The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 13, 2009


Carlisle orienteering competitor fares well at World Masters Games

Study the terrain. Choose a course and stick with it. Shake off poor results and move on to the next challenge. As an executive and leader in the biotech industry, Bill Pullman often

Bill Pullman races through the challenging terrain of the Australian bush at the Orienteering Championships of the quadrennial World Masters Games. (Photo by Ros Pullman)

communicates tenets such as these to his employees and colleagues. But for Pullman, they are not just hollow corporate maxims, they are lessons learned through four decades of competitive foot orienteering.

Pullman explains that foot orienteering is essentially cross-country running while using a map and compass to find flags, called “controls,” placed at designated locations across the landscape. It originated in Sweden but has long been popular in Pullman’s native country of Australia. And it was to Australia which the Hutchins Road resident returned last month to compete in the Orienteering Championships at the quadrennial World Masters Games.

“In orienteering, each competitor is given a map specially prepared with a lot of detail to show contours, land formations, features like streams, gullies, rock features, even manmade objects,” he said. Running ability plays a big part in an orienteer’s success, Pullman said, but so does mental acuity, a sharp sense of direction, and even executive skills such as fast decision-making. “For example, you might be looking for a control that is behind a boulder. You have to decide immediately whether to scale the boulder or circumvent it,” he said. Successful orienteers also learn to edit out extraneous information and focus on only those details on the map that are essential to homing in on their goal; in other words, they must avoid getting bogged down in too many details.

At the level which Pullman competed in Australia, a short course is about two kilometers and takes around 15 minutes for a winning time; a long course is six kilometers and takes about an hour to complete. Because of the seeking and dodging, though, each long-course competitor has run closer to eight to ten kilometers by the end of the race. Starting times are staggered so that competitors cannot bunch up or follow one another.

Although it’s not a particularly common sport in the U.S., Pullman is in good company here in Carlisle. Tim Parson of Woodbine Road has competed in orienteering for years, as have his two teenagers. Other locals involved in the sport include Robert Galejs of Robbins Drive, Skip Knuttgen of Malcolm Meadows and Robin Hillyard of Brook Street. Years ago, a training course was mapped out at Great Brook Farm State Park, and that remains one of Pullman’s favorite places in which to train. He often runs into the other Carlisle orienteers at regional events organized by the New England Orienteering Club.

The Blue Mountains in Australia are “very beautiful but very tricky to navigate through,” according to Orienteer Bill Pullman. (Photo by Ros Pullman)

Despite his own personal success in orienteering, Pullman emphasizes that one highlight of the sport is its adaptability and appeal to the highly competitive and the beginner alike. “At the noncompetitive end of the spectrum, it’s just about getting outside and enjoying the fields and forests,” he said.

Pullman, who has lived in Carlisle with his family for five years, first discovered orienteering as a Boy Scout, then began competing in the sport when he was a student at the University of Western Australia. Returning to the region where he orienteered in college was a thrill, Pullman said, particularly “marching into Olympic Stadium in Sydney with 28,000 other masters-level athletes.” At the competition, which draws participants from more than 100 countries, orienteering was the second-most popular sport of the 28 represented, after track and field.

Competing in the 55-60 year-old division, Pullman completed eight races in 11 days while in Australia. He earned a fifth place finish in the short course and came in 24th out of 120 competitors in the long course. The terrain through the Australian bush proved challenging even to someone who had traversed it before.

“The Blue Mountains are very beautiful but very tricky to navigate through,” Pullman said. Often the challenge would be finding one specific boulder within a boulder-strewn area of sandstone outcroppings. Getting truly lost isn’t an issue, Pullman said, because the area of the race is not that vast, but pursuing the wrong topographical feature within the area can cost precious time in the competition.

Most importantly, Pullman said, orienteering provides a tangible representation of critical life skills. “At the high end of competition, mental focus can make or break the competitor,” said Pullman. “You have to execute a balance of running and navigation, and you can’t let the running get ahead of the navigation – that is, don’t let your eagerness to move forward keep you from paying attention to what you are searching for.”

Moreover, Pullman said, it is a mistake to squander time second-guessing your decision. “Each course has its own challenges. You have to look at the map, decide what your optimal route is, and recognize that when you are trying to move with speed, errors are inevitable. But just as with golf, in which if you play a bad hole you just start focusing on the next hole, you have to learn to move past errors or bad decisions and concentrate on finding that next flag.” ∆

© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito