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.)


Oxford Charity 10k 2014

The Oxford 10k Charity Fun Run – to give its full title – was originally supposed to take place on 26th January in Cutteslowe Park. Unsurprisingly it was postponed to 9th March due to the flooding but as the date approached and the park continued to be so soggy that even the parkrun had been rerouted and cancelled on occasion I wasn’t convinced it was going to happen. The week before we got an email saying it had been relocated to Tilsey Park in Abingdon, the venue for the Abingdon Marathon, so a sunny if breezy morning saw me cycling south for the race.

My shoulder has been moaning away and keeping me sleep deprived, though not in any way as painful as it was last year, so I wasn’t expecting to run fast. The course description – 4 times round the track followed by 4 times round the park perimeter and a final lap of the track to finish – sounded like a recipe for confusion. I went to collect my number but it seemed to have gone walkabout so I was issued a replacement, 498. For the first time this year I decided to run in just the vest, it really was warming up nicely!

I stood out the energetic looking warm-up as the last thing I wanted was some lady trying to get me to wave my arms in the air. The announcer asked that we left lanes 1 and 2 of the track for the fast folk so we didn’t block their progress I realised I was maybe too far to the back even for me. Then we were off.

The track was congested but fast, some poor chap went flying when he ran into a warning cone in one of the middle lanes – don’t know what it was warning of but in a crowd of 160runners it was obviously a hazard in itself. I passed a lot of slower runners on the first couple of laps, some seemed to have ignored the request to stay out of the fast lanes. Soon I was disturbed to see several of those I’d passed already started on the perimeter laps. It hadn’t been made particularly clear (though was obvious when you thought about it) that we were to count our own laps so it was a bit of an ‘honesty race’. I’d run 7:31 for my 1st mile and was deluding myself that I might carry on with similar – ha ha! Was that 2 or 3 laps I’d done? I thought I’d read a lap was 500m but surely it should be 400m? Best do another to be sure! It was evident from they way I was overtaking the same faces all over again once I’d left the track that I’d done a lap too many.

The perimeter laps signalled a big change in terrain, some damp ankle length grass followed by a steep bank demanding legs of different lengths. I got a lot slower, resorting to keeping my miles under 9 minutes, and also rather warm so was glad of the drinks station and even tipped a cup over my head on the 3rd lap. The faster runners charged past us, I saw the winner back on the track and heading for his finish, I think I was just starting my second lap. I passed various strugglers and a few reduced to walking.

As I split off to rejoin the track after my 4th perimeter lap a marshall was asking if we’d done all 4. A bit ironic as my Garmin had just clocked up a full 10k. Getting back on the track was like reaching the top of the hill and starting down the other-side. I managed to speed up a bit for the last bit and settled for 54:36 including my extra 500m, 80th of 168 overall I think. A fun morning in the sun and thanks to MCC Promotions for managing to run the event in the face of the weather and venue problems.


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.



Orienteering in University Parks

Fancying a change and not wanting to get up at $&%*ยฃ! o’clock for breakfast and parkrun I thought I would have a go at one of a Saturday series of orienteering events Thames Valley Orienteering Club were staging. The 11th January event was conveniently in University Parks and despite a lot of Oxford’s green bits being under water a post on facebook assured that the event was to go ahead.

So I turned up at the start wearing required leggings (you are not supposed to wear shorts for orienteering presumably due to scratchy terrain) not really sure which of the 5 course difficulties I should be attempting. The 2 harder ones were marked as for experienced orienteers which, with just one slow attempt at a Shotover permanent course to my name, I wasn’t. A bit of a chat with the organisers though and I registered myself for the hardest one, ‘dark green’, 4.8k as the crow flies, on the basis that I could hardly get lost in the wilderness of University Parks and the Science Area.

A look at my map, which I was told was not usually allowed before the clock started on competition events and didn’t really help anyway, then I dibbed my Emit card at the start and headed for my first control which was just behind the maintenance machinery shed area. Unlike the permanent course I’d done the 23 (there had been 24 but one was under water) controls had to be reached in the correct order.

My compass stayed in my pocket but some of the controls were tricky to find as they were hidden behind trees and suchlike, I didn’t understand the clues as to control relative position on the map, nor many of the other cryptic symbols. In some cases I reached what I thought was my control but checking the number it belonged to one of the other courses and mine was a few yards away somewhere out of sight. So I tried to keep my wits about me, missing a control means a DNF.

After almost dropping my Emit card a couple of times I realised the little strap was meant to go round my finger. Running fitness helped but what with all the stop/start and the mass of molehills it wasn’t as easy going as a flat grass park should be, sometimes it was best to go the slightly longer route on paths. I spotted Tony from work out jogging, a reminder that this really was home territory.

University Parks Orienteering Track

My Garmin track!

Circling and criss-crossing the park, through little walk-throughs into the Science Area I didn’t know existed, near enough to Mespot to see just how impassible it was with all the water. It was great fun!

They gave me a little printout with all my splits straight away at the finish. I thought I’d done ok with 46:46 time for about 6.5k, the 4.8k nominal being physically impossible without wings. Actual running time was about 39 minutes. I was 32nd of 40 starters (39 successful). There is another one up Shotover mid-February, I think I may well be there ๐Ÿ™‚

University Parks Orienteering