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.

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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!).

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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.

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Ailish and I at the finish.

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