Route Choice Analysis for the French 5-Days

Here’s an analysis of two particular sections of the maps used during the French 5-days event in early July. Click on the map fragments to see an enlarged copy.

The first is on the fourth day – where upon starting the race I realised it was 3km shorter than it was supposed to be. My feet were in too much pain for me to pick up the pace though and consequently I had a very easy and trouble-free race indeed, until, in earshot of the finish, I switched off my ‘orienteering brain,’ went on to autopilot and immediately made the most embarrassing mistake of the whole week.

After a very easy 11-12-13-14 with loads of people making control-spotting a cinch, I started to head towards 15. The hill ahead was low, but I planned to swing right and then contour around it, eventually hitting the straight path
and two more paths while running east and then going straight on to Control 15. As you can see, I forgot to bear to the left when contouring around, and instead, hit another set of paths, which I thought were the first. It was only when I could actually see the finish (double circle just after 17) I realised something was amiss, and had to swing back. This mistake probably cost me 120 seconds – significant in this ‘sprint’ race and sufficient for me to drop more than 10 places on the leaderboard.

This next one was on the final day of the competition – a hard, physical course in sweltering temperatures, with long open sections. Leg 5-6 was long (almost 2km – the blue vertical lines are 500m apart) and, after a tough,
epic-Sahara-crossing run down a wide surfaced track, with no protection from the tree plantation on either side (dark green on the map,) it offered a multitude of route choices for the exhausted but discerning competitor – left,
slightly left, over the hill, or to the right (Left, right are in terms of the runner, so looking at the map, the runner’s left is a right here.) I chose to go over the hill, as you can see from my red route line. Bad mistake. It was direct, but the hill was bigger than I thought (contours are at 2.5m interval) and I quickly tired in the heat of the open hillside. Worse, the path was very sandy – two steps up meant one down again. Notice the wobble just before
summitting the hill, this was where I realised my route choice mistake, tried to come off the path to contour around the hill, and ran straight into heavy felled rough open – a no go without longer legs. So the question is, what was the best route choice of all? Rob P went slightly left, over some rough fell, but I know most went right. Normally the most direct way is the fastest way – in this instance this was not true. Making good route choice decisions on the fly and ‘live updating’ your route plans is a crucial skill to have when orienteering at a non-novice level and it’s one that I’m still learning.

6-7 was a cinch for me, it was doubly satisfying to note several competitors hitting the spur too early, and turning back down the hill in a fruitless search. 7-8 of my route looks very indirect, but I wanted to avoid thick
vegetation (green dots on green) at all costs after Day 1’s mare. Another Oxford orienteer got trapped in the vegetation immediately on exiting 7, and got so tired he forgot to go to 8, and went to 9 instead – a complete disaster racewise from his point of view.

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