From the start there was a convenient track to follow for a few hundred metres while I came to terms with the map. Woodhill is full of tracks, mapped and unmapped, that come and go and I passed several junctions that might have been the one mapped but none of them had an obvious ridge behind them. Finally, just as I was beginning to think I might have missed it, the ridge appeared ahead of me and I was able to follow a compass bearing to the first control.
From here there was a route choice - straight through the rough open or right around the tracks. The rough open is full of cuttings, stumps and small bushes and not conducive to fast running. I had hoped to find an animal track through it but never did and ended up with a slow bash right through, aiming at the obvious clearing in the forest on the far side of the road. In retrospect I think it would have been quicker for me to go around, particularly as there was some sort of smallish track to follow a way from the north west corner of the rough open. However, I didn't find anyone afterwards who took this route or who even considered it a viable alternative. I've also just noticed as I write this review that the block of forest containing controls 2 and 3 is the same one that caused me so many problems last year, including my infamous 20 minute mistake, and so the tracks would probably not have been reliable. Anyway, after transiting the rough open I was able to climb the small ridge on the track leading from the clearing and then navigate directly to Control 2.
I found Control 3 fairly easily and then used the track to set up what would have been a fairly straight forward navigation to Control 4. Unfortunately I convinced myself that I had reached the vicinity of the control about 100m too early and made what I was seeing on the ground match the map in the control circle and headed off on a tangent to the left. When the control didn't appear as expected I resumed my previous bearing and then corrected myself back down to the right, running three sides of a square rather than the one side that would have taken me directly there.
Tommy punched 4 at the same time as me and so I settled into his slipstream, concentrating on my running while he did all the navigating. As we reached the complex contours close to Control 5 he hesitated and I surged ahead, finding and reaching the control ahead of him. This allowed me to repeat my following on the next leg although he didn't make any navigational errors this time and was a good 40 or 50 metres ahead of me as we reached the control. And by the time I had made certain of my approach to the next leg he was out of sight.
I set a compass bearing directly to the next control but managed to veer right and reached the road at the water stop. This week I had my bum bag with me and 500ml of VitaSport on board so I didn't stop to drink. I ran up the road a short distance and then reset my compass for the run into Control 7, taking advantage of the spur in the forest as a handrail on the way.
On the next leg I failed to adjust to the difference in terrain on either side of the track two thirds of the way to Control 8. I had been running quite quickly up to the track and I should have slowed down a bit in the more complex contours and made certain of my route. Instead I kept running and then began looking round for the control. I knew I was roughly the right distance into the forest block but with no control in front of me I convinced myself that the terrain to the left looked promising. When that didn't reveal a control either I decided to backtrack, knowing that I could use the track to the south east as a catching feature. An orange flag appeared off to my right and the map immediately began to make a lot more sense.
Back the way I had come on my way to Control 9 I was now running a bit slower and identifying the major features more accurately as I ran. The control appeared right on cue this time and as I ran towards it Matt came powering over the hill and punched just before me. This faced me with a dilemma. Matt would be running Course 1 and there was no guarantee that he would be heading to the same next control as me. There was also definitely no guarantee that if I followed him I would be able to keep up and if I ran blindly for a couple of hundred metres and then lost him I may spend a huge amount of time trying to relocate in this complex area. But it was worth a shot, for the fun of it as much as anything, so I tucked in behind Matt, ignored my map and just concentrated on running as fast as I could. He was slowly drawing away from me but I was still only about 20m behind him when I glanced at my map to see if I could identify where we were. I glanced back up and he was now 50m ahead of me. I ran on for another ten or fifteen seconds and had just decided to stop and try and relocate when I saw him dart to the right and then come back out on a different heading. I continued running and, sure enough, the reentrant he had darted into and out of contained a control. Better yet, the numbers matched and it was my control. Best of all, I ended up with the fastest split for that leg.
Matt was out of sight by now so following him on the next leg was not an option. I ran a bit slower on this leg, regaining my energy after the burst of speed on the last one. I crossed the road and found Control 11. The next two legs were a long way up a reasonably steep hill. I ran as far as I could and then settled into a plod up a spur on the slope. A brief glimpse of Matt high above me running across the hill from 12 to 13 assured me I was on the right route and I sidled across to the right, finding that I had slightly overcorrected as the control appeared on my left. A number of steep and deep gullies punctuated the run across the hillside to Control 13.
I had had all sorts of problems with a control in roughly the same place as Control 14 last year but because it stuck in memory I knew there was an unmapped track that would take me from just below Control 13 to the northern end of the depression before Control 14. I used the time on that track to make sure that I understood the terrain in the vicinity of the control. I still managed to make the same mistake as last year and head the wrong way once I reached the small ridge but this time I was ready for it and corrected myself relatively quickly. I would return to this control as part of my control collection duties later in the day and would spend some time marvelling at how it was possible to make the same mistake in clean terrain two years in a row.
Control 15 was in a greener area of the forest but there were plenty of tracks nearby and although I didn't take the fastest route for that leg it was a relatively safe route choice. Now there was only a smallish loop left before the finish. The leg to Control 16 headed past the start area - due to my late start the start box and all traces of it had long since been collected in - and up an annoying little hill. I found the control and then spent some time deciding whether to go left or right around the next annoying little hill on the way to Control 17. While I dithered the hill arrived and I ended up running straight over the top of it. I suspect this was the quickest option anyway.
I was a bit more cautious as I crossed the track back into the more complex area but still managed to miss the control by following the ridge too far. I realised I had done it, figured out where I was from the surrounding features and set a new compass bearing that took me back to the control. I ended up climbing onto the next ridge too early for the last control but I knew I was on the right feature so I followed it along until the control appeared. The finish itself was in the middle of the forest, not right at the event centre as finishes traditionally are, and so it was necessary to navigate the whole way. No doubt this caught out a few tired brains but fortunately mine wasn't one of them.