Race report: Turkey Trot orienteering double header

On a sunny fall day with the temperature forecasted to reach 31 degrees Celsius, feeling like 40+ with the humidity, who wouldn’t want to run their very first orienteering double header?! I set out for Cambridge, Ontario, where the Toronto Orienteering Club and Ukrainian Orienteering Club were jointly hosting the Turkey Trot, a long-running fall classic. This would be my first time participating.

Middle Distance – Dryden Tract (Toronto Orienteering Club)

The morning race was a middle distance race set at the Dryden Tract, a trail system popular with dog walkers, whose dogs were running wildly off leash before the race began. I wasn’t bothered.


There were 4 courses to choose from: beginner, intermediate, short advanced, long advanced. The latter two had all trails removed from the map! Each increased in length and difficulty. I registered for the intermediate course, which would be approximately 3.3 km “as the crow flies” (in other words, if you travelled the most direct route from point to point), despite the map saying 3.5k.

Before the race begins, you need to clear your SI timing chip so new data can be added to it. You then need to check it to make sure it worked.

This was a low key event, with a very short pre-race briefing just before the race was to begin. Runners were sent off in (approximately) 2 minute intervals. I very quickly caught up to the person in front of me before we found the first control, but it wasn’t long before we separated. I overshot the 3rd control, but got back on track for the 4th and 5th. And then… control 6 happened… the distance between control 5 and control 6 was the longest between any 2 controls on my map. I wasn’t sure whether I should bushwhack my way there (750 m?), with the potential to go way off course if my bearing wasn’t accurate, or to follow the many trails. I decided on the trail route, but quickly got confused as to which trail I was on. I even asked a random hiker if he knew where we were, but he had never seen an orienteering map before, and wasn’t very helpful. Of course, if he had been helpful, then I would have been cheating! After way too long, I started considering just walking north to the road, heading back to the start/finish, and giving up! But I didn’t, and I eventually found myself very near to where I thought control 6 should be. As another racer ran by, I asked him if I was where I thought I was, and he confirmed that I was. Yay!

The rest of the race was relatively uneventful, except for me kicking a root, and ending up prone on the ground with a cut knee and elbow. Thankfully, I was fine and able to continue! After the 12th control, it was a short run to the finish. In the end I ran 5.14 km (according to my phone) in 1:36:50, and finished in 4th place out of 6 competitors. The two behind me got an “MP” result – a mispunch, meaning they either missed a control or arrived at a control in the wrong order. All the results are posted on the event page.

As one of the younger competitors helpfully pointed out after the race, “You have a little dirt on you.”

Lessons learned:

1) Looking back on the race, I realize now that when I didn’t know where I was on the map, I would have saved a lot of time had I just travelled to the north east corner of the map (either using trails or bushwhacking). From there, I could easily have gotten back onto a trail and found control 6. Instead, I was concerned about taking the wrong trail and ending up too far south – I should have just used my compass and gone north! It took me a full 30 minutes to find control 6 (in the list below, the time on the left shows how long it took me to find the control, and the time in brackets shows the elapsed race time)!

  • control 1 4:56 (4:56) 
  • control 2 3:36 (8:32)
  • control 3 9:25 (17:57)
  • control 4 4:00 (21:57)
  • control 5 7:57 (29:54)
  • control 6 30:00 (59:54) —- YIKES!
  • control 7 6:07 (1:06:01)
  • control 8 7:11 (1:13:12)
  • control 9 3:51 (1:17:03)
  • control 10 7:53 (1:24:56)
  • control 11 4:36 (1:29:32)
  • control 12 4:27 (1:33:59)
  • finish 2:51 (1:36:50)

2) The second thing that I learned is that I should not carry the piece of paper with control descriptions in my hand, unless it is in a plastic sleeve. It was hot out, I was sweating, and I managed to rub very important information off my sheet! Not only could I barely read the symbols describing what I was looking for, but I couldn’t see the control number so wouldn’t have known if I arrived at the correct one had there not been other people around me for the last few that I could ask. If I punched the wrong control, I too would have been a “mispunch”! I will be buying an arm sleeve for future races.

Scan 36

3) The third thing I learned is that I need to study all the little symbols more!

I was thankful to have run with ice cold water in my camelbak – some did the race without any water. There was a selection of fruit and cookies at the finish, along with lots of water. I compared notes with others, and then headed by car to the 2nd race site.

Sprint Distance – Wellington County Forest Little Tract (Ukrainian Orienteering Club)

The afternoon race was called a sprint race, but it was actually longer than the morning race and should have been categorized as a middle distance race (the organizers said this, not me!). People were surprised and confused that the afternoon races were longer than the morning ones. I didn’t mind. Once again, there were 4 courses to choose from, and I went with the intermediate course.

We were started in 2 minute intervals. I was one of the last to start. Right away, I found this course more runnable, and the trails more dependable! I overshot a few of the controls, and found myself arriving at controls at the same time as a woman who was walking (while I was running and walking) – she clearly had superior navigation skills! I enjoyed this race more, because I was never too far off where I thought I was on the map. If you look at the map, you’ll see that the area of the map really was a “little tract” – long and narrow.

Scan 38

Despite the heat and humidity, I wasn’t too uncomfortable. I kept drinking my water, and all was good! I didn’t even face plant. In the end I found all the controls and finished in 1:14:04, running 5.3 km, a little more than the 3.5 km “as the crow flies” estimate (despite the map saying 3.8k). I finished 4th out of 5, with a mispunch behind me. Again, there was fruit and cookies at the finish.

The results for the 2 races were combined for overall results, putting me 3/5 (the 4th and 5th were mispunches). I’m not sure why more people didn’t participate in the two events. They were super fun! The trails were great, and the garter snake population healthy (I saw 5 between the two races, including a big one).

My only complaint was the lack of a toilet at the trailheads, but there were bushes…

I’m looking forward to racing again and putting some of what I learned into practice!


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