There’s nothing quite like starting a race by running right up the Niagara Escarpment! Today’s race had hills, stairs, mud and burrs – and was a blast!
My friend Rebecca and I signed up for this morning’s Don’t Get Lost Icebreaker Adventure Run as a way to practice for the Snowshoe Raid in January, where we’ll be racing as team “DEFINE LOST” in our very first race on snowshoes! Unfortunately, Rebecca was sick today so I headed to the Chedoke Golf Course in Hamilton on my own.
I arrived just before the 9 AM race kit pick-up, and joined a very small line to get my map and timing chip. Unfortunately, I realized that I’d missed the waivers on the way in, so had to leave my spot in line, fill out a waiver, and join a much bigger line! Eventually I got my 2 maps, instruction sheet, plastic cover for the maps, and timing chip and found a spot on the floor to get organized.
It took me way too long to figure out where I was on the map! Once I did that (yay me), I plotted out a route, aiming to find only green (beginner) and blue (intermediate) controls. I would skip the black diamond (advanced) and double black diamond (expert) controls.At the Raid the Hammer half, which I participated in a few weeks ago for the first time, I learned that writing things down on the map pre-race would save time during the race, so I worked out which controls I would look for, in which order, and worked out compass bearings for each leg. I wrote these on my instruction sheet, which made it much quicker to change my compass bearing after finding each control.
For this race, the idea was to find as many controls as you could within 2 hours (if you went over 2 hours, you lost 10 points per minute). For the most part, you could find the controls in any order you wanted to, with the exception of 41 (you didn’t have to do it, but if you did, it had to be your first find), the last one at the finish line, and a few that were linked together (e.g., you had to do 34, 36, 40 in that order, or as 40, 36, 34). This is where reading the instruction sheet is key!After I felt ready, I chatted with a couple sitting beside me, and one of them (Steve) was kind enough to take a few pictures of me.
At 10 AM there was a pre-race briefing, and then everyone headed for the start line, which was a little ways along the Chedoke Radial Trail. This was slightly confusing, as the map made me think the start was at the building. It wasn’t until I was home again after the race that I spotted the triangle on the map denoting the start! I was mistakenly looking at the finish! I decided to start with control 41 (the one you had to do first if you did it at all), which I thought was just up the hundred’s of stairs nearby. But then I realized that you had to run a 1 km marked route on the map that ended at the top, but started with a climb up the muddy escarpment, down again, up again, down again, then up the stairs! With the majority of people heading that way when the race started, I decided to do it too! This would be my only black diamond control of the day (classified as such not for the navigation required – that part was easy – but for the demanding approach to it!). Some ran up the hill and stairs, and others did a run/walk combination like me. I saw one woman wipe out at the bottom – it was very muddy, with leaves making it even more slippery. Nearing the top of the 289 stairs, I heard a little guy (probably around 8) standing at the top of the stairs yelling at his dad, “C’mon dad!” (as in, can’t you go any faster? dad was catching his breath). “Can I just run to the road?” he asked. And then, “Oh no! I dropped my timing chip over the fence!” I found the checkpoint, headed back for the stairs, and saw dad holding the boy upside down over the Niagara Escarpment to grab the timing chip – okay, so it wasn’t as dangerous as it may sound!
I headed down the stairs and in the direction of the western section of the golf course, where I planned to go for checkpoints 34, 36 and 40 in that order. I encountered a man and a woman who it turns out were also looking for 34, so we worked together to find it. We were all looking for 36, so worked together again. At this point, I learned that the man’s name was Mauro, and I immediately realized he must be Mauro from my Monday 5:30 AM coached swim sessions. How many Mauros could there be? I was right! Turns out Lisa is also a Fighting Koala! For the rest of the race, we worked together as a team of 3. This was their first orienteering race, having just learned online how to use a compass. In fact, they both read my recent blog posts about orienteering! We started to see many kids on the course at this point, and Mauro was very encouraging cheering each one of them on. Some replied with a “Thank you! You too!” Very cute.
At some point during the race, someone asked us if we were doing a treasure hunt. There were quite a few dog walkers, stair climbers and others out for a stroll, many of whom must have been wondering what we were doing!
We overshot 40, but after finding it, we fairly quickly found 32 and 37. This is where my pre-race plan differed from Mauro and Lisa’s. I had planned to head for the eastern part of the golf course and controls 33, 38, 39, 35 and then the finish, but we had lots of time left, so instead we were going to try to find 35, 33, 38, 39, 42 and 43 (42 and 43 had to be done in this order, with no other controls in between), 50 and the finish. Control 35 was a quick find, and control 33 was easy because I had seen it driving in to the golf course. We quickly found two more – 38 and 39. Then we headed along the Chedoke Radial Trail and part way up the escarpment, where we made our way to 42. When we descended, it was so steep that it was easier to slide down on our backsides! Lisa mentioned later that she considered sliding down on her plastic map bag!
We then picked our way along the escarpment rather than climbing back down and running along the trail, which was a mistake for 2 reasons: 1) it was steep, rocky, covered in sticks and logs – and leaves that hid everything – and was slow going, and 2) we reached 50 before 43 and Lisa put her timing chip in before realizing it wasn’t the one we were looking for. So Mauro and I didn’t put our timing chips in, instead heading for 50. We split up and attacked a wooded area from 3 sides – I spotted the control first, and called to the others so they could find me (and it)!
From this point it was a simple run along the trail back to the finish line, with no more map and compass needed. And just like that, we were done! According to Lisa’s watch, the distance we covered was 10 km.
It was so great to see so many kids participating in this race and in the shorter ARKfest, the culminating event of their Adventure Running Kids program!
Controls found: 14
Time penalties: 0 (finished within the allotted 2 hours)
Placing: 16/26 women (44 and younger)
The full results give a breakdown of the controls each participant found, how many points they earned for each one, how long it took to find the control, and the elapsed time since the race started.
Here are my full stats: control #, point value, time to find it (elapsed time)
- 41, 75p, 13:04 (13:04)
- 34, 20p, 9:10 (22:14)
- 36, 20p, 3:15 (25:29)
- 40, 40p, 11:12 (36:41)
- 32, 20p, 4:25 (41:06)
- 37, 40p, 2:20 (43:26)
- 35, 20p, ? (?) *
- 33, 20p, 13:33 (56:59)
- 38, 40p, 2:28 (59:27)
- 39, 40p, 2:19 (1:01:46)
- 42, 40p, 9:25 (1:11:11)
- 43, 20p, 14:52 (1:26:03)
- 50, 150p, 4:49 (1:30:52)
- 31, 20p, 8:48 (1:39:40)
* When the results were posted, I noticed that I hadn’t gotten credit for finding control 35. I emailed Don’t Get Lost, and found out that others had had issues with that control too. Apparently low batteries and cold temperatures can wreak havoc on the units! The results have now been updated – I received credit for finding that control, but there is no timing information for it.
- Working out compass bearings for my planned route and writing them down pre-race made for faster turnarounds between controls – I just had to quickly change my compass bearing and was good to go.
- Descending the Niagara Escarpment, running along the Chedoke Radial Trail (part of the Bruce Trail), and climbing up again would have been faster than attempting to pick our away along the steep hill with rocky footing and deadfall all over the place.
- Orienteering races are much more fun to do with friends (or new friends) rather than alone!