O Log - Scottish 6 Day '03

[05-Aug-03] 

    I had a good series of races in Scotland. I stuck to my plan, and goals, for the most part, and think I was successful. Day 1, in particular, is one of those possible best race candidates, certainly best overseas. I didn't spike all that many controls that day, but most booms and bobbles were in the 10 second range. It was a very difficult map, and the field had more problems than I did, I think. My placings were slightly worse the following days, despite my orienteering perhaps being a little cleaner. I think it was a case of the field being able to take more advantage of the faster and easier maps than I was able to. I held 15th overall for the first 4 days, until the field was able to drop day 1 in the scoring system, and I ended up 23rd out of 63 in M35. Wanted to be in the top 3rd, but I orienteered well, and that seems more important. I think I regret a little bit not running 21, since the goal was training, but I guess there is something to be said for placing in the top half once in a while for confidence.

    I found 130 controls, bobbled 12 (10 sec range), boomed 12 (30-120 sec range, most on the low end), had one 3 min error in the technical dunes, one 4 min error on a very tough leg, and one 10 minute disaster on a very easy leg. I guess the rest are spikes, by my definition anyway, since I don't count en route contact corrections as "booms" unless I slow down. Of the 6 days, I boomed or bobbled the first control 4 times. Fortunately, the 10 minute disaster didn't affect my placing or scoring, and was not a result of failing to follow my plans.

    Overall, I would rate the event good, but not great, as previous UK events I've been to. Only one day of open moorland, which I really love, and too much felled and semi felled areas. Also, some of the orienteering seemed too easy. I think that is an absolute, not because I'm better than two years ago. Certainly there were plenty of interesting technical areas, but I also found myself doing alot of trail running and slogging thru fell. Not like the nonstop 9K of technical moorland of Arisaig and Ardchattan from two years ago.

    Day 1: Dallaschyle

    Here is the Day 1 map with routes

    This map was used for the '99 WOC. I wasn't sure what to expect. In my first few years of orienteering, I used to have "breakthru races" -- every once in a while I would learn some new important concept, like how to read contours or something. Something would just dawn on me and I'd have a new, important idea. I've had about 6-10 of these. But then I hadn't had one for a couple of years, tho I've learned little things along the way of course. This race felt like a breakthru race.

    I was warming up in the start area, and knew it was going to be really hard. I wasn't sure why. I've often wondered why some maps are hard, and some are easy -- obviously intensely technical terrain will be hard, but often there is nothing to clue you in that it will be hard from looking at the map. Sometimes the map looks straightforward, and its really hard; sometimes the map looks hard, and its fairly easy. This was going to be one of those hard days. It was the first time I knew that before the race, tho.

    Then I figured it out. I put together what was in common with other races that were like this. It was the forest. What I'm going to call "shinny woods" (after a term called "shinny hockey" that a local hockey broadcaster used to use). Basically not smooth. Lots of ripples, wiggles, and bumps in the land that would be below the mapping threshold. Choppy vegetation, not in the physical sense, but in the visual sense -- different sorts of plants and undergrowth, in sort of a random patchwork. Not like the visually smooth hardwood forests I'm used to. So the land and the vegetation would be visually distracting, not fade into the irrelevant background. The brain would have extra stuff to deal with. And, of course, this sort of forest would obviously be more physically challenging and visibility would be poorer.

    Once I realised the problem, my mind was able to deal with it. So I had a decent race. I could not have run faster, I don't think. It was one of those forests where, in the States, you would have won at 10min/k, and regretted "inexplicable contact loss" and running 12. I was able to run 9.

    I also discovered something else about my orienteering, and the extent to which I'm a relative orienteer and can't tell the size of things between map and woods. I really have gotten to the point where I neither know nor care what the scale or interval is. On this leg,

    I saw the hill with the cliff, but did not see it on the map at the time. I happily bent it into the larger hill (the one farther along to the right), without a second thought, despite its much larger size, and simply willed the cliff out of existence (Oh, I guess its unmapped). I never think 'this is a big or little hill', just 'this contour feature relative to lines that aren't this contour feature'. I think I could use a little more absolute contour feature recognition in my playbook. Fortunately, I picked up the ripples after the hill, and a part of mind kept nagging that I did not see a ruin anywhere, so I just ignored the whole thing and decided to mark it up to 'did not like map'. I only saw the true picture during my post-mortem.

    I also have a problem with fences. I while back, I wrote about semiotic codes and O, and how the mind can filter out straight black things (like roads if they are abnormally straight), on maps. I have the same problem with fences. I always hit them, but never see them on the map. Same sort of thing, my mind is filtering them because they look like the magnetic north lines. This was a problem of my boom on 7. I saw the fence in the woods, but not on the map. But then I saw it, then didn't see it. Just like the Necker cube effect where the state of the cube in your mind flips back and forth. In this case, 2 competing codes in my mind pushed the fence in and out of awareness. Unfortunately, the no fence code won, and I lost a little time. But this experience may be useful in the future.

    Day 2: Roseisle

    Here is the Day 2 map with routes

    This was the first day in the dunes. My plan was to walk areas I could not read on the run. The woods were fast, and the visibility good, for the most part, unlike Woodhill. For the most part, it was easier than I expected, but there were some tough sections. This was the only day I did not have my top energy, so the fast terrain was more of a penalty than usual.

    The green on these legs was brutal

    .

    Zero vis and zero mobility. I walked all of them. I think that was smart. People were lost in here, and I spiked them all. I'd probably still be there if I tried to run. It took me 8.5 minutes to do the 600 meters. You play the cards you're dealt.

    The map was a joke from 8 to 9. The course notes mentioned it, but it was worse. Oh well.

    10 to 11 was a safe route choice.

    .

    I was following my game plan. I think I overdid it tho, on this leg. I had no confidence I would find the ride going straight, as they were hard to see in the model event. I had no confidence I would get the contours right, either. The ride was a turnpike, I could have safely gone straight and collected, but the model indicated it was a risk. I boomed the control anyway on my absurdly safe route, but it was a small boom. A boom going straight, with the ride not apparent, could have been 4-5 min. No game plan is perfect, but I think I made profit over the six days by emphasizing safety and change of speed when they are warranted. It is a new style for me, and it will take some fine tuning.

    I had alot of fun in the dunes. I think sand dune terrain is growing on me.

    Day 3: Loch Vaa

    Here is the Day 3 map with routes

    Loch Vaa was also used in the '99 WOC. It was mostly open moorland with deep heather. This was statistically (time per adj-k) my best day, but in reality it was my worst orienteering wise. On top of that, I had trouble running in the heather. Somehow my competitors where putting up fast times, but I could not get thru the heather quickly, even when I was in full contact and could see where I wanted to go 500 meters away. It was frustrating. Perhaps it is an acquired skill.

    I found the orienteering to be difficult. Only day 1, I think, was harder. I was not as sharp, and it took me some time to get used to the map. I think fighting the heather made it harder to concentrate.

    I boomed the first control. My strategy on first legs is to take it slow, but this was a long leg. Long first legs are a pet peeve of mine, you have no idea what the map is like and the actual cost of vegetation. I couldn't take the long leg slow. So I decided to run hard, collect in what was mapped in what I call "golf course open", and then take it slow. But the golf course open had just as much heather, and scattered trees. I could not make out exactly where I was. 4 minute boom.

    I believe there is a first control syndrome. At least there is for me. There are certainly reasons there should be one, in particular, not being calibrated or having a frame of reference set, and not being used to the map and terrain. No flow and more to think about. Also, only about 5-10% of the controls you train on are first controls, the other 90% are non-first controls, so you get more practice on those. I used to be worse on first controls -- the little training I've gotten over the years is helping.

    It doesn't show up in elite splits, I would speculate, because the elite have developed a strategy to deal with it. It must be second nature, like other orienteering problems. That is what makes them elite, they have solutions for all orienteering problems they encounter, thru talent, training, etc.

    But for me, it is a distinct orienteering problem that costs real minutes. On short legs, I deal with it by taking it slow until I get calibrated. On long legs, I try to collect or simplify and make it a short leg. But I have yet to develop a strategy for a leg like leg 1. This may have been the fifth, (or possibly the first) time I have seen a longish first leg without good simplification opportunity. I do think I hit that biggish basin midway, but I wasn't sure. Simply wasn't calibrated nor comfortable yet.

    I liked Loch Vaa. I wish they would have had another day on similar terrain, but over a bigger area with more long leg options that could not be simplified.

    Day 4: Phorp

    Here is the Day 4 map with routes

    I found Phorp easy. All controls were spiked except, of course, the first leg. Another longish first leg. I picked up contact tho, and even found that small reentrant to the northeast of the circle. I wasn't quite in synch, tho, and did not realise I had to drop, and made a parallel error. Not a big loss of time. The woods were again "shinny" at the start, and for the first 5 controls. Then they cleared up. Lots of changes in terrain.

    There was way too much trail running for my taste. Some people even ran trail from 9-10. I thought my route was better, but I did not analyze splits. There were tons of people on the trail, yet none on my route. Obviously people were on different courses so no conclusion could be drawn. I think the most interesting route choice leg was 10-11, but in any case too much trail running for my style.

    The map was a joke from 11-12, and this time it was not in the course notes. There was a road. I never saw the green. There were tons of rides in the woods on the approach to the control. There was what seemed to be a huge unmapped clearing to the left on the approach to the control. And the contours didn't look right. I didn't look at the splits to see if people had trouble with this leg. I was fortunate I found enough stuff I knew was right, and had the confidence to spike it anyway.

    Day 5: Lossie

    Here is the Day 5 map with routes

    Lossie had the most intense dune terrain. The course setter threw us right into it, ran us around lightning quick woods with subtle contour reading, then gave us a second dose after we were perhaps more tired, or running in a higher gear. I like the style, tho I would have enjoyed 9K in the technical dunes. It would have been nice if we got a tour of the open dunes to the NW.

    I think the course setter went easy on us in the dunes, giving simplification options for most legs. I studied the sample map for 10 minutes before the race looking for all the simplification features, so my mind would be primed. I think that helped.

    But I still boomed the first control. The ride/beach simplification looked too expensive, and the cost of a boom did not look high. I was right on the second count; I collected on the edge and found it. My plan was to collect on the green, but the green was not obvious. The boom was a wake up call. I was out of my game plan. I took the other dune controls slower, and only boomed one of them; #5 for which I could not find the simplification. This terrain was intense, and alot of fun. This stuff is really tough, but if you concentrate, take it slow, and are on the lookout for simplification features, you can get thru it without them sending a search party.

    The flat fast area was also fun. Its fun to run fast, and try to read form line features. I did ok with it, until I started to get cocky. I've never had cocky thoughts before that I can remember, but I had been doing pretty well so far in the week. So I was thinking cocky thoughts and preceded to make a 10 minute error on #22. Its an easy control. This is a blessing; I'll never have to worry about cocky thoughts again. I have no idea why I had them -- I'm not a cocky person and I'm not all that good.

    Why did I boom that control? I think because I'd been reading contours for 21 controls, and this one had vegetation. I read the vegetation rather than the contours, and misread it/its boundaries were vague. But that didn't dawn on me, and I kept making the same mistake, probably panicked, and probably had bad luck. I kept finding a similarly situated control on the next hill with a similar code. I had doubt that it was misnumbered. Plus I twisted my knee in there. Not a good combination.

    Well, the boom was an anomaly. Still a good race and good time per k if I drop it.

    Day 6: Clunas

    Here is the Day 6 map with routes

    Despite ice and advil and the like, I woke up with a pretty sore knee from the day before. I wasn't sure if I was going to go out. It was the inside ligament. I'm not sure if that is the ACL or not, but I know knee injuries are never anything to take lightly no matter what the problem. But this seemed really mild. I decided it was nothing more advil couldn't handle, and I decided to walk or jog the course.

    But once I turned over the map and saw a trail run, I started running to see how it felt. It felt ok. I boomed the first control, and this one was an easy one, or so it looked. But the bag was hung in green on the side of a hill, not a point feature. I found the hill ok. Oh well.

    This map was tough. Felled areas and white woods that were semi-felled areas. Brutal. And no reasonable route choices to avoid the misery in many cases. The brutal terrain didn't let up 'til bag 12. 12-17 were in really sweet white woods, and were fun, but the first 11 controls were just brutal.

    8-9 and 9-10 were the most brutal, but I can see how they are the signature navigation legs of the course. In a perverse way, I appreciated what the course setter was doing here. He was forcing you to figure out the best of a bad situation. Knuckle down and figure out the fastest, or least unpleasant, way to deal with it. Fair enough once in a while, its just that some of the other more straightforward legs thru the rough seemed a bit unfortunate.

    I think I had a decent plan for these legs, but did boom both of them mildly. The green around 9 was absolutely brutal, thick, low-branched pines with blowdown to boot. I could not find that 3 contour hill. Some people, tho, say they lost 40 minutes in there -- I had a backup plan in case I could not find the hill -- bail immediately to the rough open (as if I could find that, but I did), and reattack. Brutal control. I'm not sure the road is better than my route -- the white is slow in this area, and the light green is almost as nasty as the medium. In retrospect, its possible that the best route to 9 is the right trail run all the way to the sliver of rough open way east of the control, and take that down to the field of "rough open scattered trees" (which was more rough than open), and backdoor the control. That is a gutsy route choice, tho, especially when you don't know how nasty the med green will be.

    Overall, I think I had a good run here -- I think it was my second or third best placing.

    And for the week, I think my best set of international races so far.

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