Yesterday, I was supposed to go on an orienteering run during lunchtime. Two members of my workplace’s running club had organised it to see if this was something people were interested in doing more frequently. It sounded cool, so I signed up. In orienteering, you try to find a series of waypoints marked by little flags that are indicated on a map. The goal is to find all waypoints in as little time as possible.
I rocked up to the start already frazzled: this week is the busiest week of the year for us in terms of work – we have a very important conference next week – so the days are currently long and packed. I was given a map and shown a photo of what the little flags looked like. My colleague also explained that each flag would have a little needle punch hanging off it with which to punch a control marker on my map to indicate that I had indeed found the respective waypoint. Each waypoint had a number. Here is a picture of the map (I was supposed to find control points 1, 7, 4, 6, 8, and 9):
Then my colleague marked my starting time on a paper and off I set. I found the first waypoint well enough (they made it easy). Here it is:
But then things got tricky. I wasn’t exactly sure how to read the map: were all the tiny trails in the forest on it, or only the bigger forest roads? Was what I was looking at the trail we usually took? Because I was generally stressed, and I didn’t have a lot of time, I was impatient. At some point I suspected I’d missed a turn, so I went back on myself. I started losing confidence in my ability to read the map. Then the next people caught up with me (they ran as a pair) and we tried to find the marker together. We thought we knew where it could be, but we were wrong.
At that point I decided to give up. I would’ve loved to go adventuring in the forest, but I just didn’t have time today: I had to get back into the office. And I wanted to get at least a bit of a speedy run in: all this back and forth looking at the map, doubling back on my way, and trying to find markers that weren’t there was stressing me out more rather than giving me the distraction I needed.
So I decided that getting a good run in, even if it was going to be short, was my priority, and to stuff the orienteering. I left the other two guessing and looking for the control point and set off on my own. Initially I was frustrated with my inability to get the map right and with the time I had already lost: why the hell hadn’t I decided to just go for a normal run in the first place? (Answer: I had wanted to try this because it sounded fun, and also, I had committed to writing this post 😉 .)
But as I settled into a rhythm and ran on through the foggy autumnal forest on my own, I calmed down and started enjoying myself again. This is why I run: the fresh air rushing into my lungs, the regular rhythm of my feet, the focus on maintaining that rhythm – it clears my mind. I’m happy I made the right choice. Had I continued to try and find the control point, I would have gotten more and more stressed and frustrated, and felt guilty about taking too long of a time away from the office on top.
On my way back, I also found another flag (number 8), at which point I finally understood exactly how the map worked: even the tiniest almost invisible trails were marked on it and I hadn’t expected that, which is how I lost my way in the first place. When I got back I had a quick chat with the organiser who promised we’d do it again. I’ll be there – hopefully with more time and a better experience!