Sunday, March 30, 2008

Courses for the April 13 event in North Umstead

Two days ago I received a confirmation from the park management that Umstead North is OK for the April 13 event. Moreover, they told us that we will be able to use a small shelter there for registration and start, which is very nice.

I designed the courses yesterday and after a few minor corrections from Tanya and Joseph, the courses went to the park management for review. If everything goes smoothly here are the parameters:

  • White 1.8 KM, 9 controls
  • Yellow 2.8 KM, 11 controls
  • Orange 3.5 KM, 12 controls
  • Brown 4.4 KM 12 controls
  • Green 5.5 KM 14 controls
  • Red 7.3 KM, 17 controls

Runners will be able to choose between Brown, Green and Red around the middle of the course.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Sprints at Crab Tree Lake

In short summary: excellent courses, great day, new forest, it is so nice to be able to run sprints from time to time! No long legs :-)

Tanya and I arrived at 11.30 hoping to start earlier as Tanya was required at Raleigh Little Theater for 3 PM play (meaning she had to be there by 2 PM). By the way, if you haven't been in this theater before, I would highly recommend it - the plays they stage there are always very good. It is cheap too, comparing to big ticket arenas and stages.

Fortunately for us, Terese, Ken and Josef were already there and ready. So we went right ahead. Tanya took the east course while I started the west one. How did it go? I think pretty good for myself, though, I made a few mistakes and looking back could probably have saved about 60-90 seconds. It's funny how I consider 15 seconds delays to be mistakes on this course while on regular courses 2-3 minutes long walks are totally acceptable. Sprint - what can I say!

One important decision I made before the start was to ignore the trails on both courses. Similar to Schenck Forest bike trails, trails at the Crab Tree Lake park are also multiple, confusing and NOT straight. So during the courses I was ignoring the trails as much as I could and used compass and elevation contours instead.

West Course

I was totally alone out there.
1. #51 (1:15). Pretty much a straight shot, I used the second parking lot as an attack point.
2. #52 (1:47). Again straight run, counting re-entrances (one, two, in the third). I liked how I could run straight there and at the same time cross re-entrances in their top parts. This way no elevation is lost, which is very important when physical condition is not that good.
3. #53 (1:25). Compass bearing and counting re-entrances, easy.
4. #54 (2:00). Minor mistake, as I went down the hill a little bit early. Lost 5 seconds :-)
5. #55 (1:59). Initially I was going to run along the creek, but crossing it by the control wasn't looking very inviting to me, so I took advantage of the trail there. Probably, not the optimal way to go... Lost another 5 seconds, maybe.
6. #56 (0:50). Compass bearing over the hill. Ideal.
7. #57 (0:39). Hmm, stepped up and looked around :-)
8. #58 (2:46). Got confused by the terrain and lost time (30 seconds). If you look at the #58 from #57 it appears that #58 is on a hill, while it is NOT! Looking from other side, you can see that it is in a re-entrant. I think the map is really confusing there.
9. #59 (2:58). Lost another 30 seconds. Don't have an excuse this time. My tired brains decided that the control must be invisible from the trail (LOL), so I went into the forest 30 yards before the control and had to navigate through underbrush and fallen trees only to return back to the trail with the control right by. While I was beating bushes I also saw someone running there, got surprised as I was supposed to be the only one on the course, but then saw two beautiful deers running toward the control. I wish I could jump over the trees like they did...
10. #60 (1:23). Trail.
11. #61 (1:15). Road and parking lot. Thankfully, no thinking was required on the last few legs.
And finish in 0:43 for a total of 19:00.

(click on the picture to see it all)

After half an hour of rest, I was ready for the second course. I thought it will be longer, but I was proved to be wrong, the East course was easier for me with just one 30 seconds mistake.

East Course

1. #62 (1:03). Trail and parking lot.
2. #63 (1:49). Compass bearing and trail.
3. #64 (1:50). Again compass bearing, I was also looking at the shape of the hill, which helped.
4. #65 (0:56) Compass bearing, keeping an eye on my elevation.
5. #66 (1:20) The same. Both controls were visible from far away.
6. #67 (1:01) Took advantage of the western trail, again, avoiding any extra steps up.
7. #68 (1:51) Compass bearing, re-entrance, hill, control.
8. #69 (1:07) Went down and used the trail.
9. #70 (1:00) Along the creek, nothing to add.
10. #40 (1:27) Compass bearing, over the tip of the hill, into re-entrant and up another hill. Was kind of slow coming up there...
11. #41 (2.39) My 30 seconds mistake... As usual, my tired brains decided that I hadn't had enough distance, so they decided to take control #1 instead #11. Yeah... I recognized the error when I hit the road and "corrected" it by running toward the NUMBER 11 on the map instead of the control #11... Well, I successfully took the NUMBER 11 and only then understood that I am supposed to chase CIRCLES, not NUMBERS!
And then finish in 0:29 for a total time of 16:32.

All in all I was pretty happy with the results.

I drove Tanya to the theater and there we remembered that we forgot our jackets in the park, so instead of going home, I went back to the park and helped with the controls pick up. It was a pleasure to sit at the finish and chat with fellow runners. I should try and stay after the finish more often.

(click on the picture to see it all)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Biking Trails in Schenck Forest. Comparison

Joseph sent me a picture of the north-west part of Schenck Forest mapped by Josef Trzicky, so I could compare how I mapped it with Josef's version. While, it is a pity, that we did double work there, I am still glad, because now I can see what I missed and where I should improve.

The trails themselves turned out to be mapped almost identical. The only big difference between two versions is shown on the image below. I will come there next time and doublecheck. But the amount of small details (trees, knolls etc.) and additional corrections Josef did is amazing. I do have a long way to go.

(click on the picture to see it all)

Monday, March 17, 2008

Idea for a new Training Event format

I have this crazy idea for making a "treasure hunt" Score-O event. I think it would be very fun to do, but, please, comment. Maybe it is too crazy :)

Here is the idea.
1. The event is a Score-O, meaning there is a time limit, penalties for being late and points are rewarded for each control taken.
2. But only 5 controls are shown on the map! And there are 4 long legs between these 5 controls. (see the picture 1 below)
3. All other controls are set along these long legs, but not quite!
4. There are exactly five extra controls on every leg (see the picture 2 below), so if a runner found all five, he/she would know that this leg is fully taken.
5. I think that mass start should work best for such event, but it is OK to start separately as well.

During such event runners will have to make guesses where those extra controls are, look for other runners around, remember where they are at any given moment and manage their time closely. Plus it will be fun to see the full map at the finish and see where were all hidden controls.

P.S. If 4 legs are too much, it can be scaled down to 4 main controls and 3 long legs.

What do you think?

Picture 1. Every runner gets this map (click to enlarge).

Picture 2. Map with hidden controls, shown at the finish.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Thank you for reading!

One thing I forgot to mention in my report is that several people approached me during the event saying that they saw and liked this blog. It was very encouraging and I thank you for reading it! I'll try to keep it up.

March 16 event at Umstead Park, Camp Lapihio

It was a great day for orienteering! Not too cold, not too hot, no rain and clear forest!

But, unfortunately for me, the course (green) was set in a way I always struggle with. And I struggled again. One distinct weakness in my orienteering is inability to perform good on courses with multiple consecutive long legs. I can handle two long legs in a row, but the third one usually kills me. I am getting very tired and starting to make poor decisions. And because the legs are long, every mistake is very costly. Long legs do not allow me to make corrections quickly and often lead to a lot of extra time and distance.

So, yeah. Today's green course had five (!!!) consecutive long legs, starting from the second control.

OK, here is how it went. The first control (#71) was easy, though I made an extra curve (don't ask me why, I have no idea how it happened). Then long legs started. I took the second control (#72) OK by going south to the trail, following the trail and making another shortcut to the south from there. But I felt "the long leg effect" even then: when I came to the area where the control was I didn't notice it and went west looking for it, while it was literally a few meters away from me. Such things happen to me quite often when I am tired, I wasn't very surprised.

There was another plausible route to that control: down the creek and up the river before making for the trail. But I remembered this creek from the training event and there were some nasty fallen trees, so I went other way this time. I think both ways are fine.

The next one (#74) I took nicely, avoiding a bunch of deep re-entrances by using the paved road. Then came #40. After a quick look at the map I immediately decided that I shouldn't go straight and need to use the paved road again. Though it was definitely longer, by taking the road I would stay almost on the same elevation. Plus it was the third long leg and I wanted to do it using a simple "non-thinking" way. The control would have to be further south to make me run straight to it. Anyway, my strategy worked, the result wasn't as clean as it could be, but it was OK. While running on the paved road I also made on the spur of the moment decision to use the power line shortcut, which turned out to be a good one.

Initially I wasn't going to use the power line and let me tell you why. The reason is that I am afraid of running there. Actually, I think, it is plain dangerous. A few years ago they cut bushes under the power line and left 10-30 centimeter long stumps over there. These bush stumps are low and sharp. It is OK to walk there, but if a runner trips and falls a serious injury may occur with a big probability. Seriously, I think, that we should take this into account while setting courses and make sure the controls are set in a way that there is no incentive whatsoever to use the power line in this area of the park.

But today, I did use the power line, it looked a bit clearer from the road than I remembered. But still it was very uncomfortable to run there, so I entered the forest earlier than I initially wanted.

After three long legs I arrived on my forth control (#40) totally exhausted and then made my biggest mistake of the day. Actually it was a double mistake:
-- firstly I took a wrong compass bearing leaving the control and ended up hitting the road further east that I thought
-- secondly I didn't correct my first mistake by running till the road curve
As a result I entered the forest two (!!!) re-entrances off. Ouch. I think I even went off the map for a while... I recognized that I was by the wrong re-entrant quite soon, but I couldn't imagine that I was two re-entrants off, not just one. So I went north one step and was still in the wrong area. So I was standing there, thinking where am I for a minute or two and decided that I just don't know. I ran south-west, hit the road again and this time took the control (#43) properly.

Needless to say, these extra legs didn't give me additional strength. The rest of the course I was half walking. But at the same time the course from that point on became a kind of "survival" adventure: two river crossings and a mountain...

Controls #46, 47 and 48 were very easy, but to get there... I went down to the river and there were no trees across it. I called out a hiker from the other shore if he saw any trees, he said no, so I crossed the river right there. It was knee deep. Then there was the mountain. I should have probably had strength left to run up the slope, but I hadn't and ended up slooowly walking up. I met Ruth at the control (#46). Nothing much to say about #47 - just two re-entrances away, easy find. #48 was also easy - hit the trail north-north-west, followed the trail a bit and then made a shortcut.

And finally, another river crossing to get to the finish! Awesome :-)

Here is my route (click on the image to see the full course). Blue are legs where I mostly ran, Greenish are legs where I mostly walked.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

My first orienteering event

I was 17 when my older brother introduced me to orienteering. But I wouldn't say it was a gentle and smooth introduction. Far from it. But, hey, that's what older brothers for, right? Here is the story.

In 1990 I finished high school and got accepted into the Belorussian State University. One of the mandatory courses there was 'normal' physical education. Gym, swimming pool etc. Boring stuff. So, many students were choosing to participate in specific athlete programs instead. Orienteering was one of them, my brother was already a member and, naturally, he advised me to join. I signed up, thinking that I'll get some amount of initial training, only to discover that the whole orienteering team consisted of 5 students and our first event of the year (meaning educational year) was in two days. Moreover this event was the championship between Belorussian colleges and all 5 members would have to compete. Ouch... So much for training.

The course had 15 controls and 12 kilometers with 3 hours time limit. Forest in Belarus is easier than in North Carolina, but 12 kilometers is still kind of blueish. My brother gave me a compass and explained the map ("white" is forest, "green" is more forest, if you see a control you'll recognize it - this kind of teaching). I was rightfully confused and asked how am I supposed to find all those 15 controls. Other four team members discussed it and came up with seemingly "perfect" and "sure" strategy:

I was supposed to find the first control and wait there for other runners (who would start after me). As soon as I see a runner in some kind of "cool" orienteering gear (which meant the runner is a "pro") I was supposed to follow this runner till the finish. That simple.

Fine. After 10 minutes of initial confusion I managed to find the first control and set put. Two minutes passed and here he was - the perfect target! "Cool" orienteering gear, running and jumping (later on I learned that he was indeed a high ranked runner). He took the control and I followed him. We took the second control together, then the third one. For some reason the runner wasn't happy about me following him. No, he wasn't. He was looking back frequently, cursing and increasing pace from time to time. But I was young and persistent. After the third control the runner got very agitated because of my presence, literally, he looked at me more often than he looked at the map. And we kept running. Soon we reached the next control. My involuntary guide punched his score card and next thing I knew he was shouting in anger and anguish. Apparently he was so concerned with getting rid of me, that he accidentally ran back to control #2 instead of #4... Oops. And not only he lost time, he also punched his card there, which could cause a disqualification. Cursing and shouting he ran away and I didn't dare to pursue him anymore.

The rest of the course I took alone and finished after spending 3 hours and 5 minutes in the forest. The judges at the finish were so glad to see me (as I was the last in), that they waived these extra 5 minutes and my result got counted for the team.

As you can imagine, I got hooked up to orienteering right there and right then.

P.S. And don't ask me how my legs felt in the following two days :-)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Biking trails in the Schenck Forest

If you have ever ran an advanced course in the Schenck Forest, you definitely saw them: totally confusing set of trails in the north west part of the area, not marked on the map. Well, they are now, but I can tell you, the area got even more confusing with the trails, finally, on the map. Look at the picture (1:2500 scale!!) and judge for yourself. These unnatural trails simply clatter the map and distract from other features. You can see sometime multiple other trails just a few meters away, but if you use a trail to get there, it'll take 5 minutes! These trails are not in any way a shortest way between point A and B.

Obviously bikers and runners have different understanding of a word 'trail' :-) So, my advice would be to try to IGNORE these trails when looking for controls in that area.

(click on the image to see the full picture).

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Night-O at Lake Johnson

It was probably the coldest evening this week and I think everyone felt it. All three of us (Tanya, Michael and myself) were freezing on the parking lot for quite a while. I was fortunate enough to have an extra coat, but Michael wasn't prepared at all. I ended up giving him my coat just before the start. Tanya and Michael decided to go together on the easy course, while I chose the hard one. I am not running Reds as of lately because of my knee, but Score-O was fine because of the time limit. The knee can handle up to one hour of running, so it was good. Plus I really like Night-O events and usually do good there.

Jumping ahead, I did good this time too and ended up being second, but made several costly "strategy type" mistakes. The first one was right at the start: I didn't look at the points associated with controls and simply assumed that the ones across the road are the only ones important. My strategy was very simple:
1. Take everything across the road
2. Then go along the main paved trail and pick up a few more controls as time allows.

And I did just that.
But if I had looked at the control points I would definitely take 15 pointers 55, 56 right after the start and 18 pointer 58 later on. But I didn't. Too bad...

Anyway, according to my strategy I went down to the parking lot, crossed the road and started to look for #70. I couldn't find it... It was probably the only control which wouldn't reflect the light unless you are 2 meters from it and looking right at it. Yes, it was very close to the trail, but down below the cliff. This control ended up being really bad for me (see below).
OK. I didn't find it, lost 1-2 minutes, but decided to proceed and pick it up on the way back, which was right thing to do. The rest of the controls in that area were good. I divided them into 2 clusters:
1) 72, 71, 73, 75, 74
2) 76, 79, 78, 77
Took one cluster, then another. Because of the initial flaw in the strategy, I was literally alone while taking all of those. I only saw other runners on 78 (Ken and Terese?) but that was it.
All right, after I finished these clusters I went back to my #70. And what do you think? I couldn't find it again! This time I spent 5 minutes there, running back and forth this trail section. That was my second big mistake, I should have just go and forget about #70. But I stayed and paid dearly for that. Not only I lost a lot of time there, but also when I finally found the control, I fell of that cliff and re-injured my bad knee. Ouch... No mapping today in Schenck Forest and a big question mark on the next 2 events...

After #70 I hobbled to the parking lot and stopped there deciding whether to continue or finish right there. I had 24 minutes left, but the knee was kind of loose and in moderate pain. Tried running on the parking lot and it felt OK, so I continued according to my initial plan.

48, 57, 49, 50, 59, 65... all along the main paved trail.

A funny thing happened to me at #57. This is the one which wasn't set correctly. Naturally, I didn't find it, ran by and then started to look around with my flash lite. And bingo, there was a prefect reflection 50-60 meters away. Yay, I ran there only to discover a park post with a reflecting number. LOL. I looked back and saw someone with a flash lite approximately in the area there the control should have been and ran back there. What do you think? It turned out to be Joseph resetting the control.

Anyway, at 65 I had 8 minutes left and decided to turn back toward the finish. Correctly took another route and picked up 54, 53, 52 and 46 along the way. Ended up 2 minutes late and extremely exhausted.

Tanya and Michael had already finished (they did quite good by the way). My knee was loose and hurting, so after a few minutes of rest we left for the car. Along the way we saw people helping Ruth, I am glad she ended up OK (if not counting stitches...) after that fall.

Finally, here is my route (click on it to see the full picture).

Friday, March 7, 2008

Mapping in the Schenck Forest

Completed the south part of the map. A lot of new underbrush there, so beware! On a bright side the very south tip of the map became runnable. Difficult, but definitely runnable - new place for an advanced control right there.

Here is the old map:

And the same area after the refresh:

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Crab Tree Lake Event is coming !!!

I knew that new map was ready, but I had no idea Josef was going to do the event there that soon. What a pleasant surprise! March 23 - sprints at Crab Tree Lake. I am really looking forward to it. Not being a fast runner, I still think it will be a lot of fun, especially with possibility to run twice and discuss the course with others between the runs.

On a sad side, it looks like I got some kind of nasty infection in my abdomen and may have to walk the March 8 Night orienteering course instead of running it. That would be a pity. I usually do very well on the night course... Hopefully, the antibiotics will start working by then, but I am, as they say, cautiously pessimistic about it...

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Plans and Goals for 2008

Tanya (my wife) and I signed up for organizing three BOK events this year: one training and two regular meets. The training event was in January, so it is in the past now. Two regular meets are obviously on our to do list and are my main goals for this year. But there are a few more.

Here is the full list:
1. Organize April 13 BOK event (Umstead North).
2. Organize October 19 BOK event (Umstead).
3. Complete Schenck Forest map refresh I started in 2007 by May. I am 70% done there, but it is going to take 4-5 more days to finish. Josef Trzicky told me that he also updated that map last year, so it looks like we did the same work twice... But, anyway, this is my first map and I'd like to finish it. It would be interesting to compare with Josef's one later one and see where I messed up :-)
4. Do some map refreshing in Umstead or at Lake Johnson in the autumn.

I guess, that's it for now.

Monday, March 3, 2008

What is it about?

Well, quite simple. In this blog I will share my Orienteering experiences, observations and tips. If you don't know what Orienteering is here is a formal definition from BOK (Backwoods Orienteering Klub) web site:

Orienteering is a sport which involves the mind and body. It can be an individual sport, or shared with your friends or family. With the aid of a map and compass you find your way on foot across the countryside from check point to check point. Your imagination and skills help you to choose the best route. You set your own pace in orienteering. It can either be a casual hike through the woods with the added fun of using an excellent map to find the controls, or a competitive race of navigational skill, quick decisions and physical speed. The course has orange and white markers called controls at the check point locations designated on your map. You visit each control and verify that you were there by perforating your map with a coded punch hanging from the control. After visiting all the controls on your course you proceed to the finish and check in.

Essentially it all boils down to you being along in the wood with a map and compass, trying to find the best (shortest and quickest) route from one control to another.

I love this sport, have been doing it for 17 years and hope to be able to keep doing it even when I am old. I started to compete while in a university back in Belarus, never stopped and was very fortunate to find an orienteering club (yes, BOK) in the Raleigh area. In the last year or so I also started to do a little bit more for the club including organizing events and some mapping. It opened a whole new dimension to my Orienteering life and I will be writing about it here as well. So, we'll see how it goes.