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WCOC A Meet -- Day 2
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[Western Connecticut Orienteering Club did a great job with this meet. The acommodations at Amerisuites were even noteworthy, not to mention close to both parks. Osbornedale and Ansonia Nature Center are beautiful maps. I don't think I saw anything but open woods and an abundance of rock and contour features. Wonderfully convenient starts, instant results. Now if only they'd assigned me a guide dog....but, thank you, thank you, thank you for all the signs pointing the way to the Day-2 site!]

Ansonia Nature Center is a larger map than Osbornedale State Park but features much the same technical, rock feature rich terrain. Like the park, the nature center is hidden, incongruously, amid a tangle of residential streets. The start was next to a baseball field, appropriately since I had watched the magnificent "Field of Dreams" the night before in my hotel room. What the orienteering equivalent of meeting Shoeless Joe Jackson might be, I can't say, but I did get up the courage to approach Peter Gagarin and tell him I enjoyed studying the maps and courses he posts. (For links to Peter's site and some others, see yesterday's entry)

The first control was rather like something out of a lousy orienteer's dream -- streamered. We were told that the route to the rest of the controls were also marked. By these -- pointing to the leaves covering the ground.

Since this was a normal length course I decided to allow myself recourse to a trail, if that truly appeared to be the best route choice. As it turned out I used paths only twice, once where it seemed counterproductive to try to go parallel through the woods only a few meters off trail, and again at the end when I judged my out of condition self to be tired enough that I was more likely to lose time than save it by trying to cut a corner though a shallow, marshy reentrant.

Again my cross-country efforts were slow. So slow, on one early leg, that I had begun to be certain I'd somehow strayed off course until I finally did begin to see features I'd been expecting to show up sooner. The only serious problem I encountered was when I decided to navigate by looking for a couple of obvious small hills surmounted by boulders. Unfortunately, after passing the first of these I saw two more. An example of three making a very unwelcome crowd.

The abundance of rock features doesn't make it easy to relocate. Looking about, my first reaction was that I was in the middle of rocks, near several large boulders. Which meant that I could only be -- anywhere on the map! Luckily, my efforts to restrain myself from overshooting controls paid off. A bit of wandering to my right -- having guessed correctly the direction of my misjudgment (an excellent skill to develop IMHO) -- turned up the rock face I wanted.

Trotting into the finish chute I felt that particular wave of exhilaration that better orienteers will never experience. Hoo Ha! Finished both days!

Not only that, I had done the longer course two minutes faster than the short course. Which brought me all the way up from nearly last to...dead last.

However, simply finishing two courses in unfamiliar parks was an accomplishment considering how a few months before I'd been mostly lost on maps I'd practiced on for years. Maybe it would be possible to improve to an extent simply by concentrating on the mental aspect of orienteering, on my approach to the sport. Well, in my case...the "recreational activity."

It was only when I got home I realized the truth. My placement might have been last but I'd read my time wrong. It'd taken me 135 minutes to finish my final Orange course at the autumn A meet, a typical time for me, sad to admit. Ansonia I'd done in an hour and 27 minutes. Not 127 minutes, as I'd read it, but 87 minutes. Sure, conditions were ideal. The course on the short side of the standard lengths. I'd taken three times as long as the winner. But by doing nothing more than altering my approach I'd had a 48 minute improvement.

More than that, it marked the first time I'd ever broken an hour and a half on any course at an A meet.

While looking at the results after the race I spoke to Olaf Tabur who won his M-70 class, and did the more difficult Brown course faster than I managed Orange. So maybe that's me with twenty more years of practice. I guess at my age there's something to be said for particpating in an activity where there's still hope for improvement.

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