Coming through the spectator pivot for the first time in Sprint Canberra race 4, I completely missed the taped run through. Instead heading straight off to the next control. it was only 100m later that I suddenly realised, and not wanting to ruin the whole week of races, I did an about turn and completed the run through to the cheers of the thousands* watching. I lost 45s or so, but kept myself in the race. And as a complete surprise to me, and a prime example of why you should never give up, I still ended up winning both that race, and the series.
I've given numerous talks to juniors about the dangers of spectator legs, and techniques to deal with the distractions. And up until now, they've worked for me (some people might disagree here - but previous mistakes for me have been post-spectator and have had other main driving factors). So what happened?
The first and easiest thing to do of course, is blame the course! ;) Yes, the map is confusing, there's lines everywhere. Yes, the tape was poorly set up - starting a good 20m away, and well off to the right from the control and where I was running. And Yes, those who had the short butterfly first headed in the direction of the taped run through anyway, so weren't likely to miss it the 2nd time - so no chance of a dsq for them.
But. I'd read about the compulsary run through in the bulletin. It was there on my control descriptions. And the commentator had even mentioned it pre-race! At the end of the day, everyone is in the same position (or should be, perhaps not here due to the butterfly and what order you have it). In any case, it's up to the competitor to remember, and get it right.
So what were my warning signs? I've identified a number of contributing factors:
1. I (thought I'd) seen Rachel Effeney ahead of me. We started together, so I knew she'd be ahead on time. Mistake One, worrying about someone else's race, not my own. (and it turned out it wasn't her anyway...)
2. I'd made a mistake on #13, (due to running faster to try and catch Rachel).
3. I hadn't checked my descriptions as well as I should, or normally do. Bit of a novel reason here - I had my new gps watch on, so my holder was higher up my arm than usual. Harder to use, so I looked less often. Watch will now go on my left wrist!
4. It took me an age to spot where #15 was on the map. I saw 18 first. Then the loop around 20. Where the heck was #15?!! By the time I found it I was half way between 13 and 14. So the route choice decision was rushed, and I didn't check my descriptions as there wasn't time - it was pretty obvious what was the pivot control.
So the mistake was actually prior to the control - I was rushed, and didn't take in everything I needed to plan the leg. What could/should I have done better?
1. The only race I can control is my own. On (not) seeing Rachel, I shouldn't have got flustered. This is where the mental aspect comes in, and getting yourself back on task after distractions.
2. Similarly with making the mistake on #13. Running faster isn't going to solve the problem!
3. Don't change your routine for the first time in a race! I never wear a watch when orienteering. But my new gps was so exciting, and new, and sparkly! My right wrist is where my descriptions go though. That shouldn't change. From now on, watch is on the left wrist, or back pocket!
4. If you're confused, slow down! Get the course/leg clear in your head. It's easier to deal with now than fix later!
The actual run through (or lack there of), I did as I advocate when I coach. I had my leg planned, I was reading my map (the end of the leg and next control), and I blocked out the crowd (so I didn't hear their 'ooooohs' as I missed the tape!). However, having my head up and aware would have saved me, rather than concentrating 100% on the map and where I was running.
But I didn't, so I didn't see any tape as I left the control, so I missed the chuted run. The tape I then saw, I took to be the finish chute. It wasn't until mid-leg, when I checked my descriptions that I realised I'd missed the compulsary route....shit. Turn around...sheepishly run back...
So yeah. A valuable experience. And a classic mistake. With orienteering getting more and more spectator friendly, it's important that we learn to deal with spectator legs/controls, gps tracking, and cameras on course. I've made some shockers, caught on gps, camera, and in front of people. Surely some of you have similar stories to share, to make me feel better? Or some tips for how you cope with spectator legs and/or turn it to your advantage?
*very slight exaggeration for effect.