Sprint certainly places a premium on getting into and out of controls quickly. Yet, there seems to be even less time on legs for 'looking ahead'. Advice and warnings?
Ricka, I'm going to give you a little advice.
There's a force in the universe...that makes things happen.
All you have to do is get in touch with it.
Stop thinking. Let things happen...and be...the leg.
Find your center.
Hear nothing. Feel nothing.
Just relax. Find your center.
Picture the leg. Picture it.
Turn off all the sound.
Just let it happen. Be the leg.
Be the leg, Ricka.
You're not being the leg, Ricka.
It's okay. We'll work on it.
Do you know what I just saw?
A gopher? Where?
That is exactly where the challenge in Sprint orienteering lies. Many people look at sprints and pass them off as just easier courses, but until you have tried to do one at full speed, you can't appreciate the challenge. To be successful at Sprint Orienteering, you need to have perfect technique because the amount of time that you have to study the map and make choices is minimal. In most other Orienteering disciplines you have at least some down time where you can just try to run, and during that time you can always catch up on reading ahead if you fall behind, but if you fall behind in a Sprint there is rarely an opportunity to catch up on the run.
To address your question, I would definitely recommend practicing going in and out of controls. It is very important to have the technique down perfectly so that you can repeat it with as little error as possible. I am not only talking about punching technique, but also what you are doing at each stage of approaching and leaving the control. You need to know when to check the control code, when to double-check your exit bearing, when you take your split on your watch, etc. You should have this down to a science that can be repeated without any thought each time.
Electronic punching has made it much less of an art to get into and out of a control quickly, but there is still time to be won and lost in the control circle, and in a sprint this will magnified many times.
I'll never forget running in a sprint in Norway when one of the best Juniors in the country started 15 seconds behind me. He caught me after a few controls and then I just basically tried to follow him for the rest of the course. I had no trouble staying with him between the controls, but at each control he gained a couple seconds such that he was eventually out of sight without ever running faster than me. Now that was mostly due to my inexperience with the Emit punching system that they use in Norway, but I also realized that there were also other things that I could do to speed up my time inside the control circle.
If you want to be successful in Sprint Orienteering, it is critical that you practice this part of your technique as much, if not more than any other part. Most Sprint races are won by seconds, and so in addition to any time you might try to save by building up your speed, a little bit of time spent fine tuning these less obvious parts of your technique could make all the difference in that big race.
Years ago, I had a similar experience at the Blue Hills Traverse, which is anything but a sprint. On every leg, I would overtake and pull away from another runner, who would catch up and get ahead again at the control, due to the time I was wasting there. An important lesson that I never forgot, and I believe I'm much more efficient at the controls now. Who was this master of efficiency who could pass through a control without breaking stride? Sharon Crawford.
My first coach (Ron Lowry) was a big fan of the 'control system'. Your control system changes depending on your level but he summarizes it well in his book "Orienteering Skills and Strategies". Getting the flow is very important in orienteering and sprint makes it all that more important - and if you improve on it for sprint it will only make the middle and long distance performances better too. John F. is an awesome sprinter and his suggestions/ideas are excellent. I would only add a few points:
1) Do not take splits with your watch like John has built into his own 'control system' Why take splits when we have SI? It ruins the flow. I took splits for a decade and it was part of my control system in training but I found it hard to not do it in Champs races too. Even when SI came in I had the "ok and now touch the red button on my watch" ingrained in my control system.
2) Know your relative speeds on grass, pavement, woods. So you can make route choice decisions very quickly. You can test this in training. So this allows route selection to be quick. Subscribe to O-Today and check their awesome sprint course analsysis - armchair route choice selection while doing running intervals for example.
3) Practice punching with different SI set-ups. In Ontario our SI is on a stand that is a little flimsy. So I often come in with two hands to sturdy the unit. That is not efficient in an area where the stand is stronger. In Florida they were on stands that were a little shorter and the SI unit tipped at times. Something I wasn't used to so it took some time to get used to. So be prepared for different systems because 1s x 18 controls can be 1st vs. 10th in sprint. Practice at the model event.