Essex Stragglers Orienteering Society (SOS)


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How do I get started? What is orienteering? The map Difficulty Equipment At an event Permanent Courses Other events National Beginners' Guide

Beginners Guide

How do I get started?

Reading this page should tell you enough to equip you to make a start. If it doesn't, please contact the webmaster to tell him what was missing or incomprehensible! The British Orienteering Beginners' Guide covers the same ground but is more comprehensive.

You should be able to find an event to attend on this website or on the East Anglian website. Failing that, use Ollie O'Brien's wonderful interactive map.

If you can't find a suitable event, or if you want to try the sport on your own, try a Permanent Course first.

What is Orienteering?

Orienteers compete in a time trial, visiting checkpoints in a set order. These are marked on a specially produced map and on the ground by an orange and white control marker about 30cm x 30cm x 30cm. Events are held in parkland, woodland and urban settings. An electronic device or a needle punch near the marker is used to prove that the marker has been visited. Competitors are given a list of control site descriptions for their course, which includes a unique code for each control site. This code will be on the control marker to verify that the correct control has been found.

What's special about the map?

It has only information needed to navigate on it. The scale is usually 1:10,000 (1cm = 100m). Woodland is shown as white (if it's "runnable") through to dark green ("fight"), open areas in yellow, land form features such as contours in brown, man-made features such as tracks in black, and water features in blue. The course from Start (the triangle) to Finish (double circle) is printed in purple.

How difficult is it?

Beginners usually start at colour-coded (District or Local) events, which will offer a range of courses from White (about 1.5km, following tracks and paths with a control marker at each junction) through to Brown (about 9km, controls away from easy navigation features, avoiding paths wherever possible).Competitors who lack confidence can compete as a pair or as a group. You can be as competitive (or not) as you like. No-one will mind if you walk all the way (as long as you get back before the organiser wants to pack up!).

What equipment do I need?

A Silva-type compass (if you have got one). If you are going to walk, come suitably dressed for a country walk at the time of year. If you are going to run, a track-suit and trainers would be more appropriate. All the courses except the shortest and easiest will take you off the paths, so wearing shorts may result in damage from nettles, brambles, etc. Experienced orienteers wear studded running shoes, gaiters (sometimes) and either a lightweight nylon suit in their club colours, or a T-shirt and trackster-type running trousers.

Don't forget to bring your friends and family, and a drink and something for lunch - there will often be nowhere nearby to buy these.

What happens at an event?

These instructions should help you find your way about a local colour-coded event. If in doubt, ask at the enquiries or registration point (who can also help you with the basics of using a map and compass), or anybody else who looks as if they know what they are doing - they will be glad to help a newcomer.

Directions to the car parking will be signed with orienteering symbols either - or .

You will be given a registration form to fill in, which you will take to a registration point (often helpers' cars) to register. Ask someone if you are not sure which course to enter, and remember that your speed will be a lot slower than normal walking/running. If electronic punching is being used, you will also need to hire a recording device, usually referred to as a dibber. You may also be given a list of the control codes on your course - if not, they will be printed on your map.

You can normally start your course any time between 10:30 and 12:30, although you may need to wait a few minutes if others on the same course are already at the Start. If the route to the Start isn't clearly marked, ask! At the Start you will need to clear down the contents of your dibber (ask!). If you are doing the White or Yellow course you may get a chance to look at your map before you start, otherwise you won't be able to see your map until after you start. The Start Official will check that you have cleared your dibber, and tell you when you can start. Don't forget to record your start time with your dibber.

On your map the Start is shown by a triangle, the control points by numbered circles, and the Finish by a double circle. All the points are marked on the ground by control flags.

Now you are on your own, free to choose your own route from control marker to control marker. The control description sheet will help you find the control once you are close. Don't forget to record your time at each control with the dibber.

At the Finish, you need to dib again. You will need to take your dibber to the download point, often back in the car park, so that your times can be transferred to the results system and you can return your dibber. You will be given a slip of paper with your times at each control on it.

Relax and enjoy your lunch. After some time your name should appear on a provisional results list, usually posted near the download tent. The final results will be posted on the club website.

The above is a lot easier to understand in practice than it is when you read it!

How do I use a permanent course?

If possible, either get your map in advance (details for our courses are on the Club page), or check that a map will be available when you arrive at the venue - there is nothing more frustrating than setting out to use a Permanent Course and finding that the shop selling the maps is closed, or they've run out of maps. Some areas are sometimes closed to the public for special events - for instance, the Hylands Park course will be unusable for a week or so either side of the V Festival in August.

Dress appropriately for the weather and your level of activity, and remember that the harder courses will take you through woodland which might contain brambles, thistles, or stinging nettles. Bring a drink and a pen for writing the answers. Allow sufficient time to enjoy your activity before you have to rush off or it gets dark.

There will probably be more than one suggested course on the map, so the control circles won't be joined up like the example above - it might be useful to connect the circles on your chosen course so you know where you are going next. Instead of looking for control flags, at the centre of the circles you will find a marker post with a red and white orienteering symbol, its control number, and a code to record on your map to show you have been there.

The start of the course will probably be near the car park or map issue point. This will be indicated on the map by a triangle, and on the ground by a control point marker post marked 'Start'. The Finish is at same place.

Off you go and enjoy yourself. Walk, jog or run. Use a compass or not. Go by yourself, or with friends or family. You could time yourself and compete against the rest of your group if you wanted to, or you could just go for a walk and make up your own course. It's up to you!


What other sorts of events and courses are there?

Colour-coded (District) events are attended by people of all ages and abilities. Many of these events incorporate Schools Leagues, open to all juniors. Ours is called The Essex & Sufolk Schools Orienteering League ,and is run in conjunction with our neighbouring clubs. It uses the White course for Primary School children (up to year 6), then goes up through the courses in two-year bands (but you can enter any course and still score points). Competitors can represent other youth groups such as scouts and guides if they don't enter as a school.

Colour-coded events are also used by regional Leagues - details of ours are here. Most clubs in East Anglia puts on one EA League event a year. The winner of your age group at each event gets 100 points, you get points in proportion, and your best scores over four events during the year determine your position. You could win a mug!

At score events, you have to visit as many controls as possible, in any order, in the time allowed.

Relay events are held for teams of three or four, often with a mass start.

Night events are held at night ...

City races are held town and city centres...

Sprint-O courses are short, sometimes with a prologue to decide starting times in the head-to-head final.

String courses are short (about 500-1000m), and you can follow the string between controls. Ideal for very young competitors. Sometimes there are also a few controls off the string (an Off-String course).

Trail-O is precision orienteering and can be enjoyed by those with impaired mobility. The course is not timed. Instead, at each control point there are a number of control marker flags. Competitors have to decide which one is in the correct place according to the map and control description.

Committed orienteers enjoy Regional Events, where they can compete against their age class, National Events where they can expect to be competing against the country's best in their age class, and the British Championships. The biggest events, however, are the Jan KjellstrŲm festival over four days at Easter, and the Scottish (odd years), Welsh, or Lake District (alternate even years) week-long events in August.

Juniors have the East Angian Schools Championship, the British Schools Championship, the Junior Inter-Regional Championship, a Junior Club Championship and a junior night/day relay championship. in addition to club, regional and national coaching courses.

Occasional novelty events are held. Stragglers hold one on New Years Day. This is a handicap event designed to measure your fitness, skill, and ability to interpret different rules whilst nursing a hangover.


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