BOK Course Vetting for an “A” Meet
One of the most stressful aspects of putting on a national “A” meet is being certain that all the courses are correct. This is no small task because for each control, and there may be as many as 200, these things must all be correct:
- The control must be on the correct feature on the map
- The feature and attack points around the control must be accurately mapped
- The control, si-box and control stand must be properly labeled and placed in the woods
- The code on the control and the control description sheet must match
- The control description must be accurate
- The course must be properly drawn on the map
That is about 1000 things to keep track of. A 1% error rate could disqualify 10 courses. A 0.1% error rate could still throw out a course. The job of keeping all this accurate falls on the Technical Director. What makes this particularly difficult is the information is coming in from several vetters (who check ribbons in the woods) and a mapper who will be updating the map to make it more accurate around the controls.
I was the Event Director and Technical Director for about a dozen “A” meets hosted by the Backwoods Orienteering Klub. We have a strict process with multiple checks that keeps it all together. It has worked very well for our events, and so far, we have never had to throw out a course. That’s not to say we haven’t had a couple of close calls, but the redundancy built into the process caught the errors before the courses started so we were able to fix things in time. Let’s look at the process in detail.
- There is a Technical Director, a very organized and competent person, who is responsible for maintaining the official Map and Control Data.
It sure helps if this person is a little OCD, and it is very important that there is only one official map and one set of control data. Keeping two different maps or control data sets will add confusion and make it much more difficult to keep track of what changes have been made and properly entered. Obviously it is important to keep everything backed up both on site and off site.
- The Technical Director divides the area into sectors and designs an efficient course for each sector that includes that sector’s controls. These courses are entered into the software so any changes to the controls or descriptions are reflected on the competition maps as well as the regularly updated sector course maps.
Once we have a pretty good idea of what the courses are and where all the controls will go it is time to define the sectors. Each sector has controls that can be made into an efficient course about 2-3 km in length. We keep these sector courses in the course software just like the competition courses. We can easily print these courses with the control descriptions each time a vetter goes out to check controls. It is important that the sector maps include all of the controls. If your software produces a control report showing every control and what courses use it, then you can check to be sure none are forgotten. I label my sector courses S1, S2, etc so it is easy to see that every control is on exactly one “S” course.
- Vetters and fieldcheckers report to the Technical Director after each assignment and the Technical Director makes sure the updated map and control information is added to the map and control software.
In our case we use OCad for map updates and Condes for organizing courses and control data. There is exactly ONE master map and one Condes course file that everyone works from.
- Vetters always get the most up-to-date map and course from the Technical Director before they go out.
Vetters are always working from a clean up-to-date map with all the current codes and descriptions each time they go out. That way they can check everything each time they visit a control, and catch any problems that may have crept in.
- Three different people check each control location. At each visit they initial and date the ribbon. If a ribbon is moved then the initials are torn off and the location needs to be rechecked and initialed by the others again.
This is one of the most difficult things to enforce. When a vetter moves a control, even to a different part of a feature, it has to be checked twice more. There is a temptation to skip this extra step if the control has only been adjusted a small amount and all the other controls in the sector are completed.
- We always set up a practice run through the week before the event.
We do this even though most of our teams have experienced leaders, and we have put on over a dozen events.
- For the practice event the vetters set the stands, si-boxes and hang all the controls. The Start, Finish, and Results crews set up their stuff at the site. Then we run through the Start, Finish, and Results trying to act out worst case conditions to iron out any problems during the practice event.
For each event a few people always think it is really too much trouble and not worth the effort to set up the practice event but we always learn things about the Start, Finish and Results process during the practice event that prevent problems the day of the event. Afterword everyone thinks it was worth the trouble.
- Any of the workers, who want to compete but are either sector workers or plan to be working throughout the day of the event can run their course at the practice event, and BOK counts them in the results (assuming we don’t have to change anything and conditions are reasonably similar to event day).
A couple of times errors were found on the practice day so the runners on those courses couldn’t have their times count, but we didn’t have to throw out the course at the event.
- After the sector people run their course at the practice event, they get their sector course maps. Then they go into the woods to familiarize themselves with the area and retrieve all the controls in their sector. At each control they tie their own ribbon with the control code and their initials to a bush at ground level and maybe even under some leaves so it is not easily visible. The vetting ribbons are left in place. They punch their SI cards as they retrieve the controls.
This is a very important time, because it the “hand off” of the controls from the vetting team to the sector team, and a whole new set of eyes will be checking the controls. The business about the hidden ribbons may seem a bit odd, but we have had a sector person come back the morning of the event saying that the control and all the ribbons were taken from a control location and he was sure he put the replacement control in the correct location even though the ribbons were missing. The vetters were waiting to check problems like this the morning of the event, so they went out to double check the control location. Sure enough the sector person was in error and the vetters found the correct location. The control, stand, and vetting ribbon were gone, but the hidden ribbon was found, the location was verified and the substitute control was set correctly.
- The Sector Leader is responsible for keeping all the equipment accounted for and organized.
It is ideal if you have a separate cabin or room with plenty of table space in or near the competition area where courses can be downloaded, and all the controls can be laid out, organized, and packed.
- After picking up the controls at the conclusion of the practice event the sector people check in with the Sector Leader who checks each sector person’s course by downloading their SI card. Then the controls and si-boxes for each sector are checked and placed in a bag in the proper order along with the sector course map — ready to be set out the in the remote areas the evening before the event, and along the trails the morning of the event.
This brings up the issue of separating the controls that can’t be placed out in advance because they are in “day use areas” or along trails from those in remote areas. After the vetting of the sectors it is usually necessary to change the sectors to accommodate the range of abilities of the people on the sector team. Some will need shorter courses and some sectors may even overlap to separate the controls that are set out in advance from those set out the morning of the event.
- A day or two before the event each sector person places the water needed in their sector.
We usually stage the water on the roads as close as possible to the water controls. Sometimes the rangers drive us on the restricted roads to place water. This also gets the sector people out in their sectors on different routes increasing their familiarity with their sector.
- The afternoon before the event the sector people put out the controls and boxes in the remote areas that aren’t visible from trails. At that time they move the fieldchecking ribbons below the height of the controls so while they still mark the control location, they won’t be seen before the control by competitors running their course. The sector people punch their si-card after they hang each control and then return to the Sector Leader so they can download their sI-card and have their course checked.
We like to keep the vetting ribbons which have the control code as well as the vetters initials at the control site. If the control stand is missing the competitor can find the ribbon with the correct code and know they are at the correct spot.
- The morning of the event the sector people run their course, punch each control and.return to have their course checked. If a control is missing the sector person can confirm the location with the ribbon hidden on the first day. If the ribbon is also missing (the sector person is probably at the wrong spot) two other vetters need to confirm the location before a substitute control is set out.
- When all the sector courses are downloaded and checked (now for the third time) the Sector Leader gives the OK to start the event.
Small clubs may think this is too much for them to handle with a limited number of workers, but BOK started this process BECAUSE we were a small club. The practice event allows club members to run their course in advance so they can help out with setting controls or working all day, and still be competing in the event. Since the sector courses are compact and there is plenty of time to become familiar with the course the sector control placing can be done by competent orienteers who don’t have the skill of the vetters. This saves your vetters from fatigue the morning of the event freeing them to handle problems that may come up (even if they do a 3K sector). Spreading out the technical load among more people during the last days before the event minimises the fatigue errors that crop up when a few people are working to their limit.
This whole process may seem like overkill, but when it is time for the first start and the Technical Director confirms that all the sector people have returned and their courses are correct, the Event Director can be confident that the courses will go off without a hitch.