It’s five o’clock on a winter Thursday evening, I have a cold, and what I should do is go home and do nothing, but yet again I am unable to resist orienteering’s draw.
There is something about combining running and thinking that does it for me; maybe it’s because I’m exercising without realising it or maybe it’s due to my low boredom threshold. I also like learning, and while navigating has been part of my repertoire for donkey’s years, the recent night event series provided a great opportunity to find out about the mapping and symbols that orienteers use.
So, back to Thursday night. It’s 6.15, dark and we’re in a lay-by on the moors between Burnley and Rossendale. There are three courses available, providing a choice of difficulty level and I opt to do the hour score course. This involves planning and navigating a course around as many checkpoints as you think you can do in 60 minutes, taking care not to be back late.
The checkpoints have a range of values so there’s some mental gymnastics to do working out how to maximise your score, taking account of the distance and difficulty of running and how difficult checkpoints are likely to be to find. It’s always a good plan to leave some close-to-home checkpoints until last in case you find you have time to spare, and to have an eye on quick routes back in case you are short of time.
So I’m waiting for my start and thinking I’ll be glad to get going as there is a sneaky breeze. It’s my turn and I stick my dibber (timing chip) in the start control to get the clock ticking. After a few minutes of brain overload, looking at the map and making some decisions, I’m away. My plan is to go to the far end, picking up what I can en route, and mop up the high value checkpoints working my way back.
The first control is in a hollow about half a kilometre along a path and somewhere off to the right. It could be tricky to find as there isn’t much to reference it to but it’s only worth 5 points so I can’t spend too much time here.
Using a slight change in path direction as my attack point I quickly discover that there must be another direction change further on ’cause the control ain’t here. My supposition is correct and I’m relieved to get the first control in the bag; stick the dibber in, wait for the beep and the light, and off again.
The next few controls are 15 and 20 pointers so providing I can find them they will seem a tad more rewarding. Between my second and third controls, the compass is out. All I need to do is hit a wall right of a corner and head along it to a ruin. I don’t want to lose too much height and end up left of the corner so a rough bearing will keep me where I need to be across the featureless terrain. Here we are, as intended, and the control is soon reached.
And so it continues; after almost an hour of running on paths, across featureless moorland, following streams and up to my thighs in bog, I’m at my last checkpoint. It’s been good fun, I’ve had the compass out, used as many paths and tracks as possible to get a sprint on between controls, and made plenty of decisions. All I need to do is stick my dibber in the control and then head to the finish. I put my hand next to the control box but the dibber is no longer on my finger (shades of that first adventure race Molly). B****cks!
I decide to go the finish so that I can at least get a completion time and I’m there in a couple of minutes. My legs tell me that I’ve worked hard. So, what to do about the dibber? I have an idea where it might be and I head back to where I’d had an altercation with a fence; fortunately it is there. Phew, that could have cost me £30!
Now it’s back to the control and to the finish again where I’m awash with the feeling of satisfaction that accompanies achievement. As another chap vouched for me being at the last control and we had all the information to reconstruct my finish, the results reflect the outcome as if “dibbergate” had not occurred. Had it not been a training event I’m not sure whether the same latitude could have been extended.
With hindsight there are a few things I should perhaps have done differently but it’s easier to come up with the perfect plan in front of the fire with all the time in the world.
Also at this event were our club-mate Colin Smith and his friend Linda. They did a different course to me and thoroughly enjoyed it. Colin is completely new to orienteering so if you want a beginner’s perspective, speak to him. He’ll tell you that it’s suitable for all, so why not give it a go. You won’t know what you’re missing if you don’t.
On the day after the club Christmas do there is an orienteering event at Dean Clough near Whalley. The full spectrum of line courses will be available; beginners up to advanced. Line courses are different to score events in that you do all the checkpoints in number order and take as long as you want (within reason) so there is less pressure.
It’s a late start so your alcoholic fog should have time to clear. I’m guessing this will clash with the traditional post-do club run up Boulsworth, which you may prefer. The choice is yours.