In all walks of life it’s good to mix things up and try something new, and running is no different. I’m always on the look out for for new trails to run or race run a race with a difference.
Orienteering is never something I had considered before and always presumed it was an activity that walkers participated in but that’s not the case. The Street Challenge series organised by the North Gloucestershire Orienteering Club mixes up running around the streets of a town whilst learning or improving your orienteering skills.
You are provided with an 1:5000 A3 map of the area which is detailed enough to show the smallest of paths along with an electronic ‘dibber’ that you use to record your time at each of the 28 checkpoints on the course. The route is approximately 11K in length with shorter routes available and you must visit each of them in order with your time being recorded between each one. The challenge comes from having to determine the quickest routes between each point and to try and avoid taking wrong turns or having to backtrack on yourself.
The route started in Chepstow and headed across the River Wye into Tutshill and Sedbury and then returning to Chepstow. The route is 95% road and pavement and 5% off-road. Running on tarmac offers the chance to pick up the pace between checkpoints. A benefit of being located in a town meant that if your orienteering skills were limited (like mine!), you were less likely to get lost and could use buildings and landmarks to help navigate and not have to rely upon a compass.
Starting off from the base at the rear of Chepstow Castle, the first half dozen checkpoints were in one small area of the town. I happened to be behind someone for this section and couldn’t help follow them rather than truly following the map. I was blindly following this runner and not referring to the map at all so when he slipped out of sight I would quickly fumble around trying to work out my location.
Learning to Orienteer Alone
Relying on someone else’s navigation skills was unwise and I wanted to test my own skills so made a conscious effort to pull away from them so that I was alone.
It took a few checkpoints to truly move on but as soon as I had, it became both more challenging and enjoyable. By this point I was across the border in England and running around sections of an unknown-to-me housing area. With checkpoints being well spaced apart I could run quickly between them whilst still being able to keep a keen eye on the map.
Criss-crossing across the housing estate I was getting the hang of looking a couple of checkpoints ahead so that I could maintain a good pace without slowing down to decide where to head next. Of course, there were some checkpoints that required me to look harder but that was due to not understanding any of the orienteering symbols.
After running around Sudbury, the route headed back into Chepstow over the A48 bridge and a nice fast descent. I was familiar with the remaining checkpoints due to running near them whilst exploring the Wales Coast Path so could quickly whizz around them including the one hidden behind a bush near the old town wall.
Reaching the final checkpoint and the finish, you check into the registration tent and you’re instantly given a printout of each split between checkpoints. This is an excellent way of experiencing an event as there’s no set time to start so you’re only racing yourself.
With the North Gloucestershire Orienteering Club holding many events throughout the year, I’m keen to experience more of them as a way of mixing up my training and keeping running interesting.