Discovering Maprun

This piece first appeared in the January 2021 edition of the Airienteers newsletter.

I just wanted to say a thanks to Airienteers for all the local Maprun events they’ve uploaded to the app. I’m a fellrunner who normally does lots of fell races, but with the fell racing calendar suspended I’ve been looking for virtual alternatives. Maprun has been a great discovery over the last few months.

I started out with the virtual Harriers v Cyclists race, organised by Bingley Harriers with the help of AIRE. Normally, runners and riders race together on a varied off-road circuit through the woods of Shipley Glen and over Baildon Moor. In 2020, we had the whole of November to do it in our own time, with the course marked out by 12 Maprun controls. I gave it a few tries, which helped me get to grips with the app while getting increasingly familiar with the course.

This encouraged me to give the permanent courses on Danefield and Ilkley Moor a try. Both are on great running terrain, and I didn’t mind that Maprun didn’t work too well on the thickly wooden slopes of Danefield – it was still fun just to run round the posts. As with Virtual HvC, running a permanent course allows you to come back and make slight improvements to your route.

A couple of nice things about Maprun are that i. it’s free and ii. it automatically generates a leaderboard. Having shared my initial good impression with club-mates at Valley Striders AC, I thought about designing our own courses. With the help of AIRE, there is now a test event on the app – a simple 4km circuit of Woodhouse Ridge, with a Start/Finish on Meanwood Road + 3 controls. This seems to work well and opens up the opportunity of designing more complex courses in future. Why not give it a try during lockdown if you’re local? It’s on the app at Aire Valley > Valley Striders > Woodhouse Ridge Maprun, or more details on my blog.

More recently I’ve tried out the AIRE events in Chapel Allerton and Colton, and although I’m not a big fan of running on tarmac, it’s been good fun plotting the best routes between the controls.

Just to make some broader reflections from this. I mentioned that I’m in the habit of giving courses more than one try. I know that this contrasts with many orienteering events…. but in fell racing local knowledge and recce-ing the course are very much part of the game. It’s been interesting to find in Maprun a kind-of “halfway house” between fell racing and orienteering.

Also, during 2020 the Fell Runners Association (FRA) has clarified that using GPS to fix your location during FRA-licensed races is now banned. The FRA’s intention is to encourage runners to use map & compass and preserve the unique character of the sport. This may mean that fell races start looking a bit more like orienteering events…… saying that, it could go the other way, with Race Organisers nervous of banning an obvious safety mechanism choosing not to license their races with FRA. In which case it may be that FRA races end up being ones where map & compass isn’t really going to help you, such as short, flagged races, or ones over very complex terrain. All this assuming a return to “normal” racing, of course.

Indeed, while Maprun obviously has some potential to provide a virtual alternative to fell racing (it already has in parts of the Lakes and Wales), how far it’s worth pursuing this rather depends on COVID. I feel COVID has hit fell racing relatively hard, as social contact is such a big part of races – at registration, mass starts, bunching at stiles, finish-line refreshments, prizegiving… and with many taking place at village shows/fetes. Writing this during January lockdown, the return of racing feels very distant. I wouldn’t be surprised if we end up doing a virtual Harriers v Cyclists in 2021 as well as 2020.

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