Wittenham Clumps Fast – Hughenden Slow – Bloom Woods

My current orienteering obsession continues to career (that’s career the verb defined as to ‘move swiftly and in an uncontrolled way’ to which I would add ‘in the wrong direction’) around the Thames Valley area. It’s fun to be able to do something that Jane also enjoys albeit we do different courses.

Wittenham Clumps

So, following on from my unimpressive appearance at Brill, we attended the TVOC Wittenham Clumps Saturday Series event on 10th May. Despite the fact that the colour coding of events at different locations is supposed to reflect a similar challenge and completion time there does seem to be a lot of variation, I’ve been focusing on light green.

I rather surprised myself by completing the Wittenham Clumps light green in 42:38 coming 7th out of 18. There was only one control I really struggled with, 106, and those of us clomping about that area in the supposedly ‘runnable forest’ all seemed to agree a path had vanished somewhere in the undergrowth.

Pleased with myself I decided to show off and do a 2nd run (no extra charge but you have to fill in a new entry form etc). Setting off on the orange course my sneaky plan to catch up with Jane was thwarted when I spotted her heading for the finish just as I was leaving the start. Fortunately she’s got used to waiting for me and I managed to get round in 30:42, 3rd of 15 (though the rest were mostly kids). Orange also used 106 and I still struggled to find it as this time was coming from a different direction.

Hughenden and Downley

Sunday 8th June and we were off to Hughenden just north of High Wycombe, not a Saturday Series event so I was aware it might be a bit tougher what with not being allowed to see the map in advance etc. We volunteered ourselves for manning the road crossing for a couple of hours before our time slot!

My confidence from good runs at Wittenham was quickly dented as I carefully studied my compass at the start then ran off in the wrong direction, so 10 minutes wasted straight off. Control 3 was quite a way off and looked tricky so I was reasonably happy with my plan though it didn’t quite work and I found myself hunting for a non-existent pit at the junction of the wrong 2 paths near a road. 20 minutes for that one, control 4 was 25 minutes after I’d fought my way through woodland then wandered around on a wooded bank for a while. It was hot too and really muddy.

After another 20 minute job at number 7ย  I eventually finished in 1:48:29 despite there only being 9 controls. More than once I caught my tired self looking at the wrong red arrow on the compass – the one you rotate to north on the map rather than the one with the magnet that actually points north! This might have accounted for my wrong direction start amongst other confusions. I had though seen enough other lost, knackered, souls to realise that it wasn’t just me and the results gave me 10th out of 18 starters – 16 finishers. Jane took almost as long on the orange and we were both stuffed for the rest of the day.

Bloom Wood

Well I thought this one went alright last Saturday. I made very sure not to muddle my compass arrows and at each point took a moment to actually decide a strategy for the next control like you’re supposed to do. Sometimes following paths etc – sometimes assessing the terrain as runnable from the map and aligning then following the compass – sometimes a combination – that sort of thing.

The first 3 controls done in under 10 minutes with the bonus of a portaloo in the middle of the woods which I used as it’s not always suitable to pee with unexpected people crashing through the woods in all directions and the awareness that there is a Brownie pack on the course somewhere.

I managed to mess up number 4 as my clever plan to to follow one horsey ride till I found the southwards path leading to a second ride that the control was near fell victim to my holey memory. I forgot the second half of the plan and was to be found searching in the bushes by the side of the wrong ride. Still corrected myself and found it in 16 minutes so not too bad.

A different problem with number 11 as I got 2 similar track junctions confused and ended up looking at a road that shouldn’t have been there, 13 minutes that one took. I’d already worked out 3 other people also on light green as we’d met at various controls in different orders. They all beat me to the finish but only by minutes and I was pretty pleased with my efforts thinking my 65 minutes dead good enough to place higher than the 17th out of 22 (20 finishers) I actually managed. Oh well – I was good but the competition better ๐Ÿ™‚

Jane had a bad day on the orange spending 35 minutes on one control as she failed to realise she had wandered into an unfenced ‘out of bounds’ area. They will forever more be the Blooming Woods for her!







Brill Common

Jane and Iย have decided we rather enjoy this orienteering lark and after a chat with a member who also does the Oxford parkrun sometimes I thought why not join the club. So it was as new members of the Thames Valley Orienteering Club that we made our way to Brill (on the hill) on 12th April to experience the somewhat different terrain of scrub, bumps and hollows left by centuries of clay digging for the local brick industry.

Despite being somewhat sleep deprived and achy courteous of the blooming frozen shoulder I decided to go for light green again and necked an energy gel before the start so at least I’d have some sugar left in my brain if I ended up taking ages again. Jane decided to up the stakes and go for the orange course where she was more likely to encounter other grown-ups. There was a new IT system being experienced in the registration tent which resulted in a bit of a queue and a wait before we got going just after 11am.

My first control seemed to be somewhere behind me facing the start but remembering the 13 minutes I’d spend heading 180 degrees in the wrong direction at the start of Wendover I took a moment to check the compass properly – then I realised the thing in front of control number 1 on the map was the car park by Brill windmill so I got there in 3 minutes using the follow my nose approach.

I was going well till number 8 though number 5 had been tricky hidden by a little pool at the bottom of a steep, muddy drop as it was. 8 was just on the other side of an out of bounds area with buildings but I think I made the mistake of overestimating the distance and also failed to check direction so ended up behind the wrong group of houses. If there is one thing I failed to learn from years of audax riding it is that the best thing to do as soon as you realise you’ve gone the wrong way is to stop, work-out where you are, and make a cool headed plan to get back on route. Instead I tend to opt for the ‘it must be over there somewhere’ technique which is probably why number 8 took me nearly 16 minutes to find while the longest any of the earlier controls had taken was under 5 minutes.

Brill Orienteering April 20149 was a doddle but then a repeat performance for number 10 which took 13 minutes as I made some pretty basic mistakes such as following a road where the map showed a vehicle track etc. 13 was interesting as the thin but unbroken line of darkish green was indeed ‘impenetrable’ and, after going right to the bottom of Tramhill to find 12, I had to go most of the way back up again – huffing and puffing before I decided to walk instead – just to join a path that took me back down the other side of the dense hedgerow to where the control was.

The remaining controls were not too hard to find though non were what I’d call obvious. After 19 me and another chap could see the ‘Finish’ sign 100m away so without a glance at the map we just ran straight to it, I’m surprised I didn’t get a nasty rash from the ankle high stinging nettles on route! 1:11:18 was my eventual time with about 42 minutes actual running according to my Garmin. The 3.1km becoming 3.4 miles. I placed 16 out of 20 starters and 19 finishers so a marginal improvement over Wendover but still much room for improvement. I reckon if I’d got 8 and 10 right I’d have been 20 minutes quicker.

I couldn’t find Jane at first but it turned out she was in the loo in the pub when I’d looked for her there. She managed a more impressive 16th of 29 starters, 25 finishers on her debut orange course finishing in 46:28 and almost achieving the ‘Orange standard’ (whatever that is). Wittenham Clumps next for us if the weather looks good!


Wendover Woods Orienteering

We took a trip out to Wendover Woods on Saturday 15th so I could make a fool of myself at another orienteering event. This was another in the Thames Valley Orienteering Club’s Saturday Series where I suspect they make allowances for the inexperienced and foolhardy. I opted for the ‘light green’ course again – navigationally challenging but not as long as the ‘green’.

I registered and collected my map and emit card, proceeding to the start control without peeking at the map so I could feel I’d done it properly. Bipped my emit on the start then located control number 1 on the map and, even though it wasn’t far away, carefully aligned the compass for direction and off I went. The paths didn’t seem to be in the right place and the clearing I was looking for wasn’t evident. I arrived at the ‘Go Ape’ activity area yet I thought the blurb said we weren’t to go in there. Retraced and had an experimental detour into the woods to no avail. This wasn’t going well!

I headed back to the start and from there just followed the paths and land features ignoring the compass, the penny dropped and I realised I’d aligned the compass in the wrong direction and had been heading north instead of south. So over 13 minutes to find the first control and my confidence somewhat dented.

Getting my act together I made good progress for the next 10 controls, checking the terrain on the map and navigating the longer route along paths if it looked difficult or using the map and going direct where white or light green suggested I could run. Number 10 was tricky but it was well hidden and there were various other people who also appeared to be puzzled. Number 11 was tough as – despite going the path route – the little, tapering-out, path I was looking for just wasn’t there and I eventually found the control after 13 minutes using the stumbling about in the undergrowth approach. Over an hour gone and still 5 controls to find, I wasn’t going to make my appointment with Jane in the cafe!

Wendover Woods Track

12 and 13 were not a problem and 14 appeared to be a case of follow the wide track up the hill then take the first wide track on the left only I didn’t see said track and ended up at the top near the start. Having obviously overshot I decided to follow the top track then drop back down but the path back down didn’t seem to be there. I looked carefully at the map and realised I’d gone way too far and retraced then back down the wide track and on my right I spotted a disused forestry track with a tree down across its entrance. Clambered over the tree, then another one not far down the track which was quite big and I more fell off than climbed over. Then another! Time to admit defeat I thought and turned uphill to where I spied a narrow track that would surely take me back to the top near the start. On my right were a couple of pits which was what I was supposed to be looking for so I thought it worth a quick check and there was number 14, a bit over 21 minutes that had taken.

So revitalised I ran up the top, found 15 and the nearby finish and bumped into Jane returning from the cafe having fortunately remembered to get another pay and display ticket for the car. 1 hour 42 minutes, 21st out of 24 starters and 22 finishers. Not very good at all but I thought I’d dealt with most of the controls efficiently, it was just the cock -up at the start and the extended hunt for 2 of the 16 that had slowed me so much. I think there is hope for me yet and looking forward to the next one.

Jane meanwhile had finished 20th out of 35 starters on the yellow course and even beaten 2 grown-ups (though they may well have been escorting youngsters so she’s not let it go to her head.)


Brighton Half 2014

I’d entered the Brighton Half an age ago as it seemed there was going to be a big vegan presence. Rubbish that I may have been recently, I’d used this as a focus for some training and – while my target of scraping in under 2 hours seemed uninspired for a distance I could run in 1:45 2 years ago – it was a bit of a boost to be reminded by my ‘purple’ start race number that when I’d entered I’d apparently put 2:00 – 2:15 as my expected time.

As a ‘tune-up’ race (well alright because I couldn’t resist it) I did a orienteering event up Shotover the day before. Went for ‘light green’ this time and while I took a long time again – 1:06:36 for a nominal 2.8k turned into an actual 5k – I made an attempt to do it properly and managed 9th out of 11 finishers with 3 disqualified. 25 minutes ‘stopped’ time according to my Garmin so I obviously need to learn to think quicker!

So Shotover done with mid-afternoon I was off to Littlehampton where I spent a comfy night in the Travelodge before scraping unexpected ice off the car and driving the last few miles to Brighton where I caught the special bus to the start by the seafront. Thousands of runners milling about, I bumped into Matt Woodman and Peter Simpson then deposited my bag before heading off to the ‘purple’ start area – after a bit of a warm-up we were off.

Plan was to start easy and try to keep my miles under 9 minutes throughout. This ought to be easy but I’d struggled to keep under 10 minute miles towards the end of the 13 mile training run I’d done a couple of weeks before and had been absolutely shattered for the rest of the day – it had felt more like I’d just run a marathon. Anyway I followed the convenient 2 hour paceman for a bit – entertained by his obvious urge to run a bit faster tempered by regular checks of his watch to slow down a bit. After a couple of miles I passed him though and was glad to find a bit of space appearing round me as the field opened up a little bit.

Up a long but steady slope for a mile or so watching the faster people descending the closed road in the opposite direction. A great drum band beating out a rhythm – Stix – then our turn to descend with a view of those behind. I had a half bottle of Lucozade at the 3 mile station and again at 6, it had turned into a beautiful sunny morning and I was working up a good sweat for maybe the first time this year.

Brighton Half 2014Tiring a bit around mile 8 I still managed to maintain sub-9s with the help of my Garmin. I felt a little queasy from the Lucozade so washed a gel down with a bottle of water at the 10 mile station which was just at the point where we turned back east and followed the promenade back to the finish. I was seeing a chance of finishing in 1:55 and come the last mile pushed as best I could speeding up for a fast (for me) finish but not quite – 1:55:12 3047th of 6924 finishers chip time – pleased with that though and a day later I feel ok and no injuries ๐Ÿ™‚

Afterwards I met up with some of the 15 odd other – mostly much faster – vegan participants, many of them VRUK members. Despite my earlier queasiness a chunk of V-Bites carrot cake and a hazelnut latte went down a treat!



Lost in the Woods

Following the fun orienteering in University Parks, and being as Oxford parkrun was cancelled to prevent us messing up their grass, I though I’d have a go at a ‘proper’ orienteering event that was on at Nettlebed the TVOC Chiltern Challenge. Jane decided to join me and attempt one of the easy courses so about 10:30am we parked up in the grounds of the Sue Ryder Nettlebed Hospice and entered our events. Jane went for the ‘white’ course, easiest apart from the ‘string’ course. I went for the ‘green’ being as that was what I’d done at University Parks. There were loads of people and we were allocated start times, I was lucky to get 11:17 as apparently the next after that was an hour away.

Equipped with our EMIT cards we headed off to the start 10 minutes away and found a bunch of experienced looking orienteers; a clock and some officials and a grid of big squares apparently one for each course with boxes for the next runner, a map and presumably the start box. Most people were pre-entered and called up by name but we sussed that the officials also called a start time. Jane already had her map and was off first. When my turn came I couldn’t see any control points on the map in front of me and was told jokingly off for trying to grab the marked map before we were officially started, I pleaded not having a clue what I was doing.

So we were off, only one for each course starting together so no chance of just tagging along, I got to the start flag and looked at my map realising that I had no plan and all I knew was we were heading south. I followed the others along the path a bit then got my act together and looked at the map – my first point wasn’t on this path, it was somewhere over to my right so with the aid of my compass I set off across a pathless bed of fallen leaves and stuff and somehow found it behind some bushes. For the next point I did the proper compass thing setting it so the arrow pointed my way when north was aligned and off I went – unfortunately the woodland in front wasn’t going to let me follow my line direct though. I got there after some messing about mostly due to it’s proximity to a road I could hear. Point 3 wasn’t far away and, once I’d worked out that the ‘v’ on the map meant it was in a hole, I found it. About this time I realised I’d not started my Garmin and also that I was taking an age to get anywhere.

And so on with various frustrations and repeated running towards and being passed by increasingly familiar faces who were probably not looking for the same checkpoint as me, often there were several points near to each other and you had to double check the number (which isn’t the same as the one on your map) to make sure the point found was actually yours.

Should take me 50 minutes – maybe an hour – I’d said to Jane. Ha ha! I’d spent nearly an hour when I set off from 9 on what looked to be a simple follow parallel to the road route through 10 to 11. Loads of people searching everywhere round here – I checked a dip to find the wrong number – thought I was cleverly following a path that would lead me to 10 but it wasn’t there. Here there and everywhere to eventually find 11 so followed back parallel to the road to find that elusive 10. Found the same wrong number again and was asked by one person where we were on the map and then by another if I knew where the wrong number I’d just found was. I was knackered and, having not eaten since breakfast nor brought supplies, was feeling the confusion of oncoming bonk.

I found 10, walking quite often now as the pathless terrain had taken it’s toll on my ankles, I rediscovered 11. 12 wasn’t far away and I sensibly followed the paths to get to it then 80 metres and the finish. Phew!

1:25:49 for a nominal 5k that I reckon I’d turned into a bit over 5 miles sounded pretty slow but I assured myself others must have found it hard too. The results for ‘green’ actually show me 58th of 58 – 7 minutes behind the 2nd last who was listed as M75 category. Perhaps I just aimed a little high and need to recognise the difference between ‘quite difficult’ green (University Parks) and ‘very difficult’ green (Chiltern Challenge). Also learning to read a map properly might help! Still great fun and pleased not to join the 3 who were DNF or disqualified ๐Ÿ™‚

Jane faired better placing 7th out of 9 despite being 40 years older than all the other competitors.