Everyone, just wondering if you would be willing to share your orienteering skill journey from Orange (intermediate) courses to Green (advanced) Courses. I did a Brown (green) course for the first time yesterday and got stuck on the third of 12 controls. A bit discouraging, but I did learn a lot after an orienteering instructor and I went over my route choices and what I could have done better.
So my questions are:
1. What principles/techniques were instrumental in helping you complete an advanced course?
2. About how many many advanced courses did you have to complete before you could complete advanced courses consistently, finding all controls?
1) a. One of the things that can help you advance is visualizing contours from the map information. OCAD (maybe other software?) can produce maps with only contours for training purposes. b. When you realize you're not on track or things in the terrain don't match what you expect to see, STOP and relocate before continuing. It's when you *think* you know where you are and keep plunging ahead that you can get in trouble. c. Check your compass often enough to be sure you're heading in the right direction.
I know there a number of other techniques important to practice every time you go out on a course, but those are some of the basics I learned that helped me move from Orange to the advanced courses.
2) Some days I still (after 3 decades) can't get all the skills to line up to find all the controls consistently.
Rogaining for 15 years before taking up orienteering was not the best way to plunge into advanced courses. Found all the controls but I was out there a long time in the early days.
But yeah, contours.
After having done an Orange course with a partner in 1979, at my next event, in 1983, I signed up for what I thought was Long Orange, but which was actually Green. I got through it, but it wasn't pretty. Then after I did a couple more Orange courses, I signed up for the Billygoat, not really understanding what I was getting into. That wasn't pretty, either, but after that I started just doing Red. I'm not sure if this was a great plan, but I guess the main worry was that I'd get discouraged, and I liked orienteering way too much for that to be a concern.
The main technique that would have helped me on that first Green course would have been to learn the correct definition of "reentrant". I was either misinformed or I misunderstood, and having the exact opposite definition in my head really set me back.
Good advice above. One thing I would add is something that was popular back when I was starting orienteering but seems to have passed on.
Compare your speed and care on an orienteering leg to response to a traffic light.
You look at the leg in advance and decide for instance this part of the leg is easy, along a trail or other handrail, heading to a big attack point etc, I have the GREEN LIGHT to go as fast as I can with only minimal attention to the navigation.
Then another part of the leg is perhaps on a compass heading through woods or some other problem that is going to cause you to be more cautious so you will be in an area requiring AMBER or YELLOW LIGHT speed. Slow down. (Not like Florida or Ontario where the Amber light means speed up to get through the intersection) Then you will also find parts of the leg that will require you to slow down, use detailed map reading . Those are the RED LIGHT sections and usually come from the attack point in, if you have an attack point.
Studying the leg in that fashion gets you looking at the leg as a whole and that makes a big difference in picking and executing successful route choices.
But here is another thing to keep in mind about your Cedars of Lebanon course: You did not pick an easy Green course to be your first. I haven't seen the course map but when a national junior team member takes twice the recomended winning time to run the course and she has the fastest time then you are in good company with having trouble there.
Good on you for seeking someone out to review your course.
As a coach, the fastest transitions I have seen have been among West Point cadets (take Holden Sopoti in his first JWOC last year, for example - less than a year after starting orienteering). Most cadets come to orienteering as freshmen or sophomores. They tend to be good athletes, good students, and coachable. When cmpbllj and I were coaching and our cadets met "move up" criteria from intermediate to advanced courses, we always tried to have one of us shadow the cadet on their next practice course. We talked through their plan for each leg, watched them execute, and identified areas of strength and areas to improve.
Meeting move-up criteria meant completing a course at 10min/km (men) or 12min/km (women), using the straight-line orange course distance, or outright winning the course in a competitive field (using OUSA rankings to determine the strength of fellow orange runners). To accomplish this standard, orienteers generally had to read a map well, use a compass effectively, and have some sense of "I've gone too far and need to relocate" that works within a matter of a few minutes to minimize error.
Working on everything else takes time, and it goes faster if you have a partner or coach to provide feedback. If you're an OUSA member, there are also tons of resources available to you on the OUSA Education Portal in the Basic Orienteering course
. It's actually far more than just the basics.
Consider co hosting and then hosting an event. You needn't be a red or blue winner to put on a great event. Club members happily critiqued and helped refine my courses and checked my tape. I dropped about 45 minutes off my typical red time between seasons with one relatively easy cohost and then one extensively scouted and re-scouted solo host.
You need to come up with your own unique style of orienteering, something that would work for you, not necessarily for others.
Think of Bruce Lee, who designed his own kung fu on the basis of learning from Tibetan monks. When he felt he was finally ready -- he came to the island of Han to show it to the world. That was his Green Course. Watch "Enter the Dragon" for detail.
I think there are a lot of good tips above, but I especially like what cmpbllv wrote about "move up" criteria for the cadets. Learning to optimize your orienteering on an easier course is important before moving up. I didn't do that and I suffered for it. And of course having direct coaching is really helpful, but that's not always available.
Another really helpful thing is contour-only training. I don't think any orienteer outgrows the utility of contour-only training.
I remember my progression. For a year or two, I mostly did smaller park courses, because that was all I could find locally. Then I did a few more advanced desert courses, and could typically to do ok, but I would still blow up on a controll or two. Then I moved on to my first national meet, in forested terrain, where I signed up for blue and came in last place three days straight, dnfd the last race. I think some of my best learning happened during those disaster checkpoints tough. Once I realized my race was shot, I would stop and slow down and analyze what when wrong. I would often spend a few minutes looking at the map and terrain from different angles until I could make sense of things. Thats a good investiment if you are signed up for a multiday event, because you can practice your new knowledge the next day. Then, as I started getting better, I went on trips to overseas and the east coast, and it was practically like starting over again. I had to learn the new terrain and mapping styles... It felt like I would start each festival at the bottom of the results list and struggle to crawl back up to respectability by the end of the week. Which might sound frustrating, but is actually one of the reasons this sport is so fun!
Thanks to everyone for their input. One thing that seems daunting to me is following contours. They are on the map, but not on the terrain like a trail is, for example. How do you "follow a contour" when you don't exactly know where it is on the map?
You can know where some of them are on the map, ideally if you can find some reference point. For example, roughly at this trail junction indicated by the closed arrow, you could follow the index contour around this hill (the longer upside U shaped purple line with the open arrow).
Perhaps you'll have a boulder, ruin, small depression, etc. some reasonably recognizable point feature that you can use as a jumping off point.
May I try a parallel here, Brent? When an orchestra plays a piece of music the audience will never see the staves on which the players' notes are written but they are essential to the successful playing of that music.
Same with orienteers. We will never see the contour lines in the terrain but they guide our travel. Take the contours not individually but as a group so they show the shape of the land they define. For instance in the example above the the contour lines show a hill surrounded by series of relatively large depressions.
Trails, edges of ponds, fences and lots of other linear features are easy to translate from map to land and vice versa. Contours can become easier when we take them as a group showing a particular shape of the land rather than as an individual line representing a common height above sea level.
"Following contours" often doesn't mean following a single contour, you may be crossing lots of them. For example, going down a reentrant (like following a stream bed, but there may be no water in it) can be good handrail, if you can recognize the series of contour lines that have a curve in common. Same for going up a spur. (And that's a useful tip: it's considerably less safe to go up a reentrant or down a spur, it takes more concentration because the spur or reentrant may branch going in that direction.)
Contouring along a hillside can also be done. If you aren't climbing or descending, then you're following a contour. Going diagonally up or down a hillside is likewise also possible, but that's riskier unless you have a lot of experience.
When you walk around the lake shore, you are following a contour line. Areas lower than that contour are flooded. Imagine that the water level rises and water floods other areas. The new water line would be another contour line higher than the first. Learning contour lines will make a huge difference to your navigation skill level.
Always worth getting better connected to the topography, because this usually represents the biggest features once you are aware of them.
Many other good points as well, but I'd like to add to Cristina and cmpbllv's "move up criteria" bandwagon, because I think this point is the most underappreciated.
If your goal is simply to finish advanced courses, it probably doesn't matter when you move up, but for long term performance, I think it is well worth practicing how to run fast and clean, rather than being satisfied with pinballing around the courses.
Almost everybody moves up long before they have mastered intermediate level courses, and I was no different, but I think I would have reached my competitive potential sooner if I established the habit and expectation of mistake-free navigation.
I was never afraid of getting lost, and it showed.
gordhun's Green-Yellow-Red awareness is a big part of this.
I think cmpbllv's 10/12 min/km guideline is fine for the USMAOC level demographic, but I'll propose that a mistake time guideline might have broader application.
How about doing multiple Yellow courses with less than 2 min of mistakes, and Orange courses with less than 4 min lost.
If someone wants to cut that in half, I won't argue.
As I see it:
1) Don't make it too complicated. There are lots of foggy methods and terms (CAR, attackpint, handrails, catching/collecting feature, aiming off, traffic lights etc). Those are used mostly only to explain some quite obvious issues to beginners, or to pinpoint something when someone has habit to often make something wrong. It is not that complicated, lots of 12...13 years old kids tend to get hang of this despite never hearing most of those terms / methods.
2) We navigate the way we are used to navigate. If you build a habit of navigating a certain (bad) way it may be difficult to get rid of that habit. If course is way too difficult you may end up using some luck based control finding methods, like taking a bearing and hoping for the best. Not the best habit to have. Many thumb compass users build bad habit of comparing map details and terrain directly and they do just fine when course is easy or until speed gets too high (details are flying by way too fast). This is why it is best if course difficulty level correct for you skills or problems. Some benefit from not running too difficult courses, but for some running too easy may just strengthen their bad habits. Figure what is your issue/goal and select correct kind of course for it.
3) Despite all the confusing terms and methods O is quite simple really. First you look at the map to see where you are going to go. And then you go there. Repeat until you get to the control. And repeat until you finish.
Sure, to execute that you need to able a) to pick correct kind of features from the map to be used for navigating, b) able to identify those when you see them and c) have some kind of control over your travel direction/distance (because you will not see them if your direction is not in correct sector at all). Repeat that, you will learn how long intermediate steps you are repeating should be. With fine details it may be just 50 meters or so (some call that traffic light red but you'll do fine without knowing about it), if those features are those some here call "handrails" or "collecting" type of features the step may be over kilometer because those are harder to miss, if target is along a linear feature you surely may aim off to not miss the target (without thinking of aiming off), and so on.
One handy way to force you to learn this is deciding to not look at the map at all except when looking at the next step and then traveling just by memory (and maybe compass) without looking at the map until you see your intermediate target. This will force you to navigate using correct kind of features (poor kind of features are impossible to remember or identify) and also force you to actually do it about right (think about the right way, look ahead, simply, not reading all the details etc).
An attackpint is what you drown your sorrows with after having a bad run.
As some have hinted, you may need to spend more time on orange before you are ready to move up. Orange course legs (at least according to guidelines) have a variety of difficulty, some will be basically advanced course legs. Others will have a direct/advanced route choice option. As you get more practice reading the contours/features (mandatory for advanced courses), you can take the faster direct routes. When you are comfortable with that, you are more likely to be successful on the advanced courses.
"Attackpint" . It's what you are served at closing time in a pub with a flat roof.
A min/km guideline (perhaps adjusted to take into account the individual's flat running speed) makes more sense to me than the mistake time guideline. It's not hard to do even a very technical course with few mistakes if you walk the whole course and stop at every small feature, but it does not mean that you have mastered orienteering.
Beginner and intermediate courses should not be more technical than the prescribed limits.
I will admit that the unfortunate revision to the Orange course guidelines that ken pointed out above, throws a severe monkey wrench into that principle.
True, the mistake time guideline assumes you are actually competing at or near your physical limits, not recreating.
The idea is supposed to be that Orange legs can be technical to execute, but there's something to limit how much time you'll lose if you blow it. So, there can be a leg that's nominally fully advanced, but if you miss the control and overshoot, you'll run into a major trail before you get very far, for example. Unlike on the Brown-Blue courses, where it's fine to let people sail off into oblivion. That gives intermediate orienteers the opportunity to practice doing advanced navigation but not get stuck spending inordinate time if they make mistakes. And in that example, there's also the option of intentionally going all the way to the trail (or taking an "around" route to get there), and attacking the control from behind.
None of this is news to anybody, but that doesn't mean that Orange courses are always set that way.
A certain young orienteering relation of mine (who is now rather good) happened to be injured right at the time she was moving up from yellow/orange to more advanced courses. She couldn't run at all, so she walked brown. The slower pace gave her the time to really read and understand all the contours. And it built confidence.
So, to answer your questions: an essential skill would be reading contours confidently. After that, getting experience with how to make strong route choices and how to execute them (lots of techniques mentioned above) ... but if you aren't confident with reading contours, it's never going to be easy.
How many? I think this is different for everyone, and it also depends on how much you do things like reviewing your course with an instructor or coach, or reading up on orienteering technique, looking at maps ...
Rather longer ago, when I was moving up to orange, and then to red (yes, I remember the days before the green course existed) ... there almost always used to be course reviews at the dinner on Saturday night of two day events. I learned a ton from listening to advanced orienteers explain what they'd done, why they had picked one route over another, which features they had used and which they had ignored, and what they used to relocate if they made an error.
someone beat me to my story...
But she's got it right. Being forced to go slowly was really helpful for me because I could take the time to read every feature, and check everything off. I think that's a good way to start and then as you get more comfortable with reading the contours and other features you can slowly figure out what information you can drop out of your plans to simplify.
Also as Tori said, having someone shadow you and listen to your plan and then comment can be really helpful, and the reverse can be good too. Go out into the woods and shadow a more experienced orienteer, hear what they are thinking about while you can see it as opposed to just course reviewing after (which also is a very good thing to do).
Some of the best orienteers who are replying to this may not appreciate that some people, particularly those who start orienteering as adults, don't go through a phase where they're running faster than their skills allow them to navigate cleanly. Some of us moved onto advanced courses early, but navigated slowly for a long time and then started running later.
Start with mastering the basics: map holding, folding, orienteering and thumbing. Don't even worry about anything else until you can do this reliably. Sounds silly, but is the foundation to good orienteering while running.
Then move into technical skill and tactical:
Technical: Using the compass for precise and rough work. Make it a habit pattern at every decision point and incorporate it into your initial basic skills...Now you are thumbing with your compass and holding the map as a matter of habit.
Tactical: Learn to effectively use the 5 basic nav techniques: Handrails, Stepping stones (collecting features), Backstops (Catching features), attackioints, and aiming off. During this phase, you must get better at reading the terrain. Ultimately, there is one tactic you should be using at all times: ALWAYS ON A HANDRAIL. That means you are always following something. When there is no terrain to follow, then that is the bat signal to be precise with your compass (direction and distance hyperaware). The handrail is the real tactical visualization you should have in your head...without it, you are moving with extreme risk. You can link features together to create a handrail with the compass as an aid. But all too often, folks find themselves saying "god I hope I'm in the right valley" way after they have been wandering around for too long. The point is habit patterns save relocation time.
Then get to "Level 3" (Green Level'ish): Forget about the previous things because they are already habits and do not require thought. You have enough experience to have seen and lived through some shit. Experience is required. About 15 hard orienteering races to tan your hide I'd say. For this phase, focus on simplification of the route (advanced courses are specifically meant to test route choices persistently, or perhaps give you legs that lull you into a subsequent bad route choice if not paying attention). Start with a method for route determination. Without your own technique, I recommend starting with CBAR. "C": the control (what is it, is it complex in the circle or is it complex getting to the circle etc). "B": Then I'd look for a backstop (to inform if you can approach with speed or caution). "A": Then find an attackpoint or funneling feature, and finally work backwards to present location. Look for major stepping stones to simplify and ignore the noise.
To get to level 4 (elite), you need to start getting good at the following skills:
-Reading and running (at the same time). Interpret faster and memorize more.
-Running fast on varied terrain
-Navigating in all kinds of environments and knowing where risk is inherently (what amateur orienteers really struggle with)
-Quick map interpretation and subsequent visualization
-Looking ahead instead of looking at current position
-Purposefully working with more risk (if you want to catch a touchdown, you have to be willing to take the hit)
-Work ahead. Flow through controls with minimal hesitation.
-Urgency. You may think you are alone in the woods, but you are really racing an invisible clock. If you can't move with speed and navigate, then you need to improve your lower level skills.
All general guidance, but from my experience working with kids across the skill spectrum, these are my basic observations. Quite simply, the best go fast and end up where they intentionally pointed themselves:).
Actually, ignore all of that. Just go do it:). You'll figure it out.
Great advice! Thank you.
I am not a great orienteer but have a couple of suggestions.
First, while using your gps (I thinl I saw on another discussion) may be easier and great in an emergency, there is a lot to be learned in having to relocate and developing those skills. Not only do relocation skills build confidence, they can save a lot of time in a race. And it helps you to learn to read the contours and features for choosing and following your route.
To CAR add E for exit: CARE. It helps a lot of things to make it routine to plan your exit from a control and to begin thinking as early as you can muster on a leg to think about where you are heading next.
Use route gadget to analyze your course after a race, revisualize what the terrain looked like relative to your map ( and what you thought you were doing) and to look at other peoples’ courses and their choices. For advanced maps you didn’t run, Try deciding your own route choices on routegadget then turning on other orienteers’ routes to compare.
If you are doing a long course, consider taking glucose cubes or a snack with you. I got very confused during a long course and afterwards, an experienced orienteer reflected that I probably lacked fuel for my brain after 1.5 to 2 hours and suggested that. On a number if occasions I have found that it really helps. Fast orienteers maybe dont need that as much as those of us who are slower or less fit or have to relocate. O’ing is challenging enough without handicapping my brain.
Finally, my sister told me that even elite orienteers make mistakes but they catch them faster and correct. That’s where stepping Stones or collecting features are really helpful ( and checking your compass). It can be faster to go back to where you knew where you were than to keep going and wandering around. The farther you wander off course, probably the longer it will take to correct in many cases.
A lot of people above have made a couple of these points but maybe my embellishments can help.
o-darn, what is the B in CBAR? I haven't heard that one before.
B-backstop: can you go fast through the control circle fast or need be cautious? So much time is lost being overly cautious when a nearby backstop exists. Just blast to your target zone without fear. Also nothing worse than noticing after a race you coulda taken a route from one angle that woulda allowed a backstop if you just woulda thought about it ahead of time. Instead you got close to the circle and started walking around slowly like Sherlock Holmes on a clue hunt and ended up in no-man’s land of homogeneous forest. A backstop is like a great stepping stone that could hook a brother up.
I went from a couple Yellow courses to a couple Orange courses, then right to Blue. Already had pretty good handle at navigating, but I didn't have a very good handle of orienteering fast-like. Which is to say that I started out making a lot of mistakes that new orienteers might make, like mispunching, making a 180 degree error, accidentally skipping a control, running too fast to the point of getting myself lost or even off the map, following the wrong route line on the map (a leg line parallel to my current leg line), and a range of other mistakes I had to learn the hard way from.
Looking back I think I was doing a lot of rushing, but I'm also glad I made all those mistakes because it helped motivate me to never do it again and to be mindful that those things can happen. Plus it helps me when teaching others now because I can say, "one time I did this...."
So I'd say just go for it. As my first flight instructor told me on my first flight lesson when I was a teenager: "The best way to learn how to do anything is to DO IT. So you're gonna land this airplane now!" I had to go around and re-try once but I landed it. It wasn't pretty but it worked. Same goes w/ my orienteering development process. Expect to make some mistakes but after you make enough of them it will all start coming together and clicking, so be patient with yourself and the process. And frequency and consistency is gold. The best advice I got was to just get yourself on a map doing the orienteering thing as much as humanly possible. That's my 2 cents!
As has been noted by most here, there is absolutely no substitute for experience: You need to get out there and do it! Smart people learn from their mistakes and (sometimes) manage to avoid most of them in the future, only real geniuses can really learn from other people's mistakes.
I have been running 50-100 competitions every year for more than 50 years, and I still make lots of mistakes, but fortunately most of them are of the 10-30 sec variety because I catch them early. OTOH, I still managed a 5 min horror just last week on a local event when I had a dead easy leg (mostly paths) and simply turned off my O brain: When I hit an unmapped MTB trail instead of the path I thought I was running on, I completely lost it. :-(
An advantage of orienteering over landing a plane: if you make a really really bad mistake when orienteering, it's in general still not a big deal. (As a hang glider pilot, I find this aspect of orienteering very relaxing.)
I feel like having aviation experience makes the rest of life so much less stressful.
Re aviation: Traditional multi-pitch climbing on hard-to-protect routes is sufficiently stressful to flush all other considerations out of my brain. (Which is probably one of the reasons I haven't really done that in a very long while...)
I did an easy permanent course, then 2 yellow courses, then went to orange. I started at 13 and was not from an orienteering family, so at first I had along my mom and younger brother. I was also at the mercy of when they wanted to go to events, even after mom and I started doing separate courses. I stayed at orange for about 8 years, only doing between 2-7 events per year, often making pretty big errors. I will note that there was definitely not the same level of training and development available for juniors back then. Aside from the person who initially got us started, I was pretty much on my own for learning.
When I hit college, about 6 years after I started orienteering, I finally was able to attend many more events and that's when my navigation skills really started to develop. I also started going to national events during this time. I did about 5 brown courses and then moved up to green and mostly stayed there. I tried red after I turned 21, doing about 10 of them, but I've never been particularly strong or fast at running and had a lot of OTs and DNFs before deciding green was more fun for me. (I'll sometimes run red on a middle or sprint or in fast terrain, but I've aged back into a class on green anyway.)
The biggest help was starting to orienteer almost every week, and I'd say the second most important thing was getting into different types of terrains. There's no substitute for experience and I'm fortunate to live in an area where I have that number of events.
We don't use color designations in Norway, instead we have 4 letter grades:
N (Nybegynner), same as a novice. The entire course will be possible following 2D guard rails, like paths, streams, cultivated field edges etc. More advanced runners can gain time by making shortcuts.
C : Controls will be either of class N or have a guard rail/obvious attack point in front. Shortcuts with extra difficulty is common.
B: The controls can have maximum difficulty, but with backstops so you won't get totally lost.
A (and E for elite): Anything goes, the course should be as difficult as possible on the given map/terrain, while having a good balance between shorter detailed orienteering and longer route choice legs.
In theory we have A courses from the age 13-14, but they would typically mostly be of type B for the youngest runners.
For adults we have classes like H17N and H17C which provides N and C type courses for adult beginners.
PS. In reality, for most events near Oslo, the amounts of paths and distinctive contour features means that most courses will have a large percentage of B class controls even on an elite course, it is just that even with a backstop, a mistake of a minute or more will be very significant.
A Green course in the USA is an A level of middle distance, designed for M50-64 or F35-54.
I'll never understand colour coding. In Australia we have Hard, Moderate, Easy and Very Easy. Someone doing a B course at a championship event is running Moderate, whereas A and E courses are Hard standard. AS is just a shorter version of the equivalent age grade Hard course (and is typically competed in by people who are not as fast as their counterparts).
Its a pity there's no international naming convention for navigational difficulty. And there doesn't seem to be any IOF committee or consultation structure for learning and coaching. When we were looking at standardising course difficulty through naming, we found that some countries used colour labels for difficulty, and others for a combination of difficulty and length. There wasn't any consensus we could follow. We did want to get away from subjective words such as "easy".
We settled on colours for difficulty alone, and its interesting that we chose 4 levels which seem to match Norway's ones. I think that these labels have been of immense help, allowing us to talk about competition standards, but also (as here) to discuss packages of skills, learning progressions, training sessions, and also people.
I've started to look into this as part of a review of Australian course standards - whatever they are called, some countries have 4 difficulty levels, some have 5 and Switzerland has 6 (although I haven't yet dug into what they actually mean).
Some Australian states used colour levels for difficulty for a while (I don't think any still do) with blue being the easiest. This led to a somewhat amusing moment when I came back from a trip to the US and a junior who saw one of my maps said "you went all that way to run a blue course?".
For the vast majority of local events, considering limited resources of organizers, 4 courses Yellow Orange Green Red is totally sufficient, with the Green being a short-cut (subset) of Red.
When Brown is also offered, advanced runners can run 2 courses, Red+ Brown to achieve their goals
USA has four levels: White (very easy), Yellow (easy), Orange (moderate), and Red (hard). That's what it was when I started, and it was pretty intuitive. All the other colors are different lengths of Red (mostly shorter) that got added later. Doesn't matter much what they're called.
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