Stupid Mistakes in Races

Anyone who has done any racing in any sport has been there, they have made a stupid mistake and it has cost them a lot of places. However, in the last few years I seem to have made more than usual. These are especially funny as they are navigational types of errors and I have got (or at least used to have!) a reputation of being a good navigator. These include the following, starting with the most recent

1.  Ennerdale Fell race. The second last check point was on Iron Crag. This is a small little hill on a long ridge run. I did not realise it was a checkpoint so I took a slightly faster line just skirting the summit. This was about a minute faster than the correct line past the checkpoint. You would have thought I would have noticed the guy just behind turning off my route to the summit or I should have gone the same route as the two guys in front (who had been taking good lines all day), but no I just carried on running.

2.  Duddon Fell Race. It was a very wet and foggy day with visibility at about 10m. I got to the penultimate checkpoint; looked at my map and realised I was at the very edge. I had picked up the wrong map in the morning and the one I had did NOT have the final checkpoint (Caw summit) on it. Of course I should have waited until the next runner turned up. But I thought it was not going to be too difficult, all I had to do was go down to the col and up the other side. I thought it was due south so I just followed my compass bearing. Unfortunately not only did I not have that bit of map but I had remembered the bearing wrongly, it was actually South-West. After wandering around a massive boggy area for 20 minutes unable to find any hill to go up, I gave up and headed west back to the main valley.

3.  Original Mountain Marathon (OMM). I had already won the elite class at this race 7 times and me and my partner were hoping for another win. Unfortunately at the penultimate control there was another one on another course close by on the same feature. We stupidly did not check the code and punched the wrong one. It would have taken a couple of extra minutes to go to the correct one. We were eventually given a 30 minute penalty but instead of having a lead of nearly 20 minutes we were down to 4th overnight and 10 minutes down. After the second day we ended up 4th.

All the mistakes are different but there is a bit of a pattern; they each took place at the end of a long days racing. It is amazing that things that are simple when fresh can be so much harder when exhausted. So if there is one thing I have learnt is that I need to prepare for the end of races. I need to check the route on the map, checkpoints, bearings etc. before the race.

Although I have made these mistakes recently the funniest mistake I made was over 10 years ago in a weekend Adventure Race. I was really tired at the start of the second day for an 8km canoe along a canal. You would have thought it would be impossible to go wrong here but amazingly I paddled for 30 minutes in the wrong direction along the canal. You would have thought I would have noticed I was going in completely the wrong direction or that I would wonder why I had not seen one of the other 100 of so canoes or that everyone else set off in the other direction to me. After 30 minutes it gradually dawned on me what had happened, I paddled back to the start of the stage dumped the canoe went back to race HQ to explain my incompetence and then drove back to pick up the canoe.

Looking back these are all quite amusing but has anyone out there done anything funnier?

Unfortunately having written the above I now have another mistake to add to my list. I was disqualified in the recent Rydal Round Fell Race for following the wrong tapes on the final descent to the finish. I followed the more direct Hound Trail tapes not the Fell Running tapes! Maybe that will be the last mistake for a while!

(Photo credits – Paul Dobson at