First of all, I must admit that I was not a fan of urban orienteering and did not bother to enter the races. So what has happened to change my mind? Quite a lot over the past couple of years is the answer.
To start with, there is the bit in the event title which implied ‘Sprint’. There is still debate about this but the urban race is not always a sprint. With a sprint race there is usually two races, both taking between 12 and 20 minutes (OK, it usually takes me a lot longer!). The second race usually has a reverse start time from the first race. These races are a bit like the 3-in-1 Glasgow Parks races, full on but very short. City parks and a university campus make ideal locations as they are almost traffic free. Decisions have to be made quickly as races are won or lost by a matter of seconds.
Then there was the bit about image. These races must be suited to the fit, sleek young things and “If you think I am going to be seen bumbling around at a slow shuffle then you can think again” attitude from myself. Yes there are races for the fit young things but we are so fortunate to be in a sport where no one laughs at you if you end taking four times longer than the winner – or even pressing the crossing button to get over the road when there is traffic about! (Well they actually did laugh but that was only because I told them and I got a ‘There, there’ pat on the head and looks as if to say ‘Poor woman, so young to be senile’).
Paul & I decided to give it a go at the Stirling race last May. Forget what it was advertised as but it was basically a race over about 3 – 4km through the old town of Stirling. Route choice was critical, there were big hills to trundle up, a wedding party to politely run through and remember to ask Andy about the descent down the bank! We both enjoyed it. Then in Hungary we had a short race day in the middle of the five day event. This took place in a detailed park in the town with most of the running across grass; reading the map carefully was critical as I discovered when I was on the wrong side of a very high fence.
Both of these events convinced me to think about entering some urban races – and that is just what they are, orienteering (with the associated challenges of map reading, decision making, speed across the ground, pacing yourself so there is something left near the end, etc) but in an urban setting. In October there was a well-promoted event in the City of London (ideal as it is really quiet on a Saturday afternoon). This event had an extra twist as two orienteers retrieved a handbag from a couple of youths who had mugged a lady!
Scotland has a real gem for orienteering in the Old Town of Edinburgh. Here there are alleyways, closes, different levels of road, steps and more steps, map reading decisions that come up so fast you are left peering at the map and thinking ‘I really have to try and get there, but is it possible?’ Paul & I entered the Edinburgh race this year (it ran last year but we ignored it), with Paul on the long course of 6.3km and I entered the short of 4.7km. The distances were quite a bit longer as there were blocks of buildings to go around and the ascent worked out at about 300m for me. This course was as far as I go on a conventional forest course!
So, how did it go? I really enjoyed it, made a few navigational errors, was corrected by two wee lads around one of the housing estates (they were excited to see all these folks running about their area), trundled by the Royal Mile and was ignored by everyone, cheered on by three folk in a ‘Close’ – but it turned out they gave the same encouragement to all who passed them - and finally had to run through students at Pollock Halls who were shivering outside as they had to evacuate the building due to a fire alarm. I don’t know when I have done such ‘full on’ navigation. In the forest / moorland setting I have loads of time to plan my routes as I am physically slow getting from A to B. In the urban setting, I had 22 controls and was constantly having to make route choices and keep in touch with the map. Check out the RouteGadget for the event.
What a buzz. Make sure that you put this one in your diary for 2010. There is also a ceilidh on the Saturday evening (ask Andy & Marieke about this) with a colour-coded event on the Sunday on an area within the Edinburgh City boundaries. You certainly get value for money.
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