Race report: UKR Gators O-Cup 2017 (or, introducing a friend to the sport of orienteering)

“Are things always this heated?” That’s what my friend Kristin asked at the start line of her very first orienteering race. We were gathered in a small crowd of about 30 people, many of whom were confused about the rules for this race. Some weren’t sure what was meant by a “handicap”, and others didn’t know how to apply their handicap to the race.

But let me step back… I put out a call for friends to join me at this race, and Kristin quickly jumped in… on condition that she could tag along with me (at least someone thinks I’m an expert!). This would be her introduction to orienteering. The pressure was on.

We arrived at the Nassagaweya-Puslinch Townline separately, on the edges of the Starkey Hills Conservation Area just south of Guelph (and at the Milton border). We got there early so that I could give Kristin a crash course in orienteering! For this race, the UKR Gators O-Cup 2017, run by the Toronto Orienteering Club, we would be given the race map just 10 minutes before the start of the race. This was new for me, since all the other orienteering races I’ve done have given more time pre-race to plan my strategy for finding the controls – some up to an hour or more!

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Pre-race photo taken by Patrick! Thanks for taking your gloves off.

In any case, we checked in with the course organizers, and received 2 loaves of Rudolph’s bread each. I’d never heard of it, but it’s delicious stuff! I’d also never received bread as a race giveaway! We went back to Kristin’s car, where I taught her the basics of compass reading, map markings, race strategy etc. She said she’d just defer to me and follow me, so that was our plan.

With no “facilities” at this race, we made use of the bushes pre-race. Just before it was time to get our maps, someone came to the car and gave us our SI timing chips. Then we got our maps, and I quickly tried to figure out the likely rules for the race, given the numbering of the controls. Last minute I decided to add another long sleeved shirt, with the temperature at about -5 degrees Celsius. There was a light dusting of snow on the ground, which had fallen the night before.

Before long, we all headed to the race start a couple of hundred metres away, up a hill and into the woods. Confusion ensued. Once everyone was clear on the race rules, and we all understood that we had to do controls 1 to 6 in order, then up to 6 “dogbones” in an imaginary box, and then controls 7 to 12 in order before we hit the final one at the finish line (13), we were pretty much ready to go (the very confusing A/a dogbone was outside of the box, causing all kinds of uneasiness! – we were told that A/a was optional). Dogbones are pairs of controls that must be done one after the other – for example, control B and control b must be found one after the other, either B b or b B. Even if there’s another control nearby, you can’t check in at it, or the points won’t count for the dogbone. Based on our age, our “handicap” was 3, meaning that of the 6 dogbones in the box, we could skip 3 of them. Therefore, we had to find 3 of them.

Once the timing people were ready, we did a countdown from 10, and the race began! We would have 2 hours to find all of the controls.

We headed for the road and what I figured would be the easier way to get to control 1. We had some fairly quick success finding controls 1, 2, and 3, but overshot 4. One of the hardest things for me so far is estimating distances – despite pace counting, we were overshooting the distances. In any case, we backtracked and found 4, then found 5 and 6, and headed for the opening in the barbed wire fence to get us into the “box” and the dogbones.

We decided to go for b/B, G/g and then C/c on our way back out of the box. We didn’t realize until G, when I mentioned to another competitor (Kris) that the control numbers weren’t marked, so we didn’t know if we had found the one we were looking for, when she told us that the #s were marked on the back of our maps! So for example, G was actually marked 127 on the control. Of course! I should have known that. In any case, it made us more confident in our finds from then on! At some point while we were doing the dogbones, we were startled by loud flapping, as we scared something big out of the trees! We overshot C on our way from g, and spent time at the top of a hill 1) admiring the scenery and 2) wondering where the heck we were!

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The picture doesn’t quite do the scenery justice!

We headed back to the main trail and soon found a guy peeing in the woods – and then we followed him and found C. Speaking of following people… we found the light dusting of snow to be helpful at times, as we could see which way other people had gone. After finding c, we overshot (again!) the break in the fence, and had to backtrack to get out of the box.

After finding 7, we overshot 8 and found 3 again instead. We were watching the time, and realizing that we may have to give up on 8 and head for the finish line. However, we did find it in the end, and then looked for our fastest way back to the finish. We didn’t have time to look for any more controls. We headed for a trail, since I figured we could run back the fastest that way, and be less likely to get lost! However, we quickly realized that we should have taken a different trail, so backtracked slightly and started down another one. When the trail started turning away from the direction we wanted to go, I started to doubt my plan! But I looked at the map again and decided to trust that I was right.

Soon enough, we were heading in the right direction again. And then we saw hydro poles. And heard cars. And then we were back at the road. We quickly spotted someone running away from the finish and toward us, and I asked if they were looking for us (almost 2 hours had elapsed since the race start). He said “sort of!” and then asked if we had seen 2 older gentlemen. We hadn’t, but as we approached the finish line, there they were! They beat me to the finish, so I was officially the last finisher. I haven’t seen any results posted, so I’m not sure how many points we earned in the end.

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It was a fun race, and neat to be able to introduce a friend to orienteering!

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