A few weekends ago I took part in my first Rab Mini Mountain Marathon. Prior to entering I had heard a lot about these events – the feedback was that they were great fun and a good way to practice for the longer navigation races. So keen to brush up on my slightly rusty maps skills I signed up for their next event which was conveniently held in the Peak District.
As I had expected, the event was well organised and friendly. I had such a good time and will definitely be entering more of these events. In terms of my performance, I made a lot of mistakes! However, this came as no surprise as I knew it would take a bit of time to get back into things – especially as I had entered as a solo, which means there is no one to blame other than yourself for getting lost!!
Crossing the finish I was happy with my overall fitness but slightly kicking myself for the number of silly mistakes I had made. Armed with some particularly good lemon drizzle cake I set about trying to speak to as many racers as I could to pick up a few tips for my next attempt.
Here are the main things I learnt:
1. Have a plan
On receiving the map and controls list, I bounded off like an overexcited puppy toward the nearest checkpoint – don’t do that! Stop for a moment, take a look at all the controls and their values and make a plan. When you create your route look at a best and worst case scenario (i.e. the most and least points you think you could reach), making sure, you always plan the final bit of your route home.
2. Keep an eye on your watch
Remember you are likely to be moving slower when orienteering. I find, for me, the speed I can run a certain distance in a marked fell race (or similar) is far faster than when I have to route plan and keep an eye out for key features. I am sure this gap will get smaller with practice – it just needs factoring in when are planning how far you are going in the time scale.
3. Don’t make it hard on yourself
There is often more than one way of getting to each control… So if you are super speedy at technical descents and climbing, consider going over the hill as oppose to around it – this only applies if the checkpoint is not on the top of the hill! But if you are fast on trails you may well be able to cover a longer distance in a shorter time. In a nutshell, think about your strengths and weaknesses and play to them.
4. Be flexible
One of the silly mistakes I made was reaching a certain point and finding an unexpected small stream; instantly I presumed I was not where I thought I was on the map and started to try and relocate myself. In fact, this tiny stream was just due to a significant amount of rain and was not marked on the map. The point here is to bear in mind that locations can slightly differ dependant on the time of the year. The map is not often wrong but keep an open mind to how things could have changed since it was published – for example a stone wall may have fallen down or in summer areas can get particularly overgrown.
5. Don’t be afraid to go for it
I often rule the furthest away checkpoints out first. It was pointed out to me at the end of this event that actually if I want to do well then I need to go for these. The advice I was given was to get out to these first and take a bit more of a risk! Either you will have a great race and do really well or you will have a few time penalties. If you want to up your scores, you have to give it go at some point..!
6. Confidence is King – trust your judgement
I recently read a great post by Charles Sproson from Mountain Run the other day about his recent Bob Graham round. He made a very valid point – in navigation confidence is king! It’s easy in these events to spot someone else and lose your trail of thought or question where you are. This is the biggest mistake I made – seeing a fair few people running in another direction to the one I was taking made me question my location. I presumed I was wrong and was just heading in totally the wrong way, when in actual fact I was just after a different checkpoint, still the faffing lost precious time. So make sure you stick to your guns!
Thanks to all the lovely people who didn’t seem to mind being grilled by a random muddy cake eating women! I can’t wait to get back out and practice.
If you are keen to enter the next Rab Mini Mountain Marathon, you can find out more here. Alternatively, if anyone has any more tips, I would love to hear from you!