Occassional thoughts about orienteering

Saturday, May 31, 2003

2+ on the road...and off to Texas


The next update to this page will be Thursday.

In a couple of hours I'm going to Texas for the Texas Junior O' Camp. It should be hot. The forest will be thick, rocky and thorny. I hope it will be fun.

I warmed up for the camp with a 2:40 street orienteering event in Lawrence this morning. I don't do much running on pavement. I spent most of today's run on pavement. My legs feel it. The event was a 3 hour score O' around town. All of the controls were Jayhawks (most of them fiberglass statues). Check out a bit of the map.

Gene made the map. He used a USGS map as a base and street maps from the internet to update the roads that are new (i.e. not on the USGS map).

It was a lot of fun.

posted by Michael | 4:51 PM


Friday, May 30, 2003

I want this book!


Morten Berglia -- world champ from 1983 -- just wrote a book. I want this book!

"We [Berglia and co-author Hans Werp] got runners like Øyvin Thon, Brit Volden, Ragnhild Bente Andersen, Tore Sagvolden, Sigurd Dæhli, Ragnhild Bratberg and Petter Thoresen to reflect on their careers and training. What did they do well? What could they have done better?"

posted by Michael | 8:51 PM


Thursday, May 29, 2003

Best performance in almost two years


I'm pretty sure the relay on Monday was the best performance I've had in almost two years (go to the May 26 post for a link to the map with my routes). I haven't had a really good run since August 2001. The relay and the Possum Trot are probably the two best races I've had in two years.

Since it was a good race, I've spent a bit of time thinking about why it was a good race. A few thoughts:

I was mad at myself after having a lousy day Saturday (both physically and navigationally). I don't know why, but I often run well when I'm mad. Maybe being mad helped me run better on Sunday and Monday.

The conditions -- weather, map, terrain, course, etc. -- were good. "Good" might not be the best way to describe the weather. It was about 53 and raining steadily. But, that's the kind of weather I like to run in.

I went out within a second of Nadim and had a good head-to-head race. Racing someone helps me concentrate. Nadim is stronger than me. But, my navigation is a bit sharper. So, we saw each other a lot. I could get a lead leaving a control, but then Nadim would get by me (especially if there was some climb). I could usually get by again near the control when Nadim slowed to read the map a bit carefully. Running a race like that made it feel like someone was watching...and I usually do pretty well when that's happening.

The combination of being mad, the conditions and racing head-to-head kept me from worrying about my leg. I've struggled with running in the forest for the last two years. I've gradually improved, but I still run scared (worrying about my leg). I only remember thinking about my leg once during the entire race on Monday. Not worrying has got to be a good thing. Getting through a race without worrying (and in terrain with some rocks and deadfall) will help my confidence for future races.

While Monday was probably my best performance in almost two years, I'm far from where I was two years ago. I'm slow (and a bit fat). My navigation went well Monday...but I did some really lousy orienteering Saturday.

Now what I need to do is get in some good technique training in Texas next week, gain some confidence and strength. And, stay confident for the U.S. relay champs in Idaho in a few weeks.

posted by Michael | 9:23 PM


Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Angry homeowners and other hassles


Apparently an angry homeowner caused a bit of trouble at a meet out in California last weekend. Here is a report that was posted at Attackpoint...

Short course at Tahoe. I was pretty sloppy out there. Had a run in with an angry homeowner. He blocked me from punching in at the last control. I finally did, after a few choice words, then he chased me in to the finish. He felt that one of the controls was too close to his house.

I can only recall one run-in with a property owner when I was orienteering. The event was the U.S. Team Trials in Ohio (1995, I think). One leg had an option that took you across the park boundary and into an area with some houses. It wasn't marked as out-of-bounds (though it did require you to cross a park boundary that was marked on the map) and looked like a good route. Half way through, I bumped in to a man with a dog who was clearly annoyed with orienteers running through an area next to his house. I wasn't sure if the land was private or not, but I didn't want to get a guy with a dog mad at me. I turned around and ran back. It probably cost a couple of minutes.

I've heard stories of gun-toting property owners stopping orienteers. That wouldn't be fun.

I've had much worse luck with dogs than with property owners. I've been bitten by dogs enough times that I'm quite cautious around them. In the relay race a couple of days ago, Nadim and I bumped in to a couple of hikers with three or four dogs. The dogs looked harmless...but, I didn't want to go running by them. I walked until we'd passed them.

posted by Michael | 9:41 PM


Tuesday, May 27, 2003

An unusual course


The men's course at the U.S. Team Trials was -- at least for an American course -- a bit unusual.

Take a look at the course with Peter Gagarin's routes.

Just a glance at the course should be enough to notice that there is a lot of variety and a few long legs. Three of the 16 legs are longer than one kilometer (and one of those is over two kilometers). About half of the legs force the orienteer to change direction (i.e. leaving the control you've got to make a distinct direction change compared to how you approached the control). Nine of the legs are either more than twice as long as the previous leg or less than half as long as the previous leg (one measure of variety).

Long legs and variety aren't all that common in the U.S. A year or so ago, I compared courses from Sweden and the U.S. The U.S. courses had less variety and many fewer long legs. One reason we tend to have fewer long legs is that we tend to have shorter courses. But, even accounting for that, I think American course setters tend not to appreciate long legs.

One of the projects I've had in mind for a long time is to figure out a good way to measure the character of a course and use those measures to describe a bunch of courses. I might learn something.

What sort of measures should I use? I've got a few ideas:

How many long legs are longer than one kilometer? How many are longer than 1.5 kilometers?
How many legs force a distinct direction change?
How many legs are either more than twice as long as the previous leg or less than half as long?
How many legs seem to offer a lot of route choice?*
How many legs are navigationally difficult?*
How many controls are navigationally difficult?*
How much climb is on each leg?
How many controls require an approach from above, below or the same level?
What portion of a leg is running uphill, downhill, on a trail or road, through an open area, through rough vegetation, etc.?

Maybe if I get inspired (or really bored!), I'll play around with this a bit in the next few months.

* These measures are obviously subjective. My initial thought is that a simple scale might be useful. A leg that looked like it wouldn't offer any route choice problems could be a "1"; a leg with some route choice options could be a "2"; and a leg that had a difficult route choice problem could be a "3." You could use a similar scale for navigational difficulty.

posted by Michael | 9:36 PM


Monday, May 26, 2003

Today's relay race


The weekend of orienteering was great -- one of the best events I've been to in a long time. My performance was interesting...lousy on Saturday, decent on Sunday, and a bit better today.

Check out my route from today's relay race here.

The relay was a lot of fun. I was head-to-head with Nadim the whole way. We went out a second apart and crossed the finish line a second apart. I saw him on each leg and at each control except eight. Turns out, Nadim didn't notice 8 on the map and ran from 7 to 9. Bummer.

posted by Michael | 9:51 PM


Thursday, May 22, 2003

To the Team Trials...


Later today I'm flying out to NY for the U.S. Team Trials.

I think I'll have internet access all weekend and will make an effort to update these pages with some reports from the races (middle distance on Saturday, classic on Sunday and relay on Monday).

I'm looking forward to the weekend because it should offer some really nice orienteering. The terrain -- maps in Harriman used for the 1993 WOC -- is top notch. Eric Weyman is setting at least some of the courses and he's an excellent course setter (I'm expecting well thought out courses). The format, with three different types of events, should also make it interesting.

The current weather forecast is for warmish (upper 50s ) rainy weather. That's about my favorite weather for orienteering. Though as my eyesight gets weaker and I rely more and more on my magnifying glass to read the map, rainy weather can be a bit frustrating.

My goals for the weekend are clean runs. I figure to finish somewhere in the middle of the pack.

posted by Michael | 12:47 PM


Wednesday, May 21, 2003

IOF sprint map specifications


Check out the "final draft" of specifications for sprint O' maps. I think it has been available for a while, but I just bumped into it today.

When you enter the page, take a look at the "interactive sprint map." You can explore the terrain and map. It is quite slick.

posted by Michael | 7:34 PM


Tuesday, May 20, 2003

70/20 intervals


I've been experimenting with some short intervals the last couple of months. I've been running "70/20s" -- run hard for 70 seconds, jog/walk for 20 and repeat for 10-20 minutes.

The advantage to this sort of session is that it is relatively easy on the legs, but forces you to work fairly hard. The 20 second rests keep your legs from getting sore. But, the rest isn't enough to lower your pulse very much. A session of 15 minutes of 70/20s feels a lot like a steady race-effort run of about 15 minutes...except your legs recover quicker afterwards. I think the short rests also keep your legs fresh so that when you run your leg speed is relatively high (i.e. higher than if you just ran steady for 15 minutes).

The disadvantage to this sort of session is that you've got to pay attention to your watch. I guess if you ran on a track you could do the session based on distance. But, I prefer to do much running on more O' relevant terrain (trails or the forest), so I've got to read my watch to see how I'm doing. It might be worth looking for the instruction book for my watch and seeing if there is a timer that I could set to beep every 90 seconds.

posted by Michael | 8:52 PM


Monday, May 19, 2003

Do over


I've been orienteering for 23 years, and now and then I like to amuse myself by thinking of things I'd do differently if I could start over again.

One thing I wish I'd done was keep better records of my orienteering. I wish I had all of my race maps and, in particular, notes about all of my races and the maps I've run on.

In my first few years of orienteering I wrote a lot of notes about my races and the different maps I ran on. I've still got some of those notes. After a few years of orienteering, I stopped writing notes after each race. Maybe I thought I knew what I was doing and that writing notes wasn't helping me learn. Or maybe I just got lazy. In any case, I wish I hadn't stopped.

I look at a map from a place called Flims almost every day (a framed copy is in the bathroom in my house). Flims is where this summer's WOC middle distance race will be at Flims. I was trying to remember what the terrain was like (I ran there in 1984). I can't remember much. If I'd written (and kept) notes from when I ran at Flims, I could look at those notes and it might jog my memory.

It is never to late to start again. I should probably start writing notes about races and places again.

posted by Michael | 9:02 PM


Sunday, May 18, 2003

Map disclaimers


The disclaimers on street maps are a bit strange.

Yahoo maps warns that its maps are "only to be used as an aid in planning."

Mapquest's disclaimer includes, "this map is informational only," and "user assumes all risk of use."

Microsoft mappoint's disclaimer includes that the map should "not be used for any purpose requiring exact measurement of distance or direction."

posted by Michael | 8:11 PM


Saturday, May 17, 2003

Predicting future performance


I spent a good nine hours yesterday in airplanes and airports. I had a lot of time to read and think. I spent some of that time thinking about how to predict performance.

I was thinking about it in the context of hiring performance auditors and scouting baseball players. But, the basic question is just as interesting in orienteering.

Performance auditing

How do you hire a good performance auditor? Performance auditing isn't a widespread job. You can't just hire people who have been good performance auditors at their last job. As a result, a lot of performance auditors come straight from school or from another career. Figuring out how someone will perform on the job is tough.


I read a story from Sports Illustrated about the process the Oakland A's used to select a player in the draft. Oakland employs a bunch of scouts who go around the country watching prospects and taking notes. Oakland also employs a Harvard-trained economist. The economist spends time looking at baseball statistics trying to find ways to predict performance and, in particular, take advantage of opportunities that other teams miss.

I won't go into the details, but the article (published in the May 12 edition of the magazine) makes for good reading.


Can you tell which top juniors are going to be the best in a few years? What would you look at to figure out who will perform best? If you could design a series of tests, what would you test?

When I was a junior, the top three in my age group were Doug Hollowell, James Baker and me. I'd say I've had a better set of results over the years as an M21 than Doug or James. But, as a junior, I didn't do as well. In 1984 (when all three of us were just about to turn 21), could someone have predicted who'd perform better in the next 5 or 10 years?

A few general thoughts about predicting performance

In just about any context, I think there are a few things to keep in mind when you try to predict future performance....

1. Past performance predicts future performance, but not perfectly.
2. It is easy to over-emphasize the most recent performance.
3. Is is easy to over-emphasize your own personal experience.
4. It is easy to over-emphasize the easy to measure stuff.
5. The hard to measure stuff is very important. It is probably worth trying to figure out how to measure it.

posted by Michael | 5:02 PM


Home again


I just got home after about a week in Stockton, California (with a day trip to Yosemite). I'll be getting back to daily updates of this page. I'll probably add another update later today (May 17).

posted by Michael | 11:02 AM


Saturday, May 10, 2003

On the road


In a couple of hours, I'll be on the road.

I'm spending the next week at the Stockton, California, City Auditor's Office working on a "peer review."

Traveling will screw up my training routine. I'm not sure what I'll be able to do. My plan is not to worry about it, but to get in whatever I can. I suppose the hotel will have an exercise bike. I can do some jogging around Stockton (maybe some urban O' on a street map). I plan to spend Sunday exploring Yosemite and should be able to get in a jog or at least a nice hike. I'm bringing a few maps to study.

Orienteering is a relatively good sport for a traveling. You can run anywhere (almost). There is at least some value in orienteering on street maps. It is easy to travel with a stack of maps and spend a few minutes a day studying them.

But, I am glad I don't have a job that requires a lot of travel. It is tiring. It makes following a training plan difficult.

Traveling will also screw up my blogging routine. I should have internet access, but I'm not sure how convenient it'll be. So, expect an update or two during the next week, but don't expect updates every day until Saturday, May 17.

posted by Michael | 11:15 AM


Friday, May 09, 2003



"Floorball" is the english name for "innebandy."

I'm not sure you could come up with a worse name for a sport than "floorball." Well, wait a minute -- how about "foot orienteering"?

I started thinking about floorball because I was looking at the men's results from the recently completed Nordic Open Champs. Emil Wingsted won the sprint and classic races. Pasi Ikonen won the middle distance race. Both Emil and Pasi have been playing floorball this winter!

Of course, most Scandinavia orienteers have probably been playing floorball this winter. (The Swedish Floorball Federation web page says about half a million Swedes play the sport).

I seriously doubt there is a direct connection between playing floorball and orienteering.

Is there an indirect connection between orienteering and floorball? I guess there might be. The exercise you get playing a sport like that doesn't hurt. You can work quite hard. You get a lot of general strength (lots of quick burst of speed, stops and starts, turns and jumps). If you're playing floorball you've probably got some friends you train with. It is a good indication of a good social environment, which can't hurt.

After a few minutes searching at Google, I found the US Floorball Association and a web store that sells equipment, but it looks like if I want to play some floorball, I'll have to set it up myself. I wonder if I can find some local floorball players (or talk a few OKers into playing the game)?

posted by Michael | 9:50 PM


Thursday, May 08, 2003

Don't try this at home


A thunderstorm blew through town about 6:30 this morning. By the time I left to drive to work, the rain was very light, but the roads were still wet.

Conditions were perfect for an experiment.

At dinner Saturday night, Peter told a story about a good Finnish orienteer -- a veteran, probably in his 50s -- who ran well in the rain despite wearing glasses. His secret? He practiced by driving in the rain without using his windshield whippers.

I drove part of the way to work today without using my windshield whippers. There was a light rain falling and traffic was kicking up a lot of spray. The window was quickly covered with water.

I could easily see general shapes (like cars and the trees along the roads), the lanes or lights. I didn't feel like I was a danger. But, making out details was difficult. If I had to read a sign or pick out details on a car or along the side of the road, I couldn't.

I can't imagine that you can improve your ability to see well through rain covered glasses or windshields. But, you can probably get used to it. Even though you won't get better at seeing, you'll get more comfortable with the problem. Spraying some water or your glasses (or running without them) might be something worth trying. At least you won't cause an accident.

posted by Michael | 12:59 PM


Wednesday, May 07, 2003

Auditing and orienteering


The Nordic Champs last weekend was a bit of a fiasco. The men's relay was thrown out. If you're interested in the specific problems, you can read about it at Alternativet's english language pages.

When I was running tonight I amused myself by thinking about what auditing could tell us about how to organize a good O' event.

One way to look at controls in an auditing context is to think about the environment, practices and reporting. All three of these things are important for an adequate control system. Good controls don't prevent failures, but they reduce the chances of problems and the significance of problems when they do occur.

How would it work in an orienteering context? What sort of environment, practices and reporting would help prevent problems like those at the Nordic Champs?

Without going into detail, I can illustrate the elements of a system that ought to improve the quality of an O' event:*

Environment -- the environment ought to emphasize quality. An indicator of a environment reflecting a quality event might be that the meet director sent an email to all of the workers reminding them that the participants invested a lot of time and money in coming to the event, let's make sure they remember how good it was. An indicator of a problem environment might be an organization that viewed hosting an A-meet as a chance for locals to compete in an A-meet without having to travel.

Practices -- the practices ought to be aimed at ensuring quality. Good practices are things like having an independent controller double check the location of markers; having experienced course setters designing the courses; and reviewing the pre-printed maps to make sure the courses are correctly marked.

It is, of course, important that the practices don't cost more than they're worth. You probably don't need to man every control at an event to make sure the controls don't get stolen. That'd be a waste of resources that could be used better elsewhere.

Reporting -- reporting ought to let the meet director know what is going on. The meet director might have a checklist with tasks, assignments and due dates that they update as workers tell them they've completed the tasks.

The three elements of the control system (environment, practices and reporting) should be designed in a framework that recognizes different risks. The risks in organizing a meet vary enormously. You could make a mistake and order the wrong number of event T-shirts. That's a mistake, but not really a big problem. But, you could put a control in the wrong place or misprint the courses. Those are huge problems. Those are huge risks. So, the control system should be designed to focus on the high risks.

Maybe the Nordic Champs would have turned out better if a few auditors were in the organizing committee?

* This is a fairly standard model of controls used by auditors. But, the specific language is a bit different. I changed it because the audit terminology is a bit awkward.

posted by Michael | 7:22 PM


Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Watching a sprint race


Johan Ohlström, from IF Thor, watched the women's sprint race at the Nordic Open Champs and wrote about it. Here is a bit of a translation:

It was very interesting to see the different techniques for finding the first control. A control for the junior course was about 30 meters before the women's control and 50 meters before the men's control [you can see the junior course the F21 course and the M21 course ]. The F21 control was very open and could be seen from about 100 meters away. The M21 control was much trickier because you only saw the other two controls.

I think about half of the women were in good control coming into the first marker and even had a good idea of how they would leave the control. The rest boomed from a few seconds to a minute by checking the junior control or running out from the first marker in the wrong direction. About 25 percent of the men went to their control without hesitating. There is a lot of time to earn by having a good idea of how the control is set, to really look actively for the control and to have picked a route out of the control ahead of time. I think a lot of people thought they spiked the control even though they lost five seconds in the last 50 meters to the marker.

Another thing I saw was that there are big differences in running speed. In F21, the first five places were obvious already at the first control. The F21 winner, Marie Luce Romanens from Switzerland, was running so much faster than the others that she could afford some small booms....

It was fun and educational to watch the stars up close.

I've written before about how I'd like to see what you could learn by watching orienteers during races. I've experimented a bit by watching videos (focusing mostly on how orienteers run). I've shadowed people at training camps. I manned a control at a sprint race in Sweden (I was most impressed by watching Petri Forsman leap up a cliff). Maybe I'll try to watch some people at the next race I go to.

posted by Michael | 9:04 PM


Monday, May 05, 2003

Saturday's first race


The short champs this weekend began with a 1.72 km "prelim." Here are my routes:

This was my first "sprint" course. It was a lot of fun. I hope this form of orienteering becomes popular in the U.S.

My strategy was to be careful to avoid running too fast and to stay away from any big booms. I'm reasonably satisfied with how I ran. I had a couple of hesitations that cost maybe 10 seconds each. I ran a bit too hard from three to four. When I punched at four, my legs felt heavy so I took the trail to give them a bit of a rest. Taking the trail probably cost me a few seconds (looking at the split times I'd guess I lost about ten seconds).

Did anyone else run the trail to five? I didn't talk to anyone who did. I don't remember seeing footprints on the trail (but I'm not sure I was looking).

Mike Waddington ran the course in 8:08 (4:44/km if the course measurement is correct). That is fast. The next best time, Brian May, was 45 seconds slower. I was way back, finishing in 10:51.

From the split times it looks like three was the control that cost the most people the most time. The fastest time was 1:25. I shuffled through in 1:58 (with a hesitation when I didn't see the flag..costing a few seconds). Mihai, who'd boldly picked himself to finish 5th overall in the short champs, took 9:58. Several others had booms. Why was three so tough?

posted by Michael | 8:52 PM


Thursday, May 01, 2003

Next planned update is Monday


I'll be in New York for the weekend. The next time I plan to update this page is Monday.

posted by Michael | 9:12 PM


Some news from the sprint


The gold medalists in today's Nordic Open Champs sprint spent only 12 minutes 31 seconds and 11 minutes 30 seconds on the course.

It hardly seems like orienteering if it only takes 12 minutes. But, I guess the sprint champs events are here to stay.

You can check out the W21 course here.

Here are a few quotes about the sprint:

Emil Wingstedt won M21. "I took it easy from the start to make sure I didn't build up lactic acid on the first hill, and then I didn't think it was so tough....The controls could have been a little tougher."

Karolina Arewång took 2nd in F21. "I'm very satisfied with this. I didn't make any mistakes and I tried to push hard the whole way. Maybe I held back a bit on the first hill, but otherwise I was going at my max the whole way."

Bjornar Valstad didn't run the race. Like many of the top runners, especially the Norwegians, he decided to skip the race and focus on the other three events that take place over the next three days. Even though Valstad didn't compete, he commented on the race.*

What is the essence of a race like this? What decides the outcome? The usual advice is to go hard from the start! In an orienteering courses with such a low degree of difficulty, it is important to have the right idea in mind. Going hard from the start should be followed by this: fast, but "the right" speed, maximal concentration and error-free thinking ahead orienteering. "The right" speed -- I think it is very important to understand that 12 minutes of running is a long distance run and should be done without lactic acid. It is like a cross country or track race. I think orienteers have a lot to learn about the sprint distance. We probably have a tendency to rush at the start, then slow down because of the lactic acid. We think we are going fast. But, instead our running speed is low, pain is high and then our concentration goes. The result is a place in the pack. I think managing your energy is as important in a sprint race as in a classic race.

The first part of this weekend's U.S. middle (aka short) champs is just 1.7 km. It could be quite like a sprint O' race. The comments of these top runners gives me something to think about as I plan my race.

The NOC continues tomorrow with the classic race. My picks? Valstad and Arewång. If it is an O' race and Valstad is on the starting line, he's always a good pick. Arewång has had a strong spring season. She's from the general area where the NOC is being held, so she'll feel at home. Plus, she's already won a medal. She'll be relaxed.

* Be warned, my Norwegian isn't perfect and there were a few words I didn't get in Valstad's comments. I think I got the gist of what he wrote, but I might have missed a bit.

posted by Michael | 9:10 PM


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