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…or perseverance pays off (sometimes).

Twice this week I’ve been out orienteering for about two hours in non-standard races, and twice I’ve beaten the odds and come second. 🙂

On Thursday it was the BIMM: the Bewdley International Mountain Marathon. In fact it was the Return of the BIMM, since the format had been retired by its originator, the inimitable Russ Fauset. Although my knees don’t like street running that much, this kind of event favours me: I like puzzles. The race was in two parts: first, 2.5 km navigating around the centre of Bewdley using a bad copy of a Victorian ordnance survey map. Second, a route of indeterminate length on a roughly drawn street map. Unlike normal orienteering, where you see the entire route at the start, in Russ-O you have to get to each checkpoint before you find out where the next one is.

Does the event have the right to call itself an International Mountain Marathon? I should coco: we had a competitor from Sweden (or from Wordsley, if you want to make it sound more exotic); we had mountains, as this route profile shows…


(Note the genius of the Tour-de-France-style planning – the first 8k was a relatively flat warm-up for the hors-category climbs in the final third of the race.) and although 8.5 miles isn’t literally a marathon, it is a freaking long way on a freezing Thursday night.

This must be the first orienteering event when I’ve been out for an hour and three quarters and still come second!

And then yesterday I eclipsed that by coming second after a two-hour run. Radio orienteering is an acquired taste and I’m a complete ham, but, as at Bewdley, I proved that persistence in difficult conditions can bear fruit. Cademan Woods is a tricky area (as competitors in the British Night Championsips there can testify) with its rocky outcrops, maze of paths and acres of brambles but at least it’s an area I’m familiar with. And it was a cold morning flecked with snow.

I set off west, convinced that transmitter 2 was over there (you can do them in any order), but 45 minutes later I eventually found it virtually in the centre of the map, having slowly drifted northwards across the road. (I’d actually gone virtually straight past number 1 without realising it.) A crap start which included slipping and falling on my back while clambering down some rocks. But finding the first control gave me confidence that I knew what I was doing (!) and I proceeded to find the other 4 transmitters and by some miracle get back within the 2-hour time limit – just. Checking the results, I was shocked to see that I was one of only two people who managed this feat!



I hadn’t had much sleep so it probably wasn’t too surprising that when I opened the bag I saw it was Catherine’s shoes… Still, luckily I did have some trainers with me. Not ideal though when it’s muddy and a bit icy too.

But the shoe thing wasn’t my biggest mistake of the day. As I ran up the road towards the first control I realised I wasn’t carrying a compass. Now, that doesn’t make things impossible – I’ve tried it a couple of times before, at park and urban events, where it probably made me concentrate a bit more, and I probably saved some time by not looking at it – but on Highgate Common?? in the dark???

Sure enough, the first control, a 400-metre leg, took me 10 minutes. Thinking about it now, I must’ve run past it after about 5 minutes, but I wasn’t at all sure where I was (!), and I’m pleased that I somehow managed to slowly work out the pattern of slopes, paths and trees IN THE DARK and gradually home in on my prey. (If you look at the map, you can see that the contours show that the slope upwards is generally towards the northwest, so this info can be used to substitute for the lack of compass.)

After that, I didn’t really have much trouble. I went 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-14-15-16-18 for 12 controls in the hour allowed. To be honest, if I hadn’t been wearing my new headtorch I wouldn’t have risked this madcap compassless adventure. I got it off eBay for a tenner, and though it’s probably not as bright as the EIGHTEEN HUNDRED LUMENS advertised, it is pretty damn bright, and made me feel a lot more confident out there than I sometimes have been with my old headlamps.

December 2012 253

Long 8.5 km

John Embrey 55:59

Matt Giles 57:58

Chris McCartney 62:31

Mike Baggott 63:26

Peter Langmaid 74:30

Medium 6.5 km

Kerstin Mitchell 69:26

Barry McGowan 70:16

Short 4.5 km

Mike Hampton 39:20

Russ Fauset 45:28

Jacky Embrey 47:42

Thanks for coming, especially those who had trouble getting into or out of the campus. 😉 I’m doing another event soon – details will be confirmed shortly.

I’m not as keen as I used to be about street races, mainly because my knees aren’t brilliant, but (Famous last words) they don’t seem too bad at the moment and I got round the recent Wordsley race okay. Did quite well, in fact. I don’t want to say this too loudly, in case next time they host an event hundreds of people turn up, but the post-race refreshments that Kerstin and Martin provided were excellent!

(I think I was the only person to go that way from control 7 to the finish.)

I’ve also been to two traditional night-O events lately, at Shire Oak and at Dudmaston. I didn’t set the forests alight but within the hour I found 18 controls at the former and 17 at the latter, and I’m feeling more confident with orienteering in the dark than I ever used to be. It’s good too that these events are so popular.

HOC night-O page

This butterfly format meant it only took just over an hour to put out all the controls needed for an event with 5 courses, the longest being 6.4 km with 18 controls. Some thought just needs to go into the siting of the common control and into the positioning of the loops in order to avoid doglegs and repeating legs.


David Williams 180
Chris McSweeny 180
Richard Dearden 170
Mike Baggott 170
Alan Halliday 150
Alan Segar 140
Ian Gamlen 130
Barry McGowan 120
Peter Langmaid 120
Bob Scott 100
Sarah Williamson 70


Thanks for coming. It went well. COBOC will be running similar event nights at the Outdoor Education Centre on the last Wednesday of each month (except December). Results:

1. Iain Embrey 42:50
2. Chris McSweeny 44:04
3. John Embrey 47:04
4. Dave Williams 53:58
5. Chris Embrey 56:57
6. Mike Baggott 59:40
7. Alan Halliday 60:40
8. Richard Dearden 70:42
9. Alan Segar mp
Medium 1
1. Ian Gamlen 57:06
2. Barry McGowan 60:19
3. Pete Carey 62:53
Medium 2
1. Marian White 47:38
2. Andy White 52:37
3. Dave Ellis 57:58
4. Mick Sadler 59:04
5. Robert Vickers 77:37
Short 1
Sheila Carey 42:43
Short 2
Sarah Williamson 42:03


Last night I took Catherine to the first night event of the season, at Uffmoor Wood near Halesowen. We’ve both been getting some night-O practice in at COBOC’s club nights and Catherine has fond memories of doing the Chasers’ Maize Maze in the dark.

Somehow it had passed me by that the format has changed – instead of a 60-minute score event, the WEEs are now planned as “classic” events, albeit with a time limit. This first one was 9.4 km with 37 controls and a 60-minute time limit. Phew!! I half expected to meet Daniel Hubmann or Thierry Gueorgiou out in the wood… Still, not bad value for 3 quid.

I’d expected something a bit easier to do with a 7-year-old, but Catherine is a good sport and she ventured deep into the forest with me and we got round 6 controls in the hour. It was clear that in theory she found the experience rather scary, but in practice the fact that she was with me and we’d done similar things before took the edge off it for her. A bigger problem was that Uffmoor is pretty grotty and we had a lot of brambles to wade through. She needs some good gaiters to cover the entire area from shoe to knee.

I spent a large part of Saturday afternoon and night watching Jukola 2011 – the women’s and men’s relays live from Finland on internet TV, so I was a bit sleepy yesterday for the event in the Wyre Forest. With my ankle still being bad, I opted to take Catherine round the Orange. She’d enjoyed it at Baggeridge, but this was a different kettle of fish. I enjoyed the course very much, the legs were quite technical and it felt like the Jukola in miniature 🙂 But Catherine got quite upset – a reminder that it’ll be a couple of years before she “enjoys” running through brashings, brambles and nettles – and I need to get her back on the paths before she goes off orienteering altogether!

Having said all that, the news that we’d won again cheered her up considerably at the end!


Among the highlights of my TV-viewing were Riina Kuuselo’s performance on the 3rd Venla leg (3rd fastest out of 1,014 runners), the last-minute win for Domnarvets, and the performances of Thierry Gueorgiou, Lauri Sild and Mats Haldin on the 3rd, 4th and 5th Jukola legs respectively. Tero was justifiably dubbed “king of the night” after his amazing run.

There were some great British performances too, from Pippa Archer, Helen Bridle and Douglas Tullie among others. The Scottish men came a creditable 51st out of almost 1,500 competing teams.

Venla replay, highlights, news report

Jukola replay: part 1, part 2, news report

Tired and ill. Wonder if it’s got anything to do with doing two events this weekend? Well, I’m sure I’d already caught the cold, but the tiredness is probably no coincidence. I was falling asleep in the car on the way home from Hawkbatch this afternoon. Luckily I wasn’t driving!

I’m glad I only did the Green –  the 4 km took me 45 minutes including a long walk uphill. I was right that last night’s exertions – 78 minutes on course 5 at the British Nights in Bentley Wood – had taken quite a bit out of me.

The Nights were excellent though. Bentley Woods is a great area and the course was well planned. Add to this the facts that the evening was unseasonably warm and that the battery of my head torch held out for the duration and it made it a very pleasant experience.

It was also a bit odd. I started 2 minutes ahead of my teammate Kerstin and I finished exactly two minutes ahead of her, meaning we had the same time: 78:45. The graph of our runs shows that this was despite us having very different races. In fact, thanks to a couple of early mistakes, I fell a few minutes behind Kerstin, only to bump into her at about halfway as she hunted in vain for the 8th control. Although I didn’t see her again, she must’ve overtaken me again when I overshot #12, but somehow I managed to claw the 2 minutes back by the end. 🙂

My next night orienteering will be on Saturday when I start putting the courses out for the event I’m planning!

Although it’s a shame that so many Midlands woods are so rough – covered in brambles and other nasty undergrowth – it doesn’t matter that much really. I don’t mind picking my way slowly through, and I think a lot of orienteers don’t mind either. Whatever the conditions, it is (as they say) a level playing field, and even leveller when the sprinters have got nowhere to sprint…  Of course I ought to wear gaiters or bramble-bashers – then I wouldn’t get massive scratches on my shins that take a couple of months to heal – but even without them it’s still possible to get around in one piece, and it’s all part of the adventure.

Rough Wood itself, scene of Thursday’s night O event, is a typical Midlands area, with lots of green on the map signifying unrunnable woods. The map is unfortunately rather idiosyncratic but I still found my way round okay, finding 17 controls in 75 minutes. (All the penalty points I earned mean I ended up in last place – we were only supposed to stay out for 60 minutes but I was enjoying it too much.)

All good practice for the British Night Championships on the 5th of Feb. I wouldn’t normally enter, but this year they’re only up the road (Bentley Woods, North Warwickshire) so it seems daft not to have a go. The atmosphere will be excellent, I’m sure.




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