The New England Orienteering Club

by Peter Amram
Originally appeared in the NEOC Times, Volume 36, No. 1, Dec/Jan, 2005/2006

The best way to improve time on the O-course is to reduce the frequency and magnitude of mistakes.

If you could have trimmed 10 minutes worth of errors off that last 67-minute run on Orange, that would have been an improvement of 15%, just by running smarter, not faster. (How likely are you to quickly improve your 10k time by 15%? Could you speed up that much ever, at any distance?)

The opportunities to make mistakes while orienteering are virtually limitless, and a standard catalogue of errors looks uncomfortably like a graduate-student reading list. Instead of focusing on a frightening multitude of potential mistakes, let's work on a few specific techniques to avoid them.

A - Hold the map properly.

The map should be held in the "weak" hand: the non-dominant hand, i.e., the hand you do not use to reach for the code card, to hold the punch, to grasp a water cup.

The map should be parallel to the ground. It is hard enough to relate 2-dimensional symbols to 3-dimensional reality without doing it in two planes.

The map should be oriented properly so that objects in the natural world are the same direction from you as their representation on that piece of colored paper.

The thumb of the map-holding hand must at all times be on present location. The thumb moves along the course as you do. This gives your dominant hand something to do on the course: it continually adjusts the map so the weak thumb is always where you are.

Seeing where you are on the map obviates (ie, solves a potential problem in advance) the common errors of:

  • overrunning the target
  • moving too slowly ever to get there
  • failing to "check off" meaningful features en route
  • not appreciating the proper scale of the map
  • not checking the orientation of linear features with a compass
  • generally losing "contact" between the map and terrain

B - KISS = Keep It Simple, Stupid.

A favored acronym of football coaches, KISS (the last word is addressed to one's self) reminds that simplicity is the ultimate virtue, which in orienteering is the use of a linear feature to reach a point feature.

Linear features come in three levels of abstraction.

The most concrete is a trail, stream, or stonewall.

The intermediate, most commonly employed linear feature, is one which an orienteer creates in his/her mind from a string of point features which can be employed as a line in the right direction.

The least reliable linear feature is imaginary: a compass bearing, which should be used as a last resort and even then cautiously.

Try to make each individual leg a Yellow course, the course on which you follow a trail (linear feature) to the control (point feature) nearby. Identify the needed linear features and head for the target. And, having once decided on a route, don't change it. (In the NFL this wisdom is expressed as "Dance with the girl you brought to the dance.")

The perfect route never presents itself. The idea is to keep moving in the right direction.

C - MYOB = Mind Your Own Business.

A leading British coach has stated: "More than half of competition mistakes involve being put off by other people."

Accordingly, ignore other runners, particularly those whom you consider the competition. As is true in most races, there is nothing you can do to affect a competitor's performance. And don't you have abundant problems of your own? As they say in competitive rowing: "Keep your mind in your own boat."

Concentrate relentlessly on your map and the surrounding terrain.

Never follow other runners, who may be on different courses or quite lost themselves. And don't get chatty. A nod of the head will suffice as a greeting. You can socialize after the race. It is astonishingly easy to lose concentration and "contact," and when contact is lost, so are you.

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