Guide to Orienteering

Intermediate and Advanced Coaching Tips

South Wales Orienteering Club

Intermediate skills

Once you have mastered beginners' skills you will probably want to slowly learn some of the more advanced skills so you can complete courses that move away from paths and other line features. You will require knowledge of pacing, attack points, bearings, and catching features. In addition, you will need to understand more of the map symbols and features, such as contours.

Pacing: You will need to be able to judge how for you have travelled. For instance, if you know a control is 80 metres away from a path junction, you need to be able to determine when you have travelled 80 metres. This skill is known as pacing, as you generally count the number of double paces you have taken. You obviously need to know how many double paces you take to run, say, 100 metres and use this as a guide. As you get more experienced you will learn to take into account the impact of the terrain and any gradients.

Attack points are an easily found, recognisable feature (more easily found than the control) that is close enough to the control to enable you to "attack" the control using a compass bearing or by following a distinctive feature, such as a stream. It may be that you can take a compass bearing from a distinctive path bend between 100 and 200 meters from the control.

Bearings: From your attack point you need to know which way to go. This direction is your bearing. You need to use your compass to obtain the bearing that you need. It is a good idea once you have set your bearing to look in the direction you need to go and pick a feature, such as a distinctive tree a reasonable distance away and move towards the feature. Do not forget your pacing. This link explains some of the compass skills that you will need to learn.

Catching features let you know when you have gone too far and have missed your control. Most controls on an intermediate course will have a catching feature. Examples of catching features include paths, streams, ditches and open spaces.

Advanced skills

By the time you need to know more advanced skills, you will realise that there are plenty of people to talk to and plenty of books available on the subject. Here are a few pointers to get you used to the terms and phrases of some of the more advanced orienteering skills. You will pick up more pointers if you look through the jargon buster.

A lot of the skills required by the more advanced orienteer are those already leant by the beginner and the intermediate: they just need to be done faster and more accurately. You will also need to be a bit fitter. Controls on the advanced courses can be between any mapped features and legs can be of any length, the quickest routes often avoiding any paths or easy line features.

When you begin to do advanced courses it is probably better to be accurate than fast. You will need to learn to balance your physical exertion with your mental exertion. If you run too fast you will start to make stupid, really stupid, mistakes. If you had all day, took a picnic along and could walk slowly round the course you probably wouldn't make any mistakes. You need to learn to get the balance right.

Other more advanced skills include:

Thumbing the map - This involves holding the map and compass in one hand and keeping either the thumb or the corner of the compass on your position on the map all the time. It is surprising how much time can be lost just relocating yourself every time you look at the map. A bit of simple maths. On a 6km course, if it takes 3 seconds to locate yourself on the map every 100 meters you will have lost 3 minutes. If you stop and take 10 seconds every time you look at the map you will have lost 10 minutes. You need to learn to read the map whilst moving. It is a skill I am still trying to get to grips with, particularly given my poor eyesight. Too vain to wear glasses whilst running!

Plan ahead - Not as easy as it sounds. Sometime before you reach each control, perhaps when running on a track or struggling on an uphill section, look ahead to the following leg, plan which direction you need to go once you have punched the control. Do not stand still at a control as a target for the other runners who have yet to find the control.

Collecting features - This technique involves ticking off distinctive features on your chosen route as you pass them. It gives you comfort that you are where you want to be. This technique is often used in tandem with simplification.

Simplification - On a long leg you may only need to "collect" the large features. You can ignore small contour details if you know you will soon be passing a large feature. Try not to clutter your most import bit of equipment, your brain, with too much irrelevant information. Once you reach your attack point you may need to slow down and focus more on the smaller features. There are some good map memory exercises that you can do to practice this skill, some in the comfort of your home whilst enjoying a pleasant glass of wine.

Contouring - With practice you can use a contour just like any other line feature. It is harder than it sounds as we have a natural tendency to end up a bit lower than we started.

Route Choice - The selection of the route that suits you best. The best route for one person may not be the best route for someone else. As the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, the best orienteers will try and stay as close as possible to the straight line. The better you get, the straighter your route. That's the theory anyway.

Time Analysis - Look at and compare splits after an event and see where you lost time. Splits are only available where electronic punching is used. Local events do not always use this form of punching. Some of the analysis that is available now is excellent. I like Winsplits as it gives both time and position on each leg. If you followed your selected route straight to a control, found it without any mishaps, and yet you lost time to comparable runners it must be down to route choice. Look at the route you took and compare it to the alternatives. Did you try and 'run' through the dark green stuff? Talk to club members on the same course and examine the routes that they took.

Setting goals - Once you have advanced sufficiently to start thinking about some of the more advanced skills and you want to compete rather than just take part, you will probably want to start setting yourself a few targets.

A few simple guidelines:

  • The targets must be realsitic and achievable;
  • Think in the longer term rather than the shorter term;
  • Must be measurable;

The above was reproduced from Nigel Ferrand's original SWOC web site. He takes the credit for this worldly and excellent advice!

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