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Attackpoint - performance and training tools for orienteering athletes

Discussion: Best will win?

in: acjospe; acjospe > 2018-04-29

Apr 30, 2018 8:59 PM # 
Ok, I’ll argue the counter argument. Saying the best orienteer will win any course regardless of difficulty is a fast runner’s perspective. :-). Not sure I agree. As a not fast runner, I welcome technical terrain that slows the speedy folks. If I am clean, I do relatively much better than in easy, pen terrain. So I guess it depends on how you define “best.” This is orienteering, not cross country, right?

But I think you have hit on a key challenge: it is hard to design Jr Nats for kids who learn in different terrains. I push COC designers to exploit every tiny chance to get yellow and above off trail all WIOL season. So hard for them to prep to run in New England. But give them a trail labyrinth in medium green, and they’ll have flow better than most. This weekend may have been frustrating for some, but what they take from it as motivation for next year may be quite valuable.

Shorter courses, maybe? But please don’t water down the equivalent age group standards. I think it’s It’s up to the coach to make sure kids run at the right level.
Apr 30, 2018 9:53 PM # 
Tori said what I was thinking. I'm no runner but can do well in the more technical terrains (not consistently but generally), and that keeps me coming back.

As for the kids, yes, coaches should try to prepare them by exposing them as much as possible, one way or another, to alternate terrains; either visiting or watching videos if available. They should also make sure to emphasize safety techniques including being prepared clothingwise, and recognizing when to bail out and how to do that correctly.

Kids who are expecting a cross country course are disadvantaged.
Apr 30, 2018 10:04 PM # 
I really don't think the problem was the difficulty of the orange courses. If you turn them into yellow courses, as Tori says, the cross country runners will win, not the best orienteers. I talked to some who were out there a long time, and they still had fun and were happy to finish. Only the mispunchers were unhappy, as far as I could tell.
May 1, 2018 12:00 AM # 
Is 7 dnf's out of over 200 starts (about 3% of competitors) really excessive, or even twice that many MP's? It should be noted that almost all of the DNF's and MP's came from kids that were running on Varsity courses, where presumably in fact the JV courses would have been a little better suited. Even the percentages of runners taking over 1.5 hours didn't seem terribly high if one excludes the Red ICVM course, where it represented 2/3 of the field. Had it not rained on that day, probably that number would have been much smaller.

It seems to me that for a championship competition, it is very reasonable to design courses where the combination of navigational and physical challenges is both well balanced and within the range of the middle of the field, provides competition at the top end of the spectrum which gives a good sorting process, and leaves the people in the bottom quarter of the finishers with a sense that while they might not be there yet as far as being in the mix for the medals, there is still some hope for the future. I had the impression looking at the youngsters standing around at the award ceremony that this event was pretty successful in that regard.

This, of course, comes from someone with nothing but slow-twitch muscle, who was always near the bottom of everything in high-school phys ed classes, having never been tested in any sort of running more than 440 yards at one shot, who would never have tried running at all if it hadn't been for a guidance counselor in my senior year who told me that I had better go out for either cross-country or football that fall if I wanted to get into the colleges where I was applying, because if I didn't have a varsity letter from some sports team, academics alone wouldn't get me in. Fortunately our cross-country team turned out to be terrible (whereas the football team was excellent), and I learned that I might not be wonderful at 2-miles, but I was remarkably better than at 100 yards! So I have since then had a strong preference for physical activity that goes on for multiple hours, where endurance counts for something and I am not truly at the very bottom of the class.
May 1, 2018 2:00 AM # 
[Edit - I reread your note and saw that maybe you're proposing making the courses easier by changing it from an orange to yellow...or something, not by saying it's an orange but setting it as a yellow. If so, then I think that's ok & you can ignore this note. I would just make sure that the courses we set match the expectations we set].

Were the courses too hard for their level (aka - an orange course that had a few green legs on it)? Or too long for the intended winning time?

If the courses fit the expected distance and difficulty for their level, then they shouldn't be made easier. Coaches & kids should be able to decide what to run.

But, if the courses we're the wrong level or distance or the map was bad, we should fix that.

If you do start making oranges into yellows and yellows into whites, then do you also make the greens and reds easier? Or create an huge gap between orange and green? Or, just make no advanced courses? Or, boys get technical courses on red and girls get something easier because they're running green as it's been made easier?

I also agree that kids should learn to race their courses, not just survive them. My Dad kept me on orange when my friends had moved up to green for that purpose.

But, we should do this in training, by creating fun head-to-head races so speed feels like it matters, by having kids run two races in row (say a yellow and then white) at local meets, on through other methods. Or, change what age groups run which courses (which is maybe what you are proposing?).

Don't you think you would have enjoyed racing orange more in high school if it felt like speed mattered and it felt like racing?

But, the solution is not to tell people they're doing an advanced course when it's actually intermediate.

I remember leaving a school trip early to fly to Michigan for the US championships. But, the course designer had decided that yellow courses were too hard for 13 year old girls, so made the yellow course just another white course. It was so disappointing to have traveled so far (and left my friends from school) to run such a boring course. I think I would have quit orienteering then, except that we had some fun summer orienteering trips the next summer.

This isn't meant to be a rant at you. I do feel like you're talking about some really important problems, like how do you make it feel like navigating at speed is a real and fun challenge as opposed to the challenge of surviving/completing a difficult navigation challenge.
May 1, 2018 3:04 PM # 
Lots of conclusion-jumping going on.

I am not suggesting that we dumb down the Intermediate and JV courses. As Eric says, there are a lot of kids running varsity who would be better suited on JV, but only the coach and the kids can make that decision. Regarding the Varsity courses, if you read what I wrote, I say that linear features should exist as viable, but not best, routes. A good course should have the best navigator winning the race, but should not have the poor navigators so lost that they stop having fun. I am not trying to make a cross country course.

There is no other sport that suggests high-school students should be racing or playing for more than 1.5 hours at a stretch. Reading the responses of the kids' surveys I was trying to pass around, 80% of the runners [who answered the survey] were absolutely whipped by their courses. And 90% of the survey responders had been orienteering for less than 2 years. The needs of junior runners at Junior Nationals are different than the needs of junior runners at the age-group Nationals, because largely the kids at Nationals are those from orienteering families who have been doing this forever, and are already hooked into the sport.

I am arguing that I would rather have them finishing with something in the tank and a feeling of success, than having them out there for >1.5h wandering around. I'm not talking millennial "everybody wins!" success, I'm talking enough fun while doing the orienteering itself that these kids want to keep doing it the rest of their lives. To this end, instead of shooting for winning times, perhaps we should be shooting for average times when designing our courses.

And I should note - the courses (aside from white, which didn't have any scholastic competitors on it anyway) from last weekend were set according to our existing rules. The problem doesn't lie with the course setter, it lies with the rules.

To answer Zan, I absolutely would have been hooked on orienteering much sooner if I had felt like it mattered to run fast. I like the part where you run through the woods. I recognize my bias towards that, and I'm not trying to make these courses so that great navigators like Tori and Janet can't beat me. But, I want a world where Tori will still win because of her navigation, but highschool-Alex will only spend 1 hour out there lost, not 3. I think it is possible to design courses to fit those criteria.

Please keep this discussion coming! (though as I discovered last weekend talking to the coaches, attackpoint is very much an elite minority of orienteers...)
May 1, 2018 3:25 PM # 
Do we sometimes try to make everything too perfect?
I don't think there's anything wrong with certain courses being runner focus versus technical focused. In alpine skiing some courses are for gliders and some are really technical.
May 1, 2018 3:26 PM # 
Okay. I haven't read this thoroughly but I think a lot of these problems actually come from selection of area, not necessarily from course guidelines.

As Alex already said, it is very possible to plan a leg where the TD5 route is the fastest, but there are alternatives with handrails for those less confident orienteers. Or absent a long-way-round handrail, a catching feature within a couple of hundred metres from the control, so that an athlete wanders lost for ten minutes instead of 3 hours (not exaggerating, that happened with the two kids we lost on Saturday. We found them well off the map and we have no idea how they got there).

But that kind of planning isn't possible at Mount Tom. I can think of plenty of NEOC areas where it is possible.

When we're planning junior courses for this school competition, we have to think about the kids of different experiences that all get lumped onto the same course. And that means picking an area that selects for careful planning. There should be plenty of line features that allows for true white courses, but also divides the woods into blocks where you can't wander forever. This won't decrease the challenge for the top kids, but will lead to a better experience for the other athletes.

I also think the reverse start for Sunday is a great idea for both competition enjoyment and solving problems like people needing to leave and having to wait for hours for team calculations to be done.
May 1, 2018 3:26 PM # 
Sorry, just realised I used British notation - TD5 is full technical difficulty.
May 1, 2018 5:58 PM # 
Actually, we had 2 white school competitors (ISPM). I think both Pete and Lukas found White too hard and too long (time-wise), so I get what you're saying. Those kinds of experiences aren't encouraging. Except for when they are. Instead of the frustration I saw last time this happened a few years ago, I discovered this weekend that Peter is ready to deal with recognizing he is in the wrong place, handling the frustration, and trying again. So I was happy with his 90-min White experience, and sorry we had to pull him off on Day 2.

Kathy Forgrave uses a reverse start for WIOL Champs, and it is great. Except for the course designer who is stressing about whether the courses were too hard and not seeing fast winning times until the end. Glen Tryson was a terrific help to us in that regard, and may have useful input to this discussion. As he reviewed our courses, I asked him to ensure that what we set would be fair to any kids from outside of WIOL coming for the NRE. We didn't end up having any, but we did have some really good discussions about the courses, and we were happy with the results. The race was in some of Cascade's most challenging terrain, and did result in some long times for some kids, but we aimed to keep that reasonable by shortening the more technical courses.

Terrain matters. Jon had just read a great course design article for Orange when we were consulting for USMAOC. On paper, the courses looked great - everything Becks describes above. But at the event, a lot of the kids struggled because Harriman and West Point offer numerous opportunities for parallel errors. But I don't regret Anna's 50-min error on the second day, because it became a fantastic coaching opportunity. it just goes to show how even with very careful scrutiny of our course designs, it's just hard to know what's going to throw our juniors off.

Shorter courses? I like Cascade's not-quite-middle, not-quite-long goal winning times. I'll dig up the WIOL handbook and the draft of park-specific guidance for course designers and email them to you.
May 1, 2018 11:10 PM # 
The largest orienteering race in North America every year also just happens to be a schools champs race (Hamilton Adventure Running Schools Challenge).

8-10? years in a row now with over 1000 participants (usually over 1100). Students can race solo, teams of 2 or 3. You can see here that the races are short and fast with only a few students running over an hour. It is a formula that seems to work in Hamilton.
May 1, 2018 11:40 PM # 
Some recent discussion on the topic.

Technical difficulty of courses for youth

Canadian Course and Category Guidelines

Junior Discussion
May 2, 2018 12:40 AM # 
Boy Scout champs in St. Louis switched to a score-o format about 20 years ago. Previously, kids were coming back excited to have found 10 out of 14 markers...and disappointed when told that meant they'd disqualified. Score-o limited the time everyone spent out there, while also celebrating kid's actual successes (number of markers found).
May 2, 2018 12:55 AM # 
Score O is the perfect format for junior races!
May 2, 2018 12:57 AM # 
I get what Alex is saying and it would be great if everyone had a good experience. But--- my sense is that the kids have vastly different abilities and some are trying to do courses they shouldn't. I'll guess that has to do with the coaches and the students too. They are probably successful in their home terrains and mistakenly assume they can tackle anything, anywhere.

At West Point, the 2nd day, I saw a student in a "Patriots" O top standing at my first control. He was neither punching nor looking at his map so obviously lost. He confirmed this when I asked so I took a minute to show him where he was on his map. I was really surprised because he was basically due East of the Start but his first control was nearly due west of the start.

The point is, no matter how many catching features, handrails, etc. you try to incorporate, some people will just be over their head. I remember asking someone once if they needed help (they looked like they did), and upon showing me their map, they were on the other side of a paved road from where they should have been. Again, the point is that some just go brain dead and forget that there really is a thinking element to the sport.
May 2, 2018 3:01 PM # 
I despise Score O. Absolutely hate it. It doesn't teach any of the skills that are important for RACING orienteering, and introduces a bunch of other variables that can compromise fairness. It's not the right format for a national champs.
May 3, 2018 12:41 AM # 
I agree with Carl: there will always be underprepared orienteers who can't read contours at all, and can't take an accurate compass bearing. But I also agree with Alex that, if there is a way to bring down the average times without compromising the orienteering, or making the courses too easy, that would be good. It seems to me there are two main ways to do this.

(1) Choose sites where it is harder to be lost for very long, because there are major, obvious catching features in every direction. That was not true at Mt Tom. Linear features, like deep reentrants and streams and even trails, aren't enough by themselves because the underprepared orienteers will just get in the wrong reentrant (or stream or trail). Mt Tom is no Burnt Mountain; but it is more difficult orienteering than the average venue.

(2) Make the junior national courses shorter, more middle length than classic length. This will lower not only the average time, but the winning time. At Mt Tom, the ISVM winning times were low 40's on challenging courses; and for ISJVM they averaged 40 minutes for the two day. If the courses were, say, 1/3 shorter, the winning times would have been more like 30 minutes, but maybe that's OK. There will still, of course, be some out there for over an hour and a half; but fewer. This would mean having entirely separate courses for the JN's and the regular meet, which would probably require doing more than the eleven courses that I did each day at Mt Tom. But that may be an acceptable cost.
May 3, 2018 8:06 AM # 
Longer term solution to the problem is making sure kids have lots of opportunities to O with other kids more locally. And us jet-setting adults should stop pushing kids to travel so far to go to national events so early in their O development.
May 6, 2018 9:09 PM # 
(Mentally crosses off dragging kids back to O-Ringen).


I like the clear boundaries idea. It would be interesting to put together a list of potential maps that meet that description, have a linear feature network that supports elementary/white courses, and provide sufficient navigational challenge for upper level courses.
May 8, 2018 8:23 AM # 
(Ha! Family vacations might be a different story...)

Some of the discussion on the terrain and courses is based on this: "As Eric says, there are a lot of kids running varsity who would be better suited on JV, but only the coach and the kids can make that decision"

We can change that. It is entirely feasible to require some kind of minimum standard before a student can run Varsity. Using a min/km threshold on a local advanced course is a bit tricky since terrain speed varies, but maybe even a generous cutoff would help. It doesn't even have to be something that is super rigorous and strictly checked, just having a place where a coach has to answer the question ("has this athlete completed xyz?") might help keep some of the less experienced athletes off of courses way above their ability. Maybe.
May 8, 2018 4:39 PM # 
@ Cristina... It might also provide a target for some athletes to work towards and encourage them to improve? Sounds like a fairly sensible idea to me.

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