by Peter Amram
Originally appeared in the NEOC Times, Volume 35, No. 6 , Oct/Nov, 2005

Because each orienteering course is unique, and because terrain varies, absolute time spent on a course is rarely significant. Competitive runners care most about their ranking compared to others, while recreational folk are concerned with attaining a feeling of satisfaction.

But there is a reliable tool to help analyze orienteering effectiveness, and that is running pace, expressed as minutes per kilometer. Pace will vary with the venue itself, amount of climb, weather conditions, and the inherently increased difficulties of each color-coded course. However, if carefully recorded and studied, your pace can help in telling you what progress is being made in skill acquisition and physical training.

The basic needs are a timing watch, the day's map, a ruler to measure distance at the proper scale (normally 1:15,000 or 1:10,000; for a sprint or park-O, often 1:5000), pencil, paper, and calculator. (Many orienteering compasses have a distance scale printed on them that you can use instead of a ruler.) Naturally you will have to have timed each leg on the course, always punching the watch in the same part of your sequence of actions around the control marker. [See last issue's columnabout the need for a prescribed way of taking each control.]

After the race, sit down and on a pad make a column with the number of controls plus the run-in to the finish. E.g., if there were 12 controls you will have 13 measurements. Then record each leg's time in minutes and tenths of minutes. The latter is for ease of later computation. Since six seconds is a tenth of a minute, simply divide the number of extra seconds by six, cheerfully rounding up or down without regard for a precision that neither exists nor would matter if it did.

Now measure the straight-line distance between each control. Don't worry that this is almost never the route you actually took. Stated distance on a orienteering course is always an arbitrary construct. The main thing is a consistent methodology. If you don't have a compass marked with the appropriate scale, use a standard metric ruler. Each centimeter is 100 meters on a 1:10,000 map, and you can do the calculation for other scales.

Next, compute the pace for each leg by dividing time by distance, e.g., 4.5 minutes (4 minutes 30 seconds) divided by .3 kilometers (300 meters) = a pace of 15 minutes/kilometer. Do this for each leg, then for the course as a whole.

Now begins the interesting part. Go back down the column making notes about any special issues associated with that leg: e.g., mostly trail run, very indirect route, difficult target, bad miss at the end, lost en route, etc. [Note that a mistake on a short leg balloons pace much more so than on a longer leg. Don't be too alarmed by a pace of 45 min/km on a 150 meter leg if you stopped to re-tie both shoelaces. Similarly, don't be complacent about four minutes on the wrong trail just because the leg was .9 km and the pace seems not unreasonable.]

To get a sense of whether or not your pace on any given leg is appropriate, compare it to a roughly comparable leg or to the overall pace for the whole course. (The latter smooths out the data and reflects terrain and course difficulty as a whole.) You have to use your individual judgment in these analyses, keeping in mind factors like footing and control placement, which do not quantify well, if at all.

Conventional orienteering wisdom states that a meter of vertical climb is the equivalent of ten meters on the flat, but this ratio is not universally accepted. Nevertheless, as a starting point, it will be useful to evaluate a 500-meter leg with 10 meters of climb as the rough equivalent of a flat 600-meter leg, especially if the climb is largely off-trail.

After thinking about a leg, in a separate column estimate how much time you may have lost on it. Total the various amounts.

What percentage of your total time on the course was a result of mistakes? If you eliminated mistakes, what would your pace have been? Is it more realistic to increase your overall pace by running faster or by eliminating mistakes?

The next issue's column will deal with types of orienteering mistakes and how to deal with them.

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