The orienteering NSW Sprint Champs! A very different event to what we are used to where you just turn up and run whenever you feel like it. We had to pre-register for this one, choosing which difficulty level we wanted to do and this, combined with our age, would put us in a specific competition category. There were three different “Hard” categories of varying distances, but controls would be located in a way to provide a challenge on every leg on each. Hard 1 was only for the youngest and fittest male competitors (very sexist), Hard 2 was for most men and the start of the women’s classes, while Hard 3 was for the more senior age groups and for those that wanted a slightly shorter but still challenging course. Nick and I both entered the Hard 2 course – the most difficult/longest we could.
There were also a Moderate, Easy, Very Easy and Wheelchair course along with a String course for the little kids and a maze challenge. We had been assigned set start times – they were 40 minutes apart, they must know we have to keep an eye on kids so can’t be running at the same time. Nick had the first start time at 10:17am and as we pulled up to the venue (a school) we could see tents and flags set up along the oval. We parked on the street near an entrance gate which turned out to be very close to where we were headed – very convenient with two girls in tow.
We wandered up to the main oval where everyone seemed to be gathered. There was a large inflatable finish arch, a control set up in the far corner of the oval which forced most runners to do a “spectator leg” and the loud speaker system set up to provide commentary. We passed a small sign with “Start” written on it and an arrow pointing down the hill away from everything else, but couldn’t see where it led. So we checked out everything in the main area before finding someone to ask how the whole thing worked and what we had to do – this was on a much bigger scale than we usually see. not long until Nicks start time, so we made a pit stop and followed the start sign to find ourselves at the start corral.
There were two clocks set up, the first 3 minutes ahead and when your time showed up on it you made your way to the starting area to get checked in. Then it was a step forward at each minute – two minutes to go you could pick up a control list. 1 minute to go and you picked up your map (but no peeking!) and waited for the countdown as you are given final instructions which are just a repeat of things already mentioned – don’t cross the flower beds, olive colour on the map is out of bounds – then BUZZZZZZ – and you’re off. Two runners head off at the same time, but each running on different courses so there can be no following.
It was an unusual start to an event, since no one has looked at a map at the start, you don’t even know which direction to start heading in. Look at the map, make sure you are on the right side of it, find the start, find the first control, pick a route and only then do you start moving with any sort of purpose. Nick was off, so the girls and I headed back to the main area to have something to eat and look out to see when he would make the run across the oval to the spectator control. It seemed to come around very quickly, with his name called out over the loud speaker giving a time and current standing, time behind/ahead of other competitors in his class.
We finished our snacks, had a quick chat with my uncle – who had just finished running the Hard 3 course – and before we knew it Nick was finished in around 23 minutes! We had both been expecting the course to take closer to 30 minutes, so this was a surprise and a nice indication to me that the course wouldn’t be as long as we had feared. Unlike most courses where you already have a map and can compare course notes, the only “advice” Nick could offer up was that the start was “hard”. Which is what my uncle had already let me know and didn’t offer anything in the way of guidance – just as it should be. Although I think he did say there were a lot more stairs than he expected.
Not long and it was time to head down for my turn. The start area was thinning out a bit now with only one runner starting in the group ahead of me and no other runner starting with me. I nervously waited my last couple of minutes in the corral, picked up my map, listened to the final instructions and then I was off! Well, I wandered off looking at my map – upside down, then the wrong side, then struggled to find the start location (got it) then had to find the next control – the only leg that wasn’t drawn asa straight line on the map! Then tossing up which way to go, dammit, stop wasting time, pick a line and just get moving – so off I went. Despite the dithering, once I got going the first control was an easy one as was the next. My Garmin buzzed – huh? There’s no way I’ve already done a kilometre. Nope, I’d forgotten to start it and it was threatening to turn off. Great, get the Garmin going, better late than never.
I made my way to the third control and it wasn’t where I expected. Was I in the right building? Had I somehow gone straight past it, or not gone far enough. I wandered a bit further, back again, off to each side, but I couldn’t see it. That was it, I saw another control and thought if it was on my map then I could confirm my location and work backwards. Yep – this control was on the second side of my map and had me exactly where I thought I was. I headed back again – aha! It was tucked away just inside the building stairwell, if I had looked over my shoulder just a smidge further when I first stopped I would have saved nearly two minutes! Can’t dwell on mistakes though or I’ll bomb the whole thing, move on and just keep running. Controls 4, 5, 6 and 7 passed by and I started getting in the swing of things. Quick decision to be made about route choice from 7 to 8, up dozens of stairs, then down some into the middle of a small amphitheatre.
Back up and out of the mess of buildings and into the open for the longer legs across ovals. This was easier and I could just run without having to glance at the map every 2 seconds. Straight across the large oval, up a road and then back in for the spectator leg. The runner before me was announced, but as I ran across, nothing was said – wow, I must be doing badly! A glance at my Garmin showed I was doing sub-6 minute pace which I was happy with. Picked up the control and turned to make my way back out of the main area, two more controls, a run back past the start area and time to flip the map to the second side!
First control on this side was all the way up to the top of the ridge and back down the other side – so many stairs. Then another longish leg to control 15 that had me winding my way up stairs and around buildings. A quick dash out to 16, split decision as to which way to head for 17 as two speedier runners behind me caught up and headed the opposite way I did. One beat me there but then took longer getting to the next one – then it was up more stairs and the both passed me. Finally, the end was in sight. One more control, smile for the photographer as I run past and on up through the finish arch. Done.
My final time was 27:59 and as the final competitor in my age group put me in fourth place. There were only five in my category, but shhh, no one needs to know that! I was less than one minute off third place and fifth place was just under a minute after me – so it was all pretty close. Other than when I thought I was completely lost at control 3, I had so much fun doing this event. I started slowly, but by the second half of the event I was picking up a lot – only one of my legs between controls in the second half wasn’t a top 3 effort, I even had one that I was fastest for.
While I ran, Nick had taken the girls off to do the string course which they loved. On bumping into my uncle again after my run, he asked how the girls went on their course at which my youngest declared “We won!”. She was terribly proud of it. So I asked my uncle if he won too – and he did, first in his age category! Got to be some good genes in there with my uncle still running well at 80.