Falkirk Wheel Middle Race

Date Start Place OS Grid ref Type Organiser
13 Mar 2022 11 a.m. Falkirk Wheel NS 854 800 Middl Neil Polwart


Organiser's Report

The Falkirk Wheel is an area FVO haven’t used for orienteering for a few years, however it makes an excellent backdrop for a middle-distance orienteering event especially with the very accommodating Scottish Canals’ staff letting us have assembly, start and finish in a small field right next to the car park. The contrast of Roman history with the Antonine Wall and engineering marvel’s with the world’s only rotating boat lift are complemented by having a café on site, toilets and normally a play park – sadly the latter was closed today due to a last minute safety concern – however the real interest today was a range of courses from White through to Brown, which had attracted over 180 entries. Unfortunately, some entrants had to drop out as Covid once again seems to be prevalent across Scotland. We still saw well over 140 finishers on what was the second day of a weekend including the Scottish Qualifier for the Compass Sport Cup & Trophy.

Steve Scott had planned courses which seem to go down well across the board, and many appreciated them being a little less physically taxing than the CSC/T the day before, although some of the Brown course participants still managed to come back heavily caked in mud. Brian Bullen, a sage of the orienteering planning, organising and controlling world had controlled the courses and helped get all the controls out in the right place on the morning as well as keeping me right in the organisation required for an event of this scale. A great team of volunteers stepped up to help get things off to a good start, many of them having helped the day before too and they were soon followed be a steady stream of runners all of who made it safely back before courses closed.

Of course the competition wasn’t just on the maps, there was a battle of the bakers too – with the Goddards having coordinated a phenomenal band of bakers to raise money for the Scottish West Area Team juniors, which given the situation in Ukraine it was decided would be split with the Disasters Emergency Committee Appeal, and with the generous support of NatWest/RBS employee matching increases the total funds raised across the two days to over £960, with £300 going to SWAT and £660 to DEC. Huge thanks to all the juniors who manned the stand, the parents who baked enormous quantities of food and to Dawn and Roger for meaning I didn’t even have to think about it! Having seen who was baking the most cake – there seems to be a correlation with the fastest families – they obvious know how to fuel well for the forest!

Thanks from me to everyone who took their turn manning starts, downloads, welcoming the newcomers, putting out or bringing in controls, signs etc – but a special thanks to Brad and Will for saving me having to even think about the IT and to John Heaton for coordinating the whole weekend.

Planner's Report

Although I've planned a number of smaller Local events in the past, this was my first run at planning an event of a larger nature. Ironically, the first event I ever planned, in 2017, was at Falkirk Wheel, and it was good to get a second crack at the area, to see how I'd improved as a planner over the last five years.

This was my first time working with a Controller, and Brian Bullen was a joy to work with. He brought all his experience, including planning two World Championships, to the table, and made countless suggestions on how courses could be better described, and leg transitions more efficiently made for the expected customer base.

The courses underwent a number of changes during the planning process, as we were disallowed from placing controls in the Roman fort area, due to concerns at disturbing the archeology, and one control had to be moved as there was a risk of livestock being in the field on race day. However, I think the courses that were finally delivered were suitable to the area, and certainly the post-race feedback was positive from participants.

I was mindful that planning a Regional level race is somewhat different to planning for a championship event, as most of the competitors are looking for an enjoyable experience, rather than a test of physical endurance. With the expectation that many would have run hard in the CSC/T races the previous day, a Middle distance format was felt to be appropriate on this occasion. The expected winning times on the TD5 courses were in the range of 35 to 40 minutes, and while the Brown course was won in a quicker time (due in part to some fast runners on the course) the general scope of winning times is within this threshold.

It was also my first time as a planner having a separate event organiser, and Neil Polwart excelled himself in ensuring that all the pre-race protocols were met to the letter. It was great to be able to return from control placing to find all the event infrastructure in place, and the competition ready to go.

The overall goal for the day for me personally was to get qualified as a Level C Controller, having done the course prior to Lockdown, and I'd like to thank the other Controllers (who were competing in the event) for their kind words on my courses and general good wishes for my future as an event official. I've learned a great deal from this weekend, that I can hopefully use in future at other events.

Controller's Report

After the recent storms, it was with relief that on the final controlling visit to find no fallen trees of floods and even better on the day the weather was dull with just a cooling breeze on the slope above the Falkirk Wheel.

Every event brings it's unique challenges - the restriction on placing stakes in the Rough Castle (Roman fort) just before courses were finalized meant some hasty replannning - many thanks to Steve for quickly and efficiently dealing with the various restrictions as they unfolded.

It's a small long thin area, roughly 600m N/S and 1500m E/W, and the control circles were at the non-standard diameter of 7.5mm, because the overprint artwork took up too much space at the standard (for 1.7,500 scale) of 10mm. The other non-standard feature was the deletion of the powerlines from the map (again for clarity- hopefully everyone read the mapping notes in the final details!).

Steve and agreed that on the pits the controls should be on the lip - as the pits themselves were not necessarily visible from 10m. There was one small depression (#227, #6 on Brown) of about 5m diameter where the control could perhaps have been more technically sited within the depression - however the site was also Light Green, so the lip siting was appropriate.

Boulders and knolls were also quite small, so unfortunately the control flag would often be seen before the feature, and for fairness the flags were not hung at ground level, as then these sites could then be more visible if another competitor is punching.

Where control numbers are on dark / dense colours (e.g. final control where the number was generally over the water basin of the Wheel) the white outline increases clarity.

There is atleast one potential map correction which I missed - to the East of site 209 (#18 on Brown) there is I believe a 20m section of track to be added.

Thanks to Graham Gristwood and Lewis Taylor for delivering the map updated to ISOM2017-2 in time for my field visits, and for quick turnaround on the small number of issues arising.

Many thanks to Steve for creating challenging courses and adapting to the various restrictions, and making the controller's job straightforward. My special thanks to Neil for stepping in as organizer quite late in the day, and energetically ensuring a very successful event, and to all our volunteers (and another special mention for the SWAT cake bakers and stall volunteers), and finally congrats to the course winners and I hope everyone enjoyed their run.