Cambridge City Race attracts 350 orienteers

Zuzana Strakova 31 October 2013

For the third time, Cambridge city centre was swarmed not just with tourists but also funny looking people holding maps and compasses, swiftly weaving in and out of the crowds. This is what the Cambridge City Race organized by the Cambridge University Orienteering Club (CUOC) must have looked like to those uninitiated.

The city race is the flagship event of the year for CUOC. The preparation for the race required lots of hard but Joe Hobbs, one of the organisers remarked, “the final week seemed to see things come together, the maps and numbers turned up and the weather held off (mostly).”

From the early hours of Saturday morning, the organisers had been busy setting up the arena at Jesus Green for the arrival of the 350 competitors. Orienteering combines the skills of fast running with precise navigation. Competitors are faced with a course that usually encompasses about 20 to 30 check points – called controls, joined by a straight line. The order in which these controls have to be visited is set; the route between them, however, is not. The runners are therefore challenged with extremely quick decision making in order to execute the route in between the controls in as little time as possible. This makes orienteering a mental and physical challenge.

With starts between 10.30am and 1.30pm, competitors were setting out at one minute intervals on the intricate courses expertly planned by CUOC’s Mark Salmon. The minute preceding the traditional five beeps, which signify the start, was accompanied by the start marshals warning the competitors of the dangers of Cambridge in the form of the suicidal cyclists that plague our roads and even worse, the crowds of pedestrians that block the streets.

Unfortunately, the event coincided with the graduation day, so the crowds were the major problem facing the runners as they set out into Cambridge’s streets and colleges. With the longest men’s course being 7.5 km straight-line distance and the longest women’s course 6.5 km, the runners ended up covering a significantly longer distance, as Cambridge’s winding alleyways provided a tough challenge. The major obstacle that awaited runners of all courses was a speciality of urban races: the extremely high frequency of uncrossable walls and hedges that often led to nasty surprises in the form of being halfway between two controls and suddenly realising that the chosen route choice is impossible to carry out due to an uncrossable feature. This, however, for many, is the fun of orienteering – finding the quickest route between controls without losing time by pondering the decision for too long, but at the same time making sure that no nasty surprise lurks along the chosen route.

The race ran relatively smoothly but, as Joe Hobbs commented, “we like to think that we planned for all eventualities, but I have to admit I didn’t foresee a bomb scare!” The competitors successfully returned from their courses, albeit with some extra metres in their legs from running round the market square. In the end, the winners of the two main categories- men’s and women’s Open- were Leon Foster and Jo Reeve respectively. Carrie Beadle of CUOC upheld the honours for the home club by finishing third in the women’s Open course.