Event: Epping Forest East, North London

The Mitre, Epping Forest East (CHIG) on XXth November 2003.
221103_epping.jpgI’ve orienteered at Epping Forest several times before. This large, ancient hunting forest in the north-east of London has a reputation for being of the highest technical standard and I wasn’t disappointed last Sunday, when I competed at a CHIG event, the 2003 Mitre.

A half-hour tube journey from London to the parking location at Theydon Bois (a really lovely little village with a strong identity and a charming green) was followed by a 2km walk to the assembly – a bit of a pain but a necessity in this sort of area. Registering for the course was a bit confusing, but once out on the course itself, all pains were forgotten. The weather was ideal for orienteering in November – clear, sunny and dry. Compared with last week’s race at Aldershot, the area was flatter and more pleasant to run in, but much more technical. In fact, I got severely lost, not once but several times. In the worst incident, I ended up taking around 10 times as long between two points on the course as I should have…

221103_1558epping.jpgThis meant any hopes of getting a good result were dashed, but getting lost is preferable than to not getting around the course due to lack of fitness, as brushing up your technical skills is a lot less painful than working out at the gym every day.

Looking at the map, even the first leg proved confusing, as a myriad of small paths combined with the sheer beauty of the forest to slow me down. I made a classic pacing error at No. 4, a bearing mistake at No. 6, another pacing error and speed error at No. 9, the mother of all mistakes at No. 10, a bearing error at No. 12, an unmentionably embarrasing mistake at No. 16… the list goes on. At my level, I really shouldn’t be making any mistakes that cost me more than a minute, but for this race, each of the above cost me many times that.

221103_1551eppingdetail.jpgTake a look at the extract here, the second half of the huge (> 1km) leg between 8 and 9. This is absolutely superb technical terrain – really flat and pleasant, quite open, but with subtle changing forest thickness and tiny earth features – no “handlebars” in sight bar a run up to the road. I took a very long time to get to 9, coming too cautiously up the shallow valley and being confused by the first line of depressions. For some, unfathomable reason, coming out of 9, I headed north, got confused, ran east, got misled by other runners (always fatal) and eventually – after nearly 10 minutes – ended up at… No. 11?! Even then on running back, I wasn’t sure if I had missed 10, or in fact missed 9 instead. And that is how I took 11 minutes to run a 100m leg. At one moment I was completely and totally lost and about to relocate. But this is the sort of terrain that I wish every map around here was made of, because then us Brits might have a lead on the invincible Scandanvians (who have this terrain for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day.)

The event was marred by quite a few equipment failures and as such the results analysis is still not posted to the web. I can’t wait for it to be – my speed graph should prove very telling – I’ll post an update to this story when it appears.

Tomorrow I’m doing more orienteering – this time down near Balcombe in the South Downs.

Event: Long Valley South, Aldershot

SN Trophy, Long Valley South
110903_1502longvalley.jpgI competed in my first orienteering event of the season this morning: the Southern Navigators Trophy at Long Valley South, a typical forest-and-heathland military area just west of Aldershot. I entered the M21S course (8.34km, 260m) – I should really be running Long but this was my first race, in fact my first real exercise, since the French 5-days in July. (I’ve joined the company gym, but am yet to get around to going!)

The area was quite tough physically, and middling technically, and the rain later on didn’t help, but overall it was a good area and an ideal way start regaining my general fitness.

I was running for SLOW (South London) for the first time, and also introduced a friend (Rob) to the sport. Rob ran a spirited race, with some respectable splits for a first timer on a pretty technical and physical area, before bailing near the end.

091103_1503detail.jpgI had a great run, considering my total lack of fitness, finishing in just under 10 mins/km, a nice surprise (although I should be on around 8 mins/km at full fitness.) I didn’t make any major foul-ups (or “tools” as OUOC traditionally calls them) but I did feel very tired a third of the away around the course – the section around here is shown in the extract above and was quite physical. Later, the open heathland proved very fast and I felt I had more energy near the end. The extract to the right shows a leg I found a bit tricky, there was more green here than shown (true for some other areas on the map too) but the artificial ditch network proved useful.

The results graphs and are online and show a couple of things for me and Rob (select M21S from the class pop-down adn then select the winner, me and Rob, to see) – firstly my detour at 6 to find water – I was quite ill – slowed down an otherwise consistently good race, and also that Rob dramatically changed gear after number 4. The SportIdent results graphing is always great for post-race analysis!

Next race, on Sunday, is the Mitre at Epping Forest, which should be an easier competition – I’m more suited to the gently rolling terrain and broadly deciduous forest there. Cambridge Uni are going to be there, running the same course in force, they should prove interesting competition as always.

Joining the Gym

Well autumn is definitly here – it’s difficult to believe it was 38 degrees celsius two months ago, it’s now near freezing at nights. Autumn is also when the UK orienteering season really gets going, with a National event in the New Forest in November.

With that in mind, and a long, lazy slumber in New York now a distant memory, I finally got around to joining the gym at work. The other option I could see myself doing was biking around London, but the London driver ethic is
definitely still not in the bicyclists’ favour, despite Ken’s best efforts. The watch-a-DVD-while-biking in the gym is definitely preferable, as is having all the kit and clothes provided!

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.

Forests and Beaches in Aquitaine – The French 5 Days

130703_0519.jpgI’m back! After a highly enjoyable week in south west France, at the biennual ‘5-Jour de France’ festival of orienteering, on this year’s Oxford Uni OC club tour.

I didn’t do particularly well at the event, much to do with my poor level of fitness as to the exceptional heat (up to 35 degrees celsius on the last day!) but it was a great experience, with the sandy forests proving to have a distinctive style.

I’m hoping to write a couple of more technical articles in the next couple of days analysing particular legs of courses (with map extracts.) And hopefully some of the many photos I took will be online in due course too. For now, here’s a summary of the week:

Sunday – after crashing on Martin’s floor in North Oxford, with my mum taking away four years of junk accumulated in college, I jumped on the last bus to Stansted and flew with the 10 or so other OUOC orienteers and some JOKers (the alumni club) to Biarritz. There were superb views of the huge forest in the Landes region that we would be in, from the plane – unfortuantly I ended up deleting all these pics… After hiring cars at Biarritz we headed to the campsite, a simple but pleasant one set in attractive pine woodland, a couple of hours north at Lit et Mixe. 15 tents, and one hammock, were pitched in a rough circle. We received our exclusive tour kit – the tricolor design would later on manage to confuse some competitors into thinking we were the French national team…

Monday – Etage 1. This was only a few minutes from the campsite, although a 2km along the “car park” road in a sweltering, dusty atmosphere was a taste of things to come. I was running H21A despite having done little recent
orienteering, and how I paid for it on the first day. A silly route choice, five minutes into the race, led me to get trapped in three metre high bracken and gorse. I reached up to wipe the sweat off my forehead, only to see my
hands covered in blood – a nasty gash to the head and I was leaking claret all over the place. Panicking slightly, I eventually escaped and then wandered all over the place, dazed, trying to find the control – wasting 45 minutes in the process and exhausting myself for the latter stages of the race. There was another serious mistake later on caused by exhaustion, and I found myself running from drinks point to drinks point, via as many trees as possible.
Eventually I slunk in nearly three hours after I had started, finishing 158th out of 159 finishers (there were a lot of retirals) – and I really feel sorry for the guy I beat! It was by far my worst ever result. After showers, we transferred to the local beach – Plage de l’Homy – to do some serious sun bathing. I had naively forgotten trunks and flip flops, so avoided a much needed dip in the Atlantic. Despite downing several litres of water I still dehydrated and got a headache. The evening finished up with a hearty pasta meal bought in a somewhat surreal supermarch√ɬ© (entirely surrounded by a forest – like most things in Landes) and cooked at the campsite.

Tuesday – Etage 2. This was in the same area, with a different start. The weather was once again hot, with blue skies all around. This was my latest start (12.35) and after yesterday’s nightmare I was playing it very defensively indeed, forcing myself to go slow and keep welll away from any ground vegetation. In the event, I had a much better run, having learnt a lot of tactics from the previous day – drink absolutely loads before and after the
race, avoid paths as you just slip on the sand, plan your route to use drinks points sensibly, and be cautious. I finished 139th out of 168 finishers, and missed out on my 100 minute target by 40 seconds – by foolishly switching off just before the end and heading for an incorrect flag 200m south of where I should have been. Everyone was too hot and tired so we went straight to the beach – I had by now purloined trunks so was able to do a bit of swimming and wave-dodging/breaking in the ocean, which was great fun – it’s an excellent beach. Then it was back to the campsite for a well earned rest.

(The picture, by the way, is of Pippa (OUOC) and Tim (JOKer) posing with our hired surfboard at the beach on Day 4.)

250703_507france.jpg The third day was the earliest start for myself and my compatriots. Each club member is allocated roughly similar start times each day – Oxford’s for Day 2 were around midday, but for today, we had 8am starts! Incredible as it may seem, we were actually delighted about this – OK, the early start meant the previous evening’s trip to the wine bar had to be shorter than normal, but running at 8am was so much more pleasant temperature rise. The day also started quite cloudly, and really, it was the most pleasant of all the days. I improved again on my previous day’s result, and in fact this was my best day position-wise. My run was virtually error free, with only the long run to the beach finish proving to be morale-sapping.
Continue reading “Forests and Beaches in Aquitaine – The French 5 Days”

Adventures in the Scottish Highlands

Well, just back from a week’s training in Strathspey, in the Scottish Highlands. The weather was superb – unbroken sunshine for four days, sunbathing and swimming in lochs in the Highlands in March?!

See here for the pics, and follow the link below to see the full write up on what was a quality week.

Here’s a blow-by-blow account of the week, held up in beautiful Strathspey in the Highlands of Scotland, with virtually unbroken sunshine in the days, an very very cold nights! On every day, we used international-standard forests – nothing but the very best.

Saturday – The long journey up from Oxford was made more interesting by the “back” route over the Cheviots and the Lammermuirs, passing scenic Jedburgh Abbey. The stone outside the driveway to my house still bears the signs of the interesting manoevure into my driveway, where we stopped for the night. I retired to my new warm bed while the others made do with the cathedral-like dining room.

Sunday – Early runs on a physical Moncreiffe Hill. We didn’t notice it at the time, but the area was a lot less technical than the rest of the week. Then, continuing up to Strathspey for a couple of control flow exercises in Inshriach North. I don’t think we saw the legendary area at its best, due to capercaillies restricting the sections we were allowed to use, and our late arrival meant haggis and chips was the evening meal in Aviemore, followed by checking in to spacious Cairngorm Lodge Youth Hostel. The bar at Glenmore Lodge was suprisingly busy, although worryingly they didn’t know about any maps they were to be loaning us…

Monday – A long but scenic drive over the Moray moors, to Roseisle Forest, initially shrouded in haar (sea mist.) I think everyone however enjoyed finding the controls on the tricky line exercise – the lack of vegetation was a real treat, and after a short demo on how to use the electronic ‘EMIT’ course system, and an early lunch, now in sunshine, we moved to the more varied northern area for a race, which was highly technical but extremely pleasant. Roseisle was so beautiful that no one wanted to leave and so we did a final exercise – a fast and intense ‘clock style’ relay race, on the map’s fastest area. Much confusion in what objects were supposed to be carried around ‘the clock’ resulted in some teams taking twice as long as others.

Tuesday – A short, easy day was billed, and after a nice lie in we made our way the area, Anagach Woods, near Grantown-on-Spey in the heart of Strathspey. Matt was elated to read his mention in the Daily Mirror, then we got going with one of the hardest exercises – in which under timed conditions people had to draw their own map, with enough detail to avoid getting lost on the following course. I was terrified people would get horribly lost but in the event it was only me that did. Some maps turned out to be more artistic than others. Matt’s strategy of directions instead, however, got him a very good time. After that there was a longer, control picking exercise which made the very best of the beautiful and varied woods Following a pleasant lunch and a spot of sunbathing we hurried back to Glenmore, for an afternoon break, some went biking and others visited beautiful Loch an Eilean – the Cambridge contingent even swam across to the ‘Eilean’ (island.) After the event meal, entz culminated in a dramatic battle of Risk – having given up on trying to get TV reception in the Cairngorms!

Wednesday – Today was billed as very physical, and it was an early start to make the long journey through the Highlands, via Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle, to Plodda and West Guisachan, near Glen Affric. A map memory exercise proved to be a lot trickier than planned due to a recently felled area adding confusion, and slow going on the the heathery terrain. The views of the dramatic Plodda Falls were much more impressive than expected and hopefully made it the freezing wet-shod ford of the river. After an early lunch, a tricky walk over to Plodda proper was followed by an arduous and uphill relocation exercise. Being able to relocate in areas like Plodda is a vitally important skill to learn. I learnt how heavy EMIT stakes were while setting up for the finishing race It was rather an ‘uphill’ downhill race, and apologies to those affected by an incorrect control siting. It was extremely physical, and very remote near the top, exactly the sort of area I wanted to test everyone’s skills to the limit. We then had a suitably massive 3-hour evening meal at the local Aviemore curry house (no-one finished their meal I think!) complete with award ceremony, and barely made it back to the YH before getting locked out!

Thursday – After checking out of the YH, which had proven to be very quiet the last few days despite the unbroken lovely weather, we headed to the final area, Uath Lochans. This was the only day clouds were in the sky (and even the odd spot of rain!) but it soon became lovely again. We started in the commercially forested area, with a new type of exercise designed to help people ‘contour,’ proving quite tricky on the shallow, even slopes. We then moved over to the lochans themselves, for perhaps the most technical race of all. Duncan had planned a ‘boulderdash’ classic race and it was innovative course, including several switch backs – everyone (I think) made mistakes, although mine were among the worst! The view from the viewpoint was nothing short of stunning – a fitting end to the week.

And so, the long journey back south was made, stopping via a clearer Edinburgh and a night in Matt’s place at Huddersfield.

Thanks to: (apologies if I got any of the below wrong!) Pippa for planning Exercises 1, 2, and driving us, Becky for planning Exercise 5, Mark for planning Exercises 7 and 8, Matt for planning Exercise 11, and organising food each night. Duncan for planning Exercises 6, 10 and 13 and doing loads of hanging for many of the other exercises, and driving! And all who made the journey for making it a most successful week.

The exercises were:
1: Control Flow
2: Ultra Short Race
3: Follow the Line
4: EMIT Demo
5: Catching Features Race
6: Clock Relay
7: Draw Your Own Map
8: Control Picking
9: Map Memory
10: Relocation
11: Downhill Race
12: Contour Following
13: Classic Race

The areas (all 1:10000 scale) were:
1. Moncreiffe Hill (Public event)
2. Inshriach North
3. Roseisle North
4. Anagach Wood
5. Plodda and West Guisachan
6. Uath Lochans North

(And finally, a bit of technology talk – no entry is complete without it! The lack of communication in the last week was due to my Bluetooth/GSM connection failing miserably, partially due to the poor reception up there. But it was nice to get away from technology for a whole week. I had 160 emails waiting when I got back. Less than 10 I actually wanted to receive. No real suprise there!)