Navigation Training

Last Saturday I went along for a days Navigation Training with Avalanche Endurance Events. These are the people that run the Fan Dance Race amongst others and really know what they are doing. I wanted to improve my navigation partly to help with my off road running; quite often I’m trail running on my own, sometimes in areas I don’t know and sometimes at night or in bad visibility. Normally I rely on either my running watch (it can give me 10 digit grid reference and has a back track option) or my  iPhone that has the Ordnance Survey maps loaded on it. This is all very well when technology works but my phone had just started “dying” for no apparent reason and I don’t really like relying on electronics, all I would have to do is trip, fall and smash my watch and I would be a bit stuck. One thing I have learnt in life is that the big problems start as just a series of minor things going wrong that all add up to a major issue….

The last time I did much map reading was about 30 years ago when I used to do some orienteering so when I saw this day advertised I thought it would be a great opportunity to learn a bit more. I was slightly worried (well more than slightly !) that it was advertised as a navigation and fitness day at an intermediate level. I’ve always been slightly in awe of some of the guys I’ve seen on the Fan Dance with their fully loaded back packs covering the ground faster than I can in my trainers with very little weight so I had some real concerns that my level of fitness might not be up to it.

I arrived early (I always do….) and looked round the car park… I spotted a guy in a rather distinctive t-shirt (100 peaks challenge) that I thought might be on the same training day so I went up and said hello. Soon everyone was arriving and our instructor for the day, Nick (an SAS instructor), arrived. It soon became apparent that everyone had done far more of these sorts of events than I had and there were a few areas of knowledge that I was definitely lacking. The most important of these was how many steps does it take me to cover 100m. Normally when I’m running I know roughly how long it takes me to run a mile over all sorts of different terrain but I had no idea how many steps I take to cover 100m. I had also never run in boots before and I also had a new backpack that I had never carried over any sort of distance before so you may begin to understand where my apprehension was coming from !

The Fan Dance Race for this summer has stipulated that all clean fatigue people (lightweights like me 🙂 ) need to carry a backpack of at least a 20l capacity with a whole load of kit in it. I thought the Navigation training day would be a great chance to test this out and had it loaded with everything including the 3l of fluids (2l water & 1l coffee). I had also managed to get hold of the right map (it is surprising how few places actually sell paper maps anymore) and had borrowed a compass.. the compass I had was only just up to the job and I really do need to buy a better one.

After a “warm-up” run straight up the side of the steepest visible hill we did a measuring exercise, I think this was mainly for my benefit so I could work out how many steps it took me to cover 100m. This is a number that I don’t think I will ever forget.

From here we started our navigation. The day was aimed at micro navigation and intuitive navigation… Basically how to work out roughly where you are if you don’t know where you are, how to interpret what you see on a map and work out if it is what you can actually see and how to get where you want to go (and actually find the right point !). This did take us all day !! I learnt the importance of using the compass markings to measure distance to the next point and then counting steps to make sure I have covered the distance I thought I had as well as what to do if you are not where you thought you should be 🙂

I think it is fair to say that I learnt lots. As well as learning a lot about navigation I learnt the “airborne shuffle” (AKA the correct way of running in boots) and why I need to fit some beads on a string to my backpack.

I thoroughly enjoyed the day. I wasn’t as fit as the younger guys but didn’t slow everyone down too much. It was lovely to meet some of the people that I have seen in passing on the Fan Dance and look forward to getting out and practicing my new skills. I’m planning on getting Phill to drop me off at an unknown point so that I have to work out where I am and make my own way home !

Anyway, this is the only photo I took all day….. but if you want to see some more they are on Facebook at Avalanche Endurance Events

Butser Hill

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