Race report: Christian Pole Dancing (Urban Orienteering in Dundas)

For my very first experience orienteering in an urban environment, I got to run through the streets of my childhood hometown, Dundas – how fun is that?!

This event was organized as a fundraiser for Christian, one of the Don’t Get Lost junior athletes (and by junior, I mean a teenager who is a foot taller than me and a heck of a lot better at orienteering!). He will be competing at the World Junior Orienteering Championships in Finland this summer.

My friend Rebecca joined me, and while at first we thought she’d be pushing her daughter in her stroller for the race, plans changed and we were kidless.

We arrived at race headquarters at Grupetto about 20 minutes before the race was to begin. We signed in, got a map each, grabbed a little table and planned out our route with a highlighter. We would have 45 minutes to get as many controls as we could. We decided that we would aim for the area where they seemed to be the most clustered together – in other words, we’d stay in the central part of the map and forget the outliers. Each one was worth 1 point, with the exception of one, which was worth 2. And each minute over the time limit you would lose 1 point (steep penalty!). The controls would be small electronic chip readers attached to poles (hence the “pole dancing”), and every participant was given a timing chip to wear on his or her finger (to insert into the chip reader).

Our planned route would have us searching for 9 controls. By “searching”, I mean using a map to navigate the streets – no compass required, and no hidden controls – if you reached the area, you would spot the control.

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Rebecca and I pre-race, ready to go!

After a few short words from Meghan and Christian (and our local MPP Ted McMeekin), the race began! I wasn’t exactly sure how my legs would hold up, given that I did my very first trail race the day before, the Sulphur Springs 10k, and then the morning of the race I rode my bike 50k (no rest for the wicked – or at least those with a half ironman 3 weeks out!).

Right off the bat there was congestion getting started, even though there were only 20-30 people racing – we all set off in different directions!

There was a small group of people in front of us heading for the first control, and the same for the second, but after that, our paths diverged and we were on our own. We did see other participants around town, but we were often going a different direction. Several times I wondered what the people living near the controls thought of random people visiting a pole while carrying a map.

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The highlighter indicates our planned route – we set out in a counter-clockwise direction, starting at the triangle and finding 37 as our first control.

Things were going great, and by the time we got to 39, we knew we had time to add a control not on our planned route – 49. Before going there though, we decided we could do 36 too. This one was close to my old house and very close to a friend’s, and an area in which I have spent hours and hours and hours of my life. In fact, I was very familiar with the entire route we chose! Leaving 32, we had about 7 minutes left before the 45 minutes would be up. We knew we could get back in time. We had enough time to walk – not run – down a set of metal stairs, and then had just a 100m or so before we reached the finish. I put my SI timing chip into the finish line control, and then Rebecca did the same.

We enjoyed a post race drink, and then the awards began. To our surprise, I was the top female! There were winners for top female, top male, and top junior. In the end we had found 11 controls in just over 40 minutes. We had 5 minutes to spare and might have been able to find another one. While Rebecca and I worked together, I won because I punched the finish line first. However, not being a beer drinker, Rebecca went home with a case of Pilsner beer!

Before leaving we checked out the silent auction, and got food to go from the Johnny Blonde food truck.

Urban orienteering is very different from orienteering in the woods. It’s much harder to get lost in urban orienteering, and as long as you can use a map, you can participate! You also have to watch out for cars, and wait for traffic signals! Or sort of wait.

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I look forward to my next urban orienteering race!

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