Sunday, 13 January 2008

O-a-blog™ (DFOK, Darnley Estate, Compass Sport Cup SE)

Well (continuing from yesterday's blogological entity) I did indeed make it. It was a bit of a trek, out along the North Circular then the A13 then across (rather magnificently) the QEII Bridge and eventually down the A2 a bit till it nearly becomes the M2; but, as it turned out, well worth the journey.

I had had nice and encouraging email from a nice entry-sort-out person who advised me to get there early to grab an EOD (entry on the day) slot, as there were around ten left for most courses - so I did. I actually got the first available EOD time for Blue, which was 10.31: quite cool given that first starts were at 10.30. I was there embarrassingly early so I kicked my heels trying to look like a queue while the DFOK people were setting up. I felt a twit but the queuing did have the desired effect.

Having said that, I then nearly messed this bit up: I knew that they were using two starts, called Blue and White, and that White was twenty minutes from the car park and Blue was just five. My subconscious had decided that as I was doing a Blue course I must be going from the Blue start, so I took my time, and phoned Deb for a nice chat, and so on ... yep you guessed it: the start names were "upside down" compared to the course lengths, so the long courses went from White and the short from Blue. Duh, Vogel, silly man. I must add, though, that I am not sure that it's a great idea to use colours, like course names, for the starts, and I would have thought that, even if you did, it would make more sense if they were lined up so that White and Blue courses, and the ones similar to them, would be at the appropriately-named starts. But even better would be calling them North and South or Apple and Pear or Duck and Teal - really pretty much anything else, I'd have thought.

So having suddenly understood all this and realized that I was not quite ready to go and it was past 10.11 and I needed to be gone minutes ago, I went off in a tearing hurry for the two kilometre trek to the White start. 2K! That's longer than some courses I've done! Naturally, I was nearly dead before I got there. I ran much of the way and kept passing alarming signs saying "1000m to go: 10 minutes" and so on. And it doesn't help that my elderly, clockwork, much-loved watch is not actually ruthlessly accurate to the last nanosecond, so there's no real guarantee that the 10.31 for which I am aiming is the same 10.31 as other people know about. So of course I was in total sweaty-panic meltdown, something I do quite well. A nice starter person reassured me that I was OK to start anyway (I'd missed 10.31 by a short sneeze) and tried to encourage me to calm down and get my breath back, a kind approach though if she'd known that it would have really taken an armchair and a large Scotch she may have thought better of the project.

And so away I went. It may have been the rushed start but to cut a long story short I made AN UNBELIEVABLE HORLICKS of the first control, taking over 14 minutes to find it - some kind of personal worst ever, indeed probably a galactic worst ever come to think of it. I cannot think when I was last so panic-stricken, frustrated and angry on a run. I note that someone claiming to be me wrote this:

" – when it’s all going wrong I do sometimes have to make a conscious effort to fight off a depressed and defeatist attitude that can try to flood in but, you know what, I have always been glad, ten minutes later, that I managed to fight it off."

Well, yes, jolly good, but I'd say this was pretty close to the edge, in real danger of entering the non-fighting-it-off zone. If I'd sat down on a tree stump I don't think I'd have got up off it to go orienteering again, but just to give up and go home. Seriously. Real Slough of Despond stuff.

The annoying thing is that it is as if I forgot everything I ever knew about orienteering and maps and was just back to a totally unskilled, unthinking approach. Certainly, that panic-stricken pre-start period did not help, but I am quite disappointed in myself that I let it get so out of hand and let the self-pity nearly win. Once I get started it is powerful stuff: I'm too fat and old, I am no good at this, I am no good at anything, what do I think I am doing out here, I look like a fool, I should give up and go home, I should never do this sport again ... and so on. Not, in fact, a brilliantly good thing to have going on in your head. Do you remember in The NeverEnding Story, when Artax (the only horse that I know of named [almost] after a ceiling finish) "lets the sadness get to him" and sinks into the swamp? I imagine my kids still have nightmares about it - I know I pretty much do. Like that.

The silly thing is that I could and should have stopped and done almost anything and it would have been better than the aimless and depressed wandering that I actually did. For example I could very easily have got back to the path or even right back to the start and tried again, used different features, counted steps more carefully, and so on. (I think the initial problem may have been that I badly miscounted - 100m instead or 200 or something - and this put me in a clearing that seemed right but was actually far too early.) There was a line feature in front of the control that I might well have found, and that would quite likely have nailed it. I cannot offhand remember what the symbol means - I thought "a bit like a Twix" was close - but I am sure it would have been findable and then helpful. And so on.

Anyway, I eventually stumbled upon the control, partly through pure luck and partly through a tiny bit of proper thinking - some of which was navigation and some was where other orienteers seemed to be coming and going, though the latter approach is not that safe, especially as there was another control quite close by which I had already found and checked and established it was no help to me. The real Control 1 seemed a long way further out and north of my line compared to where I had thought, but it was a great relief to find it anyway.

Sadly I wasn't too bright in my approach to the next control either. (This is also on the map fragment at the top.) It was just after a fence junction where fences either side of me gradually came in, like a funnel, and met. The one close on my left (to the east) was just a boundary between the wood and the (out of bounds) fields beyond. The more distant (western) one on my right was an internal boundary within the wood, and had a path running up it - indeed it was the same path where the Start kite was, and the same one to which I should have relocated when Control 1 went all pear-shaped on me. Foolishly, I felt that I would be faster staying off the path and going straight up the eastern fence, whereas with 20/20 hindsight I can say that it would have been much, much faster to go quite directly out to the path at the western fence and run up that. This is so even though it would have been a roundabout route - the speed of progress once on the path would have overridden the directness of the other route. It is a foolish misconception - and I must remember this another time - that a linear feature is necessarily good to make fast progress along. Fences are not necessarily clear to the sides and neither are streams, in fact ditto earth banks and the like. They can be, sure, but there's no guarantee. So I set off up this fence confidently enough, taking insufficient notice of the darkening green on the map, and found myself really fighting my way through bracken, brambles, fallen logs and goodness knows what else, while only a short distance away other runners were blasting cheerfully up the path at full speed. Another silly error, but I was amused that two other runners made their own silly error and followed me through - they must have really been wishing they'd ignored me! This control took me over six minutes, which is around double the mean. So these first two controls took me over twenty minutes, where fast people were doing them in less than five and most people took around seven or eight: not a great start.

After that things started to look up a bit and I felt like I knew what I was doing a bit more. The initial panic had subsided and I had acknowledged that I was going to be well down the list, maybe last, so I thought I might as well just get on and enjoy it and try to be accurate.

It was a nice area. Parts of it were very very muddy - some places that on the map were shown as "rough open" were actually more "mudarama" because they had been cleared, or prepped for forestry, or something, so machines had been in and it was more like a ploughed field. Very very heavy going but quite an interesting challenge to try and make some progress. On the other hand, plenty of the rest of it was great - an interesting mix of parkland, woods and a really strange/interesting wet area that I'll come back to.

At one point in the park bit I found myself running near a big temple thing which was under restoration. As the course unfolded I saw more and more follies and other interesting odds and ends. It turns out that there's a heritage trust which looks after that side of Cobham Hall, the country house (now a school) through whose estate part of the course went. One thing that really caught my eye was the Pump House, a gorgeous building down by a lake. From its information board it appears that it was rescued in a Landmark-Trust-ish manner from the very brink of utter dereliction - walls really very ruined and so on - and now it looks splendid, so well done them. Oh and just before that I had passed another one, "Repton's Seat", which looked very inviting for a breather - but I resisted and kept going.

Some time after this I crossed back into Shorne Wood Country Park, where the course had started - or rather, the 2K shuffle to the White start had. When I say "crossed back" I mean that this course was seriously bisected, having the A2 and HS1 (the new Channel Tunnel high speed railway line) running together right through the middle, separating Cobham Hall and its park from the country park itself. This is I think why they had the long walk to the White start - the unusual layout of the area has required some ingenuity to get good courses, though I would certainly say that they managed very well.

Back in the country park it was very odd and very interesting. Much of it is ex-claypits, and you can really tell - it's glutinous, mossy, very bumpy and wet and generally odd. There are hummocks and hillocks and little pools and paths and interesting corners everywhere. One control was on a little mini-hilltop and it was really quite hairy up there - very slippery with bright green moss everywhere, and the "path" becoming quite dodgy from so many feet. I think it's almost the first time in orienteering that I've though, golly, I could actually fall off here. Then the next control was straight ahead over the top of this little hill and down a very steep slippery clay slope to a pretty pondside place and I wondered if it was actually too dangerous to go that way, but it was OK in the end and actually rather fun. The navigation in this part was quite intricate - not really very hard but certainly interesting and unusual.

Why was I doing Blue, you ask, when I more usually do Green? Well this was a "proper" event with club entries and things, and although I had neglectfully not entered through the club, I vaguely felt it was the right thing in some ill-defined way to enter in the class that I should for a club entry, and all entrants in the 45+ age bracket were supposed to do Blue, and that's me. I mean I could have done Green and no-one would really have known or cared but I would have felt like I was wimping out a little. Or something. And, comfortingly, I had a nice email from the club captain saying I had done the right thing in entering the correct class and that it could even help under certain circumstances: this is not because of the brilliance of my orienteering, I hasten to add, but just to do with occupying places and the way the tables work. I think this, the CompassSport Cup, is the first proper named event I've been in, even though it was a regional heat rather than the final. What a step in my magnificent career.

The results are out now (I'm writing this last bit on Wednesday) and HH were beaten into second place by David's club, Southdowns - I think this happens quite a lot! Sadly my personal score will not have had a huge impact, though fortunately it cannot harm the club's place either. In the What If event I did a bit better having been very efficient about Controls 1 and 2, but in the real world those two took quite a toll and I didn't quite scrape into the top 90% of all competitive starters this time, though I was not last! I do most seriously need to learn and apply the lessons of those first two controls.

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