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Discussion: The Middle fiasco

in: Run Black Diamond (Mar 21–23, 2014 - Concord, CA, US)

Mar 22, 2014 4:07 AM # 
I would like to personally apologize to everyone for the fiasco with the lengths of Middle courses at Day One of Run Black Diamond.

My time was focused on making the event happen (~20% of it), then on making a map of this unusual for Bay Area, highly detailed terrain that would be worthy of a national-level event (~75%). Both succeeded, but course design fell by wayside. I test-ran the courses in January with a Pullautin map. I felt that the middle/wooded loop could be completed by the winners in under 20 minutes on both Blue (~2.1 km) and Red (~1.7 km). So, Blue would have to be at least 5.0 km in order to approach recommended winning times and for us to not be accused of charging too much for too little.

I was wrong. I did not put in enough effort into course design, particularly into test runs with subsequent versions of the courses and the map. This is not appropriate for a national-level event.

In a theoretical another universe, help from another person capable to independently evaluate the courses onsite would have been beneficial. I personally have tried to contribute in this way in the 2000s, encountering anything from sincere gratitude to annoyance with outsider meddling. There was enough of the latter for me to cease my efforts.

I hope to continue to contribute to the scene and the lessons of Run Black Diamond will be taken into account.

Again, my sincere apologies to everyone affected.
Mar 22, 2014 4:25 AM # 
Too long for a middle, but great orienteering and course design otherwise. I had a ton of fun. Thanks!
Mar 22, 2014 6:07 AM # 
Are the maps going to be posted anywhere?
Mar 22, 2014 6:33 AM # 
Here's the red course.
Mar 22, 2014 3:18 PM # 
Getting hit with a major bout of withdrawal! Looks deliciously brutal. Here's a blue.
Mar 22, 2014 3:46 PM # 
I was wondering who was going to start bitching about the course length, but thought "fiasco" was not particularly sensitive... but if it's the course-setter...

... sympathy from someone who also neglected to get TT courses test-run. Looked like really good orienteering, though.
Mar 22, 2014 8:48 PM # 
Fiasco is probably overkill. I thought the map was good and the course interesting and challenging. A bit too long, yes, but not as terrible as it seems when you consider that we're selecting for WOC finals (at least for the TTers).
Mar 22, 2014 9:21 PM # 
My only critique is the map size. I would've liked a larger map--to better visualize hills, valleys, and intersecting trails. No fiasco though.
Mar 22, 2014 9:22 PM # 
Yeah, I'd say not fiasco either. A bit long. But the WOC middle will be longer than a US-middle winning time of 35 min anyways and we're selecting people for finals now, not the shorter quals... And great to have some technical orienteering in an area where I gather that's kinda hard to find!!
Mar 23, 2014 2:38 AM # 
Mar 23, 2014 1:54 PM # 
Indeed the omission of contours outside the fieldchecked area is another issue that multiple people commented about.

There are always things that you the organizer/ED/mapper/CS worry about, and put effort into making sure they are right. The thing that scares me with both of these issues is that I didn't worry about either one of them beforehand, and that they would have been relatively easy to fix. With the running times, I relied on my gut feeling for the unforested portion and a test-walk of the forested part, an estimate that proved utterly inaccurate. With the contours, it would have taken less than a half hour of map prep time to add some, or a lot, of margin. I limited the fieldchecking to, and then cut the map along, major ridges and reentrants, and while a reentrant is hard to not notice when crossing, it's relatively easy to cross a ridgeline without noticing.

Rest assured that these two issues are unlikely to recur at our events.
Mar 23, 2014 5:47 PM # 
I'm sure it was an enjoyable event for most participants. Don't sweat it.
Mar 23, 2014 10:18 PM # 
As one of the complainers I will admit that had I executed the leg correctly I would not have needed the extra map margin...but that was my problem...having that extra bit of map would have made my 20 minute error into a 17 minute error...some day I'll learn.
Mar 23, 2014 10:50 PM # 
Hope to make a CA meet some day. Blue looks like a fun course but I'm curious about the map and the limited terrain shown. It looks like there are enough big features to keep people on the map (assuming the trails are really obvious), but mistakes do happen... Was it intended as part of the challenge or other practical reasons?

Edit - missed your post a couple up....
Mar 24, 2014 12:06 AM # 
Well, the practical reasons are the limited time and budget for mapping. Despite the terrain having been used for rogaining and a TrailCross before, the map was made from scratch to orienteering standard. It turned out there was plenty of terrain to support the courses had they been shorter, and the limited time could have been better spent on test runs and on including the un-surveyed margin (the base covers the entire 20+ km2, not just the 0.9 km2 shown). Now we know.
Mar 24, 2014 12:59 AM # 
From a distance, I'd say:

Don't beat yourself up too much about it. You actually stepped up and hosted the event (investing much blood, sweat, and tears). That's more than the rest of us can say. Learn from it, and move on.

You'll survive. They'll survive. The sun will still rise tomorrow.

I'm actually sad that I missed it.
Mar 24, 2014 1:43 AM # 
The map looks quite interesting.

In the hopes that some constructive armchair criticism is helpful I would think the issue is with the steepness of the terrain. It's amazing how much slower steep terrain is even without changing the climb, distance, vegetation, etc.

Good job T/D!
Mar 24, 2014 2:06 AM # 
I wasn't even in the country but I know what being a course mapper and setter is like. I accidentally set three MTBO courses 50% too long last year because I spent more time making the map and making the courses challenging to getting around to measuring the actual distance. Unfortunately in that instance, straight line +50% didn't cut it - straight line +100% was more like it so I failed on that occasion.

So I am here to say thank you for doing all this. We need more willing people!
Mar 24, 2014 2:46 AM # 
Well, I think the issues were all three: Steep, green, and technical. Different weight for different people. At say an average West Coast adult's level, mostly the first, some of the second, none of the third. At an average East Coast person's level, a lot of the first, close to none of the second (the manzanita is not much compared to mt. laurel), maybe some of the third. At a young junior's level, a lot more of the third compared to the first two. I went out there to look at S–1 and 1–2 and saw many confused juniors before the steep and the green even began, but the juniors probably didn't have as many problems getting up the steep hills as the maturefolk.

At least no attendee said it wasn't technical enough.
Mar 24, 2014 7:52 AM # 
Such narrow maps / legs hear map's edge are common also in qualification races and multi day events - to avoid revealing the full map.

Something one should get used to.
Mar 24, 2014 9:16 AM # 
Without wishing to rain on your parade of mea culpa...

If it's meant to be a trial for a WOC with a 35minute winning time, and US team athletes are typically 50-80% behind the cruising winner at the WOC quali, what winning time did you expect from a top-3 of M40s?

(OK, red looks a bit of a brute)
Mar 24, 2014 12:50 PM # 
Graeme that's a good reality check. From the comfort (and ignorance) of virtual distance I did wonder how a Tero or Simone would have performed. Which leads me to a suggestion: in additon to standard vetting proceedurtes, perhaps OUSA should sponsor a couple of benchmarking Euro athletes for our TTs.
Mar 24, 2014 1:19 PM # 
The US Team Trials are intended to be consistent with the OUSA rules. The relevant middle section is here.

There is a bunch of stuff about the character of the middle, which people should bear in mind, but setting that aside...

Just about winning time: "A.17.12.1 The expected winning time for an orienteer with a ranking score of 100 shall be decisive in determining course lengths."

Most recent rankings are here. Eric Bone and Wyatt Riley average out to a 100 point orienteer. They both had reasonable races in the Friday middle.

I appreciate everything that Vladimir has done and continues to do. I don't want to pile on or harry. But, if something is wrong, let's not pretend it isn't. I see so many examples of course setting in the US, in the middle and sprint disciplines in particular, that is just unsuitable, that I can't let it slide. There are standards and expecations for these disciplines, and while course setters or whomever may want to exercise creative license, it is not fair to competitors/consumers who are promised a certain product.

It was a great event overall and the "middle" was challenging orienteering, sure, but it wasn't appropriate for the discipline.

The other races were, too, and they nailed the winning times (arguably the sprint was towards the long end.) Or, are we saying they didn't, because they should have been 50%+ longer? I hope not.
Mar 24, 2014 1:58 PM # 
Should it become standard practice that OUSA fund someone to come and pre run the courses for Team Trials? I'm thinking about the Georgia sprints too, which were way too long.
Mar 24, 2014 2:41 PM # 
We would have gladly funded someone ourselves to come and test-run the courses. Get Lost!! in essence is a crew of rogainers who dabble in orienteering and happen to like Sprints. Given that we sometimes (not often, but sometimes) can't even get our rogaines set correctly (OK, once), what would one expect? ...

The offer is on for next year (no Team Trials, "just" an A event). And yes, Black Diamond will be used. For a Long.
Mar 24, 2014 2:45 PM # 
I haven't had enough of Black Diamond, and a long there would be an attraction.

It may have not been said elsewhere, but the maps this weekend were all quite well done. Thanks to all the mappers.
Mar 24, 2014 2:47 PM # 
All maps were, in essence, new. Although there was prior use of Black Diamond and much use of Shell Ridge, these prior maps don't look anything like what was revealed this past weekend. Bob Cooley in particular spent close to two months fieldchecking Diablo Foothills and portions of Shell Ridge.
Mar 24, 2014 5:39 PM # 
While much of the discussion has focused on appropriateness for team trials (or not), the most egregious problem was on the Green course where the Middle winning time was longer than the Long winning time. As a western runner used to what this sort of climb takes, it only took a look at the course specs to see that the course would be way too long. It didn't strike me as a case where it shouldn't have been obvious.
Mar 24, 2014 6:28 PM # 
With the non-Trials Day One courses, focus was on providing value for entry fees paid. Some of the perceived value is indeed in courses that correspond to standards. A particular aspect of at least the local culture is that more emphasis is given to time spent in the woods and to the technical challenge.
Mar 24, 2014 8:11 PM # 
Were the courses reviewed by another person and vetted?
Mar 24, 2014 8:27 PM # 
@j-man But, if something is wrong, let's not pretend it isn't.
Like having a trial over a different length from the thing you're trying out for?

OK, Vladimir stuffed up and I'll go back in my box. See you in June :)
Mar 24, 2014 9:27 PM # 
Yes, the courses were reviewed by the OUSA Course Consultant. Most, but not all, CP locations were vetted.

What seems to have happened is that the Course Consultant trusted me too much to know what I was doing. Usually that is the case, but not always. There was at least one order of magnitude more review traffic for the Long courses than for the Middle, and it showed in the outcome. I'm not blaming the Course Consultant, he was very helpful in determining the course flow, but relied on info fed by me about the speed in the terrain, and I didn't feed enough info or correct info.

The vetter is not an elite runner and was not expected to provide an estimate of the running times, only to verify that the map was correct and that the streamers were in the right places. Both were true.
Jul 14, 2014 9:20 AM # 
Results just in...
Wyatt Trial - 59.23 WOC 63:25
Ali Trial - 55:25 WOC 48:43
Jul 14, 2014 11:18 AM # 

Day One of Run Black Diamond (the middle) along with each of the following 3 races over the next two days were US A events and supposed to adhere to the OUSA Rules of Competition. Those rules contain specific directives about winning times for each of the disciplines featured during that weekend. They can be read in their entirety here. I excerpted the relevant language earlier in this thread.

If anything, given the difficulty of doing four races over three days, the winning times should have been on the shorter side for each of the races; they were not, but that is a different point.

Why does this need to be dredged up again?
Jul 14, 2014 8:40 PM # 
So that the course setter would feel better :)

The relevant input should read, "Perhaps it's time to reevaluate the Long and Middle Team Trials course guidelines since we no longer select for qualifiers".
Jul 14, 2014 10:50 PM # 
Well, I just entered the COC and WCOC. I'm assuming Canadian rules are like US, and I can expect the courses to be some 60% shorter than they would be in Europe? If not, I may be out some time...
Jul 15, 2014 12:50 AM # 
Is it thought that by simulating the experience of the American runners in the WOC finals in the trials that we would select a different team or different runners for certain events? That if we set a course for a 63 minute winning time (or a 139 minute winning time) rather than 35 or 90-100 for the middle and long respectively, that it would produce a different outcome? It just may, but if 63 or 139 is what we are going to be running in the final, does it really matter?

The middle and the long are not run back to back at WOC. What sort of verisimilitude is it to run them on consecutive days at the trials? This is but a concession to practicality, which makes sense to me.

Another concession to practicality is having the team trials at an existing event. Luckily, we have some SML events in this country. Unfortunately, winning times are still hit or miss, but luckily, through collective wisdom, or a little dumb luck in that setting a 2.8K, 4.9K, and 13K men's course for each of those disciplines in most US terrain will often produce winning times within range.

What is the alternative to this? Cajole some good natured spirit to set courses that no one ever runs in this country, aside from this event? Courses that thumb their nose at OUSA event guidelines? How is that responsive to the market? How is it beneficial to the team?

Sometimes a simple, tractable solution is far superior to one appears theoretically acceptable on paper.
Jul 15, 2014 1:34 PM # 
Well, one answer can be that you are selecting people who are not adequately fit for the events they are going to run. Someone can possibly have a lower gear and lots of endurance training that would get them through that 139-minute course in say 133 minutes by virtue of not bonking. A hair-thin improvement in the grand scheme of things, but perhaps a point or two in the League of Nations, where now things are decided indeed by a point or two. That same endurance runner may be edged out on a 100-minute course—does not seem to be a hypothetical situation, looking at recent Trials point spreads.

The Long and Middle on consecutive days is easy to take care of. Just put more scoring emphasis on specialization. About six of this year's Trials participants chose in advance not to run the Long.

This discussion thread is closed.