IM Louiville

IM Louiville
Bikes racked at Ironman Louisville 2010

Sunday, October 15, 2006


Just over two years ago, I had never heard the term "orienteering". My first experience in orienteering was in the Wild Scallion. Basically, I just ran around following my teammates in what seemed like circles in order to get to certain checkpoints. They kept consulting a sheet of clues and using a compass. It felt a little ridiculous and I couldn't help but to feel helpless as I was practically dragged from point to point with no clue how they were figuring out where we were supposed to be going.

It was that feeling of helplessness and being a burden to my teammates that made me agree to go to some orienteering training this morning. I was assured there would be no running. We were there to learn so that if I was ever in a situation where I needed to find certain points on my own, I could do it. No sir, this was not going to be a competition, but more of an educational experience.

I was instructed to wear clothing that wouldn't allow the sticky parts of the brush stick to me. To me, this means "swishy pants." I don't know how to describe them but I know that normal clothes (i.e., jeans, running tights, sweats, etc.) would all allow those sticker thingys to cling on to me. So I put on a pair of pants I didn't think would attract these pesky little things as well as a jacket with the same qualities. I was also told to wear the "gaiters" we received when we signed up for the Wild Scallion. Until that day, I had no idea what a gaiter was. These nifty little articles of clothing wrap around your ankles with a string going under your shoes to keep them down, a hook to attach them to your shoelaces and velcro and a snap at the end to keep them secured. This would keep any dirt, rocks, and, oh yeah, those sticker things from getting on my socks. I still needed help in putting them on correctly, though. Those things should come with instructions!

It was a little chilly this morning and I was pretty much double-layered on all counts: socks, pants, shirt and gloves. I did only wear one wool hat, though. With this unseasonably chilly weather and knowing we would be walking around in the forest, I didn't want to be cold!

I met up with my teammates, neither of them new to the sport, so they could show me the ropes. I had no idea these little orienteering events existed before. More than 75% of the participants were boy scouts or something. I felt a little old and geeky to be there, but hey, if I'm going to do another adventure race, I need to be able to pull my weight in this particular area, so I tried to forget about how silly I felt being here and tried to focus on the task at hand.

We decided to do the "White" course first. This is the easy one. Now, anyone who knows me knows I am directionally challenged. I typically cannot tell you which direction I am headed. I also have trouble going somewhere I am not familiar with, even though I may have just been there a few days ago. In fact, I took a wrong turn in getting to this orienteering course even though I have been there at least 10 times in the past 2 years. Guess that's the reason why they invented

We received our maps and I needed to be told to copy the checkpoints down on the map. Easy enough. I drew the little circles with the numbers beside them and was ready to go. But then I didn't know where to start! See, typically you can just follow everyone else. Today, however, there were several courses and some people chose to do the courses in reverse order. And, can you really be sure the guy ahead of you knows where he is going? I think not. This is where the compass comes in. You need to line up the compass pointing north and make sure the map has the north side aligned up with the compass. This is called "getting your bearings" or something like that. With that, and the markings on the map, you should be able to tell what direction you should go to get started.

We need to give the guy at the start line our card where he writes down the time. Wait, they're TIMING us?? I thought this wasn't a race, this was supposed to be for educational purposes only!! While I understand they need to check everyone in and out just to ensure everyone makes it out of the woods OK, do we really need to be timed? I heaved a big sigh, reminded myself I was out here to learn and figure out what topographical lines mean on a map and waited for our beep to get started.

BEEP - and we were off. Not running, not jogging, not even walking briskly. We started off just walking in the direction of the first checkpoint and noting different things along the way. Different colors meant different densities of forest. There were lines and dashes that indicated "main" trail, smaller trail and even streams or creeks. At some points, even when we knew we were going the right way, we backtracked to see how something looked on the map versus how it looked in real life.

Slowly but surely, we made our way along each of the 9 checkpoints. At each point, there was a little punch tool that you needed to put on your card in the corresponding box. There were also a lot of "extra" checkpoints out there, those were the ones that belonged to the other courses, so it was important to make sure the point you were at had the number you were looking for. Each checkpoint had some small little clue like "path junction." This seemed easy enough. Almost every point we collected was directly on the path. And if it wasn't, it could be seen from the path. We finished up in about an hour and twenty minutes or so (I think). I'm not really sure on the time because I didn't pay attention to it.

We decided to move on to the "Orange" course, which was more difficult. It had 13 checkpoints I counted as I plotted them onto my map. They were spread out a little more than the ones on the first course and they seemed to go deeper into the "forest" part of the forest preserve. Our third teammate decided to go sit it out in the car and as she collected our camelbacks from us, I didn't realize this meant we would be trying to push the pace on this course.

We checked in, waited for our beep and as soon as it sounded, we were off. This time, it started as an all-out sprint until I decided I could not hold this pace for long. It can be brutal being the slower of two runners who really want to finish the event quickly. This was no longer about educational purposes. This had turned into a competition. But not a competition with other teams, this was us against the clock. It is easy to lose time as you try to navigate quickly off a map to a checkpoint and find you later missed some important clue on the map because of your hastiness. The competition then becomes about accuracy and attention to detail.

Before we even reached the first checkpoint, I was sweating and cursing myself for wearing so many clothes. Then again, I didn't know we'd be turning on the speed for a second course...heck, I didn't even know we'd be DOING a second course! I tore off my hat and second set of gloves and stuffed them into my pockets. As we made our way through the checkpoints, I quickly realized my gloves weren't made of the same sticker-bush-repellant fabric that my pants and jacket were made of. I had small little burr things all over both gloves almost instantly. It's like they come from out of nowhere and jump onto whatever article of clothing they can manage to stick to.

We had a little bit of a tough time when we were to go into the woods along a creek (that was pretty much dried up). Each of us took a side and went much deeper into the woods than it looked like we needed to be, but we still couldn't find the checkpoint. But we weren't alone. There had to be at least 6 other teams out there, roaming around, looking for a checkpoint that should've been much easier to find. It gets a bit frustrating when you feel like you're wasting time and making no progress. That's when it's best to take out the map and "regain your bearings". I don't now, I guess as Fletch says, "It's all ball bearings nowadays."

Luckily, we found the point we were looking for and tried to leave the rest of those teams behind as we ran out of the forest. As I ran, I was hit in the face with tree branches, tripped up by roots, slipped on leaves and stuck with thorns in my legs and hands. One particular tree branch made it's way into my pony tail and stayed there for the rest of the course!

We seemed to gain momentum as we got closer to the finish. Counting down the last 3 checkpoints was happiness for me because it meant I could stop running so fast! Sweat was just dripping down my face by the end and as we turned in our ticket, the guy collecting all the data told us "nice job." For a second, I felt proud of myself, but then he told the next team the same thing. So then I just figured that was like his line or something. We finished this second course in about an hour and 3 minutes which was great because it was not only much faster than the first course, but this second course was also much harder.

While I can't say I was reponsible for the fantastic orienteering job we did while flying around the second course, I can say that I learned a lot about orienteering and reading maps today. I don't think I'll be giving up triathlon to pursue orienteering events, but I do think I will be able to contribute much more to my next adventure race.

Bring it!


Anonymous said...

Can you hear that
Your right
Could it be
It sounds like
We are doing another adventure race

bconway6650 said...


John from Grand Haven, MI said...

i think you need to apply to the government of nepal to climb everest, so you better start getting your documentation in order.