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Discussion: Simpler terrain, intermediate orienteers

in: Orienteering; General

Sep 29, 2016 2:17 PM # 
A recent thread parodied marketing orienteering by including bouncy castles (OK, archways) throughout the course, and so forth. But the (satirical, I suspect) text "orienteering is too hard" actually resonated slightly based on the many orienteers that I've seen struggle with intermediate courses. My club is fortunate to have numerous maps of highly technical terrain, which our keenest members love. But many other members seem to struggle with the transition from city park to terrain mapped for elite training. Going from no real need to read topography to labyrinths of brown lines (or subtle voids with tiny features) is a daunting leap.

When i was young, my then club had a spectrum of maps...some with very detailed topography and rock, some with subtle topography and small marshes, some rounded drumlins crossed by stone walls and trails, some city parks. But we'd search for ever more technical terrain (me especially). Nowadays, the maps that I see posted and see at events are almost all extremely technical, or city parks.

I wonder if, to provide a better transition from beginner through expert, we should have a few maps of simpler forest terrain again (in addition to the super challenging ones and the city parks). Every once in a while, I see a map posted from ages ago, with simpler topography, and reminisce about the fun had in my early days of orienteering, when that was an interesting challenge (even for the elites, surprisingly).

A year ago, I thought this might just be an issue with my club, with its Olympic grant technical maps and city parks, but am increasingly wondering if it's elsewhere too. We constantly get club member requests for more training, which we've had more of, though admittedly much is a bit technical.

One can often set a variety of difficulties on technical maps, but some of these maps are rather overwhelming to look at, even for people used to reading topos. There was something satisfying about navigating across larger areas of simple topography as an intermediate orienteer, rather than taking a short bearing off a linear feature on a highly technical map, as is often what an intermediate course on a hard map becomes.

With similar goals, I recently designed a mass start event to allow intermediate orienteers to navigate around via large clearings, fences and trails, while the experts could take more direct routes through more detailed topography. This seemed to prove popular. (The terrain, although technical, particularly allowed that, and was well bounded as well. I had some ideas sketched on a backup map in case the permit was denied, but worried about the lack of boundedness.) Next year I have similar ideas.

Orienteers want challenge, but a challenge somewhere in the sweet spot between dull and excessively frustrating is often best. Do we have a good progression for people? Should we add more intermediate levels of difficulty as the Swedes do? Do we have enough opportunities to gain skills in sensible increments? Should a few maps of simpler topography be (re-)made?
Sep 29, 2016 4:30 PM # 
Might more use of larger scale (1:5000, 1:7500) maps -- without additional detail -- for WYO at local events help?
Sep 29, 2016 7:16 PM # 
Sure, larger scales probably help, at least for easy readability and making the map seem less daunting. (And I welcome any other ideas. ) It doesn't change the navigational difficulty of the terrain, though. Greater New York City often has enough trails that even technical terrain is in small enough pieces between trails to seem less challenging, though one still may not need to read contours. That happens more when one is far enough from a trail and other linear features to need to read the terrain. That step is easiest when the topography is simpler, I think. Remoter terrain may offer the choice of one main trail or two, or off trail. If the latter is quite technical, intermediate courses can end up too easy or too hard, with poorer options for in between. The step from on or near trail to off trail is then too big (I think). The move to ever more technical terrain accentuates that.
Sep 29, 2016 8:03 PM # 
Definitely larger scale maps for novices. I like to produce the map at a scale where the course almost fills the paper. There is a club I know that gets hundreds of school kids with little orienteering experience coming out to school competitions and they send the beginners out on a yellow course on a 1:15,000 map. That is like taking kids who do not know how to swim and tossing them in to the deep end of the pool.
It is funny to look at the course squished in one corner of the map but it is not funny to see the look of defeat on the faces of the young orienteers, defeated and never to return, "Man, I suck at that sport!".
Sep 30, 2016 12:25 AM # 
There's a related issue, that the search for ever-more-detailed terrain makes us rusty about navigating across empty space. I await the event that trumpets the bland-ness of its terrain.
Sep 30, 2016 1:04 AM # 
Actually, some consider Round Mountain one of our more difficult areas due to its subtle, bland terrain with sporadic bits of rock.
Sep 30, 2016 2:03 AM # 
"Should we add more intermediate levels of difficulty as the Swedes do?"

I think this contains a misconception. I'll be glad to be corrected by somebody closer to the situation, but the multi-level Swedish system, doesn't appear to have any more beginner/ intermediate tiers than we have. The extra tiers look like advanced level distinctions by NA standards. I think it is very fair to say that top level junior courses in almost all first world O countries are much more technical than NA junior courses.

I think the biggest problem is getting people to simply make use of the intermediate courses currently provided, before moving up to advanced courses. I think this problem is even worse among adult beginners, who tend to think they are above doing a white course, and would rather flounder on advanced courses, than learn to run fast and mistake free on WYO courses.

II think our (USA) system fits our situation just fine. No point in adding other levels when Yellow and Orange courses are poorly attended.

Most importantly a course system should provide proportional steps between each level. I think there is a common tendency to dumb down Yellow and Orange courses, which might be well intended, but results in a far too difficult step up to the advanced level, in most terrains.
Sep 30, 2016 2:43 AM # 
I am glad to see an appreciation of the virtues of simpler terrain. I'd like to extend that conversation to apply to less technical courses in many, but not all situations.

The Middle format is where technical difficulty properly belongs.No argument. However there is a strong tendency to make the other formats more technical than originally prescribed. which I think is very unhealthy for the future of the sport, to say nothing of the current situation, where virtually the same group of athletes can succeed at all formats.

I think it is very important to provide avenues for a wide range of athletes to succeed, both athletes who are new to the sport, but also stronger runners who are less technically skilled.

In theory there have been avenues at both ends of the distance spectrum, in Sprint O as well as Ultra Long. However those avenues are all but shut off by increasingly technical course setting.

The constant Sprint O controversies are certainly related to this issue, and come to think of it, pack formation as well.

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