Jane Burgess wins silver in the Venice City Races
Annie and I went to Venice in November. We’ve been in the summer but always thought how amazing it would be to orienteer there. When Viv showed us their maps from 2005, we knew we had to do it. We knew it would be challenging and that we were very, very likely to get lost. Watching James Bond chase Vesper around Venice in Casino Royale makes me feel a bit queasy because you’d never find someone once they’d rounded the first corner. And sure enough, on the two days leading up to the night (night!!!) event, I got us lost three times, and that was with a map with calle (street) names on it.
We approached the 9pm start with anxious stomachs and dry mouths. Annie did what she wanted to do (didn’t come last and didn’t mispunch, and finished before I had even started) and I came second. Second! I knew I should feel joyful but I couldn’t quite believe it.
The second event was in the daylight and a bit longer. It was also a bit trickier, being run in a busier part of Venice at high tide, which meant being cautious through water to avoid soaking tourists and locals alike. Fourth. Fourth! We added times up and I was second overall, on a real podium FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER! How did that happen? Well, I’m still not quite sure but here is what we think.
We obeyed one of the first rules of route finding; look for your next control and plan backwards [like solving a maze – Ed.]. In Venice this is complicated by the canals, which the final details had told us not to cross by any means other than bridges (really?). You need to spot the bridges that cross the canals and have a calle the other side and ignore everything else. That includes bridges across the canal which stop at the door of a private house or lead to a dead end, and there are plenty of those.
Next we chose the most straightforward routes. By straightforward I mean with fewer left, second left, third right, etc. Some of these turns are into calles, open to the sky and some into sottoporteghi, or what we call jitties, invisible if someone is standing in front of it. These are sometimes the busiest calle and there’s not much running to be done, especially over the many, many bridges (there are 472, connecting 126 islands) which are crowded with people taking selfies with a gondola!
We NEVER came out of a control without knowing we were going in the right direction. Unlike some urbans, the compass was never superfluous, for direction but also for what we decided was the most important tactic; never EVER lose contact with the map. Not for one second. The pointy bit on the thumb compass was always exactly where we were, and it was used to count off the calle, sottoportego and campo as we went along, across and up and down them. The results show how many seconds are lost at each control. Mine had one entry; 12 seconds from 4–5 when I missed the jitty and went into the square [nice! – Ed.]. It wasn’t speed that got me on the podium, but map contact.
I stood on the podium with two women who looked like proper athletes. They were fit, slim and had probably orienteered all their lives. I felt a bit of a fraud, and I knew they were looking at me as if they couldn’t quite believe this overweight, unfit Brit was in second place. And me? I was beaming like a Cheshire cat and thanking my lucky stars for such a result in such an amazing venue. I also thanked the MapRuns we’d started during lockdown and still do, the urban events (not proper orienteering according to some) that are gaining popularity everywhere, and the pointy thing on the thumb compass.
On a slightly more serious note, I received an email from the event committee a few days after the event. Someone had been involved in an altercation and been injured. Had we seen anything? No, we hadn’t but I had seen a lot of orienteers of all ages not doing what was asked by the event organisers: being respectful of the city we were in and the many other people we were sharing it with. If we are to be allowed to compete in such iconic places, we must all do our bit and remember that we need to share the space!