It was an early start being at Collingwood College car park by Durham University for 10:30, having been used to getting up for 12 every day of the holidays. Nevertheless I managed to haul myself out of bed for the orienteering event, gearing myself up with running clothes to complement the cold weather and a choice of trail shoes to combat the mud of Houghall forest. Although I have been a passionate runner for a few years now (at the age of sixteen) I have never exactly done orienteering, so it would be fun to try out and learn how different it actually is from regular cross country running.
I went down with my family, and we had agreed to split into two teams, composing of me and my brother Emil for one team and my parents Camilla and Arto forming the other. For my team, we had come to the agreement that Emil would do all the map-work and work out where to head next and I would run off to the controls to scan our E-tag when we spotted them. My parents had gone for a similar approach of tactics, with Arto mainly reading the map and Camilla mainly running to the controls.
After having stood about at the car park for half an hour (and gotten somewhat chilly) it was time to set off, so everyone queued up to scan their E-tag and then grab a map and set off on their hunt – whether they be aiming for their fastest possible time or taking it as a relaxed walk. Emil and I weren’t taking it all too seriously, being it our first time properly orienteering, but we were still going to give our best efforts. Anyway, I scanned my E-tag to signal the start of our 1 hour time limit and then prepared to grab a map, but lo behold disaster had struck; they had ran out of maps! It may not have been the end of the world, but our 1 hour limit was already ticking down while we had no idea where to go, which is pretty near. We ended up admitting defeat and joining our parents to borrow their map (don’t tell them that this made it a defeat (only joking, it didn’t really make it a defeat)). However, before we got anywhere we found Scott and Dianne with their daughter, who had a spare map and were kind enough to give it to us, enabling us divide into our original groups again (they mustn’t have been aware that I am in fact from Jarrow & Hebburn AC rather than a fellow Strider, or they may not have given it to us!). We had lost a couple of minutes by this point, but it didn’t matter – we were just glad to be able to start properly.
My brother had plotted out a journey varying to that of our parents, as we had decided to trek out the furthermost control on the map in the edge of the forest, getting only a couple on the way, and working our way back collecting as many controls as we could in a steady loop, finishing with the ones around the colleges. This contrasted to Camilla’s and Arto’s plan as they started getting the nearby ones around the colleges first and slowly worked their way out to the forest, but with a longer run back at the end.
You could have said that we started well if we had not gone in the complete wrong direction and hit a dead end within a matter of 50 metres, and we hastily turned back to take a missed left turn up some steps. After a bit of prancing about like lost sheep, we did finally come to our first control which we later discovered was our longest split time of 5:40, despite not being particularly far from the start. We knew it was a slow start. However, we didn’t let it get in our way, and like true explorers we continued with a determination to do as well as we could.
The chemistry between me and Emil was a good one and our tactic was working out well: I would be running just out in front and he was running behind telling me which direction to go, and when a control was nearby he would tell me whereabouts it was. When I spotted it I would run off towards it and scan my E-tag on it, meanwhile he would plan out which direction to go next. Admittedly, I didn’t do any map-work whatsoever, but in retrospect this was probably for the best as judged by a knowledge of my navigation skills (a couple of years ago I was in the Lake District with the school and on one day we did an event that I wouldn’t call orienteering but it was similar. My friend and I misread a map and got lost for 20 minutes).
The terrain was quite demanding in the forest. As if the slippy mud wasn’t enough, there were hills of all sorts of gradients that had to be ran up and down then up again. I daresay my brother enjoyed watching me struggling up a hill to get to a control whilst he got to stand at the bottom planning which hill to send me up next (at least it was fun to surf back down in a landslip of dirt). Although it would be exaggerating to call it a death trap, there were some well disguised sticks and logs amongst the mud that fooled me in the demanding terrain and it had me stumbling about several times. There was fortunately much more welcoming terrain in other areas, as you got the grassy fields and eventually the glorious concrete floor by the colleges as you get closer to the start/finish.
There was a humorous time just 10 minutes before w had to be back where we were searching a specific control when going up the pathway parallel to the uphill road of the science site, separated only by a patch of forest. Somewhere amongst these trees was a control but we couldn’t seem to find it. As it turns out, Emil had somehow ended up turning the map upside down and so was looking at it from the wrong perspective. No wonder we couldn’t find it! After adjusting the map we did find it, and tried to start increasing our pace as we knew we didn’t have particularly long left. We knew we had already definitely missed out 4 controls, which we had decided to miss out knowing that we wouldn’t have the time, but we had two routes available for us to the finish: one which would leave out 2 of the remaining controls, and the other which would get all of what was left but obviously would take slightly longer.
We ended up taking the route with less controls as we only had a couple of minutes left at the point of this decision, and time started getting really tight and our pace was picking up. After getting all the speculated controls I saw that I had about 30-40 seconds to sprint up the hill and up to the finish. There wasn’t too much for my legs to give having constantly ran about the forest but I applied a boost of speed in this final sprint in attempt to get within an hour (as a 10 point penalty is given for every minute late, essentially subtracting the points worth of 1 control). I scanned my E-tag to make my wrist move faster than I could ever imagine it to and immediately checked the time on my watch. It showed to be out by 9 seconds. The exact time printed out for us was 60:07. If we were 7 seconds faster we wouldn’t have received the 10 point penalty, and to think that we lost at least a minute at the start while we didn’t have a map!
We completed it with 24 controls out of 30 and scoring 230 points (although we were on the moral high-ground that it should’ve been 240 points), which we were still very proud of. We found Camilla and Arto and found that they had got 21 controls (even though Camilla’s watch died halfway through so they had to guess at what time to go back, by which they reckon they might’ve gotten a couple more). In any case we had won the friendly family battle, but most importantly of all we had lots of fun and look forward to going orienteering again some time!