Saturday, August 11, 2018

WOC 2018 Shorts Day 4

Picnic time

Peter leads the way
Just time for another not properly numbered day before we get to the Relay. The spectator race only used the southern part of the WOC middle area, so we missed the steep green hills north of the Gauja river. That just left us to run round the steep green hills south of the Gauja river, although to be honest it wasn't as green as it could have been. But it was pretty steep, and my route choice through loose sand between cliffs was not ideal and required significant clinging to trees. We had the expected leg through the flat reedy area, and my compass and hope route choice was going really well until I found a control that wasn't mine on the direct line and decided to cut my losses and relocate off the path (™ Kinneberg, Hubmann and others, but they had it easier since their depression was closer to the path).

After that it was the traditional GB team picnic. This has taken many forms in the past, including a memorable taking over of a hotel corridor in the Ukraine in 2007, but this year everyone descended on the GB team hotel just south of Sigulda. It was the standard mix of athletes, coaches, parents, hangers-on (that's us) and even honorary Brits (Warren Key and some of his family). Peter had gone fully prepared with the photos he wanted, and all the athletes were brilliant in joining in.

GB Women's day to forget

Relay day brings us to the grounds of the castle at Turaida. Helen is happy because there is somewhere to sit on the slope above the finish run-in, thus avoiding hours more standing as it was for the sprint races. The British women have one of those days. Jo Shepherd has a steady run to hand over just over three minutes down in 13th. Megan attempts a novel round route choice near the end that gets her stuck in an area of rough open, and then gets confused right at the end around the castle. Cat starts fast but investigates a hill that no-one else had been to, and in the end the team failed to register a result since Megan had run straight past her penultimate control without punching it. Mystery of the day was why Tove Alexandersson hesitated so much in the parkland at the end of the last lap and allowed Judith Wyder to run Switzerland to victory.

GB Men's day to remember

Team GB
And then it was the men's turn. Peter Hodkinson ran out in the pack, came through the arena passage in the pack, agonisingly chose the wrong gaffle at control 11 and dropped 45 seconds as we watched the GPS tracking, but then took a good long route choice and found himself sprinting up the run-in to hand over to Kris Jones in third place. Kris had his normal storming relay run and Ralph went out in second place just four seconds behind Norway, but with eight teams in the next 90 seconds. Frenzied GPS watching in the media tent (with a short interruption to nip out to take photos at the arena run-through) and it got to control 13 and decision time: round to the right with climb early and a long flat run, or drop left down to the road, a flat run and a final killer 50m climb to the castle. Nine people were faced with the decision in about 30 seconds. The Norwegian went right, seven others went left (including Ralph) and Sweden went mad, gambling on a contouring route through green that dropped them nearly two minutes. The pack of seven started the final climb together, with Norway already at the top of the hill but with a long way still to go. And when it was all over Norway just managed to hold on to the lead, Switzerland and France won the race up the hill to take silver and bronze, and Ralph was left racing the Czech Republic before finally crossing the line in sixth place, just 37 seconds behind the winners.


37 seconds behind the winners sounded like quite a good result, so I had a more detailed look. This showed that it would have won 26 silver medals, six bronze medals and two fourth places in the previous 34 WOC relays. The Latvians can feel even more hard done by. They ended up 58 seconds down in eighth place, and the stats for that are almost identical.

The other two major stats of the week so far were the first medal for New Zealand (Tim Robertson in the sprint) and the first medal for a French woman (Isia Basset in the middle). France become the tenth country to win individual medals for both men and women, joining Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Finland, Russia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Great Britain and Ukraine.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

WOC 2018 Shorts Day 3

On the numbering of the days

The title says Day 3 but everybody (elite and not so elite) had a rest day on the Monday which would have been Day 3 if it counted, but to save confusion it doesn't. So Day 3 is the third WOC competition day and everybody knows how things work until I get to Day 5 + 1 which will be the day after the last WOC race when there is still a spectator race and trip home to report on.

Anyway,on the day that doesn't get a number but was really Monday we did a bit more looking around Riga. This took in all of the standard sites of Riga, along with a visit to the newest tourist site: the Kris Jones memorial staircase on the route between 7 and 8 from Saturday's sprint final. Look out for the the blue plaque that should have been erected there by the time people get back to Riga for the 2019 World Masters.

The Road to Sigulda

Peter finishing to the sound of bagpipes
Day 3 (Tuesday, keep up) and it is time to move from the sprint areas in Riga to the forests of Sigulda 50km to the east. Helpfully the Latvian O-Week area was on the direct line between the two, in an open-air museum on the edge of Riga and was advertised as a “forest sprint”. This turned out to be another very nice area, with lots of historic Latvian buildings spread over some well-contoured sandy forest with patches of thicker green just to make finding controls tricky. Finishers were treated to traditional Latvian music (there is no escape) from a three piece “band” consisting of a drum and bagpipes. And then it was a quick drive to the WOC Middle through what seemed like endless pine forest with gentle contours and almost no ground cover. Unfortunately this turned out not be a sign of things to come.

Being there

Team Maprunner shouting at Ralph
Why bother going to WOC when you can sit at home and watch it all on the internet with GPS tracking and live TV? Good question, and once you have got past the "running the spectator races" answer all you have left is the atmosphere in the arenas and the chance to talk to the people involved. But the attraction of GPS tracking is great, so James spent a lot of the day in the media centre watching the tracking on his PC and occasionally looking out of the window to watch runners on the arena passage. This has the added advantage that you don't get soaking wet when the thunderstorm passes over.

One of my visits to the media centre coincided with Ralph's start. We sat and watched as Ralph took a good route and then wandered off and then recovered and then veered away again and finally made it to control one having lost over a minute. "Oh well" said his father who was sitting next to us. "Oh well" said his mother who had just appeared as well. Apparently Ralph was now slightly more angry and decided to run it off. And thus from 58th at control one he improved or maintained his position at all but one of the remaining controls, including two fastest splits, and ended up in 13th place, under two minutes behind the winner Eskil Kinneberg of Norway.

On a day when a lot of people made a lot of mistakes the other Brits had a mixed day. Megan Carter-Davis kept her head best, ending up in a creditable 20th place. Cat Taylor was 25th, Charlotte Watson was 53rd and Alasdair McLeod was 52nd. Tove Alexandersson of Sweden had a true day to forget, never quite getting to control 3, despite taking over 10 minutes to get from control 4 (which she thought was control 3) back to control 4. And the value for money award went to the wonderfully determined Juan Carlos Bedoya Obando of Colombia who stuck it out to finish in 138 minutes. Highlight of his day was probably the 62 seconds it took to get to control 5: his best split of the day was good enough for 67th place on that leg.

In amongst the action

A first look at the Middle maps revealed that control 1 for Men and Women was just two hundred metres from a small group of buildings, and indeed these offered a possible attack point that may well have saved several people a lot of time. One of these buildings is now our accommodation for the rest of the week.

Flag-raising: a lost art

I am an officially qualified bronze medal position WOC flag raiser, having somehow ended up with that role at WOC 2015 in Scotland. So it was a little sad to see that my expertise is no longer required. The WOC ceremonies so far this year have dispensed with flag rising, and instead rely on three people standing at the side and just waving flags on poles.

Monday, August 06, 2018

WOC 2018 Shorts: Day 2

And so we come to the Sprint Relay. Or at least we would if we were just here for WOC. But of course we are here for the spectator races as well, so first it was a 30 minute drive out to the coast north of Riga. Pine-tree covered sand dunes with a range of contour detail from big hills to extremely vague knolls in vaguely vegetated marsh made for a really nice area to orienteer on, very similar to places like Culbin, Lossie or Pembrey. Next year's World Masters Long Race is the next forest north along the coast so should be good for those who make it.

Latvian National Library
Four reasonable family results in the bag and time to head back to Riga. A quick stop at the hotel for lunch and a shower and then a tram and a bus got us to the Latvian National Library for the "unofficial World Indoor Orienteering Championships". The library is an extremely impressive triangular shape on the west bank of the Daugava River. Orienteers had a free run of all 14 floors (12 numbered floors plus a basement and a Mezzanine.

It is difficult to describe quite how complicated the race turned out to be.  The first three controls were in the basement, and required navigating a room filled with tapes to make a maze. So far,so Ultrasprint. Leg 3 to 4 was then probably about 40 metres straight line. 30 minutes later I was getting close to finishing it. First you were faced with five closed doors , some or all of which might lead to the corridor you were looking for. James later described this as like Scooby-Doo, with people disappearing through one door only to reappear through another seconds later. Then it was simply a matter of working out which of the five or six sets of staircases linked up, and which bits of which floors were taped off. A quick visit to the fourth floor allowed me to get back down to the Mezzanine, only to find out the staircase I wanted was out of bounds. To be honest I wasn't entirely sure which other two floors the Mezzanine was between. Eventually it became apparent that the only way to get from control 3 in the basement to control 4 in the basement was to go all the way to the 12th floor in one staircase and then come down a variety of other staircases back to the basement. A quick slalom through the men's and women's changing rooms got you to another "which door do I need" problem, and I let out a cry of triumph as a control appeared in a dark corner of the room. You could tell this was a good library: next to the control were the plans for a hyper-space bypass. Or maybe I was just hallucinating by this stage.

So that was control 4, but my course had 16 controls. I eventually threw in the towel at control 6. James and Helen made it to 8. Some truly warped minds completed the course (including at least three separate visits to the 12th floor), but breaking an hour was an achievement. Apparently you were then meant to run a second course. But we needed to get to the Sprint Relay, so had an excuse to leave.

Sprint Relay: So near yet again

Peter going for it
Sprint relay orienteering (according to Gary Lineker): the whole world runs round in circles for an hour before Sweden, Switzerland and Denmark share the medals between themselves.  And so it was again that Sweden triumphed and Maja Alm decided she would really like another medal so ran a bit faster than everyone else to make sure she got one. Mind you, Kris Jones quite fancied a medal as well, and ran even faster than everyone else on his lap, to give Peter Hodkinson 15 minutes of pain trying to stay in second place. But it wasn't to be, and the pack of NOR, CZE, GBR and RUS that went out fighting for the bronze medal on the last lap all missed out to the flying Dane. Megan eventually brought GBR into seventh place, but on another day who knows.

On the mapping of boulders

Kris and the boulder
Yesterday we discovered that an artificial boulder is mapped as a statue at the World Championships Sprint Race. Today we present part two of the exam.

Prospective World Championships Mapper Exam Paper Sample Question Part 2
You are using an artificial boulder as a control site in the WOC Sprint Relay. What map symbol should you use to represent it?

Answer: The site is clearly a boulder. It is therefore mapped as a boulder.

And so the artificial boulder that was a statue at the Sprint Race appeared as a boulder at the Sprint Relay. I'm now waiting for it to appear as a man-made feature at the Middle race, in which case it will be a black cross or circle and have had three different symbols in three days.

Romanticism at WOC

The WOC 2018 write-up described the Sprint Relay area as " a particularly romantic part of Rīga". Those of us who made it out into the area might have a slightly less romantic opinion. To be honest I was surprised at how many old and run-down buildings were still standing that close to the centre of Riga. The police presence (policemen on motorbikes at key road junctions) came in handy though. As I set out to photograph the women half way round the first lap I came across a police van that had been summoned to remove a somewhat inebriated local who was showing slightly too much interest in the shiny red and white flag he had just found.

Opening Non-ceremonies

I didn't write about the opening ceremony yesterday, despite this being one of my favourite WOC topics. This was partly because I forgot, but partly because there really wasn't much of one. The layout of the arena was not ideal, with an awful lot of people packed in a very small and flat square. They marched some flags down the run-in, two people said a few words that even they will not be able to remember, and three women played traditional Latvian music on traditional Latvian instruments whilst dressed in traditional Latvian costumes. At least we were spared the traditional Latvian dancing, or at least I think we were, since I'd left before things finished.

On the mapping of bears

Bear Nirvana
In a weird echo of the WOC 2017 Opening Ceremony we spent the next day looking round Riga and found two girls busking on cellos. They knew what the crowd wanted, and so for a second time I was treated to "Smells like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana played on the cello. What a missed opportunity for the Opening Ceremony.

They were sat in the middle of over two hundred painted bears. The bears had been yet another conundrum for the WOC mapper, and the answer is that a line of six foot tall bear statues constitutes a crossable fence.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

WOC 2018 Shorts: Day 1

So here we go again. 2018 and the WOC circus has moved to Latvia, so that's where Team Maprunner are this week. Helen and Peter decided to join in the fun, so all four of us will be experiencing the delights of Riga and Sigulda. I'm not convinced I can manage a fully formed article each day (given I still haven't quite finished the write-up of last year's middle and relay yet), so this year we will try something different and just go for a selection of things that take my fancy each day.

So nearly some results to celebrate

What 0.6 seconds means
I just can't get too excited about Maja Alm and Daniel Hubmann being Sprint World Champions (again), even if they are clearly great athletes. Tim Robertson's silver is much more like it, even though New Zealand have never featured in my "who is about to make it big" predictions. Tim could quite reasonably have been upset to have missed gold by just a 1.1 seconds, but was remarkably philosophical in the press conference. The big loser was Yannick Michiels who sat utterly despondent at the finish for several minutes after missing a medal by 0.6 seconds. And Belgium was one of my predictions. Result of the day in the Qualifier was undoubtedly Ahmet Kacmaz who was second in his heat, and ended up 37th in the Final. Still no signs of the Chinese waking up though.

In the Women's race Alice Leake in 8th was probably the biggest surprise near the top. Alice becomes the sixth British woman to manage a top ten sprint result, joining Heather Monro, Tessa Hill, Helen Bridle, Claire Ward and Sarah Rollins. Another three women (Yvette Baker, Cat Taylor and Carol McNeill) have managed a top ten in Long or Middle.

Fun and games at the last control

It's behind you
The arrangement of the start flag and last control was far from ideal. The men were not too badly affected, since the start flag was mostly hidden as they approached the last control. Even so it caused some confusion as runners suddenly saw the start flag as they ran towards the finish. But the women came in at right angles to the men, meaning the start flag was visible and the last control hidden by spectators. Nearly everyone ended up running to the start flag and then having to cut back right, losing several seconds. Controversially it got to the stage where spectators were directing runners where to go.

To me this was just part of the overall problem that the area around the arena was just too small for the number of spectators and general public that were trying to get through it, especially when trying to fit in a run out, run through and finish. Another 500 spectators and the whole thing would have come to a standstill.

What World Cup 2005 taught WOC 2018

Tim and the statue
On closer inspection it turned out that the  "statue" used for the last control was an artificial boulder. We got there first at the World Cup Sprint Race in 2005 at Battersea Park, when the centre of the athletics track was decorated with a group of artificial boulders carefully crafted by Mike Murray.You can see one control on in the iconic photograph of Heather Monro on the Maprunner home page that became the Maprunner logo.

Prospective World Championships Mapper Exam Paper Sample Question.
You are using an artificial boulder as a control site in the WOC Sprint Final. What map symbol should you use to represent it?

Answer: The site is clearly a statue consisting of a boulder. It is therefore mapped as a statue. (Part 2 of this question will be published tomorrow.)

Cable TV

There were a lot of TV cameras spread around the town, most of which came with associated huge lengths of cable. A favourite TV trick is for the cameraman to sprint in pursuit of a runner down some narrow passageway whilst 200 metres of cable unwinds from a pile on the ground. This makes great TV but it also leaves an awful lot of cable for people to trip over, especially if you are the runner just behind the cameraman, or are going the other way down the passage. I also watched a cameraman nearly fall over backwards when the cable caught on a bollard and jerked out of the camera as he tried to keep up with a world class athlete.

Be prepared

Daniel Hubmann was asked in the press conference if the cobblestones were slippery in the wet. He revealed that he had three different pairs of shoes with him at the pre-start, but in the end went for the lightest pair since he thought the rain was going to stop. Great orienteer, awful weather forecaster.

Photo-bombing the wedding

The Sprint Qualifier and the Latvian O-Week Spectator Race were both hold in the very scenic Kronvalda Parks in bright sunshine. This is clearly a popular spot, since I managed to run through not one but two sets of wedding photos, as well as having to dodge round a stretch limousine on the way back to the tram.

Friday, July 07, 2017

No rest on the rest day

James escaping from the Estonian forest
WOC rest day. Just enough time for us to trek back to the Long race area and get to experience it for real. The bus timetable was looking a bit tight, given that James had a 1.10 start and needed to run 10 km in under 50 minutes to make it back for a 2.00 departure. First stop was therefore the Enquiries tent to try to change our start times to be a bit earlier. We found ourselves in a queue with 10 Chinese all trying to do the same thing. At that point the organisers did the sensible thing and moved the bus back an hour.

This was still a bit tight, so we managed to get James's start moved 30 minutes earlier. The Estonians are sticking to the standard European method of running age classes as blocks if they share a course, so all the M20s were at the end of the start window today. They also insisted on a three minute start interval, despite two minutes being good enough for WOC.

Out in the forest it was just as rough and tough as expected. Control 1 turned up OK, but control 2 was a warning of things to come, requiring a small loop around a vague hillside before finding myself in the river that told me I had dropped too far. Control 3 was going fine until the marsh I was following turned out not to be the marsh I thought I was following. At this point the beavers came to the rescue, and I relocated on a beaver dam holding back a huge area of uncrossable marsh full of dead birch trees. The expected long leg turned up and I took the brave route between two uncrossable marshes. This turned out OK, but mainly because of the elephant track from WOC runners the day before and earlier starters in the spectator race. I ran this section with a Czech M21, and his use of the word "swamp" to describe what we were trying to get through certainly showed an excellent grasp of English. There was then a long mainly downhill section through white forest, where I managed to speed up to 8 minutes/km, before a final hack through light green to the control on a hill. I got within 50 metres before deciding I was too low and having a quick look over the spur above me. That was 19.38 for a 1.8km leg.

After that it was a stumble down to the river, a slog through a marsh, a painful climb back to the top of the hill and 5 minutes wasted by forgetting to find an attack point before trying to find a depression amongst scattered depressions in a light green area. Eventually the finish turned up, and 7.1km had taken 94 minutes. James managed to keep going, and was almost sprinting along the edge of the marsh at the end as he tried to break 2 hours. He failed by 23 seconds.

The bus back was packed and set off at 3.00 exactly, leaving at least one Australian somewhere in  the depths of the Estonian jungle. It turned out later that he had met his target of breaking three hours, and found some alternative way of getting back to Tartu. Just to complete the day of rest there was then time for a quick shower and a chance to fill the washing machine with mud as we tried to remove the marsh from our O kit, before heading off to get photos at the prize giving, and updating the website in time for the next day's Middle race.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

WOC 2017 Long Race

Monday was a rest day. It rained. A lot. I eventually managed a trip to the supermarket to stock up, but other than that we stayed in most of the day and did important press and website things. But by early evening it had brightened up and we set off to the Medal Ceremony for the sprint races. The band was no match for C-Jam, so we did a loop up the hill and round the University again to take a few photos, and look at the grassy bank from above. Yes, it is still very steep.

A rather better crowd turned up than for the opening ceremony, and it felt like something was really happening. The GB sprint relay team managed to make it onto the stage to receive their certificates for 6th place, and the resulting tweet is our most popular yet, even if the picture does show up as four pairs of legs on most phones. I was slightly surprised by the choice of prizes for a World Championships when Per announced that the buckets would be presented by some local dignitary, but these disappointingly turned out to be bouquets. So that was the rest day done: now for some real exertion.

Tuesday and it’s the Long race day, which is always a long race day if you see what I mean. Up at 6.45, left the apartment slightly too late at 7.10 and ended up running to catch the bus. The WOC bus left 10 minutes late today. The journey to the Long race area was filled with an Estonian orienteer providing running commentary of things we passed (Tartu airport, storks, NATO convoy, more storks, ex-Soviet ballistic missile site, nice runnable area of pine forest nothing like we would be running in today) and 75 minutes later we arrived in a field with a large stork’s nest in it, or at least a 30 metre high observation tower designed to look like a stork’s nest.

Of course the first thing to do was climb the tower to get a view of the area. Forests and lakes as far as you can see. We then made for the press tent just in time for the press briefing and map hand-out. The map is huge, and the courses have several very long legs with significant route choice. They also have an arena run-through followed by two orange standard controls before the finish. Not what I would have planned.

But before the OC runners start coming it is our turn to see what the forest is like. The spectator race is in an area that adjoins the WOC map. The most noticeable thing walking to the start is the paths that they have had to cut through the open areas (!) to get the children’s courses through. I set off and take brave straight route to control 1. Thick and bushy with low visibility, muddy, lots of marshes which look more like lakes, lots of fallen trees, open areas full of thick vegetation, felled areas filled with raspberry bushes: pretty much just as expected. Control 1 goes OK, control 2 is a disaster caused by forgetting what a compass is, control 3 includes a small detour to the wrong corner of an open area, but after that things improve. 75 minutes for 6.5 km isn’t great but it could be worse. James struggles a bit, and is just over 2 hours for 9.3 km.

Then it’s a solid four hours of photography, trying desperately to get shots of all the GB athletes. This just about goes OK, even if nearly every photo shows them looking exhausted, since they’ve just run up a 25m hill to get to the arena for the run-through, or up the same 25m hill to get to the finish. British results are as they so often are: not bad but difficult to get excited about. Ralph loses time on the long leg to control 2 but then has a good run from there to end up 18th. Holly seems unhappy at the finish but ends up 16th. Jess is much happier with her run to be 17th. Tove Alexandersson and Olav Lundanes retain their titles. The long day ends with a long bus journey home,  and we get back 12 hours after leaving. All that remains is to sort and post the pictures, write the BOF report and even have something to eat. And so to bed, but not for long because we’re going back to the same place tomorrow to run on the WOC map itself.