Martin Pape on orienteering

One of WITC’s strengths is its support of activities outside of swimming, cycling and running. Several of our members participate in sports which complement triathlon such as cross-country skiing, cross-fit and the topic of this article: orienteering. This latest article features WITC’s Martin Pape, who explains about orienteering in the rain and running with his fantastic dog Aza …

Getting wet and muddy – by Martin Pape

Sometimes you have to take unorthodox routes

Sometimes you have to take unorthodox routes

One more step and I was standing in muddy water up to my hips, in a rush I pulled up my jacket, as I remembered my phone in the lower pocket. Something like 25k still to go and run. When you’re this wet it means running to get dry again.  We were lucky the rain had already stopped a while ago and it was not as cold as it could be in Poland in the Spring.

Alan, Aza (my dog) and me were doing something we do a few times a year – an orienteering run. This time at an event called “DyMnO” about an hour north of Warsaw. In Polish orienteering runs are called “biegi na orientację” (in short BnO). This running activity stands a bit outside of our club canon of running, swimming, cycling and of course partying – so it’s time to shed some light on it.

Orienteering races involve 3 disciplines: endurance, using your brain and having some fun. I can’t say exactly what my motivation is, but it might be the drive to find out what is behind the next corner, to spend some time outdoors with friends and Aza. As a child I grew up in a small village and orienteering in fields and forest was a no-brainer for us.

Martin and Aza at one of the Warszawa Nocą events

Martin and Aza at one of the Warszawa Nocą events

At the start of such race you get handed a map which is normally quite detailed. On this map checkpoints are marked and your task is to find all these checkpoints (often in a certain order). These checkpoints are described using symbols (like on a peak or in the south-east corner).  On longer races the optimal distance from start to end with approaching all points is 50k or 100k (yes, this is not a joke, people do this). Shorter sprint races (like the “Szybki Mózg” series from the UNTS club in Warsaw) are below 5k.

During the race you are on your own, which means you have to take care of food and drinks (and in my case your dog as well), so a backpack you are comfortable running with is a plus. Also each team should have a simple first-aid kit and a mobile phone. You will get wet sooner or later in most of the races, so essential are one or better two pairs of dry socks. I also like short gators to keep sand and debris out of my shoes. Some people use rubbish bags to kept their feet dry.

Depending on the kind of race, you either start in teams or individually. Even with the second option I like to team-up. The mental challenge of not giving up if it gets wet and late or you can’t find the checkpoints is not to be underestimated.

Not only are the maps sometimes out of date, but the descriptions are rather unhelpful...

Not only are the maps sometimes out of date, but the descriptions are rather vague at times

To locate the checkpoints you use the map, a compass and – your brain. No GPS allowed! It helps to know the length of your stride as counting steps is required sometimes. Still, finding checkpoints in the middle of a forest can require more luck than brains sometimes. The checkpoint itself is marked by a neon coloured sign and as proof that you found it you either have to stamp a card or scan an electronic device. The shortest route between two checkpoints might not be the best one, if for example a river or swamp is in your way. You regularly leave the roads and paths just to go cross-country. Sometimes maps are not up-to-date so you need to estimate if the young patch of forest you see could have grown in the time since the map was published (if you’re lucky, you get told the date).

Last autumn I made several mistakes in one race: I did the run without a buddy so I lost confidence, I did not read the rules properly (not all checkpoints had to be tagged) and I misread the map (crossing a river without a bridge in November). Also the race went into the night and thick fog made it tough to navigate through forests. But each race gives you something to analyze afterwards and possibilities to improve.

If you want to find out more about orienteering in Poland, consider of joining one of the short races organised by UNTS or talk to me (Martin Pape) or Alan Parsons.

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