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Discussion: How do YOU teach Route Choice?

in: Orienteering; General

Nov 28, 2023 2:05 AM # 
We all probably teach that the process in making route choice decisions is just like the process of making decisions/ solving problems in life.
We collect information from the map,
concentrate on the important information,
select a preferred alternative and then
carry it out while making adjustments where necessary.
That's it and it is what separates orienteering from most other sports.
Where most sports call for reactive actions in orienteering we get to make those decisions before the action happens.
But is there anywhere taught how to make those decisions, how to choose the route? how much distance we'll add to avoid that climb? how far out of our way we'll go to hit that trail? how much risk we'll take on going through that shorter area of complex terrain?
Do we all have to figure it out for ourselves, trial and error?
I have been stressing to young orienteers that they should make route choices. I've shown examples of different route choices but I don't think I have a clue how to coach a person to make the right route choices for that person. Can anyone explain?
Nov 28, 2023 2:26 AM # 
It's in Norwegian (Google Translate is your friend), but sections 3 and 4 of this series are about finding the possible routes for a leg and comparing those routes.
Nov 28, 2023 2:49 AM # 
Thanks Cristina.
I don't think I have heard of the acronyms ICE, VIRUS and LEGO in this context but they are appropriate and a good start for me. I'll get more into the articles as my time permits.
Any other ideas/ sources out there?
Nov 28, 2023 4:43 PM # 
"Do we all have to figure it out for ourselves, trial and error?" Eventually, yes...

I suggest identifying and thinking about different routes in terms of what is:
(1) the Safest navigationally,
(2) the Easiest, i.e. the most energy efficient both physically and mentally, and
(3) the Fastest route.
The fastest route is specific to each orienteer based on their own technical abilities and running strengths. Using this framework provides a more deliberate decision-making process, which may build insights over time.

Many times, the same route is both Safest, Easiest, and Fastest, while occasionally there may be three different alternatives. An interesting exercise is at a local event to preview the course beforehand, pick out the Safest routes for each leg, run those routes, and then analyze afterwards how it worked out relative to your typical performance.

Re-running old races and testing out alternative routes is also a good way to gain insights into route choice analysis.

@gordhun, I can email you a couple of route choice articles I wrote for ONA some years ago.
Nov 28, 2023 9:08 PM # 
neilsLO Thank you very much for the articles which I saw before I had a chance to log in here. It turns out on one exercise my quick choice was exactly the route the greatest of all time orienteer had run when he ran that course. I feel good about that.
The sense I'm gettting is that route choices are best worked out for personal strengths. And even with that flexibility in making those choices is important. Sometimes the short route over the hill will work, other times on other hills then the hill is just too steep and energy sapping.
Nov 29, 2023 12:05 AM # 
One good training exercise is to go to an area with lots of trails / junctions and different varieties of vegetation in between the trails. 2 kids of similar running speed run simultaneously. One takes the 90 degree trail "L" while the other cuts diagonally. Who gets there first? Do several legs, alternating who does trail and who does terrain. Repeat and reverse who does trail / terrain. Is one route consistently faster (both kids?). Which conditions of vegetation, distance, and terrain make the longer route faster?

@nielsLO, would you be willing to send those to me too? (I probably actually have the old ONA magazines.)
Nov 29, 2023 1:37 AM # 
As someone still learning this, I think of choosing a route as somewhat like the Expected Value (EV) model of decision making. The EV of a route choice is the desirability of the route (speed and efficiency) multiplied by the likelihood that I could execute it properly. So an efficient route that I don't have the Nav skills to run cleanly is often less valuable than a less efficient but safer route. But in practice, I have often erred on taking way too long on a safe route for long legs, and similarly messed up short legs not recognizing the difficulty.

My biggest challenges are lacking the pattern recognition to accurately predict the best routes and especially the likelihood that I will execute it cleanly. I find routegadget, Livelox, and comparing split times and routes with others at the end of a race super helpful.

The Norwegian article is really interesting to point out how just a few risky legs can hugely increase the likelihood of blowing the race. But in my case, I think I learn more by taking some fun and challenging routes learning route choice by trial and error and error and...
Nov 29, 2023 12:20 PM # 
Something I had never learnt in the UK but did in Scandinavia was to look back from the next control when planning a route to check the best way into the control before planning my route away from the control before if you see what I mean.
Nov 29, 2023 2:35 PM # 
A few tips given to me by a mentor in my early days that relate at least a bit to route choice (though maybe not the sort of route choice one encounters in Florida):

- Walk up through the woods, run down on the trail.
You don't as get much advantage from a trail route when your speed is limited by the climb, so you might as well take the shorter, through the woods route, and your reduced speed also increases the chances that you can execute that accurately. But when descending, you can go much faster if you've got a very clean way to go, and that can more than make up for a bit of added distance.

- When climbing a hill, your vertical speed is a constant, so reach the top where you want to end up.
If the control is up the hill but not directly above you, you could climb up to the desired level and then go sideways (or go sideways and then climb), but the climbing part will take the same amount of time even if you go diagonally, so you might as well combine the two.

- Run up a spur, run down a reentrant.
Reentrants tend to branch as you go "upstream", while spurs do the opposite. So if you're going down a reentrant system, you'll get "funneled" into the right place, but if you're going up a reentrant system, you run the risk of making a wrong turn. The opposite applies to spurs. If you find yourself needing to do it the other way around, you need to be extra careful.

- Crossing the purple line many times adds a lot of distance.
This is an example of "taxicab geometry". If you're doing a lot of zigzagging, that's as bad as a big detour. Consider a king moving between opposite corners of a chessboard. If it moves diagonally, it's seven steps. But if it moves only forward or to the right, it takes 14 steps. It looks kind of straightish, but it's no shorter than going along the edges of the board. If your route is going to require a lot of dodging obstacles, you may be better off going around.

There are many considerations for any route choice, and these four items are generalizations that just feed into the decision process. Nevertheless, I think about all of them frequently when I'm out in the woods.
Nov 29, 2023 6:51 PM # 
Obsession with "the best" route is so 1980s.

I often take the most challenging/interesting route that is difficult to execute, say contouring in a beautiful forest, rather than choosing the quickest one running thru parking lots on hard pavement.

Or maybe a runner stopped on her way by an interesting artifact, posted the photos on Facebook, got lots of likes and positive feedback.

Success takes different forms.
Nov 29, 2023 7:20 PM # 
Route to Christmas is just around the corner (all accessible back through 2007). reading Jan's analysis might also be helpful. one still has to find which thought processes would benefit you personally, but may help figuring out what kind of learner one is, thus affecting the natural own thought process.
Nov 29, 2023 9:12 PM # 
@jjcote: I agree with most of your tips, but not the first one. In many terrain types, especially where the forest surface is somewhat soft, climbing on the trail can be much faster and save a bunch of energy.
Nov 29, 2023 9:34 PM # 
I certainly aggree with most of JJ's tips. But building on what Boris says, I think that one of the most under-discussed aspects of navigation is to know your terrain. In some terrains, you might love running on open ridgelines with great visibility. In other terrains, the ridgelines might be rocky and slow running. In some terrains, the streambeds provide fast corridors with soft ground, in other terrains the streambeds might be clogged with thickets. It's really important to learn these tendencies and use that knowledge during the race.
Nov 30, 2023 1:07 AM # 
As I noted, they're all generalizations, which may apply more or less in various circumstances. If the trail option is not that much longer, it obviously makes sense. I also forgot to emphasize the other aspect of the first one: walk up, run down. Once you get to a certain grade, trying to run up a hill is not really faster than walking, but you spend energy bouncing up and down. You're more likely to gain time running when gravity is working with you.

A great exampofa counterexample to all rules of thumb is Mille Lacs Kathio in Minnesota. The best route choice there is virtually always dead straight (provided you have the skill to execute it). Any deviation is just going to waste time. The same thing is said about Lunsen, in Uppsala Sweden: Rakt på! But it's even (much) harder there.
Nov 30, 2023 2:29 AM # 
To execute a good route choice in Lunsen, you first have to know where you are - something I quite often failed at in last year's O Ringen.
Nov 30, 2023 7:01 AM # 
Teach figuring and understanding why a route choice or part of it is/was fast/slow. Like a marsh was wet and flooding / dry for seasion being wet/dry/ or hard and fast for still being in ice. Clearing is slow for long grass / fast for no yet grass (spring race) or because as late start time there was tracks made by early starters. White forest is in this terrain type here fast/slow for this or that reason, trails are fast or slow (like loose sand or very muddy or rocky and winding) in this terrain type in this time of the year and weather. Steepest slopes are really slow/decent in this terrain type. Erosion gullies are typically easy/hard to cross in this terrain type. Dark green / undergrowth stripes are not that bad / nasty and thorny in this terrain.
Nov 30, 2023 7:19 PM # 
Another point is that you want to decide at least the beginning of the next leg before you arrive at the control.

Also all the advice here is for forest orienteering. Urban sprints are a bit different. Already, you must decide in just a few seconds. The main point I think is that you must identify possible 'traps' .
Nov 30, 2023 8:43 PM # 
More often than not, I take an exit bearing with my compass when departing a control. As Thierry Gueorgiou supposedly said, "90% of the work is already done if you run with an accurate direction [on a short leg]".
Dec 1, 2023 12:11 AM # 
@willemspie, can I make a suggest for a slight adjustment? Instead of saying you should have at least the start of a plan before you arrive at the control change your thinking (as an athlete but especially as a coach) to before you leave the control. If your goal is to have a plan before you get to the control but you don't then when you're at the control you've failed. If your goal is before you leave the control then you still aim to have a plan before arriving st the control but if you don't then you simply stop at the control and make a plan. No failure because you can take action and still accomplish the goal.
Dec 1, 2023 4:14 AM # 
I think a big part of the point is to avoid the need to stop.
Dec 1, 2023 4:31 AM # 
If you stop then you've failed.
Dec 1, 2023 10:27 AM # 
Watching video at some WOC forest races I’m surprised how often the world’s best orienteers actually do stop. Better to stop and lose 2-3 seconds on a route choice decision that could cost you tens of seconds or even minutes. ie take the time to get it right. Rushing a decision (or not even making a route choice decision or a complete one) because you don’t want to stop in my opinion may be the true failure.

When I design courses I often have a number of short technical legs before a big route choice leg. In part because I like that when I race but also because it can challenge the orienteer to potentially sacrifice their precision execution in attempting to prep for the route choice decision ahead. So in some cases it likely makes a lot of sense to focus on the execution and not risk lots of time making a mistake because one was spending too much time planning ahead. So stopping a few seconds in forest races may at times be the best thing you can do.
Dec 1, 2023 12:20 PM # 
I agree. I peek at the next leg to see if route choice obvious or not. If it is obvious, then I already know what to do. If it is not obvious I am kind of prepared to stop if needed. Then is up to my race tactics to balance between trying to gain time by making less obvious route choice in advance and gaining time by focusing fully on current leg. Anyway, knowing I may have to stop makes it much easier to take the time and makes me less likely to panic for having to stop. I have no idea how to teach that other than saying something like that can be done.
Dec 1, 2023 1:32 PM # 
Relevant video from WOC 2016, where you can see several runners stopping for quite a while at control 1 to pick their route to 2. Skip to about 59 minutes in to watch the eventual bronze medalist spend about 30s standing still.
Dec 1, 2023 8:50 PM # 
Terje Mathisen:
@Cristina's first link was to a set of documents written by my brother Knut, he won "coach of the year" around the time those got published.

One of my personal favorites is for the proper angle to run towards a path/road with much better runnability than the current forest: That angle is described by Snell's Law from optics, i.e. it is the route the minimizes the total time, so also the path taken by a ray of light passing the boundary between glass & air.
Dec 1, 2023 9:25 PM # 
I remember solving a similar problem when I was in high school, what angle to run in order to escape from a stampeding herd of turtles (or finite width) in order to maximize your chance of escaping, given your speed and the speed of the turtles (which are faster than you are). That image often comes into my mind when I'm angling toward a trail.
Dec 1, 2023 10:00 PM # 
Mr Wonderful:
I seem to enjoy using "rough compass" in those scenarios so I can run in junky woods as long as possible before finally popping out at the next junction having never made it to the trail.
Dec 10, 2023 3:57 AM # 
I think that the talk about "decide on your route choice based on your personal strengths" is overrated. There are big no-no's that apply to anyone. E.g. always avoid dark green, wet/muddy marshes, crossing cliffs and even dense contour lines. Alternatively - trails are your best friends and should get priority in any route choice. Yes, there are exceptions, but how often do we really encounter them?

But this gets me to my second point - I think more along the lines of not having one "formula" that would give an answer to any leg, rather than knowing to recognize hundreds of scenarios that one should know to identify and react accordingly. E.g. knowing to identify the choice with the least resistance based on the expected climb, vegetation type and so forth.

If there is any contradiction between the two points, the second point trumps the first one.

My two cents.
Dec 10, 2023 8:06 AM # 
Interesting comments folks. But we are drifting.
This is not to find out how you make your route choices but how do YOU who are teaching and coaching orienteering teach and coach your charges to make route choices.
For a while I had an acronym on the go DDLAP Direction-Distance-Landmarks -Attack Point.
Of course we're in a flat part of the clountry or I might well have slipped a C for climb between Distance and Landmarks.
Dec 10, 2023 7:04 PM # 
I think when we're talking about introducing people to orienteering, there are for sure choices that may be optimal, but not for them. A leg with complicated straight-line navigation may be the fastest -- provided you can execute it cleanly. I could pull up examples where there's a great route, but unless you're really, really good, you're better off going pretty far around or you could be wandering for hours. And there are legs where a longer large trail option exists, which would be faster for some, but not for those who can't move that much faster on trails.
Dec 10, 2023 8:30 PM # 
Mr Wonderful:
For fun:

E.g. always avoid dark green, wet/muddy marshes

My vote is "very usually" over "always." :)

It's a shame LiveLox does not have a pace normalizer, because if you look at the fourth place split on this one, the person is grossly slower all over the course than three people ahead of him here, yet was not much off 2nd and 3rd. In other words, on the trail he loses two minutes+ instead of 30 seconds to 3rd.

Plus the stories are much better! Assuming he does not end up as a bog mummy.

Dec 10, 2023 11:41 PM # 
Thank you for reaffirming my point!
Dec 11, 2023 12:21 PM # 
OK I'll bite. Here's a very quick summary of how I teach route choice.

1. At a glance decide how complex a route choice leg it is. How much time do you need to spend looking for route choices? Do this well in advance possibly multiple legs ahead.
2. Find the 'highways' and major obstacles. Don't be afraid to look far from the line. Highways are things with easier navigation and fast running - trails, ridges, valleys, broad open forest, large fields etc. Major obstacles may be green areas, swamps, lakes, steep slopes and large hills.
3. Find ALL the routes that link together the highways and avoid the obstacles.
4. Do a bit of a knock out comparison of the routes you found. Compare A to B. if A is better, compare A to C. C is better, compare it to D. Compare partial route choices A you go. Consider all the factors including climb, distance, risk, attackpoint, exit while doing this.
5. Make a plan for all or part of the route.
6. Commit and execute the plan.

To me steps 2 and 3 are the most important when talking about route choice. I don't care nearly as much if an athlete selected the best route (no one does 100% of the time) as if they saw all the routes. That speaks to process and if you don't see the best route you certainly can't choose it!
Dec 11, 2023 12:37 PM # 
Start by teaching opportunity cost. Then when people understand economics, orienteering route choice will be easy by comparison :)
Dec 11, 2023 12:52 PM # 
To be clear, I don't teach route choice to beginners like this...
Dec 11, 2023 3:30 PM # 
Opportunity Cost: the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen.

Canadian where do you introduce the concept to do all this quickly? Often the time spent picking the best route could outweigh the time saved. As some have mentioned and I agree picking routes in advance and on the go is very important.
Dec 11, 2023 3:37 PM # 
@Gord I guess that's what point 1 is. But in generally I'd rather athletes take as much time as needed while learning the process. It will speed up as time goes on. Just like learning to play music on the piano your going to play the passages of a piece of slowly but perfectly first and then gradually speed it up.
Dec 11, 2023 6:52 PM # 
@Canadian has a good system in place. Note that the attack point is a minor consideration. In many traditional methods there is a lot of emphasis on the perfect attack point, going back from it to the current control, etc. In my opinion, this is a horrendous way to teach route choice as it really limits one's view on things. A wider, birds-eye view, comparing multiple routes in parallel, is the way to go. And the secret is to do it quickly, almost as it was second nature.
Dec 12, 2023 1:14 PM # 
I'd suggest not taking a piano on course with you. This will greatly enhance your orienteering experience.
Dec 12, 2023 6:47 PM # 
What I teach depends on where the student is at.

If I don't know the student, I will start by working on basic map-reading skills in map reading. I may also discuss some of the basic options for moving through terrain, like:
- Head to a visible feature
- Follow a trail
- Follow a handrail (fence, stream, etc...)
- Follow topography (contour or fall-line)
- Follow a bearing

I have given some classes where I immediately introduce abstract ideas like 'highways' and 'obstacles.' But I really only do that in a lecture format, where my goal is to impart the flavor of orienteering, and encourage people to think about traveling beyond the trail network.

If I'm really trying to build expertise in route-choice, I prefer to focus on concrete examples. I present route-choice problems of increasing complexity, to pose choices between taking a trail vs going straight, or to raise questions about how get around a hill, past a thicket, or across a stream.

I ask the students what route they would take, what alternatives they see, and then open up discussion. During the discussion, you can highlight route-options the students might have overlooked, discuss the how to identify those options, discuss how to eliminate bad routes, discuss how to compare routes, or discuss how a route might be improved. Along the way, you can introduce useful rules-of-thumb like '1 meter of climb is worth x-meters of extra distance', or JJ's rules from above. These kinds of rules of thumb are very attractive to newbies. If you are teaching a class, the prep-work comes in finding examples that facilitate good discussion. But if you just ran a race organized by a good course-setter, you should be able to facilitate this discussion in post-race analysis.

As you complete specific examples, you can introduce the language to generalize route-choice. I like Candian's model of obstacles and highways, but I also add the concept of a 'funnel point'. These would be the passes, bridges, gates, and trails that get you around obstacles. Finding a good route is often just a matter of recognizing the obstacles, seeing the funnel points that can get you around them, and then finding the best way to link up those up.

Most important, you need to put route-choice into practice. The long-term goal of this is to create strong habits and instinctive route choice. A beginning orienteer may want to count contours or measure distances to evaluate routes (and they should - it will help them build understanding). But the long term goal is to build enough understanding that you can glance at a map and instantly see potential routes, and instinctively know which routes are best by gut-feeling. This takes intentional repetition with feedback. So have students chose routes, execute them, and think about what makes the route hard/easy, fast/slow, and safe/risky while they run it. Have then run a route side-by-side with other runner taking alternate routes, to see what works in real-time. Find opportunities for repetition - including games like catching features or route-to-Christmas to get increased reps. And after each activity, create a habit of debriefing to discuss what worked, what didn't, and why.

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