Monday, November 25, 2013

Cymru (Wales)

Perhaps the reason that I love orienteering so much is the fact that people all over the world, regardless of where you are, are ready to welcome you the second you utter the word orienteering (just as long as they themselves are orienteers!).  I have found the orienteering community here in Wales just as welcoming and interested in helping me as an orienteer as the orienteers in Norway.  I most definitely would not be half as confident and determined an orienteer as I am now without the help of the Norwegians, and I hope that I can continue to improve here in Wales.

My introduction to Welsh orienteering started on a Sunday quite some time ago (the 22nd of October to be precise).  As those who have run in Welsh terrain before will know, the worst enemy of the orienteer in the United Kingdom is a plant known as the bramble.  I encountered this prickly species for the first time, and promptly got stuck in it for a good 10 minutes.  Up until that point, I had been having an excellent race.  I felt in control of where I was, and I was running at a fairly good pace.  I figured: it’s only a couple meters…what could go wrong?  As it turns out, what could go wrong is that you could sit, suspended in mid-air, and the brambles could hold you up.  10 min later, I was free, covered in scratches, had new rips in my clothes and was a lot warier.  I was promised that this first map was one of the worst in Wales in terms of undergrowth.  I remained skeptical until my next race.

The wall of brambles was found going to number 5 -
I missed the little path...

The next series of races I was introduced to were not in Wales, but rather near Bournemouth in southern England.  Saturday morning found me getting up bright and early and meeting up with an orienteering family who lives not far away and had agreed to pick me up.  I met them at 7:50 – after having reluctantly pulled myself out of bed – and we were off!  As we were driving the four hours to southern England, I studied the map and found a town called Canada!  We arrived with about an hour to spare, during which time we set up the team tent and readied ourselves for the race.  I also got introduced to a plethora of friendly Welsh orienteerers, putting my weak ability to recall names to the test.

This series of races were part of the Junior Inter-Regional Championships, or JIRKs.  I had 7.3 km to run, and was getting relatively nervous, but was soaking in the atmosphere.   I found the first race enjoyable, and I thought it went well…until I hit that deadly control.  I must have run within 40 m of the control, but ended up circling around and around until I finally spotted it.  To be fair, it was on a bit of a tricky feature.  It was incredible to be back in the woods and to run like the wind.  At times, I felt like falling over on the hills, but then I would hit a control bang on, and my energy would come right up.  In fact, I would say that this was perhaps the race that I remained the most focused yet.  About halfway through, a girl I didn't know but who was on the same course as me, caught up to me.  I was determined not to let her beat me to the finish, and I kept to that.  Sometimes, we would go different ways to the controls, but we almost always arrived at the same time.  As we came to the spectator control and the last loop, I put on a bit more speed and left her behind.  Admittedly, she also messed up on one of the controls.  I finished the race in high spirits, and was very pleased to find out that the girl I had been running with is one of the top girls in England for her age!  Mightily pleased that I had managed to keep up with her, I was even happier when, upon downloading, I found myself in 3rd place out of the 10 girls who had come in, and that I was only 4 min behind the leader.  I also knew where those 4 min had disappeared: where I had gotten lost.  Not bad, I thought!  In the end, I came in 8th (or rather, tied for 8th) and I was 15 min behind the leader.  However, I was still incredibly pleased with my race as a whole, especially as I had not orienteered in the last month and a half.  I was also overjoyed when one of the other Welsh W-18 came in third!

Sunday brought on the challenge of the relay.  The relay teams were composed of a 14, 16 and 18 year old, with the 16 year old running first, the 14 year old second and the 18 last.  This time, the forest was an open section, with a few marshes and a few wooded sections.  I was on the second Welsh team, as one of the other 18 year olds had beaten me the day before.  My 16 year old came in ok.  She had had a few problems, but for the most part had been solid and had not had many mistakes.  I started to warm up and then headed into the quarantine area, where I got my map (but I was not allowed to look at it, as it was sealed with a sticker.   You broke the sticker before you began running).  There were no 3rd runners out at this point, and when the first two 14 year olds can into the exchange area, both of them Scottish, we all groaned.  However, approximately 20 sec. later, Welsh’s first team’s second runner came sprinting in and handed off to the last runner!  We all were pretty confident that the Scotts would be caught, but I didn't have time to worry about that because my second runner was running up the finish shoot!

I started off just after a girl from the South-East of England, and we ran together for a few controls until we caught a bigger group of girls running the same course.  We all ran together from then on, but I lost them as I made a mistake, and they all didn't.  It is unfortunate, and I had really been looking forward to sprinting up the shoot with them, but alas, it was not to be.  I recovered; I caught the girl from South-East again as well as a boy wearing a neon yellow t-shirt.  Towards the last few controls, I started to pull ahead again and by the time I was coming down the finish shoot, I was alone.

I really enjoyed the course.  The open terrain made for high visibility, which I took full advantage of, but many of the controls we stuck in pits which were not visible until you were right on top of them.  I also found the transition between forests and open a challenge to keep in mind and to move between. 
The visibility was incredible!

We ran in to 12th, and the 1st Welsh team ran into 1st!  We were all extremely happy!  The other great outcome was that, for the second time in history, Wales came in fourth overall as a region!  Most of the time they come in 6th or 7th, so we cheered the loudest of any team.  The organizer even proposed – jokingly – that a trophy be awarded for the team which makes the most noise.  We would surely have won!

The most recent of my orienteering races in Wales brought me to northern Wales.  I love that orienteering in Wales is allowing me to get to know Wales more than I ever would be able to were I not an orienteer.  For this race, Mark, the Welsh coach, picked me up Friday evening and we drove up the coast to Aberystwyth and stayed the night at some orienteeres’s house.  In the morning, we ate a quick breakfast and then headed off to the northernmost corner of Wales, which is, in fact, an island.  Saturday’s event consisted of two races: one in the morning and one in the afternoon.  The morning determined your start for the afternoon.  If you were 10 min behind the leader, you started 10 min behind them in the afternoon.  The goal was to then catch them.  The winner was the first one across the line.  I had an absolutely terrible race in the morning.  I was insecure in the scale of the map (1:5000), and there was so much detail.  I kept running past my controls and then had to turn back just in time to get even more lost and confused by all the contours and terrain that looked so very similar.  Needless to say, I was in no position to win in the afternoon, and so decided to treat it like a brand new race, and while it would be fun to pass people, I was not going to make that my goal.  I was happy when I crossed the finish line.  The race had been loads better than the morning, and I had come up quite a bit in the rankings.  I only had biggish troubles with one of the controls (a series of depression in a patch of green…) although I was not the only one who got a bit turned around.

Sunday morning we woke to the sound of the younger kids singing at the top of their voices, slightly out of tune.  After the seemingly traditional English/Welsh breakfast of porridge, we cleaned the hall.  Then we checked the start times.  I found that my time was actually 11:00, as opposed to 12:00 as I had previously believed.  We got to the area in time for me to have a quick warm up before starting.  I was unsure about this race, as the area was supposedly even trickier than Saturday and it was yet again another scale.  The first control, however, went well, and I started to gain confidence.  As the course flew by, I felt really good.  I was hitting every control bang on, and although my speed might have been leaving a bit to be desired, I was completely concentrated on my course and where I was.  I was even finding it pretty easy to ignore other runners!  Unfortunately, my great race couldn't last forever.  As I was running to my 9th control, I looked at the number: 189.  I then came up over the rise, saw a small depression, and there was a control!  The number was 119.  I was really disappointed, and a bit stressed, but realized that I may have run a bit to the left, and so headed off…and got thoroughly confused.  There was simply no other control.  I checked the number for the 9th control again.  It was 119. 

This was amazing to run on - so much detail!
My next 3 controls were not perfect.  I was running, distracted, thinking about the time I had lost by not trusting myself, and not about where I was running.  I lost time.  I managed to pull myself back together, although not in time to win any medals, but I ended fairly happy with my race and my placing.

I can’t wait for the orienteering season to start up again in the spring: it promises to be brilliant!