Time flies – I noticed the other day that it’s been 5 years since I broke the record (still standing?) for the smallest orienteering event ever, and now I see that it was only few days later that Chasers held their now legendary Maize Challenge event. Doesn’t Catherine look sweet! Every now and then I remember it and wish we could do it again, so I jumped at the chance when it finally came. The event next Sunday in Sandwell Valley won’t be on the same scale (so to speak) as that glorious day in… wherever it was, but we’ll make it worth your while. The first round will be in the daylight (just) and be a “normal” time trial of about 2.5 km (actual optimum running distance) for adults and 1 km for children. Then there’ll be a chasing start (definitely in the dark) of about 2 km as soon as everyone’s ready, which should be at about quarter to six. So don’t forget your torch! Sorry we won’t have a £500 prize for first place – but I will get the winners something nice from Poundland.

See you at Forge Mill Farm at 4 o’clock on Sunday!


On Facebook this morning has popped up a BOF plug for “Red Bull Robin Hood”. An orienteering event with a difference, with prizes. Let me take you through my part-positive, part-jaded reaction to this new thing.

1. Sponsorship/co-organisation: good.

2. Ooh PRIZES. I’m in favour of prizes, especially large cash ones.

3. Charity. Yay. (But prizes AND charity? Hmm.)

4. “Orienteering adventure race”: hmm. Who is this event aimed at? If I assume it’s kind of 50-50 orienteers and non-orienteers, I question the wisdom of mentioning the dread O-word in the first sentence, even if it is a “brand new concept”.

5. WHAT IS IT? “Those up for the challenge will require a combination of speed, stamina and navigational skills to find their way around the carefully mapped out course in Sherwood Pines forest, and there will also be a range of special tasks and challenges to overcome throughout the race. This will be a race to test both the body and the mind.” Yes, but WHAT IS IT? How far is it? Is it hard? Is it fun? How long will it take? Can you take part in teams? What do you have to do? WHAT IS IT?

6. “This serious orienteering event”: okay, so not fun. But what is this phrase doing here? If you’re trying to put non-orienteers off, you’ve just succeeded. If you’re trying to reassure orienteers, you must think we’re stupid.

7. Now comes the best bit:

“Red Bull Robin Hood is being held in Sherwood Pines, an area which is embargoed for orienteers who wish to compete in the Compass Sport Cup Heat on Sunday 15th March 2015. By registering for the event you recognise that by competing in Red Bull Robin Hood I will be breaching the embargo for the Compass Sport Cup Heat to be held at Sherwood Pines on Sunday 15th March 2015. As such will be declared as non-competitive at the Compass Sport Cup Heat.”

7a. So no local orienteers then. Ouch.

7b. Never mind the typos, what is this text doing on the Red Bull page? It’s important info, but it hardly needs to be on the general-public-facing page.

8. I notice that the blogpost went up on the Red Bull site on 9 September, for the event on 1 November. That’s pretty short notice. There’s a bit on the Men’s Running blog, but I doubt there can be much if anything in any of the running magazines.

9. As of this morning there are 7 entrants. After four weeks. I hadn’t heard of it before today, so although BOF may have been promoting it to orienteers they haven’t been doing it very effectively. Or maybe that was on purpose, since they want new people. Who knows.

10. “In Robin Hood’s hometown of Nottingham”: no. It’s about an hour away. Why not say it’s in Sherwood Forest? People have heard of Sherwood Forest. You know, Robin Hood…

11. Coming back to the prizes: the chances are that orienteers will win them, so they may also have a negative effect. A non-orienteer, a very good runner perhaps, might travel to the event in the hope of taking home the £500, but when they discover that they basically had no chance, they might be rather cheesed off. Hobby orienteers like me aren’t going to take the incentive seriously since we have no chance either, so that leaves a few good (non-EMOA) orienteers to roll up and roll off with the cash.

12. The Men’s Running article is pretty ugly. The tone is that orienteering is shit. Think about that: in order to promote the sport, the body that runs the sport is encouraging negative things to be written about the sport. Then think about it again, and cry.


I think most of us want to grow the sport** but BOF needs better advice. I’ve tried a few things over the years; most have failed, a few have succeeded. Maybe you could say the same about BOF, so what’s the problem? The problem is partly that BOF can potentially waste a lot more resources than I can, and whereas I might piss off a few people, BOF can lose the goodwill of its membership and make us a joke in the wider world.

To go back to those ominous words “orienteering adventure racing”. That isn’t a thing. Mixing things up creates novelty activities that are unlikely to interest anyone unless you have a big marketing budget. Orienteering is orienteering. Adventure racing is adventure racing. They’re very similar activities, but the value is in keeping them separate.

My belief these days is in Bleed. Put on or support adventure races, mountain marathons, MTBO, etc. Promote real orienteering events off the back of them. Some people will bleed into real orienteering from them. (Some, that is, as opposed to the very few who will bleed into orienteering from standard running/cycling activities.) This is not a question of not being proud of orienteering or dishonest. If it’s not an orienteering event as traditionally defined, there’s no shame in not calling it an orienteering event; rather, it’s pretty counter-productive to do so, knowing the prejudices that many people have against the word. BOF got this right with Xplorer.

My problem with Xplorer is different…


** I apologise if you don’t like the verb “grow” being used transitively like this; neither do I, really, but it seems appropriate here for some reason.


Last summer in Finland the World Championships sprint had a new feature: the planner used many metres of temporary fencing to make the event more of a challenge. It worked quite well. But, perhaps made over-confident by that success, the planners of this week’s World Cup sprint event in Finland used even more fencing. Now, okay, a little bit of fencing here and there isn’t a bad thing. It can plug holes that you wish weren’t there, and it can give pause for thought to runners who are familiar with the area, but do we really want to change Sprint-O into Maze-O? It’s expensive and time-consuming, and the end result is just a little bit silly.

p.s. Well done to Team GB for coming 5th in the relay :)

Watch the World Cup sprints (Finnish TV)

GPS tracking (“World Cup Imatra”)

Check out my 13.1 km Run on Strava: http://app.strava.com/activities/139521827

Check out my 7.8 km Run on Strava: http://app.strava.com/activities/139254898

Using the new Routegadget http://www.hoc.routegadget.co.uk/rg2/













After entertaining Sandwell Valley’s sheep at 7 a.m. it was off to the Wyre Forest. The access road was decidedly dodgy but Andy and I helped Barry to keep it drivable. As far as the orienteering was concerned I made a couple of unnecessary detours and came a disappointing 20th. Some people coped better with the brambles and brashings!

Photocall today for the event at the end of the month

DSC_0052 DSC_0049 DSC_0053 DSC_0055

Congratulations to this year’s West Midlands League winners: Warwickshire, a.k.a. Octavian Droobers. The final scores were:

Warwickshire (OD) 6,970 points

Shropshire (WRE) 6,719

Worcestershire (HOC) 6,314

South Staffs (WCH) 5,987

North Staffs (POTOC) 3,862

Birmingham (COBOC) 1,703

When was the last time that the Droobers didn’t win? Over the last few years HOC and the Chasers have usually been the challengers but well done to Wrekin for pushing OD hard this year. The Chasers are still a strong team but I’ve noticed that they seem to have become a bit more parochial in the last couple of years, concentrating more on all their many local activities except when it comes to a few major events.

Congratulations also the individual champions: (Athletes with perfect scores are highlighted in bold.)

10 Enys Lloyd POTOC Pippa Smart OD
12 Adam Mardling WCH Charlotte Cairns Smith WCH
14 Alfie Bullus OD Ellie Bales POTOC
16 Stephen Elkington OD Gemma Cairns Smith WCH
18 Daniel Kotecky OD Beatrice Falga OD
21 Ondrej Bajgar OD Katie Lewis WRE
35 Allan McKinley HOC Amy Sarkies OD
40 Chris McCartney OD Sharron Richardson WRE
45 Clive Richardson WRE Lesley Ross OD
50 David Williams HOC Claire Bushnell WCH
55 John Embrey HOC Jane Stew OD
60 Geff Trewin HOC Hazel Waters WCH
65 Barry Houghton HOC Sheila Carey OD
70 Brian Morris WRE Hilary Simpson OD
75 Roger Hailey OD Alison Sloman HOC
80 Frank Smith OD Beryl Pay WRE

Next year’s league fixtures have recently been finalised and are as follows:

Jan 12 Brandon Wood, Coventry
Jan 19 Sandwell Valley
Feb 2 Beaudesert, Cannock Chase
March 30 Chillington Hall, Stafford
April 27 Breakneck Bank, Wyre Forest
May 11 Mansty Woods, Stafford
June 8 Titterstone Clee Hill
June 15 Brueton Park, Solihull
Oct 19 Dudmaston, Bridgnorth
Oct 30 Cannock Chase

so the League will be all done and dusted much earlier than usual. Nice to see 3 areas I haven’t run on, plus the mighty Titterstone :-)

The bane of every poker player is variance. You can be playing well and yet your Aces can still lose to the 7 and 8 of clubs. Or you can guess correctly that your opponent is losing, only for them to get the card they need on the river.

So it is with orienteering. You can have prepared perfectly only for it to turn out that the course setter or mapper has a completely different worldview from your own. Or you can be running really well and get 199 out of 200 things right, and still lose thanks to a moment’s loss of concentration. (Meanwhile your foe got 20 things wrong but got away with all of them.)

Relay races are gaffled so that people can’t just follow each other round. By the end of the race, each team will’ve done each gaffle the same number of times, to make it fair (ish), but sometimes you know that if you’d had the other gaffle your run would’ve been better (or worse). Today, Britain, Norway, Sweden and the Czech Republic all mispunched at the same pair of gaffled controls: 52 and 67, out on the far part of the course (The top A and B on the map). Each runner might’ve been okay if only they’d had the other control on their map.

relay1 leg3 relay 1

But poker is also about psychology. You bet £10 with your pair of nines, hoping that you’ve judged the moment when your opponent, holding jacks, doesn’t want to take the risk.

Perhaps what we saw in that Colombian jungle this morning was an example of what Poirot called the Psychological Moment. 52 and 67 aren’t easy to mix up, in ordinary circumstances. In a stressful competitive situation like a gold-medal sprint relay, where you’re pushing yourself to the limit, the planner has (accidentally?) been very crafty by putting the two controls on similar features along on the same ditch, on the part of the course where you’re beginning to think about the route home.

At the point shown on the map, Scott Fraser has just run past his own control and is about to punch the wrong one. Around him are three other teams that won’t finish the race. Denmark, who appear to be eighth, go on to win the Silver medal half an hour later.

So four expert orienteers were defeated by psychology and variance. But they’ll fight back another day.


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