It’s fair to say that we’ve become Burn addicts and 2016 being the year of adventure in Wales, both me and the cub have once again entered the Mini Burn, which will take place on the 2nd of April.
The event is situated in Margam Park, near Port Talbot and it’s really a dream of an awesomely historical, beautiful and safe place to run a multisport family event!
The Mini Burn is a multisport adventure race that you can do with your kids, it includes four phases:
You can enter in pairs in a wide range of categories so that everyone should find what’s ideal for them but there is no “I don’t feel like it category”:
There are no age limits as you have the option to complete a shorter MTB phase that cuts out the steeper and more technical off-road parts. I understand that people have even done it with 3 year-old kids and tag-along bikes so no one should feel daunted by the event although kids will probably enjoy it most from the age of 7.
Without these, you won’t be able to race:
Extras that you can race without but that I like to have too:
Kayaks and buoyancy aids are provided and so are your timing chips so no need to worry about this.
At registration you will receive race numbers (for you and the bike) and a timing chip. Next to the registration desk, you’ll find maps of the run and bike course. Have a look at them as although the courses are well marked it’s also a good idea to know where you’re going!
I like to get the cub to do the registration process, it makes her feel more engaged.
The timing chip is fixed around your wrist or the child’s wrist and you will need it to “punch in” at all 5 orienteering points as well as at the start of the race and end of each leg. At this stage you have to decide who wears the chip, since this will become important in the orienteering phase: some of the checkpoints will require adventurous ventures (climbing, balancing and so on) so make sure that the person who wears the chip is happy with this 🙂
When you’ve completed the bike phase, you will receive your foot-orienteering map that shows where the various checkpoints are located, with a short description of the spot where you will find the check point.
Once you’re in possession of your map, it’s up to you to decide:
The rule of the game is that you only have to visit one of the five checkpoints but there is a time penalty for each checkpoint you don’t visit.
The run is almost flat (there are a couple of slight rises) and takes you through the more remote parts of Margam Park. Expect to see animals along the way as you will go through a small area where farm animals are penned. Added bonus: animal poo on the path…
The kayak is a simple two lap paddle in a reservoir. The kayaks are waiting for you on a small wooden quay, which is also where you land so there’s no risk of slipping down muddy river banks and getting totally wet. There are also some great volunteers to hand you the buoyancy aids, make sure you’re wearing them safely, help you in and and out of the kayaks and give you tips on how to paddle if necessary. Be prepared for a wet bum! First time round, the cub was shocked to ride her bike with a wet derrière…
The bike part remains within Margam Park and is totally traffic free. It takes you through grassy paths, small paved roads, rocky paths, single tracks and if you choose the longer 10 km option you will go up and down a great big steep hill. On top of the hill you will enjoy a stunning view on the valley, the bay and possibly see the herds of red deer that live in the park. Expect to have to push, physically and mentally…
Things to consider when choosing between the longer and shorter bike options:
On the 10 km loop you will have to push the bike up a massively steep and in parts rocky track, once that’s done you’ll obviously also need to negotiate a steep descent (brakes and confidence help). But then you’ll also get to ride through a really nice bit of the park with a smooth and flowy bit of single track. You’ll also finish knowing you did the hard bit and that’s great for kids.
On the shorter 5 km loop, you stay almost entirely on flat tracks (although you do have a climb and some nice gravelly bits) so this is perfect for younger or not so confident kids. Obviously this would be the option to take if you have a tag-along! It’s still challenging so kids will come off the bike feeling they’ve achieved something, which is the whole purpose here. Note that to compensate for the shorter distance covered you get 30 minutes added to your time if you chose that option.
We took the longer option both times we did the Mini Burn. The first time round the cub didn’t want to, I had to force-trick her into doing it as I knew it would give her a huge confidence boost to overcome her fear of straining herself… It was hard, particularly as she didn’t know how long the climb was (it feels long). In the end she realised that the hardest bit was going down, not up as she froze on the brakes and her hands literally “felt the burn”! The second time round she’d gained confidence and climbed really well, she knew her bike better by then too, which must have helped and I made sure to feed her at regular intervals on the bike so that she didn’t turn into an angry zombie…
The last part is orienteering, where you’ll walk/run around 2 km in order to find the 5 checkpoints. Some of the checkpoints might require climbing, balancing or team work to reach… In many ways this can be the tricky part of the race as everybody is tired but at the same time you have to be on top of your game to locate the various checkpoints. This is when you should remember: you need to stay together as a team, even when tired…
There is plenty of parking at Margam Park and as the event starts fairly early you’ll be spoilt for choice.
There were no toilets in the vicinity of the start line but there are some in the castle.
Spectating would be limited to the run and kayak phase and some parts of the bike course. The area is beautiful though and there are plenty of possibilities to keep busy if you’re waiting for competitors.
Margam Park is a great place to take the kids with lots of activities and possibilities for discovery. We warmly encourage you to have a look at the park’s website before you go there so that you can make the best of your visit!
This year there will be coffee and food on site, exciting!
In both Mini Burns we did, the two categories with the most entrants were family pairs with children over 10 and family pairs with children under 10. For these, finishing times ranged between 1h18 and 2h33 with most people needing around 2 hours to finish.
There are two things in my opinion that greatly contribute to the family and relaxed atmosphere at the Mini Burn:
1. in order to finish, all you need to do is complete the 5 km loop and find one of the 5 checkpoints, which gives you a lot of freedom to shorten the event if you’ve got a young or tired child. No need to give up and face defeat when you can finish honourably a shorter course.
2. it’s a staggered start, meaning all competitors don’t set off at the same time but rather leave in small units so kids will actually find it impossible to tell how well they’re doing. This removes the stressful competition aspect, meaning you can walk the 3 km run and take it easy for the rest of the course and nobody will feel like they’ve been shamefully left behind. This puts all the achievement on finishing and it’s great for kids.
So in short, training is not really necessary! However I also think it’s a real shame to pass on a brilliant opportunity to hone some skills and get out with the kids. Why not take them running, you might be surprised by how fast they go or how unfit you’ve become. Go mountain biking with them to make sure they’re confident up and down hills and manoeuvring their bike. Rent a kayak for an hour at the beach and fool around together. You’ll only have a better experience through this as you’ll know each other that little bit better.
This event provides a rare opportunity: to race as a team with your child. It’s really been a great experience for us and has helped the cub come leaps and bounds in self confidence and understanding of how to manage herself over a longer event.
But we think the experience wouldn’t have been quite as good if it had all gone smoothly the first time round! Yes, it really wasn’t smooth sailing the first time, making a longer effort is something you need to learn. In June last year the cub didn’t want to run all the time, didn’t want to go on the big loop, felt like giving up and was very grumpy on the orienteering phase. I had to really engage and mentally carry her through the course. Then the race was finished, she got a t-shirt and a medal and all was forgotten.
The second time round, all went much better, she knew what to expect and most importantly she’d developed a real trust and respect for me and my self management advice. She did all I said, was on top of it throughout the course and even made some really astute suggestions during the orienteering. She’d grown mentally and she was great. This is what makes the real value of the Mini Burn so we’ll keep on coming back for sure.