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Why orienteering is different

Map and compass

The seven point plan

At a control

Between controls

At the Start

Compass bearings

Getting lost .... and found again

Punching at the wrong control

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At a control

1.   Check the control code.

Each control has a control code that identifies it uniquely.  Before you punch, always check that the control code matches the one listed in your control descriptions.  You might not be at the control that you think you're at!  The simple step of checking the control code is well worth the couple of seconds that it takes.  It's really annoying to finish your run and find that you've been disqualified for going to a wrong control.

2.   Punch.

The record in your dibber's memory chip or the punch-mark in the correct box of your control card is your proof that you have visited that control.  If you miss a control you will be disqualified.  So make sure that you punch at each control.  It's quite unusual to forget to punch at a control, but not unknown.  Be extra careful if there's a drinks station or a map exchange at a control.  The break in routine can make you forget to punch.

3.   Decide your strategy for getting to the next control.

You need a strategy to get from one control point to the next.  As I explained earlier in the page on Why orienteering is different this is the most fundamental difference between orienteering and road or trail races.

Your strategy can be as simple as "I'll run along this path until I see a kite".

Rather better would be a strategy like "I'll run along this path in an eastwards direction, counting junctions on the left.  I'll expect to find my next control at the third junction."

In some cases, your strategy will have to be a bit more complex.  For example, "I'll run along this path in a southerly direction, counting junctions on the right.  Shortly after the third junction I should find a stream crossing the path.  I'll turn left and follow the stream eastwards.  I'll expect to find my next control on a crag on the south side of the stream (the right hand side of the stream as I look), about 200 meters from the path."

Strategies for the more navigationally challenging courses have to be more sophisticated still, involving things like recognising land shapes, following compass bearings through trackless woodland, using pace counting to estimate distances, etc., etc.  But that comes later.  At the moment I'm just covering the basic techniques that will get you round one of the navigationally easier courses.

You may have a choice of two - or more - routes between one control and the next.  For example, one path might go directly up and over a spur while another goes the longer way round, but with less climb.   Sometimes you may have the option of cutting a corner through a block of forest rather than running round a path at its edge.

Be aware that on white, yellow, orange, red and purple courses you will always have an option of following line features from near one control to within sight of the next.  You don't have to take that option - and you may be able to save some time by taking a more direct and possibly more risky route - but the line feature option should always be there.  A line feature is something like a path, a fence, a stream, the edge of a forest, etc. that you can follow from one place to another.

Important note:  If you don't have a conscious strategy then you are effectively following a default strategy of "I'll just run along in what feels like the right direction and hope that I come across my next control".  This type of strategy sometimes works but not very often!

4.   Check your direction as you leave the control.

As you leave each control, always use your compass to check that you're going in your intended direction.  One of the most common errors made by less experienced orienteers is to head off in the wrong direction - often 180 degrees out!  This is because you get turned around as you go through the procedure of running up to the control, checking the control code, punching and sorting out your plan for going to the next control.  It's not just newcomers who make this type of mistake, though.  At a major event in 2003 two of the top junior orienteers in the country "did a 180 after control 2"!

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