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November 1997

Dave's Drivel

Sunday 19th October was a glorious autumn morning: The air was cool, but the sky cloudless as a slowly strengthening sun burned off the mist that was drifting over the river. As the nearest O event was miles away ( Chalkeney Woods ), I took the opportunity instead to run in a Trail race at Brandon Country Park. Trail racing is a new and more accurate name for what used to be known as Cross-Country. Most cross-country races aren't what Orienteers would call "cross country" at all, as you stick to the woodland paths and tracks and don't venture "cross country" through the bracken, brambles, brashings and bogs which make our sport so much fun (!).

After the event, I pondered the differences and similarities between Orienteering and Trail ( and, indeed, Road ) races. Some differences are obvious: in races, everyone starts at the same time and follows the same route, so at any instant, you know your relative position to those around you. But theres another significant difference: your level of awareness. Whilst Trail running, you are concentrating solely on the ground under your feet, the backs of the one or two people just ahead of you, and the sound of the footsteps approaching from behind. Although I could see trees on either side of the track, I was totally unaware of vegetation changes or small rides between the trees. For all the difference it made, there could have been just a single row of trees along each edge of the track!

The contrast with Orienteering is considerable. Whilst navigating from control to control you need to be very aware of terrain around you, and not just the bits which are within a 10m radius: Whilst running along a track, you'll be counting off the rides or maybe peering deep into the woodland to locate the thicket or knoll which confirms where you are. You're also using your ears, to listen for that stream or the road which marks the boundary of the map.

On the other hand, Trail and Road runners are very much more self-aware: Runners will typically predict their target finishing time and then pace themselves to reach the target, without varying their speed by more than a few percent throughout the race. To achieve this, they're constantly monitoring their breathing, heart-rate, tiredness and speed whilst competing. Orienteers however, tend not to be too aware of themselves as they compete, all their focus is outwards. The need to concentrate on the surrounding terrain around and the pointlessness of trying to maintain a constant speed or keep breathing and heart-rate under control when each leg of the course is dramatically different from the previous one, means that self-awareness is reduced to a minimum. This is confirmed by the number of scratches, bruises and other injuries which Orienteers (proudly!) display.

Both types of competitors love to indulge in event post-mortems, but Orienteers have the edge - theres so much more to talk about when discussing route choice. Runners tend to be restricted to whether or not they beat their PB ( Personal Best time for the distance ) or at what point they overtook Bloggs. Of course, there's almost equal opportunity to grumble: "That kilometre marker was in the wrong place" is heard just as frequently at road races as "That pit was mapped wrong" at orienteering events!

Enjoying your autumn Orienteering ( and running ).


Knockout the Championships?

Are our Club Championships really meaningful? Are people proud to be WAOC Club Champions? I've been thinking about this for a bit and conclude that the answers are probably "no" and "no".

The current format of WAOC's club championships is a designated event, usually held in December, where everyone is encouraged to run the same colour-coded course ( Green for adults, Orange for juniors ) and the club captain has the responsibility of devising some sort of scoring system to determine a Champion. To avoid the situation whereby the Champion is inevitably the fastest M/W 20 or 21 runner who turns up, making the championships somewhat meaningless for everyone in any other age category, the scoring system has traditionally been based on percentage improvement over previous WAOC colour-coded events.

However, the results, to me at least, still seem far from ideal. For many years, the Club Championships were held at a normal colour-coded event. On those occasions, several WAOC members who normally run on Blue or Brown courses, preferred to ignore the Club Championships, rather than run "down" on Green, or at least, begrudged taking part in the Championships because it mean't they had to forgo the challenge of their usual standard course. More recently the Club Championships have been linked to a head-to-head competition against SMOC, where only Green and Orange courses were available. However, it still seems debatable whether WAOC members make a special effort to compete in the event for the prestige of being acclaimed "Club Champion". The formula based on "percentage improvement" could also produce some anomalous results, making people question the value of the title ( even those who won it! ).

So, what can we do to make the Club Championships worth competing for? No solution will ever be ideal, but I'd like to propose here an alternative. Instead of a single event, I suggest that we adopt a competition based on something like the Scottish 6-days scoring system where the eligible events are the WAOC organised colour-coded events: Rowney, Maulden, Ampthill, Mildenhall, Rishbeth, Morkery, Therfield etc. Like the Scottish 6-days, your 4 best scores will be used to calculate your overall score. I'll explain the scoring system in a moment or two, but first I'd like to spell out what my objectives are.

It should be obvious that the success or failure of the proposal will depend to a great extent on the actual scoring scheme. In discussing the proposal at the WAOC committee meetings, two recommendations have been offered: "Keep it simple" and "Keep it fair". Unfortunately, they seem to be mutually exclusive: any scoring system which can fairly compare a W12 against an M21 and an M65 is unlikely to be simple! A simple mins/km scheme won't work because the M/W 20's and 21's will always run faster than M/W 12's or M/W 60's, even if they are running further.

I suggest the following scoring scheme ....

The above is only a proposal, and may be tweaked a bit before its put in to practice. If you've got any views on this, please let me know. Do you support the idea? Or is it too complicated? Could it be improved? Is the existing Championship format good enough? Have you got a completely different idea? Now's your chance to say so. Comments to me or the Jabberwaoc editor please!


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