London Orienteering

London City Race 2014


Having co-founded and been heavily involved in the organisation of the London City Race over the last six years, this year I’m taking a step back and looking forward to being a competitive runner at the seventh event, for the first time. After five years rotating around various parts of the City, and last year over at Canary Wharf, this year, it’s back to the centre of the City. The London City Race is just one of a whole series of urban races in major European cities this autumn, including Brussels (on the same day), Paris (the weekend after), and Porto, Edinburgh, Stirling and Barcelona in the following weeks. Four of these races form part of the City Race Euro Tour, with Barcelona acting as the final race with series prizes. It is in fact quite possible to run both Brussels and London, despite them being on the same day, thanks to wide start intervals, a well timed Eurostar train, and both events being near their respective termini.

The first official London City Race was back in 2008, but in fact there were a couple of “prequel” races, although those running them may not have realised that. The first was a SLOW Street-O race taking place in the City in late 2007, on a Tuesday evening during the rush-hour. (An example of the “barebones” style map used is below – this is actually one from a later Street-O in the same area.) Amid the post-race analysis in the pub, it was agreed by all that the alleyways of the City were a lot of fun to run around. Conveniently I had taken a year out to study a MSc and therefore had the appropriate amount of free time to draw up a map. Being a Mac user, I needed a different solution to OCAD, so used Illustrator/MapStudio.

The process of producing the completed map, with courses, was a bit convoluted, so there was a second “prequel” race at Queen Mary University, using a map prepared in an identical way. This, my first ISSOM-standard map, proved to be fine, and so I and my co-organiser (Brooner) moved on to the race itself. Our controller, Simon Errington, proved invaluable, going well beyond the bounds of a traditional controller’s role to ensure the best possible event was put on. Having a large and experienced club (SLOW) was also immensely useful, with an army of volunteers to draw on for the race day itself. After the first, successful event, it was just a case of adding a new bit to the map each year (roughly one square kilometre a year has been added) and also moving the start and finish each time, to ensure that competitors could take part year after year, having a new experience running through the City with each race. We have also always tried to ensure the race has had a high profile as possible to the general public, choosing highly visible finish arenas, using race bibs which display the name of the race, making marshals very visible (red t-shirts!) and marketing the event as widely as possible, including to running clubs and the mainstream media. With have been lucky enough to have been sponsored by Clif Bar, from the very first race, which means we have now given out over 5000 complimentary Clif Bars to finishers.

I purposely know little about the club’s plans for this year’s race except that it is back in the City, likely the core part, and will hopefully include the classic Barbican Estate, famously so hard to navigate through that yellow lines used to be painted on the ground to guide people to the nearest exit! I would love it to also include a loop past the iconic Gherkin skyscraper, but have absolutely no knowledge of if this is the case. Probably the most iconic view of the London City Race, the Gherkin appears on the Walsh Trophy, BOF’s award for the best sprint/urban map of the year, and also appeared on the front cover of their Focus national magazine a few years back.

This year’s race has the map in OCAD – the conversion from Illustrator was pretty painful, but this does allow other members of the club the ability to update it. Sadly the City evolves around us year by year and some of the classic alleyways are being lost as the City authorities realise that fully segregating roads and people doesn’t work (except for orienteering!) Those who ran in the 2012 event, which started near, and finished in, the Barbican Estate, might be interested to know that the whole start area has now been demolished, including several nearby footbridges. The replacement buildings will have less of a “public realm”. Nonetheless there is still plenty of interest in the City, for orienteers and urban explorers alike. The Barbican Estate itself isn’t going anywhere, and the alleyways around Lombard Street, where the medieval coffee houses of the City used to be, are still very much intact.

Entries are now open and already there are nearly 100 entered, including a strong overseas entry which should make this the most international of the UK’s now numerous urban races. The theme for this year’s race is the City of London dragons which guard each of the main entrances to the Square Mile. Be sure to order a limited edition technical top when you enter. See you in London (and maybe Brussels too!)

Photo above by Darkdwarf on Flickr. Below: A Street-O map of the City, based on OpenStreetMap data.

Screen Shot 2014-06-01 at 20.15.04


OpenOrienteeringMap now Worldwide

I’ve released a new version (v2.1) of OpenOrienteeringMap today, and there are now three editions – UK (as before), Ireland and Global. An earlier global version existed from 2010 to 2012, and has been able to be re-implemented thanks to a server upgrade at work. I hope to have it running for as long as possible.

OpenOrienteeringMap allows you to easily create high quality vector PDF maps, of OpenStreetMap data styled to look like simple orienteering maps, optionally with “score” control points included. It was originally released in 2009, with a major update in 2012 commissioned by British Orienteering. OpenOrienteeringMap is intended for use for urban training exercises and simple street events. As OpenStreetMap (the wiki world map) is updated, both by orienteers and by the general public, so OpenOrienteeringMap also improves. More info about the service.

Here are the different versions:

Edition Updates Versions Contours Branding Funding
UK Daily at 8am UK time StreetO
StO xrail
Yes (10m, from OS Terrain 50) British Orienteering British Orienteering development grant in 2012
Ireland Daily at 8am UK time StreetO
StO xrail
No Irish Orienteering Association None
Global Every few months StreetO
StO xrail
No Generic Ad-supported

You can access them at these links:

The Ireland (IOA) version uses the same database as the UK version, it is just a cosmetic rebranding (& without the postcode search or the contour generation). The global version uses a much larger database which takes three days to create even on the new, fast server, and uses up a lot of disk space. Hence, it will only be updated every few months, unless work dictates. Note also the global version is slower to access and use, because of the extra time taken to live-render the images, from a much larger (100GB+) database than the UK/Ireland versions (<1GB!). It will be even slower if multiple people are visiting the site at the same time, so if the images are very slow to load, wait a few minutes before trying again. In addition to this release, I have open-sourced the Mapnik stylesheets and symbols used to create the maps, on GitHub. I encourage interested people who which to see feature additions, changes or reorderings to submit pull requests. Note that I am using the pre-release version of Mapnik 2.3.0 and the rendering is done via python bindings.

See the stylesheets on GitHub here. If you just want to see the map, here’s a link straight to the global version.


London City Race VI: Preview


The big urban orienteering event on the streets of London, that Brooner and I started back in 2008, is once again fast approaching. Edition 6 takes place on the 22nd of September. A few key differences this year – it’s on a Sunday, it’s in a brand new area for urban orienteering – Canary Wharf and the Isle of Dogs, and there are two starts – accessing the main one involves a spectacular 11 minute elevated journey through the competition area on the famous Docklands Light Railway.

A few things stay the same though – like last year were are producing a limited edition commemorative technical T-shirt (pre-orders now sold out), there is an accompanying race for people making it a London weekend, and finally, there’s going to be a huge turnout – once again well over 1000 people, with almost 250 people coming from overseas. And of course it is organised and marshalled by the event machine that is South London Orienteers.

lcrpreview3The map this year is huge – printed on RA3 sheets (slightly bigger than A3) at 1:5000, as for previous years – but this year’s map is back-to-back, with only a small amount of overlap between the two sections. The map was drawn by Remo Madella of Rem Maps, and I have been getting to grips with OCAD recently to make late updates to the map and position courses. Remo was good enough to take some nice “touristic” photos of the terrain as he moved through it, a few of which I have included here.

Right now is the “crunch” stage for organising any big event like this: handing out the last flyers, finalising permissions, making sure that landowners are prepared for the event, drawing up the necessary documentation, booking first aid and photographer, checking trader logistics, thinking about how the event centre will work and look, drafting the final details, feeding entry data into event management systems, designing and ordering race bibs and T-shirts, buying 1000 tickets, checking who has what equipment and if we have enough SI cards, allocating start times, planning the control hanging, worrying that llamas* might eat a control, hoping new construction works don’t suddenly appear, keeping the budget in the black, final tweaking of the course designs, making lots of little line and circle cuttings, checking the tide times, worrying about the weather and preparing the maps to go to the printer.

My “official” role this year is as planner, which means that I design the courses that people run. There are 13 courses this year, with most starting from West India Quay and two junior ones being based in and around the parks on the southern part of the island. I can’t tell you too much about them as orienteers don’t know their course until they pick up the map, except that all sorts of urban terrain will feature prominently on this year’s map, particularly docks and bridges – and to look out for the views across the Thames. A special feature of my favourite course this year (the Men’s Elite) is that its straight line distance is 10km – a UK record length for a purely urban orienteering course? Only in Venice have I run longer urban courses than that, and although the distance is hard on the knees, in a place like Venice – and, I hope, London – it’s difficult to run without a smile on your face!

It’s never easy organising urban orienteering events but the eventual product is always a lot of fun, particularly in a great area that deserves a big race like this. If you haven’t entered yet, entries are open for just a few more days.

* Anything is possible.


Thanks to Remo Medella, the mapper, for these great photos.


Urban Race Season

It’s late summer, the Scottish 6 Days are over, it’s time for Urban Race Season in the UK! As people return from holiday, and with the forests remain overgrown, late August and September are the peak time for races taking place in the cites rather than the countryside.

Four weekends of interest for those in more southerly parts of the UK:

Harwell Sprint Race – Bank Holiday Monday 26 August

A sprint race around the nuclear technology and particle accelerators of the Harwell scientific research campus! Watch out for your compass, magnetic field line distortions may occur during the race. Details.

Lincoln & Sheffield Double Header – 31 August/1 September

Both Lincoln and Sheffield have put on solid and varied urban races in previous years – with Lincoln’s historic centre, “Steep Hill” (a street name) and lower commerical area and university campus, combining well with Sheffield’s varied urban nature. Details (Lincoln). Details (Sheffield).

Bristol City Race Weekend – 7/8 September

The BOK Blast – urban orienteering comes to Bristol, with university campus sprints on the Saturday at UWE, and a full-on city race on the Sunday. Details.

London City Race Weekend – 21/22 September

Already the biggest standalone urban orienteering race in Britain, the Sixth London City Race combines with an Ultrasprint in Victoria Park the day before. This year’s City Race takes place in Canary Wharf and the Isle of Dogs. Senior courses racers will take the Docklands Light Railway to the start line and then race the length of the island, through docks and around skyscrapers, to the finish line overlooking Royal Greenwich. It will be the best race yet! This might be your only chance to orienteer this fascinating area. Details.

Orienteering Orienteering Events Log

Scottish 6 Days Part 2: Day 6 & Trail-O

The final day of Moray 2013 looked, on paper, quite similar to the others – around 9km, like the previous 5 days. However it was quite different in feel, with the combination of climb (495m) and both technical and physical sections of the course, meaning most people, including me, took ~20% longer than on their other days.

The first part of the course was a control pick, with many short legs, in technical and hilly wooded moraine terrain. The forest looked very pleasant in the sunlight, and the controls came up fast:


The second part, however was physically tougher. After crossing the A939 road, the undergrowth levels increased, and a couple of long legs proved to be a good test of navigation. A vaguely mapped, low-visibility and marshy area near the end was a nasty suprise, with four controls for M21L proving to be hard to find:


(The elites ran through this area without any controls in it, although to be fair they did have a 17.1km course.)

For the last few legs of my 9.3km one, I ran out of energy, for the first time in the week, and ended up walking up the last hill. I expected a bad result, but it turns out everyone else found it tough too, and I finished in the top third today and overall.

A few days before, during the “rest day”, I tried out the Trail-O course in Culbin. My only previous Trail-O was in Portugal, where I didn’t do particularly well, partly because I overthought the planning. Trail-O is perhaps the most pedantic form of orienteering, which much though and toing-and-froing needed to work out exactly which of the controls on the terrain are the mapped ones. In the toughest control sets, there were typically only one metre between controls, and Trail-O participants don’t even get to visit the controls themselves, being restricted to the path network. Still, it was a good challenge, and I again finished in a lower position than I was hoping, with 17 of the 23 controls correct – the winner got 21, so maybe if I’d spent a little longer, or conversely a little less time to overthink it… One of my 6 mistakes was due to not understanding the difference between the viewing and punching point, resulting interestingly in a parallax error. Fellow SLOWie Michael Balling unexpectedly won the entire Trail-O competition, beating the British Team, even though he jogged rather than walked around the course, getting around in the fastest time even though there is no bonus for that. There is a lesson there!

Over an enjoyable Scottish 6 Days, on six great areas, and I look forward to 2015’s event which will be not far away, and combined with the World Championships.

Orienteering Orienteering Events Log

The Scottish 6 Days at Moray

I’m just back from six days of top quality orienteering races in Moray, north-east Scotland. As ever, the days were very varied, with three days of forested dunes, two hilly inland map, and one flat (but still intricate) forest that I once trained in when in the Army section of the CCF at school! The Scottish weather also lived up to its four-seasons-in-a-day reputation, with two days of pouring rain, two days of bright sunshine, and everything in between. I was running M21L, as I didn’t think I would make it around the M21E 17km+ classic on Day 6, and because I was aiming for the top half of the results table each day, rather than inevitably hanging around the bottom 20% as would happen on the Elite class.

Day 1 was at Lossie forest, a classic sand-dune area which I didn’t have great memories of – mainly because I was smaller when I last ran it and I remember the sand dunes being steep and dense – walking rather than running required in order to avoid getting quickly lost. Sadly, it is not quite the same as it was these days – a new track running right through the intricate part meant that the technical level has greatly dropped, and the course design (perhaps necessitated by the sheer number of people, around 3500, at the Scottish 6 Days event) meant that many of the legs were a procession between controls, with people and/or tracked routes pointing the way between controls.

I had a very poor start, heading off 90 degrees in the wrong direction (following the train…) and later on I made my biggest mistake on this day, although this was primarily due to a control being placed on a feature mapped in the wrong location on the map. Discussion afterwards indicated that plenty of others also were delayed here, but unfortunately I responded particularly poorly to the map’s mistake, looking for an (absent) flag rather than the misplaced feature, which was fairly easy to see, if 80 metres NE of where it should have been:


Day 2 was the aformentioned Army area – Carse of Arsidier. I had a cleaner run here, with just the few small mistakes which were a hallmark throughout the week of me not staying in enough contact with the map as I should be. Day 3 was back onto dunes, at Culbin, although it was the western part of the map rather than the more familiar main section which we visited during the following rest day for a Trail-O. Day 3’s result was my worst of the week, although I think this was primarily due to having an early run on that day, with little tracking to follow. There is a presumed correlation between the time people run on a large forested (i.e. trackable) event and how well they do. Day 4 was the first hilly day, at Loch of Boath. Unfortunately it was also the wettest day. It was also potentially my best day, with a pretty clean run, until near the end when I started to think “I’m on for a good one here” and promptly made two medium-sized mistakes in a row.

Day 5 was back to the dune areas and Roseisle. This was always going to be my favourite area of the week and so it proved, with undergrowth-free pine forest (with a lovely natural pine smell in places!) providing just enough technicality to slow down the sprinters. I took three legs on the beach, just because I could, rather than because it was the best route – the problem here though was that it was difficult to spot when to go back into the forest. I overran the first beach leg (3-4) and underran the second (4-5):


More to follow in the next post on Day 6 and the Trail-O.


The Bonington Trophy


An unexpected recent pleasure was being awarded the Bonington Trophy for Services to Mapping, for 2013, by British Orienteering. It was presented to the club in my absence at the British Orienteering AGM in April, and then presented to me at a club event a couple of weeks ago. Thanks to Angus and my club (SLOW) for nominating me for the trophy and for the detailed and glowing citation! SLOW also won Club of the Year 2013.

The citation mentioned OpenOrienteeringMap, the Fixtures Map and my work on the London City Race map from the inaugural race in 2008 onwards (although not this year’s which has been drawn by Remo of Rem Maps.

The trophy consists of a cleaved fragment of rock collected from the summit of Mount Everest by Sir Chris Bonington, President of British Orienteering, on 21 April 1985; which is embedded in a resin cube and mounted on a wooden rectangular plinth.

OpenStreetMap Orienteering

OpenOrienteeringMap v2.Beta


About a year ago, I mentioned that I would be spending a bit of time rewriting OpenOrienteeringMap (OOM). The web application, which people use to create printable simple “street orienteering” (or Street-O) maps for use in low-key events such as the SLOW Street-O series events, has been around for a bit, and was not the most intuitive or prettiest application to use.

More seriously, the map creation process had little in the way of safety checking, meaning that mistakes could be made – one recent Street-O event I went to had two control points with the same number, and another one had misaligned the control “clue sheet”, so that the clues corresponded to the wrong control – resulting in much confusion out on the course. There was also a popular complaint from course planners – namely that they couldn’t go back and change their map – if they made one slight misplacement or misnumbering, they would have to start all over again from the beginning. A less frequent but still valid complaint was that it was easy for control numbers to overlap (or be near) other control circles, causing confusion. There was a non-trivial workaround for this last point. The new version, which I’m releasing today as a beta (while it awaits final signoff) addresses all these issues and has a few more features.

If you want to jump right in, then have a play now at – or read on for more details of what’s new.


A list of the main new and updated things:

  • Much more intuitive to use.
  • Set a direction for the control number.
  • Set a point score and control description, for use with the new clue sheet.
  • Edit and delete controls after they are created.
  • You can now move the map incrementally (drag the blue move marker.)
  • Validator to make sure duplicate numbers are not entered!
  • You now get given a code when saving a map. Copy this code somewhere, and use it to reload your map in the future.
  • New clue sheet which can be edited and printed – useful in conjunction with the map, for an event.
  • New design for the PDF maps – with British Orienteering branding.
  • The standard Street-O map now shows parks (yellow) and forests (light green). If you don’t like them, use Street-O basic, which leaves them out, as well as railways.
  • Daily updates to the background map.

A note on schedules for updates to the background map, which is created from a local database based on the data in the OpenStreetMap database:

  • The local database is now updated from OpenStreetMap every day between 6am and 8am. During this time, OpenOrienteeringMap is not available for use – the maps on the website will appear partially or completely blank and PDF generation will not work.
  • The map data is based on what is in OpenStreetMap up to and including 7pm the previous day.
  • This means that edits to the background map in OpenStreetMap should take between 13 and 37 hours to appear in OpenOrienteeringMap.
  • The image “tiles” of the map that you see on the OOM website are created on-the-fly from the local database and cached for quicker future viewing – the cache is emptied daily at the same time as the map data is updated.
  • The PDF map is always created on-the-fly from the data, and not cached.
  • The process is subject to occasional delays and may stop altogether for a while if upstream processes/timescales change.
  • I’m using Geofabrik’s download service – thanks guys!

Unfortunately this new version (and the old one) will only be available for the UK (& Ireland) at the moment. Partly this is because the new site is very UK-centric – it searches for UK postcodes, takes advantage of freely available contour line vectors for Great Britain, and is branded as a British Orienteering product. But the main reason is that the OpenStreetMap dataset for the whole world is huge, it’s unwieldy and almost unmanageable – not to mention requiring many hundreds of gigabytes of expensive server disk space, and a lot of RAM. The UK/Ireland cut, on the other hand, is much more straightforward to handle.


You can download this example PDF, which is of Grahame Park in north-west London, here.

Get started making your own Street-O map, at Your comments are, as ever, welcomed below.

[Update – fixed the following bugs: Western Ireland not being rendered, clue sheet labels in the wrong order, not being able to edit a control until at least one is added (problem when loading in a previously saved map), permalinks not using WGS84 lat/lon.]


Orienteering Plans for 2013

Here’s the events I’m aiming to run in for the first half of this year, plus five big weekends in the latter half. *M* = possible Munro trips.

  • Edinburgh Big Weekend, 26-27 January YES!
  • 3 February
  • 10 February
  • CSC Qualifier, 17 February YES!
  • Burnham Beeches, 24 February YES!
  • VM, 2-3 March? YES!
  • 10 March
  • 16/17 March (possible training with club)
  • 24 March
  • 29 March-1 April (Easter) *M*
  • SN Sprint & Middle, Wellington & Bagshot 6/7 April
  • Southern Championships at St Ives, 13-14 April
  • British Sprints at Loughborough, 20 April + London Marathon help, 21 April
  • Hampstead/St Albans Urban Race Weekend, 27-28 April
  • BOC Weekend in Dorking, 4-6 May
  • Porto City Race, 12 May
  • Monar round? 17-20 May *M*
  • 26 May
  • Surrey Hills Race?, 2 June
  • Poundbury Urban, 8 June
  • Salford/Manchester Urban, 15 June
  • Perthshire round? 22-25 June *M*
  • 30 June

Later in the year, there are these to look forward to:

  • Dunwich Dynamo, 20-21 July
  • Scottish 6 Days, 28 July-3 August
  • Lincoln/Sheffield Weekend, 31 August-1 September
  • Bristol Weekend, 7-8 September
  • London Weekend, 21-22 September
  • Rome Weekend, 1-3 November

Urban Events – How Far Do People Travel?

Intrigued by a comment on the Nopesport forums suggesting that local clashes rather than a very major international clash were the thinking behind the scheduling of a future urban event, I thought I would do some analysis of how far people travel to races, using my stats database of results.

To do this, I’ve excluded (a) people listed with a club of “IND”, “None” or “” (probably local non-orienteers), (b) people in non-geographical clubs (e.g. RAFO, AROS), as it’s difficult to pinpoint where they travelled from, and (c) clubs with less than 100 runs in the 3 or so years the events database runs back for – this leaves 113 clubs, the largest being BOK with 8534 runs. The latter exclusion also excludes most foreign clubs, although a number do make it through – particularly Irish ones. I’ve also assumed that remaining people live in the centroid of their club’s area of influence – which is “guesstimated” by me based on the name of the club. I’ve also assumed that the event, put on by the club, also takes place in the centroid of that club’s area of influence.

Anyway, here’s where everyone* travelled from to get to the Edinburgh City Race in January 2012:

…and for comparison, here’s where people came from to go to the London City Race in September 2012:

…and York’s City Race in June 2012:

…and everyone (& their dog) went to Aberystwyth in July 2012 for the biggest urban race ever in the UK:

None of these maps are normalised to each other – thickness directly corresponds to the number of people.

Tobler’s Law in full effect for these races, of course, but also showing a decent amount of long distance travel to London and Edinburgh. For Aberystwyth, everyone was already there for the rest of the Welsh 6 Days event.

Finally, for a bit of fun, here are the events that I (and also my namesake in Devon!) have been to in the last three or so years:

* Bearing in mind the filters outlined at the top of the post.

Background imagery courtesy of OpenStreetMap contributors.