All kidding aside, I was feeling well enough to attend my orienteering training weekend this past weekend and so glad I did - it was a blast! What's orienteering, you ask?
What is Orienteering? (from the Rocky Mountain Orienteering Club Website)
"In orienteering, you use a map and compass to locate a series of checkpoints shown on a specialized topographic map. You choose the route, either on or off trail, that will help you find all the checkpoints and get to the finish line in the shortest amount of time. Each checkpoint, or "control," is a distinct mapped feature such as a trail junction, a boulder, a hilltop, etc. The controls are marked with orange-and-white flags.
Orienteering is often called "the thinking sport" because it requires map reading, problem solving, and quick decision-making skills in addition to athletic ability and general physical fitness."
Orienteering is a big part of Adventure Racing, thus the reason why I wanted to get some training. And I got LOTS of training this weekend!
Saturday was the all-day training day. We began with an intro to orienteering (maps, pacing, terminology, etc) and then set out to do a beginner course with small groups. We had about 12 in our group and got lots of hands-on experience for the hour we spent in the woods - the beginner course has controls that are primarily right on the trail and fairly easy to find. My team had a family with 6 kids who just loved the whole thing - they were so much fun to watch as they tried to figure out where the next control was, all of them running through the woods with carefree abandonment. Ah, to be a kid again.
I spent the rest of the day doing more courses - I moved up to the advanced beginner after lunch, then jumped up to the advanced course with a couple of ladies I met that morning. Great training for navigation and just a lot of fun! After all that I got everything set up at camp, then went for a bike ride until dinner. There were about 10 of us camping and we pooled all our food together to create quite the feast - chicken, meat kabobs, pinto beans, asparagas, pasta and other fun stuff was passed around and shared among the group. It rained most of the evening but we had a nice shelter to sit in and cook, so it wasn't so bad.
The best part of the evening - smores! I haven't had smores for a long time and they were just as good as I remember. Yum!
That evening I did a Night-O, which is the same courses just in the dark. If you want to learn how to use your compass, this is the way to do it. Since you can't see very far in front of you, you have to depend on the compass to tell you the right direction to the next control - it is a challenge! But I did really well, found most of the checkpoints until it got too rainy and I had to head back to camp. By then I was ready to crawl into my nice, warm sleeping bag - I was tired!
The next day was the actual meet and I decided to do the orange course, which is the intermediate course. All the controls are off trail and a little more difficult to find - I was determined to get all the controls and not get a penalty, which is exactly what I did! I got all nine stamped on my passport, although one of them proved to be a challenge when I paid more attention to another runner then my actual path. I followed him for a while before I realized that I was in the wrong place. I had to back track a couple of miles to get to the right area and lost some precious time. A good lesson for me (and one I have heard about from countless other, more experienced racers, but it never makes an impact until you actually do it yourself.)
I ended up placing 3rd, although my time was realllyyy slow (2 hours, 30 minutes). The 2nd place finisher did it in 1 hour, 48 minutes, much faster than me. My goal for next time will be to finish under 2 hours. I just need to practice the whole "running and reading a map at the same time" thing - when i ran, I didn't pay attention to my surroundings. So I didn't run much, just lots of fast hiking.
My next adventure race is this weekend and I feel pretty ready to do the navigation after this past weekend - we'll see how I do. We could win the whole thing due to my brilliant navigation choices or get hopelessly lost in the mountains of New Mexico.