by Peter Amram
Originally appeared in the NEOC Times, Volume 35, No. 5, Aug/Sep, 2005

A truism about orienteering is that the sport is 50% physical and 50% mental. There is, however, a third component, which might be termed "administration." Administration refers to procedures which relate specifically neither to foot speed nor navigational skill but which greatly affect your time on the course.

An orienteering race should be a single smooth flow around the course. If there are 11 controls plus the run-in to the finish, the result should not be 12 different mini-races from point to point. Too often, however, a race is jerky, disconnected, and correspondingly slower than it ought to be.

Consider a speedy but inefficient runner approaching control #5. We'll call her Annie Hall because she has a la-de-dah style of orienteering. Annie spots the cheerful crooked orange-and-white smile of the control marker and lengthens her stride. At #5 Annie checks her clue sheet, which being upside down needs to be turned around, and she checks the current code. After punching in, Annie looks at her map, which she has shifted to her other hand in order to punch in, and she refolds it to identify the location of control #5 (her present location) and the location of control #6, which is next. Following this investigation, Ms Hall retrieves her compass from a pocket to re-orient the map. Now our heroine traces a line with her finger from her present position to control #6, just now starting to plan a route. And in her own good time, off Annie goes.

All the while the meter was running, and those seconds and minutes aren't coming back. If an orienteer wastes only one minute at each control, that is an average loss per race of at least 10 minutes, a loss which has nothing to do with athleticism or fieldcraft. And one minute per control is normally a minimum. (Plus, standing at the control marks it for a competitor coming along behind. Which detracts from everyone's fun.)

Let us now consider the more effective progress of a different runner, Anita Atalanta. [Atalanta - "the weightless one" - was the fastest mortal of classical antiquity and very easy on the eyes as well. She raced not in an O-suit but in her nether garments, and to fend off her many suitors she pledged to marry only the man who could out-sprint her. Atalanta remained cheerfully unwed until a contest with lustful and crafty Hippomenes who, with Venus' aid, well, frankly, he cheated. But I digress.]

"Control work" or "circle work" refers to the sequence of actions that is performed each time the runner enters the control circle, punches in, and exits the area. Anita A. doesn't see any point in letting the clock have anything it doesn't deserve, and her control work reflects that conviction. Leaving #4 she had already memorized the control code for #5. When she spotted the marker for #5, Anita slowed to a walk, refolded her map to include #6, and while walking inside the circle toward #5 she planned her route to #6.

Anita punched in at #5 with her right hand without shifting the map, which has been in her left hand all along. And Anita shoved off toward #6 without breaking stride. Since Anita can read the clue sheet upside-down or sideways, she noted the new code (for #6) as she was leaving the circle.

The rest was merely skillful navigation and hard physical effort.

Establish a protocol for your own control work and use it at each control:

  • know the upcoming code
  • slow inside the circle
  • refold the map
  • plan the exit from the circle
  • punch in efficiently
  • check the new code
  • shove off immediately

Go with the flow, and you'll go better.

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