The silent forest. The crack of a branch shatters the stillness. Heavy breathing, faint at first, but getting ever louder. Suddenly there he is, careering over the brow of the hill, hurtling down to the small hollow below
There it is in front of him – the control; the red and white marker that shows he’s bang on course. Quick glance at the map. Got to get the exit route right. Swiping his electronic timer in the control, he knows every second counts.
The next control must be at least 1500 metres away. Big climb up ahead, but wait. The track off to the left contours round the hill and offers faster running. 500 metres further but easy navigation and better underfoot. Yes, go for it – up the tempo on the track and start planning ahead.
He glimpses a rival up ahead taking the direct route, running strongly up the hill. Our man started two minutes later, so must have gained 90 seconds on him, still, he looks strong. Let’s hope the track option’s the wise choice.
Lungs bursting after a 3-and-a-half-minute K, he turns off the track. Slow down and keep in control but no room for hesitation. Look for the small clearing 200 metres ahead and try to spot the two small hills just beyond. A flash of yellow over to the right coming down the slope. That’s him. Gained another 30 seconds. Both runners hit the control at the same time coming from different directions but our man’s got his tail up. He knows his plan. Fighting the oxygen debt, he’s planned his next route while racing down the track and is straight out of the control and out of sight, leaving his more hesitant opponent floundering.
But he knows there is much to do. Some of the top guys are yet to start. Picture the imaginary runner 10 seconds behind. Got to keep up the speed but run smart. It’s been a flawless run so far. No time lost anywhere but can’t afford any mistakes now. Keep running in control – the finish is less than 2k away.
This is orienteering. Running without boundaries. Running under pressure. In August 2015, 400 of the world’s best athletes from 50 nations will contest the sport’s blue-riband event – the World Orienteering Championships. In Scotland. At the same time Inverness and Moray are preparing to host an additional 5,000 runners who will take part in the biennial Scottish 6 Days Event and spectate at the World Championships. Giant screens and GPS technology will bring live action to the spectator arena. Last year, a similar event, minus the World Championships, drew 4,300 to Moray netting the area a £1.9 million boost.
Once dominated by Scandinavians, the sport is no longer the sole domain of the Nordic nations. Amongst the new kids on the block is Edinburgh-born Scott Fraser who now lives and trains in Stockholm. He took the 2013 silver medal in the sprint-distance Wold Championships in Finland, just 0.9 seconds in front of 3rd place. Running the long way round a lamp post would have meant a different colour of medal. Fraser’s Edinburgh-based teammate Murray Strain was also on the pace in Finland, taking 9th place. The Hunters Bog Trotter is a familiar face on the Scottish hill-running circuit and sees the two sports as complementary: “Runners think of me as an orienteer, orienteers think of me as a runner. The truth is I'm a racer.”
The 2015 World Orienteering Championships and the Scottish 6 Days “Highland 2015”will be based in Inverness between 1-8 August. More information can be found on the event website. Information about orienteering and how to find local clubs and races can be found at the Scottish Orienteering website. The silent forest. Running smart. Running without boundaries. This is orienteering.