Monday, April 23, 2007

2007 Navigation Marathon

This weekend was the 2007 Navigation Marathon. This is quite a unique event, somewhat patterned after the Original Mountain Marathon. There are three sections: five hours Saturday afternoon, two hours Saturday night in the dark, and four hours Sunday morning. Saturday night you camp out on the course, which means you must carry your camping gear on the course (except for the night section). The event takes place on the Dundurn military training area. In the past the event has been sponsored by the Saskatchewan section of the Alpine Club but it is now run by the new Saskatchewan Orienteering Association.

At the start of each section you get a map with a bunch of locations marked on it. The locations are worth between 10 and 50 points depending on how hard they will be to find, and how far away they are. The goal is to collect the maximum number of points in a fixed amount of time. If you're over on the time you're penalized 2 points per minute. To win you need to move fast over rough terrain, navigate accurately, and optimize your route. It's tricky to decide which points to go after because you're never sure how long it'll take to find the points. If your planning is too optimistic you're liable to come in late and get a big penalty. But if you're too conservative, then you end up not getting as many points as you could have.

The first five hour section went pretty well and we ended up in fifth place. We thought we made pretty good time, covering more than 30 km, and not wasting much time finding markers. But the top teams got significantly more points - they must have been moving a lot faster than we were! We overestimated a little bit on our route and ended up with 40 minutes to cover the last 5 km - a piece of cake if you're out for a jog, but not so easy over rough ground after being on the go for four hours! I was really struggling at this point - Shelley was in better shape because she'd been training for a marathon, but I hadn't been training as much as I should. We made it with seconds to spare. Unfortunately, we had to skip a few close points because of the time limit. But that's part of the game - you want to plan your route so you've got some options at the end depending on whether you're ahead or behind on time.

In the past, our weak point has been the night time navigation so this year we were determined to be extra careful. Between the dark and being careful we felt like we were moving quite a bit slower, but we ended up in fourth on this section - a big improvement over our past night time performance. At the end we decided to go after a close 20 points even though we figured it would put us over slightly on time. Unfortunately, we had a little trouble finding it, so we ended up 11 minutes late resulting in a 22 point penalty. In hindsight we should have skipped it. Of course if we had skipped it we probably would have been kicking ourselves for not going for it!

Sunday morning started off well but then Shelley started to feel sick and we pretty much walked the last three hours. On the positive side, our navigation went really well. We had the first start time but before we even found the first marker another team passed us at high speed. Near the second marker we were surprised to see them running back toward us - they must have run right by the marker. The funny part was that we continued to play leapfrog with them for a couple more hours. They would zoom past us and then we'd catch them at the next marker when they had trouble finding it. We were lucky to find each one right away. At the end of the race they commented that we made their navigation look bad. But they ended up winning the race overall, so their speed must have more than made up for any navigation problems. Considering how slowly we felt we were moving, we were quite surprised to end up in third place on this section. And even more surprised that it was our speed that made the difference because four other teams got the same number of points. I guess everyone else was slowing down by this point as well.

We were pretty happy to end up in third place overall (first place in the co-ed category since the first place team were both male and the second place team were both female). There was some tough competition from Alberta teams this year.

Overall it was a great event as it has been in the past. Mark Rosin and his helpers do a fantastic job of organizing and running it and Kevin Ansdell did a great job of planning the course this year.

Pictures from Warren Long, one of the participants.


Packing light is an important factor. A light pack won't make you win, but a heavy pack will certainly ruin your chances. Shelley and I have managed to lighten our packs each year. This year they weighed about 7 kg (about 15.5 lbs). This is pretty good considering you are required to carry rain jacket and pants, tent (not just tarp), sleeping bags, stove, food, and water. 2 liters of water was 2 kg (4.4 lbs) of that weight. Most teams were a lot heavier. One team beat us by a few pounds but sacrificed comfort - a one man tent and no thermarests.

For the gear heads reading this, we used a Black Diamond First Light tent (1.2 kg), North Face Kilo Bag sleeping bags (1 kg), Prolite 3 small Therm-a-Rest's (370 g), Arcteryx Alpha SL Goretex jackets (350 g), and an MSR Pocket Rocket stove with Titan titanium pot and a half size fuel cartridge (300 g total). Shelley used Salomon XA Pro 3D trail running shoes. I used the XCR Goretex version of the same shoes, not so much for being waterproof (conditions were pretty dry) but more to keep out the sand which can be pretty abrasive on your feet. We also used short gaitors to keep junk out of our shoes.

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