Monday, June 21, 2010

Why Every Second Counts

Last weekend saw a change in the orienteering calender with the NIOC being held in June, rather than it's usual place in September/October. This year's event was held in the picturesque Tollymore Forest Park, on the edge of the Mourne Mountains. LVO marketed the event as a social weekend and there were plenty of activities to keep everyone entertained. One section of the campsite in Tollymore was reserved for orienteering and this area was used as the assembly and parking area as well.
A 2.3km walk to the start greeted everyone who were on courses 1-7. All those on the shorter courses started close to the assembly area along a forest road. Those on courses 1-3 went through the second starting area and had then a further 700m with 140m climb to go to their starting punch. The walk to the start brought us up through the park itself and gave us the opportunity to see what the forest had in store for us. I allowed plenty of time for the walk to the start, sensing that the final 700m would be pretty steep.
I wandered to the second starting area, taking my time, trying to take in some water and save my energy. Once I arrived at the second start I was told by Nigel that this was also where the third start was. Confusion. I asked the lady at the start where I should go and was told to wait at the second start for my time to be called and I would then proceed to the third start, and was given 15 minutes to complete this leg of my journey. There was a lot of mulling around the starting area as those on the higher courses questioned why we could not proceed further at our own pace and laughed at our over-estimations as to how long the walk would take. The LVO person with the bug spray at the start become a life saver!
Those starting at the second start (courses 4-7) remained in the forest areas, while those on courses 1-3 started on the open mountain. Once we got to the third start, there were two start punches and two different start kites. This split up the runners once more. Courses 2 and 3 started from a boulder and had only two controls in the open, while the M21L started at a stream and headed further out into the mountainside. This division in the starts made for a very interesting race. First of all, there were fewer people to be seen on the mountainside so there was less 'guiding' into controls and also people were able to concentrate on their own races. Secondly, there was no watching where people went from the starting area from all three starts as the starting kites were well positioned and the viewing limited. It also meant that from the officials point of view, more runners could be started in a smaller time frame, thereby making planning a little easier for the first one or two controls. It did mean that man power was stretched as three starts had to be manned.
The only issue I had was the walk between the starts. I was conscious of the time I had to make this climb and found my energy sapped by the time I started the course. This resulted in the pretty slow first two splits. Another reason I didn't delay too long at the starting area was my 'Susan Paranoia'. It all began two years in Portugal, at POM 2009. Myself and Susan Lambe (LVO) were both running W21L and I found myself starting just minutes in front of Susan at every day's event. Since then, we have come to realise that I will also be out of the starting blocks just before her, meaning that for the whole course, I am counting down the minutes I am losing and expecting to see her gain in on me. Saturday was no different. There was a 6-min gap between us so I knew I couldn't afford to wait around too long at the start. I did suffer the price for this on two occassions. The first was the lack of energy to get to number 1, the second, that I will get to later!
The course was pretty straight forward, which was a bit disappointing. My long voyage to the start was not rewarded with lots of open mountain controls and navigational tests. The first control was straight forward and involved very little route choice. The second control brought with it an incredibly long leg, but again the route choice was limited. From Number 1, you could see it was a case of down of this hill, over the wall and rivers and then straight up the mountain at the other side and the control was at the foot of a crag, a few metres from the top. Route choice involved going either left or right of the hill, or over the top. A large boulder was a useful guiding point into the control. After that, there was a long road run to number 3, bringing us back into the forest. By the time we were at Number 4, we were back along the same routes as those on the second start.
All courses were fast and the main route choices involved quick thinking on which network of paths to follow. However, the glorious sunshine and wonderful scenery made for a lovely run and noone could complain about the courses. I ran an ok race, made a couple of silly mistakes but nothing overly time costing. That was until the end. Susan Paranoia struck again. As it was, what I felt, a runner's course, I expected Susan to catch me at some point once we got back into the forest. I had lost serious pace going to number 2 and felt the time ticking by too quickly. The second last control was nestled in the forest, just beyond the corner of the camping/assembly area. There were tapes around the edge of the field so I followed those around, admittedly taking a slightly longer, indirect route. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash of black and red as a blonde head sprinted through the field and into the forest. Susan! I had fallen at the last hurdle. I felt the energy drain from my body and the waft of defeat enter as I knew there was no way I could salvage back time on the last 400m of the course. I spluttered my way through 9 and 10 and gave a pitiful 'run' into the finish. I punched the Finish and accepted defeat to my worthy opponent. Looking around the finish area I wondered how Susan had vanished so fast and tried to calculate how fast she was or how slow I really was at the last few controls.
I headed back to my tent, content with my run and happy that I was able to run after the lack of sleep the night before. The bitter cold and howling wind that had kept me awake the night before being quickly forgotten once day broke and the temperatures rose with the birds. The campsite had hot showers to reward us all and our weary bones after our runs. It was after this reward that I was greeted with the realisation that I had in fact, NOT seen Susan and that all this paranoia had taken its toll on my race!
I wandered to the registration van and waited with others for the results to flash up. TWO SECONDS!! The words came out of my mouth as I heard someone to my right say 'Look, you won by just two seconds!' I had lost to Inga Ausekle-Salaka by two seconds! After much excited chat, I met with my other opponent from Luxembourg. There were only three of us in the race as Ciara Largey, FermO, had decided to run in the M21L to get more distance. A quick review of the splits showed that my valuable seconds had been snatched from me on the run in!! I learned a very valuable lesson this weekend - the race is NEVER over until the Finish is punched!! Never give up no matter who (or who you think) passes you out.
I headed off to Newcastle for a while before the BBQ, accidently missing the prize giving and my one chance to stand on a podium! LVO had one great set up this weekend!! As I run with FermO and BOC, as I have done since my W18 days, I claimed the title of NI Champion, though Inga won the race. Susan finished 18 seconds behind me, meaning that a mere 20 seconds seperated all three women in the 21L - perhaps a first in history of NIOC? The cup may eventually make its way down to Cork, though the result could have been much different, an extra second or two at each control could have changed the results for everyone and let's not forget that Ciara ran M21.
Steven Linton NWOC 71:32
Billy Reed LVO 82:46
Patrick Higgins LVO 83:12
Ivan Millar LVO 85:22
Inga Ausekle-Salaka LUXOC 71:04
Sharon Lucey FERMO 71:06
Susan Lambe LVO 71:24
The BBQ followed soon afterwards where a feast was laid on for a mere £5 per person, including dessert and seconds if one was bold enough to ask! A friendly and social atmosphere emerged from the assembly area and the sun shone high in the sky until the merriment ended. It was then time for those brave enough to tackle the Night Event to psyche themselves up once more. This consisted of courses of approx 2.6-3km in length with different gaffling so that the runners could be mass started. The mass start exited the carpark at 10.20 and the bouncing beams disappeared into the forest. In all, 43 competitors started this event in the twilight with most finishing in darkness. Six course variations of roughly similar length were used with the central portion having the controls arranged in a circle. Competitors joined and left the circle at different controls with every competitor's covering all legs of the circle. An enjoyable head-to-head battle was seen at the finish line as Jack and Eoin ended up racing the same course, meaning that it was impossible for one to shake the other off.
The top three results were:
Jack Millar 23.35
Eoin McCullough 23.38
Igor Stefko 25.39
The weekend also offered TempO, Sprint String Courses, LVO Club Championships Prize giving, Fun Day on Sunday and adult coaching sessions. This was an excellently run event and that is a credit to all those involved in LVO. To host such a variety of events in one weekend is a challenge to any club and LVO meet this with great success. Looking forward to the JK2011 already..........
Full results and RouteGadget can be found here.