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 :-)

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