Tuesday, March 9, 2010

12 - Gilpin Park - Brunswick

A busy workload and a long weekend has meant a delay in posting this week's report, but here it is at last.

Tonight’s course in Brunswick featured flat terrain, but a number of major roads and a train line to negotiate. Plenty of laneways dotted the course, but these were paved with cobblestones that made it hard to gain any rhythm. The weather was humid and threatening with rain, but I was sure it would hold off. I was right, no rain tonight, and not too hot.

I quickly scouted for the best route that covered 11 controls. Heading east from the beginning and heading in an anti-clockwise direction meant there would be a number of ways I could finish the course and still be close to the finish. I headed to #14 and then decided not to cross the railway to get #8, but instead continue north to get 18 –13. As some of the controls to the south of the map were well out of the way, this meant I needed to collect all of the northern section. Had I picked up #8, I could easily have skipped one and not have to wind my way up and down streets to collect 3 – 17 – 7 – 12. I probably would have avoided #7 this way.

Heading in towards the final, I still needed 4 controls so had to decide between #5 (across a major road & tram tracks) and #9 (heading away from the finish and having to backtrack to the end). I chose #9 because I already had to finish with #6.

I walked very little of the way, but still thought a few had beaten me back in the C-course. As it turned out, I had come second only to a runner who hadn’t raced on a Thursday before and so bridged the gap in the overall standings to hold a share of the lead. I don’t know how far behind the leader I finished, but there were a number of ways I could have shortened my route and they all stem from decisions I made early in the run.

Based on the blank map at the start, I had decided to head north from the park and then east along Victoria Street. I knew this would give me options as I looked for ways to finish the course.. Seeing the control locations convinced me to head east immediately to get #14. What I should have done is head south to #6 and get 6 – 19 – 14 – 8 before continuing with my original route. I’d have to ignore the fact I was crossing the railway 4 times, but with those being so close, I could get momentum in my run going, while being able to avoid winding my way around to get #3 & #7. It would also have provided an easy finish route directly from #15.


So, I guess I need to take more time to plan the beginning of my route. For the second week in succession, I have had to go out of my way more by getting a particular control at the end rather than at the start. I will try to take more time on the map when I first receive it. There is a very fine balance, though, between studying the map at the beginning and moving forward on the run. You can’t take too much time before actually biting the bullet and heading out towards the first control.

In other news, I’ve been learning about overlay in Google Earth. I’ve managed to overly the scanned map from the event directly onto the map, this making it easier to plot my own route around the course. Things don’t always line up (I probably haven’t got complete hang of the function) so the path seems out of alignment when the overlay is hidden, but it looks good, particularly with all maps overlayed into Google Earth.

At the end of the season, I will try to publish a file that you can download and see the locations of all maps from the season.

The next event is definitely on home ground based around my kids’ school in Eltham North. I know that some parts of the expected course have particularly steep inclines so I’ll be aiming to stay to one half of the map. Hopefully, controls are located in friendly positions to enable this to happen.

Friday, February 26, 2010

11. Warralong - Yallambie

The most notable point about this map is the lack of river crossing at the south end. There were only 3 controls on the eastern side, but I thought they were worth getting first and then worrying about coming back home along the west side.

I started off the run very flat. I had trouble deciding whether to get the slightly out of the way #1 first before heading over the river, and decided not to. Then I lost track of my location heading through the thick vegetation towards #8. Then a lonely run heading north towards 20 -- 12. Trying to work out which 8 controls to get on the way home, I just couldn't seem to find a good route. Controls 4 -- 16 -- 7 -- 2 were too tempting being along the river in relatively flat conditions, but in order to get the other 4 controls, I would have to head up to the road and back in between.

I didn't want to venture too far into the streets as I wanted to avoid as much uphill section as possible, so after #16, headed up to #15 before heading back to the river and 7 -- 2. That left 3 controls to get and I still tossed up which ones to get. At this point I was practically back to the start and having to find a small loop.

I considered 6 -- 17 -- 1 but went instead for 13 -- 6 -- 1. At this point each of the 3 remaining controls required a degree of double-backing, which wasn't ideal. I also wished I had taken #1 at the start so I could finish directly from #6. This would've saved me about 400m as it turns out.

I have since noticed the two bridges directly south & north of # 16 that may have saved some distance and enable me to get an extra control on the leg heading north. However, the route to get there from #20 is a bit of a detour as it is, so I was probably right to take the long way to #12. My route took in a total of 6.5km and 50 minutes, a slightly slower effort than recent runs.

I certainly didn't run as well as I have in recent weeks, mostly because I wasn't confident with my route choice. Results for the event aren't available yet, probably due to the absence of the organiser all week, but I certainly don't think I was near the top of competitors for C-course.

I expect the Brunswick course to be quite flat next week, although it looks like there are more cut-through reserves than last week's Fairfield map.

Friday, February 19, 2010

10. Westgarth - Fairfield

A flat course and accomodating weather was a nice change from recent weeks.  The course offered more busy roads than normal - usually there's no more than one major road, most have none. The Westgarth map is set in a fairly built up area and the start/finish area was located right at the train station. There would need to be some decisions about how to cross the railway line also. There were 6 crossings in total, but really only 4 in play, one of which was a pedestrian overpass at the station.

At first, the route seemed quite simple. I decided to cross the track immediately and head to the north-east part of the course. There were 4 controls there and I could get them all in a nice loop heading down towards the track again. After I did, I worked out the rest of the route to take in 7 more controls. They very much jumped out at me. It was quite obvious which controls to get, so it was just a matter of concentrating on running. In order to avoid crossing across the track and back another time, I would need to get 7 -- 19, but they didn't lead well into the finish, so the pair of 20 -- 2 was the best option.

The flat course help me run pretty much the whole way, with a couple of stops to regain bearings and plan the next section, but I can see improvement in my stamina. Looking at the map now, I can see I could've possibly done #2 at the beginning and finished with 20, but I'm not sure it would've made much difference. I finished 3rd for the C-course, but at least 3 minutes behind the first two runners.

Looking at the map, route selection didn't seem to be an issue for any of the courses, with clear options for everyone. I do appreciate the effort the course-setters go to in planning each event and it's clearly not an easy job all the time. Maybe combined with the flat terrain, this made the event not one of the most challenging one, but still, everyone still has the chance to make it as competitive as they like.

Yallambie next week. There's bound to be more off-road running with the proximity to Plenty River. And only a month of events to finish up the summer series.

9. Eley Park - Blackburn South

A score event tonight and I wanted us to walk for longer than the 40 minutes limit set for the E-course. So I suggest we try the Power Walkers sections. That would give us an hour of walking where we could get probably 6 controls rather than just 3-4 that the shorter format would offer. That was received well. There was about 200 competitors tonight, so by the time all the runners left, we'd been waiting around a while.

Of course, with a Score event, we're looking for the higher numbered controls to get. We started with a plan to take in the area directly north & east of the start/finish. That would take in 1 -- 20 -- 14 -- 19 -- 13 -- 6. By the time we'd crossed into #20 in the school, I thought we may not make it back in time if we headed out to #14 at this point. So I suggested heading west towards 15 -- 18 -- 12. That way, there was more chance to see whether we could get one more on the way home based on the time. Ideally, we could take the detour to #17, but #8 was a final option also.

By the time we got down to the road heading home, we debated whether it was worth getting #17 based on how many points we'd gain vs potentially losing points for being late. We decided to get #8 instead, which was a shorter detour. I left the decision to Scott as to whether we make the detour or not. We probably would've returned within the time limit had we headed straight home, but he decided to do the extra walk anyway. He figured we'd only be a couple of minutes late and we were enjoying the walk, so he was happy with losing the point. It turned out to be 5 minutes late, but he wasn't concerned.

In hindsight, we probably should've taken our initial route heading east, and be back in time. I'll try to give Scott more autonomy in the decision making process and try to act as a chaperone more.

During the course, we were asked no less than 3 times by locals what everyone was doing running around with maps. So three times, I was able to explain a little about Street Orienteering and that it runs 4 nights per week. I was eager to continue walking, but I probably could've kept 'selling' it if we weren't on a time limit. Maybe a blog in the future will include some thoughts about marketing to passsers-by at the actual event.

Friday, February 12, 2010

8. White's Corner - Doncaster

Well, that was an experience. Thunderstorms in Melbourne during the afternoon persisted throughout the evening. They stopped for brief periods, but it was hard to notice. Greensborough was light drizzle compared to the conditions tonight. Not surprisingly, a relatively small turnout of just 43, and only 5 runners doing the C-course. It also kept the streets free from annoying obstacles like non-orienteering walkers and associated animals.

From seeing the map, I decided a route starting in the south-west corner would be best as this would give me options of how to finish once I worked out the rest. It was really good to see 3 controls out there and all providing a good route heading out to the north. With only 9 controls to find, that took care of 1/3 or the course. And #12 was a logical 4th control to get.

By this point, I’m completely soaked and not able to do a thing about it. The rain came down heavier and in order to finish with 11 – 6 – 10, I had to decide which other two controls to get. I contemplated 2 – 20, but thought it best to stay clear of the park as it would be mostly off-path running and completely waterlogged. Plus the path from 20 – 4 wasn’t direct before heading home. So I headed east straight to #4 and then #17. This was probably the hilliest part of the course, having to run across contour rather than along, and by this point there were very few sightings of other runners.

It’s generally around this midway point where I begin to doubt my progress. I start to more walking, mainly on uphill sections and I don’t take out a watch so have lost track of how long I’ve been running for. At this point, I was a little annoyed at not getting #2 earlier as it meant I could skip #10 at the end. Finishing with #11 would’ve been a natural finish with it being so close and accessible, and I had to run further away to get both #6 & 10. It probably didn’t add too much distance, if any, as I would’ve had to find another one to replace #6 with. I’m always conscious of spending too much time plotting a future course and so hadn’t fully planned the final controls until it was too late. The stretch from #10 – home seemed to be longer than indicated, and although I was determined to finish this section without walking, I didn’t manage it. The run took 40 minutes, but seemed longer than normal. I ran 5.9km at a faster speed than normal. The flatter conditions obviously help there.

I was pleasantly surprised to find very few people finish before me that were running any of the courses. It could have been that the rain had sent those finishing to the protection of their cars, but I soon realised that everyone had found the conditions tough. It even took until close to 8:00 before the majority of A & B-course runners returned, so they probably found it even tougher with having to enter the park. I finished in my best position of 2nd, although there was a smaller number competing. There are a couple of competitors who could overtake me in the standings if they manage to run 6 events during the series. I'm happy with the progress so far.

Usually, there are descriptive clues to the exact location of controls. Tonight, the clues were in the form of photos. As the dots on the map are very accurate anyway, I didn’t really have a use for the photos, plus being on the back made it difficult to easily reference them anyway, particularly in the wet conditions. I know there is a lot of effort in setting the courses each week. There’s clearly a lot of skill and planning involved and so it’s easy to see the effort in the final result.

I’m hoping for condition to be more pleasant next week. The Westgarth map looks like it will be mainly streets and very little parkland or reserves. This means very little shortcuts and careful route planning.

I'd love comments on how others found the course, and the decisions they made in planning a route.

7. Studley Park - Fairfield

Another visit with my son to the Wednesday night event. The course was based around Studley Park and Yarra Bend and was pretty flat as far as the shortest course goes. I can see from the map there would be hillier sections of the course, particularly south of the Yarra if running a longer course, but conditions were good for us. There was heavy rain in Melbourne during the afternoon, but this had stopped by the start of the event.

There was a large turnout to the event, almost 200. This was inflated by the presence of a couple of school teams from Scotch and Camberwell Grammar that apparently compete occasionally.

The E-course consisted of 6 controls. We could have headed south over the Yarra and gone to the four controls there before finishing with #3 & #5. That area was steeper though and Scott wanted to cross over the Eastern Freeway (for novelty value) so we headed east to the river for #3 then north towards the freeway, picking up 5 – 13 – 19 on the way. Then under the freeway to #12, back over the freeway to finish with #1 and home. It took about an hour as his pace was quite slow, but it was an educational walk.

He got to work out whether it was worthwhile to follow paths or cut through open land, particularly when we had sports ovals to cross. He got to see a storm water outlet into the river, the underneath of the freeway, and cars travelling along the freeway from high above, things he wouldn’t normally experience. We got to see the city buildings from unique angles in great lighting conditions that wouldn’t be seen without walking around different areas of Melbourne. So from that point of view, it’s becoming of great benefit. I’m not sure whether I should submit and let him bring a camera in future as I’d like him to focus more on the navigation, but perhaps for now, I will let him take in the ‘being outdoors’ experience.

It would have been an enjoyable course to run, I think. For the 12-control C-course, the best course would probably be 5 – 13 – 19 – 12 – 14 – 17 – 4 – 18 – 8 – 10 – 15 – 1. Although I may have been hasty in the beginning and headed to #3, and then leave out #8 or #15 on the run home.

We should make the Blackburn South event next week. I was looking forward to the following week at Camelot Rise as I spent 20 years growing up around those streets and going to primary school there. Looks like we’ve got a school information night that clashes so will have to miss it this time.

Friday, February 5, 2010

6. Greensborough

Completely different conditions for running last night. Despite a hot week, it had rained for most of the day. By the start of the race, another shower had taken hold and steady rain fell. Thankfully, the temperature was not cold, so it wasn’t uncomfortable to run in. And a plasic pocket to put the map in helps it stay dry. These are provided by the organisers.

Being close to home, I anticipated the hilly conditions. With the course split in two by the Greensborough Bypass, I expected the northern section to be flatter than the southern section. I also knew I would have to take some controls over the bypass, so decided to start there to get a few close by and then work around the north. I also planned to use the run along the river as a stretch of flat tracks as I knew heading away from the river would provide climbing.

After my initial count of controls, I planned only to get #4 & #10 over the bypass and then complete all the northern section. Once I’d gotten #4, however, I noticed I could use more of the river, by heading down from there and I was easily able to work in 1 – 12 – 19 – 5 before heading to #10. As this detour was all downhill, I felt good about my progress. I did lose concentration for a short time and missed #5 while running along the street and only realised as I turned towards the overpass. I probably spent too long deciding whether to head back for it or skip it and grab an extra one on the way home. At this point, I hadn’t decided which 6 control to get in the north, so I went back along the track to get it. I ran an extra 350 metres because of it.

After getting #10 and jumping down a small cliff to get back to street level, I read the map slightly wrong and headed off the main road before heading down the right path after the round-about to #2. I was still feeling pleased with my progress as I ran along the flat track to #11, even knowing the uphill sections to come.

The climb back up to the road was close to vertical, and slippery from the rain. It seemed to go on forever and after #20, I had real trouble continuing directly up the hill towards #7. At this point, I felt I’d lost too much time to feature well in the placings.

Again, out of #7, I took a little time to regain my bearings in order to get through the school and out towards #6 & #15, which had been placed nicely together and would be my final two controls. From #15, I ran well to complete the route. I’m happy with the way I’m finishing at the moment.

The route took in 5.65km, but was by far the most hilly event to date. Again, I finished in 45 minutes but with obviously a little slower overall pace than normal.

Knowing the slopes around the course, I can’t think of a better route I could’ve run in the end. I maybe could’ve taken in #8 at the start, then instead of #20, gone back up to the road from #2 to 9 – 14 – 20 – 3 to complete the course.

It turns out I finished third in C-course. I’m surprised by this, but it indicates I’m at the right level. I’m not ready to run the 8km B-course yet, though. Perhaps by next season, I will be. Overall, I’m in first place, but only two runners have raced all four events. Once we get to the second half of the season where only the best six events are counted, I’ll probably find myself drop back to 3rd or 4th.

Next week is back to Doncaster and a much flatter course - I hope.

Friday, January 29, 2010

5. Boeing Reserve - Strathmore Heights

Note to self (1) : there are always steep sections when running near rivers.
Note to self (2) : get better at running uphill.

The hilliest course this month was set around the area north-east of Essendon Airport and around the Merri creek. And once again the temperature was in the low-20s.

I like to look at the blank map before hand to get my bearings. For some reason, I found it very difficult this week to align myself as I planned to set off running along the creek. This event was a Score event rather than the previous Scatter courses. Like the first event in Darebin Parklands, we had a set time limit (in the case of the C-course, 45 minutes) to take, while completing as many controls as we could, the higher numbered controls being worth more points.

At the start, I mapped out a suitable route comprising the southern section of the course. After seeing a good number of higher numbered controls in this section, I decided to ignore the northern section and not waste time looking for better routes there. As it is, it was probably the right decision, also considering the limited number of crossing places (4) across the creek. After seeing the control locations, I decided against running along the creek and instead take in #13 & #17 as they were high scorers. The main problem with this route is that it meant having a 100 metres section of steps at a very steep incline right at the beginning. This slowed me down to start with as my lungs were burning as I headed towards #13. Despite being relatively flat after the steps, I still needed to walk some distance to recover. After a little difficulty in locating #17 at the end of the court, I headed down towards #6 and to cross the creek again.

As I saw other runners heading in the opposite direction, I probably should have cut through the oval towards #15, rather than around it. In this case, it would have saved some of the steep climbing as I approached the control and also having to pass through a section of thick grass. I found a narrow path heading out of the reserve then meant I didn’t have to get down to the driveway and back up, then headed to the southern boundary to collect 4 – 18 – 5 – 14. By now, I think there was about 10 minutes remaining and I had to decide what to finish with. I discounted #1 which was in a closed section of the course and, of course, worth little points. I thought I may be cutting it fine getting both #9 & #12, but decided to try both anyway. After #9, I thought I’d probably just miss the deadline if I headed to #12 as well. Given it was worth 4 points and I’d get a penalty of 3 points for every minute after the deadline, I thought it was worth it. It was a little tricky to find, hidden under some small bushes, but there were a couple of other runners coming from the opposite direction who managed to locate it before I had to search too hard. And with the final sprint back to the finish, I was late by probably about 30 seconds.

There were parts of the course that cost me those few seconds – not immediately locating #17 and #12 for instance, and a shoe lace malfunction heading in to #6, and not cutting across the oval towards #15. These things are manageable though as I get more experienced.

In the end I finished 4th in terms of control points gained, and even with the 3 point penalty, did not lose any positions. I was pleased with the run overall. I do need to get better at managing uphill sections, but the route I chose was a pretty good one for the conditions. It also puts me in equal first place for the C-course, although only 2 others have competed every week. After I complete 6 events, others will catch up as only the 6 best scores count for each person.

Tonight, I ran 6.4km at a speed of 8.5km/h. An alternative course could have seen me heading out towards 12 – 16 – 7 – 11 before continuing from #13. This would eliminate the steps at the beginning, while mostly travelling along the slope. That would require finishing with #5 and leaving out #9 and possibly #4 & #14 as well. It would’ve generated a couple of extra points (more so, if I didn’t have to leave out some controls along the southern boundary). (Without leaving out #4 & #14, this course is about 300 metres longer.)

An easier course would also have seen me take in 3 – 10 – 8 along the north-west boundary, but that would mean missing out on more controls later on, and these controls were worth fewer points.

Next week is on 'home' turf as the area around the council offices/library and Apollo Parkways in Greensborough is one I'm familiar with.

Friday, January 22, 2010

4. Tunstall Junction - Doncaster East

After taking my son to an event last night, it was back to the Northern series to compete for myself. So out to Doncaster East and a pretty similar course to the others with a few reserves dotted throughout the map. Sometimes you don’t realise just how many parks and reserves are situated in these residential areas until you have to run around them. They offer great short cuts, and they helped more tonight than in previous events.

My calves had pretty much recovered from last week so I was confident of performing better and was hoping not to make time costly mistakes with my route choices. The C-course tonight gave us the chance to visit 10 controls compared to the 12 we had last week. Like the Mill Park map, we also stared near one corner of the map so there were really only 2 direction to head from the beginning – south or west. Based on the blank map at the beginning, I’d already decided to head west from the start as I knew there would be options to come into the finish if I went in an anti-clockwise direction. This turned out to be true. At the first working out of my route, I could see 3 controls to finish with (#5, #9, #19).

My original plan was to get 7 – 12 – 10 – 16 – 14 – 5 – 17 – 15 – 9 – 19.  At the start there were quite a number of runners heading towards #7. It was the only logical control to start with by heading west. At #7, I decided to leave out #12 and head to #10 as it was a more direct route and I thought #8 would be a better replacement. Now, looking at the map, I probably should have stuck to my original plan as the detour to got 7 – 12 – 10 is much less than that for 16 – 8 – 14. The road from 8 – 14 was also a hard slog being completely uphill. After #17, I decided to finish with 20 – 15 – 9 instead of 15 – 9 – 19. #19 looked a bit out of the way, although it probably turns out that #20 was just as much.

After #9, I was determined to run the remainder of the way no matter what. I did and it was painful, but I recovered quickly at the finish. It took 45 minutes. The route was 5.85 km in the end which wasn’t much over the suggested distance for the C-course.

In hindsight, there were probably a couple of better routes to take, although I’m not going to work out the exact differences in distance. After #8, I could have headed over the freeway to 1 – 4 and then back on the north side of the freeway to 6 – 18, then just up the reserve to 14 – 5 – finish. This would’ve eliminated the meandering around the east side of the course to get 17 – 20 – 15 – 9. (I've just worked out, this would save about 400 metres) Another option would be to go directly from 14 –17 and leave #5 until the end after #9. (this works out to be the same distance)The third alternative might have been to head for 18 – 6 after #8 and get #5 at the end. This would leave out the 2 controls in the middle where there was no real direct route (#14, #17). (this saves only about 40 metres).

So I’m not too unhappy with my choice and there were definitely less runners at the finish before I arrived. It turns out I was the 4th of 11 to finish the C-course. Still about 6 minutes slower than the leader. A much better performance, although only a small handful competed in this course both last week and this which makes it a little difficult to compare. My right calf didn’t cause me pain at all during the run, while my left calf only started hurting about 1/3 of the way through. My body may well be getting used to the effort its putting in. I’m comfortable with the pace I’m running, while not trying to go out too hard from the start. It’s really helping me to continue running for most of the course, bar some uphill sections.

3. Lynden Park - Camberwell

I came up with a compromise to help my son get involved in the street orienteering events. After my initial runs, I decided that I’d like to continue competing seriously in the Northern series. As my son would need supervision around the streets, I couldn’t compete at the same time.  I’d rather he be supervised by someone he knows well and we don’t have available someone every Thursday to do this.

So I looked at the Eastern series schedule on Wednesday nights and found that quite a few were not that far away. So for those we can drive to within about 30 minutes, I’ll take him and run/walk around with him.
This week’s event in Camberwell was suitable. Unlike the Northern series, they offered an E-course. It was just a 5 control course which I think was more appropriate than the power walker event. I’d like him to run if he can –this is disallowed in the power walking section – although his running was confined to only the first and last 20 metres tonight.

Once we began and we had a look at the map together, I let him decide the best way to get 5 controls. He was familiar with the symbols for the start/finish, controls, paths, parks, railway lines, crossings, buildings, etc so I didn’t need to explain these. We could safely ignore over half the map and as he decided various options, I helped him work out the routes between the controls. This helped him realise that although controls may look close by, sometimes you would need to go out of your way to get between them.

Based on the map, we decided on this order: 1 – 6 – 19 – 2 – 16. We looked at incorporating #13 or #10 somehow, but this was the route he felt was best. As we’re not really sure how to read contour lines yet, we weren’t able to work out which parts of the course were more hillier than others. I hadn’t had to worry about that yet as my first two events were almost flat courses.
We started in an uphill direction towards #1 but didn’t treat it as a race because I knew we would be the slowest of the E-course participants anyway. Had I been running at my pace, it probably would have taken around 20 minutes.  Walking, it took us 45 minutes.

Around the course, my son often said that it was fun and at the end was keen to return. So in that respect, the event was successful. I do want him to be more focussed on getting to controls and the finish line and concentrate his efforts on getting faster and running when possible, but for now, I’m happy he got involved. It will also take some time for him to be comfortable walking around unfamiliar streets and being aware of the type of intermittent traffic he needs to deal with as he crosses roads.

While resting after the finish, we looked at the map to look for better routes. We were happy with our choice but felt that going in the opposite direction from the north might have been better. This would mean getting controls 1 – 20 – 17 – 8 – 10. At home, he was keen to plot the route on Google Earth to determine the distance travelled. We didn’t work out the alternate route, but the course we completed took in 2.8km at a pace of around 3.73 km/h.

The next suitable event isn’t for about 3 weeks and by then school will have returned. Hopefully, we can fit this into his schedule suitably.

Friday, January 15, 2010

2. Redleap Reserve - Mill Park

After a week recovering from calf soreness from my debut run, I headed out to Mill Park. Another warmish evening made for comfortable running conditions. After last week’s mid-season’s novelty event, this was the first of the second series of events for the summer.

I’ve decided to run the C-course for the remainder of the season. In these normal events, that means we don’t have a time limit, but need to find a certain number of controls The winners being the first ones home. There are still 20 controls on the course so we have the choice of which ones to go for. So deciding the best route is paramount. In this instance, we had to find 12 of the controls.

Those running course B & A need to find progressively more controls. A total of about 75 competitors took to the course in the end.

Based on the blank map at the start line, I’d already decided I would end the course around the south-east corner of the map and so I could determine the best route as I exited the car park running west from the start line. A difference in this map as opposed to most future events was the absence of control descriptions and also control numbers (apart from a handful). The lack of description was not an issue, but having no numbers made it harder to keep track of the next few controls by remembering the numbers whilst also not knowing what number control I was approaching. It also posed one other problem I will explain later.

It’s also made it difficult to explain my route, so I’ve labelled the unknown controls with letters to help the explanation. As last week, I’ve marked the controls I visited in red.

As I did my initial count I worked out the best controls to get were all those east of the linear reserve where we see controls A – B – 18. As I could see these were the first three obvious controls I waited to decide the rest of the route, preferring to take it in manageable chunks. As it is, I still continued up the path a few metres after A, after immediately forgetting I wasn’t heading anywhere west of this point. By this point, I’d already discovered I hadn’t fully recovered from last week’s run and my calves were in constant pain. My lungs weren’t burning as they were last week, but I didn’t know how much I’d be able to run. As it turns out, I managed to run most of the way with a number of breaks to walk, usually as I approached a control.

After getting #18, I worked out a loop for the next section. The number of dead-end courts made it difficult to cross from one control to the other. And control D was well out of the way. It took a while, but I completed the loop ending with F before working out the plan of attack for the remainder of controls. I was still under the belief I had to reach all controls in the south-west corner to reach the quota.

As I headed out past G and down the path adjacent to Plenty Road, I counted again and found I already had 9 controls. So I’d miscounted and only needed 3 of the remaining 4 planned controls. Which would’ve been nice to know before heading to this out-of-the way control or even before the long trek earlier out to D. That loop meant an extra 700 metres running. At my pace, that’s about 5 minutes.

However, control K ended up being #6. As I went to punch the card, I noticed I’d already done it. I must have punched #9 in the wrong spot. But there was no way of knowing which one that was. I punched this one just below the correct square., but didn’t know whether the scorers would mark the additional one so I decided to get the last 3 anyway.

I picked up the pace after I found the last control on my route. As it turns out, I probably didn’t need all those last ones as the incorrect punch was circled and pointed to the #9 box anyway. So I did an extra control with a couple of bad mistakes along the way.

Again, it would good to compare notes with other runners after the event, and verbalise the good and bad points of my own route. I ran 6.65km in 48 minutes. A speed of 8km/h.

Results are up quite quickly this week. I finished 7th out of 11 running the C-course. The first 2 were about 10 minutes ahead of me. With some better concentration, I could’ve halved that lead while coming in 1 place better, but I’ll need a lot of improvement if I’m going to win one race this season.

Next week, it’s off to Doncaster East for a course that doesn’t seem to include a reserve of any note at all.

Monday, January 11, 2010

1. Darebin Parklands - Alphington

It was a warmish evening but pretty good conditions to run in. I turned up a half hour early for my first race to familiarise myself with proceedings. A number of others (regulars, based on their club uniforms) were there also. I was able to pinpoint someone who looked like they were in charge. He gave me the course map (which wouldn't normally be handed out until the start time) and explained some of the markings, the controls, the aim of the event, etc. It gave me a pretty good idea of what to expect. The map is pictured here, with the controls I visited marked in red.

By the time the event started there were probably about 70 people running the various courses by my quick estimation.

This event was slightly different to most others apparently, so I'll have to explain a regular event next time. First one for the year turned out to have a slight twist where we had the time limit of 45 minutes (for the C-course competitors, which I thought was a good standard for a first-timer) to visit as many of the 20 controls as possible and return to the finish point. Each control was numbered with the higher-numbered controls earning more points. As a bonus, for each pair of controls (1/11, 2/12, 3/13, etc.) visited, a bonus of 3 points was awarded.

With the benefit of having the map before the start time, I tried to plan a route. Of course, I had no idea how far I could cover in 45 minutes. I'm sure as time goes on, I'll be more adept at quickly reading distances from the map and certain terrain attributes such as hills or short cuts.

Knowing that a visit to all controls was impossible within the time limit, I made the initial plan to visit the controls in this order: 16 -- 15 -- 10 -- 11 -- 19 -- 18 -- 13 -- 12 -- 5 -- and once back in the park work out how many of the close controls I could get with the remaining time.

The satellite picture shows the route I actually took. Here's an explanation.

As planned, I headed north to control #16 at a running pace I felt comfortable with. I went out of the main park via a dirt track to the back of an industrial area, then ran from one street to the next where I spotted a couple of other runners (those running course A and B start a couple of minutes earlier) searching for the control around the end of the street. Although I didn't know what the actual control looked like, I found it easily, on the ground, chained to a fence post as the description on the map specified. The controls themselves are a metal plate with a long hold-punch attached. With the control card given to us at the start, we punch the control into the relevant numbered square. Each control gives a different pattern of pin-pricks to verify a visit to that control. At each point, there are two such identical "punchers".

Moving on, I decided to run west along the street and then south towards #15. I counted the roads on the left as I passed them, to make sure I was on the right track and turned towards the football oval. I saw a small fenced playground ahead and ran towards it assuming the "log fence corner" clue would make it easy. I ran around the playground with no luck before realising I was on the wrong corner of the oval. I ran back to the correct side with was the car park and the correct shape based on the map and found the control. A silly error for a first-timer and the time lost probably cost me the chance to get an extra control at the end. A learning experience.

By this time, I was running most of the time, but taking short breaks to walk and re-orient myself. I cut around the oval and through to the north-south road again and found #10. I now had to decide what to do with #11. I decided to cross the train line first to #19 and by the time I got there had decided it would waste a lot of time crossing back rather than continuing along the south part of the course.

So I took the laneway from #19, crossed down to the main road and along to #18. I probably could have saved a few seconds by cutting though the car park and along the no-through road, but I was more comfortable the other way without having to keep referring to the map.

Then, a fairly long stretch towards Darebin station. I crossed under the track just south of the station platform and found #13 easily. By now, time was running out and I decided #12 was out of reach if I wanted to get some controls in the park. So I cut through another laneway and into the park. Once at #5, I decided I only had time left to get the 3 controls in the north section of the park (2 -- 1 -- 3).

As I was trying to recognise feature by their symbols on the map, I couldn't quite work out which tracks were leading where, and so by the time I crossed the creek, I was on top of #3. From there I followed the path east along the creek to get to #2. It was a conservative move as I could probably have cut across the open area. At this point, I wasn't too worried by time as I didn't think I could reach #1 and return within the time limit any way. A three point penalty was applied for every minute late after the deadline. After #2, I made a heading for #1 just in case it was within sight, but there were trees around the area and so I gave up on it and return the to finish with about 90 seconds to spare. In total I ran 5.34 km in approximately 43 minutes (a figure I estimated by plotting my route in Google Earth.) That works out to a speed of 7.45km/h.

In hindsight, I probably should have done 3--2--1 first before heading out of the park to #16. I could've then just re-entered the park at #5 and headed to the finish from there without having lost any time.

I handed the control card to the person at the desk who entered the arrival time. I cooled down and waited to see what happened next. By this point, my calves were aching, unused to running any distance at all. (In fact, they’re still sore 4 days later. Hopefully recovery time improves!) Those doing course A & B had extra time to run and the power walkers had until 8:05 to return. So I waited around. Occasionally, another runner would come over and ask how I did. There was no way of knowing who was running each course, but it didn’t really matter. I was more than happy to try to dissect my route and explain my mistakes and decisions. This is one thing I’m looking forward to doing as I progress. It will help me to realise better ways of navigating and if I can find out the reasoning for others’ decision-making out on the course, will aid me to read maps more clearly while on the move. When other runners found out it was my first event, they were very encouraging.

By this point the crowd was thinning out as people headed home. A small presentation ceremony was held as this event was the halfway point of the season so certificated were handed out to those who had done best during the first half’s events.

And that was it. I knew results were posted on their webpage, although I didn’t know how long it would take. I was Sunday before they were released. I don’t know if three days is normal or not. I am happy they are available each week though as I do like to track how competitive I am against others.

In the end, 12 runners completed the C course. I visited 9 controls, but only one other runner got less control points than me. A couple of others lost points for returning late. So I finished in 9th position, which gives me a good indication that I was running to my ability. As I get more familiar with reading the map on the run and knowing how far I can run in the time limit, I should move up the rankings. At this stage, I think I’ll aim to win 1 event in the remaining 10 weeks. It may not be achievable but I’d like to try.

This week, I head to Mill Park for a course mainly through streets with a small reserve and school in the middle. I’m looking forward to it.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Tonight's The Night

A warm 28°C in Melbourne today. Will be cooler by 7pm tonight.

I'm planning on doing the C course - the second shortest of the 4 running events. The course is at Darebin Parklands in Alphington. That's all I know. I don't even know if I'll be able to run the whole distance. We shall see.

Not much else to report at the moment, except I think the food over Christmas will have a large bearing on how I'm feeling by the end of the run tonight.

Will report back in my next post.