It’s always fun to introduce friends to the sport of orienteering, and this year’s Stars W.A.R. put on by the Stars Orienteering Club gave me the opportunity to do just that. My friend Kris is an experienced trail runner, but orienteering was brand new to her. And since she had never run on snowshoes before, she practised in the weeks leading up to the race.
Fast forward to race day, and sadly, there wasn’t enough snow for snowshoes. Instead, there was ice in abundance, so we were ready with spikes for our shoes.
After we picked up our race maps, we sat down to plan our route. While orienteering was new to Kris, the setting for this race, Mono Cliffs Provincial Park, was not!
The race was to start with an optional matrix section, in which partners could split up to find the 6 controls faster. Kris was keen to try to find controls on her own, so we decided to separate. She would go for 2 that we thought would be easiest. We each had a very small map to carry with us, which essentially covered the bottom left corner of the big map. When we reached the lettered controls in the matrix, we were to punch our maps with manual punches. After finding 2 each, we would meet back at control 50 near the start/finish location, where we would hand in our little maps, pick up one more little map, and together find the remaining 2 controls in the matrix. After the matrix, we would try to find as many controls on the big map as we could – these varied in point value based on their level of difficulty, from 20 to 70 points. We highlighted our proposed route in yellow, and were ready to go.
Everyone assembled at the start, and when the race began, people ran in every direction! People without spikes on their shoes, or without good spikes, had trouble with the ice right off the bat and fell. I saw a couple of people have trouble on little hills on my way to my first control.
Kris beat me back to control 50, but said that had she not followed someone, she might not have found 1 of the 2 she was looking for. That’s okay – she’s just learning!
We handed in our 3rd little map, punched control 50, and set off to find as many as we could on our big map.
We had a little trouble with our first control, approaching a broken rock wall too far left (and therefore not seeing it at first). We backtracked to a trail, tried again, and when we found the wall, it was totally obvious that we were in the right spot! Kris had to slide down a steep hill on her backside because her spikes didn’t grip the ice well enough.
We had success finding the next 3 controls, with Kris commenting on the lack of other teams around us. It was almost like we were out for a run in the woods on our own.
We did have trouble with one control, because we unknowingly followed the wrong fence line, forcing us to bushwhack (with another team) through extremely dense forest, and then jump across a creek. It was in this section that we saw what Kris pointed out as being a wolf print!
When we came out into an opening (which we expected), we were a little confused because the fences on the map didn’t line up with what we were seeing in front of us. However, we pushed on, and as soon as we got close to the next control, which was sitting on a pile of rocks, we knew we weren’t at the one we intended to go for – we were looking for one in a little valley. In any case, we decided not to backtrack, and to get this one (which was to be our next one anyway) and keep going.
At one point, we startled a grouse (which in turn startled us!) – we heard its distinctive sound and saw it fly away.
After finding the last of our planned controls, we stood there briefly debating whether we should add one more – we figured we had time, so we headed for one at a ruined building. I didn’t want to regret not going for it and returning to the finish with lots of time to spare.
In the end, we reached the finish in 2:25:08, which wouldn’t have given us enough time to find any other controls. We actually did quite well estimating how many controls we could find in the allotted 2 1/2 hours, and therefore how far we could run in that time.
We covered 12.8k in that time, running (and walking!) on trails, roads, and off-trail through the forest.
Afterwards, racers were given a hot chili lunch, with lots of sweet and salty treats, and hot and cold drinks too. We had a great time. Thank you Stars!
This year’s Don’t Get Lost Snowshoe Raid became a Spike Raid when there wasn’t enough snow to warrant snowshoes. It was disappointing, but my race partner Rebecca and I were keen to try our Kahtoola microspikes with trail running shoes for the first time, so all was not lost! And it’s not as if it wasn’t cold enough for snow – at the start of the race, it was -20C or colder with the wind chill. Brrr! I filled my water bottle with boiling water in hopes that it wouldn’t freeze up during the race (it worked, but the water was ice cold by the end).
After spending the night at a local Airbnb, we arrived at
Blue Mountain (ski resort) with plenty of time to pick up our race maps and
instructions and plan our route. We received 1 map each, but learned that 1
hour into the 3 hour race, we could pick up a new map at the aid station, which
would include the original checkpoints plus additional ones. This made route
planning a little trickier, because while we knew that the 2nd map
would include 500 extra points (the original had 1,150), we had no idea where
the new checkpoints would be.
All checkpoints were either green (25 points), blue (50 points), black (75 points) or double black (100 points) depending on level of difficulty. Each team of 2 would have to start with an approximately 1k uphill climb to the first checkpoint, after which they could go in search of as few or as many checkpoints as they wished, in any order. In addition, there was a “matrix” section of the map, an area with 5 checkpoints in it, where teammates could split up to find them faster (you proved you found the checkpoint by using a manual punch to put holes in your map, as opposed to using an electronic chip for the rest of the race).
After the pre-race briefing, we all headed to the school buses that were waiting to take us to the start line, from where we would enter the Loree Forest, which surrounded Blue Mountain on the east, west and south sides.
When the race began, we started running, but our pace slowed as the hill got steeper, and we joined a long line of people walking up a narrowing path. There was a bit of a bottleneck, but I’m not sure I would have gone any faster without anyone in front of me, at least not until we got to the top, where some maneuvering around people and trees was required. Rebecca and I headed off to find a double black and two black controls, which we found, but it took longer than we expected it to – it was hillier than we anticipated. And boy was it ever hilly! To add to the fun, for some reason my compass was not working properly. The needle was jumping all over the place, which I’m assuming was the cold temperature wreaking havoc. Rebecca’s didn’t seem much better. Thankfully, we didn’t need them much!
Next we headed into the matrix section, where we split up. Rebecca was to do 2 controls, me the remaining 3, and then we would meet at the aid station within the matrix.
While running along the Bruce Trail at one point, a friend was running towards me when he did the gentlemanly thing and stepped off the hard packed snow to the side so I could pass by. What neither of us knew was that there was quite a drop, and he fell. He was fine, and as usual ended up kicking our butts. Thanks Chris. 🙂
When I reached the aid station, I didn’t see Rebecca, so I grabbed myself a cup of hot chocolate – just what I needed to warm up my lower lip so that I could speak properly again! There were also cookies and donuts, but I just had a few of Rebecca’s M&Ms when she turned up. We got our new maps, took a couple of minutes to discuss the new controls and slightly alter our route, and then headed out. We didn’t want to stop for long – we were getting cold!
We stuck to our original plan to head to the east from the matrix, but added a new blue control that wasn’t on the original map. We did a lot of trail running versus bushwhacking during this race, but we did have some stellar navigation using a big hill (no compass!) as our reference point in this section. Yay us.
Given the elapsed time, we knew we couldn’t go any further away from the finish at this point, so we started heading to the finish line, grabbing another black on our way. We decided that the last few controls near the finish – which we were planning to do “if we had time” (we never have time!) – were probably out of reach. However, with about 12 minutes to go we were running along a road seeing people coming out of the trees, and realized that one of the controls was actually very close to us. We decided that even if going for it put us slightly overtime, it would be worth it.
From there we ran to the finish, getting there with just under 2 minutes to spare (the penalty was -30 points per minute over the 3 hours). We ended up with 650 points.
In talking to others after the race, I realized that our race strategy might not have been the best. The first two controls we went for (after the mandatory first one) were pretty far for what they were worth. We might have earned more points trying to find more controls of lower value that weren’t so far away. As well, when we got the second map, we could have headed west instead of east, where there was a cluster of 3 blacks close together.
In any case, it was a fun race! We are always learning.
At the finish there was more hot chocolate and sweet treats, and buses waiting to take teams back to Blue Mountain, where we were provided with a hot lunch. After the awards, we headed home!
In the days leading up to this race, I had no idea I’d be criss-crossing a half-pipe multiple times with a chilly creek crossing in the middle! But how would I? The race location is top secret until race day (though I did try my best to piece together the picture teasers as they were posted on Facebook).
A last minute change meant that our team of 3 became a team of 2 for this year’s Don’t Get Lost Raid the Hammer Adventure Race. This would be our 3rd time doing the race, and on home soil to boot!
At registration we were each given 2 maps and a sheet of race instructions, which set out everything we needed to know about the race. We would pick up a 3rd map out on the race course.
This was a point to point race with 3 distinct sections:
a matrix, where team members could split up to find the 6 checkpoints faster, which could be found in any order;
12 mandatory checkpoints found in order from 1 to 12; and
a matrix, where team members could again split up to find the 4 checkpoints, and in any order.
As this race was held on Remembrance Day, we had a moment of silence before boarding busses to the start line. From the Veterans Affairs Canada website:
Every year on November 11, Canadians pause in a silent moment of remembrance for the men and women who have served, and continue to serve our country during times of war, conflict and peace. We honour those who fought for Canada in the First World War (1914-1918), the Second World War (1939-1945), and the Korean War (1950-1953), as well as those who have served since then. More than 2.3 million Canadians have served our country in this way, and more than 118,000 have died. They gave their lives and their futures so that we may live in peace.
The race began at Hidden Valley Park in Burlington, a small park with a couple of playgrounds and some trails in the woods. Earlier this fall, I saw salmon swimming upstream in the creek that runs through the park.
On Patrick’s countdown, the race began! Rebecca and I had decided to split up in the matrix, with her doing a little more running for 3 checkpoints that we thought would be easier to find (D, E, F). It turns out they were all pretty easy, partly because we were never the only ones searching for them, but also because the park is so small and the navigation just wasn’t too difficult.
I found my 3, then ran to a pavilion to wait for Rebecca so we could show our punched maps to Patrick, proving that we had been to each checkpoint. We punched checkpoint 1 (at the pavilion), then headed for the road that would take us onto the second map.
This next part of the race course required us to cross Grindstone Creek in between each checkpoint. Between checkpoints 1 and 2 we used a bridge, but after that, we bit the bullet and got wet feet. And boy was the water ever cold!!! We learned that indecision after a creek crossing was a bad thing – that’s when our feet froze. As long as we kept moving, they warmed up pretty quickly!
Also in this section were hills, hills and more hills! From a checkpoint high on a hill, we would descend, cross the creek, then climb a hill on the other side.
At checkpoint 6 there was an aid station with sweet and salty goodies, and a gear check, where we had to show that we were carrying an emergency blanket.
After checkpoint 9 there were no more creek crossings. At checkpoint 10, which was just before we crossed the railroad tracks and entered Black’s Forest (the trails south of Walmart and Grindstone Way in Waterdown), we received the 3rd map, which we needed to get back to the high school.
There are tons of trails in this area, but they don’t necessarily go the way you want to go. We did a lot of trail hopping to get from 10 to 11, 11 to 12, and then 12 to 13. After this point, we could split up again and find the 4 remaining checkpoints. I know this part of Waterdown very well, so I only needed to look once on the map to see where the checkpoints were, then didn’t need to look again (I knew the spots).
These checkpoints had questions that we had to answer, rather than inserting our SI card into a chip reader. For example, one asked for the last name of Charlotte, whose name was on a park bench. When I reached my 2nd and last control in this section, I encountered another woman at the same hydro pole trying to answer the same question. “Final digit on the power pole (5485)” shouldn’t be that hard. But it was a multiple choice question, and the number we saw on the pole wasn’t an option on the sheet. We figured it was a typo, and headed back to the high school. Sadly, we later found out that we were looking at the wrong pole! We had been looking at 54856, when we should have been looking at the pole across the street, 54855! This meant a 15 minute time penalty for our team.
Rebecca had no trouble with her checkpoints, and was waiting for me at the high school. We punched the finish line checkpoint, and headed inside to download our results onto the Don’t Get Lost computer. In 3:31:53 we covered a little over 17k, and found all of the checkpoints.
We enjoyed a hot lunch from a food truck, included in our race entry fee.
Despite my mess up on the last checkpoint, we had a great race! My legs were slightly tired from my 25k race the day before (!) but held up better than I expected!
We’ll be back – next year, the full Raid!
Race results for team Define Lost:
This year Don’t Get Lost added a new race to their calendar, Raid the City, a 3-hour urban orienteering race with a twist in the city of Hamilton! Here’s how it differed from other orienteering races:
Just like in other races, checkpoints varied in point value depending on their difficulty (in general, checkpoints that are further away or harder to access are worth more points).
It was completely up to individual teams to decide which checkpoints they wanted to go for. After registering and getting our two maps, Alasdair and I made our plan. We decided to go for all of the black (difficult) and double black (expert) checkpoints, as well as all the blue (intermediate) ones if we had time. We didn’t think we’d go for any green (easy) ones, except our first checkpoint on the way to our first blue.
After a short pre-race meeting, we were off!
While checkpoints were marked on the two race maps, the Goose Chase app had additional information about each one (e.g. plaque about X, or Gate 1 at Tim Horton field). There was also a picture of the spot we were looking for – which was also what our own pictures should look like, with at least one team member (with race bib visible) in it!
We quickly found our first checkpoint – a plaque in a park – but I didn’t realize until we got to our second checkpoint that taking a picture isn’t enough – you actually have to submit it as well!
The rest of the race saw us visiting checkpoints at Tim Horton Field, Gage Park, the Chedoke Radial Trail, Auchmar Mansion, another historical plaque, a park at the top of the Jolley Cut, the Bruce Trail, and the Dundurn Stairs. We did really well on the navigation, only backtracking once when we overshot a wood wall along the Chedoke Radial Trail.
To get up the Hamilton Mountain, we climbed the 500 step Wentworth Stairs. What a climb!
It was after the checkpoint along the Bruce Trail on top of the escarpment that Alasdair and I didn’t agree on where we should go next. My running pace was slowing, I had been fighting a side stitch, and I knew that if we went to the final double black diamond checkpoint at the top of the Dundurn Stairs (which was to the West, while the finish was to the South-East), we would be late and would lose points (20 points per minute late). Alasdair was sure I could make it, and even if we went over the 3 hours, it would still be worth it to get the 150 points. I was convinced that we would lose those points and then some, but agreed to try.
At the base of the Dundurn Stairs, we only had time to head straight back to the finish. My side stitch got worse, so we had to take some walk breaks. Alasdair underestimated the distance from the base of the stairs to the finish – it was nearly 6km of straight running!
We ended up being 20 minutes late, meaning that we lost 400 of our 1,040 points, finishing in 23rd place out of 32 teams with just 640 points – we ran 22.15 km! Instead of earning 150 points for that last checkpoint, we lost 400. Had we not gone for it, we may have been able to find other ones on our way back to the finish line.
At the finish line, Patrick (one of the race organizers) asked us how it went. “We’re still married!” was Alasdair’s response.
During the race, I checked a couple of times how we were doing relative to the other teams. At one point, we were in 11th place. For a while, we were in 7th place. It was fun to see how we were doing. Of course, the app didn’t know we were going to be so late…
Turns out only one team finished after we did!
This race was super fun, and I highly recommend it. It’s great for those who are new to orienteering, because you don’t need to know how to use a compass. You can look for checkpoints that are close to the start/finish, and run (or walk!) only as far or as long as you want to. You definitely don’t need to cover 22k!
Having heard great things about Storm Racing’s RockstAR Adventure Race, my teammate Rebecca and I were keen to try it! We would have 4 hours to find as many checkpoints as we could, using bikes, canoes, and our own two (four) feet. We would decide which checkpoints to go for, and how we would get there. In addition to the usual locations such as at a trail junction, or on a rocky ledge, there would be “fun” checkpoints that required you to do an activity before you got the points. But I’m getting ahead of myself here…
Rebecca and I chose to stay in the accommodations at Bark Lake Conference Centre in the Haliburton area, which was the location for the race. We had a room with 2 beds and a bathroom, just a couple of hundred metres from race central. It wasn’t cheap, but super convenient!
On race morning, we registered, picked up our number plates and buffs, and then added the number plates to our bikes and canoe, which we had put on a bike rack and down by the water, respectively. Then we headed back to the building we were staying in to plan our route in one of the meeting rooms.
We opted for fun over points, meaning that while we hoped to get as many points as we could, we wanted to do as many of the “fun” checkpoints as possible. We went through many route options, but finally settled on canoeing first to 4 checkpoints in the water or at the shore, then using a combination of biking and running to get to the rest. But we also wondered how fun it would be to bike (and possibly run, depending on trail conditions) in our PFDs to a couple of the checkpoints that required them. We decided to try it anyway, and change our plan if need be.
Some checkpoints were worth more points than others depending on their distance away from the start, and their difficulty. Before the race started we had to submit our proposed route plan to the race director, but 5 minutes before the race started (and our plan was in!), we changed our route. We decided to go to the stand up paddleboard (SUP) and inner tube checkpoints by canoe, instead of by bike/running. In any case, we had a general plan but decided that we would wing it!
After the pre-race briefing, everyone headed to the beach for the race start.
We grabbed our canoe and put it right at the shore, as did 4 other teams. When the race began, we grabbed our canoe, got into the water, into the canoe, and off we went!
We were the second team to arrive at the SUP checkpoint, so there was no wait (some checkpoints had a maximum number of people who could do them at any one time). It was a good thing that I had tried a SUP for the first time one week prior to the race!
In order to get the points for this checkpoint, I had to travel by SUP through a buoyed-off swimming area to find (and memorize) words under the water. I went fairly slowly, given that I was a SUP newbie! I found all 3 words after searching in a grid-like pattern.
Rock on rockstars! Back at the shore I said those 3 words and earned the points!
Creek crossing checkpoint
We left the SUP and canoe and ran through the woods to find the next checkpoint, then with a family who was running at our speed headed off to the next one, which we would find by listening for music in the woods.
With 5 of us trying to find it, we had to all stop at the same time to listen, otherwise you couldn’t hear the music over the sounds of crunching branches on the ground. But we managed to find it together without too much difficulty.
Floating buoy checkpoint
We ran back to the beach and jumped in the canoe, heading for the floating checkpoint. It was pretty windy, with not-insignificant waves making paddling challenging. We reached the checkpoint without too much trouble, but when Rebecca grabbed the manual punch attached to it, it tipped onto its side after she punched our punch card. We thought it would right itself, but it actually flipped upside down! That would have made it much more difficult for other teams to find. One team had to wait while a motor boat with race volunteers righted it. Oops! Rebecca felt really bad!
Rocky point checkpoint
Our next checkpoint was at a rocky point, but we landed the canoe and it wasn’t where we thought it would be. Again we were with the dad with two boys, and while the dad sent the boys to scout the trail West of our landing point, when they came back we were no more certain where we were. There were many canoes on shore, which we figured may be the 8-hour racers. Finally I spotted a trail leading perpendicular to the water, which immediately told us where we were! We had overshot the checkpoint, and had to run quite a ways to it. Another oops!
At this point, we set out in the canoe for the next checkpoint along shore, but the wind and waves were making us question whether we should abandon the next two and head back for our bikes. We eventually decided to do one more in the canoe, and then head back. We were paddling hard and thought we could make better progress (and earn more points!) on shore.
Roxy (beer/root beer checkpoint)
After returning to the race start/finish area in the canoe, we put it on shore and ran to the Roxy checkpoint, which was inside a little building. This was one of the most fun checkpoints, with Rebecca chugging beer and me root beer. It was ice cold and so refreshing! There was music playing and a strobe light adding special effects. Plus a big couch to sit on!
Swim dock checkpoint
We headed right next door to the swimming area, where I borrowed a pair of goggles and swam to the bottom of the lake to get a CD, which earned us points for this checkpoint. The only thing I didn’t like was that the goggles also had a nose piece, so that I couldn’t breathe through my nose just before diving down. Next time, I’d bring my own goggles!
Inner tube checkpoint
We grabbed our bikes, and headed along a road and then trail until we thought we were close to the inner tube checkpoint. Turns out we could have gone closer with our bikes, and ended up bushwhacking longer than we needed to. Rebecca grabbed an inner tube and paddled her way across the lake to a little island, where the checkpoint was.
Creek crossing checkpoint
We jumped on our bikes and headed further into the woods to the creek crossing checkpoint. When we got there, we saw that it was actually in the middle of the creek, up above on a rope – you had to cross to the middle of the creek to get the checkpoint. Before we got in, another racer commented on the huge leech he saw! Rebecca did not want to get anywhere near the leech, so I volunteered to go in! I had to jump to grab the rope while on shore, and then used it to guide me to the checkpoint. The water was up to my waist by the time I got there. Another team grabbed a canoe that was on shore and went to it that way. When we realized that we had to be on the other shore to get to the next checkpoint, Rebecca resigned herself to walking through the leech creek!
Rocky ledge checkpoint
We set off for the next checkpoint on foot, and soon came across another team, who said that yet another team told them they could easily bushwhack to it, but that the path would eventually go to it (the long way around we figured). We decided not to bushwhack because we didn’t know exactly where we were on the map. We should have taken a bearing when we left leech creek, but didn’t! And then we should have pace counted, but didn’t! So we ended up at a spot that didn’t make sense, seemed to have lost the trail, and weren’t sure whether we should bushwhack or backtrack and forget about the control. We were looking for a beaver dam, so I headed to the water and saw what I thought was one, and people – always a good sign! We followed the shore and found the checkpoint. We took a bearing and headed back as directly as possible to leech creek, but before long, we came across the team of women who were going to bushwhack – they seemed relieved to have found people! They hadn’t yet found the checkpoint! We all found some very sharp thorns (Rebecca’s leg was proof), and after we left them, we took a straight line back until we hit a trail, which we then followed. We later decided that this checkpoint wasn’t worth the time it took for us to find it! We should have gone for other higher point ones by bike. Lesson learned.
Climbing wall checkpoint
Back at leech creek we realized that there was a way to get across without getting wet, so we walked across big concrete blocks to get back to our bikes. We headed back to the start/finish and continued on to the climbing wall checkpoint. This was Rebecca’s very first time climbing, and after getting suited up into a harness and having a short lesson, she very quickly climbed her way to the top of the climbing wall where the checkpoint was!
Low ropes course checkpoint
Our last checkpoint was at the end of a short low ropes course, which I did, while leaning on Rebecca’s head or shoulder at times (this was allowed). It was a fun way to end our race. From there we biked back to the racks and ran to the finish line. Our time was 3:47:39 – our goal was to not be late, because there was a 10 point penalty for every minute you were late over the 4 hours. We ended up with 580 points.
There were lots of food choices at the finish, from cookies and chips to ice cream bars, drinks and fruit! In fact, you could eat this stuff during the race too (but we didn’t).
We loaded our bikes and canoe onto the car, went back to our room for showers and clean/dry clothes, then headed for dinner – it was an awesome dinner! Lasagna, broccoli, garlic bread, salad bar, and an ice cream sundae bar for dessert! There was even a live band after the awards ceremony.
Turns out we were 5/10 female pairs teams, with the teams just ahead of us beating us by only a few points.
Other fun checkpoints that we didn’t do were a slingshot checkpoint (if you missed the target, you had to sit for a 10 minute penalty before getting the points), and a trail clearing checkpoint, where you were given tools and had to clear a 15 foot by 3 foot section of trail (we figured it would take too long, but found out from others that it was worth it!). There were also a few other checkpoints that we had hoped to bike to but ran out of time.
This race was super fun and I highly recommend it! I will definitely be back.
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The Cambridge Urban Adventure Race put on by the Stars Orienteering Club is a great example of a race that almost anyone could do, even families with kids! It was set in Hespeler, part of Cambridge, and no compass was required (I carried one, but never used it). Have map, will travel! Teams of 2 could choose their own route, finding as many – or as few – of the controls as they wanted to. Each control was worth 1 point. But every minute late teams were over the 2 hours, they lost 1 point (steep penalty!). Our plan was to do whatever we could to avoid being late!
The controls were found on city streets, in urban parks, on pathways, and some a very short distance off trails in the woods. None were too difficult to find.
6 of the 18 controls required teams to write down answers to questions, some of historical significance (e.g. What are the three names that Hespeler has had throughout its history?). Get the answer wrong, lose the point (speaking from experience here)!
Rebecca and I decided to head further away to start with, leaving controls closer to the finish if we had time. We did decide during the race not to go for 2 of the controls that we thought we would get, which were quite far from the others, and, we feared, would make us late.
In the end, Rebecca and I finished with just over 8 minutes to spare, probably not enough to have found either of the 2 controls we decided to leave. We found 16 of the 18, but only got credit for 15, since in my head I didn’t make the distinction between a levee and a dam, and didn’t read closely enough to spot our error.
We ran about 14k. It was a fun race! Thank you Stars!
“Did you meet a vampire out there?” I was asked at the end of the race. You can never predict what’s going to happen when you’re out in the woods orienteering!
The Don’t Get Lost Knockout Adventure Run in Stoney Creek was a 2-hour race in which you could find as many – or as few – of the controls as you wanted to, but with a twist! There were 2 race maps, with only the first map given to racers before the race began. This meant that strategy would be very important – we were told during the pre-race briefing that the second map would have about 65% of the available points. There were 2 spots on the course where you could pick up the second map, but you had to hand over your first map when you did so – in other words, if you didn’t find all the controls on the first map, and later wanted to look for them, you couldn’t! The other key detail was that you could only pick up the second map from 10:15 to 10:45 at one location (the race started at 10 AM), and from 10:55 to 11:45 AM at the other location. How would it all play out?
I talked to other racers before the race and we all had different strategies for maximizing our points. Time would tell who had the best plan.
Both maps had a mixture of green (25 points), blue (50 points), black diamond/difficult (75 points), and double black diamond/expert (100 points) controls.
The race began, and I set out for the south west corner of the map. There were 3 distinct clusters of controls on this map, and I was hoping to be able to clear it (find all the controls) within 1 hour, so that I would still have 1 hour to find as many controls as I could on the second map.
I wasn’t the only one heading for this area of the map, so I ended up in a group of people running for the closest control. I found all 4 in this section (3 greens and one black diamond), then headed for the middle area of the map. Some people skipped the first section I did since 3 of them were of low point value, and instead headed for the middle or upper sections.
The middle section included 5 green controls, none of which took too long to find.
The upper part of the map had 3 blue and 1 double black diamond control. I had done an X-league race here before, so was a little familiar with the area – I think this helped! After finding these 4 controls, I headed for the closest pickup location for the second map. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize how quickly I had cleared the map (my very first time doing so!), and when I arrived at the parking lot, I had to wait 12 minutes to get the map! I could have run to the other location, and maybe should have, but wondered if I’d really save any time by running there and back (I would have had to run back because the rest of the controls were on the other side of the parking lot.).
So instead I chatted with other racers as we waited for the maps to arrive! It was here that I met David, another racer. Once we got our second maps, we headed off together.
We skipped a cluster of 5 controls on the way out – I figured if I had time at the end, I would go for some of them. Instead, I wanted to head for the furthest away controls, which were also worth the most points.
We quickly found 6 and 7, then descended the escarpment to find 8. We ran toward the Red Hill Parkway, jumping a creek and climbing a hill to find 10. We then crossed under the Red Hill Parkway, found the two double black diamond controls, and then crossed back over to find two more black diamonds. At that point, we had to climb the escarpment again to head back to the finish. I wasn’t sure whether I would have time to get any of the controls we had left near the end. We did get an easy green after climbing the escarpment, but by the time we got to the cluster of controls, I only went for one of them. David headed for another one but quickly changed his mind. We reached the finish line with 12 minutes to spare – we should have gone for at least one of the remaining 4 controls! I didn’t realize how quickly we would reach the finish line.
Nevertheless, I found 23 of the 27 controls, which was a great result for me!
It was once I went back into the gym that many people pointed out my war wound! I don’t even know when it happened. It looked worse than it was – the cut was actually quite small.
A couple of the women who placed ahead of me skipped the 4 controls that I did at the beginning of the race on the first map, and instead ended up getting more controls on the second map, which were worth more points – so, their strategy was better! However, they cleared the second map with time to spare, but couldn’t go find those 4 controls – had they cleared the first map, they may still have cleared the second one and likely placed higher. Who knows! Strategy was definitely key!
When I first starting orienteering in the fall of 2016, the thought of getting to look at the map just a few minutes before a race was terrifying! Now, it’s not such a big deal.
For the O-Cup race at Rockwood Conservation Area hosted by the UKR Gators and Toronto Orienteering Club, we received our maps just 10 minutes before the race was to begin. At the same time, we were told that the race was “complex” and route-planning would be really important!
Essentially, there were 15 mandatory controls on the big map (numbered 1 to 15), 5 mandatory controls in the “micro-o” (a small section of the map between controls 1 and 2 that was blown up to be its own map), and 6 dog bones (controls done in pairs with none in between), but some of the dog bones could be skipped depending on your handicap (mine was 3, so I could skip 3 dog bones). The micro-o had an added twist – there were multiple versions of the map (mine was version “C”), so we were not all looking for the same controls. You definitely couldn’t just follow people!
In addition to the map, we were given control descriptions, so that we knew not only where to look, but also what to look for (e.g. a hilltop, or a pit, or a cliff). Most of the races I do don’t use these tables – instead, they use word descriptions – so I don’t practice reading these enough and forget the symbols. Note to self: study symbols!
When the race began, I headed for the dog bones at the north west corner of the map (in the campground). I found D, A, B and C in that order, then headed for 1. I wasn’t the only one with this plan, but many other people started the race with 1.
After 1 I was with a small group of people all running for the micro-o. They all punched a control marked 128, but I had 129 in my head and didn’t punch it. It was when I got to 129 that I realized my error! I didn’t punch 129, ran back to 128, punched it, then ran back to 129 and punched that one. Wasted time! The other controls in this section weren’t too hard, with the area being so small, but it was quite icy and careful steps were needed – I wasn’t wearing spikes on my shoes!
From the micro-o I ran to control 2 and then 3, which weren’t hard to find. Then we had to run all the way around the lake to 4, either going clockwise or counterclockwise (I went counterclockwise). I missed the small trail I was looking for, ended up at one closer to the road, realized my error and bushwhacked to the correct trail. Finding 4 and 5 was easy, but I overshot 6. Thankfully, I had seen 7 earlier when I was running on the higher trail, so when I saw it again I knew exactly where I was and ran back to 6.
Controls 7 and 8 were easy to find, but somehow I walked right by 9. I must have turned 270 degrees instead of 360, and missed it completely. I ran too far, asked a couple if they had found it, and they said “Yes, it was right where we met you (earlier)!” Sigh. I ran back. Wasted time.
Controls 10 and 11 were easy, but at 12, I hesitated to go into the ruined building because it seemed that a wedding shoot was going on! I did go in and found the control. After 13 I ran for the last of 3 dog bones that I had to do, finding F and E quite easily near the campground.
Only 2 controls left, and I overshot 14! I had to backtrack, but did eventually find it. Wasted time!
And finally, 15 was easy to find because I had seen it when running for 1. From there I ran up the grass and many many stairs to the finish!
Overall, the race went well, but the few errors I made ate up too much time!
After the race, we were treated to a hot lunch, including chili, lentils or soup, hot chocolate, and a loaf of Rudolph’s delicious bread each.
Time: 1:37:57 (46:42 behind the race winner)
Placing: 30/39 (only 33 had official times – 6 people mispunched)
Picture this: You’re standing in the forest with a steep downhill in front of you, the ground is snow-covered, there are trees all over the place, you are wearing snowshoes, and you need to get to the bottom of the hill – the faster, the better. Do you carefully pick your way down the slope, bracing yourself against trees as you go, or do you throw caution to the wind and slide down the hill on your butt?
This is just one of the scenarios I faced in this year’s Stars W.A.R. (Winter Adventure Race), held at Wasaga Beach Provincial Park. Last year’s race was super fun, so I was looking forward to the 2018 edition.
With snow in the forecast, Anne and I left early, but the drive wasn’t bad and we arrived a few minutes before registration was to begin. A pre-race email from the Stars Orienteering Club told us that the course would be challenging and we would need time to plan our route. At registration we received a map, an instruction sheet, and a pair of socks!
Anne and I sat down to plan our strategy. Because the map covered a large area, and there were 30 controls, we had to decide which part of the map to focus on. We decided that we would definitely try to get the controls that would get us bonus points (“dog bones” – get specific ones one after the other with no other controls in between and receive a bonus of 40 points). There were 3 sets of these, so that would mean 120 bonus points.
Controls ranged in value: 20, 30, 40, or 50 points depending on their difficulty.
There were many trails on the map, but we had no idea if they would be visible, given the amount of snow in the area. It made pre-race planning a little tough. We knew that the snowmobile trails would be easy to find, but we weren’t allow to run on them – we could only cross them. However, they would help us to figure out where we were.
We highlighted our tentative route on the map, including controls that we might have time for but wouldn’t know for sure until we were racing. We knew that we may turn back before hitting a couple of the controls, but we might be able to pick up a few more on our way back to the finish. It would all depend on how well we were doing, and how much time it was taking us.
This would be Anne’s first time running on snowshoes, so we went outside a few minutes early to get her set up.
I wondered if I was overdressed for the -2 or -3C weather, but only time would tell.
At 10:30 AM, the race began, with Anne and I chasing the leaders to the approved road crossing spot. Our plan was to go for controls 45, 44, 37, 132/131 (bonus), 41/42 (bonus), 31/32 (bonus), 140, potentially 33, and then 34, potential 147 and 148, then head back toward the finishing, getting 134 and others in that section of the map if we had time (this never happens).
You would think that it would be hard to get lost going to the very first control, which was just over 100m from the road, but that’s exactly what happened. We were following people, but also following our compass bearing. We reached the steep hill that I previously mentioned, but when we didn’t find the control as soon as we expected to, we stopped (along with other teams!), re-evaluated, tried to figure out if we had gone too far left or too far right, and then eventually decided to backtrack a bit and head further west. We found it!
After the first control, things got a lot better. Because many trails were not visible under the snow cover, we found ourselves using contour lines a lot to figure out where we were. It was excellent practice! Anne and I made a great team. With her super eyesight she spotted some of the controls way away – I would never have seen them that far away without her pointing them out. Oh to be 15!
We found every control we looked for, and did end up adding 33, but after 34, we realized that we would not have time to get 147 and 148, so we headed back for the permitted road crossing spot, running in the woods parallel to the road (we weren’t supposed to run along the road) until we were able to cross over. Anne was getting tired, and needed to take more and more walking breaks. My legs were tired from the 6.7k snowshoe race I had done the day before. Running on snowshoes is exhausting! We did pick up 2 more controls on our way back, both relatively easy to find. By this point in the race, other racers has beaten down tracks to the control, so once we were pointed in the right direction, it was pretty easy to just follow the tracks and find the control! We hit the finish line after 2:32:44, receiving a penalty of -30 points for being late.
We were treated to a yummy box of pizza per team, plus cold drinks, cookies, and hot chocolate.
Anne and I were both surprised to hear that we had placed 2nd out of 7 female teams!
I had a great time racing and will definitely be back! Thanks Stars!
Points: 550 (after losing 30 for being almost 3 minutes late)
When I set out for the Erindale Campus of the University of Toronto for an O-Cup race, I had no idea that I may head for home potentially needing a haircut!
This race, hosted by the Toronto Orienteering Club, was the 3rd of 6 O-Cup races for 2017-2018 under the umbrella of the Orienteering Ontario Association.
O-Cup races are organized such that everyone starts at the same time, uses the same map, and searches for the same mandatory controls, but depending on your age, you have the option of skipping 1 or more of the optional controls. For example, women 35-44 have a handicap of 3, meaning that of the 7 optional controls in a box set out on the map (not a box in real life!), I could skip 3 of them. In other words, I had to find 4 of them – any 4 of my choice.
At this race, there were actually 2 boxes, the first with controls A to G, and the second with controls a to g. I got to skip 3 controls in each of the 2 boxes, but if I skipped “A” in the first box, I didn’t have to skip “a” in the second box. You can see the handicap system here.
It was a gorgeous day for a run – a high of +4C and lots of sun, with just a little snow on the ground.
With about 10 minutes to go before the race start, we were given the maps, and were able to plan our routes. The race would start with the 1st box, so right away, people started running in multiple directions, since we didn’t all have to find the same controls, and could do these in any order. I decided to head for the bridge across the creek first, figuring that it would be easy to find. The navigation itself wasn’t hard, but actually getting there was a little dicey! We had to descend a steep, icy slope. I decided to slide down the steepest part on my backside! By the time I reached the bottom, my gloved hands were covered in burrs. I didn’t bother trying to get them off, because I would have had to take my gloves off to do so, and I was wearing a compass on my left thumb and my SI (timing) stick on my right middle finger.
I quickly found control C, and then headed for D, which wasn’t too far away. It was during this section that I realized I wasn’t able to turn my head! My ponytail was a mass of burrs, and was stuck to my running jacket! I showed another racer as he ran by, and he told me that he had scissors in his pocket! Ha! From then on I had to lift my ponytail off my coat when it got stuck.
After finding D, I crossed the bridge again, figuring it would be easy to hug the shore to find B, and then A. It was – and no compass required.
Next, everyone had to find controls 1 to 7. This section was urban orienteering – controls were close to buildings, and were easy to find. Suffering from a cold, I was rather lacking in the cardio department – running was harder than usual!
After control 7, we entered the 2nd box. I didn’t have a firm plan for this section, other than aiming to find the easiest controls possible! I decided to start with b, and saw a deer running across a field in the process. Next I climbed down a steep hill to find a, cleverly hidden so that you couldn’t see it until you got quite close. At this point, I decided to do c because it wasn’t too far away, and the contour lines weren’t very close together, meaning that the hill I had to climb wouldn’t be too steep! This was the only point in the race where I actually used my compass. I re-climbed the hill to a, and ran along a path and roadway until I cut behind a building and easily found g.
From there, I had to find 8, which I had seen earlier but completely forgot about – it would have been faster to find the second time had I remembered exactly where I had seen it! Control 9 is the only one that gave me trouble. I overshot it, and had to backtrack. Almost as soon as I left 9 I could see 10, so that one was probably the easiest to find! From there it was a “sprint” to the finish line. I felt like I was running quickly (based only on my cardio… or lack thereof) but I’m sure I wasn’t going very fast at all! I reached the finish in 58:07, covering around 6.7 km.