Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Orienteering in Spain

For the past month and for the next two, I am taking part in an educational exchange to Oviedo, Spain. There is a lot of orienteering in Europe, so before I departed, I got in touch with a coach from here.  He said he was willing to let me tag along to a couple of races throughout the course of my stay. As orienteering starts early here (there is no snow), I got my first opportunity this last weekend.

Now, Oviedo is in the mountains that cap off the top of Spain, but the competition, which was near Valladolid, was in the typical flat-as-anything central part of Spain. The terrain was really, really different from what I was used to. In addition to the lack of contours, the trees resembled - in my opinion – umbrella trees from Africa.

A couple of the "umbrella trees" and the open forest

Because they are so tall, have very few branches and are so spaced out, I often had difficulties telling open forest apart from meadow with multiple distinct trees. I found that the map from the first day resembled a paint-spattered canvas of yellow, white and different shades of green. In addition, there were a lot of small, 30 cm high rock piles that were identified as boulders on the map. This added a pepper-shaker feel to the map with at least 400 little black triangles.

The weekend was divided into two races. The first, on the Saturday, was a relay event. The team I raced with was comprised of Jimena, a local Spanish girl running the first leg, myself as the Canadian running the second, and Nils, a boy from Germany, finishing with the third. We made quite the international team!  I managed to keep my act together for most of the race, although I lost it at times and had to bail to trails in order to relocate. I never realized how much I depend on contours. Without them, my whole orientation strategy had to change!

This is the start of the relay.  You can see one of the characteristic "boulders" in the bottom right corner.

Where are the contours?
Knowing when to leave the trail was the challenging part...

The second day was an individual race. Thankfully, there were contours! I found out that I had been registered in the elite women category, which did not lower my nervousness level. I also found out that the contours were 2.5 m contours with many of them being form-lines. My course was 5.1 km long, and had only 65 m of climb! As I started the race, I found the 1:10 000 scale to be much faster than I was used to. The forest was so open that it took very little time to cover a larger distance.

The finish shoot.  Even for the smaller races, they have a huge blow-up finish gate!

They had an ambulance drive all the way to the finish.  Thankfully, it was not needed.

A couple of people finishing.

The individual race went a lot better than the relay. I enjoyed the difference in terrain, as the course took me through both an open meadow area as well as a greener area.

The long straight meadows were actually sand tracks.  Not quite the same as a well packed trail.

The bridge crossing was a path cut through the dark green to allow for passage.  A photographer was on hand to catch me land one footed in the creak and clamber up the opposite bank.
I'm really happy I got the chance to go to this competition, and I hope I will be able to go to at least one more competition before I return to Whitehorse.


  1. Wow, that's some interesting terrain! Looks like you had some solid races - nice work!

  2. Nice! You're blog post even made it on to the results page!!

  3. Hey Pia, thanks for the post and the photos. Man that looks sweet! Sounds like you're picking up some great orienteering experience and expanding your repertoire of navigational technique in that "strange" terrain.