When I woke up the morning of the race, I wondered if my pre-race dreams were foreshadowing how the day would unfold. Would I find my teammate? Would my map be complete? Would I figure out where I was on the map? Only time would tell.
After taking the Don’t Get Lost Navigation 101 clinic in October, I decided that I wanted to enter the Raid the Hammer Adventure Run, but I wasn’t sure how to find a team! I quite easily recruited my husband, and after putting out an all points bulletin asking for 1 adventurous friend to join us, Rebecca was in! The three of us had raced together twice before in sprint triathlons as team ARK de TRIumph, and knew we would have fun no matter what happened!
This was to be my 3rd orienteering race (the first two being Don’t Get Lost X-League weeknight 30 minute races), and the very 1st for Alasdair and Rebecca.And this year marks the 50th year of adventure racing in the Hamilton area. We signed up for the Half Raid, a 12k race (“as the crow flies”) which would likely take us between 2 and 4 hours to complete, with the average being about 3 hours. Essentially, we would have to get from Point A to Point B while finding a whole bunch of controls (checkpoints) on our way using a map, compass, and some good old common sense.
Several days before the race we learned that the “finish” location would be Saltfleet High School in Stoney Creek, but we didn’t know where we would start from. A couple of days before the race, Felker’s Falls Conservation Area was announced as being the best location for spectators.
On race morning, Alasdair and I met Rebecca at Saltfleet at 8:30 AM, where we would pick up our race kits, get pre-race instructions, and be bussed to the start line. We each arrived with the required individual gear, including a compass, a whistle, an emergency blanket, a permanent marker, a toque and water, and I had the required team gear, a first aid kit. We didn’t know if all teams would get the map at the same time, or whether it would be advantageous to arrive at the start of race kit pick-up. Since we did get our map right away, we had more than an hour to plan our attack!
At race kit pick-up we received 3 maps each (!), 1 overview sheet describing the challenges and the controls (e.g. in a valley, or in the corner of a field), a legend of map symbols, a plastic sleeve to hold the maps, a race bib, a Sport Ident timing chip to be worn on one teammates’s finger, food tickets and a pair of technical socks each!
We grabbed a section of table and 3 chairs in the cafeteria and started trying to figure out exactly where we were on the map and what it was we needed to do to get to the finish line. We learned that we would need to stay within 25 m of each other at all times (and within eyesight), and at certain checkpoints be even closer. Alasdair said that he would just do what we told him to do.
With 3 distinct sections of the race (covered by one map each), we set to figuring out what we thought our best route would be. We weren’t sure if we should take some bearings and write them on the map as a group near us seemed to be doing. In the end we only wrote on the maps that 1 cm = 50 m or whatever the scale was, since the scale changed between maps. For controls 1 to 5 (map 1), we would be in a forest, and would need to find these controls in order. For controls A to F, we would be in a sports park, and would need to split up to cover 5 of the 6 controls between the three of us, arriving at F together. For controls 6 to 13, we would be in the forest and then fields, and would have to do the controls in order, choosing between two 8s, and finding a mystery 9 and 10 along the Bruce Trail. Finally, we needed to arrive at the finish together.
There was a bit of confusion due to a printing error on the instruction sheet (wrong control numbers), but that was straightened out during the pre-race briefing. We also learned that for controls A to F we actually had to stay together, but only had to do 5 of the 6 and could do them in any order. By this point, all our questions had been answered and we were pretty much ready to go!
We boarded the school buses with everyone else at 9:45, and after a short drive, arrived at a small parking lot. Alasdair, Rebecca and I each wore a camelbak, with all the gear we needed plus some food to snack on (a banana, granola bars, and almonds with M&Ms for me).
Like a few others, I had to pee, so I ran into the bush and returned ready to go! It wasn’t long before the race started – the most anti-climactic race start I’ve ever experienced. No gun, no horn, no 3-2-1 countdown, just a few hundred people starting to run!
Start to Control 5 (Escarpment Challenge)
Since everyone was heading for control 1, we were a big mass of runners at first, but it didn’t take too long for the speedy experienced navigators to lose the slower newbie ones. And despite how easy we thought it would be to find the first control, it wasn’t long before we were trying to figure out exactly where we were and where we needed to be. Before race day, Rebecca and I ran 100 m and counted the number of steps it took us to get there, so that we could estimate our pace (every 2 steps) for 1 m. Our pace counts were similar, and we practised counting from the beginning of the race. It really helped us to know how far away the next control or turning point or landmark was. It took us 15 minutes to find the first control, but only 8 to find the second. We got into a groove after that and things were going well! At each control, since I was wearing the timing chip, I had to be the one to stick it into the chip reader. I made sure I heard a beep so I knew it recorded our arrival!
Control 5 to F (Sprint and Scramble)
We had a game plan in place for which of the lettered controls we planned to find, but when we reached the park and clued in to just how close they all were together, we changed it up. We went for A, B, C, E and F, giving a pass on D. None of these were too hard to find, but I was starting to feel my legs from having run the Road2Hope 1/2 marathon just 7 days prior. We didn’t need our compass for any of these, just the map. And these ones didn’t have electronic timing chip readers – instead, we had to use hole punches to prove that we arrived at the controls.
Control F to 8 (Waterfalls and Fork’n Hills)
Things were going well, we were having fun, and no massive arguments had broken out as to which way we should be going! As we left Mohawk Sports Park and crossed the road to go back into the woods, my compass (dangling from my waist) snagged on a metal road barrier and broke. Alasdair offered me his and we were on our way again. It was at this point that we made our biggest mistake of the day: we didn’t listen to Alasdair. I know, I know, he said he was going to just do what we told him to do, but this isn’t exactly how things played out. Alasdair suggested following the road to control 6, but Rebecca and I were sure that following the trails was the better bet. Alasdair agreed to follow our route, but we quickly became confused as to which trail we were on.
We reached a cliff and knew that we had to descend it to reach the checkpoint, but it looked very steep. So we carefully picked our way down, and did a silly pose for the cameraman who was at the bottom – Alasdair suggested that we each point in different directions, so that’s what we did. We found the control, and then just could not reconcile the landscape with the map. Alasdair was sure which way to go. Rebecca was sure it was a different way. I couldn’t make the map fit. And then Rebecca heard someone say that this was control 7, not 6 as we believed. That explained it! And, our error forced us to climb back up the escarpment at that very steep point!! Had we been following along with the descriptions of the controls as we went (or had we listened to Alasdair), we would not have made this mistake. It clearly said that “The route to CP7 can be treacherous.” Lesson learned!
We climbed back up the escarpment, confusing several teams as they made their way down. We found control 6, where you had to record the initials of the person to whom the bench is a memorial, rather than check in using a timing chip. This was also the aid station, so I enjoyed some gatorade, pretzels, and smarties! There were also bananas and a salty snack mix. One volunteer recorded our team number, and another verified that we were carrying a whistle.
As we headed to control 7 (again), we encountered Dr. Waddington and his team, who Alasdair spotted before the race started at the high school – Dr. Waddington was Alasdair’s 1st year physics professor at McMaster in 1992! Apparently he looks the same now as he did then (he’s actually in my picture above of us on the bus – he and his wife are right behind us). Later I learned that this is the same man who I follow on Facebook, who along with his wife, have spent the past 40 years hiking and canoeing across Canada to find the sites of some of the most famous paintings done by the Group of Seven. If you’re interested, check out their Facebook group or this Hamilton Spectator article. And by the way, while his team was walking, and we were running, we were essentially progressing at the same pace, with their far superior navigational skills!
By control 8 we realized the utility of control descriptions, and consulted the sheet for the rest of the race! There were actually 2 control 8s, and we had to choose which one we wanted to look for. We ended up searching for it with Dr. Waddington and his team, as well as a team of 3 ladies. It took a while, but we eventually found it (after Dr. Waddington, of course!) on the edge of a creek down yet another steep hill. Lucky me with the timing chip, I had to climb down the rockfall and back up a muddy hill to re-join my team. I learned after the race, when I re-read the race instructions, that we were actually supposed to “hand touch” each control as a team. In other words, each person had to actually arrive at all the controls. We missed this before the race began, and found that this is not what other teams around us were doing. Some were clearly sending a teammate (far) ahead to reach a control, then rejoining each other somewhere else. Perhaps a clear mention in the pre-race briefing would help newbies like us who want to follow the rules, but were slightly overwhelmed with everything to read and figure out before the race began.
Control 8 to 10 (Walk the Line)
Controls 9 and 10 were in mystery locations along the Bruce Trail, so as we ran (and Alasdair stumbled and fell – again) we looked left and right, not quite sure whether the controls would be right on the trail, or slightly off it. We figured they would be obvious, otherwise it would take forever. We had run quite a ways without finding 9, and wondered if we had missed it (there was a mention by the race organizers before the race that one had gone missing, and if we couldn’t find it, to just continue). Eventually we spotted a control, and confirmed with the group of 3 ladies that it was the first mystery one they had spotted too. A volunteer here jotted down our team number. And we were off to 10. This one was also easy to find.
Control 10 to Finish (Air Photo Finish)
As an added challenge, trails on the map between controls 11 and 12 were removed. And controls 12 and 13 were on an “air photo” rather than a topographical map. Control 11 wasn’t hard to find, but wasn’t easy to get to either. We followed the rules, navigating around the cliffs rather than going down and up them, but other teams did not. I spotted 12 and then we were off to find our very last control before the finish. There were at least 4 teams crossing the big field at the same time trying to find it, and we all pretty much arrived at it – adjacent to a dog park – at the same time. Then it was just a run back to the school and a final check in at the finish “line” control. My legs were pretty tired by this point, so when Alasdair suggested we sprint, I told him, “This is my sprint.”
We arrived at the finish line, which like the start was also very anticlimactic. I’m used to the cheering crowds of running races and triathlons!
Time: 3:10:47 (my watch had us at 3:08, so not sure where the extra 2 minutes comes from)
Placing: 35/50 open teams (not junior)
The winning team finished in 1:45:12 – wow!
Once we were done, we checked out the 2 food trucks providing post-race food for athletes (and food for purchase for spectators) – I never did eat any of the food I had packed for myself, just a few pretzels and smarties on the course. I ordered the Peachy Blonde from the Jonny Blonde food truck, grabbed – and downed – an iced tea, went inside to return our timing chip, and went back outside to wait for my food. I took it inside to eat in the cafeteria with Alasdair and Rebecca. My chicken/peach/brie on homemade flatbread was delicious!
- In future events like this, I would write control descriptions right on my map.
- If the landscape around me doesn’t match the map, I will assume that I am likely not where I think I am and should reassess!
- I can get through a 3 hour race without having to pee (me!).
- Sometimes men are right.
In summary, we had tons of fun!! The race was very well organized, the volunteers on the course were great, the aid station snacks were yummy, the free socks were a bonus, and the environment was very welcoming. There were some excellent photos taken too (note: individual shots of us, above, were taken by the race photographers, as was the one of everyone at tables near the top). I highly recommend this race, and would definitely like to do it again next year! (Final note: I fixed my compass!)