Friday, 20 February 2015

Running robots, shadowing and stories

The Sunday before last there was an Urban Series orienteering event at The Wilds, a great park/gardens area in Houghton, Joburg.

Two weeks before this we had another event and post-race looking at the results, I noticed that one of my clubmates was further down the rankings than I expected. She's a runner and she's been orienteering for a few years. I dropped her a note and asked if she'd be open to me shadowing her at The Wilds to see if/what/where she's going wrong.

Shadowing is a great coaching tool - one that is useful to both the shadower and shadowee. I've had the pleasure of shadowing a few children of different ages and, during our British Orienteering Federation Level 2 coach training, I had the fortune of being shadowed. It can be a bit unnerving but you do get insight into what you're doing in the field from the perspective of someone with experience and perhaps a different way of doing things.

When shadowing the shadower usually hangs back a bit, moving at the same pace as the person they're following. The shadower just watches and doesn't interact with the person. In this situation I did interact with my friend to listen to what she was thinking and planning and seeing to be able to suggest alternatives (not necessarily better, just different for her to consider).

At The Wilds event I ran first and then I returned to the start to meet up with my friend. Within minutes we were off.

In navigating there's something I call a 'story'. The map is like a book and within it are stories - routes from one point to the next. In your head, you create a narrative to get you to your destination.

A narrative could read:
Get back onto the path, run uphill for 100m and take the left split at the Y-junction. Go for about 30m past the junction - there will be dense vegetation on your right - and look for an indistinct path on the right into the vegetation. Take it. Within a few meters the checkpoint will be on your left at a man-made feature (North side). If you get the pond, you've gone too far. Turn around.
In the beginning part of the story we're not too much concerned with detail because until we've covered that 100m we're nowhere near the checkpoint. Using a robot (traffic light) analogy, this is GREEN running. There may be a few GREEN elements, especially over greater distances. You can take a path, follow a vegetation line, head on a compass bearing... you just go until you get to a feature (attackpoint) that signals when you've got to start paying closer attention.

As you start to close in on your checkpoint you need to keep a closer eye on the map and the terrain. It's here that I'd check off paths, bridges and other features that confirm my location. We call this AMBER running.

And finally as I really close in on my checkpoint (in and directly around the circle marking the control location) I'm into RED mode. Here I'm on high alert and I have to pay very close attention to little things like boulders or pits or elevation up a re-entrant. This zone all depends on the terrain because sometimes when you're in AMBER running it may already be obvious as to where the control is located.

The principle is that when you're a distance away from the control you do not need to pay attention to every root stock, boulder, pit or path along the way.

As you get closer you pay attention to significant features that confirm your position; and as you're right close to the control you pay attention to most things relevant to pin-pointing the control flag.

My friend had perfect stories but she was in the red zone the whole way. Not wanting to make any errors, she paid attention to too many details, too far away. This is something that I tend to do, especially on tricky terrain. Spending too much time in AMBER/RED slows you down a lot.

It's a challenge to get out of the habit of AMBER/RED mode and into 'carefree' green and a lot of it has to do with confidence and faith in your story. You've really just got to run with it and trust your initial assessments, keeping distance/duration and distinct attackpoints in mind. With your map in hand and thumb on where you are and your story clear in your mind, you just can't go wrong.

Here's a great example from The Wilds event.

Take a look at Controls 10 to 11.

Fortunately for me (with 87km in my legs from the previous weekend and the morning's run), my friend decided to take the path. Great robot-running opportunity.

It's probably just less than 200m of uphill, on the path, until you get to the open ground (solid dark yellow blob) on the right and in line with this another path splits left. Yay for GREEN. We walked up the hill, not bothering to pay attention to any of the paths left and right.

The story continues with "Cut across the open ground and into  rough-open terrain where you'll see bare rock" - AMBER.

And then, "The flag will be at the top of a re-entrant, just the other side of the top of the ridge from where I'm approaching. Boulders and rocks are around." - RED.

There's an event this Sunday (I won't be there) and I hope that my friend's results come closer to matching her ability potential. She really is spot on target - she just needs to believe this too.

For fun, take a look at Control 16 to 17 and see what route you'd take. As I was playing around a bit on my run, I went almost straight-line, taking gaps through the green vegetation, even though some path running would have been faster. It was definitely more fun.

No comments: