Newcastle and Tyneside Orienteers

Edinburgh Rat Race 2008 - report from Colin Matheson

Rat Racing is a combination of orienteering, mountain biking, climbing, canoeing, abseiling and assorted challenges. This year I was encouraged to compete against 500 competitors, most of whom hadn't been born when I first started doing the above activities!

Three weeks before the event I was in Hexham A & E having an X ray thinking I might have broken something in my foot. The ankle had been swollen and sore and in the lead up to the race I never really got as much training as I would have liked. I don't think I could have ever trained enough in any case. The intention was to have two teams from my current employer Econnect (but at our own expense). My team mate left the company at Christmas and then just before the race two of the others dropped out last minute. I put postings on various forums including Nopesport (orienteering), UK Climbing, NEOA and the NMC site but no takers. I emailed Rory and his landlord's friends friend was available. I talked briefly to Steve (Fortune), a New Zealander based in Edinburgh and he seemed a good guy. Albert (my other 40 something plus partner) and I drove up to Edinburgh to a bit of a dodgy looking B & B then we all headed down to Princes Street to register. I phoned Steve to arrange to meet, pointing out I was the one in the particularly bad running tights.and this fit looking guy turned up - I discovered he had won the A Class at the OMM and climbed E2 ( a very hard grade in climbing terms). Saturday night was the two and half hour street O, and we concentrated more on checkpoints than challenges. Nothing too silly for us (apart from an agonising space hopper race), but we did queue a long time for a climbing wall traverse and rope swing at the Meadowbank Stadium. We took a wrong route out of the stadium, and ended up climbing a 10 foot high fence covered in anti-burglar paint. That's my shoes trashed now but the tights have recovered. My running is not great these days, but we made it back in time and into 54th place, not bad out of the 130 plus teams.

Saturday night was not very restful, with about 2 hours spent marking up our maps from the clue sheets. We found time for a haggis supper, then it was in bed about 11.30. Not a very quiet night, and the rather sTRange manager was pacing around making sounds, alternatively growling then squeaking. Do werewolves still exist? Then there were drunks going past, TRying to get into the B & B etc. It was up at 5.30 for an early start back at Edinburgh Castle.

Sunday was a beautiful day, and we all started by a run down the Royal Mile gathering various clues. Some competitors had SPDs on (bke shoes), and sTRuggled a bit on the cobbled sTReets. It was then back to the bikes, and the start of what turned out to be 78 km of mountain biking (including 1200 m climb). The first challenge was an abseil, and Steve despatched that really quickly. We messed up on the next checkpoint, and due to a communication mix up I was whizzing down one side of a fence and the conTRol was in the other direction. The next challenge was bike-O, with checkpoints marked up on Google air photos of the housing estate. We completed this challenge easily, but many teams ended up in dead ends.

There was a pleasant ride out to Cramond Bridge, then a long ride out over the Forth Road Bridge to Fife! We could see where the canoeing was, but there was a big queue for the kayaks due to delivery problems with the canoe TRailer. This section is timed out, but it does affect getting back before the cut-off at the end. Steve and Albert canoed under the rail bridge, then Steve and I canoed back. This was hard work into the wind and choppy seas. Wet shorts and stinking socks and shoes from the mud up to the slipway was another bonus of this section.

It was back on the bikes and across the bridge, the next objective being a quarry. Not sure what to expect, but it turned out to be flooded and another canoe challenge. One of the team had to run around then leap into the water at the other side - we paddled across and brought Steve back. On from here to the top of a massive pit bing, the shale heaps you see across CenTRal Scotland. It turned out the conTRol was right at the bottom of this, and the team member with the dibber (me) had a huge descents and ascent. Steve came part way down the slope to haul me up to the top, so I grabbed his rucksack as he pulled.

The next section was a fast pedal along the Union Canal, then another canoe section. I ran along the bank for a mile to dib the checkpoint, but it seemed faster just to run back than change over in the canoe. Albert and Steve covered this very fast - other team members seemed to have an easy sTRoll and not a run. It was then on to Ratho, for a welcome timed out section and various things including a caving ladder climb and bouldering. Steve did the ladder and one of the bouldering problems, I did the other. Albert was sTRuggling with a bad knee at this stage, but was managing the cycling OK. We rode on for a few miles to an orienteering event - 2 km or so around a counTRy park in Colinton. More cycling, then after a short pool (as in snooker-like) challenge, we rode back to the main event cenTRe for a scrambling net and abseil.

We decided to abandon Albert at this stage, then had a bike ride to Holyrood and up around Arthur's Seat. Here we had a 3km orienteering course, complex map and detail, then at last it was more or less downhill. This was till we came to what is called the Innocent Tunnel, an uphill drag of an old railway tunnel, now a cycle route. We then ended up at the top of some steps, which Steve gamely rode down while I ran down with my bike next to him. Need some more skills TRaining here! We finally rode back into the arena, with a fairly easy rock climb with lots of holds. One final last gasp effort running around the arena and into the finish.

Rory had also been competing, and discovered they had finished in a fantastic 6th place. We didn't find out our position till Tuesday - amazing 42nd place out of 133 teams for two old duffers, helped by Steve who was about half our age. Great event, great fun and Rory has now persuaded me I should run with him in Newcastle on the 30 August. This is a 9 to 5 event, so a bit more compressed (easier?) than Edinburgh. See some of you there as competitors or spectators.