Terrace Oaks Meet
Posted Sun, April 11, 2010 - 8:38 PM
The local 2010 orienteering season is officially in full swing! This weekend was the meet at Terrace Oaks Park in Burnsville, set by none other than my fellow Gnome Hunter, Dave Swanson. Terrace Oaks is a small but fun park with surprisingly large hills and a mess of confusing trails. Its main drawback is that it's fully infested with buckthorn - pretty much the whole map apart from open areas is medium green, and you have you protect your eyes as you sometimes swim through the undergrowth. Nevertheless, it's still often faster to cut corners between trails rather than running all the way around.
I ran the 6.5 km Red, and in a small park like that, Dave had to set a "superball" course to get the requisite distance. There were 19 controls, all E-punch, and I was bouncing from wall to wall, so to speak.
As usual, race details below the fold.
Everyone started out running down the trail south and then east from the start. As I got my first look at the vegetation conditions, I decided to run farther on the trail and cut in the minimum distance towards #1. Of course, I ended up screwing it up a little - I didn't anticipate how much the undergrowth actually obscured the controls, so I had to stop and check the compass. At that point I told myself to slow down and nail the first one while I got used to the conditions, much different from pretty much the all courses I've run in the past six months. So I was pretty slow to #1. And then, I headed south on a deer trail to go around the pond, and saw a couple of pieces of bright orange flagging tape. "Lots of flagging tape around here", I thought, as I caught my left ankle on the (marked) fence and went airborne, shredding the upper right corner of my map when I hit the ground. Well, at least I was laughing at myself afterward. I continued around the south side of the pond and up to the main trail, then attacked #2 by running SE along the long axis of the hill to the top. Of course, it was thick, and at this point I knew it would be more profitable to "trail run and duck in".
Luckily, the leg from 2 to 3 provided a perfect opportunity for that. Trail running was considerably faster, and the hilltop was easy to find. But never mind after that, because the 3-to-4 leg wasn't a trail run. Hmm. I actually stopped for a few second at the intersection south of #3 to think about it. I had noticed that the low areas directly adjacent to ponds were reasonably free of buckthorn and were decently fast, so I opted for a southerly route that backtracked to the main loop hairpin, cut the corner SE to another large trail, and then followed east to the southern end of the elongated marsh. I then slipped around the south edge of the marsh in, as I expected, relatively open woods, and climbed up to #4 with only about 250 meters off trail. To get to #5, I took the mountain bike trail and cut off the obvious loops, and came around the north side of the pond. #6 was also an straightforward leg, into the open area on a deer trail and a brief pause to attack. I reached it about the same time as Brian, who was navigating as Dave shadowed him (just for fun).
For some reason I decided to go straight back west to the open area and come around the north side of the pond. In hindsight, that route did exactly what I wanted to avoid and kept me in the green. I should have headed south and a little west, catching the small trail on the hilltop if possible, and cut the corner a little to the main trail. #8 and #9 were both straight trail runs (I backtracked after #8).
I made my first navigational error at #10 - at first going due east from the trail and keeping a suitable distance from the marshes to the north. I counted on spotting the hill to the SE and coming a little up its left flank. I guess I stayed too far down, though, because I ended up at the SE corner of the second marsh. Another look at the map - aha - the hidden reentrant trick! Well, at least obscured by the increasingly thick vegetation to the south. I reversed course and climbed SW over the spur, which seemed taller than the map indicated, but dropped into sight of the control. Not too bad.
I have no idea what happened on the way to #11. I went SE to the main trail and then looked for a footpath over the hilltop to the E. I found it, and went up over the hilltop and then... ended up at the far end of the southern pond, near #7. Luckily, I relocated quickly and recovered to get #11 - but I'll have to go back and check the trails in that section to determine whether it was a brain fart or not. One thing that might be relevant, though, it that the park rerouted part of the mountain bike trail in that area a couple years ago because it was a steep uphill and getting badly eroded. Not to use that as an excuse - but if I can't exactly replay a leg in my mind when I'm done with it, I have an itch to find out what really happened, whether or not it's my fault.
#12 offered no alternative but a bushwhack, and I consulted the thumb compass here to stay on course. The undergrowth was particularly thick on the approach to the control, and I had to use the little "buckthorn stroke" in a couple places. The trail route around to #13 didn't look as bad, so I took it to the intersection and cut west to the mountain bike trail, around the south side of the pond, and out to the main trail. I could see the rise in the trail to my left and the open canopy over the small marsh beyond, and barged right in to find the control. Unfortunately, I had to go all the way back, and retraced the last 300 meters, but probably a little faster after having seen it once. Then it was back on the trail, and a nearly due east approach to #14 in a deep depression. And again, a backtrack, then a right turn at the T, up the hill when I reached the marsh, and there was #15.
I followed the bike trail north and cut the corner to the main trail, then a similar approach to #16. This left me with a nonobvious leg to #17, but I immediately decided to go NW to the main trail, down about 150 meters, cut across to the next one, down 150 meters, cut the hairpin loop, and then along the side of the hill above the pond. The conditions weren't too bad, and I slid right by #1, got over the barbed wire fence this time, and quickly spiked #17. Then guess what - reverse course - but this time I stayed higher and went straight over the hill, which was actually had less buckthorn near the top, unlike many of the others. I ran down to the main trail, took a right at the black X, and cut the corner to the east another 200 meters up. The next control was actually visible from the trail, and I passed Shaun (of Chuckle Monkey fame) at this point. Then I ran the edge of the pond and made a beeline for the small building and the sidewalk. It was a gradual, annoying uphill here, but I paced myself and kept a constant speed until I reached the open cut in the trees that led me up a steeper hill and right to #19. After that it was just a trail run back to the finish.
Some thoughts on the course:
- First, it's a tough job to set in a park like this. It's small, and it's thick. So there's not much opportunity for legs with a long time off-trail, and even had there been, the buckthorn would have made them not so fun.
- Dave did the right thing by not trying to placing the controls in particularly difficult locations, but placing a lot of them. This gave the course more of a "middle" feel.
- However, many of the legs only had one obvious route. A few of those are OK by me, but generally only if they serve as connectors.
- There were a lot of doglegs. This was mitigated somewhat by the dense vegetation, which prevented runners from telegraphing the location of a control, but it's also not hard to double the controls as suggested in all the course setting guidelines.
- The trail network was used to excellent effect, including the mountain bike trails. The vegetation forced runners to use the trails more instead of running straight-line through the woods, and that led to a number of interesting choices, not to mention some confusion.
Altogether, I actually had a lot more fun on this course than I would have expected from the terrain conditions - so kudos to the setter and vetter!