Occassional thoughts about orienteering

Sunday, April 07, 2002

Getting a fast start at the triangle


On the April 3rd entry at mapsurfer.com, Randy wrote about getting a fast start at the start triangle.

I think good orienteers are able to quickly look at a map, find the start and first control and get going. Being able to get a quick start is an indicator (not the only one and maybe not even a very good one) that someone is a good orienteer. But, it isn't essential for having a good race. It is more like a side-effect of being a good map reader and an experienced.

For what it is worth, I've got a few thoughts about what I do to get a quick start.

A few things I do:

1. I usually have a good idea which direction I'll leave. At some meets, you can watch the people who start ahead of you. At most meets, you can make an educated guess. If you've got a good idea which way to go, you can begin running that direction as you find the triangle on the map. (Sometimes, the course setter will try to trick you. Yesterday, I grabbed my map, took about three or four steps and then had to make a 90 degree turn).

2. I always know which direction north is and orient the map right away. If you watch me at a start, you'll probably notice that I'm looking at my compass just before I get the map. In fact, I am most dependent on a compass when I first get the map. You can often see lettering through the back of the map that will give you a chance to plan how to turn the map over and orient it quickly (since the lettering is supposed to be oriented north).

3. I try to have an idea of how the map might look on the page so that I know which part of the sheet to look at. Yesterday (running on a map I've been on many times), I knew that the start triangle would be on the middle part of the north edge of the map. When I turn over the map, I looked at that part of the map. Even if you haven't seen the map, you can often have a reasonable guess about the general shape of the map and where you might be. For example, at the world champs short race, I knew we where south of the finish area and just north of a road. So, I expected the start to be toward the bottom of the map.

A few things I don't do:

I don't try to go fast. How much time can it take to look at the map, find the triangle and find the first control? It can't take more than a few seconds. So, there isn't much time to gain. (Though in a mass start, a few seconds feels like a lot of time).

I don't try to have an idea of what the start area is going to look like on the map. It sounds like a good idea. But, I don't think it'll help you find the triangle quickly. You're much better off trying to train yourself to look for a big purple triangle than to look for a specific bit of topography. An exception is if you are at a very distinct feature. On a map like Clinton State Park, you can use the edge of the lake to help orient your map quickly.


It would be easy to practice quick starts. Get a stack of maps. Put them in a pile on the floor. Get a compass. Pick up the top map, turn it over, orient it, find the start triangle and the first control, and pick a route.

I'd bet that if you practiced for just a couple of minutes a day, you'd see improvement very quickly. Just remember, it isn't going to save you more than a few seconds on an entire course.

posted by Michael | 6:42 PM


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