Well, that's it. A week of orienteering is now over and I'm ensconced in a B&B in Polokwane, ready to head home tomorrow.
This morning kicked off with the final event, a fast and hot and sweaty sprint through the Botanical Gardens in Nelspruit. It really is a beautiful property although I didn't take much time to enjoy it. I was the last starter of my group, so my runners were all in by the time I finished.
I had a good run with only one route that could have been more desirable. I ran past some of my group and wanted to hand over the car keys. I got distracted and ended up taking a slightly longer route around - not a biggie but in a sprint it's enough to lose a place.
My group did pretty well today. Tebatso had a come back on the middle course to not only beat Lesedi (who beat Tebatso on D3 and D4) but to also win the middle course overall. There were more participants on the short course today (about 9) and young Tseke was 3rd overall - no incorrect punching today. A clean course for Mary too.
Ephraim too had a clean run on his longer and more challenging W21A course - but he did make one very big bloops that cost him 10 minutes. He knows exactly what he did wrong and he did well to problem solve and fix the error. This obviously affected his placing substantially.
Unfortunately both Diketso and Juliet mis-punched a control - the same one (it must have been near their control) and so they were disqualified - but they said that the rest of their controls were all really good.
As you've read in my past posts, I'm immensely proud of my charges. Let's take a look at how they've done...
Mary - the teacher
Mary is the type of teacher who changes the lives of her students. This outing is a case in point. She has been to two previous big O events - SA Champs in 2012 and GOC Champs in the middle of this year. She hasn't had much O success before and as she says, she previously couldn't find the first control.
Mary has had a sterling week! She has improved in leaps and bounds with her first big success being the clean course on Day 3 and another today. Unfortunately she just missed that last control a few metres from the finish yesterday.
I discussed her routes with her a few times during the week and she has good recall, is aware of features and she takes great delight in identifying them and finding her controls without a lot of searching.
She has a lovely hill near her home and she says there is a group who walks up it in the mornings and evenings. She's planning to join them to improve her fitness. I hope to see her moving up a level, possibly to Open Medium, the next time she joins us for an event.
Juliet - the student teacher
Juliet was a student teacher at Mary's school, Mpachue High. Mary identified her as being enthusiastic and interested in different things, like orienteering, and so she invited her along. And Mary was spot-on with her assessment. Juliet is quite a sweetie and she is up for anything.
On Sunday evening, before the start of the event, I did cone grids with the group. I think that may have been the first time she did them because she struggled with rotating the map. And the next day we were into the crazy rocky terrain of Kaapsehoop.
From that to completing the course on Day 3 - and winning Open Short on that day! She also had a clean course yesterday and today it was just the one mis-punch.
She told me her 'story' after Day 3. Story time is where I get the runners to take me through their routes control by control. By Day 3, Juliet's most successful day, she was already branching out and leaving the paths to straight-line to her controls across open area. Like Mary she has great recall and she's picking out the important features to lead her in to controls. Just lovely. She too is very chuffed with her progress this week.
I'm hoping that she'll start orienteering at her new school (I'm not sure whether she has one yet) and that this opens up the opportunity for some inter-school action on Ephraim's maps.
Both Mary and Juliet have spent big hours out there his week - even being out there for almost three hours on their Open Short courses. I'm really, really impressed with how both of them have done.
Ephraim - the mapper
Ephraim is our star map maker and he has the most experience of the bunch. He has been at the same events as Mary plus we have had him here for the School O Camp (I think it was) as well as a mapping course (Dec last year) and another recent mapping outing, with Nico, to advance his mapping skills. He's mapping on OCAD too now and his maps are beautiful!
Ephraim is also responsible to starting the Polokwane O Club - and he organised their first event last. He already has nine club members.
Ephraim ran all five days on the M21A course, which is a bit shorter than the Elite course but still technical. He had some tough runs but with big improvements daily. He ran with a tracker each day so we spent a good chunk of time each day overlaying the track on his map, comparing where he thought he ran with where he really ran and also looking at the errors (how and why they happened), alternative route options as well as all the good routes and why they worked.
Even comparing his Day 3 and Day 4 runs... very different with far less and much reduced hunting for controls - shown by tell-tale circles and squiggles - yesterday.
With such an amazing ability to map I'd expected his recall to be a lot better. It's definitely improving with the practise of drawing in his route after each event. I think that this activity definitely helps to focus attention in the field of paying attention to what is around you. He did do some really good routes yesterday in challenging forest terrain. I have no doubt that he'll continue to improve as he makes more maps and with more O event experience.
Tseke - Mary's son
Tseke is the youngest of the group - he turned 13 in November. I've met him a few times before and he hasn't shown that much interest in O. On Day 1 he punched his first control (on the path leading from the start), then four controls from other course. Then he saw a snake and ran back to the start and that was it for him.
So I'm thinking that he's just not into O and that he's here because Mary is here... but still I'm hoping that he'll find something in this sport to spark his interest.
He had a very near course success on Day 2 when he got all of his controls bar two just before the end. Talking through his route it seems that he really missed them by metres - not looking / seeing them.
And then success on Day 3. Was I pleased for him! And he looked like a cat that'd caught a bird. Really pleased with himself too. It was like seeing the light come on as young Tseke got into the groove and realised that he could really do this.
On Day 4 he, like many others, missed that last control just before the finish controls and thus got a DSQ. Such a pity because he did so well with his other controls.
He did have a clean run today at the sprint AND he placed third. Whoop-whoop!
Tseke is a bit reserved but as he improved and realised that he could do this I was delighted to see him brightening up and settling in. I'm hoping that he'll take on a middle course next time.
Diketso - bubbly lass
Diketso was the first of the teens to get into my car on departure. She hops in, squealing with excitement, grabs my mobile phone and says, "I want to see your photos". Well, she later took a few photos of herself... I have lots of photos of my cat, some recent crochet projects, some flowers and veggies in my garden... And then she sees my water bottle, grabs it and says, "I'll have a drink" and proceeds to take a sip. Hahahaha. She's very vibrant and sweet. She goes into Grade 10 this year.
She has actually been fairly consistent with few hassles this week. She was bouncing for joy after her completed course on Day 3 - and she also had a clean run yesterday. Just the mis-punch today. I'd like to see her moving up to something more challenging like the middle course.
Tebatso - quiet and focused
Tebatso, like Lesedi, took the place of other students who were meant to attend. And I'm so glad that we got him!
Tebatso is a good runner and his navigation is clean. Chatting through his Day 3 route I see that he's making good decisions and he pays attention to what is around him. Very little hunting for controls.
Like Diketso, not much drama from Tebatso. He had a really good run on the sprint today, cleaning up very nicely to win AND he also won the Open Short category overall. Nice. He definitely needs to go up a notch on courses to experience more challenging controls. I have no doubt that he'll take it in his stride. He seems to be a very chilled, considered and un-flustered character.
Lesedi - fast and competitive
Lesedi was roped in my Mary at the 11th hour. Thank goodness! What a talented orienteer and runner!
As he was taking the place of another runner he was on the Open Short course for Day 1 and Day 2. This was actually probably a good thing although he wanted to be on Open Middle. I like to think it gave him more of a cushion to get into the groove.
And into the groove he got! He ran Day 3 on Open Middle and beautifully completed the course. Like Tebatso he has a good recall and seemed to make few errors. He recognises features and can evidently run like the wind.
Although Tebatso beat him on Day 3, Lesedi flew through the Day 4 (longer) course. When I arrived at the finish the men there told me about one of my runners who completely obliterated the field. I haven't checked all of the results but he did something like 36 minutes on the course that other more experienced (albeit a bit younger) orienteers did in the 50s.
Today he was a bit off the pace but still I think he finished in 3rd.
He's also a quiet fellow but I can see the sparkle of competitiveness in his eyes.
I'd like to see both Tebatso and Lesedi running with trackers - I'm interested to see what they're doing out there. I'd like to see them doing much more O running.
So.... those are my charges and I'm immensely pleased with them.
One of the orienteers came up to me at the finish today and said that she has been manning water points and that without fail my group has been very polite and friendly and appreciative whenever she's seen them out there.
I've been living with them for a week and can attest to these teens being very well behaved and polite. A wonderful reflection on their school and parents. Mary says they also all do very well academically. They're hard-working and clever students.
Mary has had them in check too. She had a roster up with duties - like preparing breakfast stuff and washing dishes. And we were spot on time for our departure times every day. Perfect!
The only thing we have to work on with this group is night-time stuff. Goodness, I'm a sound sleeper and I haven't had an unbroken night of sleep this week. We've been in close quarters and on the first night, although we only had to leave at 08h30, my group were awake at 5-ish and some were talking and making noise (we only got to bed around midnight). We discussed this and decided that 1h30 before our departure time was wake-up time and that if people woke up before this they were to stay quietly in bed or go outside to enjoy the morning.
I think it was the next night that some had upset tummies after eating chicken that was a bit off. A noisy bathroom door being whipped open and closed (not one iota of attention being paid to trying to open and close it quietly - which, was possible) flushing loo and other sounds meant waking up a few times.
And then there was the sneezing and sorting and sinus clearing the one night with grunts and snorts following from about 3am to 5am... and then a 2am cell phone alarm, which was next to the sleeper but that I turned off - leaping from my top bunk. Why the hell is an alarm set for 2am? And then this morning another cell phone alarm going off at 4am... that no-one turned off - I think it turned itself off... I did explain that I'd spent five weeks in hostels in Argentina - with anything from three to seven roommate and that with comings and goings I wasn't woken up and that people generally go out of their way to be quiet and not to disturb those sleeping.
The final shock to my system was seeing the food eaten by my clan. Chatting to Mary this evening once we returned to her home I told her that I'd never seen so much food being eaten. She'd commented that she doesn't eat much... OMG - massive meals. I just don't know how they can handle the volume of food. Comparatively I eat like a bird!
Chicken or meat with every meal - lunch and dinner; load of pap (maize) or rice (and potato salad) and also some veg and salads. It's good food but just really large volumes - and then there are the glasses of Coke and potato chips... Quite an eye opener for me.
I stuck with easy no-cook salads, throwing in chickpeas or red kidney beans and hard boiled eggs. Good thing that I didn't plan to cook food and I wasn't hungry at all most of the time, surrounded by these big meals. I did explain that at home I do eat more variety but for convenience here, I was quite happy to eat mostly the same every day. Easy. They probably think I'm totally weird!
So, that was my week. Active and interesting. I especially found the coaching very satisfying and rewarding.I couldn't have asked for better or more enthusiastic students. A really wonderful group.
On the orienteering side I had superb navigational runs although I didn't find them physically tiring overall - partly because the distances are comparatively 'short' for me and because I did walk the gnarly terrain, only really running nicely over friendlier terrain - of which there wasn't much. But navigationally, I'm delighted with my routes and control finding. Just to speed up and also to head out of controls faster...
On Friday night I went for dinner with Tania and we talked over our routes. We took similar routes on Day 4 most of the time but Tania made a lot more mistakes and those of greater magnitude. But she ran harder and faster and so overall was a minute faster or slower than me. Interesting.
I'm looking forward to a good sleep tonight - and off home in the morning. Night.