Race report: Stars W.A.R. snowshoe orienteering race

Looking back now at the jumble of highlighting on my race map, I should have known how this race was going to go!

This was to be our first time participating in a STARS Orienteering Club race, and our second time doing an orienteering race on snowshoes (the Don’t Get Lost Snowshoe Raid was our first a few short weeks ago). Just shy of being experts, us.

We arrived at the Mansfield Outdoor Centre a little before race kit pick-up at 9 AM. We wanted as much time as possible to plan our route and get ourselves ready. It was a relief to see that there was plenty of snow for a snowshoe race! We grabbed a table, settled in, and then got our maps and bonus socks. There weren’t any instructions with the map, so we weren’t sure whether we could find the controls in any order we wanted to, or whether there were specific things we needed to know (other than the fact that we had 2 1/2 hours to find as many controls as we could). We figured that the controls joined by solid lines needed to be done consecutively.

It wasn’t too long before a couple of people went around the tables giving instructions and answering questions. Then Rebecca and I set out planning our route. We decided to stick to the East side of the race course, not crossing the road toward the ski hills. We optimistically figured out the bearings for 12 checkpoints, including 3 pairs that would get us bonus points – the idea was that if you did the 2 checkpoints within each pair one after the other without finding any other checkpoints in between, you got the bonus. We figured if we were doing well time-wise, we could add a few checkpoints on our way back to the finish! (As Helen Keller once said, “Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.”)

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Planning our route pre-race.

We wrote the bearings on our map, along with approximate distances between checkpoints, and this time, we highlighted our route on the map. Then another racer sitting at our table mentioned that the table we were working on had metal in it, and that the metal would affect our compass bearings! Yikes! I held my compass in the air on top of my map, took a bearing again, and sure enough, he was right! It was off by about 5 degrees. So, we decided to figure out our bearings during the race, comparing them to our written bearings as we went (Note: I have since learned that while the metal table affects the needle, it wouldn’t affect the bearing, since you don’t use the needle to take a bearing! Thanks Michael!). After multiple trips to the bathroom, it was time for a short pre-race briefing, and then we were off to the start line. We each had a camelbak with water and snacks. I also carried a small first aid kit, extra socks and gloves.

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We’ve decided that there is an inverse relationship between the amount of clothes worn by racers (and the gear carried) and the speed with which they run.

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Just before the race started, we snapped one last selfie!

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And then, the race began! We all ran for the control just in front of us that denoted the official start of the race – it wasn’t an actual control, so we didn’t  have to put our timing chips into it.

Rebecca and I headed East with just a couple other teams, while everyone else (there were 25 teams in total) headed West. We wondered why, but stuck to our planned route! Our first checkpoint, #136, was easy to find, but by the time I got there, I was hot and needed to switch my winter hat for my baseball cap and headband, and remove a 2nd layer of gloves! Next we headed for #137, which was part way up a steep hill, and quickly realized that things weren’t quite as far as the map made us think. We continued up the hill and found #135. Things were going well, and we were feeling confident! We were doing a run/walk combination, and seeming to make good time. At one point though, I realized that I wasn’t holding my map anymore, so we backtracked about 100m and I found it. We knew that I hadn’t dropped it too far away, based on when I last had it (at the last control, checking a bearing). Sometimes we followed trails, and sometimes we went off-trail. On the trails we avoided the cross-country skiers and the classic ski grooves! At one point, we clearly looked lost, as a cross-country skier said to us, “This is a red trail!” Completely useless to us, but she was trying to be helpful!

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Yay! A control!

We found #46, then made our way to #45, which we had to find immediately after #46 if we wanted to get a 25 point bonus. It was in this section, where pre-race I had highlighted straight lines between controls before realizing that what I meant to do was highlight our actual planned route (mostly along trails), that we got turned around. We figured we weren’t where we thought we were, backtracked, scratched our heads, and tried to re-orient ourselves to the map. Eventually, I looked up, and there was the control. We learned our lesson – sometimes we need to just look up!! We likely spent 30 minutes on that single control.

From that point on, things went downhill, fast. We had lost our confidence, and kept second guessing ourselves. For the life of us we could not find #43. It didn’t help that when a couple of teams went by us, they didn’t head into the woods where we were. Had they already found the control? Were they heading for a different one? Why were we the only ones looking for it? The hint on the map said that it was at a “re-entrant”. We wondered, “What the heck is a re-entrant!?” Clearly we need to work on our land formation terminology! In the end, we saw the clock ticking and realized we had to give up on it. It was looking like we should be heading back to the finish time to get back  without incurring penalties (10 points per minute over the 2 1/2 hours).

We got quite confused and really weren’t sure where we were on the map, but we knew we had to go south and West. Eventually we encountered a couple of other teams. We talked to one and they clearly knew which way they were going, which sort of helped us figure out which way we needed to go.

As we headed back toward the finish line, we hoped we’d spot the orange fence that was at top of the steep hill that we climbed at the beginning. We noticed that we must be close to the cliff, as the trees seemed to drop off, but when we went to the edge, we decided there was no way we were picking our way down that – it was far too steep and would have been slow going. We never would have made it back in time.

Finally, we spotted the fence and it seemed more likely that we would get back within 2 1/2 hours. What a relief. We descended the hill, and met a photographer on our way down. Such great shots! Obviously we were having fun.

We ran to the finish line, and ended up beating the cut off by more than 5 minutes (grateful for small victories!). We didn’t find as many controls as we would have liked to, but we had so much fun. It was actually quite neat to have gone in the direction that most teams didn’t, because for a large chunk of the race, we saw no other racers! (And that’s not because we were completely off track – I promise!) The weather was perfect. The location very pretty. The sport awesome!

After the race we enjoyed a lunch of chili, a bun, and some desserts. We chatted with other racers, and learned about an adventure race called the Bruce Peninsula Multisport Race, a paddling/biking/running race in Wiarton in August. We’ve since registered!

Race stats:

Time: 2:24:55

Points: 155 (130 from controls and 25 bonus)

Placing: 5/5 female teams, and 23/25 all teams

You can check out the full results here.

The STARS Orienteering Club did a great job organizing and running this race. We’ll definitely be back!! Thank you!

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