you were the inspiration in the team as you never knew how to quit!

So finally, remember in part 1 I mentioned about exorcising some personal ghosts?  Well I did.  What ghosts?  Well way back in 1983 when I was going through my RAF Officer Basic Training there was an event called “Top Dog” which was a gruelling run over hills in Northumbria.  It was the event to win and much kudos went to the winning team. I’d injured my achilles tendon in an earlier event and early on in the event I pulled out.  I’ve always wondered did I pull out too soon?  Could I have kept going?  Did I just not want to go through the pain barrier?   Well I had similar thoughts going up the hill on the running part of Stage 8.  My legs were hurting, but you know I just kept going this time, I went though the pain and came out the other side brimming with confidence – I’ve never run so well in years.    So Challenger was a Challenge for me but I’m definitely a better person for it and I have a bunch of awesome memories that will be with me for ever. Would I do it again? In an instant! I’m just waiting for that invitation …


Dave Mc


About davemcmahon81
Software Developer & Architect, User Group Leader, Speaker, Writer, Blogger, Occasional Guitarist, Man-made Global Warming Sceptic, Climate Change Believer, General Optimist but most of all proud Husband and Dad ...

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