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ROUTE ANALYSIS: Kilkenny - #3 SE Urban League 2024

The medieval centre of Kilkenny was host to the third event in the 2024 South East Urban League this past Sunday, 24th of March. Conditions were well suited to orienteering, and the smooth limestone (or should that be Kilkenny marble?) flags saw only a light drizzle of rain as the mild morning progressed.

There was good competition across the courses, with Niamh O’Boyle (CNOC) only 34 seconds behind Valdas Tilunas (3ROC) on the Long, who won with a time of 33:30.

Kilkenny features an intricate network of narrow streets, canopies and alleyways, and my aim as planner was to create some challenging route choice where the optimum route was as hard to gauge as possible. This meant that many routes differed in length by only 20 or 30 metres, but, with finishing times so close and a good number of controls to take, lapses in fine discernment over the duration of the course could make all the difference. 

Measuring route choices for each leg should be a key part of the planning process, especially for urban or sprint courses, and often a control will hop from feature to feature until the right balance of ‘deceiving to the eye’ and ‘consequential for the runner’ is met. I had all of the legs on the more technical courses (Long and Medium Short) measured, so the following is a run through of all of the Long course legs. The shortest route is shown in blue, with alternative routes shown in red. Time taken to cover a given distance will be made with reference to the winning pace on the day (just under 4:40 min/km). Clicking on an image will bring up a lightbox for easier viewing. There's a comment section at the bottom of the page - it would be great to hear any of your own thoughts and observations that you might like to share.

Start to #1: Route choice from the moment the map is picked up - this leg encourages the runner to take the red route by pulling them back in towards the line. Not only is the blue route nearly 40m shorter (equal to over 11 seconds at the winning pace), but the corners are more acute on the red route, leading to greater speed loss when turning. A common route choice type of 'out and around' versus an 'S curve' under the line.

#1 to #2: This was the main transit leg on the course - dead running here could only have been avoided by moving the map extent further down, which would have ruled out some of the more detailed areas later in the course.

#2 to #3: The optimum route is the leftmost one, where runners can flow straight through #2 and on towards #3. The rightmost route involves both doubling back (costly loss of speed) and going north beyond the control only to have to come back south again. The middle route might be tempting by the logic that it finishes closer to the line than the blue route does, but it involves an extra turn.

#3 to #4: The main disadvantage of the red routes is that they take the runner further north beyond the control than necessary. The middle red route (450m) is most likely a fair bit slower than the outer red route (455m) due to the extra turns and the stairs. The blue route just about beats the outer red route, even for those that approached #3 from the west - while the blue route requires an about turn, and the outer red route allows for the runner to continue at full speed towards the next control, the red is also longer by about 7 seconds.

#4 to #5: The red route, longer by less than 3 seconds, is the better choice here. Each corner is said to cost 1.3- to 1.7 seconds for elite athletes - with two extra corners and a set of stairs to tackle, the blue route is a slightly less favourable option.

#5 to #6: On this leg, runners are faced with another classic choice between an ‘S curve’ under the line or an ‘out and around’. As is often the case, the ‘out and around’ not only features fewer corners, but is also deceptively shorter than the options that stay nearer the line.

#6 to #7: The first longer leg of the course, and runners are again faced with an option either to double back on themselves or flow through. Those that took the optimum ‘out and around’ route on the previous leg will be rewarded for the counterintuitive decision to make an about turn as they head for the river via the blue route. A small variant to the blue route (red route, 617m) is shown after a few competitors I spoke to told me they intended to take the blue route but ended up unintentionally running straight out of the central alley area. This ‘mistake’ ends up less than 10m longer, and by eliminating a turn and the poky set of stairs on the blue route, might even be the optimum route.

As for the micro route choice towards the end of leg 6-7, it made no real difference by metres whether runners took the first or the second canopy. Even though the extra turns involved in taking the first canopy are good and wide, I would still go by the second canopy to avoid them.

#7 to #8: The blue route is significantly faster here, both by overall length and number of turns. The options look closer than they actually are due to the control site being slightly nearer the northwest end of the building complex than the southeast.

#8 to #9: I considered this to be another section of dead running, setting up route choice for the next leg, but there’s probably a micro route choice here - the hedge which divides the two routes forces the blue route to turn in acutely towards the tree at the end, which impacts the flow out of #9 for the next leg. However, the time gained from preserving the flow might be lost by having to run over grass instead of over the paved area - it all depends on the runner’s strengths and preferences.

#9 to #10: Another longer leg, and runners are faced first with the question of whether to double back or continue travelling away from the control. As it happens, there’s no difference in that element of the route choice this time, and the decision later on in the leg whether to approach the control from the south or from the east is a difference of around 8 seconds.

#10 to #11: Visually, it might be tempting to take the red route, which appears to stay slightly closer to the line, but it’s another case of ‘out and around’ being just a bit shorter, as well as turning less acutely. To finish the red route by going down and around the southeast end of the building would add around 20m. 

#11 to #12: Primarily a setup leg for 12-13, but also playing a role as one of the ‘pinball’ legs up in this corner of the course - after the previous longer sections of navigation, a few rapid changes in direction in a detailed area presents a different cognitive challenge.

#12 to #13: Although the red route is shorter, I would consider the blue route to be the better choice. Not shown on the map is a set of steps at the very beginning of the red route, between the impassable wall and the round building corner northeast of it (they went missing at some stage in the map update), but runners would have had to come down them on the previous leg. I think the 11m difference in leg length is easily won back by the blue route, which doesn’t have to awkwardly climb steps and (even more importantly) go down them again.

#13 to #14: The red route looks fairly appealing at first, with the northeast end of the block being the ‘thin end of the wedge’ (so to speak), but involves taking on more elevation gain than is necessary. Considering the starting position, and the fact that the canopy just south of the control site allows a diagonal entry, the blue route wins back an easy 18m (5+ seconds).

#14 to #15: A long leg split between two river crossings - the north bridge is tempting, appearing much closer to #15, and provides easy running along a major road to that point which facilitates planning for the next legs. However, failing to notice the impassable fence that runs east-west along the car park in the top left would mean a good bit more running than expected. For those quick (or organised) enough to pick out the narrow path down through the detailed central area east of the river, the blue route is significantly shorter, by around 25 seconds. 

A few runners mentioned afterwards that there was a gap in the wall on the bridge which meant it was possible to cut out the impassable fence. I didn’t notice it when updating the map, and it should have been included to eliminate any element of luck from influencing the course.

#15 to #16: Another leg with minimal route choice - just a micro route at the end. The blue is shorter by about 5 seconds, and the red also involves sharper cornering, which makes it even less favourable. This could be considered a 'dog leg' as it requires running back over ground covered by the optimum route on the previous leg, but the routine inclusion of 'in and out' legs in urban and sprint orienteering means that runners can't easily rule out certain routes on the sole basis that they turn back on themselves.

#16 to #17: This was another good leg to encourage taking an ‘S curve’ when ‘out and around’ is significantly better. The spiral shape taken by the red route towards the end of the leg amplifies the difference in length even more, as well as introducing more turns.

#17 to #18: It’s probably logical to retrace your steps from 16-17 for this leg. Alternatively, you get a chance to damage control and go the opposite way if you decide your previous route was suboptimal. The difference here is even bigger than on the previous leg, with over 100 metres and 30 seconds between the blue route and the red route. I added a variant ending of the blue route approaching the control from the south (430m) after a few people said they went that way.

#18 to #19: I don’t know if anyone took the option through the multistorey car park - even though it’s a small bit shorter, the extra corners and the set of stairs to traverse make the blue route a better choice.

#19 to #20: This is a close set of routes that all have their pros and cons. The leftmost red route allows the runner to flow through #19 and on to #20, but involves 5 turns. The blue route is the exact same length, but has the fewest number of turns (albeit tight ones), and allows for the longest sections of flat out running. It does start with an about turn, though, as does the middle red route, which is shortest by a nominal distance. My choice would probably be the blue route, but it’s hard to know which is best without getting three evenly matched runners to go head to head in perfect conditions!

#20 to #21: This was probably my favourite leg of the course - the blue route is best by a fair margin, but requires an unintuitive about turn and very fine map reading. Another worthy choice is the lower ‘out and around’ red route, which was taken by at least two skilled orienteers. The middle route is another example of the ‘S curve’ under the line letting the runner down, despite appearing to be more direct.

#21 to #22: The blue route and the upper red route are fairly equal when considering the direction of travel to the finish. The time saved by running straight through #21 and taking the lower red route is probably lost again in travelling further south than necessary.

#22 to Finish: A straight run of just over 100m to the Finish, visible from the last control.

Thanks to everyone who made the journey to Kilkenny to take part, to Andrew for controlling and organising, and Debbie, Rob, Thomas and Steve for managing the park side of things and marshalling the Start. Event #4 in the 2024 SE Urban League will take place in Waterford in June - another chance to test your eye for route choice!

- Jack Hanafin, planner

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