Rites of Passage

(An article I posted to the O-Net in December 1997.)

December 1997 has been fairly traumatic so far. I started a new job on the 1st. I managed two days there before a short break to be at the birth of my first child. James made his first appearance at an O event at Wisley on the 14th, and I discovered the joys of split starts for the first time at Trent Park on the 21st. But the really momentous occasion was at the SAXONS event at Ightham on the 28th for this was my last race as an M21.

It’s a long time since I last changed age groups: Broadstone Warren on 11th December 1983 was my last race as an M19. Since then I’ve run 952 races as an M21, and getting on for 7600 km in competition. I’m getting quite used to writing ‘M21’ on my control card. People tell me that it gets easier from here on but I’m not sure. An M65 I talked to last week explained that he too was moving up, but M70 was certainly no easier. If people are still running at that age then they are deadly serious, and navigationally competent as well. The fields get smaller but the quality tends to improve. So there’s no joy on that front.

Perhaps the courses get shorter. Well almost. As an M21L the recommended course length ratio to M21E is 0.79, and this plummets to 0.76 as an M35L. That should save me all of 500 metres at the typical badge event. But can I even afford to run M35, since I need the extra distance to get ready for National Events. So there’s no difference at badge events. And of course I’ll have to stay on brown courses at colour coded events. And at these new-fangled short races everyone runs the same course anyway.

But the British Champs will be different won’t they? Of course they will: on a shorter course then every little mistake becomes that bit more significant. There’s no chance to make up the wasted time. Last year I was running fast enough to come second at the British Champs - if I’d been running M55. So all I have to do is keep running at the same speed for another 20 years and I’ll be British Champion. This of course assumes I’ll cut out the idiotic error at the path junction just before the last control.

For orienteers and race horses, New Year’s Eve is party time, and New Year’s Day is a chance to get out there and enjoy your new status. Tomorrow I’ll turn up at registration and proudly state ‘M35’ when asked my age group. There’ll be no need to be offended when people ask me if I have moved up a year. And I’ll still get beaten by everybody that was beating me last week.