Dell Management Challenge 2017

Over the weekend of 30 Sept – 1 October 2 teams from OS took part in the Dell Management Challenge, this is their story …

Team OS Explorers

Karen Connell (captain), Matt Pillinger, Matt Maiden, Nick Lindsay, Paul Ashley, Tim Newman, Keith Spiers (enabler)

I was very privileged, this year, to captain a formidable team. I was well aware that we had some serious power and skill in the team and my biggest worry was whether I could keep up with them.

We were sent our management task on the Thursday before leaving so we got a head start on the task. Nick lead the way in putting a presentation together for the Prince’s Trust to tackle the issue of underemployment, and gradually over the weekend, a fairly robust strategy emerged.

Nick working hard on the case study

We would have helped, but ‘too many cooks’ and all that …

After registering our teams at race HQ in Brecon, on the Friday, we were treated to an inspirational talk from 4x Ironman World Champion, Chrissie Wellington. We were sitting in the second row so were a bit star struck when Chrissie came in and sat right in front of us! Her story was amazing and particularly resonated with me when I learned she didn’t even get started on her triathlon/athletics career until her 30s, so there’s still a chance for me yet! What was amazing though was that our very own Paul Ashley had raced with Chrissie in the UK Half Ironman Champs 10 years ago and come in only 1 position behind her, certainly giving her a run for her money!

A proper bona-fide world class athlete

Saturday was a full-on day, starting with canoeing and running along the canal, then a long uphill slog on mountain bikes, then finishing off with a 10k run/hike/climb up and over Pen Y Fan. Our team worked particularly well on the runs and had the technique of faster runners going ahead to pre-open gates down to perfection. Matt M gave us all a big surprise on the mountain bike stage as he stormed ahead, despite having very little biking experience or confidence.

Suns out, guns out’, except the sun wasn’t out

Steve Redgrave doesn’t have much to fear

About to run/walk/crawl over Pen-Y-Fan

In the evening, we breathed a sigh of relief when we submitted our management case study, and were then treated to a networking evening meal. Speaking to other teams and marshals we’d been hearing a lot about a new team for this year: Team Army – Yorkshire Regiment. We’d heard they’d been seen storming over Pen Y Fan and they were currently the marshalls’ favourites to win. When the day 1 interim results were announced we (and everyone else) were flabbergasted! We were somehow in 1st place with the army 2 and a half minutes behind us. It was at that stage we witnessed the army push their drinks away and leave to get an early night!

The next day we were more determined than ever. This was going to be a close fight and the army now knew what they were contending against. With the weather forecast even more dismal than day 1 we blasted some fight music (our team anthem provided by Tim – ‘Remember the Name’ by Fort Minor) in the van and got into the zone. Today was going to be tough. As the team in 1st place, we were last to start the day’s activities, which kicked off with a technical 21km mountain bike ride which left us with grit in our mouths and mud covering our faces.

It really was that muddy

Then it was on to face the notorious “bog of doom”. With some warnings about the deep mud and the high likelihood of breaking our legs we managed to make pretty good progress with no major injuries (although I think we all fell over several times). We then pulled together as a team to power a tandem canoe (seating all 6 of us) around Brecon reservoir. At this point the visibility was so low we couldn’t even see the buoy we were meant to be heading for until we got up close to it.

Another boggy run lead us to the Storey Arms at the base of Pen Y Fan where our enabler, Keith, made sure that we were all fed and equipped with fresh dry clothes ready for the next mountain stage. As we started the climb up Fan Frynych, the marshals were making a call on whether the weather conditions had got so bad they would need to stop teams from going up there. Luckily for us they let us go but we found the low visibility and exposed conditions very challenging. At one point when visibility was at its worst we lost the path and became disorientated. We decided to consult the map and compass to make sure of our direction. Luckily our trusty paper OS Map helped us and another team head in the right direction where we soon spotted a marshal huddled in a tiny wind beaten tent.

After the descent, there was a chance for a quick re-hydrate and then a 3k sprint to the finish line. This last stage pushed me, in particular to my limits, at this stage, fairly dehydrated, covered in mud and with kit drenched, the whole team pushed me on and spurred us to a very speedy finish. We knew it was going to be close but we had no idea by how much! Nobody could even guess what the podium finishers looked like. Having heard the rumours that Team Army had been quicker than us on the bikes (a stage we thought we’d have in the bag) I was preparing myself for a defeat. When the results were announced we were obviously disappointed but then to find out that there was only 92 seconds in it was heart-breaking. Once we’d exhausted all of our “If onlys” we realised that this was the British Army they’d pitched us against and to have beaten them on day 1 and then only been beaten by 92 seconds overall was actually a solid achievement.

A great weekend, 1 or 2 of us may have been pasting smiles on our faces at this point though

This was the first year our team had been seriously challenged and we didn’t go down without a fight. We didn’t make it an easy win for the army. Keith had witnessed them at the end of some of the running stages looking like they were at their absolute limits. We accepted our 2nd place prizes (many bottles of prosecco) with grace and were also awarded a prize for fastest sprint finish.

Definitely mixed feelings in our team about our result but overall it was a brilliant weekend where we all faced big personal challenges and worked exceptionally well together as a team. We may even have helped our reputation at DMC as this year we were perceived more as the underdogs rather than the obvious winners (also sharing Matt P’s delicious homemade flapjacks with other teams may have helped our cause too)!

James Norris is an amazing cook

Best bit / worst bit


Best bit = all the descents, loved the exhilarating thrill of flying down a hill either on foot or bike

Worst bit = I really feel the cold and struggled with waiting and shivering, in cold, wet clothes, queuing to start the stages while the teams were staggered.


Best bit = Watching all the happy contented faces coming back in, knowledge that a good job had been well done.

Worst bit = no real low.

Matt M

Best bit = Powering home as a team of 6 on that final straight and seeing the fear in the army’s eyes as they saw how strong we looked coming in.

Worst bit = Feeling broken on the canoe and realising we’d only gone half way.

Matt P

Best bits = 1) Loved spending the weekend with everyone, we made a great team and had a laugh too. 2) Meeting Chrissie Wellington. 3) Finding out we were number 1 in the interim scores on day 1. 4) The super ‘gate strategy’ on day 1, stage 2, we were so well organised, it was amazing.

Worst bit = Easy one, the final results announcement.


Best bit = Meeting Ironman triathlon legend Chrissie Wellington, inspirational.

Worst bit = Victory missed by 90 seconds.


Best bit = Tim showing true teamwork (something shown by all over the 2 days) by pushing 2 bikes up the steepest of hills.

Worst bit = The announcement that the army had just pipped us after all that teamwork and 110% effort.


Best bit = Getting to the finishing straight and hearing the cheers of everyone as we gave it one last big effort as a team. Also feeling massively alive on the hills in the wind and rain.

Worst bit = Disappointing Keith with my music choice.

Team OS Lanrangers

Mike Butt (captain), Rollo Home, Simon Navin, James Norris, Matt Toothill, Jon Butts, Ian Robinson (enabler)

 To say the OS Landrangers team were a mixed bunch is a bit of an understatement.  Our team was made up of cyclists who could jog a bit, joggers who could cycle a bit, a recent graduate from the desk to 5k programme, three team members who had never sat in a canoe, a member of the field nobody else had ever met and four team members who had never heard of an adventure race until now.

A fine bunch of athletes, but with differing individual strengths

From this group, we needed to form a team to cycle over 30km, run over two mountains, canoe 3km and form a strategy to help The Princes Trust expand their existing operations to help even more young people around the UK to fulfil their potential.

Note the laptops – they were working on the case study too (allegedly)

I wasn’t feeling too confident and then I saw the weather forecast.  The weather for the past four years of the event has been glorious and I had convinced myself that if we got good weather, maybe we’ll complete the challenge.  Strong wind and rain was predicted overnight Friday and wasn’t going to be leaving us until Sunday lunch time.  I was beginning to regret agreeing to take part let alone be captain.

We were sent the management challenge case study from The Princes Trust on Thursday and had made some good progress by Friday lunchtime.  The team really pulled together, motivated by the chance to make an impact for the charity.  It was clear from the start that we may not be blessed with the best athletes in the competition but we had some of the sharpest minds.  My confidence grew slightly.

On the way to Brecon we met with Matt T and Simon N and spent Friday night finding out about our new team, weighing up the opposition, listening to some inspirational talks from 4x Ironman World Champion, Chrissie Wellington, Phil Jones, the head of the Princes Trust and some of the young people who have benefitted from the charity.  We discussed the tactics for the next couple of days and I was surprised how quickly the team were starting to gel.  Maybe we could complete this challenge, but would all of us survive?

Jogging to the start on day 1, Rollo preparing his finish line celebration already

Saturday morning was dark, wet, and windy.  As a team, we had to get through canoeing and running 6km, cycling uphill for 14km and a hike over the tallest mountain in southern Britain, Pen Y Fan.  The first stage went well and we celebrated as a team.  Stage 2 is the toughest stage over the two days and everyone dug deep to put in another incredible effort, particularly James N who was in pain for every spin of the pedals.  We then charged up and over Pen Y fan with Jon B (who had only just completed desk to 5k 13 weeks ago) pushing hard.  At the end of Pen Y Fan we had made a great start to the competition and everyone was having a good time despite the horrendous weather.  Each of us had given it their all.

On Saturday night, we handed in our case study.  We were confident that we had made a good job of it and everyone had made an exceptional contribution. Maybe we could get top 10?

The day 1 interim results were released over dinner and I think at least two of the team members choked on their sponge puddings when the results came up on the screen.  We were 6th!!!  It was very tight with 15 minutes separating 4th and 12th but we had achieved the unbelievable, we were competitive!

Mud, glorious mud

Sunday was another tough day, starting with a long mountain bike stage, a run through the “bog of doom”, a six person canoe stage, a hike over Fan Frynych and final sprint to the finish.  The weather was terrible but we started well on the bikes.  Simon N pulled a thigh muscle half way round the stage but still managed to keep up with the group with only a few tears shed.


On top of pen-y-fan, visibility – 10 metres

Next, we tackled the bog of doom and Matt T lead the team by demonstrating his extraordinary dance moves across the bog.  A quick canoe thrash around the Beacons reservoir and then we were off on our journey over Fan Frynych.  The more we ascended, the more the weather threw at us but oddly, the bigger Rollo’s smile got.  He was actually enjoying it, unlike Ian R who found out his waterproofs, weren’t waterproof.

We descended and completed the final team sprint across the finish line.  We had given it everything and by the end of the final stage the team were running like clockwork.  We were all covered in mud, exhausted, cold, hungry but with huge smiles on our faces.  We had finished, maybe we could hold on to 6th place?

Well deserved beer

After a beer and some hot showers we cheered the remaining teams in to the finish.  OS Explorers and the army were battling it out for top spot so it was great to watch them cover the finish line looking strong.

We all gathered in the marquee for the final results and the top three were announced.  Everyone had expected the army to win but OS explorers had pushed them all the way.  it was an absolute pleasure seeing the other OS team in action and they had really taken time encourage and to pass on valuable advice throughout the event.

Now the rest of the results were released.

It took a few seconds for us to spot our team name before the marquee erupted.  We had finished 4th!!  An incredible performance from everyone involved had leap frogged us two places and were 22 minutes ahead of the next placed team.

Full results, an awesome performance by OS Landrangers and OS Explorers

In the space of two days we had formed a formidable team.  Everyone agreed it had been a fantastic weekend and we celebrated together as two parts of the same OS team in the knowledge that it had taken the British army to beat OS Explorers to the title and to keep OS Landrangers from the podium.


Rollo H – I thoroughly enjoyed it from end-to-end. The weather added an element of extra interest to a challenging course, stunning countryside and great marshalling, but it was working as (and with) an excellent team that really made it for me. It’s rare to have an opportunity to work in a team where each person really contributed something unique to the collective, resulting in our final overall position of 4th, which I’m really pleased with (far more than the 2nd last year).


Jon B – The best part of the Dell Challenge for me has been, right from the get-go, meeting and getting to know a wide range of colleagues at OS – supporters and participants alike. I joined OS in March 2017. As soon as the names of the team-members for Dell Management Challenge were known I began to receive encouragement and tips from colleagues across OS –  many of whom I’d not met before but for many different reasons had an interest in OS participation in “The Challenge”.


This supportive network grew week on week, through the initial team briefing and from individuals offering help – such as Keith Spiers pacing me through my first 5K run and Naomi Stanley providing Canoe Coaching to the two OS teams after work.

The breadth of enthusiasm within OS for this fabled event really helped me along; firstly to complete OS Runners (excellent!) 11-week DeskTo5K programme, followed by my first 10k run at Hursley two weeks prior to the Challenge itself. The Challenge was a real stretch, particularly in the wet and the wind – but all the more satisfying for that having had the OS Teams achieve 2nd and 4th places out of 27. (1st and 3rd if excluding the British Army! 😉

Many thanks to everyone who helped me along one way or another and to OS for providing the opportunity to take part and grow friendships and business knowledge at OS so quickly; all very much appreciated!

The worst part of the Dell Challenge was discovering maybe I snore more than I thought I did. Oops!

Ian R – Apart from the beer at the end….. Highlights – The team song (and variants of it); Matt Ps fruitcake; the jog off the hill and out of the weather; James’ super sprint towards the finish line; Saturday evening’s announcement Explorers were beating the Army; second team to finish and gaining 2 places.

Low points – watching James struggle on the Saturday cycle ride (the lad looked in agony with every pedal stroke); on top of Pen Y Fan and discovering my waterproofs aren’t;

Matt T – ‘Great team weekend! Challenging event with the unlucky conditions but such a good variety of events, which is well organised. Such a good way to make new work based relationships and learn a wider understanding of the OS

James N – When I signed up for the event I wasn’t really sure of what to expect, but I was determined that however hard it would be (and plenty said it would be difficult) that I would enjoy the experience, after all how often do you get the chance to run, bike and canoe through the Brecon’s? I had done all of the individual components before, but never in a combined, competitive environment.  For me there were some highlights from the way the team just seemed to click together and worked for each other to the downhills – oh how I like downhills! Of course there were a few points when I though “Why the…am I doing this” namely the first cycle leg… “it’s all up hill” they said “it can’t be” I thought. They were right. Being in the OS Landranger team meant that the pressure was off and that we could make the most of the weekend, that was until the interim results came in on Saturday night and we were in sixth. Sixth! Being the great team we were we soon decided that top three was on the cards and that we should go for it. This meant that the Management Case Study was of real importance, and I enjoyed using my skills to help deliver an outstanding submission. Did I enjoy it, yes. Would I do it again… ask me in about six months.

Simon – Taking part in the Dell Management Challenge was a fantastic experience. The opportunity to meet new colleagues and network with industry partners in a fun and challenging environment is not be missed. The physical and mental challenges really test your ability to work as a team and pull through the demands of the stages. Wonderful organisation and support makes this so much easier though, with great marshalling and activity supervision. I would recommend the challenge to anyone who wants to test themselves physically and mentally but is also looking for a fun opportunity to spend time with colleagues and #getoutside in to some of the UK’s most beautiful parts of the natural environment.

 We even hit our charity fundraising goal

Team cumulative times after each stage (before case study deduction – 48 minutes for Explorers, Army and Circle IT, 54 minutes for Landrangers).  It really was that close