What the Dickens?
Sweeney Todd, Jack the Ripper, Charles Dickens – they’d all have felt at home in last weekend’s London City orienteering race. The 4th staging of the event saw more than 1100 orienteers from more than 25 countries running in the heart of the city, down alleyways, across squares and cemeteries, through the quiet Saturday streets of the financial centre of one of the world’s great cities.
Don’t confuse urban orienteering with sprint orienteering: anyone running the 8.9 km Men’s Open class will soon realise the difference. Course lengths were measured as the crow flies, which is fine if you’re a crow. Typically the actual length was about 50% longer, depending on your route.
Carlow’s Gordon Parker, the course planner, used the multi-level Barbican Estate and Arts Centre as the start and finish area, throwing the runners straight into a confusion of levels, tunnels, ramps and passageways which were difficult to represent on a two-dimensional map. The 1:5000 scale map, however, showed the detail clearly and – given a bit of careful map-reading – allowed the runners to figure it out. (In fact there was a significant Irish input into the race, with Ronan and Julie Cleary the Controllers).
The streets of the financial district were surprisingly quiet and but the hazards still included groups of Japanese tourists craning their necks to see St Paul’s Cathedral rather than looking out for orienteers.
Although I have run urban races before, they tend to be short, whether in the JK, the Swiss 6-Day or at night in a Portugese fishing village (that was fun!), but this was unlike any orienteering I had done before. Popping in and out of small alleyways; suddenly emerging beside the Gherkin or St Paul’s or some other well-known landmark: there was always something new around the next corner.
There are some different issues in urban orienteering: roadworks and building sites are obvious ones. These are marked on the map in pink, but because they can come and go at short notice, the terrain and the map are in a state of flux right up to the race. Have a look at the map and courses on Routegadget here. The event web site is here.
The best known urban race is probably in Venice in November, but the London race may come a close second. Hamlet without the Prince? Venice without the canals? Because London is comparatively close to Ireland, maybe we overlook it as a destination, but the London City O-race is definitely worth a trip. Ask any of the LVO, Fingal or 3ROC runners who went this year.
Next year’s London City race is on 22nd September, followed the next day by the Southern Championships.
Many of the runners who did the London City race stayed on to run an “Orient-Show” style sprint race the next day in Regent’s Park. The LOK Ultra Sprint Challenge format was three races of about 1 km which all the runners did. The times of these three races were added together and the fastest 4 runners in each class (Junior Boys, Veteran men etc) were set off together in the final a while later. These would finish 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th in the competition. The slower runners then started at 15 or 20 second intervals in groups of four and they would then finish 5th, 6th etc. The courses were gaffled to reduce following (i.e. broken into separate segments which runners took in a different order). It took a lot of work with planning and organisation, not to mention getting all the SportIdent details right, but it provided a fast, fun event for the competitors.
The courses included two sections in man-made mazes, visible to the spectators. The total area was only about 200 m x 300 m and it all fitted on a 1:1000 scale map with 1 metre contours on an A4 page.
The navigation was tricky (there were no control descriptions or control codes except for the juniors) and the precise control locations were shown by a small dot in the centre of the control circle. Some controls were within about 1 metre of each other, so you had to be careful you visited the right one and that you took them in the right sequence.Mispunching did not mean disqualification, but you got a 30 second time penalty added on to your running time for each wrong control. Given that there were about 25 controls on each 1 km course, that could be a lot of penalties!
Fingal brother and sister Sandis Rektins and Zanda Rektina won the Junior Boys and Junior Girls races.
Here is the map for the final 1.4 km race. (You may notice a small enlarged area in the SE corner of the map, showing the maze at a larger scale. That’s the kind of thing you only notice when you look at the map after you get home …!)