Thursday, March 16, 2017

Richard Robinson: "In this modern age of gadgetry and GPS there is something wonderfully refreshing about being out in the bush with nothing to guide you but a map and a compass"

It's always a pleasure to “travel” to Australia, meeting those who, so far but so close, share the same passion about Orienteering. Richard Robinson, our guest today, welcomes us with open arms, introducing himself, confessing his fascination with maps and landforms and reasserting his commitment to Adventure Racing, Rogaining and MTB Orienteering.

I would start by asking you to introduce yourself. Who is Richard Robinson?

Richard Robinson (R. R.) - I am Richard Robinson M60 from Australia. I was born in rural Australia and grew up on a farm ~500km west of Sydney. I now live in Brisbane. I retired from the full-time workforce in 2013 and now work part time as a Company Director and Consultant. Together with my wife, W45 Tamsin Barnes, I enjoy most activities that involve being in the bush (forest) and particularly those that involve using a map. These include; Orienteering (particularly MTBO), Rogaining (see:, Adventure Racing and Bushwalking. We also do quite a bit of cycling and Tamsin also runs, something I cannot do at the moment due to knee problems. We have both done trail ultra-marathons in the past, particularly Tamsin, and enjoy a red wine or three!

Why Orienteering and why not Football or Cycling, for example?

R. R. - Ever since I can remember I have had a fascination with maps and landforms but I knew nothing of orienteering or any map & compass sport growing up. I played a lot of sports competitively growing up and as a young adult. These included: cricket, rugby league, football, tennis, squash, field hockey and volleyball. I also started running for fitness and pleasure as a young adult. When I discovered orienteering at age 32 I thought “wow, something that combines three of my great passions; running, maps and being in the bush, how long has this been going on and I haven’t been playing?”

I was hooked and about five years later a group of us introduced rogaining to my, by then, home State of Queensland. I had always struggled to get to the top of the field in orienteering because I simply was not a fast enough runner, but the 24-hour duration of a championship rogaine suited me much better due to the planning, endurance and night navigation aspects. Then MTBO started happening in Australia and I found that seemed to suit me also. And of course doing all these things also led me into adventure racing and trail ultras.

Tamsin on the other hand arrived at orienteering via a totally different route. Growing up in the UK “sport” involved a ball and she doesn’t get on with balls. Then she discovered rowing at university and started running for fitness and having big days out on the mountains. In her late 20s she moved to Singapore and got into triathlons but when she moved to Australia some years later found the triathlon scene here was not social like she was used to so started trail running. This progressed to trail ultra-marathons and thence to adventure racing and rogaining. Orienteering and MTBO became a natural adjunct. We both just love being in the bush with a map and being able to have that as a shared experience is a real bonus. We greatly prefer MTBO and rogaining over foot orienteering and not simply because we seem to be more competitive there. We find both MTBO and rogaining to be extremely friendly and social events, no matter where in the world you do them, whereas foot orienteering events seem far less so.

I ask you to complete the sentence: “Life without Orienteering would be …”

R. R. - I think I would change the sentence to “Life without navigation sports would be not the sort of life we would choose.” Our involvement in navigation sports has taken us to some of the most beautiful places on the planet, many of which are not accessible to the general public. It has given us reason to travel across the world and make many new friends in many different places. Navigation sports and the travel associated with them are a fundamental part of our life and the relationship we have with one another.

How committed are you with Orienteering?

R. R. - I come from a family of “serial volunteers”. My parents and grandparents were committed volunteers in sporting and civic organisations and so are my siblings and now one of my children. Thus, as I became involved in navigation sports it was simply “normal” for me to be involved the administration of these sports and organisation of events. I have been intermittently on the committee of Orienteering Queensland since the late 1980s. I have been on the committee of the Queensland Rogaine Association (QRA) since its inception in 1994 serving three 2-year terms as President and on the Council of the Australian Rogaining Association since 1998 including the roles of Technical Committee Chair (3 years), Treasurer (9 years) and President (7 years) and am currently Immediate Past President. I have also been a member of the International Rogaining Federation (IRF) Council since 2010 and IRF President since 2013. In addition I continue to organise and/or course set for one or two events every year and have done so for the past two decades. Most recently I was Event Director for the 2016 World Rogaining Championships (WRC) and am a course setter for the 2017 Queensland MTBO Champs and 2018 Australasian Rogaining Championships. Tamsin has also done her fair share of work in that space. She has been on the QRA Committee for nearly ten years including a stint as Treasurer and has been the checker for many of the rogaining and MTBO courses I have set in recent years including the 2016 WRC.

Along with Tamsin, you headed Kaunas, Lithuania, last September, for the World Masters MTB Orienteering Championships? Where did you found the motivation to travel from the opposite side of the globe and join the event?

R. R. - I first rogained in Europe in 2002 and our first MTBO in Europe was the WMMTBOC in Hungary in 2012. We had a fantastic time albeit well off the competitive pace. We then attended the WMMTBOC in Portugal in 2015, enjoyed it just as much and had greater competitive success. By then the World Masters MTBO Series had commenced and with the first two races of the 2016 series in Australia, although ironically Tamsin was in Mexico at the time and unable to compete, it seemed logical to try to get to a few more of the series events. Thus we went to Alsace in May and then Lithuania for the WMMTBOC. By that stage these events had become more than just great MTBO events, they were opportunities to catch up with old friends and renew old rivalries. But they did show us that it is really hard to competitive in complex European forests if all your training and racing is in simple Australian ones!

What memories do you keep from the Lithuanian journey?

R. R. - Lithuania was fantastic. We always have a great time in Europe, we love the old cities, town and villages and how close everything is. We love the forests, lakes and mountains. Lithuania had all of this apart from the mountains. And also, as an Australian, most of Europe is extremely affordable compared to Australia or New Zealand. We explored Vilnius and Kaunas and the areas around them. But the real standout for us was our two days in Labanoras, a tiny village in the middle of a magnificent forest staying at the quaintest hotel we have ever been to.

Do you always attend the events along with your wife? (Is she a better orienteer than you?)

R. R. - We attend almost all events as a couple and often compete as a team in adventure races and non-championship rogaines. Occasionally one of us will do an event in Australia or New Zealand without the other due to work or similar commitments, but all of our big trips and major championship events are done together. Is she a better orienteer than me? Interesting question. She has won an Australian foot orienteering championship and I haven’t and she has won more Australian or New Zealand MTBO championships than me. But I have won more Australian or New Zealand rogaining championships than her plus I’ve won two World rogaining championships, plus two 2nds to her three 2nds and a 3rd. And in 2016 she was 2nd in the World Masters MTBO series in W45 and I was 4th in M60. So you be the judge!

When we talk about Orienteering as a family-sport, what are we talking about, really?

R. R. - I think of orienteering and navigation sports in general as more sports for all ages and abilities than family sports. Families are diverse beasts and it is not universal that all family members like doing the same things. Neither of my daughters nor my previous wife became keen orienteers although all have been very keen participants in other sports. So navigation sports lend themselves to being great family sports because everyone in the family can compete at the same place at the same time but that does not make them enjoyable sports for all members of all families.

What means to be an orienteer in Australia?

R. R. - To many Australians it means you are part of the “lunatic fringe”! Orienteering is not a particularly popular sport in Australia albeit it does have a dedicated core. The traditional foot orienteering participant numbers have remained essentially static pretty much since I started orienteering in the 1980s. The largest foot orienteering event in Australia, the Australian 3-Days, can attract up to ~1,000 competitors dependent upon the location of the event. We are however continuing to see growth in the non-traditional forms such as street/park orienteering and MTBO. As an Australian developed sport, rogaining also has a dedicated following in Australia and despite over 50% of the world’s regular rogainers being Australian the sport here has seen an ~30% increase in participant levels in the past three years. A lot of this growth has come from younger people who try adventure racing, then start rogaining to improve their navigation and find the event and map quality, plus consistent high standard of event organisation in rogaining more appealing.

What are you goals for the season?

R. R. - As noted earlier it became quite apparent to us last year that MTBO racing in Australia was of limited value if you want to be competitive in Europe. Thus with 2017 seeing three major MTBO carnivals in Europe in four weeks, including the World Masters MTBO Championships plus four other World Masters MTBO series events this seemed irresistible, particularly with the World Rogaining Championships in Latvia two weeks later. With the first two events of this year’s World Masters MTBO series having been in New Zealand and both of us scoring very well there we had further incentive. Unfortunately the combination of; injury, travel and prolonged extreme heat at home over recent months has dropped our fitness quite a bit, but we still have time to recover it.

Would you like to leave some advice to those who always wanted to know everything about Orienteering but are afraid to ask?

R. R. - In this modern age of gadgetry and GPS there is something wonderfully refreshing about being out in the bush with nothing to guide you but a map and a compass, particularly in remote bush in the dark.

Is there something that you’d like to add?

R. R. - Thank you very much for the opportunity to give my thoughts.

[Photo courtesy of Richard Robinson]

Joaquim Margarido

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