Advanced Orienteering Skills

Lesson 13: Concentrating on Your Navigation

By Anthony Scott, 2020

Most orienteers find it relatively easy to follow their navigational routines and maintain concentration when they are by themselves in the forest. However, it gets a lot more difficult when there are other competitors nearby, especially if they are competing on the same course.

In fact, being distracted by other competitors would be the most common reason for making navigational errors.

Typical examples of distraction are:

  1. You see another competitor and start following them, only to discover they were going to another control.
  2. A faster competitor runs past, so you follow them. But you lose sight of them and don’t know where you are.
  3. You see another competitor and start racing them to the next control. You no longer have proper map contact but presume they do. The other person stops navigating also and thinks you know must where to go. Eventually you both realise no-one is in contact.
  4. You are carefully approaching your control and then see a competitor further to the right. You veer over towards them because you think they might know better than you. You can’t find the control and later discover that you had been exactly on-line before being distracted.
  5. When seeing another competitor, instead of being distracted, use it as a cue to concentrate more carefully. So whenever you see someone. You ask yourself “where am I, where am I going? You then slow down,. So the techniques acknowledges that competitors will distract you, but then uses them as a cue to slow down, take care and cross-check your location.

So what do you do? When you see another competitor, instead of being distracted, use it as a cue to concentrate more carefully. Slow down and ask yourself “where am I?, and where am I going?”. Carefully cross-check your direction, and where you are going. Look around the forest for features and confirm your location on the map. Then have the confidence to do your own thing at your own pace. If they are running faster than you, that’s fine, let them run past. It might mean they are taking more risks and will eventually make a large error. Keep running at a pace where you can keep total contact with the map at all times. Safety and consistency are the keys to a successful event. And remember, your aim is to be the best navigator. So, concentrate on yourself. It is best to think of it as a personal challenge in navigation, and not a race against others. A satisfying event is where you have a clean run.

I’m getting tired, what do I do?

The other common reason for losing concentration is tiredness. Towards the end of a course, you will be getting physically tired and will find it harder to maintain concentration. You will be less inclined to look at the map and will probably start taking more risks – hoping that the control will appear in front of you. There are three things you can do to help.

  1. Slow down! Let the brain get more oxygen and function properly. Run, jog, or if necessary, walk at a comfortable pace that allows you to look at the map and keep contact. When you are tiring, running ten seconds slower might save you 10 minutes in errors!
  2. Take simpler route choices and look for big safe attack points. This will reduce the risk of error.
  3. Try talking to yourself (aloud or under your breath) to help keep focus and keep your brain thinking about navigation. Say out aloud what your route choice is and what your attack point is. Confirm that you have checked your direction and that you are climbing, dropping or contouring. Say out aloud that you’ve cross-checked the shallow gully to the left and the rock face to the right. Talking aloud (as if you are speaking to your coach next to you) helps keep you thinking clearly.

And finally

Orienteering is primarily a thought sport, involving a complex navigational challenge. It is not a running race.