London set for City Race


This coming Saturday the desolate weekend streets of the City of London will come to life as 400 competitors from across the UK and Europe descend on the square mile for London's first, and Britain's largest, urban orienteering event. This event in the heart of London has captured the imagination of experienced competitors and newcomers alike. Around a fifth of the 400 participants are newcomers to the sport, while some competitors are travelling from as far afield as Hungary, Italy, Poland, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland, helping make this the largest ever race of its kind in the UK.

London will provide competitors with a stark contrast to normal orienteering races, as they run through historic alleyways and past dramatic architecture, ranging from the towering skyscrapers of major corporations to the labyrinthine walkways of the Barbican estate, not to mention iconic landmarks such as Bank, St Paul's Cathedral and the Gherkin, before finishing at the Broadgate Arena.

The map, drawn by course planner Oliver O'Brien, is extremely detailed and includes 809 buildings, 742 trees, 116 monuments and 50 construction sites. The map has even required constant revision leading up the event due to the ever changing face of the city, with some buildings demolished while others were completed in the course of the mapping.

The popularity of urban orienteering has grown rapidly in the UK in recent years, with the realisation that the complex and confusing urban environment can provide a significant navigation challenge whilst running at speed. Coupled with the popularity of the annual orienteering race held around the passageways of Venice, which attracts a significant number of British entrants amongst its 3000 competitors, events have been staged across the UK. This year the Nopesport Urban League has seen events in Edinburgh, Stirling, Stockport and York amongst others, while in the past Glasgow, Lincoln, Oxford and Warwick have all hosted events in recent years.

Staging a race in the City of London presented the next logical step for urban orienteering, and will potentially offer the most challenging race yet in the ultimate urban jungle, with the promise of multiple levels and easily missed alleys it will prove a test to all taking part.

Oliver O'Brien, the course planner, says of the race: "It was conceived a year ago and is the culmination of many months of planning. After competing in similar races in the UK and Venice, I knew it was the City's turn."

He continued: "The undoubted highlight for me, and hopefully for competitors too, is the Barbican Estate. The complex is notorious for being difficult to find your way around - parts of it were indeed impossible to map because of the multiple levels, and the bits that are used in the race are sure to confuse even the very best navigators."

Amongst those taking part, and likely to feature high up the results on Saturday, are Murray Strain and Nick Barrable. The pair were separated by little over half a minute in the season's opener in Edinburgh back in January, with Murray the quicker round his home turf. Nick, who is currently lying in second place in the Nopesport Urban League, looks set to take first place from Steve Watkins who isn't racing this weekend.

In the women's race Becky Carlyle and Mhairi Mackenzie are also both making the trip down from Edinburgh and should face a good tussle, although much will depend on whether Becky's legs have recovered from the 26.1 miles of pounding in Geneva a couple of weeks ago. Again, with Jo Halliday the leader in the Nopesport Urban League women's standings, its 2nd placed Blanka Sengerova who could take top spot overall if she figures highly this weekend.

In the Men's Vet standings Steve McLean will be out to defend his lead from Derek Allison and Martin Ward, with Martin in third place with one more score to count which could prove crucial. In the Super Vet standings Tony Carlyle is another defending a lead, with Jonathan Howell and Christopher Branford both within touching distance with another event to count for them.

Jane Halliday, who leads the Women's Vet category with a few race wins looks like she might have an unassailable lead, but both Claire Allison and Wendy Carlyle could make up ground this weekend. In the Women's Super Vet standings its all to play for this weekend, with none of the top three in attendance.

To whet your appetite further for this weekend, listen to an interview with yours truely plugging the race on Radio London Sport this evening, with a few clues as to where you might expect to be spending some time this Saturday morning. Final details and start lists are to be found from the City Race Website.

For those of you missing out on London, you might (browser/connection/internet oddities allowing) be able to see the start and finish of the event, and the creation of the event arena, on these webcams. Otherwise you'll just have to wait for your next fix, which will be the Yorkshire Pudding and Sheffield City Race Weekends in November, both of which promise some great racing in the end of what has been a fantastic year so far for Urban Orienteering.


Some of the sights spotted by Controller Simon E

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