Unlike the great weather yesterday, it was a bit dodgy this morning with rain starting to fall the moment I left my car for the half hour walk to the start. It didn't last but it would return again for my walk back to the car at the end of the day. Perhaps it rained more frequently during my run but I was just too busy to notice.
A particularly welcome innovation at this event was the model map provided during the long walk to the event centre (see below). This allowed us to get in touch with the map and experience some typical terrain, both sand dune and forest, at a leisurely pace without the pressure of the race. I chose to navigate into Control 51 from the track to the south east of the control and failed to find it. The map seemed to match the ground but the control wasn't there. I wandered about aimlessly for a bit before bailing out to the track and relocating. On my second attempt I walked directly to the control and saw that I had been within two or three metres of it previously but it had been hidden by a knoll. Immediately the map clicked into place and I was able to come to grips with the scale and feel of the map. I visited the other two controls on the model map and headed to the event centre much happier.
From the start it was over a small hill to the start triangle and then an immediate 90 degree turn left off the track and into the terrain. There were a number of gullies to be traversed on the way to the first control but, rather than pick out a route that minimised climb, I chose to go straight. This turned out to be the best approach as I ended up with the best time to Control 1. I caught and passed William, who had started three minutes ahead of me, at this point. The second control was a matter of contouring along the hill, making sure that I didn't underestimate the distance I needed to travel. I passed a few people in the last hundred metres of this leg who looked like they were searching for my control but had stopped too early.
I chose to run the track for as long as possible to the third control, taking advantage of the easy running to plan ahead for the next few controls. Controls 3 to 7 were all in or around a semi-open sandy area. I found these controls fairly straight forward and was able to navigate fairly well into all of them but I know from discussions afterwards that a lot of people had trouble in this area. The pines here are quite young and cut down visibility although there doesn't tend to be any undergrowth to slow you down. I led all the way up to the seventh control by which point, although we had been running for less than 20 minutes, I had a four minute lead. Of course, I didn't know this at the time.
The race so far had been all about fine navigation but the next leg would introduce the route choice that so defines a Long Distance event. The leg to Control 8 was over one and a half kilometres long and offered a myriad of route choices. The best route - according to Rob, the course setter, and he should know - was to stay high and follow a basically straight route. I actually spent 30 seconds or so walking out of control 7 planning my route and somehow this route choice never occurred to me. Instead I ran south west and followed tracks over the first half of the leg before climbing the hill beside a fence and then navigating across the forest from there. I strayed slightly too far left at that point and came out at a fence junction which didn't seem to match any on the map. It did, of course, I just couldn't see it. I followed the fence until I was once more confident of my position and then followed another track and the wide open valley into the control. After the race, with a bit more time to think about it, I figured that I probably should have run the somewhat longer track option and attacked the control past Control 9. I still didn't see the higher route that Rob would later point out to me and that most people ended up running. This is why I'm never any good at Long Distance events. The leg took me just under 20 minutes and with most people taking 15 to 17 minutes, my lead in the race was gone although I was still holding on to second place.
I had planned to drop down from Control 9 to the track below it and use that to attack Control 10 but as I punched I could see that the forest was open and fast so I decided to keep my height and go straight. This turned out to be another mistake as the hillside attracted more and more undergrowth, thinnings abounded and I ended up fighting my way through. Once past the small patch of green the forest was fast and open again and I sped into the control but by then I'd lost a lot of unnecessary time. This had two immediate effects, it dropped me down into third position and it used up too much energy, slowing me down for the rest of the race.
The leg from Control 10 to Control 11 was all up hill. I started off at a slow trot, changed gear down to a walk and ended up just plodding. Somewhere along the way my plan to use the track for the last part of the leg disappeared as I sidled too far to the right and decided just to go straight instead. This was a mistake, brought home to me all the more when Rob caught up to me at the control having done just that. Actually I considered this a bit of a victory as Rob had started three minutes behind me and I had been expecting him to catch me for most of the race. The fact that it had taken him until the eleventh control was a bonus.
We took different routes from Control 11 with Rob opting to cut back to the track immediately while I took advantage of the sandy open to run north east and then north west. The north western slope down the sand dune was fast and exhilirating, the climb back up the forested hill on the over side, not so much. I used the track corner as an attack point and descended to Control 12 finding it easily. I then ran up the reentrant, making the most of the easy travel before climbing the hill to Control 13. Rob was exiting this control as I entered it. He had followed the track all the way from Control 11 to Control 12, approaching it from the north and had gained 40 seconds on me in the process, only to lose some of them with a sub-opitimal route choice to Control 13.
The leg from 13 to 14 took us through the event centre and I stopped there to consume several mouthfuls from a bottle of Powerade that I had stashed at the refreshment table earlier. Rob didn't stop and as he disappeared out of sight around the corner ahead I figured I had seen the last of him. Once I got going again I overshot my reentry into the forest from the track and had to backtrack 50 metres or so to get to Control 14. I then ran up to the saddle above the control and sidled around the hillside to Control 15. Along the way I was joined by Rob who had already made one abortive attempt to find the control and was trying again. It turned out he hadn't run far enough the first time around.
The leg from 16 to 17 was determined by the gap in the fence, finding this was crucial and we nailed it while enjoying the sight of one or two people running along the fence after a less than successful search. As soon as we were through the gap, we were faced with a short but steep slope and once again Rob pulled away from me. The man-made object that provided the feature for Control 17 turned out to be an unused coil of metal fencing. I was reminded of the time some ten years ago when I had been the controller for an event in the UK. We also had a control on a man-made feature - an old car wreck that had been sitting out in the middle of the forest since before the area had been mapped ten years previously. We checked all the control sites the week before and so of course the local council took it upon itself to remove the wreck that very week. I discovered it missing when I went to put out controls on the morning of the race and had to commandeer a table from Registration and haul it out to the appropriate spot. This caused no end of merriment amongst all the local orienteers who knew the forest well and were expecting the car.
Back to the track and it was a matter of picking the right place to head off into the forest. Rob went early and low, I stayed on the track a bit longer and avoided the drop to the bottom of the reentrant. Unfortunately, I also overshot the control and so Rob and I were back together again as we left Control 18 and headed for the final control. We spotted it down a reentrant to our right and descended to it. I punched first and set off for the finish as fast as I could go. I was determined that I would beat Rob into the finish even though I knew he had three minutes on me overall.
As the results came in I was surprised at how well I had done. I finished fifth but I was only four and a half minutes down on the winner. This was much better than I had been expecting and I couldn't help wondering what if? In particular, what if I had taken a better route choice on the long leg, what if I had stuck to my original plan to drop to the track on the way to Control 10? As usual, these changes would have been enough to gain back five minutes on paper but then I wouldn't have been running with Rob for the last half of the race and what if I'd made other mistakes as a result? I ended up very satisfied with my position.
After the usual period of comparing times and routes with fellow competitors and catching up with the results from my grade and everyone else's, I gathered my belongings and began the half hour walk back to the car. As I returned down the track past the first couple of controls on the model map, I met a forlorn figure walking slowly the other way. Allan had managed to run completely off the map and was returning to the event centre to DNF after two and a half hours in the forest. Coincidentally, this was also his first time in the forest with a thumb compass. My first time with a thumb compass had been at the Australian Long Distance Championships six months earlier but luckily it had only taken me a few controls to get the hang of it and I can't blame my atrocious time in that race on the compass.