How To Get Involved In Orienteering

One of the lesser known mountain sports, orienteering can offer some great survival skills. Check our introduction for the lowdown on it.

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Orienteering is a great sport for getting your body fit and healthy through enjoyable and social exercise. As well as stretching your map reading mental powers, orienteering offers a great workout for the legs, encompassing a fair amount of running.

Orienteering is a race competed by individuals over rugged terrain to find a number of checkpoints, in a given order, using a map and compass (and your wits!). In orienteering there is no set route that competitors must follow, instead, it is up to each individual competitor to choose their own route between checkpoints.

Orienteering equally combines both physical and mental abilities and competitors will have to make many decisions about which route to take to the next checkpoint based on the terrain, their own fitness and navigational ability. Orienteering events range from entry-level ‘sprint’ events to mountain marathons taking place over long distances and mountainous terrain during which competitors must carry sufficient food, water and camping equipment.

History of the sport

Orienteering began as a series of military exercises by the Swedish army during the 1890s and due to the efforts of a Major Ernst Killander to make the sport more ‘mainstream’ the modern sport of orienteering was born.

Throughout the 1950s, 60s and 70s the sport increased in popularity until today over 60 countries actively participate in the sport overseen by the International Orienteering Federation.

What’s the buzz about orienteering?

There are many buzzes to orienteering but one of them is the sheer enjoyment in putting your physical and mental abilities to the test, as well as watching them improve as you compete more regularly. Unlike cross-country or road running races, orienteering events are set within a defined area but there is no set route that a competitor must follow. This adds to the kick of orienteering as the route planning and decision making is down to you. No two competitors will follow the same route to complete a race.

Race organisers are cunning in their placement of checkpoints, putting you to the test! Sometimes the shortest route to the next checkpoint will be over hilly ground, meaning slow progress will be made, so will you decide to take the longer, flatter but maybe faster alternative route … it’s up to you! Each new race introduces the racer to new terrain and new challenges making orienteering a dynamic and highly enjoyable sport.

Finally, competitors unable to succeed in a purely physical event such as cross-country running, can equal or even beat physically stronger athletes through the use of their navigation skills, race planning and decision making. This is also the case in adventure racing.

Who can do orienteering?

Orienteering is a sport open to people of all ages and abilities. Events will often incorporate different courses for competitors based on their age, physical ability and experience.

If you want to get involved with orienteering then local clubs always welcome new members and will give you all the help, advice and training you need.

Below are some tips on how to get involved.

Look on the web for orienteering clubs

There are many websites dedicated to orienteering where you can access calendars of forthcoming events and clubs advertising for people to join.

Train for orienteering

Training is the key if you want to get involved with orienteering … the more time you commit to training then the easier you will find events and the more successful you will be.

The amount of time you can commit to training will depend on you but here are some guidelines:

  • Do some running training three times a week — keep your training interesting by varying what you do such as hill running, interval training, time trials and long stamina building runs as well as short speed building runs.
  • Practice your navigation: In orienteering it doesn’t matter how fast you can run if you don’t know where you are going! Focus on your map reading in training and you will increase your chances of succeeding in a race.
  • Run or cycle to work: cycling or running to work is an excellent way to get race fit and also means you start each day at work feeling more alive too!
  • Don’t overtrain: Your body needs time to rest and recover and many athletes do more harm than good by over training. Plan a sensible training schedule, allowing at least one full rest day per week, and when starting out increase the duration and level of your training gradually as your fitness increases.             

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