So what makes you go through an arduous 650 miles drive over a weekend? Not a lot of things. But for me, the Lake District became a magnet for many reasons. Having been living in England and been told for years how beautiful it is and not visited, I finally have done that trip first in 2015 when the JK was held there, and it got me there and then. Apart from breathtakingly beautiful views, it also offers Orienteering terrain that is very rare in England: extremely challenging both in the physical as well as navigational sense, whilst still having keeping the physical challenge enjoyable (i.e. it is hardly ever about fighting dark green areas and thorny undergrowth). I did conclude then, after a very tough 3 days and big time losses in my own class (including one, about 5 minute mistake straight out of the Start to control 1) that despite what I thought, I was not at all ready physically nor navigationally for that challenge.
So I have returned this past weekend for the British Night Championship weekend which had the Northern Orienteering Championship on the Sunday with great expectations – and none in the “result” department. I did want to do well on Saturday in the Night event in my own class, and then wanted the physical and navigational challenge as a training exercise on Sunday by running my first ever race in the M21E class (I was not orienteering at the time when we are at the peak of our abilities so never got to try that experience).
Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t on my side – raining most of the drive up there (and back), and with named storms marking either side of the event I was sure that the terrain would be extremely wet. But who would not like to wake up to views like the one I had from my B&B conservatory?
After checking in, I drove straight to the event centre, having been warned that parking space may be tight. For once, I was there way too early! Very uncharacteristic, but at least I had the chance to snap a few photos to capture the beauty before night fell completely and it started to rain again.
And onto the race analysis. Having been well aware of the trickiness of the terrain and also recognising that even the organisers noted competitors should “look forward to a significant navigational challenge”, but confident of my physical shape (as far as the Night event is concerned), I planned to take it very carefully and slow initially.
The map was a 2-page map – provided here with my Quickroute analysis drawn onto it.
My strategy held for the first two controls – I was deliberately slow and precise, followed the contours well as planned and hit the controls spot on – yet still picked up roughly a minute each from the best splits, just simply due to my cautious start. At that point though I started to gain confidence and decided to go faster. Leg 3 proved the perfect example of what works in daylight does not work in the nighttime. I probably lost seconds at the first section getting out onto the road – being too direct meant I had to climb down the cliffs that took much longer than if I had curved around the small hill, then I upped the speed through the path and then down into the valley. This was almost to plan -my intention from here was to go up the hillside to the hilltop SE of the control, and use that as the attack point. This plan would have been great in daytime – but in the night, I could not see far enough to make out the hills, all I could see is the hillside in front of me, which I climbed and having gone up on what looked like a hilltop, ran on a compass bearing – only to realise that the hillside does not look at all what I expected. I was of course on the W slope, and took some time to relocate myself, Roger G having just caught me up, I managed to find the control first, only to then be leaving the control in the wrong direction and thereby losing contact with him. From this point though, I was able to execute legs 4,5 and 6 more or less as I planned, although it was a mistake in the middle of leg 6 to go so far up the hillside and not to run on the same path that I had on leg 3, which should have been quite a bit faster than curving around the hilltop was as I did. Control 7 gave me my second bigger mistake in the control circle – not having a clear attach point, I was hoping to make out the right cliffs, but despite having properly step counted I simply ran past the control (or, on top of it), there was simply too much detail around me – it didn’t help that about 8-10 people were all looking for controls in that vicinity at that point. I made sure that some others were looking for the same control as me before concluding in myself that I overshot based on the number of rock features around me and turned back, leaving about 3 other people into the control finally. Having messed up my rhythm, I shot off from the control without being crystal clear what I really should have done and started contouring around the hill – the problem with this strategy was that although I did not have to climb too much, I ended up not being very clear exactly where i was as again there were too many similar parallel features, so having crossed a few spurs and valleys, in the end it too significant effort to relocate myself as being SW of the control – then I climbed up to the problem to find it as expected, but not before losing a number of minutes on this debacle. The right plan, of course, should have been to climb up from control 7 using the valley SE of the control, all the way to the rough open hilltop just under the rock cliff, then follow the spur down in S direction to lead me into the control. It would have been about 10m more climb than a perfectly executed contouring around, but much easier to execute and I ended up gaining that much height anyway in the end due to the mistakes I was making.
At this point I was again wanting to up the tempo, and as I ran past the small lake I did spot a control on the far side of the path and ran straight there like a beginner, only to realise that of course, that was not the control I needed even if it was in the same rough direction that I needed to run. I turned back to run back for #9, before finally executing leg 10 exactly the way it needed and I planned.
At this point, the map had to be turned but I already incurred significant time losses and did not really have the flow, so I no longer had the motivation to push – all that was left for me is to gain experience and enjoy the challenge.
Leg 11 was the classic example of losing a lot of time on a control without making any mistakes. Quite a few M20 ran past me here – #11 was down at the bottom part of a very steep, rocky, slippery wet hillside, where I just wasn’t prepared to risk a broken leg or rib by galloping down too fast and maybe not being able to stop before falling down some cliffs. As the track shows, I was right on the line but just was climbing down very carefully. From there on 12 was a piece of cake, and I was still OK halfway through to 13, but that hillside was way too complex, and as I ended up a bit too high, that was sufficient for me not to see the control, and to start wondering around guessing whether I was too high or too low. I guessed too low and bounced back from the path starting to climb to look behind each knoll hoping to see my control, until I climbed enough to be out in a rough open area near the local hilltop. By this point it became obvious where I was so running down the path allowed me to attach the control from that side and find it properly, before coming back up the same path to go for #14 – but not before having lost quite a few minutes on #13. At this point it was crystal clear that my race wasn’t even going to be respectable, so a bit distracted and disappointed I decided to simply attach the uphill out of 14 – and as I lost my concentration I wasn’t noticing that I was going in quite the wrong direction. Having climbed too much I was actually quite lucky to have stumbled on my #16 , punched as the number was on my control description before realising that it was the wrong one and I was genuinely surprised about how I could have gotten there! But at least it made it clear where I was, and there happened to have been a relatively straightforward (though not fast) route back to 15. Finding 16 again wasn’t a problem, neither was 17 as by this time the rain and fog have somewhat cleared so I could actually make out the small local hilltop where the control had to be. No mistakes in the execution of leg 18, although in hindsight the plan wasn’t a very good one – it would have been faster to contour around the two local hilltops E of 17 that I ended up climbing over, and then using the path coming up the valley from the N to finish the leg the way I have done. 19-20-21-22 wasn’t a problem although I was careful with 20 as this was the hillside I messed up coming the other way so I was probably too slow here, and to get to 21 I probably should have started with dropping height first and then contouring instead of what I did, which was the other way around. The mistake to 23 felt bigger than it shows on the map – a case of mistaken reentrant confusing me for a while. No problem with 24-25 but then I was probably starting to mentally tire more than I noticed as after the uphill in the open area, I wasn’t very precise getting to 26, in fact climbing more than I should have and not reading the map very well I am afraid, ending up on the wrong side of the smallish local hill and realising it after losing far too much time. Once I relocated I ran back to the control whilst acknowledging Nick running on its way to victory, in the opposite direction, having already punched that control. By the time I got to the control and turned around, he was out of sight. There were no errors from here other than a suboptimal first part of leg 28 (should have gone around the other side of that small hill).
Overall, lost by about 50 minutes to Nick, of which well over 30 minutes were navigational mistakes. It just goes to show that the Lake District will provide a well-deserved winner, clearly, the better Orienteers will achieve better results there. I wasn’t even feeling tiredness in the end, despite having spent 2 hours in the forest as I was so slow most of the way around. Not a very good result, but a huge amount of learning to take away!
Commentary of the Northern Championships the next day to follow soon.