Race report: Raid the Ham 2017

I don’t think I’ve ever paid so much attention to outdoor Christmas decorations in my life!

On a Thursday night in December at -9 degrees Celsius (feeling colder with the wind) I set out with my daughter and our friends to participate in the Raid the Ham orienteering race in Westdale (part of Hamilton, Ontario), a holiday-themed race doubling as a fundraiser for the Don’t Get Lost junior athletes.

This race was open to everyone, even beginner-level navigators. Before looking at the map, you had to predict your finishing time based only on the length of the course (there were 2 to choose from: “short” at 2.2 km and “long” at 4.8 km). We didn’t know how many checkpoints there would be, just that at each one there wouldn’t be a flag – instead, we would have to answer a question about holiday decorations. I decided to do the short course, and predicted a (ridiculously long) time of 47 minutes. We were not allowed to run with any timing devices, but if we arrived at the finish earlier than we thought we would, we could stand around and not punch the finish control right away.

The girls writing their predicted times.

We were able to look at our maps shortly before the race started. All of the 10 checkpoints on the short course were on city streets (nothing in parks, along trails or in the woods), so it was very easy to navigate using just the map (no compass required). We had to do the checkpoints in order from 1 to 10, and fill in our answers as we went along (pencils and pens were provided!).

When the race started, I took off running in search of the 1st checkpoint, which would be at house #48 on a nameless street (see below for a picture of the questions we had to answer). The question was “What is in the front yard?”, and the answer was a snowman. I wrote that down and kept running. Apologies for the chicken scratch. It was so cold that I didn’t want to stop for long to write, and my pencil wasn’t working very well!

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When I got to #3, I realized that I was way ahead of schedule (it would never take me 47 minutes!), so I commented to the 2 people near me that I was running so fast I could stop to take a picture. Emil responded that I had time for a nap (or maybe it was a coffee!).

This was the holiday decoration at checkpoint 5, the one that nearly caused the end of me… well, not exactly.

In any case, I kept running, and eventually my fingers warmed up! It was somewhere around checkpoint 5 that I realized I was no longer wearing the (borrowed) SI stick on my finger, the timing device that would record my time. “Oh no!” I thought. “I’m in trouble now.” (These things are expensive!!!) Do I keep running? Do I go back? Where would it be? Would someone have seen it and picked it up? Thankfully, I remembered almost immediately that to take the picture at checkpoint 3, I took my glove off! And when I took my glove off, the SI stick probably fell off my gloved finger! So, I retraced my steps, and 10m or so away from the polar bear, I spotted the SI stick on the sidewalk in the snow! PHEW!

I found the rest of the checkpoints, but figured #8 must have been a trick (“How many trees have lights?” I found none.). Checkpoint number 10 resulted in a few seconds of confusion as I misread the clue and was looking for a red window rather than red letters hanging in the window!

When I reached the finish, I decided I was way too early to punch in, so I waited a bit, but then punched. I figured there was no way I would have the closest guess!

Another runner (Courtney) asked if anyone was interested in doing some of the long course while waiting for everyone else to finish, so I went along with her and we did the first 5 checkpoints of the 15 on that course (some of the ones we didn’t do were ones we had actually done on the short course). We only had a problem with the 5th, and only because the house was #250 not #150 as was marked on the map. This was also the house with an “unseasonable item” on the porch (a pumpkin!).

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Clearly I was writing in shorthand for #1 – or something! 

When I returned to the finish (again), most if not everyone was back. It wasn’t long before Meghan announced the winner, who was just 16 seconds off his predicted time. I was curious to see how far off I was, so I asked Meghan, but my time didn’t show up on the computer. I punched the finish again (instead of the download!) and overwrote my original time. With my new, longer time, I ended up being 4 minutes and 14 seconds longer than I predicted. Had my original finishing time been captured, I would have been way further off!

This was a really fun race, and totally doable for newbie orienteers! Thanks Don’t Get Lost for another great night.

Ailish and I at the finish.

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Winter food planning for camping adventures

Are you considering going winter camping for the first time, or are you looking for new food ideas to make your winter camping trips easier?

Check out my guest blog post on the Algonquin Outfitters blog, “Winter food planning“.  I give tips for simplifying and pre-trip planning.


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Race report: Don’t Get Lost Icebreaker Adventure Run

Was I the only one thinking of the Norwegian story The Three Billy Goats Gruff during the Don’t Get Lost Icebreaker Adventure Run? While crossing the many bridges in the “Trolling for Trolls” section of the course, I was relieved to know that the troll had long ago “disappeared under the rushing water, never to be seen again”. 

Before the 2 hour race began, I marked out my planned route with an orange highlighter, which might not have been the best choice of colour (keep reading). All controls were optional – you could go for as few or as many as you liked. They ranged from easy green ones (20 points) to intermediate blue ones (40 points), to advanced black diamonds (75 points) and expert double black diamonds (150 points).

I decided that I wouldn’t go for the dog bone controls this time (a dog bone is 2 controls that have to be done in sequence), despite them being worth quite a lot when you factor in the bonus for getting the dog bone (in addition to the points for the individual controls). Instead, I decided that after the “Killer K”, an approximately 1 km run to an optional control that you had to do first if you did it at all, I would tackle all of the controls in the golf course.

Anne, Ailish and I pre-race. [Photo courtesy of Barb C]
My first 3 controls would be the same ones as my daughter Ailish was going for, but after that we would split up. And we would do just the first control with our friend Anne.

If I had time after the golf course section, I would tackle the “Deck the Corridor” part of the map, which was essentially an unmarked path that you had to follow to find 3 unmarked controls (see map below).

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There were a few other interesting ideas for controls in this race: “Nav4Rav4” could only be found between 10:30 and 11 AM, “Whiteout” had features on the map near it removed to make it more challenging, and “Trolling for Trolls” entailed 4 bridges and 8 controls under them, but you had to find the 2 that were “real” controls and not “dummies” (i.e. you needed the ones with the computer units within them, meaning that you had to visit each one until you found the 2 right ones).

At 10:15 AM the race began!

We’re off and running! [Photo courtesy of Don’t Get Lost]
No navigation was required for my 1st or 2nd controls, because I wasn’t at the front of the pack! But after that, my map (and eventually compass) was needed. When Ailish and I split up, I headed for the “Whiteout” control, following a creek (or where there would be water had it been spring) right to the control.

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Ailish on one of the bridges of the “Trolling for Trolls” section of the course. [Photo courtesy of Don’t Get Lost]
Next I headed for the bridges of the “Trolling for Trolls” section. I approached it from the east, checking underneath one end of bridge D (no troll there!), running up and across the bridge, checking under the other end, and then heading for bridge C. After checking one end, I heard some kids say that the control at the other end was a dummy, but I felt that it would be cheating  if I didn’t check it out for myself, so I did, and they were right. At bridge B I debated stepping on the rocks in the creek to cross over to the other side, but I suspected that the gap between the rocks was too large and I would fall into the cold water, so I scrapped that idea and headed back for the bridge. I found one of the real controls at bridge B, and the last one at bridge A. I tried 7 of 8 locations to find the 2 controls!

Running while looking at the map works less well in the middle of a forest. [Photo courtesy of Don’t Get Lost]
I found 6 more controls easily before heading for the first one that was in the woods away from the golf course. Looking at my map a few days after the race, I noticed that I hadn’t followed my own plan because the orange highlighter wasn’t obvious – I missed 2 easy controls that I had planned to get.

When I was in the woods heading to #31, I ran into my daughter, who had given up finding it. We searched for it for a while, certain that we knew where we were, and unsure why we couldn’t find it. I was determined to find it, given that it was a black diamond and worth 75 points. But the longer it took, the less sense it made to keep trying. After 30 minutes, we gave up. After the race, I chatted with two 2nd place finishers who did find the control (Heidi and Barb), and learned from them how I could approach a similar control in the future. Lessons learned: you might not be where you think you are, go for the easiest approach, use the road or buildings.

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What confusion looking for control #31 looked like.

I found 2 more controls easily, then debated trying to find the Deck the Corridor controls, but I was doubtful that I had the time to follow an unmarked path while rushed, and even more so when a fellow competitor (Oliver) pointed out how far he thought the loop was. So instead I headed for one end of a dog bone and found that, running into my friends John and Kristin in the process.

I thought that I might have time to do one more control, but didn’t want to go over the 2 hour limit, so I scrapped that idea and headed for the last control and then the finish line. Running up the hill to the finish I asked Barb if she had found #31, and she told me to run for the finish (never give up, you never know when someone in your age group might be just behind you) and then we could talk about #31! Since she finished 2nd in her category, I should clearly listen to Barb’s advice!

Nearing the finish line. [Photo courtesy of Don’t Get Lost]
In the end I covered 10.3 km and finished in 1:53:05, with a total of 790 points, which put me 15th out of 22 women in the open age group. My race went really well except for that darn #31! The weather was fantastic for an early December race.

After the race, I ran into Oliver, who jokingly said that he would have done the Deck the Corridor with me had I gone for it. Next time Oliver!

Still smiling after the race.

It was great to see so many kids out racing with or without their parents, as the Adventure Running Kids ARKFest marking the end of the 12-week fall session was happening at the same time.

Even after the race was done it was hard leaving without having found #31. I really should have just gone back to look for it!

Can’t wait for the next race! My strategy: use a different coloured highlighter, go for the dog bones, and if I can’t find the control, approach it from a different angle!

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