Monday, September 16, 2013

Night-O in the Park

There aren't many dates on the calendar my son looks forward to year after year--Christmas and his birthday certainly.  But placing third is a weekend in September when we don good running shoes and head lamps and go orienteering in the dark at Kirkwood Park.  The family friendliest race of the year draws folks from far and near (and believe me we weren't the farthest--we ran into a father/son team and a whole bus of ROTC students who'd made the trip from Arkansas.

Maybe we should go back and explain orienteering since I haven't posted about it in a while.  Think of it as part geography class, part cross country race and part Easter egg hunt.  Each racer receives a map covered with tiny circles denoting the location of the controls -- orange and white signs sometimes like a windsock (like below), but sometimes the size of index cards on the end of a stake. (This photo was taken at a class we took in one of the parks --I wouldn't carry my camera during a race in the dark).

Attached to each control is a paper punch with a unique arrangement of pins.  You must punch the appropriate box on your score card to prove you made it to that control. (some races use electronic devices to track progress, but this race is so well attended there aren't enough to go around). 

Orienteering races come in many forms.  The two most common are following a designated path (the winner comes in the shortest time) or having a time limit (the winner visits the most controls in that time period).  This night race falls into the second category.  When the "Go" signal came, people scampered in all directions.  It's really a matter of strategy: to plot a course to reach as many controls at possible and stamina: to be able to keep running the whole time, catching your breath when you stop to punch your card and consult the map to see which direction you'll head of in next.

Here's our map with our course super-imposed on the top.

We made it back to the finish line with 7 minutes to spare--which was actually poor planning on my part.  We had time for more controls, but there weren't any close enough.  A better strategy would have been to run around the lake near the beginning of our trek.  There were three more controls we could have picked up before heading to the far edge of the park.  Live and learn I suppose, or better yet talk to the family that came in first place -- 23 out of 24 controls in the 45 minute limit.  I asked the farther which way they had gone and perhaps I'll be wiser when it comes to plotting a course next race.  Still, we got 3 more controls than we had last time so we'll celebrate that victory.  And of course (and the real goal) we had fun.

Check out the U.S. Orienteering website. You can find educational articles and see if there are any events in your area -- trust me, you'll have fun.

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a49erfangirl said...

This sounds really fun! I would love to try something like that with my kids. Wonder if we have anything like this around us.

Beth B. said...

Try that U.S. Orienteering link in the article. It should help you find events and clubs in your area.

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