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.

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