Orienteering Route Choices

One of the primary things involved orienteering is choosing the right route between controls. Do I try and avoid the hills? Do I go out of my way and take a longer route to take advantage of a trail? I recently went out and ran a couple of different routes between similar locations and have noted the times.

#1 start in open field, up a very tall, steep hill, down across a reentrant and up a small hill to a hilltop

Route 1A:
Start to top of large hill:
225 meters with a climb of 50 meters -  3:00 (avg speed = 75m/min)
Down the hill and up small hill:
210 meters with a climb of 15 meters - 2:00 (avg speed = 105m/min)
total 435 meters with 65 meters of climb - 5:00 (avg speed = 87m/min)

Route 1B:
Run trail around hill to tip of lake:
520 meters with a climb of 10 meters - 2:45 (avg speed = 189m/min)
Run up shallow reentrant and up small hill:
345 meters with a climb of 25 meters - 1:45 (avg speed = 197m/min)
total 865 meters with a climb of 35 meters - 4:30 (avg speed = 192m/min)

As you can see, route 1B was almost twice as long as 1A, but it only had half the amount of uphill climb. The result was a time saving of 30 seconds over the much longer route. My legs felt much better not having made that extra climb (a savings of 30 meters of climb).

Only 30 seconds.... well think about it, if you saved 30 seconds on each leg of a course, you could save 5, 10 or 15 minutes depending upon the length of the course. The next time you run an O-course, check the results and see how many places you would move up in the standings if you could take 5 or 10 minutes off your time. Many races are determined by seconds!

#2 start at the road and head NE

Route 2A:
Run NE from the stream/road crossing to the junk pile:
850 meters through woods with no climb - 7:30 (avg speed = 113m/min)

Route 2B:
Run NE from trail/road crossing to ruin:
1000 meters of trail with no climb - 5:00 (avg speed = 200m/min)

As you can see, route 2A took longer mainly because the woods slowed down the running. Using the trail allowed for a fast pace with almost nothing to slow down the pace. The fastest route is not always a straight line.

Once you have mastered reading the maps and being able to navigate from point A to point B, you can then begin to concentrate on recognizing route choices and getting from point A to point B in the quickest time.  Above was just a real example of the times I ran on a real map.  Different people have different strengths.  Some climb hills very well, other do well running on trails, others do well running through the woods.  This results in different route choices for different people.  One of the keys to orienteering is to be able to look at a map and quickly determine the route possibilities and then chose which route will get you there the fastest.  It does not do you much good to spend 2 minutes looking for several routes between two points if the time difference between the best route and the worst route is only 1 minute.  You would have been better off not spending any time analyzing your route choices and just taken the worst route.

An exercise to get help improve your route planning speed:
1.  Take any orienteering map.
2.  Arbitrarily pick two points on the map.
3.  Give yourself 30 seconds to pick a route between the two points.
4.  After making your quick choice, spend a few minutes and see what other routes between the two points you can find.  Do any of the other routes appear to be better?
After you get good a picking a route in 30 seconds, try dropping the time to 20 seconds, 15 seconds or less.

How much time do you waste reading the map and making route choices?
1.  Have someone plan a 1km course on a map for you with a couple of control locations. (You don't really have to have controls there, but choose an area that you are not too familiar with).
2. Run the course and record your time.
3. After resting a while, run the same course again.  You should be able to remember how to navigate most of the course without looking at the map.  Record your time.
4. Check the difference between the two times. The difference in time is the time you spend reading the map and making route choices. Think how much time you would save over an entire orienteering course! Remember, many races are determined in seconds.

How do you know what is best for you? Well, get out there with a watch and run different routes between the same two points. It is great training and is key to helping you determine your strengths.

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