Yesterday was the Northern Navigators boxing day charity score event. A chance day of sunshine in an otherwise dreich week. Most of the photos taken from Mount Joy with a well-photobombed Durham Cathedral to the north-west.
On Thursday it was sunny but still with fresh snow on the ground. It seemed like a good day to have a play with the action camera on the Low Burnhall Maprun Score event. It was lovely. The snow is gone now but this is how it looked (compressed into about 25 minutes). Details are available (for the time being) in the Northern Navigators website.
‘lap’ 1 seems to be just before me and Roberta stopped for a chat (clock ticking) about what happened next. Then offski.
A few minutes later, on my way from control 3 to the underpass, to get to control 4. I drifted up the bank to get a slightly more direct line. Marginal Gains! And flew close to the sun. Or the finish.Download file for GPS
Download file for GPS
Wed 6th Nov 2019
If you can get the day of work, or not work at all, the Military League army orienteering events are great for the runner. I usually do not too badly in them, and over the years I’ve seen myself creep up the placings. The navigation is usually not too difficult and nowadays, more often than not, I’m pretty happy with my result.
Wednesday’s event at Catterick, was not one of those days.
These are army events, and are put on for the army as training events. Most of them are open to civilians, in possession of a passport and a free day. So well suited to the freelancer, the homeworker, the worker on flexitime, and the retired. It’s a wondrous mix.
I was feeling pretty confident as I checked the blank map at the Start. There’s been a couple of occasions recently in orienteering events where I’ve accidentally strayed into Out of Bounds areas so I tend to check the map legend more closely nowadays. And this map had a clear section for Out of Bounds areas. In urban areas this is worth paying attention to. You don’t want to accidentally run through someone’s garden, or across a sensitive bit of parkland, or munitions, or whatever. And I noted, with interest, that Water was Out of Bounds. Well that might make things interesting.
The first few controls were in the barracks, then we were ejected out of the gate that had taken so much security to get into, and into the surrounding area. The navigation got a bit fiendish now, especially as the water had been marked as out of bounds. Which, to be frank, I thought was pretty pathetic. I’ve seen beefier becks at Hamsterley and that is (rarely) marked as out of bounds. Who’s going to take a long detour round to the nearest footbridge when a brief paddle will do the job much more quickly.
Still, rules is rules. And from a runner’s point of view, there was a certain switch-of-brain-now satisfaction in a long tempo run along, across, and round, then back along again, but even so, it was a long way round. I mean, look at 17 to 18, and 24 to 25, and so help me God, 22 to 23. I mean, look at it again. 22 to 23, and you’re not allowed to to paddle across! My split was almost 11 minutes, when it should’ve been almost 2. I did look hard at the pipeline crossings; they were not marked out of bounds, but I suspected (rightly) than large amounts of barbed wire might be involved, and they might not be a worthwhile route of investigation.
So I ran and ran, and got round. My route was functional, and I got some decent tempo running in. But, really.
So you might be ahead of me here, and can guess the next bit. I got to download, asked who the planner was, and Phill Batts brightly announced that it was he. I complemented him on the fiendishness of the course, the decision to mark water out of bounds, and dryly (I thought, but let’s be frank, probably closer to waspishly) observed that a lot of runners had taken a non-legal direct line.
Phill looked puzzled, and mildly pointed out that the blue out of bounds area, on the out of bounds bit of the map, was a dark blue, with a border, and the beck, on the map, was light blue, and without a border. So the beck was very much not out of bounds.
Bugger. Given that I’d taken the non-scenic route I was happy not to be last, but annoyed at myself for making such a daft mistake. But as I always tell myself, I’m not going to get on the podium, so however the day unfolds, an orienteering event is always a great bit of training.Download file for GPS
Sun 27 Oct 2019 – Dukeshouse Woods, Hexham
“That wasn’t me by the way”
“Just checking. I mean, you do have form.”
Roberta had been chortling along to Ian’s report of the October Odyssey on Sunday. I didn’t know that people still chortled, or even guffawed, but Ian’s report certainly seemed to strike a chord. Roberta once crashed out of some path-side undergrowth at an orienteering event, checked the control id, found out out it wasn’t hers, and with an emphatic FFS, stomped down the path in disgust, pausing only to say Good Morning to a couple of startled dog walkers who were not quite expecting to see what they had just seen.
I’ve had the benefit of reading Ian’s report before deciding to write a few words of my own. I do a lot of orienteering, and as I like to point out, it’s great interval training. Classic Fartlek. And the worse you are, the better the training. I had, for me, a fairly decent run on Sunday. I wasn’t last, and there were a few gaps between last, and me, that I was happy to see. Not a vast number of gaps and I’d always be happy to see them vaster, but it was an ok day.
When I dibbed Control 1, which I thought was indecently tricky for the first control, I thought that I wouldn’t want to have a wobble so early on. Struggling on Control 1 is not a great start and a bad start can set the mood for the day. I still have nightmares about Sand Dunes, so many Sand Dunes. 16 minutes to cover the 100m from the Start to Control 1 in Druridge Bay in 2013 still haunts me.
It was a challenging course and I was happy to get to the end. The navigation and terrain were difficult. I was fairly happy with my route, although I did make some major wobbles here and there. With three controls to go and looking for a straightforward control in a ditch junction, I chanced upon the ditch by standing on a piece of grass that turned out to be a generous expanse of empty space. Winded and bloodied, I followed it to the control. The bleeding was quite impressive and the finish marshall did voice some concern, but brambles do that. It was the three foot drop and loss of breath and dignity that were much more unsettling.
If you ever decide to give orienteering a bash, and you really should, then, as a runner, here’s the only thing you need to know. All colour coded courses from Green and above, are the same difficulty. Both in navigation and terrain. They’re all the same. Green is shorter, then there’s blue, then there’s brown and sometimes black. They only differ in distance. But in terms of navigational difficulty, they’re all the same.
NATO are one of the orienteering clubs that use Routegadget for post-run analysis. This can be interesting to see how your run has compared to others. It’s a great learning tool and lets you look at the maps and routes for all the courses.Download file for GPS
Orienteering isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and I hadn’t expected much of a response when I lobbed one of my periodical e-mails onto the list promoting a local event. It just made it all the nicer when first Nigel, Jan and then Shaun and Ros turned up at Cong Burn on a sparkly sunny cold winter’s Wednesday in January. This was an army event so were only three courses on offer and Jan and Nigel were going for the hardest one (Blue) while Shaun was approaching with more caution and opting for the middle course (Light Green). Shaun’s logic being that he didn’t want to end up doing so badly on Blue that he never wanted to do another event again.
I’ve said many times that Orienteering events are surprisingly daunting when you first turn up because they seem a bit complicated and everyone else seems to know what they’re doing. In an army event like today there are also a lot of soldiers with racing vests that often include words like ‘rifles’ and ‘lancers’ somewhere. Which doesn’t help. Even our neighbouring orienteering club Newcastle and Tyneside Orienteers are more often known by their acronym NATO.
Jan was a bit nervous so I suggested just treating it like an interval training session. A bit of fartlek. Which is basically what orienteering is. Speed work where the speed, effort, intensity and duration depends largely on how good you are. The worse you are, the better and longer the workout.
Staggered starts can sometimes make these sociable events surprisingly unsocial. By the time I’d got myself registered, organised and to the start the others had already gone. Shaun had been miffed to discover that you don’t get a look at the map with the course on it until the watch has started. I always advocate sprinting around the first corner, hopefully in the correct direction, in a purposeful manner, then as soon as out of sight of the start, stop and have a proper look. Although nowadays I’m a bit more relaxed and sometimes my starts involve a lot of Not Moving until I’ve had a good at where I’m going and got something approaching a plan.
Conditions were great for orienteering and the ground was crispy and lovely to run on. I’m not ashamed to say I was well chuffed to discover I’d caught Nigel and one of my NN clubmates Bob Cooper around control 6. Mindful of a similar experience with High Cup Nick 10 years ago I didn’t allow myself to get overconfident. Nigel had fluffed up control 3 and lost a lot of time. Orienteering is like that. One bad control and you can haemorrhage time away. When it happens early in a race you have to give yourself a bit of a talking to as it’s easy to lose enthusiasm for the rest of the course.
Nigel, Bob and I were in each other’s radar through to control 8 where things suddenly got interesting:
What would you do? It’s not a long leg, only a couple of hundred metres direct. I’d already forgotten my advice to myself about over-confidence and decided by far the best and quickest way was to drop down to the beck, leap it like a gazelle and a quick lunge north would take me to control 9. I noticed Nigel had decided to stick to the path and take the long way round.
I didn’t see Nigel for the remainder of the course. He remained ahead of me while he gradually got more into the groove and his split times steadily improved. What I did see from my vantage point of knee deep in a disgustingly brown (I hope it was peat) marsh was a slow scrub where Jack Frost had decided not to tread leaving it perfect for energy sapping trudging. Good practice for Allendale I guess.
Although the time lost wasn’t a lot these mistakes tend to dent your confidence and you either compound things by running about in a panic or slow yourself right down and collect your thoughts. Since my legs were wet, cold, and a disturbing shade of brown, and the only things flapping were my shoelaces I decided to notch things back a bit and had a fairly uneventful few controls where I got warmed up again and into the adventure.
Control 13 to 14 brought the next interesting challenge. What would you do?
The temptation is to contour directly along the steep south-east bank or to climb up and run along the road. In my experience with this sort of leg if there’s easy running further away it’s best to take the long-way round. I crossed the bridge and had an easy run along to the bottom of the bank at 14, back across the beck and up to the fence. The fence rather obligingly had a stile and a proper path on the other side so I hopped over and ran alongside the inside where it was easier while looking for the control. It was a good clean leg and I was pleased with myself.
I didn’t notice at the time but the red vertical lines on the map show that this area is clearly out of bounds and I, along with half the army, had taken the inviting path on the OOB side of the fence. In the grand scheme of things it made little difference to my time but I was annoyed at myself for not noticing and had this been a big event and I’d been spotted it would’ve been an automatic DQ. But few people noticed and it’s not as if I’m going to write about it on the internet or anything.
The remainder of the course was reasonably straightforward but the planner had made good use of terrain forcing competitors over a wide variety of challenging terrain and vegetation. I finished and back at download I found Nigel having a cuppa where it soon became apparant Jan and Shaun were still out on the courses.
We walked back out onto the fell and into the sunshine where we could get a commanding view of runners finishing. Like battlefield commanders we surveyed the surroundings and speculated where Jan and Shaun might be. Shaun was first to finish getting doggedly round all the controls. He had been frustrated by his Garmin’s auto-pause feature which interpreted every pause as an opportunity to stop recording so he was a bit unsure how long he’d been out.
Jan kept us guessing but before we got to the ‘should we getting worried’ stage she showed up at the download area. We sent her packing to the Finish which she’d decided to skip, then come back to download. It was largely academic though. Jan had a duff dibber that hadn’t flashed at any of the controls she’d visited. And the controls she had visited had been in an order of her choosing. Of all the tips I thought of offering before the start, visit the controls in order hadn’t been in there. Perhaps I should have though. I had a similar conversation out on the course with Sue and Kerry at the Durham City Night championships in 2015. If your experience of orienteering has all been score events, and no one has told you otherwise, you could be forgiven for thinking that order is optional.
I’m used to being the only Strider at these events so it was lovely afterwards to head down with the Strider platoon to the Tea Barn and investigate the coffee and cakes and indulge in a bit of data analysis. This was an event where there were often varied and quite different route choices between controls. Not necessarily better or worse than each other. But always with consequences.Download file for GPS
I would’ve been a rubbish pilot. It’s worth reading about the phenomenon of Spatial Disorientation as I believe it might apply as much to Orienteering as it does to flying.
There I was, at control 7, and control 8 looked like a straightforward compass bearing and a run across the open fell. Off I went with an eye on the needle of my (not cheap) compass. The needle was saying one way, but it didn’t feel right. Surely I should be heading more to the left, towards that bit over there? I drifted more and more to the left, just to be on the safe side, until I came across a dry ditch, which was where the control should be.
The ditch wasn’t particularly dry, in fact it was very wet. Full of water. It happens. A ‘dry ditch’ can be a ‘wet ditch’ if it’s been raining. No control though. I jogged on a bit, and found another dry ditch, that was also full of water. It wasn’t there either. And it wasn’t in the next ditch (wet) or the one after that. And there should be some green blobs too.
I looked at the map. Properly this time. There shouldn’t be any wet ditches here. There should only be a single dry ditch. There was a bit over there on the map, that had loads of wet ditches. But that wasn’t where I was. Or was it?
If I’d trusted the compass I’d have gone straight to the control. But I trusted my intuition instead, which rarely works out. Still, mistakes are made, lessons learned.
I learned that lesson for about another three controls, before making exactly the same error on control 12. Veering gradually but decidedly off to the left, I ended up in a familiar state of bewilderment. Even more bewildered when I realised I was back at control 8 but it looked nothing like control 12 which should be at the foot of something between two thick black lines. With control 8 resolutely refusing to metamorphose into control 12 there was nothing for it but to run in the direction of control 12, which was exactly where it should be.
Roberta had chosen the Orange course and I bumped into her from time to time taking photos of cute sheep and carefully navigating wonky styles. We seemed to share a lot of controls, which in turn shared the same control description: “Crag Foot”. I like a good Crag’s Foot as much as the next man but by the end of 21 controls I think I’d had my fill.
Orienteering events are like any other running event, you have favourites. I like Shaftoe Crags. It’s mostly open and runnable with just enough crinkly rocky bits and steep woody bits to make it interesting. There are lots of long straightforward runnable bits across the fell which is fine if you remember to keep concentrating and trust the compass. A good location for the runner who fancies dabbling with making their running a bit more cunning.
I wasn’t surprised to get no takers for my offer of a lift to Marne Barracks for a bit of orienteering. However, a last minute check of the email and I saw that Paul had decided to accompany me on this drizzly Wednesday for a trip down the A1 to run around an abandoned airfield.
We were somewhere south of Scotch Corner and we’d pretty much solved all of the world’s problems when I noticed the road noise through the roadworks was a bit excessive, and it seemed to be a bit bumpy too. A minute or two of this and I realised that this was just one possible interpretation of the noise and bumps that were hitting our senses. Another interpretation could be that we had a puncture. Yes, the more I thought about it, the more the puncture scenario seemed to fit the evidence, and driving along in a state of denial wasn’t going to change the facts.
We pulled off the A1 and had a look at the tyres. One of them had a flat bit at the bottom and I knew that wasn’t good. I contemplated calling the AA but, despite being ok for time, wondered how long they’d take to attend a scene for two blokes too feeble to change a wheel. I mean, how hard could it be? It couldn’t be that difficult, could it? I’m sure I’ve done it before. The first step was finding the spare wheel. We found it, eventually, under the back bit where I always assumed the fuel tank was. Trying to get the wheel out was a different manner. As an IT technician I then did something that pained me greatly, I had a look for the manual. I’d already tried switching the engine off and on again but that hadn’t helped. We got there eventually, except for the small matter of the jack, which we eventually found in a cubby hole in the car that I never knew existed. We were unstoppable now.
A false start where we started trying to jack the car on one of the crunchy bits rather than the proper tough bit, but soon we were cruising. Well, I say we, it was mostly Paul. It had started raining so I spent most of the time standing in the bus shelter taking photos and making encouraging noises.
Back on the road and into Marne Barracks, where passports were shown, disclaimers were signed, and we were driving slowly down the old runway looking for somewhere to park. Speed bumps on a runway, no matter how obviously disused, are an incongruous sight. The last time I orienteered here registration had been at the end of the runway out of a transit van. This time it was inside a nice building, with toilets, drinks, warmth and a costcutter. It seemed a shame to go outside again.
Paul and I were both doing the same course and I went of first with the organisers observing a strict 90 second interval between starters. The first few controls were around the buildings and access roads and navigation was easy, and by the 3rd control I’d already been caught by the guy starting after me, which was pretty depressing. Then out into the woodland and the navigation got a bit more interesting. I bumped into Paul a few times which, given that he started about 6 minutes after me, meant two things. One, he was running a lot faster than me, and two, he must be making a few errors otherwise I’d only have seen him once.
At control 15 our paths crossed again and Paul sped of to the east, which, given that the control was due north, confused me a bit. I headed straight for the control, knowing that there was the small matter of a fence between it and me. Whether it was ‘crossable’ or ‘uncrossable’, I was about to find out. Thankfully it was the former, but Paul had decided to go for the fast long way round. We finished at the same time, which was handy, as Paul’s dibber had failed to work properly, and we could use my time minus the time that he’d started after me to work out his.
Our journey back up the A1 was less eventful than the outward journey and I had fully intended calling it a day until Paul said he was doing a ‘gentle’ ‘slow’ headtorch run that evening. The ‘gentle’ and ‘slow’ bit I liked the sound of. Turned out there was a bit of mis-selling going on there. Perhaps I should’ve offered to help a bit more changing that wheel …Download file for GPS
I should thank Paul, really. The forecast for today’s orienteering event was terrible and my ribs were a bit sore from an embarrassing 0mph bicycle falling-over-in-slow-motion mishap from Tuesday, and the cat was lying on my feet and the bed was nice and warm, so there really was no point going to Chopwell and getting cold and wet, was there? Except that I’d promised Paul I’d pick him up at 0930, and the handy thing about offering to give someone a lift is that it means you cannot easily extract yourself from the arrangement with any sort of dignity when your excuse is you’d rather stay at home and drink tea.
The decision of my orienteering club to move the annual boxing day event from Durham back to Chopwell had not met with my approval and I fully expected to turn up and find a deserted swamp with people staying away rather than nip out to try their hand at a bit of orienteering. However a respectable 50 adventurers had turned out in the damp for a stomp around Chopwell so I was pleased to be proved wrong.
Paul and I were so early we sat in the car for a while and drank tea and coffee and watched the world go by until we were almost late and had to dash over and register before the 11AM start. Paul was wearing some pretty pitiful looking Fell Shoes ‘just one more wear’ that looked like they weren’t brought by Santa yesterday. He completed his attire by not wearing a watch. That could be tricky in a score event. This wasn’t for any reason of principle – he’d just forgotten to bring one. I feigned sympathy and pretended to look for a spare while realising that he’d have a very difficult time planning any sort of meaningful route when he didn’t know the time of day. For shame. I might make this two victories in a row!
The 11AM start was that rare thing in an orienteering event, a mass start, which tends to only happen in Score events. We scattered to all points of the compass and I decided to go for a gentle clockwise sweep of the map picking up as many controls as I could. Route choice was interesting and tricky. All controls had the same value so there were no ‘high-value items’ to be had on the peripheries. Scrabble players would have found it no fun. With each minute late incurring a 10 point penalty, and each control being worth 10 points, the common mistake is to go over time and get a penalty. It’s rare in a score event that getting just one more control is worth the risk of an associated time penalty.
I nabbed 16 controls and got back with 24 seconds to spare, which I thought was pretty dandy. My route choice left a bit to be desired though, spending too much time chasing controls out on the periphery rather than mopping up easy ones close to the Finish. Camilla had struggled with the network of footpaths and the invariable confusion that arises when there are more footpaths on the ground than there are on the map. Judging when a trail is just a temporary trod or a permanent footpath is a difficult call, and it’s not every orienteering map that includes in its legend the rather ominous sounding powerline downhill bike track.
Paul got back with -13 seconds to spare, which cost him 10 points. Pretty good considering he wasn’t wearing a watch, or the correct number of shoes. He’d started wearing two shoes. And he’d finished wearing two shoes. More or less. Mostly less. His right shoe hadn’t held up well, or at all, and was now a shoe of two halves. As Peter Cook might once have said, I had nothing against his right shoe. Unfortunately, neither did Paul. He’d attempted a mid-race pit-stop to change shoes but sadly I’d taken the car-keys into the woods with me rather than leaving them at registration so that was more time lost for Paul. Still, Every cloud. Never one not to see the bright side of another’s misfortune I realised that this meant I got another victory. Two in a row!Download file for GPS
I always think it’s harder on the fast guys. If you’ve never done an orienteering competition before it’s hard to describe that mind-numbing, crippling-frustration that descends when you’re cruising along, in control, then suddenly things aren’t where they’re meant to be. The clock is ticking, and the control must be nearby. Mustn’t it?
For us slower runners it’s bad enough – the vocabulary-expanding exasperation knowing that time is bleeding away while we try and work out why the world has everything in the wrong place. That time draining away should be time spent running. And if you’re a fast runner, then the damage being done, the distance being lost, is correspondingly greater than that for a slow runner.
So I didn’t say much when Tom checked in at the Finish, looking stony faced and, probably not in the mood to be met with a merry quip. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve finished an orienteering competition with a severe sense of humour failure, and recognised that this wasn’t the time for a jolly jape. Mind you, Tom had showed up on the Start line armed with a head-torch but no glasses. That was never going to end well.
Joan, on the other hand, had a great run, having responded to my pre-race goading and tried a harder course than she’d originally intended, and finishing third in her class.
Most of us were going for the long course, down as being 5km with 165m climb. Striders made up a noticeable chunk of the entrants and I found myself hovering around the Start with Tom, Paul and Geoff nearby. Tom went off first, picked up his map, then paused, publicly, to look perplexed and bewildered. First Mistake. I always advocate grabbing the map, sprinting around the nearest corner, then pausing to ponder the map in private. It’s not the best approach, admittedly, as you may have sprinted 180 degrees in the wrong direction, unless of course, you’d watched starters before you to see which direction they headed.
After a suitable gap, Geoff and Paul also disappeared. And then it was my turn. I grabbed my map, looked at the map for the big pointy building with the jaggy bits on top so I could get my bearings, then identified the location of the first control. Right next to the toilets. That’s always handy.
I always find Urban orienteering a bit tricky as the navigation tends to be reasonably straightforward, but there are often a lot of controls, and a lot of rapid thinking to be done. You can’t really switch off – you need to be concentrating all the time. On the way to Control 1 I was already looking ahead to Control 2 and working out how to get there. And so on.
My control 8 was a couple of hundred metres south of Prebends Bridge and it’s where I bumped into Kerry and Sue. They were pretty chirpy given that they seemed to have no idea where they were. I looked at their map to point out their location, but discovered they had gone so far off-piste that they were no longer on their map, so I showed them on mine. They were having none of it. They were so adamant that we were not where I insisted we were, that I even began to doubt myself, despite having just checked in at Control 8.
Sue and Kerry had interpreted the rules in an impressively creative manner. Rather than visit the controls in order, as you’re meant to, they had visited them in an order and manner of their choosing. When I pointed out that you had to visit the control in order, they looked at me as if I was mad, insisted that I was joking, insisting so insistently that before long I was unsure myself of whether I was joking. I suggested they get themselves back to Prebends Bridge and review the situation from there. I led them part of the way, being shouted back as I hurtled down the hill, feeling how a pilot boat must feel as it gently leads an uncertain ship in unfamiliar waters out of harbour. Once I was happy they were heading back to Prebends Bridge I dashed off to get back to the business of finding controls on my course.
Back into town and I would see Paul and Geoff occasionally. Paul kept appearing at high speed from increasingly surreal directions and my self-doubt kicked in again. I was pretty sure I was doing ok, and it was the rest of the world that was on the blink, but perhaps they knew something I didn’t. I kept finding myself snipping at Paul’s heels all the way to the Finish, and knowing that he started a few minutes ahead of me, knew that the result would be close.
I had indeed done OK, and now found myself in the rare, no, exceptional, no …, unprecedented situation of finding myself ahead of Tom, Geoff and Paul in the results table of a race. Tom had abandoned, Paul was disqualified, and Geoff was 18 minutes behind me. I needed that warm glow however as everyone bogged off to the pub, and since it was my orienteering club running the event, I hung back in the cold waiting for all the competitors to arrive back on Palace Green so I could go out again and bring in the controls.Download file for GPS