Esher Micro-O

A few thoughts about the Micro-O that was part of the M21L course at the OK Nuts Trophy at Esher Common.

There is a copy of the map here. (Unfortunately link is no longer working, and even the Wayback Machine doesn’t have it archived.)

Start to 14

Normal course. No real mistakes apart from getting stuck in brambles on the way to 5. The course had lots of path running to avoid grot, so I had a chance to look at the micro-O section, particularly when I took the main path from 9 to 10. 15 looks reasonable, 16 should be trivial,  17, 18 and 19 are all a bit more vague and potentially difficult.  Set my compass for 15 on the way in to 14. Punched and set off.

14 to 15

Crossed the track and down into the big re-entrant.  Surprise number one was that dummy controls started turning up much earlier than I expected, with one in the first small re-entrant by the hill. Ran through the small depression and came upon two flags no more than five metres apart, both in shallow re-entrants. A quick check on the map says there should be one at the foot of the slope, and the one I want to the right of that. Punched the right-hand flag, feeling reasonably confident.

15 to 16

Contoured around the hill and dropped down. Crossed the main track just west of where it enters the open area, and headed for the first thicket. A large rhodo, and easy to spot. The run to the group of thickets seemed longer than expected, and had a few holly bushes pretending to be thickets. The mapped thickets were rhodo again and very obvious.  Control should be on right-hand tip of the first thicket you get to, and it was so I punched it. Spotted another control on the other side of the same thicket, plus one on the thicket further left. Trivial as expected.

16 to 17

Up to the path and along to the junction. I had originally intended to run up the path, but ran diagonally up the hill instead and entered the big re-entrant just left of the hill top. Turned right down the re-entrant and started trying to fit the form lines. Never really spotted the small spur I was hoping to see, but there was only one visible control at about the right height along the slope to the left so I punched it. Someone else dropped in to the same control from the top of the slope at the same time. I guess he’d attacked it from the vegetation boundary on the path above. This is the only other person I was aware of in the Micro-O section.

17 to 18

Hard run on rough compass to get out to path through some thick bracken, and then dropped onto large flat area. Spotted re-entrant to right and kept going into the large depression in front of the control.  Up the hill and slightly right and there was a flag in a re-entrant as expected. Punched it and ran on.  A real double-bluff control.  The only control I had seen was the one I punched. Finally caught a glimpse of a dummy control much higher up the slope on the right on the way out.

18 to 19

Onto the track and down the path past the two junctions. The plan was to compass in from the small spur in the index contour. Plan went slightly haywire when I couldn’t see the spur, but the general bumps to the left with flags scattered around were clearly the index contour wiggles. Compassed in from where I was and hit a control. Didn’t look much like the re-entrant I was expecting. Five seconds looking left and right revealed nothing else close, at which point I decided to cut my losses, punch and run on. It was only whilst writing this afterwards that I realised that the control was on a spur after all,  which explains why it didn’t look much like a re-entrant.

19 to Finish

Dropped to path and set off to 20. The controller, Keith Tonkin, had been watching me at 19 from his bike, and rode alongside for a while. I said I didn’t think much of that last re-entrant, but he said he thought I’d punched the right control. We briefly discussed the double bluff at 19, and then it was heads down for more track running to the finish.


Apparently I got four out of five right, but mispunched at 17. My guess is that I didn’t go far enough, which is why it took longer than expected to get to the path on the way out. This turns out to have been by far the hardest control, with a third of men and two thirds of women getting it wrong.


I ran the whole section at pretty much normal pace, with no real slowing down to read the map in detail. With only a 30 seconds penalty it didn’t seem worth worrying too much. My initial thoughts after getting through this section were that it all felt a bit too unfair. I was only convinced I had one right (16), with two more fairly confident (15 and 18) and two unsure (17 and 19). I never really adjusted to the 2.5m contours (and indeed checked the map on the way to 16 to make sure they really were 2.5m and not 5m).  I hadn’t seen as many dummy flags as I expected, and those I had seen weren’t as close to the correct feature as I had expected (other than at 15).  I certainly don’t see the need to put this in the middle of a normal race. If it is worth doing (and it does have a certain appeal) I’d rather run it as an entirely separate race.

Some Later Reflections

The general discussion on Nopesport, along with the feedback to the survey seems to show that most people thought the event was fair. On reflection it was probably a bit fairer than I first thought. I was completely thrown by the fact that you didn’t know at the time how you were doing, so it always felt like guesswork.  If you accept that this is what Micro-O is about than I suppose this is not a problem.

What I definitely think  is unfair is that you can’t determine the best way to attack a control from the map, since it depends where the dummy controls are. Attacking control 17 along the slope was difficult because there were three control along the slope at the right height. If I’d attacked up or down the slope then there was only one control on the right line.  But if the dummies had been above and below the correct control this would have been the hard way to attack, making along the slope better.

Perhaps I’d go a little bit slower in the complex areas in future, but I still don’t think that slowing down makes a lot of difference. Perhaps the best technique might have been compass and pacing, and ignoring the map altogether. If you find the right attack point this is always going to be pretty quick. It probably depends on the types of control feature and surrounding terrain. I think this demonstrates you’d need to do quite a lot of races to develop a technique you were happy with, and the best approach is likely to depend heavily on the terrain and the planner.

Thanks to David May and SLOW for showing us what it’s all about.