Tag Archives: Orienteering

Adventures in Orienteering – Simply Putting One Foot in Front of the Other?, Aykley Heads & Bolam Lake

Ian Butler

Being creative with Garmin

I was huffing and puffing up a hill at the Gibside Fruit Bowl, in clear pain and feeling knackered, when a mate of mine who was marshalling shouted out “Get on with it!! Running’s easy. Remember its simply about putting one foot in front of the other’.

If only life and running was that simple… and it’s not in my view of the world.

This was brought home to me in the last couple of weeks when I’ve realised that running is definitely not so simple, both in its execution and in the use of all the paraphernalia, which is supposedly designed to make things easier.

Firstly I will cover the gear supposedly designed to make things easier.

In our house of two, we have about 600 pairs of running or outdoor sporting shoes. Ones for road running, ones for the gym, cross country, Outdoor trail shoes for actual trails, outdoor trail shoes for bombing about town, walking boots; and just in case of emergency old pairs of all the above which are kept in the garage. We have not had an emergency yet, but we still keep them.

The point is that to meet our ever-changing running needs each one of these pairs of foot attire represents a greater cost and investment in cumulative design technology than our yearly national contribution to the EU.

For instance, I’m in the market for a pair of new running shoes and I was reading a review in one of the running magazines about one of my preferences. The article had passages like this.

“ A dual density EVA midsole with air units fore and aft provides stability, while a gel heel absorbs shock, but the shoe makes a narrow footprint, a characteristic that typically suits only the biomechanically efficient runner’.

Crikey! I’m not sure if I’m a biometrically efficient runner, but I do know that Neil Armstrong was put on the moon with less science at his disposal.

Having done my research and made my way to the sports shop to buy a pair of runners, the first thing I am asked is ‘ Do you under pronate or overpronate?’

My reply of ‘ Only after 5 pints and a curry’ was not only flippant but also grossly unhelpful and outlined my total ignorance of the complexity of my running needs.

What I should have understood was that the assistant was referring to the natural movement of the foot that occurs during foot landing while running or walking. That this action is composed of three cardinal plane components: subtalar eversion, ankle dorsiflexion, and forefoot abduction, these three distinct motions of the foot occur simultaneously during the pronation phase.

As you can see, it’s dead simple when you are in the know!!

The reality is that the choice of running shoes is seemingly limitless, all scrupulously engineered and biometrically designed to suit all shapes and sizes of runners. Therefore you need the guidance of a shoe guru to keep you right in your purchases, and in my case to keep things simple.

The second aid to simplicity is technology designed not to keep you informed about your training and running, often a great source of entertainment and commonly known as The Garmin, The Fit bit, or simply the running watch.

I just love the write-ups used to entice us into buying these little gems. I read one lately: –

‘The Garmin XT102.5 1S, designed to improve your athletic performance, where knowledge is power, logging your every move and providing a detailed analysis of your bodily functions. Helping you achieve improved super performance, whilst giving continuous readouts during your heart attack, while the Bluetooth connection to your mobile network prompts you to seek medical help when needed,

Technology is great and I love my Garmin, but the hardest part was setting the damn thing up, synching it to my iPad, then linking the data to Strava, which apparently sends prompts to people to like my efforts and give me the thumbs up, or some other gesture as the case may be.

When setting up my device I had to call the Garmin helpline, because I needed to feel totally incompetent by someone much younger than me.

I was stumped by the first question. She needed the serial number.

“Where is it?’ I asked.
‘It’s below the base of the XVS monitor next to the heart rate disequilibrium unit”

I was totally lost and quickly losing the will to live, and showing my complete ignorance of modern technology. Apparently, it was written on the back of the watch, but in letters and numbers so small that I needed a magnifying glass to read it.

My serial number was something like RD1257c6522910976V. Why?….. Never mind…..

Eventually, I got the watch up and running and have great fun with it. I just love the idea of lying perfectly still on the settee and not moving a muscle in order to get my heart rate as low as possible. Or running around a series of football pitches in a vain attempt to write my name using the GPS tracker and mapping function, or running around the village to make a GPS map of every street.

It’s all great fun before you even start to try to analyse all the data that gets recorded. Apparently, I have a great VO2 Max and fall within the top 5% of people for my age group, but when it comes to my FTP (I haven’t a clue what it means) I have moved from Fair to Good with a reading of 2.82, and clearly could do better.

You see, running is supposedly simple, buts its clearly not when it comes to technology. Neither is it in its execution in my view, as highlighted in my recent participation in Orienteering.

Now I’ve done a fair bit or Orienteering over the years, and during the Christmas break, I participated in 2 different events, neither of which proved to be simple.

Firstly to set the scene, I think it’s important to acknowledge that some participants come from a different clan of the running fraternity to the most popular events I usually run in. This is highlighted on arrival at the car park and a look at the cars that regular participants have a preference for. Citroen Berlingo’s, Peugeot Partner’s and Fiat Doblo’s or similar cars of a practical nature and square design are very prevalent, often beige or grey in colour.

Also, regulars run in a style of running kit that is practical for running in or through spikey bushes and dense undergrowth. This encompasses a leg gaiter protector around the lower legs known as bramble bashers, and then loads of very durable running trousers and long sleeved running tops. This gear is not for the fashionistas, and comes usually in the most horrible colour combinations imaginable, and was designed primarily with the Victorian gentleman or lady explorer in mind.

The basic principles of orienteering are that you have a map of the course, a compass, a topographical description of the numbered control points located on the map, and an electronic dibber to record your presence at each checkpoint.

The two basic types of events are: –

1) Score Events

• Competitors visit as many controls as possible within a time limit.
• There is usually a mass start (rather than staggered).
• Controls may have different point values depending on the difficulty to locate.
• There is a point penalty for each minute late over the time limit
• T he competitor with the most points in the fastest time is the winner.

2) Timed Events

• Competitors are given a time slot to start
• All control points are visited in a set order
• The competitor with the fastest time wins

At each race venue, there will be routes of varying difficulty and length to choose from; therefore it’s a good way to lose the whole family if you so wish.

You can do these events on your own, but also you can pair up with a friend or relative to make up a team. If you do these races with your wife, husband or partner, then be prepared to have a really good argument about half way round, usually about navigation and the best way to read a map, or whether to navigate by instinct or compass. You will just have to work out from experience what is the best way for you to compete in the least stressful way.

It should be fairly straight forward to run this event. However, reading the maps takes some getting used to, both in terms of coming to terms with the scale where you may cover the ground quite quickly on the map, and then interpreting what you actually see for it to make sense. For example, the open ground is shaded on the map, whilst woodland is clear and unshaded.

The next difficulty is that each control point is usually cunningly hidden on a topographical feature. Each map usually includes a table listing each control point together with a series of symbols to describe what that feature is and where on this feature the control is located, For example, separate symbols may show the control to be at a flight of steps, at the top, on the eastern side.

The problem is that there are dozens of different symbols to learn and understand, including narrow marsh, a small depression, rentrant, pit, thicket etc. It all gets very complex if you allow it to get to you. My basic approach to this is to just make my way to the vicinity of where I think a control point is, and then run around like a headless chicken until I fall over it.

Again it’s not simple, and this point is emphasised with some of the language used to describe some features. My favourite is a ‘linear thicket’. To most people, this is a hedge, as in ‘I’m going to cut the hedge as it needs trimming’. I certainly don’t say, ‘Today, I’m going to cut my linear thicket’.

This Christmas I completed in two very traditional annual events: –


1) Aykley Heads – Score Event – Boxing day (1 Hour Time Limit)

This was pretty straight forward for me, based on the fact I know the venue very well, I could read the map easily and basically knew all the paths and shortcuts without having to use the compass I did not take with me.

Running on instinct rather than with a plan, the control points were located across the County Hall and Aykley Heads site, covering the ground across to the railway line. Taking a counter-clockwise route, I got to 31 control points out of 35. The only problem was that the proximity reader held on my finger failed to register 5 control points, meaning that there was no record of my visit to those points.

Thus, whilst this was a great run out, and the navigation was relatively straight forward to execute, modern technology failed me and made a simple task very hard.


2) Bolam Lake, Northumberland – Timed Event

Getting lost at Bolam Lake

We do this every year and it is always a great one to do. The area covered is much smaller than Aykley Heads, but the terrain is much more difficult to navigate. Forget about linear thickets and open ground. Think of dense jungle and lost tribes. The control points are set in sequence across the park, with some points requiring a good long run to cross between, whilst others are much closer together, but well and truly hidden and requiring proper navigation to get to.

Having done this event on many occasions, I know the ground and can read the map; so seeing where to go to get to each control point, in turn, is straight forward. The hard part is that some of the controls are placed in deep marshes in the middle of thick evergreen forest. The purists will dodge off on a compass bearing and measure out the distance to hit perfectly the control point. I will rely on counting out drainage ditches on the map, and then turn off paths to find the control in the forest. At Bolam Lake, I once come across some members of the infamous lost ‘Wherethehellarewe Tribe’, so you can understand how thick the vegetation is.

The reality is this is no 7.30minute mile pace race. It’s more like wandering around in circles, jumping across ditches, falling into ditches, in search of control points, at 15-minute mile pace. This point is emphasised on my Garmin tracker, which records my taken route that seems to wonder like a lost spider across the screen.

Its tough, and it can be dangerous, and as I tried to run through an evergreen tree to make it to a known path I virtually impaled my left hip on a broken low hanging branch. Completing a self assessment triage, I established that although I had drawn blood, I didn’t need an immediate medical rescue and evacuation by the Great North Air Ambulance Service, and so I was able to continue and make it to the end in a reasonable time placing me in the middle of the field (Note – not the middle of A FIELD, but THE FIELD, my navigation is not that bad).

Finally, running, in theory, can be very simple and should be about putting one foot in front of the other. The reality is that equipment; technology and races such as orienteering events can be very complex and at times incomprehensible. However such complexity simply gives added value and infinite variety to the sport we love.

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