This year the New Zealand Secondary Schools Orienteering Championships were held in New Plymouth and so on Thursday morning Jonty and I set out in beautiful sunshine to drive down to Taranaki. The weather remained fine all the way down to our lunch stop in Mokau but by the time we reached Waitara, where the Sprint event was held on Thursday afternoon, it was a bitterly cold and wet day. You won't find a map of that event on this site because, despite my best intentions to borrow Jonty's map after he had finished, the weather conditions were so bad all I wanted to do was get back in the car and turn the heater on.
Friday wasn't any better. There was a two kilometre walk to the start and we huddled under umbrellas with hands deep into polar fleece pockets.
This changed on the walk back to the car when we passed Hugh headed in the opposite direction proclaiming that he had come too far just to let a little thing like rain put him off from having a run. These were very wise words indeed, I felt, so when we got back to the car I got changed into my O gear and headed out back to the start. Of course, as I ran, the weather improved and it actually turned out to be a pleasant run.
If you've been following my last few entries on this blog, you will know that I've been having problems with a new pair of Inov8 shoes that I bought a couple of weeks ago. I'd consigned them to the dustbin (well, actually the far reaches of the laundry where they can languish until Jonty needs a new pair of O shoes) and after much research decided to order a pair of New Balance 573 GTBs from Wiggle. However, they had not arrived by the time we set off for Taranaki so I was back in my trusty but old and somewhat worse for wear IceBugs. I'll spare you the suspense by telling you now that I suffered no blistering at all despite the hills.
I arrived at the start and after a chat with the long suffering crew who were now packing up, picked up a Senior Boys Championship map and set off along the very muddy farm track to the start triangle. The first leg was across a couple of paddocks and then across a stream and up a hill. The trick was in choosing the best place to cross the stream. I aimed for an easy looking slope to the left of the control; Jonty went straight and found it much quicker.
From the top of the hill after the first control I could see most of the map stretching before me, the clouds having lifted. I headed off along a spur keeping the native forest to my right, Control 2 would be at the end of that forest block. Only, it didn't work out that way. Instead I soon saw more forest in front of me and the terrain no longer matched what the map told me I should be expecting. I had run down the wrong spur and was now about 500m out of my way. My choices were to continue on another 100m and cross the forest, probably using a track that went part of the way or return the way I had come. I chose to return back, maintaining height and allowing myself to regain confidence in my location. I was not the only one to make this particular mistake. Once I had returned to the top of the hill where I had made the initial mistake I ran down the correct spur, up the hillside opposite Control 10 and easily into the re-entrant containing Control 2. Once again, Jonty reported that going straight was a lot faster.
From Control 4 onwards I would be in the forest. Finding this control wasn't straight forward. I hit the fence line between the paddock and the forest at a point where the fence direction and nearby bends didn't seem to match the map at all so I ran up to the top of a hill in the paddock to relocate. I found the clearing on the other side of the fence and then dropped down into the forest, not quite nailing the control but minimising the amount of milling about I was forced to do to find it. From 4 to 5 the choice was to stay in the forest and go directly down a steep slope to a stream and up the equally steep slope on the other side or to return to the paddocks and run around. I went straight - well, straight-ish - and although the vegetation was thick and wet, I emerged at the top of the opposite hill not far from the control. Control 6 followed quickly but I did have a slight deviation on the way to 7 when a control caught my eye as I was running past it and despite it not being exactly where I was expecting Control 7 to be I deviated to it to make sure. It wasn't mine, of course, so I continued up the hill to where Control 7 really was.
Up out of the forest and over a spur in a paddock led me back into forest - pine this time rather than native, and down to Control 8. The temptation from here was to descend to the paddock visible below and run up that to the next control but the map suggested that keeping height was a good idea so I followed elephant tracks along the hillside through the pines and then cattle tracks through the paddock once the pines ran out, eventually arriving at Control 9. It was then a long leg to 10 and I planned a route that made best use of the farm tracks. These were often very muddy and I spent some time running on the paddocks beside them rather than through the mud itself. A group of cattle were most indignant to see me running into Control 10, they had obviously convinced themselves that all the pesky orienteers had already departed.
To reach Control 11 it was necessary to cross the narrow patch of native bush that I had avoided when I made my huge mistake on the way to 2. I spotted a stile on the fence and figured that it must lead to a track. It did, of sorts. A mud slide from the stile took me down into the stream and I then spotted where earlier competitors had fought their way up the opposite bank. From here I joined the marked track, the control being visible from the end of that track.
Looking back on my run, I can't account for the route choice I made from 11 to 12. I didn't make any mistakes, I knew where I was, where I was going and I found the control without difficulty but what on earth made me think that was a good route? It looks like I rambled around for ages. However this is all in hindsight, at the time I thought it was a good route. One advantage this route did have was that I could see Control 13 from one part of it so I had no problems running back to it. Some runners who had taken the more logical straight route to 12 then struggled with 13, finding that it was further around the hillside than they were expecting.
My route choice from 13 to 14 wasn't much better - perhaps it was the cold temperature addling my brain? The interesting looking little deviation about halfway along was when I needed to cross a reasonably wide stream and I ran back and forth along the bank for a while hoping to find an easy crossing. In a race situation I would have just gone straight across and when I did cross - at virtually the exact spot where I had first reached the stream - I discovered that I was able to jump it without getting wet feet at all.
The paddock either side of Control 15 was quite churned up from cattle hooves on soggy soil so runnability wasn't great but it was the homeward stretch and the last few legs were only of orange or possibly even yellow standard. I came over the hill by Control 16 to find nothing in front of me. The finish area that had been bustling with activity when I had last passed it an hour and a half earlier was now completely packed up and abandoned. Back in the car park, there was only one car other than ours still there. I took about one hour twenty minutes on the course and was in awe of all those kids who got round it in under an hour.
Links and Results
Phillip Herries took some photos which can be seen on his Picasa site here.