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Discussion: tough decision

in: gg; gg > 2016-03-27

Mar 29, 2016 10:28 AM # 
Thought I should clarify what I wrote on my log - I'm certainly not being critical of anyone who made the difficult decision to stop their race. That's a hard thing to do for anyone, but particularly when you're in a winning position and in the thick of a race. Knowing when it's better to call it a day for safety is an important part of mountaincraft and definitely the right call.

But I am arguing that we need more stringent safety rules on exposed areas with an expectation that everyone should carry a waterproof, taped seams, hooded cag, hat and gloves as is the case in any FRA race. Rules can always be relaxed if conditions and forecast are clearly good. You don't (often) hear the top fell runners moaning about carrying kit or cheating the system - it's just accepted as a necessary part of the sport.

Anyway, well done on a great weekend!
Mar 29, 2016 10:32 AM # 
Regarding kit - I agree!
Regarding my race - I'm pretty certain I wouldn't have run a decent time in those conditions, even if I could have kept warm. I don't remember experiencing conditions
deteriorating so rapidly ever.

Mar 29, 2016 12:03 PM # 
Orienteering: the map and compass (and, only in Britain, the hat, gloves, cagoule, waterproof trousers, space blanket and whistle) sport.
Mar 29, 2016 12:08 PM # 
Don't forget the emergency food
Mar 29, 2016 12:29 PM # 
I don't get why that is a bad thing. The essence of the sport is that it goes into remote wilderness places and can be run in all weather. Why is appropriate kit associated with crap-ness?
Mar 29, 2016 12:54 PM # 
You request equipment suitable for the conditions predicted.
March, with a storm coming: waterproof jacket, hat, gloves.
July, big high pressure system, no undergrowth - shorts and vest!

(this nuance is the main thing the FRA rules lack, with a catch-all equipment list for AM/BL/AL races and no wiggle room)
Mar 29, 2016 1:28 PM # 
Difference is at FR races there is the option to call off the race relatively simply at any checkpoint. Bit more tricky in orienteering when runners are spread over the area at different times.

When running World Cup Final in France (many years ago) during a storm (falling trees etc) the organisers took the decision to stop the race mid way and I was stopped at a control about half way round. Race was then rescheduled for later in the week. At what point should Sunday's race's organisers have done the same and taken the choice out of the runner's hands? JK in Wales about 15 years ago (?) had day 2 cancelled due to poor weather.
Mar 29, 2016 3:27 PM # 
Sunday's forecast was for cold and rain showers as far as I can remember from MWIS a couple of days in advance - not enough to call off in advance and making cags compulsory was the right call - the main issue was 'what is a waterproof' (something Fell Running has grappled with in the not too distant past) and the policing of checking. Whether the waterproof is used or not is down to the individual runner and their SMJ - something someone who hasn't been caught out before will be lacking. Even in most fell races that go up as high/higher than Sunday you aren't vetted for experience beforehand, this only really coming in at Long races. And a jacket will improve survival chances but you could still die!

Had I been out in the hail I imagine I would have been really disappointed to be called off the course - I was hoping for poor weather to gain places overall, but tough conditions affecting all equally, not a small part of the field massively! - but would have eventually seen why. Having everyone over the hillside with no marshals in the terrain (looking after their safety another issue!) adds another level of complexity that I feel in no way experienced enough to remedy.
Mar 29, 2016 6:41 PM # 
That JK Day 2 in Wales should never have been cancelled though.. a light dusting of snow, and lovely clear blue skies. We all ran to the top of Pen Y Fan in the glorious sunshine instead.
Mar 29, 2016 7:51 PM # 
There are a number of separate issues here. Having the appropriate kit is one, but even if everyone would have had all the kit in the world, the rapidly changing conditions meant, if nothing else, that the results would have been hugely affected by the luck of the draw as to who was out at what point in their course in the hail. That would not have produced a fair result, or at least it would not have produced a result which was down to the competitors ability to orienteer. It is not a fault of anyone, but like GG's original log, it also raises the question on whether it was a good decision to hold the long race at this time of the year at such an exposed location (stopping the race would not have provided for many alternatives - there isn't really an alternate day it could have been postponed to, and holding the field for a few hours until the storm passes isn't practical for many reasons either).

This may have been a rare occurrence which is probably why this eventuality wasn't seriously considered, but I suspect with the effects of global warming (i.e. more extreme weather more often over the last decade), this could be something every major event organiser would need to start considering...
Mar 29, 2016 8:48 PM # 
Hmm I don't think remote wilderness in all weather is the essence of the sport at the elite level though Oli - rather a fast, fair, tight, technical race. And carrying a cagoule does detract from that. Of course extra kit is necessary in conditions like the JK, but major international events like the JK shouldn't be in conditions like that in the first place. Fun for low key events though.

I also think the kit detracts from fell running, but that's a different story cos by definition the sport needs to be on the fells at all levels and so the kit is needed end of story.
Mar 29, 2016 11:08 PM # 
I've long regarded the British rules around gear as being slightly quirky, but then Great Britain and Ireland are the only countries I can think of that run events above the treeline in anything other than summer. Seems a very sensible provision given the conditions that are possible.

The IOF rules require organisers to cancel a competition if conditions have become unsafe (or words to that effect) - I guess there is a similar provision in British rules? I was actually responsible for the only mid-event cancellation I can think of in Australia (in 2000, due to snow - the issue was falling trees as it was the heaviest snow the area had had for 30-odd years) - this was a matter of some contention as I didn't have any official position at the event (instead acting in my capacity as a state association official), but when you analyse extreme weather for a living people do take your judgment seriously on such matters.

I must have been lucky with the year I lived in the UK (1989) - also a very early Easter, but JK was in Somerset and was in conditions warm enough to be described by at least one of the tabloids as a "heatwave" (19C). Can't remember being rained on at an event once all year.
Mar 30, 2016 7:25 AM # 
According to that logic, Craney, we should never hold events anywhere high/exposed/remote just in case an elite runner has to wear an extra layer, thereby detracting from their finely tuned performance? The sport did sort of grow up in remote wilderness terrain, and many of the best races I can remember have been wild one way or another (and I don't mean urban orienteering in Upperthorpe). I wonder what would have happened last summer if the WOC long had been hit by a wintery blast as it could easily have been?
Mar 30, 2016 8:43 AM # 
The rules as they are perfectly adequate. I would not like to go the FRA way with compulsory whatever the prevailing conditions. People need to take personal responsibility. In this case it looks like the competitors did that including having the common sense to know when to get off the hill when they realised they did not have adequate gear for the conditions. Having had to make that call myself while leading a MM I know it's not easy but in retrospect I consider it one of my better MM experiences.

As for the fairness of the result. Clearly if things are predictable then you can do things to mitigate but the weather like this can only be put down as an 'act of god' and you just have to accept the luck of the draw.
Mar 30, 2016 9:08 AM # 
I dunno, when someone 'is now OK as their temperature has gone up to 33 degrees' several hours post event (as far as I know someone complying with the rules and with some MM experience), it would suggest a few more safety nets could be put in place.

I agree that personal responsibility is the main safety net, but if something goes wrong it's the organiser/safety officer in nick and orienteering under the cosh and untouchable as far as insurers are concerned. I think a bit more direction re. kit to carry could be given for those without high fell/MM experience - or those with the immortal feeling of youth! Only when O goes FR (not required in normal events!)

Part of fell running/MMs is the use of mountain craft and SMJ. This is not part of the orienteering guidelines, so either put that in the rules (in which case you then have to vet people for certain events - not fair) or be more clear as to what to carry.

A look at Lizzie Ingham/Jess Tullie's AP logs is interesting - and they were carrying/wearing the required equipment.

A brief search of the BOF rules:
Common Sense - 1 hit regarding to breaking of embargo.
Extreme Weather - 5 hits. Organiser responsible for decision made. Mentions drinks points, clothing requirements (no guidelines) and curtailing course.
Mountain Judgement/craft - 0 hits.

I should probably stop wittering on about this as I'm boring myself. What happened to my carefree attitude to going out on the hills? I know I can look after myself but often worry about others - maybe too much.
Mar 30, 2016 9:49 AM # 
Out of interest, did anyone put in a protest over the results? I wonder what a jury would have made of it?
Mar 30, 2016 9:56 AM # 
I think there is much to be learned from this, more than room to discuss here, but one thing raises its head immediately. At what point should the organiser have cancelled? The bad weather lasted for 20-30 minutes. By the time the organiser could have assessed the weather and cancelled, it had all passed by.

On the subject of whether this area should have been used at the end of March, I concede that my biggest concern as planner was always the weather, and made sure I spent some time up there at the same time of year last year, and looked at weather records for the past few years. However, in all the times I've worked on Kilnsey (this is the third event I've planned up there, and I've been up there many times, in all conditions, over the past 18 months), this was by far the most extreme change I encountered (there have been a couple of other instances where it was as cold etc., but they were extended periods of time and were well flagged beforehand). We would have preferred a late JK, and maybe more thought by fixtures organisers about that needs to come into play, but one of the worst days I've known was in July, and in the week before and the day after, the weather was consistently benign (the worst being a rain shower the evening before). And as an aside (because this is more about safety than other orienteering issues), YHOA was stretched to the absolute limit on finding areas for the JK, and a couple of regions are already not included on the rota.

I personally do think that one of the things that needs reviewing (amongst others) is the kit rules, not least because of the extent to which the concept of 'cagoule' is stretched by competitors when a cag compulsory rule is employed, especially as the base kit is so often inadequate (thermals were to my mind a minimum that day). The FRA rules may be subject to stick from some quarters, but there's a lot of sense there too, bearing in mind that most of their genuine fell races go well above the altitude at the top of Kilnsey (500m). OJ's kit list looks extremely sensible to me, as is ba-ba's concept of 'Orienteering goes fell-running'.
Mar 30, 2016 10:58 AM # 
From what I'm reading above, it sounds like the carnage was caused by a relatively localised, very heavy shower? (I had a trawl through the observations from some of the major observation sites in the region and couldn't find anything as dramatic as what's in the JK reports, even allowing for the extra altitude, but in this type of set-up that doesn't surprise me). If that's the case it's not terribly predictable - you can predict that there is a risk of heavy showers a day or more in advance but would be lucky to get more than 30-60 minutes warning of a specific cell (and that only if you had access to good radar data, which I gather isn't easy in the UK unless you pay handsomely for it).
Mar 30, 2016 10:58 AM # 
FRA kit rules on exposed areas is the way to go.
Mar 30, 2016 1:40 PM # 
From the various comments I also think that, whilst personal responsibility is important, there should be some consideration for guidelines given to the organisers.
There were weather warnings in place from the Met Office - and I think it may be worthwhile to consider to put someone in the organising team in charge of coordinating a response in case of such an extreme event.
From the comment of some of the runners it seems that even they were surprised that they weren't pulled at least at the spectator control. Whilst it is a difficult decision, I don't think it should be solely in the competitors hands to make a decision to retire - it is entirely possible that the adrenaline and will to compete could lead to them misjudging their capabilities, underestimating the force of nature and ultimately cause serious harm. I think several competitors commented that they did only realise after they finished how much they were impacted by this unique occurrence. But also, if there isn't anyone actually in charge to make a decision and coordinate response on the organisers, there is naturally at least a delay in the response due to uncertainty, and when something hits as sudden as this storm did, quick reaction and decisiveness is just as important as getting the response right.

So I would think giving some guidance to organisers on preparation for an unlikely but possible weather event such as this would also help.
Mar 30, 2016 2:58 PM # 
At what point would you have cancelled, bearing in mind that the bad weather had passed within 20 minutes or so? Being decisive still takes time. Reading Lizzie's log, what really punches home is how short and how intense the experience was. Her point about spotting the state she was in at the end is an important one though.
On Saturday there was a yellow weather warning for England and Wales about high winds for Sat 0700-1900: "Latest indications are that the strongest gusts are more likely across southern and eastern parts of the area, with parts of north Wales and northern England less likely to see any impacts." The point behind the reissue of the warning was to "tone down" the level of warning for the north. Then on Sunday there was another yellow warning, starting at 2000 in the evening. For the period of the event, there were no weather warnings as far I could find out at the time - and I checked every few hours from Tuesday through to Sunday. There was a specific Safety Officer for the event who, for instance, had been co-ordinating a search that had been started at that time.
Don't get me wrong, I think there are things to learn, but I also think it's very easy to jump to conclusions.
Mar 30, 2016 3:55 PM # 
I don't think I was jumping to conclusions - and my suggestions were certainly intended as additional considerations for improvements in general in the future, not comments on what anyone from the organisers did or didn't do in this particular instance. I understand you could infer that from my note, but I certainly wasn't implying it.

Part of my work is improving how organisations react to rare but highly impactful events, although they are not weather related, the principle is similar, so I was trying to share that experience.
Mar 30, 2016 4:19 PM # 
Understand - maybe I was jumping to conclusions!
Mar 30, 2016 8:43 PM # 
What strikes me is that the organisers don't really know where anyone is until the very end. If someone hasn't returned by the time the courses close, then that is the cue that something has gone wrong. Even someone starting last in a race where many are taking 2 hours+ could come into problems and when it is exposed and the weather comes in it could well be too late by the time the organiser realises that something is awry..
Mar 30, 2016 10:03 PM # 
Personal responsibility. If you go up on to the hill with your cag but not enough other cloths to be able to at least stand a chance of not going hyperthermia in the event of becoming totally incapacitated and stuck by yourself for couple of hours then your being irresponsible. With the organiser saying cags needed and the temperature as it was then a thermal layer along with hat and gloves would of been the minimum and over trousers would be what would make a real difference.
Mar 30, 2016 10:09 PM # 
I fully agree with the massive role personal responsibility does (and should) play in these situations. I hate over-sanitisation. My main issue is plenty of orienteers don't have the experience to call upon in this situation - as I've highlighted in my log.

A bit of digging has also suggested that some of the safety procedures in the case of missing/overdue runners are not as watertight under such poor conditions as Sunday as they would be elsewhere - e.g. a low level forest.
Mar 31, 2016 8:46 AM # 
I'm not sure but I think the safety procedures (for Scottish 6 days) are a case of "wait until after the coruses close and see who's out", I've certainly had long waits at the results tent for late runners, more days than not there is someone. I worry that someone does get into trouble in some remote area of a course from first start and nobody finds them...
I remember getting worried about someone who had been out for 5+hrs on M21S from first start but then their family showed up and said they always took that long!
I agree there should be some checks in place but more often than not a runner's family will be asking organisers if they are worried, perhaps we should be taking names/estimated times from people showing up alone? Perhaps hard to police
Mar 31, 2016 3:25 PM # 
People worried about people being out a long time should look at the bottom of the Jukola results. Lots of people taking 6+ hours. Most of them know they will be slow and equip themselves appropriately. Most of the time at Jukola there will be people around which is advantageous if you don't knock yourself out in an incident but as I know myself from bitter experience it is possible to get out of the populated area even at Jukola.
Apr 1, 2016 9:12 AM # 
Interesting discussion and a good one to have. A couple of thoughts on the personal responsibility of runners: It may seem like simple common sense to anyone used to FR or orienteering in the UK that a thermal/cargoule/hat/gloves are bare necessities when racing up on the open hills. But remember that these races, especially the JK, attract overseas,and other, competitors who are not so used to the environment and conditions!
I know prior to racing on Sunday I was a bit annoyed at the compulsory cagoule. Then at the start, I was laughed at by a clubmate for wearing a long sleeve thermal when I had the cagoule too. Heck, just 5mins before the epic hail hit, I ran past another clubmate up on the tops. He was just in a short sleeve, and not carrying a cagoule (someone offered to take it off him at the start it turned out), and at the time I was a bit pissed off, as I had to carry this cumbersome thing around my waist and he didn't.
...How 5 minutes changed my opinion!!

And before you judge me as silly; I'm not completely naive about having appropriate equipment - I've grown up running in the NZ mountains with my parents drilling into me the need to be fully prepared given how quickly the weather can change (incidentally they have years of experience FR racing and orienteering in UK...). I'm always the one on the long run being laughed at for being overly packed, but I've been damn grateful for it on so many occasions.

I guess the points I'm making are: Calling for personal responsibility is great, but even seemingly experienced competitors may not have the right experience to make the correct decision. I'm immensely grateful that the organiser's made cargoules compulsory at the weekend! However, such rules needed to be strictly enforced, even if us competitors are complaining and being little snots about it!

As for personal responsibility mid course when the weather hits - sometimes with the adrenaline/competitive spirit, you don't realise just how bad a state/situation you're in. I'm not saying that we should have been pulled off course on Sunday (I'm not saying we shouldn't have been either), but it should be understood that it can be hard for competitors to think clearly and make the right/safe decision when in such a race mind set!
Apr 1, 2016 12:51 PM # 
Good points Lizzie.

I'm genuinely a bit mystified at the antipathy towards carrying a cagoule, with stories of people deliberately shedding them after the start etc (and thus probably losing more time than the weight round their middle would 'lose' them). Surely one tucked in a bumbag (I carry a thermal buff and gloves too) isn't exactly a load? And being laughed at for wearing a thermal? I wouldn't have contemplated going out without one on the Sunday. Am I missing something?
Apr 1, 2016 3:11 PM # 
I think there are a couple of reasons for this antipathy (perhaps particularly in UK orienteering culture?). 1) Cagoules are generally made compulsory in response to anticipated weather conditions - not just in response to the nature of the area. And 2) There is a lot of variation between individual organisers regarding whether they should be made compulsory.

For these two reasons people are very familiar with a scenario where they are free to run without a cag even on an exposed area, as well as one where they are instructed to carry one on what might actually be a reasonably fine day. It is then too easy to be sceptical or even scathing when cags are made compulsory on a given day, and see cag policy as a somewhat random hassle. To my discredit that was my almost instinctive response on Sunday. I was completely wrong, and very glad I wore something, which I wouldn't have done if not told to.

I suspect in order to change attitudes, the link between an event's cag policy and anticipated weather might need to be broken. I.e. make cags/hats compulsory on exposed/remote areas regardless of weather, getting rid of the subjectivity. Otherwise the risk is that inconsistent application makes it easy for these attitudes to take hold.
Apr 1, 2016 5:13 PM # 
Always having to carry stuff is what annoys people with long / medium fell races. It can be a baking hot day very settled weather where the issue is heat stroke and dehydration and your still forced to carry a cag because that is what the rule says.

The answer is of course just to use common sense rather than prescriptive rules.

This discussion thread is closed.