This year I had only one target: the Sprint. Because of map access issues, this year the Middle Distance was held on the Sunday and I was only entering the Friday and Saturday (Long Distance) events. I was running pretty quickly and was probably faster than I had been last year but I hadn't been performing particularly well in the Sprint events I'd done in the lead up to these Champs so I was unsure of how I would go on the day.
Despite a fairly dodgy weather forecast during the week, Friday dawned fine and clear and it was a great day for running. I had a fairly late start and arrived in plenty of time to get ready in my own time and jog gently up to the start well ahead of my reporting time. On the way up to the start from the event centre we passed a high brick wall with a suspicious looking aerial poking over the top; various orienteers were observed to run behind this wall and then emerge from it at speed. This turned out to be Control 6 on my course.
While waiting for my start, I observed that many runners were failing to go to within arms length of the start triangle, choosing instead to cut across the corner of the playing field (not by much, they still got within 10m or so of the triangle) in an attempt to shorten their run by a few metres. I was a good boy, of course, and made the discovery that Tom had known what he was doing when he put the flag there, as it saved a few metres of descending and ascending and was probably a slightly faster route choice than cutting the corner.
I spent much of my time to the first control planning ahead and much of my time to the second and third controls coming to grips with the map. Unusually for a sprint event the scale was 1:5000 not 1:4000 or smaller and so features were not arriving at quite the pace I was expecting. By control 3 I had this under control and was starting to enjoy the feeling of running on a new unknown map.
The first surprise came on the leg from Control 3 to Control 4 where an uncrossable wall with a large drop on the far side suddenly appeared in front of me despite not featuring on the map. A quick glance to the right showed there was no exit that way so I turned left, ran around the wall and promptly forgot about it. Not everyone was able to put it out of their minds, however, and this wall along with a similar one in Kirstin School, was the subject of a protest on Course 1. The protest was eventually declined due to the fact that the incorrect mapping hadn't appeared to affected any of the placings but it generated a lot of heat over the next few days. You can follow the discussion on Maptalk.
Leaving Albany Junior High, we faced a number of longer legs through the streets, including legs to and from the aforementioned Control 6. Coming out of this control, I headed west then north to the next control when, due to length, paved tracks and simplicity of decision making, it would have been quicker to go north and then west past Control 8. On this leg I was running at under 4 min/km a speed that, for me, is extremely quick indeed.
The leg from Control 8 to Control 9 was a spectator leg down a taped chute culminating in a control with the control description "top of a man-made object". Yep, just to make sure that we were visible to the assembled horde, an artificial structure had been constructed with a ramp on either side and the control at the top, about a metre or so above the surrounding playing field. This would be in line for the "control placement of the year" award, if such an animal actually existed.
After the spectator control the rest of the course was within the buildings at Kirstin School. The first control of note was Control 11 which was placed in a corner of a twisting passageway between two buildings. The control couldn't be seen until you were within a couple of metres of it but I was confident of my location and didn't even slow down. Talking with folk afterwards, a number of them indicated they had problems with this control, the common problem seemed to be that they glanced up the passageway, didn't see the control and so circled the building and approached it from the other side. Quite why you would do this I'm not sure but it must have made sense in the heat of the race. Good control placement, Tom.
Although I didn't realise it at the time, I had gained over a minute on Kev at Control 11 but I then went and lost most of this on the leg from 12 to 13. I missed the left hand turn after the building and ran across the bridge, turning left when confronted by a building in front of me. Sensing this was wrong, I stopped and examined the map closely. Realising what I had done wrong I retraced my steps and got back on track, losing about 30 seconds in the process. Actually it would have been quicker to continue on the route I was on rather than return the way I had come but I didn't spot that in the second or two I allowed myself for a decision. I was now convinced I had blown the race but told myself I would just have to run faster to compensate.
And so faster I ran. The leg from Control 14 to Control 15 followed a path down through a bush-filled watercourse and the short steep climb up the other side told on my legs and lungs. I then made an error in route choice on the leg to Control 16, choosing to head east and then south and thus having to circle the olive out of bounds area rather than take the shorter route south first then east along the bottom of the tennis courts. Despite this, I was still telling myself to run faster and my time on that leg was equal fastest. I also overran Control 17 after running down the wrong side of the wall. I knew immediately what my mistake was and didn't slow up but kept running to the end of the wall, around it and back into the control. I only lost five to ten seconds here.
The next few controls all required some route choice through the buildings and then I was punching the last control and running as fast as I could down the finish chute. I had given absolutely everything out on the course and, after punching the finish box, only had enough energy to spot where the shadow of a building provided some shade before collapsing down into it. I knew that Kev had started one minute behind me and when that minute had come and gone without any sign of him I was starting to get hopeful and my energy returned. Kev came in after two minutes, a minute down on me. I recovered enough to download and spend a minute being interviewed by Tom over the PA about my experience (taking the opportunity to plug this blog as I did so, sorry if you've been waiting ever since then for this blog entry to appear).
I knew at that point that I had done well but I wasn't certain if I had done well enough. Unfortunately, the excellent O-Lynx system was having a few problems and not all results were being shown but gradually over the next half hour I was able to determine that I had run faster than everyone else in my grade and that, after fifteen years of competitive orienteering, I was finally a National Champion!