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.

Monday, July 03, 2017

WOC 2017 Sprint Relay: So near

Ralph deciding on the "round" route choice
Tartu done: now to set off to some other corners of Estonia for the rest of WOC 2017. The easy bit should be getting the city bus to the school from which our bus to the event leaves. The Australian in the queue ahead of us swipes her shiny new travel pass on the reader: bus says no. James tries his shiny new card: bus says no. I try mine: bus says no. Lots of Estonians point and chatter: locals say yes, bus driver shows no interest, so we just sit down and off we go. Two Chinese orienteers get on at the next stop and the bus maintains neutrality by saying no to them as well.

By the time we get to the school 10 minutes later the we have been joined by five or six others all looking like they might be about to go orienteering. A coach turns up, we all get on along with a handful of event officials wearing the official sky-blue shirts, and then 15 minutes before the scheduled departure time it leaves. If I'd been doing my normal thing we'd have missed it. Anyway, we set off on what turns out to be a one hour drive to Viljandi (advertised time 90 minutes). Highlight of the trip was the sighting of a stork followed by another stork followed by another stork followed by another stork. Pretty much like red kites on the M40.

We arrived just in time for the press briefing for the sprint relay, grabbed a map each and tried to work out where to go for the best pictures. Just time to do a quick look around the castle area before the relay starts. The scenery turns out to be spectacular, and the sun has even come out. The area looks fantastic for a sprint relay, although extremely steep in places. We examine the route down into the valley on the way to 14 on the men's course: very steep, covered in knee- to waist-high vegetation, with small stones on the surface just for fun. Or you could run three time as far but save all the down and up by heading for a bridge a very long way off the straight line. The organiser's have helpfully posted a First Aider at the top of the slope, presumably to treat cases of shock in spectators as they watch runners fall into the chasm.

The race passes in a blur as James and I run backwards and forwards trying to get photos of important things. He does the start, I do the runners at the first control, he gets them on the bridge into the town, I get the spectator run-through, and we're still only half-way through lap one of four. This continues for the next hour. As predicted, the "down the vertical boulder field or the long way round over the bridge" proves a difficult decision. We have pictures of Ralph looking into the valley and then deciding he doesn't fancy it. Straight is great, but round is sound and Ralph hands over to Kris in second place. Game on.

Kris is leading by the second control, and still leading at control 13. This is the leg. Kris and Ralph had apparently discussed this as a possible option beforehand, and both had agreed that the bridge might be best. Kris sticks to the plan and sets off over the bridge. At which point the day starts to go not so well. Watching the GPS track on the big screen in the arena it suddenly became clear that Kris was in trouble, disoriented by runners on the other gaffle, the vague contours and the low visibility. His trace does a slow loop of the wrong hill. Switzerland are in trouble as well, and the Swiss track is stationary for ages before setting off to the same control as Kris. They punch together, but then drop a few more seconds leading each other astray on the way to 15. And by now Sweden have got a clear lead, and the Czech Republic, Denmark and Russia have got past as well. Kris storms down the hill to hand over in sixth place, still only 1.56 down, but leaving Tessa with mountains to climb, both literally and metaphorically.

Tessa put in a great run, but never quite got in contact with the runners ahead, so GB had to settle for sixth place. Sweden held on to the lead, Maja Alm rescued a silver medal for Denmark, and Switzerland just managed to take bronze away from the Czech Republic.

With the main action over I rush back to the media centre, get changed and jog to the start of the spectator race. Five minute delay on the way as I bump into the GB team plus supporters and grab a quick chat with Tessa and Cat. I arrived two minutes early for my call-up only to discover that all starts are put back 30 minutes. I use the time by going back to the media centre to start sorting through photos. When I finally get started I manage a reasonable run round, including a visit to the critical wooded area. This reminded me strongly of the middle distance areas at WOC 2007 around Kiev, with vague contour detail hidden by quite thick vegetation and undergrowth. I managed to run within 10 metres of my control in a re-entrant without seeing the re-entrant, let alone the flag. After that it was a flog up the big hill, and quick run through the castle and then a loop around the town to finish. Very pleasant, though we avoided too may legs across the big earthworks, so the climb wasn't too bad.

James is just starting as I finish, and reappears as expected about 20 minutes later. Just time to grab our bags before the media centre is locked up, and then it's hunt the bus time. There is no sign of it where we were dropped off, or where the "Bus stop" sign had been, so we head back to Enquiries. They seem reasonably certain it will leave at 9.30, and finally work out where it will go from. The small group of people standing on the relevant street corner grows gradually bigger and more international , before eventually a bus does indeed appear and fears of a repeat of the WOC 2007 bus chaos recede.

The journey back to Tartu is just long enough to finish sorting photos and draft an article for the BOF website, but we get back so late that the last bus home has gone so we set off on the 30 minute walk home. After about 10 minutes we get to a bus stop showing that the bus we want will arrive in 3 minutes, so we risk waiting and cheer as it appears. The bus has obviously had the necessary talking to and now says yes to both our cards. And then there's just time to finish the BOF article and post it and upload some photos and suddenly it's 1.00 a.m.the next day. Lucky it's a rest day, because we have had no rest so far.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Points in my I-Spy Book of Orienteering

Oscar Wilde with Turtles
Sunday morning and a few hours to kill before setting off to the Sprint Relay. The obvious thing to do was to run the men's sprint course, so we set off to do the obvious thing. Our apartment is a five minute run from the Town Square.  We got there to find it empty, with all signs of yesterday's tents, stages, fencing, cameras and everything else removed, no doubt now being set up in a field somewhere else.

There's a spectator race tonight so the plan was to take it easy. No chance. James set off, and I set off after him. The first leg was straight up the hill. As soon as you started you noticed that running on the cobbles was quite painful. Once out of the square the surface improved, but then the hill arrived. Jink left and right through the houses and there is a 15m high grass bank, seemingly almost vertical, complete with elephant track from yesterday. This was unsurprisingly quite muddy and slippery, and having struggled to the top you then had to concentrate on the approach to control 1. That went OK, but then I completely messed up control 2 by not bothering to read the map. I knew roughly where the best route went, but unfortunately didn't quite go that way, and was suddenly confronted by an impassable fence. 20 seconds gone as I ran round an extra building.

From then on things went a bit better. Control 5 turned out to be in an area that was now inaccessible with all entrances locked, so that lost a few seconds. Then it was back through the Town Square, with the silence of the massed tourist to spur you on, before another go at the cobbles and the hill, including that grass bank on the way to 10. James took the Hubmann route to the left to avoid it. Another steep grass bank with elephant track down on the way to 10 and then back up on the way to 12, and it's all downhill from there. Past the Oscar Wilde statue with turtles (yes, there is a perfectly good reason why there is a statue of Oscar Wilde surrounded by turtles in Tartu - I just don't have the first clue what it is), through the park, a quick trip to the fountain and then a sprint to the finish. I did 24 minutes. James just broke 20 minutes. The big boys did 14.30 yesterday. Perhaps I lost more than I thought on that control I couldn't get to.

In the time it had taken to jog to the start and run the course we had ticked off a good selection of items from the I-Spy Book of Orienteering. Orienteer from country you didn't know orienteered (Chinese Taipei, 10 points), novelty control flag (Estonia have gone for blue and white, but they are everywhere so only worth 2 points), IOF Jury member (David Rosen, 5 points), elite athlete who don't quite make it to the WOC team (various people out running the course, 5 points), or maybe they were average orienteer who wants to compare themself to the world champion (lots more of them , including me and James, so only 2 points again) and finally orienteering legend (Peo Bengtsson, 20 points, though on reflection, Peo is the  person who has probably orienteered in more countries than anyone else, so seeing him should perhaps only be worth 10 points). That's a lot of points in thirty minutes, and I could claim a bonus for getting two orienteering legends in two days, since I saw Jorgen Martensson yesterday. Perhaps there's some sort of event on.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Estonia added to the list

Peter Hodkinson finishing in 13th place
Day 2, and the first day of the Estonian O Week, closely followed by the WOC Sprint Final. But first it was a trip to the WOC Event Centre to pick up our media passes, and to the supermarket so we had enough food to give us a chance of getting through the first few days. There was the usual fun of trying to work out exactly what we were buying, and what colour milk you needed (or indeed, what was milk at all), but so far the only mistake seems to have been buying tinned sweetcorn and finding the apartment doesn't have a tin opener.

The Spectator Race was based at the Tartu Song Festival Grounds, with the start and finish in an enormous concrete amphitheatre. The area was a mixture of ornamental parks, lakes, buildings, scattered woodland, a BMX track, a frisbee golf course and what felt like a skating rink to run on, but was in fact just the walkways around the main stadium. My 2.8km course had 26 controls which meant things happened quite fast. This was enough to cause a few map reading problems, especially given the amount of mapped detail that was less than obvious on the ground. But after 18 minutes and 56 seconds I had skated my way to the end of the run-in and added Estonia to the list of countries that I have orienteered in.

It was then a 20 minute walk back into the centre of town to arrive just in time for the start of the Women's sprint race. Ed Nicholas made a brief appearance, said hello and then dashed off to do important stuff. A lap of the Town Square finally located the Media Centre, and we managed to grab a start list and maps before heading out to try to get photos of all the British runners. This went OK for Alice and Jo (did these the easy way, as they left the start) but we then decided to head out into the area to get some action photos. We found a suitable control, and I worked out the best camera angle. Runner 36 came past: Megan is 38 so will be here in about two minutes. Three minutes passed and runner 39 arrived. It turns out that runners 37 and the camera-shy 38 had taken a different route choice. We quickly headed down the hill to get her on the second loop. As we set up in front of the TV control by the main University building we saw runner 36 followed by 37. And then my camera battery decided to die just as Megan came into view. I just managed to get back to the Media Centre, find my spare battery and rush out onto the balcony overlooking the run-in as she appeared round the corner to punch the last control. The photo made it to the BOF website, even if it is a bit of an awkward angle, but very few people will know the tension involved in getting it.

So then it was the men's turn. I thought I had learnt my lesson, so I got Peter as he started. Just need a photo of Chris now. Let's go for a shot of him running up the hill. Oh look, there's a good camera angle from behind the fountain and flags. Indeed there is, but if you get there 10 seconds after the runner has gone through then the resulting photo lacks a little something. I decided I couldn't muck around any longer, so stationed myself by the last control. This turned out to be a good spot, and I got some great photos of Peter finishing. Oh, and one of Chris as well.

Then it was another quick lap around the hill to see a few of the later runners on the last loop, and finally back to the Town Square to get a picture of a Finnish flag with Daniel Hubmann's legs coming out the bottom of it as he sprinted down the run-in to victory. This press thing is not turning out to be as easy as I'd hoped. But things improved when we finally tracked down some British team members, and I spent fifteen minutes interviewing Peter, Chris and Megan. They had all clearly had a fantastic time and were more than happy to tell people about it. Spirits are high in the GB camp, and tomorrow could be a good day. Mind you, it's almost tomorrow already, given how long it has taken to write various articles for various websites and sort through nearly 300 photos, some of which even show GB runners. And I even managed to set up Routegadget for the HH Saturday series that was taking place in Highfield Park at the same time that we were running in the Spectator Race.

That list in full for those desperate to know, in order of appearance: England, Wales, Scotland, Switzerland, Austria, Ireland, South Africa, Swaziland, Sweden, Belgium, Norway, Denmark, New Zealand, Netherlands, France, Northern Ireland, Canada, USA, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Russia, Finland, China, Hong Kong, Australia, Spain, Italy, Ukraine, Czech Republic, Iceland, Estonia

I also get half a point for Portugal, where I did the IOF Event Advisor Course, but never managed to run an event.