Friday, 28 February 2014

Spring is Sprung ...

Night OrienteeringNight, Night, Night-O
The night orienteering season is over for another year. A busy schedule of "Dublin by Night" events taking in old and new areas, and easy and difficult ones, ran from early December to mid-February, providing a fuller fixtures list than the normal day-orienteering one in Leinster. A cancellation of the Kerry Orienteers event in Killarney took one night-O out of the equation. The Northern Ireland Night Championships was on last weekend and soon the clocks will go forward, depriving us of those precious hours of darkness beloved of night orienteers.
I enjoy night orienteering: keeping track of where you are is more difficult and more important than in the daytime as mistakes are easier to make and more costly to correct at night. Some other orienteers obviously agree, but not too many: the turnout for most of the DBN events was in the 40's. Is night-O too specialised? Too challenging?  Too difficult to get to? At the wrong time of year?
The numbers attending orienteering events can be very disappointing: Fingal's Spring Cup event last Sunday at Rossmore, Co. Monaghan, attracted only 60 runners. An obvious difficulty here is that there is no nucleus of orienteers in the area to bring the numbers up, but it must be demotivating for clubs, particularly for the mappers, planners, organisers and controllers who make the events happen, if their efforts go unrewarded.
It's not about money (or not just about money): we all like to feel appreciated, but we'd all like the clubs and the sport to be financially viable. Bigger numbers at events mean more money for the clubs and for the sport. With that money the clubs can pay for mapping, they can subsidise juniors to go abroad to events and to training, they can invest in the sport. Without that income we are on a downslope, with falling participation, fewer people seeing the need to join clubs to ensure the future of the sport and an increasingly older age profile in the clubs.
Are there too many clubs? Do we need to bring the orienteering to the people and not the people to the orienteering? Is it time to reinvent the sport, taking it away from the woolly-hat in the forest image to make it an exciting sprint in a park?
Look at mountain running: the recent race on Three Rock attracted about 300 runners. Look at the Park Runs which regularly attract hundreds of runners. Look at the mountain-bike races on some of our orienteering areas, attracting good numbers at many times the cost of an orienteering entry.
Buy a mountain bike and the same day you're experiencing the thrills and adrenalin of charging downhill through fantastic forests and trails in natural surroundings. Take up orienteering and experience what, exactly? The frustration of getting lost? The slow learning of map features, compass work and pacing? People nowadays want instant gratification and that's not something which orienteering in its present form can provide. Maybe it's not something we should aim to provide, but without capturing and retaining new people, we're going to be in trouble.
Now, where was I? Night-O: if we are to make it attractive to the day-O people, we need to make it  less intimidating: perhaps a mix of parks and urban areas, university campuses and easy forests, graduating to more difficult areas of forest of sand dunes, but a progression. We exclude under 16's for insurance reasons; to a large extent we exclude people who don't have a decent headlight (though the price has fallen and the quality has risen dramatically in the past few years); we exclude people who rely on public transport. We need to be an inclusive sport, not an exclusive one.

Anyway, as spring has sprung, we have the various spring series of competitions in full swing, as well as the great Campus Sprint events which raise money for the Juniors. After a confusing start this year, the sprints at Waterford IT, DCU and UCC are culminating in the TCD and NUU (Coleraine) events on March 1st and 16th.

The LegenDerry weekend of March 15-16-17 has a great range of competitions, from the walled city of Derry, to St Columb's Park in that city, a middle distance race at Binevenagh near Limavady, a sprint at NUU Coleraine and an ultrasprint back in St Columb's Park again. Details and entries are here.

The Rock of Dunamase
Looking further ahead, the Leinster Championships on April 6th are being staged by CNOC at Dysert, close to the Rock of Dunamase in Co. Laois (definitely worth a visit: read about Dunamase here and see details of the event here.). Entries close on March 26th. See the map from the previous (April 2012) event here.
Just two weeks later, the Jan Kjellstrom O-Festival is in south Wales at Easter. Details of the sprint at Swansea University and the other events in the Brecon Beacons are here.

Another two weeks (May 2-5) and we'll have the Irish Championships in Co. Wicklow, with the Sprint Championships at the university campus in Maynooth, Co. Kildare. Details are here. Cheaper entry fees apply until 31st March.

Poetry warning: Stop here if you don't want a blast of whimsical poetry which has nothing whatsoever to do with orienteering ...


NOTHING is so beautiful as spring—
  When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
  Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;      
  The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
  The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.
What is all this juice and all this joy?
  A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning    
In Eden garden.—Have, get, before it cloy,
  Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
  Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.

(Gerard Manley Hopkins)

(At least it's a nice change from Winter, when Dick the Shepherd blows his nail and milk comes frozen home in pail, and so on!).