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Discussion: Reading ahead

in: Orienteering; Training & Technique

May 4, 2020 9:25 PM # 
How do you guys read the map ahead during a race? Do you look at the whole course at the beginning of a race, getting a feel for the area covered and the challenges, maybe identify legs that need study?

And more specifically: Let's say you're on a leg 6-7: how and when do you read leg 7-8 ahead? Do you turn the map to study 7-8, or do you read it "at an angle", such as not to lose your 6-7 bearing? How are you making sure you're not mixing up the mental picture of the next leg with your current leg?

And let's say you saw that later in the course there's a long leg with difficult route choices. You study it when you have a quiet moment of trail running. Do you take a route choice decision then and there, or leave it open for later? Do you still remember what you were thinking later on?

many thanks in advance.
May 4, 2020 9:32 PM # 
Not to answer your question, but I remember a comment about this from a particularly well-respected orienteer, years ago. The event was in rather uninteresting terrain, and he commented that this was the kind of place where you didn't want to read ahead at all, because then you'd know that there was nothing to look forward to.
May 4, 2020 11:41 PM # 
I'm no elite, but an experienced orienteer. I don't look ahead much (perhaps not as much as I should) on a typical course, just enough to know in which direction to leave the control relative to how I approach it). I take a quick look at the beginning just to see the general flow of the course.

Then after I punch I take in the large view of the next leg, try to find a suitable attackpoint, then figure out how I want to get there.
May 5, 2020 12:33 AM # 
I usually read behind so I can criticise myself over what I did wrong. Typically it's the fact that I was analysing my poor decisions during the race.
May 5, 2020 1:46 AM # 
Years ago, Ted de St. Croix gave a talk in which he said that he never reads ahead during a race. The logic being that anything that takes away your focus from your current leg is a bad thing.

Ted also said that when he is within visual range of his current control, he slows down significantly, and takes that time to refold his map, and determine his exit route to the next control. That allows him to leave the control at full speed after punching. But from what I understood, that is the only "looking ahead" he ever does.
May 5, 2020 2:31 AM # 
I seem to recall that Ted talk... It was at the dinner for the 2005 US (Classic) Champs, near Bend, OR.
May 5, 2020 2:53 AM # 
Actually my tactic for MTBO is to only look ahead to the next leg when I'm near on finishing the current one because I have a habit of losing track of where I am and making wrong turns when I get flustered. Plus if I read too far ahead I've typically forgotten by the time I get there anyway.
May 5, 2020 3:09 AM # 
Its very usual for me to get to the end of a course and then look at the map to see what the course shape is. During the race I have little idea of the big picture. I am no elite and never was.
May 5, 2020 3:43 AM # 
I think the main form of reading ahead that I do is to glance at the map and see if there are any places in the course where I'll need to be careful, or where I'll need to do some thinking about route choice before just heading in the direction of the control. Except at the Billygoat, where I immediately start looking for a good control to skip.
May 5, 2020 6:42 AM # 
Terje Mathisen:
I agree with most here in that I very seldom do any reading ahead on upcoming legs, even though I could hav done so while running on a good path. As Ted said in that talk, when I'm on a given leg I try to concentrate 100% on that. If I feel that I'm slipping (maybe starting to subvocalize a song I heard on the radio driving to the event?) I'll start to pace count even when I know I won't need the results.

OTOH, both Ski-O and MTBO can save significant time by not having to stop at the control (thouch-free punching for the win!) and to pass it in the best direction when that is possible. For Sprint-O reading ahead, including the clue sheet is absolutely crucial on any non-obvious leg. I am particularly vary when the control is located near an impassable wall/fence corner.

I won this PWT race in Grand Cayman partly because I did this correct on control #2 while my main competitors ended up on the north side:
May 5, 2020 7:50 AM # 
That mapping of the path just north of #4 is abysmal.
May 5, 2020 10:09 AM # 
It's abysmal course setting - a classic 'sprint trap' - and the people caught on the wrong side would be very tempted to climb over the impassable fence!
May 5, 2020 10:25 AM # 
Terje Mathisen:
@tRicky: Yes, I agree that the path mapping was hard to read, but in PWTs defense this was actually the best map of the entire cruise, amazingly good when you consider that it was created on a desktop, with just a few hours on shore for the mapper on a previous trip. I was told that he runs around with a chest or headcam, filming everything.

@simmo: I personally agree that sprint traps are quite bad, I have agitated for using the same green dot as in Ski-O to designate the exact flag location, obviating the need to decode the clue sheet. On this particular control, that impassable fence was very impassable indeed, it was a 2.5 m high plank wall! :-)

As you've probably guessed, I used this example simply because it is the single instance where I solved the trap while my competitors all fell into it, see above for my desire for a flag marker on the map itself. (Yeah, I know that the green dot is already claimed for vegetation in ISSprOM.)
May 5, 2020 12:16 PM # 
I should have added 'or very tempted to give up O'.
May 5, 2020 1:37 PM # 
Some guy from France who was pretty fast for a few years stated (if I recall correctly) that he navigates 100m in the future, ie, he was looking ahead. Also, "Full speed, no mistakes," which is how I live my life, dang it! (Except for the full speed and no mistakes parts.)
May 5, 2020 1:59 PM # 
hehe :) some really funny comments, thanks!

At least in sprint, it seems an obvious time-loss not to read ahead, especially on tricky (trap) legs. So, do you turn the map to study the leg, do you read it at an angle... ?
May 5, 2020 2:10 PM # 
Don't turn the map, just glance at the next leg. Keep the map oriented the way you need it for the current leg.
May 8, 2020 3:27 AM # 
Interesting...reading through all these comments made me think that maybe I'm not alone by only rarely looking at the next leg. Knowing a few experienced/elite orineteers I do recall hearing many times that planning ahead, especially when you're running on a trail/road is crucial. I even recall someone saying that usually in the first few minutes of the race he solves the entire course and this takes some pressure off of his mind and allows him to deal with the physical aspects of the race. Again, I don't do that since a big chunk of the fun in this sport is to enjoy the planning all throughout the race, be surprised and practice thinking fast. So why waste all the fun right away? :-)
May 8, 2020 10:48 AM # 
Terje Mathisen:
@aviadfuchs: I usually keep my map folded just once or twice, so that I can hold it comfortably while oriented, and still see one or two legs ahead, but like you I very rarely "waste" any time looking ahead on forest races, just if there's a long leg which seems tricky, in that you might need to take a very diverging direction out of the control. It is much more likely that I will stop for 2-4 seconds after punching if I'm not sure which way to start out.
May 8, 2020 10:49 AM # 
I for one do like to take a look ahead at the entire course early when I get the chance just so I have a sense of the flow of the course. This can be particularly valuable for a long distance course I find. Were are the long legs? Where are the water stops? Where does it get technical. Either this early overview of the course I'm not planning ahead in my navigation but rather planning ahead tactically. Where should I be conserving energy, where should I be taking my gels etc.
That also gives me a sense of when I can read ahead and when I really need to focus on the next 100-200m.
May 9, 2020 8:23 AM # 
I usually use some variation of traffic light orienteering[1]. Any time I'm in a green zone is an opportunity to look ahead with the priority being the next orange and red zones, then the next leg. I'd continue to thumb my map for where I currently am and rotate it to whatever I'm looking at. This means the control entrance and exit (I usually consider exit as red/orange) can be quicker as I've already read the detail and I'd usually have my route for the next leg planned. Sometimes yes, I'd have the whole course planned from very early on.
That said it was recently commented that I maybe overthink my orienteering...

May 10, 2020 1:30 AM # 
I know I'm orienteering well ("in the flow") when I know what I'm doing for the next leg before I punch the control - not just the exit direction because this is often going to be dependent on the overall route-choice, so at least at a broad-brush level should be the last decision for the leg. I'd probably be very rarely thinking more than a leg ahead though. If I'm aware there's a long leg (or otherwise significant route choice problem, but in reality will likely only notice the long legs in advance) coming up further ahead, then will use any 'mental down-time' on the current leg to suss out the options and maybe make a rough decision on the preferred option, but wouldn't make the final decision and/or figure out the detail in the plan until it's next leg - partly because I know the feeling of getting to a key leg and realising my brilliant pre-made plan has been lost in the mists...

While I like to have this flow for all race types, definitely agree it's more important in sprint than in the longer terrain races where you can afford to take/invest a bit of time before leaving a control. Probably easier for sprints too in that the choices tend to be a bit more a small finite number of discrete options.

That said, it's worth pulling up the video of the 2015(?) WOC sprint relay (Scotland, if I have the year wrong), and watching Emma Klingenberg demonstrate that even at the very top level, there's more than one viable approach to the reading ahead question!
May 10, 2020 7:13 AM # 
A well respected Australian Orienteer Rob Vincent likes long Leg 1s so he can plan/look for danger legs or controls in ther est of the course. One Aus Champs he said he'd planned up to #6 before he got to 1st control. So those planning courses which Rob V runs in - take note.
May 13, 2020 1:51 PM # 
after trying it: I can't wrap my head around planning ahead "at an angle".

The first step of route planning is building up a mental picture of the terrain, and then deciding for a fast route through it. This mental picture cannot easily be rotated, at least not under stress. I found it necessary to rotate the map to properly plan ahead. Only possible when you're running on a very safe route currently.

It's a different topic when running on a map you know already, of course.
May 13, 2020 3:02 PM # 
There are (a few) orienteers who always hold the map with north at the top. Works for them, but pretty weird for most people.
May 13, 2020 3:12 PM # 
I had some arguments with pilots about this when I was a navigator. *Most* of them liked to fly low-level with the radar displayed "track up", but there were always a few weirdos who wanted it north-up.

In any case, if the angle to the next leg is less than 90° then it doesn't really require turning in your mind.
May 13, 2020 4:29 PM # 
Pink Socks:
I'll start off with saying that I'm not elite. But I do have one story to share.

It was a Winter League race here in Seattle. I forget where exactly, but know that it's ~45 minute winning time, vegetation is generally thick, and trail routes are usually always on the table.

It was very early in the race (< 3 minutes), and I was running on a trail for a while, which afforded me to look ahead at the rest of the course. And I identified a juicy route-choice leg much later in the course. I studied it and made what I thought to be the best route choice. Now it's back to task at hand.

Fast forward to ~35 minutes into the race, right before the start of the leg. I'm tired, my brain is in oxygen-debt, and I take a look at the leg again, and I'm witness to my own inner dialogue:

Me: "No! I was wrong before! Take this other route. It's so much better!"

Also Me: "Wait a sec, who's judgment are you trusting more? The you of now? Or the you of 30 minutes ago?

Me: 'Hmm, yeah. I did have more mental acuity back then. I should go with that route."

So I took the initial route. Looking at it after the race, it was unquestionably the right decision.
May 13, 2020 4:35 PM # 
@PinkSocks. That is the most useful tip I've seen in years!
May 13, 2020 4:47 PM # 
I wonder how many of us would not remember a route decided on 40 minutes earlier...
May 13, 2020 4:56 PM # 
Pink Socks:
I should also say that sometimes the you of now can make some valid points. The you of now has [X] minutes of experience with the map and terrain conditions. Maybe the vegetation is thicker/thinner than expected. Maybe the climbs are easier than you thought, etc.
May 13, 2020 7:06 PM # 
I don't know much about reading ahead but I do know not to look behind. It is something I learned the hard way back before many of you were born.
It was 1972, my first year at the elite level in Ontario. I was doing well running along on a map in the Ganaraska Forest. Then there ahead of me I saw I was catching up to two Nordic beauties and I do mean beautiful women. One was Anni Palotie and the other Eva Gaarder, one Finnish and the other Norwegian. Their husbands were two of the top orienteers in Ontario. The ladies were more social orienteers.
So as they walked along chatting I easily sped past and as soon as I was far enough ahead I turned to sneak a look at these two gorgeous ladies but coolly as I continued to move forward.
But forward not for long as I ran pretty well close to full speed into one of those thigh-high barbed wire fences common in that part of Ontario. So you know the rest. I went ass over tea-kettle. I tried to gather myself together, tried to untangle myself from the barbs and tried to keep myself from cursing as Eva and Anni calmly strolled past.
Moral of the story: if I had studied the map ahead of time I would have known the barb wire fence was there.
May 13, 2020 10:07 PM # 
Sounds like they were ugly on the inside if they didn't stop to render assistance.
May 14, 2020 12:11 AM # 
Interesting to read to many here don't read ahead at all, typically just planning the next leg when approaching the control. I guess that is because many are used to courses and/or terrain where route choices are seldom very decisive.

My general method:

1. As early as possible on the course look through all of the course to identify (a) any legs where route choices may be important, (b) any legs which I can use to study route choices
2. Try to early in the course choose a route where there is some road/path-running or other running where orienteering is easy.
3. Use relevant places where orienteering is easy (preferably chosen under point 2) to pre-plan all legs under point 1. Often you don't have to plan 100%, just be certain which way to exit the control, micro-planning can be done on the leg

In some cases (typically where there is poor course-planning or in boring terrain) there are few or no legs identified under (1), then I just run as many others here and start planning when approaching the control. And route choice is just as much about finding a low-risk solution where you can keep high speed with low risk of mistakes as finding the solution where you can save 5-10 seconds when executing optimally....
May 14, 2020 2:24 AM # 
Useful thread. Now I know what a meme is.
May 14, 2020 6:42 AM # 
Yeah, I have been surprised there hasn't been more talk about how the type of terrain affects the need to read ahead. In flat-ish terrain with generally open woods it's just going to to be straight, straight, straight and focus on the moment. In steep and/or dense woods reading ahead will be a critical component.

I have run a lot of orienteering courses but the one long route choice leg that has stayed in my mind, where I remember reading ahead early in the course and then executing well, is the Canadian Champs Long in 2004 in Whitehorse. Leg 9 to 10.

Running on a trail earlier, I had decided to climb steeply straight out of the control, stay left close to the line in flat and fast terrain. It's especially the last quarter of this route choice that pays off, just bombing along the ridge into the control. It was here I caught up to bmay who had started many minutes ahead of me (10 min?). I couldn't find any splits online for this race. Hammer was in the lead far into the race but then twisted his ankle and dropped to 3rd(?).

I think going right along the trails first and then switching half way to the flat white and then the ridge into the control would be fairly equal. However, my recollection is that many runners stayed right the whole way and approached the control through the area around control 13 and losing time there.

Perhaps Hammer, bmay or upnorthguy have some memories of this day?

Here is the podium picture from that race:
May 14, 2020 7:18 AM # 
> I guess that is because many are used to courses and/or terrain where route choices are seldom very decisive.
You have obviously orienteered in the terrain around Bendigo. Someone from OS described the terrain as "where you need to have a pretty good reason not to run the red line".
May 14, 2020 7:49 AM # 
In forest races I try to fold map the way I see how the course continues after the next control. If it looks business as usual (route choice decission will take less than 5 secs) I keep on focusing on the task at hand and make the route choice when I see the contol. At some point when refolding map more or walking steep hill up I take a look at the course to see is there any tricky route choices coming and when. For me the goal is being prepared to have patience to use time to make that big route choice, latest standing still after puncing the control. If it comes by surprice I tend panic and hurry too much and not make it properly.

For me and our terrains there is all the time something going on. If I don't focus on task at hand I easily loose several seconds along the way, more than what would loose by standing still making route choice. During short road sections it is better for me to focus on how/when to leave the road and how to run next forest section to control optimal way. Only if there is longer road sections of long climbs there may be time to read ahead wthout loosing time more than what route choice decission while standing still would take. Also when I stand still and make route choice I get some rest I would not get if I continue right away so I believe will gain back some of those lost seconds. In addition, if route choice is not much about climb but about going straigth white/green vs road around the important issue is how the white/green looks like and is there already tracks made by other runners. I can't know that in advance so better make the final decisson when that information is available. If there is plenty of climb there often is also climbs on path (often walking with my fitness) or longer route sections where you can read ahead without loosing time. So reading ahead depends a lot on terrain. Trickiest are courses with difficult short legs in the beginnig (giving no possibility to rad ahead but tellin how white/green forest is like) and then long decisive route choice leg, reguires patience to get it right.

So my strategy is simply trying to avoid loosing time for not focusing on task at hand or for not using enough time to get big route choices right.
May 14, 2020 9:02 AM # 
Terje Mathisen:
@pi: That was a very well planned and executed leg! I could argue for a tiny adjustment early, i.e. going straight first then turning left instead of jumping down the hillside immediately. Later, when you hit the path for a few meters it looks like you dropped a contour more than needed and could have gone more directly, but this is trivial.
The really crucial decision was in how you extended the control all the way to that path, i.e with almost 1/3 to go you just had to follow the ridge more or less all the way to the flag. Very nice! :-)
May 14, 2020 5:06 PM # 
@pi, Thanks for that trip down memory lane. Here's my assessment of the day ...

COC Classic Day 2. Tough run, made a 5 minute error on #5, 1 minute error on #7, bad route choice on #8, then totally botched the super-long leg to #10. Was caught up 14 minutes by Magnus Johansson, which finally kick-started my orienteering and was able to run well to the finish (with and without his help).

On second thought, can't you pick a different example?
May 14, 2020 5:36 PM # 
@pi @bmay: Here is mine...

Day 2 of COCs. Back hurt from the start, made mistakes on early easy controls, caught and passed by Hammer. On the first long leg, told myself to push hard and see if my back hurt more. It did, so i jogged back on trails. Yuck.

I studied this leg a lot ahead of the most recent NAOC. What fabulous terrain!
May 14, 2020 5:57 PM # 
@pi @bmay @borisgr: yes thanks for the trip down memory lane. This is what I wrote in my AP log for that race.

"Totally wrecked ankle just after #7. Had a 1.5 minute lead at that point so overall I was over 5 minutes ahead! Should have stopped as the pain was intense and I may have caused more damage to it. X-rays were negative at WH hospital."

I had won day#1 by a few minutes and caught WilSmith early on Day #2. We were running on a trail when I went over on my ankle badly. It was such a loud pop that Wil looked back concerned and I asked him if I should continue. He responded with something like "Ted went over on his ankle early in his 10th place WOC run in '85 so you can do it". ;-)

I remember struggling with ankle pain on that long leg so I can't remember what route I took but I think it was similar to pi.

At the finish I chatted with Ted and told him of Wil's comment and how I used that as inspiration to finish the race. Ted responded with something like "Yeah but my ankle didn't look like that" (pointing at my ankle that was then a purple balloon).

So yeah, like bmay, on second thought can't you pick a different example? Seriously though it was a great week of racing.

(oh and for the record I always plan ahead even if the terrain is set compass and go straight)
May 14, 2020 6:23 PM # 
You should suggest that COC leg to the Route-to-O Season at
May 15, 2020 12:15 AM # 
My memory of 2004 is that I turned 27 that year.
May 15, 2020 12:33 AM # 
And I turned the age that you are now.
May 15, 2020 6:30 AM # 
Terje Mathisen:
@Brian: Jan K needs at least a few actual routes which people tried and the timings for them, otherwise it becomes purely guesswork. :-(
OTOH, yesterday's route for a purely theoretical leg on NOF's sprint course setting competition has never been run by anyone. :-)
Jun 7, 2020 1:00 PM # 
2020 season opening race in Finland yesterday. 460 participant limit, sold out in two days, despite national entry system being down half of the time...

I can't remember reading ahead more than just looking at the next leg (without rotating the map). When passing over the road after #7 I checked how much there is still left. I guess climb to #3 would have provided easy possibility to read the rest of the course, or even leg #1 but not sure how useful that would have been. And high risk of not seeing the best line around bushes / cut branches.

This discussion thread is closed.