This was my big job of the last couple months of 2022; a 4-day event from 29th Dec to 1st Jan, working with Masterplan Adventure. We'd lined up three really good quality forest areas for the first three days, all around Perthshire and Stirlingshire, then we had Graeme Ackland on board to plan the courses for the 4th day, a 2-part sprint race in Niddrie, Edinburgh. Chris Smithard, who organised the inaugural Christmas Cup last year, was guiding me through it which I was very grateful for.
I have planned loads and loads of courses for training/coaching sessions before, but never for proper events. The standards need to be higher, especially on the day. Hanging a control in the wrong place is a fairly serious issue as it affects the image of the club, Masterplan Adventure, who are renowned for having good quality courses.
Up until the 28th, I'd spent about 100 hours working on preparations for the event, including planning the courses (which involved 1 full day at each of the 3 forest areas), administrating the entries via SiEntries, talking to landowners and car park owners to get permissions, advertising, and lots and lots of emails.
My Dad and I headed up on the 28th to hang most of the controls for Day 1 the following day. I decided to hang just the stakes and flags, leaving the SI units to put out in the morning, along with half a dozen controls near the finish. This is the safer way to do it in most forests as SI units are quite valuable to be leaving out overnight. In these remote Scottish forests, though, the chances of anyone else being in the forest are slim and so for Day 2 and 3 we hung the SI on the controls the night before. For Day 1 though, I had to go round all the controls on the morning of the event, hanging the SI units and the last few controls. I gave myself about 2 hours, but this turned out to be cutting it quite fine! It turned from a walk into a run quite early on and by the end I was running pretty hard between the controls, and finished 5 minutes before the first competitor started. This isn't ideal because if you begin to rush the chance of making a mistake increases. Thankfully, I was happy that I'd hung all the controls in the right place the day before.
The best parts about organising orienteering events are the comments you get from people finishing the course, if you've done a good job that is! Happily, on Day 1 everyone seemed to love the area and the courses. The forest was certainly "tough and challenging", but I was pleased when one competitor said that "every leg had interesting orienteering".
The worst part about the day was the USB connection between the download box and the phone doing results. For some unknown reason, it kept crashing continuously and at one point we had built up a fairly long queue of people waiting to download. Not ideal on a cold day. Thankfully, once we had switched the USB adapter, the connection was more stable and we managed to get all the results processed and everyone accounted for. The setup we used for this event, with the SI Android app, is different from most orienteering events in the UK, but it is quick, easy and automatically puts live results on the Internet if you have an Internet connection.
Once we were all packed up at Dundurn, my Dad, Mairi Eades (who was invaluable all week) and I headed to Lochearnhead to start setting up for Day 2, on an area called Edinchip, South-West of Lochearnhead. It was 6pm by the time we started hanging controls, but the moon was bright and the air was still, so I actually really enjoyed walking round for 2 hours. My main concern with Edinchip was a slippy footbridge, for which we had brought a roll of roofing felt to lay over it to add some grip. The other slight concerns I had before the event were the number of fences people would have to climb (which the landowner said was fine as long as any damage was reported) and the non-standard bending of the purple lines on Short and Medium, to go through the crossing point at the car park, which was the safest and best place to cross the old railway (which had steep embankments and fences on both sides).
Sadly, we woke up on Day 2 to snow on the ground and snow still falling from the sky. We had stayed overnight at the Assembly location for Day 2, Lochearnhead Scout Centre, so the event could still go ahead if people could get there safely. However, we went down to the main road to discover a police car parked across it, holding back a queue of lorries, and a policeman telling us that the main road over Glen Ogle was shut. He also had no idea when it would reopen, and when we mentioned we would have around 50 cars coming to do a sporting event, he suggested we should cancel it. The roads from Crieff and Callander were open but still snowy and treacherous. We had said the night before that we would make a decision at 8:30am, because if people are starting from 10:30, they will arrive at the event from 9:30, and have to start travelling by around 8:30, depending on where they are staying. With a police car still parked next to the entrance to our car park, we didn't have much choice but to cancel the event. In the end a snowplough came along at about 9am and opened the road, but the car park was still snowy and the conditions on the courses would still have been pretty sketchy. Everyone seemed to think it was the right thing to do.
A couple of local orienteers, whose house is on the map, helped us collect in the controls, and then Mairi and I headed down to Aberfoyle to hang controls for Day 3, at Fairy Knowe and Doon Hill. We started at about dusk and took an hour and a half for about 20 controls each, in quite a compact area. The heavy snow had fallen as rain at lower elevations, so the main concern now was flooding, which had been making national news across Scotland for the travel disruption it was causing. My primary concern with the courses was a river on the Long course which had been knee-deep when I checked the courses in October. Sure enough, I found it un-crossable. I was using a control stake (about 3-4ft tall) as a gauge depth, and on each of 4 attempts I got to a point where I could no longer feel the bottom. I was already thigh-deep and not even close to the middle. I turned back and would have to come up with a plan later. In the end, we decided to simply cut out the 3 controls on the other side of the river, one of which was a map flip, and draw a start triangle on Part 2 at the last control before the river on Part 1. So I spent about an hour that evening with a red Sharpie.
I had taken the mostly green half of the map, and Mairi had taken the mostly white half. Given the darkness, it was really quite challenging to hang the controls in the right place! I was unsure about a few of them. To avoid this issue, sometimes a Planner will mark the control sites with tape in advance of the control hangers arriving there, but this requires more time spent on the area and I didn't live locally. Whether or not you do this, one thing you have to do at any proper event is go round all the controls on the morning of the event to make sure they are still there, and ideally wake up the SI units. This is a much quicker job because you don't have to carry any stakes, flags or SI units with you, so I got round all the controls within an hour. However, I discovered that I had hung 2, and Mairi had hung 1, in the wrong place! Disaster averted, in the end almost everyone was happy with the courses and control sites. I say almost because a few people had some minor complaints about a crag which was not on the map. I had done some updates to the map in October, but not a full re-map of the area, which was last mapped for the Junior European Cup in 2016. Presumably, the 2016 mapper had either decided the crag was not large/steep/obvious enough to be included, or had made a mistake. Either way I hadn't come across the crag when I was updating and so it wasn't on the map. I didn't get chance to go and check if the complaints were well-founded or not.
After Day 3, Mairi and I headed to Edinburgh, via reorganising all the equipment and dropping what we didn't need back with the Masterplan club stores. Day 4 was a two-part sprint in Niddrie, Edinburgh, which Graeme Ackland had kindly planned the courses for, and Colin Eades had checked them, acting as an informal controller. After quite a late night on New Year's Eve I was grateful that we had some helpers to hang controls, so Mairi and I could just set up Assembly. Having an indoor Assembly area was fantastic too - the White House Kitchen were great hosts. Download worked smoothly all day and everyone seemed to enjoy the courses. Happy days. After a brief panic around a missing SI unit, it was found in the boot of one of the cars and all was well. Good job team.
After a 12 hour sleep, I put the results on the British Orienteering website, reported the levies and calculated the overall winners on each course, who we bought chocolate oranges for but didn't manage to give away in a prizegiving because everyone scarpered before we could calculate overall results. There must be a quick way to do it in Excel, but I couldn't work out how... one to learn for next time.
Finally, a big thank you is in order to all the people who helped out during the week, whether that was standing on the start or collecting in controls. In future, we should probably look to have more helpers to take some of the strain off the organiser and the main two or three people involved with the event.
Check out the Christmas Cup website!