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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.
Dec 27, 2016 8:45 PM # 
As an enthusiastic but struggling intermediate, there don't seem to be very many opportunities for learning at the intermediate level except for reading on the web (or some books) or my own mistakes. There are some very helpful o'ers in my club (QOC) who will answer my questions, but the challenges are out on the trail. Getting help out in terrain once or twice a year isn't really enough to progress at the intermediate stage, with all the new terrain features, skills, and levels of difficulty to be learning.

One of my biggest challenges is how to match what I see on the map with what it should look like in terrain. I find myself constantly surprised that what I find is not much like what I imagined.' I don't have problems reading contours (except when they get very complex)

It took me a while to learn to catch my mistakes earlier, before I'm a km off course.

One of the best helps I had was my sister showing me another orienteer's route on route gadget and explaining to me how he must have thought through his choices, and also explaining the mysteries of the maps as we went. I bet very few intermediates (adults, at least) ever get that kind of individual help.

Another huge help was QOC training, during which a couple veteran orienteers escorted a couple groups of us around a course and explaining how he would make choices, pointing out features in the terrain for us to look at on our maps, discussing alternative route choices, etc.

I felt lucky to get that kind of help at least twice in my first year, and I might have gotten (more) frustrated without it. But I wonder how often that kind of assistance is available to intermediates.

I do a lot of armchair training. I like to read analyses of courses online and in the newsletters. But executing is a completely different challenge. Experience will help, of course, but it can be painfully slow and inefficient, because it depends so much on the maps/courses available at events. I've looked for training camps but they also seem more oriented toward advanced orienteers.

So back around to your original question about whether the terrain is too technical: my suggestion is that it might be more a matter of providing more opportunities for intermediate training for whatever kind of terrain is available.

Another is remembering to pace count -- but that I can do on my own.
Dec 27, 2016 9:16 PM # 
All...thanks for the thoughts.

@o-darn...also thanks for the thoughts, especially as an intermediate. Some ideas for training:
- mapmaking, even a tiny map, helped me enormously in my early years, especially with relating terrain to map and vice-versa (which are related but separate skills, like speaking versus understanding a language).
- read the recent thread on navigating rocks and its suggestions, and especially World Champion TGIF's article linked to by Terje late in the thread. The suggestions apply not only to rocks.
- carry a GPS on the course, but afterwards enter your route in route gadget manually baed on memory before uploading (or looking at) the GPS track, including recording where you stopped for how long (Route Gadget allows that), and trying to recall what features you saw, where you estimate you were along that ridge, etc. Then compare your memory to GPS, including where you stopped for how long.
- encourage your club to organize intermediate training, or more friends to shadow you and give nav hints
Dec 27, 2016 10:43 PM # 
Also, once you've been to a meet, you don't need to wait for another one to get some practice. You have the map, so go back to the park on your own and wander around with it. You can do legs from your previous course, or just pick an area that looks interesting and see how the map matches up with the terrain. Championship level meets often have "model events", which are very much like this, a chance to check out a piece of the terrain and see how it's mapped (with sample controls that you can optionally visit).
Dec 28, 2016 5:05 AM # 
For beginner to intermediate, I second JJ's advice, simply grab a map and go for a walk, and of course pay attention to everything. This is the simplest, most efficient, and common sense way to improve map reading.
For intermediate to advanced level, do the same thing but while running, as slow as necessary, but emphasizing constant contact.
For advanced level, its a longer discussion.
Dec 29, 2016 12:50 AM # 
Thanks jj, Eric and Jim. I appreciate all the suggestions (and already do some). Had read the navigating in rocks thread and found it really interesting and possibly helpful, whenever I can get into similar terrain. (Went to Burnt Mountain and did badly on half my legs. Would love to get back to walk around in that terrain, and to figure out where I went wrong....)

I look for articles like that (and I'd already discovered the TGIF article -- also very helpful and I think about those points frequently) here, on World of O, and wherever I can find them.

Was persuaded to be meet director a couple weekends ago and actually arranged intermediate training. Turnout was mediocre -- last Sunday before Christmas, bad weather, etc.-- but the training was well attended until a storm blew through and we needed all hands to keep the canopies in place. :-) (It was an adventure.) Three people told me they came to the event because of the announced training. I'm posting this because I think it's an indicator that I'm far from the only intermediate who would like more training opportunities. I'm intending to volunteer to organize some, in coordination with meet directors and the club leadership, of course.

I'll try the GPS suggestion. I always put in my courses into RouteGadget and find that very helpful. And then compare with others, though few oranges use it -- because they don't know about it often. I also look at advanced maps and think about my route choices and then look at what the advanced runners did.

Maybe I'm just expecting too much about how quickly one (I) can learn.

I'm interested in beginning to map but have no idea how to begin. Not sure I'm ready to start pestering people about helping me with that, too....

Thank you! Keep up the interesting posts!
Dec 29, 2016 3:44 AM # 
@o-darn: QOC terrain is already as "intermediate" as it gets. I recommend running courses at least Brown, otherwise there is not much that could be learned from such experience.

In general, starting learning on a terrain that is overly tough is a good way to
get discouraged. In some places like NewEngland it is a real possibility.
But if no progress is evident after several events, then try harder courses.
Burnt Mntn is the kind of terrain one should not use in the first year at least.

I have no idea about English-language literature, but I presume there are books written in a style of a manual for a beginner, with exercises, etc.
Running off trail with a map (avoiding use of compass) is IMO a good overall exercise if time is limited.
Dec 29, 2016 5:21 AM # 
Mapping needn't be complicated, especially at first when making a tiny map for practice. Tape a blown up copy of the best existing map to a clipboard or such. Overlay a sheet of drafting mylar (mat side up) if you have some. Start from a distinct known point and use compass and pace to locate things. Double check position from another object. Iterate until things are consistent. Even reentrants can be compass and paced...the bottom of the reentrant, the top of the sides. Review the map to see if it looks right. The benefit is what's happening somewhere in your brain, where you start to see how the map should look simply by looking at the terrain, which is really seeing visually all those relationships (distances and bearings) between objects that you obtained by compass and pace. Progress to seeing if you can estimate distance without pacing (and then check by pace). Or take a bearing using the map sans compass, and check using the compass. (Looking from this boulder, the bush is thirty degrees to the left of the knoll.). The latter two techniques are part of what eventually becomes a fluid flow of seeing your relationship to the features around you as you progress through the terrain, as much subconscious as conscious.
Dec 30, 2016 1:15 PM # 
yurets> Running off trail with a map (avoiding use of compass) is IMO a good overall exercise if time is limited.

Yes! But I'd amend this two ways: 1) Walking rather than running until you are quite experienced--you'll get more out of the exercise during training, and even (or especially) you'll get there faster in competition by walking through the more complex parts of the course, until you are quite advanced.

JimBaker> drafting mylar (mat side up)

Dec 31, 2016 12:24 AM # 
re yurets "avoiding use of compass": 2) except do use the compass to orient the map. Always. Training, competition. Beginner, intermediate, advanced.
Dec 31, 2016 2:09 AM # 
@ o-maps I hope you are aware compass is not the only tool to determine the direction of North. For example moss is more pronounced on the northern side of a tree/rock. And the clouds normally move west to east.
Dec 31, 2016 3:43 AM # 
Uncle JiM:
And the clouds "normally" move west to east
Exactly, were as the compass 'always' points North
Dec 31, 2016 4:36 AM # 
My opinion- the transition from simple to more complex orienteering is the responsibility of every course setter. A good moderate course (or two) is part of this responsibility. Where most course setting guidelines seem to be lacking is that step from moderate to full on complexity. In Australia the juniors hit it at age 15. Some cope well. Some linger on moderate courses a while longer. I sometimes wonder if there is a need for a course between moderate and hard. Describing the characteristics of this sort of course would be interesting, and I suspect it might vary depending on the map.
Dec 31, 2016 9:41 AM # 
Terje Mathisen:
Here in Norway we use A, B, C & N to designate intended course difficulty;

N stands for "Nybegynner" i.e. "New Beginner" which have courses following leading lines (usually paths) and with controls in the junctions.

C and B are the intermediate difficulty levels and A is as hard as you can make it in the current terrain.

In almost all the races where I have been the course setter the B and particularly C courses have been the hardest to get right.
Jan 1, 2017 11:49 PM # 
Thank you everyone! I'll have to pull out all your suggestions and organize them. Then start doing them.

Yurets: What do you mean that 'QOC terrain is as intermediate as it gets'? That it's not very hard and not very easy? I try to get out to other places to get into other terrain.

So what would be "advanced" terrain, besides Burnt Mountain? (I did fine on the other course and the weekend before in the Hudson Valley.) I DNFed at Burnt Mountain but would welcome more chances to get out there and learn to navigate better in it. (Some legs I did great, and some I got way off course and have no idea how... Not great for learning.) Would have finished but I ran out of time and had to leave for another commitment. I think it would be awesome to do a training thing there. (My sister, a long-time green, said the same thing.)

The course setters here provide a very wide range at the orange level -- some are probably advanced yellow, and some are more like advanced (some advanced o'ers tell me) -- depends on who is setting and where we are.

I'll try the mapping. Where does one get a map that doesn't already have the detail on it? Just using a USGS contour map or something? Maybe I can ask one of the mappers here just to print out a contour map that I can fill in....

I think that there is a lot written to get one into yellow or orange territory. But at the orange level, an intermediate is tackling new kinds of challenges every course and there isn't much guidance on how to attack them. That's why the kind of discussion like "navigating rocks" is very helpful. The juniors mostly have coaches -- either formally or from parents. I see a fair number of us orange adults who don't seem to move up to advanced courses. (Just to be clear, I've only been o'ing for a year, so I'm not worried about still being at orange and sometimes struggling with it; I could move to brown or green, but I've been told not to rush moving up. And I know others who started on advanced and just got frustrated.)

Maybe I'll find some challenge to post in a discussion here and see what you all offer for advice. :-)

Jan 2, 2017 12:14 AM # 
Good start working your way up! I did a white course and a yellow my first time out; an orange at my first A meet, and advanced courses thereafter but didn't start improving for several years after that. The best teacher is experience plus talking to others who've been doing it for awhile. I did better after I began to read contours (on a course using a contour-only map, something clicked in my brain), but 25+ years later still have moments when I wander more than I should.

One thing to work on to minimize wandering is to somehow "cue" yourself when you stop recognizing things on the map to *stop* and make sure you know where you are. Find three distinct features (ask PeggyD about the rule of three) to be sure you know your location, or retrace your steps.
Jan 2, 2017 4:41 AM # 
For example moss is more pronounced on the northern side of a tree/rock.

I wouldn't want to rely on that assumption in Australia. You'd just keep on circling the tree or rock looking for the moss.

Went to Burnt Mountain and did badly on half my legs.

Was it the left or the right one? You may need to compensate for the weaker limb.

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