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 (not that I was paying much attention you understand). 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.