Orienteering – A running challenge whilst using your brain!

Orienteering Map

Can you run, think, decipher and strategise at the same time? Then orienteering is for you!

What is Orienteering?

Orienteering is a sport where participants use a detailed map and sometimes a compass to find predetermined points. It combines outdoor adventure, map reading, and navigational skills, in addition to running speed in competitive orienteering where the fastest finisher is the winner. Orienteering also caters for walkers with its’ own specific category. It is a sport for the whole family, catering for both runners and walkers, and is open to all ages.

What does it involve?

Orienteering involves using a map to reach pre-designated points where participants “punch” holes in their control cards to then reach the finish as fast as they can. The maps are detailed with contours, natural obstacles such as rivers or lakes, buildings, roads and pathways, through different terrains which may include bush, parks or streets.

The pre-designated points are called controls and are generally identified by orange and white flags. Once you find these local checkpoints, you must log your visit by the hole punching of your control card.

The skill in orienteering is to decipher the map accurately and quickly while on the run to choose the best route between controls. For example, identifying a slightly flatter route may be more efficient than running up a steep hill to reach a control point.

Different types of courses

There are several different types of orienteering courses, from short (around 1-2km) to longer distances (10-15km), in urban settings and bush settings.

Different types of event formats

There are 3 typical event formats:

1. Line courses

The controls are numbered and must be visited in consecutive order. This is the traditional format and the one usually used at major events.

2. Scatter courses

The controls are numbered however may be visited in any order. This one can require a bit more strategic planning where selecting the easiest terrain and best route may provide the edge.

3. Score courses

Participants can navigate through the checkpoints in any order but each checkpoint is allocated with a different point score. This event is based on a time limit and you must visit as many controls as possible within this time with the aim to accumulate the highest score. There is no penalty for not getting to all the control points but there are time penalties for not getting to the finish within the designed time.

Different types of orienteering

1. Foot-Orienteering

As described above, this is the most common in Australia where competitors run/walk the course.

2. Mountain Bike Orienteering (MTBO)

Instead of running or walking, competitors navigate mountain bikes over different grades of tracks between control points.

3. Ski-Orienteering (SkiO)

This is not very common in Australia, but competitors cross country ski to navigate the course.

4. Trail-Orienteering

The goal here is accuracy, not time. It involves determining, along a set accessible course, which of the various controls in a small area is the one indicated on the map; another form involves determining the position on a map of a control viewed from a set point 30-40 meters away.

Benefits of Orienteering

• Orienteering offers the experience of adventure while running or walking in a new and unfamiliar territory and in all types of terrains.
• It has a wide appeal as a sport for all, young and old, walkers and runners. Great to do with kids of all ages at their own pace.
• It is good exercise for fitness with courses ranging from 1 to 15kms.
• Develops navigation skills – teach your kids life long skills of how to read a map!
• Participation ranges from purely recreational and local racing events. For the more competitive, there are even annual World Championships for elite competitors.
• Orienteering is also great value for money compared to some fun runs – local street events can cost as little as $2, $8-15 for bush events and major competitions. Championships are typically around $30.

Our experience

Our whole family has been orienteering and enjoyed the experience. The local Park and Street events are very low key but extremely well organised, friendly and welcoming to newcomers. My husband and eldest daughter, who are the real runners in the family, have been more regularly and found its great fun running whilst navigating and orienteering through the local streets of Melbourne. With a little more experience each time you participate, you are able to pick up a few more strategies to help on the next run.

Orienteering is a great sport for anyone interested in cross country running and keen to embrace the extra challenges of navigating and strategically thinking on the go!

For more information visit Orienteering Australia.

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