YOUR FIRST ORIENTEERING EVENT
In a Nutshell
This is a brief outline of common procedures you will find at typical events in the U.S. and appropriate for an event conducted by the Bay Area Orienteering Club or a standard private event provided by Scarborough Orienteering. It is also recommended that you gain some familiarity with navigational techniques before attending an event.
outdoor competitive sport that is similar to cross-country running, but with emphasis on map-reading and direction-finding skills.
Official IOF (International Orienteering Federation) definition: "Orienteering is a sport in which the competitors visit a number of points marked on the ground (controls) in the shortest possible time aided by map and compass."
As an organized sport, the events, also called meets, are held by in areas that have been intensively mapped for the purpose. Unique courses are designed and set up for that day. Events are classified as A, B or local depending on the event quality and/or US Orienteering Federation sanctioning applicable. However it should be noted that many events follow other specialized formats and quality levels vary widely.
Within that definition people of a wide range of skill and experience levels find a home. Most participants in the U.S. are recreational or consider themselves non-competitive. The emphasis is on fun and a casual approach. On the advanced courses and in age group competition you will find experienced orienteers, often highly skilled, athletically fit and intent on personal performance and racing results. The sport accommodates both kinds of fun and everything in between very well at the same venue.
Registration on the day is the norm at local events and, for beginners, at most national events. At registration you will be provided information for the day: a map, control descriptions and a control card. Some of these items may be provided later.
A compass is usually not required for beginning courses however you may want to take the opportunity to become familiar with its basics. A baseplate orienteering (Silva style) compass is best and often may be rented or purchased at events.
A brief clinic or presentation of instructions may be available.
The objective in orienteering is to visit the controls in the prescribed order as quickly and accurately as possible.
For beginners, the emphasis is on learning map reading accuracy rather than moving fast, which can be counterproductive.
Courses are color coded with the lighter colors shorter and technically easier. Advanced courses (Brown, Green, Red and Blue) vary in length but are all equally technically difficult. At larger events, age/gender classes may be offered. Standards as to length and difficulty should be according to US Orienteering Federation rules. Lengths are stated in kilometers, straight line and climb will be in meters of accumulated ascent.
How to select your course: The rule of thumb is, if you have to ask, stick with the White (beginner’s) course until you feel comfortable with the procedures and the navigational requirements of the course. This is particularly advisable if you are looking to optimize your learning/success curve. Expect to spend 30-60 minutes on the white course.
A second, Yellow (advanced beginner,) course may sometimes be done in the same day, time permitting.
General information regarding the terrain, courses, conduct of the event and special and unusual situations is explained in the Event Notes, sometimes called Meet Director's or Course-Setter's Notes.
The terrain is, ideally, forested and appropriate for the level of courses offered. The map is a large scale, highly detailed and accurate map specially produced to orienteering standards.
Controls are shown on the map in the center of 6mm (1/4") circles, purple or magenta overprint.
The starting location is shown by a triangle.
The finish is shown by a double circle or a circled triangle if the same as the start.
Controls are numbered in the order in which they must be visited usually following a loop.
At some events you may be required to copy this information onto a blank map from a master map.
Beginners are sometimes allowed to do this before their start time at low key events.
Be sure all names are on the control card and you have provided your auto license number for safety purposes.
The description sheet, often referred to as "clue" sheet does not contain clues at all but precise descriptions of the control feature you will be looking for. Control descriptions are by IOF symbology and usually accompanied in English for beginners.
This is a good time to mention that the essence orienteering is a logical, straightforward navigational challenge. Gimmicks, puzzles, hidden markers, vagueness are not part of the game and elements of luck and unfairness are to be avoided in map production, designing the course and administering the competition. All information needed to determine the best route and locate the control point is given completely and transparently by the map and descriptions. All conditions should be the same for all competitors on the course insofar as possible.
Once registered, you will be assigned a start time or you may proceed directly to the start area. Staggered start times (usually at four-minute intervals) are assigned to minimize following, which is not allowed. The starting official will assign a start time if needed that will be entered on your control card.
At the start signal you will either go to the master maps or begin navigation to control number one. Sometimes the beginning of navigation (marked by a triangle on the map) will be at a point beyond the actual start. Your description sheet will give specifics for the start triangle and each control including the code number, the kind of feature, which, if more than one in the circle, what part of the feature the marker is located and other descriptive information. Each control point has an orange and white flag at the precise point described. The flag will have a code number, corresponding to the number on your description sheet, and a needle punch. (A flag at the the start of navigation will not have a code or punch.) Compare the codes and use the needle punch to punch in square number 1 of your control card. At some events electronic punching replaces the needle punch.
Continue from control to control around the course. The finish line is usually near the final control and available for spectating. Your finish time will be recorded at the finish where you will turn in your control card. There is usually no control marker or punch at the finish line (except in the case of electronic punching.) You will be listed in the results, usually posted soon after you finish and within a day or two on the club’s web site. (If you miss a control or are overtime, you will be listed as DNF or OT and not receive a time.) Time lost in errors rather than your total time or your standing in the results is usually a better measure of your navigational success.
You can expect to find an atmosphere welcoming and helpful to newcomers. While the slogan “Sport for All” may not be entirely true, anyone with an affinity for maps and exploring the outdoors will find an exciting new sport that combines mental and physical challenge, perhaps a “Sport for Life.”
Some Basic Rules and Etiquette
Always report to the finish within the time allowed whether or not you have reached all the controls.
Controls must be visited in the specified order.
Move away from controls as soon as you punch. Lingering at controls can give away the location to other competitors.
Following or assisting others is not allowed.
Groups, if allowed, must stay together and each person punch his/her own card.
Move aside on narrow paths for faster runners.
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