This morning I tried my first orienteering event and had a blast. Until last spring I had no idea that this city had a very active orienteering club called Orienteering Ottawa (ottawaoc.ca). They hold numerous events throughout the year in both Ontario and Quebec. The boys joined their “Kids Running Free” program in the spring, quickly learning the basics of map reading. Essentially orienteering is like a giant treasure hunt in the woods so they were both quickly hooked. This fall when we signed them up again, we also registered them for the “Intro to Competition” session. This means they are orienteering twice a week, once at practice and once at an organized event on the weekend. I decided I should learn a little bit about what they are doing, so I joined the basics class for adults.
Today’s event (number three for the boys) was on a beautiful property in Quebec used for cross country skiing. You have a choice of a novice course (what I did), intermediate, short advanced or long advanced. At the novice level most of the controls are located along the trail and a compass is not really necessary. But if you try advanced be prepared to do some serious off-trail work to find your controls. There were runners coming in with mud up to their knees from the more difficult courses. Once you register you receive a map and you can rent a finger SI chip – yep, this is the great outdoors with a little technology thrown in. You simply have to put your finger stick into the control and it will record the time you arrived.
I admit I went into this event a little worried I would get completely lost. I can’t say navigational skills are a strength of mine. As it turned out I didn’t get lost exactly, I just couldn’t find all of the 16 controls with ease. In fact, it was the final control that had me running in circles, not to mention running down a very, very steep hill only to realize I was way off and had to go back up. I just kept reminding myself that hill training is a good thing!
In the end, regardless of my errors, I had a great time. The trails were gorgeous and the course was great fun. Orienteering is also the perfect family activity. And much like a road race event, there is something for everyone. Some people walk, others bring toddlers and small children and others are very competitive. You can make this sport suit your needs.
A few other things I learned today:
- Running on trails is tough, particularly when the evening before you ran 12k , also on trails
- You actually have to pay attention when orienteering. I am used to running on auto pilot. Luckily today the controls were fairly close together which helped me keep my focus, but I know at some point I will daydream myself right past an important turn.
- I run much, much slower on trails. This was apparent in last night’s run too.
- I need to do more hill work.
- When you sweat during a road race your constant movement at least provides a bit of a breeze to dry some of said sweat. When you have to keep stopping to read a map, it is quite remarkable just how much sweat can drip down into your eyes.
- My kids are better at this sport than me, but this isn’t really a surprise. They are also better trail runners than me, again not a surprise. Luke was within view for a while, then he was gone! Needless to say he placed ahead of me.
- Evan is more competitive than I thought and I can learn from his perseverance. When he was upset about his novice course, he begged to try the intermediate course and ended up placing second! (Thanks Coach Jennie for the compass lesson beforehand!)
- I will one day get lost or at the very least disoriented during an event. But just like a bad run, it doesn’t matter. I do hope, however, that I won’t get so lost that they have to send someone out after me!
Right now I see orienteering as a perfect sport to combine with my running. For ages I have been saying I should do more trail running, this will give me incentive to do so. The work out on the trails uses different muscles and I’m sure will make me a stronger runner. I think the mental aspect will provide both a challenge and a change, helping to keep my motivation going. At the moment I am quite happy sticking to the novice courses. The advanced, and even the intermediate, look a little too tricky for me. But once upon I time I swore I would never run more than 10 km and would certainly never try a half marathon or full marathon. Two marathons, one 30k race and 10 half marathons later… here I am