A beginner goes Orienteering

Standing in a room full of people dressed in lycra talking about maps, dibbers and compasses is not a situation I had been in many times before.

Despite being a keen sportsman Orienteering is never one that has featured too highly on my agenda, my only experience being on year seven camp at school 11 years ago.

Yet there I was fully decked out in tracky bottoms and trainers stood nervously anticipating what the next 45 minutes would bring as I made my debut at score orienteering.

I had been invited along by the Lincoln Orienteering Group to the final event of the four race series at Riseholme Park to give it a try and see how I got along.

As it was my first time as an O’er I was going to be going around with Ally Wright, the groups publicity officer who told me we’d be running around 5km if we complete the full course.

This came as a shock to someone who’s only exercise in three and a half years at university was a couple of appearances for a friends five-a-side football team to make the numbers up.

The plan for the evening was to try and find all 25 checkpoints located around the Riseholme campus in the 45 minute time allowance.

Before we got started all the competitors checked-in their dibbers which are an electronic device that logged you in and out of each checkpoint to show where you had been.

As the countdown began Ally and I quickly planned a quick route to the nearest point and off we went.

Now I must explain this type of Orienteering is different to the usual line format, where you follow a set of numbered points in a line and whoever does it fast enough wins.

Here there is no set course meaning you can do it in whatever order you want and that proved a further challenge given the terrain of Riseholme.

Orienteering maps are different to Ordinance Survey maps as they show different terrain in different colours based on how passable to route is.

For example thick vegetation is coloured dark green so it tells you although you might only be metres away from the next checkpoint, there is no way you could battle through the thick bramble bush that stands in your way.

And that is the challenge you have to find your way around the course navigating your way with nothing but a map and a headlamp.

Oh yes did I forget to say? We began at 7pm on a crisp early March evening meaning we were running in pitch black darkness, your pathway lit up by a miner’s headlamp strapped on your head.

We set off at a steady jog pace on the hunt for the first checkpoint which was strapped to the rear of campus building.

Ally was teaching me the basics such as what symbols meant and how to work the compass and as she guided us round the first couple I began to get the hang of this.

As we moved out in the grassy areas of the campus the compass was passed on to the trainee as I had a go at finding a checkpoint.

Looking at the key on the map, checkpoint 50 was located in a forest area around 30 metres in from the path.

Off we set counting our steps as we ran to see how far we were trekking knowing at some point we’d be diving into the woody landscape.

We navigated our way through the trees and within seconds could see the checkpoint, up we ran, clicked our dibbers and off we went again.

Still in charge of the map and buoyed by my successful first attempt I picked the next point and deciphered a route to it.

One bonus of night racing was the headlamps everyone was wearing and fortunately for us there were two heading our way as we progressed to the next check, meaning we were going in the right direction.

However they went by in a flash, the steady jog me and Ally were using was outpaced by the other competitors seemingly haring round the course.

We had now picked a good chunk of the checkpoints and decided to complete the loop at the top right of the campus before heading back to the meeting point as the clock ticked over the half hour mark.

It was after clambering my way through a pond while clawing away bramble bushes I asked Ally why she found the activity enjoyable.

“The feeling of accomplishment went you find the checkpoints,” she replied.

Whether it was the lactic acid I could feeling burning its way through my unfit thighs or the constant need of the water bottle I had left back at the control point, I decided I couldn’t agree with her.

I was told before I went out that Orienteering is like an Easter Egg Hunt you went on when you were a child. All I could think was what is the point of an Egg Hunt if there are no eggs?

And as I sat and watched the presentation of awards at the end of the night surrounded by people covered from head to toe in mud and sweat that was my thinking, what was the point?

Clearly these people saw it already busily planning there next outing some even eager to go and collect the control points as it meant they could get there compasses out again but not me.

I reached a respectable 14 out of 25 control points in the 45 minutes allowed, but as my muddy trainers are once more redundant outside my back door two weeks on, I fear it could be another 11 years at least until my next orienteering expedition.

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About Pete Hirst
Hi, how's it going? My name is Pete I have just got myself one of these blog sites. After completing a degree in journalism I am now on the hunt for jobs, work ex, internships etc so if you want to give me one that would be very appreciated!! On here I will be mostly blogging about sports, mainly cricket and football with some golf and tennis thrown in there for good measure and who knows maybe some personal blogging might get thrown on if anything decidedly nifty happens. Anyway thanks for viewing and happy reading. Pete

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