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Attackpoint - performance and training tools for orienteering athletes

Discussion: Tips for improvement?

in: Orienteering; Training & Technique

Sep 22, 2009 11:28 AM # 
I've been orienteering for 2+ years now, discovering this sport at age 38. I feel like most of my improvement occurred in the first year. Since then, things have been pretty flat - typically 15 min/km on an advanced course, usually good for last place. When I can, I take an old map into the woods and try to find features, but beyond this, I'm not really sure what I should be doing to improve. My raw running ability is fine - I've run a Boston qualifying marathon - and my route choices seem at least competent when I plot them. This isn't like skiing where I can sign up for a lesson!

I probably should be running orange, but I figure when I take the time and trouble to give up a whole weekend - which isn't that easy to manage - I might as well double my experience and do the red course. Perhaps this is poor reasoning on my part?
Sep 22, 2009 11:42 AM # 
Almost Good:
A beginner skiier will have more fun and progress much more quickly in easier terrain, rather than falling his way down the hardest runs on the hill.

From your description running speed or fitness is not the problem. I am no expert, but it does sound like finding some speed moving through terrain with confidence on easier courses will help you progress faster. Practice (time spent running with the map in hand) will speed up the rate at which you process that information too.

Running faster while you can by simplifying, following obvious terrain features and using a good attack point and/or or catching feature will help too. A common impediment to speed is feeling the need to check off every detail as you pass it. Mind you, its a fine balance between checking features and running fast that allows you to retain map contact.
Sep 22, 2009 12:05 PM # 
You can run well, but you are taking 15 minutes per kilometer. Have you figured out what is slowing you down out on the course?
Sep 22, 2009 1:23 PM # 
...I might as well double my experience and do the red course....

I went through this line of reasoning myself...but eventually started running Orange courses with a lot more enjoyment. I even did Yellow courses as a warm-up before the main event. Don't be afraid of doing several courses on the same day. And also help out: stay over and pick up controls, act as an assistant course setter, or help with your mapper's field checking.

By spending relaxed, non-competitive time with a map in the woods, learning to recognize natural features (contour changes, vegetation differences, how to run through a reentrant, etc) I found to be the most beneficial. Eventually most expert orienteers can read natural features like you can read a road map full of man-made features...and get from Point A to Point B in the woods without thinking.
Sep 22, 2009 1:54 PM # 
Quite often beginneers navigate by comparing map and features they can see around. Works fine if you move slowly, but with speed it just doesn't work. After few seconds of running those features are gone and there is whole new objects around you and you need to stop or slow down compare those features and map. You have to do this all the time and is slows you down.

The trick is to learn read from the map those features you can't yet see but you will see after running 30 sec...couple of minutes. Like this you are waiting something to appear while you run. And when those features pop up, you have already your thumb on right spot on the map and you read what will be ahead next. No need to relocate and when you read the map you already know where you are. You are just kind of refillinig your memory and you always compare your memory and view (not map and view) and that can be done in full speed.

Old trick to learn this is running legs by memory. So you read map at each control so well you can run the whole leg without looking at map at all. You may have to split long legs in two/three parts. Like this you can get rid of the bad habbit of comparing map and terrain while standing still. when you learn this you just need to impelemet the skill as part of you normal O technique and your mind is all the time slightly ahead of your body and legs are just trying hard to get your body to the place your mind already is. Easier to say than do, but it really is not impossible to learn.

You can also run same short course three times in a row to see how much you can improve. It gives perspective how much faster you can be if you know all the time what you are doing an where you are going and you never have to stop or slow down much.
Sep 22, 2009 4:07 PM # 
Thanks, this is already proving to be helpful and I haven't even been outside yet.

I suspect two factors are at work: first, I think I'm doing exactly what Jagge says in the first paragraph - a lot of running, then stopping and checking, then running. I bet there's more stopping than I am conscious of.

Second, I'm just dead-slow once I get off the trails. I know running in terrain takes practice. Since I live in an urban area it's hard to do this except on weekends. Is there something I should be trying during the week?

I had no idea it was possible to run multiple courses on the same day. Is this true of A-meets - can I sign up for, say, both yellow and orange on the same map and get start times for each?
Sep 22, 2009 4:59 PM # 
At A-meets you can certainly run all the recreational courses - which would typically include WYO. It couldn't hurt to run all of them - even running white can be excellent practice for getting everything done quickly and efficiently. You still have to read ahead to plan the (n+1)th leg when you're approaching the nth control, read the code and description for the nth control, and so on.

I'm in a similar state to yours - I've been orienteering two years, and I'm really focusing on getting better. A few recommendations that I have received:

1. Spend a lot of time reading maps. If you're going for a daily road or trail run, bring a map of an orienteering course and practice reading it, simplifying routes, and planning a route. Visualize yourself running along that route and look on the map as if you were scanning for features you would see ahead of you.

2. Re-run courses. Run an orange course, review your legs and your routes, then run it again. Adequately assimilating the map information is a challenge, but it shouldn't be a bottleneck. Consider how you will perform when you actually have assimilated the map data sufficiently. Catching Features is an excellent resource.

3. Get on a map whenever you can. Find a map near your home if possible and draw a course for yourself. Vary the style of the course - perhaps a technical course with lots of short, 300-400m legs, or a course with long legs with lots of route choice. Line-Os, where you try to exactly follow a path you have drawn through terrain, are very useful for map reading and observing features.

4. Train with other people if possible. At meets, talk to others, compare splits, compare routes, and figure out where you made mistakes.

5. Have a higher level orienteer shadow you on a course and critique your run. You can learn valuable feedback - for instance, what fraction of the time you're actually running. An elusive concept that I have heard much about is "flow." I would loosely define it as a rhythm or pattern you get into when you're moving well and efficiently. Flow is disrupted when you have to stop, when you make mistakes, and so on.
Sep 22, 2009 5:18 PM # 
I expect it would be a problem to try to register for two courses on the same day at most A events. Maybe an indulgent meet crew would let you run a recreational course early and give you a late start time on one of the A meet courses provided you forgo eligibility for awards.

That said, have you got any notion as to why you're dead slow off trail? I assume there's more to it than stopping to read the map. Doing more running in terrain or, failing that, on especially gnarly trails is the default prescription but there are some other things- for example, ankle strength training, balance and/or agility exercises, form exercises to encourage running with higher knee lift than is typical of track or road runners - that could be done even in an urban setting.
Sep 22, 2009 5:52 PM # 
I would say that running only Orange for the person who runs pretty well is not a good idea.

Orange usually lacks technical expertise. It might be rewarding for the person mentally, but brings almost no benefit map reading-wise.
Why do not just run Sprint then? ( which is more interesting than Orange because it is fast and more technical)

Speaking about the downgrade in courses- this is still very good idea.

fpb, given your performance last year , you are solid Brown runner with power around 60.
See how your speed relates to the others at last year Heart and Troll Revival Day 2

I'm long time in the situation like yo. Started 2 yrs ago at age 33, I must be a Blue runner, but instead of being hopelessly last, I chose to run Browns and now Greens and be reasonably in the top 10. This not only helps to cope with Ego, but also allows to compare yourself with reasonable group of people and have a real competition.
Also it is difficult to keep concentration for a long 2+ hours and much better to stay focused for an hour.

With your speed of ~60 You would be around 7th place last year on Brown, and around 30+ on Green

Last note, not many people notice, but Brown most of the time is simpler than Orange if you count "gnarliness" (GV). This is due to the fact that Brown is shorter but more technical- exactly as you might wish.
I used it is a good benchmark for myself as follows:
Run two courses in the same day: Brown and Orange. Take reasonable rest in between.
If Brown time is less - I'm good technically, if Orange time less I'm running without brains. (now my Browns are almost always faster :)

Good luck
Sep 22, 2009 6:03 PM # 
I disagree with the assertion that Orange level and simpler courses are not rewarding for map reading purposes. Consider that the map reading requirement is not simply discerning a complex map but also simplifying, doing it while moving, and doing it quickly. A number of elite blue runners - feet, Boris, and ken, e.g. - would run the white course at local meets at the end of the day. While much of their objective was on physical speed, on a sufficiently simple course, a mistake of a few seconds is massively costly. The exercise is valid.

Also consider that the technical requirements of a map vary with location; an orange course at Harriman may be more technically challenging than an advanced course elsewhere.

While your power scale may be intellectually informative, it's not useful practically because no one else uses it.
Sep 22, 2009 6:03 PM # 
I expect it would be a problem to try to register for two courses on the same day at most A events.
barb does it all the time.
Sep 22, 2009 6:06 PM # 
@ iansmith:

>While your power scale may be intellectually informative, it's not useful practically because no one else uses it.


You did a great progress moving from 85 to 100 during one year!
Sep 22, 2009 8:40 PM # 
I suppose a crucial question is how many min/km fpb would run on Orange. If running Orange instead of Red brought him instantly down to say 10-11 min/km, then clearly the serious problem(s) is(are) with navigational technique on advanced courses. If he still runs 15 min/km on Orange, then either his navigational technique is really awful (unlikely if he regularly finishes Red courses) or there's something other than having trouble finding the controls slowing him down. The value in running Orange is then that he can work on whatever the speed limiting factor(s) is(are) without getting lost mucking things up too much.

BTW, regarding stopping to read the map, agreed, it's deadly for speed. I think the logical thing to do to develop the ability to read the map while on the run would be to add a line-O to any orienteering outing you do. Draw an interestingly squiggly route on the map and try to follow that route in the terrain as precisely as possible but as slowly as necessary to keep map contact. Just don't ever stop. Try to run or jog all the time; walk if you have to - slowing down to read the map may be bad but not as bad as stopping. You could, as has been suggested, try reading maps during training runs but I think it's harder to maintain focus on the map when you don't actually need to do so in order to decide where to go.
Sep 22, 2009 10:35 PM # 
The only thing I remember learning in elementary school was this statement, which was posted on the gym wall:

Practice doesn't make perfect, perfect practice does.

There are lots of good suggestions above (some that I should follow myself), but I especially like the suggestion about running easier/shorter courses. This way you can practice the skills that you want to be able to have on a red course without reinforcing bad habits, like stopping every time you need to read the map. If the navigational demands are simple enough for you to be able to read on the run, then you can practice that skill and improve your "flow". The idea is to practice doing it the right way, not just flailing through the toughest stuff you can survive.
Sep 23, 2009 3:57 PM # 
I suggest setting some courses for other people to run. A great way to forced improvement in map reading. It also will give you better insight into the different types of challenges you might face as a competitor
Sep 23, 2009 4:18 PM # 
One suggestion that hasn't been made here and I've found helpful is to rerun a course immediately after finishing it. On a second run, you still have to read the map (unless you have a really good memory), but now you are anticipating things because you've seen it before. You run more confidently and look further ahead. Good habits to form.

As for when to move up - I've always used 10:00/K as a standard. When you can consistently beat that, you're ready for a more technically difficult course. Until you are under that, you haven't learned to read on the run. It's very hard to learn to read on the run on an advanced course. If you get there without being able to do that, you may become a permanent course walker. There's nothing wrong with that if that's what you want, but if you want to be competitive, you've got to learn to move quickly through the terrain without losing map contact.
Sep 23, 2009 10:38 PM # 
I am the last one to advise anyone on speed, but as a back-of-the-packer I know some things I consistently do badly that haven't been mentioned. I don't go straight when I mean to, both at the macro (over hill) and micro (over log, dodging trees) scale. It's easy to add 40% to your actual route. Some of this is visibility - see if you are faster when the leaves are off. More is mental - constant hesitations making micro-decisions. A possible training idea is to take a yellow or easy orange course at a local meet and do every leg resolutely straight on the line when the points are easy. You will find out if you can actually go straight when you want to, and also learn when it's a good idea and when not.
Sep 24, 2009 3:59 PM # 
Thanks again. I'm looking forward to trying orange at my next meet and then immediately re-running it (and maybe a third time, offering to collect controls), and using that 10:00/km standard. (Someone from my club did kindly point out that I'm more like 12-13 min/km than 15 km)
Sep 24, 2009 6:54 PM # 
@ frb
Ask your organizers to upload data to WinSplits - good analysis tool
Oct 1, 2009 10:47 PM # 
here are some more training ideas

It's a bit of a drive, but you might consider DVOA's training weekend Sept 12-13th
Oct 2, 2009 5:43 PM # 
Yeah, and you'd have to drive it at greater than light speed to go back 3 weeks.
Oct 2, 2009 6:22 PM # 
If fpb's local club wanted to set up its own training day (vs. a weekend) what skills would be best to focus on to help folks develop to advanced level? (i.e., What can a smaller club do to help?) Any suggested activities to focus on those skills?
Oct 2, 2009 9:41 PM # 
OMG! - I'm so busy these days, I don't even know what month it is ;-(

- maybe next year
May 17, 2016 2:42 PM # 
This is good, would be nice to do the same but more focused on MTBO
May 24, 2016 6:09 AM # 
I don't think MTBO existed in 2009.
May 24, 2016 1:00 PM # 
I started around 2011, but yeh the sport is relatively young ..

This discussion thread is closed.