An orienteer in action.

What is Orienteering?

It's a fun, energetic sport, in which competitors have to run around a course with the aid of a map and compass. A number of control points are marked on the map, at each of which is a marker flag and some method of proving that you have been there. At most events, this will now be a form of electronic tag, which automatically records your time at each control as well. In East Anglia we use SportIdent, though in other parts of the country you might find Emit instead - both systems are easy to use. The old-fashioned system, which you will still find occasionally, is to carry a control card which you mark with pin punches (each has a distinctive pattern) at the controls.

Where does it take place?

A control in Thetford Forest.

Traditionally orienteering takes place in forest and woodland areas, although events also take place on fell and moorland areas, or even on sand dunes. Small local events can be found on commons and parkland. Some areas, particularly around here, are quite flat, but in other parts of the country you might find yourself having to run up and down steep slopes.

How long and hard are the courses?

Another orienteer in action.

There is a large range of courses available, which depend both on the type of event and the terrain on which it is run. A beginner might start with an orange or red colour coded course between 3 and 6km long, while a longer course might be 10km for men, and 7km for women. These lengths may sound short if you are used to road or cross-country running, but they are measured in a straight line between controls, which is often not the fastest route, and do not allow for getting lost! Younger or less confident children can start with a very easy white course about 1.5km long. In general shorter courses are easier than longer ones, but there are some exceptions - if in doubt, ask!

What does all that jargon mean?

The most common type of event are District events, which take place about twice a month in East Anglia apart from the summer. These have colour coded courses, a standard range of courses of given length and difficulty classified using the names of colours. These range from white (very short and easy) through yellow, orange, red, and green to blue or brown (long and hard). Runners of any age can enter whichever course they like on the day.

Regional events are larger, and attract competitors from further away. They must usually be entered at least a week in advance. Here you'll find yourself entering courses by age class, so that you compete directly against your peers - the courses are called badge courses because you can qualify for badges representing different levels of performance. Within each class there are long and short courses, the short being about two thirds the length of the long. All apart from younger children's courses require good navigational skills. There are several Regional events held in East Anglia each year.

What other sorts of events are there?

Head-to-head racing.

Below District events are local, introductory and novelty events, which can take place on small local areas such as city parks. There are often different rules to make small areas more challenging, such as having to remember your route and complete the course without a map. There are also higher levels of age group competition, though you will have to travel further afield to get to them: there are about six National Events a year, which attract competitors from all over the country; the two-day Jan Kjellstrom (JK) event at Easter; and a British Championships.

Over the summer there is a multi-day event in either Scotland, Wales or the Lake District, and there are many similar summer events all around Europe if you're feeling adventurous. There are also variations on the usual type of course, such as relays, night events (in case you think navigation is too easy when you can see), score events (at which you have to visit as many controls as you can in a fixed time), or head-to-head sprint races.

Do I need lots of special clothes and equipment?

An example map.

You don't need special clothes to start with, but you will need trousers rather than shorts, and often a long-sleeved top. Unless the weather is cold, you will want thin clothes so you don't get too hot. Trainers are fine for shoes, but don't wear anything too nice as they will probably suffer from undergrowth in the forest, as well as getting wet and muddy - this applies to clothes as well. Once you become a regular, you'll want to buy some special orienteering kit in club colours, and some hard-wearing O-shoes.

For smaller events, you might need a red pen to draw the course, and a map case in anything other than very good weather. The only fairly expensive equipment you need is a compass, but you can probably borrow one at your first event if you don't have one. A whistle is advisable in steep or exposed areas to call for help if you injure yourself. Safety pins are useful for all sorts of things. If you come to larger events you'll soon get used to seeing the Ultrasport and Compass Point vans, both sell a large range of orienteering kit and equipment.

So what happens when I've got to an event?

You'll probably start at a District event, where you will need to register for your chosen course, usually at a tent or a car window. You will be allocated a start time, and given some control descriptions which tell you what to look for at each control site. If the event is using control cards, you will be given one of these too, otherwise you will need to hire an electronic card for the event. It used to be normal to be given a blank map, but many events now have pre-marked maps which you don't get until you start. Having changed and checked that you have everything, make your way to the start, leaving plenty of time to watch what everyone else does.

You will probably be called up a couple of minutes before your start time, and kept waiting in a taped box. If you are using SportIdent, you will need to clear your e-card. A minute before your start time, you then move into the final box, and you will be given instructions about the maps; if the event is using pre-marked maps, you will be told where to pick them up; if there are master maps (if you have been given a blank map at registration) you will be told where to find the master copy of your course which you will need to draw yourself after you have started.

With electronic punching systems, you usually need to punch as you start, otherwise you can go straight to the maps. On the way round your course, each control is marked on the ground by a red and white marker, and is identified by a three-figure or two-letter code so you can't (shouldn't) punch the wrong one by mistake. Once you've visited all of the controls in order there's just the short (usually) sprint to the finish, giving you a chance to show just how fast you can really run...

How can I find out more?

The best way to find out more is to come to an event and have a go - see the fixtures page. You might also want to get in touch with your local club for more information.

Site maintained by Helen Nisbet on behalf of EAOA. Page last updated on 2nd July 2014 at 9:11pm