Having written that last sentence I figured I had better do a bit of research and back it up. This turned out to be harder than it sounds as the website set up for last year's event has disappeared into the ether somewhere in the last twelve months but luckily the splits still exist on WinSplits. From that I can see that last year there were 189 entries in the Long Distance; this year 169. So numbers were actually only down about 10%.
Roger, Jonty and I car pooled up on Saturday morning. The weather forecast had been bleak but it didn't actually start raining until we neared Whangarei. When it did start raining, it poured. The temperature dropped as well and we pulled into the event centre discussing what cold and wet weather gear we had brought with us. In my case the answer was none. This was a bit of a concern as my start time was fast approaching while Roger and Jonty both had a good 45 minutes up their sleeves. I got changed in the back of the van and, as I did so, the rain stopped. By the time I had got all my gear on and ventured outside there was even blue sky to be seen. I set off at a jog for the start - I wasn't late but I didn't have a huge amount of time to spare. The track up to the start was wet and muddy, a sign of things to come.
Of the three disciplines we would be contesting this weekend I felt I was likely to do best in the Sprint with the Middle close behind but the Long trailing well back. I warmed up as best I could, turned on the GPS on my watch and waited for my start. As it happens the GPS didn't get a lock onto sufficient satellites until the fifth control so there is no Quick Route track for you to enjoy on the map above.
As I ran to the start triangle I examined the map. I already knew that there were only nine controls and so, with an average distance of nearly 300m per leg, this was not going to be a stereotypical Middle Distance. Two things jumped out at me as I headed up the track, contours and green stripe. This was going to be an interesting race.
Luckily we had a short leg to start with. Unluckily I stuffed it up completely. I knew I had to exit the clearing by the start triangle on its long side and climb to the left. This seemed so obvious that, although I took a compass bearing, I didn't bother to check it as I turned the track corner at the triangle and headed up into the forest. Yes, I had headed off at 90 degrees. Maybe the clearing was not as rectangular as it seemed, maybe it was but I refused to recognise it, either way I could have saved myself several minutes if I'd bothered to glance at my compass at that point. But I didn't and I ran up the hill full of enthusiasm. Soon the open land ahead came into sight but the control didn't. At this point I looked at my compass and realised something was very very wrong. It still took me ten or fifteen seconds before I was prepared to accept what I had done. At this point I turned and ran parallel to the fence in the direction of Control 1. I was too high, however, and managed to run above the control without spotting it in the bracken. Again, I knew something was wrong as the anomalous bit of forest on the far side of the fence came and went. Back I went, down the hill a bit and there was the control. I had taken over four minutes for this leg and had probably lost two and a half minutes already.
I settled down a lot on the next two legs. The second leg was a nice sidle on a bearing, using the pond as an attack point to locate the control. The third leg involved a long slog up the hill and, although I probably ended up climbing too high on the direct route when a route slightly to the left with less climb would have been preferable, I don't think I lost too much time. Back up the hill again and then another long sidle, this time with the intention of picking up the track along and down the hill on my way to Control 4. I did find the track in the end but far later than I had expected and just at the point where it veered right and I headed down the hill to the left and the control.
I made my second major error on the leg from 4 to 5. If you look at the map you will notice a lovely route choice up the eastern side of the pond, along a track to the open and then up the stream to Control 5 - a route that involves minimal climb. I noticed this route, yes, but only when I was high above it having rounded the south western end of the pond and climbed the spur behind it. I could have kicked myself for not noticing it earlier although later the splits would show that there wasn't as much difference between the two options as you would have thought.
A quick sidle around the hillside found Control 6 easily although a number of people, notably Dwayne and Brent, had difficulty on this leg through getting on the wrong side of the patch of green early on. The leg to Control 7 was long and included another couple of climbs but again the presence of a pond allowed me to locate exactly and if my counting of the reentrants above the pond wasn't perfect, it was at least good enough to allow me to locate the control quickly.
The last long leg of the race remained. Once again I was destined to stuff this up completely although not as completely, it must be said, as Jeff and Paul. That would be no comfort, however. My plan was good. I would climb out of the control onto the ridge and follow it in an easterly direction. There was an area a couple of hundred metres before Control 8 where I would need to be careful that I went the correct way where the ridge split but even if I got that wrong it should be recoverable. Off I went up onto the ridge and, taking advantage of the good running conditions, along and down it. Down it? The ridge undulated, sure, but it shouldn't descend that far. And what was that clearing coming up ahead of me? There shouldn't be a clearing on this route. As I got closer I could see that the clearing had a pond at the far end. Yep, another 90 degree error and I had descended the spur to the north rather than the heading east along the ridge. Luckily there was a ready made alternative available to me - I would run up the side of the pond to the road (like I should have done on the leg to Control 5) and then run down the road to the vicinity of Control 8. I couldn't even get that right. I ran up the northern side of the pond, dodging in and out of reentrants, using cattle tracks that climbed and dipped, all the while admiring the view of the flat, gently sloping, fast running forest that I could see on the southern shore. Eventually I reached the end of the pond. A traverse of the flats to the road involved ankle deep mud all the way but soon I was onto the road and I was able to pick up a bit of speed. I located the stream leading up to the control and clambered my way up the spur behind it. The control was higher than I was expecting and was out of sight until the last minute but I was confident I was in the right stream and continued to climb until I saw it.
I sidled around and down to Control 9 and then sped to the finish, encouraged on by a crowd who had gathered to enjoy the spectacle of orienteers negotiating a final ditch just before the end - a ditch that many a runner would trip headfirst into in their enthusiasm to reach the finish. I ended up finishing in tenth place, a miserable result compared to my hopes before the race but I consoled myself with the thought that it had been a good warmup for the Sprint this afternoon.
Links and Results
Placings for Auckland Club members were:
M10 Matthew 1st, Hayden 2nd
M12 Ben 1st
M20 Jonty 2nd, Kieran 3rd
M21AS Roger 1st
M21B Stephen 1st
M60 Alistair 1st, Tom 3rd
W10 Rebecca 2nd
W12 Tessa 2nd, Lucy 3rd
W14 Hayley 1st, Anna 3rd
W21AS Alina 1st
W21B Karen 3rd
W21C Jill 2nd
W50 Annette 3rd
W60 Joanna 1st
Congratulations to all of you!