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.