It is unusual for orienteers to return to race in the same place every year. However, South East Lancs Orienteering Club's (SELOC's) annual double-sprint event is sufficiently different to do that and still attract a decent batch of entries despite a range of other good events around the country on the same day. It comprises the usual Prologue and Final races, with results decided on aggregate times, but it’s the Final that is particularly good fun - a bit special due to a mix of intense head-to head racing and the atmosphere at the Festival of Racing.
The Festival has grown since it was re-instated by the local cyclists after some of the 2002 Commonwealth Games mountain bike races were held on nearby Rivington Pike. It is probably the biggest multi-sport event in NW England, spreading over 6 days with fell and trail races building up to a weekend that included a triathlon, prestigious cycle races as well as road running, race walking and a mix of community fun runs – plus orienteering, of course. Roads in the centre of this small town are closed to make a circuit that encircles a mix of terrain well-suited to urban sprint orienteering.
Anticipating the strong pull of Harlequins Orienteering Club's (HOC’s) urban weekend in Birmingham, SELOC took the opportunity to ring a few changes and moved the Prologue race back to a nearby country park with plenty of paths to confuse those running too fast. That helped keep things fresh and simplified things for both organisers and competitors. Some competitors took it all in their stride but others found it difficult to adjust to a sprint scale map at 1:4000 in a forest environment so were overshooting badly at speed, despite vast experience.
Left photo: Mass start of the Final. Middle photo: Men's Open Class winner Joe Mercer punches the finish. Right photo: Prize winners.
Event photos supplied by Steve Round, SELOC.
For the Final, everyone gathered in the call up zone ready for the mass start, taking full advantage of the chance to see the unicyclists (in what was effectively a British Championship) whizz past at remarkable speeds. Most of us would struggle to get going on a unicycle, but those guys find it harder to stop! Organisers made sure they were all safely back in the pits before letting the orienteers set foot on the closed road circuit and line up for the mass start to the Final. As usual, the crowd counted them down to the off and they disappeared into the town with Rowan Capper of Lakeland orienteering Club (LOC) reappearing on the “deceptively inclined” run in to cross the line first about 13 minutes later, cheered by the crowds and the Festival commentator. But his 43 second margin over Joe Mercer of SELOC wasn’t enough to wipe out a 5 minute deficit from the Prologue so it was Joe that took the Men’s Open title, with his wife Rachel then making it a family double by eliminating a near 2 minute deficit from the Prologue to take the Women’s Open class. Full results are on SELOC’s website here.
While they’d been out, SELOC members circulated amongst the crowd with publicity material to explain what was going on and encourage them to try our sport at a future event.
Overall results were calculated back in download for a prize giving by the Mayor of Horwich on the steps of the commentary van. The juniors all received a medal too, this year incorporating a commemoration of the end of World War 1.
We don’t know of any orienteers competing in the day’s running or cycle races, but some have done so in previous years and given a few of the local stars a bit of a fright with their abilities. All in all, a good day’s sport rounding off a good week of sport which will hopefully be repeated same time next year, maybe with a new venue for the Prologue race.