Top 10 - Events not to miss

So you’ve done a few events around Hertfordshire, and you’re ready to venture a bit further. Here is the “not to be missed” list to aim for. (Reproduced from Pacemaker 97, January 2006)

1 - Swedish 5 Days (O-Ringen)

The ultimate orienteering experience that everyone has to try at least once. The event rotates around Sweden, and each year they build the equivalent of a small new town to cater for not only orienteers but also the extended families that seem to turn up as well. I was at Falun in 1985 when the entry reached 23,000, but nowadays it has settled down to a more manageable (!?) 15,000. This is orienteering on a mega scale. There are normally seven or eight starts, each with a separate sponsor. Two years ago in Gothenburg the Swedes closed a motorway junction so that runners could get from the forest to the finish field.

2 - Venice Street-O

A late entry to the top 10, but now that I’ve finally got around to going to this event I can confirm it is definitely worth a try. Venice is full of tourists even in November, and adding 3000 orienteers running around the narrow streets makes it even more crowded. The map is almost contour-free, and courses are quoted in terms of length and number of bridges to be crossed: I had over 80 in 8 kilometres. The longer courses are guaranteed to take in all the sights, and nearly everyone gets to run across the Rialto Bridge and through (or at least within sight of) St Mark's Square.

3 - Tio Mila/Jukola

Tio Mila (in Sweden, for teams of 10) and Jukola (in Finland, for teams of 7) are both overnight relay races, but on an almost unimaginable scale. Jukola attracts over 1300 teams, so the start of the first leg is a cavalry charge. The forest soon fills with huge trails of orienteers, all hoping that the person in the front is navigating. The top teams are full of elite orienteers, but at the back of the field the challenge is simply to finish. This is the only event in my top 10 that I haven’t yet made it too. Anyone for a HH team in the near future?

4 - British Championships

How many sports can you name where everybody gets the chance to compete in the British Championships? Despite regular debates within BOF about whether this should continue, it has always struck me as a great attraction, particularly to newcomers. The elite races have now diverged into separate classic, middle and sprint races, but for the ordinary orienteer there is still the annual chance to run “the British”. The British Relays normally take place the following day to add to the atmosphere. This year the event comes to the South East, so make sure you enter and find out what it is all about.

5 - World Championships

Most people won’t ever get the call to represent their country at the World Championships, but that doesn’t stop you finding out how you would have done. It is traditional for there to be public races using the same maps and even courses. I can’t think of many other sports where you can turn up and find out how close you are to being World Champion. I nearly got within an hour of the winner in France in 1987 over the 16km course. You’ve just missed the really exotic trip to Japan in 2005, but WOC is in Denmark this year, followed by the Ukraine, Czech Republic and Hungary.

6 - JK

The JK is a three day event held over Easter, and was first held in 1967. It is named in honour of Jan Kjellstrom, a Swede who helped to introduce the sport to Great Britain and who died in a road accident earlier that year. The 1974 JK was the first British event to attract more than 1000 competitors, and nowadays it generally gets around 3000 entries. The terrain may not always be the best (often being severely limited by access to suitable car parking), but this is still a big social weekend, with two individual races followed by a relay.

7 - Harvester Trophy

This is the British equivalent of Tio Mila and Jukola, so probably a better place to start. It currently involves teams of seven (for the big boy’s course) or five, with around two thirds of the race at night for the leaders. Back when it started there was only one course of seven legs, aimed at a team of good M21s, and amazingly I was part of a school team that managed to finish one year. At it’s peak it attracted over 100 teams, but is now down to around 30. The race was initiated by the now-defunct Combined Harvesters club, hence the name. Trophies are appropriately models of combined harvesters. One of my most memorable results was being part of the LOK team that won the event in 1986 at Sutton Park.

8 - Midnattsolgaloppen

This may not be on everybody’s list, but this is one of the more memorable events I have ever been to. The Midnight Sun Galoppen is held inside the Arctic Circle in Norway. Start times are in the evening, but since it doesn’t get dark that far north at that time of year this makes no difference. The maps I ran on were intricately contoured with runnable woods and large open marshes, and provided fantastic orienteering. Getting there involved various trains from Copenhagen via Oslo and Trondheim to Bodo, from where I got the Hurtigruten ferry through the Lofoten Islands to Finnsnes. Getting away involved travelling south to Narvik, which gives you a clue how far north we are talking.

9 - Scottish 6-Day

The Scottish 6-Day was first held in 1977, using maps from the World Championships in 1976. The event has been held in July or August every two years since then, and probably represents the domestic highlight in terms of quality multi-day orienteering. You are guaranteed intricate contours combined with the odd large hill. The weather is generally reasonable at that time of year, although one rest day did find me on top of Cairngorm trying to find shelter from the blizzard that had just struck.  Despite the long trek north this one is definitely worth a go, as demonstrated by the thirty or forty Happy Herts that normally attend.

10 - World Masters Orienteering Championships

And so we come to your chance to be a world champion for real. The World Masters is an annual event for M/W35 and above, and entry is open to anybody. If you win you are world champion. That normally requires you to beat a long list of previous international runners (and even real world champions) but you can always dream. There are two qualifying races followed by a final (plus a B final and C final and so on for the bigger classes). Just making the A final is challenge enough (says someone who managed fourth place on M35 in Norway – in the C final).