Tuesday, December 4, 2012

(8th best) Course of the Year

I’ve always considered myself a good course setter.  I never thought I might end up designing a course that might be in the running for course of the year on World of O though.  Particularly not this year.   And yet that’s what happened when I designed a training course for a friend of mine visiting from Belgium, Yannick Michiels, on Ottawa’s fabled map the Barrens.  I was looking through some of the courses being put forward during the nomination period and discovered, to my surprise, that my training course from a month previous had been nominated. 
When it came time to vote 80+ courses had been nominated.  You could vote for your top 5.  I had a serious look at the set of courses and, being as honest as I could, placed mine in 3rd.  It helps of course that I was working in awesome terrain but I knew, based on the fact that the course already had something like 800 views on WorldofO, that my course actually some merit. 
My top 5 choices for course of the year.

My course ended up finishing 8th.  I guess that makes me a better course setter than orienteer (FootO World Ranking is 309th)!  Regardless I think the result is super cool.  Here’s some insight into my course setting process (you can find the entire course with Yannick's route here):
The Barrens is an amazing area for technical middle distance orienteering but the layout of its abundant lakes also allow for great challenging longer route choice legs.  Yannick had asked me for some middle distance type training lasting around an hour in length.  Perfect. 
I’ve raced and trained on the Barrens a good half a dozen times in since its debut at the Canadian Champs in 2010 so I know the area pretty well – something that important when course setting for training where there won’t be anything at the controls.  I felt comfortable in being able to pick out which features would be obvious enough to use as control circles just by looking at the map and I knew which areas were most interesting. 
That’s the ground work.  There’s only one real access road so that partially takes care of the start and finish variable.  I chose the same start location as for the Ottawa O-Fest 2011 long – it’s easily accessible from the road and provides a good bit of interesting technical orienteering right from the start.  For training the finish generally goes right by the start – in this case I had no reason not to so that’s what I did. 

Given the terrain I split legs into technical and route choice categories (with transport legs to get from one section of the course to another as needed) before even starting course setting. 
I wanted to start the course off with some short legs to get Yannick into the unique terrain.  At that point a route choice presented itself.  The route choice isn’t extreme but the straight route that Yannick took (probably fastest) is still somewhat technical.  The terrain around 4 opens up a bit so I can take the opportunity to set some slightly longer technical legs where it becomes tempting to go straight and speed up bit.  Dangerous though.  While tempting that is risking disaster in this terrain where it’s easy to get pushed around by the forest, end up in the wrong clearing, and spend a long time re-orienting. 
The next section of terrain shown below is among my favourite anywhere and certainly on the Barrens.  It’s fast and the features are very well defined.  With a little bit of care you can spike controls in there at full speed.  I knew from the start that I wanted to take my course in here. 

The trick here was to set a few short legs with the controls tucked on the far side of features.  I set legs 8 and 9 such that there were one or two larger features in the middle of the leg but lots of detail in the area that could be simplified out.  Change in direction was also important and I’ve set control 8 the way I did so that you come around the cliff to find it but have to go around another corner to get to 9 – you can’t just leave directly on a compass bearing. 
Leg 10 is mostly a transport leg – it’s tricky but it doesn’t emphasize route choice or technical difficulty in any particular way.  I tried in this case to provide some route choice where you can go straight without too much difficulty but you have to navigate carefully or you can head left to the long strip of field heading north west in the direction of the control and then run along then either left around the large marsh before the control at full speed along the clearings or stay right for a shorter but slower entrance.  I’m not sure it worked – I think straight was easily the faster choice.

With controls 11, 12, and the first half of 13, the primary purpose of the legs is to emphasize a unique aspect of the terrain.  The orienteering in this section is all about weaving through the terrain from open spot to open spot, around the lakes, and some of the hills and cliffs – micro route choice can make a big difference here!
Legs 14 through 16 are quite technical but their primary goal is to set up the first real route choice of the course. 
Going left I see 2 options for the first half and 2 options for the second half for a total of 4 options that way.  I see another two fairly equivalent options on the right.  I haven’t run this particular leg and have no idea which would be the fastest.  What would you do?
The next few legs are more transport legs (again difficult in their own right) to get to the more open east side of the map and to set up the next and final route choice.  In hindsight, I could have made one of those much better. 
Here is leg 20 as it was initially:

It’s pretty obvious you go left pick you’re through the little lakes.  With a bit of a revision it could be a very difficult route choice.  Here’s a new version of it:

Here are the last few controls. 

I have never actually visited the particular feature at control 21 but it’s nice forest around there and the feature is unique in that it’s mapped in grey instead of in yellow even though a lot of the rest of the yellow is mostly open rock so I wanted to take Yannick to it.  It’s also a great starting point to a classic left / right route choice.  Because of the layout of the route it becomes very tempting to take the right route choice heading out of control 21 because you’re closer to the line on the first half of the leg. 
I think the following route (dashed purple) is best though because it takes you through a series of long fields connected by white woods along a giant handrail that is nearly impossible to screw up.  The first bit of the leg takes you over ground you’ve already travelled and the last bit is the same regardless of you choose left or right. 

Everyone has a different course setting process and it can vary a lot depending on the terrain.  In this case I already knew the terrain and map quite well so I could sit down and plan this course in under an hour.  As it was training for a single person I wanted to set a good course but I wasn’t too worried about the details so that helped as well.  I didn’t pre-run any of the route choice legs to find out which was the fastest which I probably would have if it was for a major event but again, knowing the terrain, I could still set good long legs based on the map along.  Sure it could have been optimized but so what?  That wasn’t the purpose here.


  1. I found this really interesting. I do remember the map quite well! Thank you.