Occassional thoughts about orienteering

Sunday, November 30, 2003

Motivation on the way up


In the last couple of months my motivation to train and race has improved (I wrote a couple of notes about motivation back in August and September).

As I was driving home from today's O' practice, I spent some time thinking about why my motivation has improved in the last couple of months. I've got a few ideas.

The things I wrote about in September -- in particular seeing Dan, Nadim and James pull away from me -- helped. I don't like feeling that out of shape.

I still haven't settled on some goals for the coming season and years. That's why I'd say my motivation is on the way up, not high.

The weather has been great for training. The summer in KC isn't great for training. I don't enjoy running in the heat. But this fall has been fine (maybe warmer than normal, but nothing like the summer). When the weather is cool, running feels good.

Since the U.S. Champs, I've done a fair amount of technique training. I like training technique. I look forward to it, even when I'm tired. In about 11 weeks since the U.S. Champs I've run 7 races (2 local) and done 12 O' technique practices. That's not as much as I'd prefer to do (I missed some time with a cold), but it is enough that I'm feeling my technique sharpening and I'm running better in the forest.

Since the U.S. Champs, I've run a couple of very high quality races. The three day competition in Hamilton, Ontario, and the 2-day A-meet in Connecticut featured good courses, good maps and interesting terrain.

A couple of weeks ago, Eric S. and Keith L. took the initiative to start up the local night O' practice sessions. I love night O' and having those practice sessions to look forward to helps me stay motivated. It isn't that I'm motivated to train so I do well at the night practices. It is that having the night O' sessions is just fun. Having fun keeps me motivated.

Another factor in my improving motivation is that Dan has been keeping an eye on my training. Some days my phone will ring and it'll be Dan -- "did you train yet today?" Some days I train before the call. Those days I call Dan (usually leaving a voice mail message) -- "just finished running."

I think all of these things (and others I haven't written about) are both "causes" and "symptoms" of improving motivation.

I've still got a ways to go before I'll feel like I'm really motivated...but I'm on track.

posted by Michael | 8:13 PM


Saturday, November 29, 2003

Three or four


The WOC relays have been changing in a couple of ways over the last few years. First, they're getting shorter. Second, they've gone to three person rather than four person teams.

The 2004 WOC relay for the men has an expected winning time of 135 minutes over three 8.5 km legs and the women have an expected winning time of 120 minutes over three 6 km legs.

Before last year, most of the World Championship relays had been with four person teams (I think the women had three person teams through 1979, I don't know if the men ever had three person teams).

The relays are also getting shorter. I don't have the energy to hunt through results and collect winning times over history, but I've got the 1987 WOC results sitting on a bookcase on the other side of the room. In 1987, Norway won both the men's and women's races with the men taking 251 minutes and the women taking 224 minutes.

Next year the relay races will be won in around half the time from 1987.

I don't know if shorter relays is good or bad. I suppose it is more spectator friendly. With the WOC having more and more races (in 1987 there was a qualifying race, a final and the relay; in 2004 there will be 3 qualifying races, 3 finals and the relays) it might not be practical to have four person teams running longer legs.

Moving to three person teams should help the U.S. get closer to the best. Winning a medal is still very hard, but finishing within a certain percent of a medal should be easier. Why? The top nations are deep. The U.S. isn't. The difference between the top U.S. runner and the fourth U.S. runner is a lot more time than the difference between the top Norwegian (or Swiss or Swedish or Finnish or...) and the fourth Norwegian runner. The U.S. gains a lot by dropping the fourth runner. Other nations don't gain as much.

This summer's WOC had short relays with three person teams. I don't have the results in front of me, but if memory serves me the women had a decent race in terms of percent back of the top teams. The men disqualified. They were on track to have a strong result...except for a mispunch. Of course, that is a big "except."

If the top three U.S. orienteers go to the WOC in 2004, I'd think the odds are very good for the best finish ever (in terms of percent behind the top teams).

posted by Michael | 8:02 PM


Friday, November 28, 2003

Strange courses


Here are a couple of strange courses (I'm guessing both are training events rather than serious races).

Check out this map from France and this one from Finland (night O' in the snow, I think).

posted by Michael | 7:28 PM


Thursday, November 27, 2003

A couple quick notes


Happy Thanksgiving! I'll celebrate by going to Lawrence to check points for the upcoming OK race and eating a turkey dinner with my Dad. Tomorrow I'm taking the day off work, so I've got four days away from the office. It feels great.

I learned a lesson at last night's night orienteering training. You've got to pay attention to the map and pay attention to what you are doing. I didn't. I just ran in the general direction, often thinking about the pace and about keeping moving, then looked around for the control. I missed half of the six controls. Pay attention. Read the map. Have a plan. If the map reading is going well, the running will come. Unfortunately, I seem to "learn" this same lesson a couple of times a year.

I suppose the real lesson is to spend a few minutes before each technique training session thinking about what I'm doing.

A new project. I keep finding more and more orienteers who put their training on the internet and I'd like to figure out a way to learn something from all that information. My new "project" is to come up with a set of questions I can answer by looking at people's training logs. Answering those questions will help me understand the similarities and differences even when the specific information people track isn't consistent.

I'd like to be able to have 5-10 questions that would characterize how different people train. I could then compare orienteers like Pasi Ikonen, Takehiko Oguma and Matthias.

It might be a waste of time, but it might not. Maybe I'd learn something interesting.

So, what are the 5-10 questions? That's what I'm working on. The questions ought to be ways to draw distinctions about the ways people train. I've got a list of possible questions (but the list isn't in front of me). I could ask things like:

Does the orienteer do much "cross training"? What sort of cross training do they do? How do they seem to use the cross training?

Does the orienteer do a lot of technique training or do they use races as their main way of practicing O'?

Does the orienteer seem to structure their training in blocks with a focus for each block (e.g. spending a couple of months in the off season building up a base of long and easy sessions)?

Does the orienteer have some clear, specific goals that they've made known?

Does the orienteer work with a coach?

Well, the list has a lot more questions and I'm not sure which ones will make the most sense. That's why this is a "project."

Use the comment function to suggest any questions.

posted by Michael | 11:47 AM


Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Luck? I'd say skill and preparation


Is turning over the map, finding the start triangle and finding the first control on the map luck?

From a discussion that started this morning on Attackpoint:

...if participants start to look at the map after the start it is like a lottery: some of them may find the first leg on the map immediately by chance and for others it might take 5-10-15sec....

...And under a stress the possibility of accidental error is very high. Striking example is Event in Kent, October 25, first day where the first control was just in 100m from the start so many people just did not see it on the map and ran to the 2nd control by mistake losing 2-3min and more.

Take a look at the map from Kent and the first leg.

Does it take luck to turn over the map and quickly see where the triangle and first control are on the map?

I'd say "no." Finding the triangle and first control takes skill and preparation.

Mary watched the start of one of the Possum Trots (a mass start race) a couple of years ago and was stuck by how quickly the better orienteers turned over their maps and made a decision about where to go. Orienteers who weren't as good had to look at the map for a while to find the triangle, then find the first control, then start running. The better orienteers found the triangle quicker. Sounds like "skill."

If something is a skill you can practice and improve it. I'd bet that spending a lot of time looking at maps and doing O' technique training would sharpen your ability to find the triangle. You could easily design training to emphasize the specific skill of finding the triangle. Any training that involved picking up a map, quickly orienteering it and finding the triangle would do it.

Is finding the triangle a skill worth practicing? You probably can't earn much time. But, it is so easy to train (you can work it in with any technique session in the forest or in the armchair) that you may as well.

In the case at Kent, you could prepare to make finding the triangle a lot easier. The Kent map is an old map. You could buy a copy from the organizers or look at it online before the race. I carried a piece of the map with me to the start on the first day and knew, before I started, that the start area was at the bottom of the map on top of the hill. When I turned over my map I immediately looked at the right part of the map to find the triangle. I was prepared.

I'm convinced that finding the triangle and first control quickly take some skill (which you can sharpen with practice) and a bit of preparation. That's not luck.

By the way, to see the whole discussion, go to "Start procedure on US orienteering events" at Attackpoint.

posted by Michael | 1:08 PM


Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Pick me up?


Just a quick note today. From a regional O' newsletter in Smaaland, Sweden, where Mattias Karlsson and Emil Wingstedt (both on the gold medal relay team from last summer) come from:

Last summer I met P-O Bengtsson in Kristianstad and he told me about helping with transportation at a national team training camp in the north east part of Skaane. One day they went to Aarhus for training in the sand dune terrain. When Peo asked Mattias Karlsson when and where he wanted to be picked up he got a surprising answer.

"Pick me up? No, I'll run back."

That meant running about 30 kilometers.

That's the attitude of the world champ.

Kare Boberg

posted by Michael | 1:05 PM


Monday, November 24, 2003

Memories of a training exercise


A long time ago I ran a training course at West Point that Damon Douglas set up. Damon gave us a map with a course of about 5-6 km and a blank piece of paper. His instructions were to study the map and take notes about it. Then we'd run the course without the map.

I studied the course a bit and sketched out the legs. Then I ran the course without a map (but with my sketch notes in my pocket). It went well. I had no real problems.

Damon didn't tell us how to take notes. Most of us sketched little maps. But one of the orienteers measured compass bearings and wrote out instructions. It never occurred me to do something like that. For what it is worth, the guy who wrote out the instructions didn't have a good run (I don't think he finished the course).

The lesson from this session was that you can orienteer without the detail on the map. Sketching the course forced you to generalize and to recognize the structure to the terrain.

I was thinking about this session because I read Lars Skjeset's description of a similar session he did. Skjeset described a session that began with everyone getting a sheet of paper with magnetic north lines and the course but nothing else. The runners then got a map, but they couldn't take the map with them. They had a chance to sketch in the details they wanted. Then they ran the course. Skjeset's session (which was set up by none other than Johan Ivarsson) may have been a little bit easier (since you had the purple overprinting rather than just a blank sheet of paper).

I like the session Skjeset describes. I think I'll try it for a training session some time.

posted by Michael | 7:54 PM


Sunday, November 23, 2003

Online technique training?


I came across a Norwegian club page that has an online O' technique training page. The idea seemed interesting, so I took a look.

They've done is posted a bit of a map with a course. The instructions call for looking at the course and writing comments about how you'd run it. The example is (roughly):

From the 10th control, I followed the edge of the marsh west till I reach the trail. I take the trail past the rock outcrops on the right, then I go in to the south west. I check the boulders as needed.

After writing the comments, the club members are supposed to email them to the trainer who will evaluate them and reply.

The point of the training isn't to run the course, but to teach yourself the process of thinking about route choice.

My first reaction after reading this was, "what a waste of time."

But I gave it some more thought and changed my mind. It probably isn't a waste of time. Anyone who has done a bit of orienteering probably wouldn't learn anything.* But, I don't think that is the idea. I think the real point of the training is motivation. Staying in touch by email is a way of keeping the orienteers motivated. That might make it worthwhile.

Maybe Orienteer Kansas will have to experiment with something similar.

Check out the OK Aalgaard online training page here.

* Beginning orienteers could probably learn something by writing how they would do a courses and getting some feedback.

posted by Michael | 8:02 PM


Saturday, November 22, 2003

Today's race


PTOC had a local meet today. Here is my course with routes.

posted by Michael | 5:19 PM


Friday, November 21, 2003

Quick notes


Just a few quick notes tonight (I don't have much time to write):

1. Check out this blog about making an O' map. I've only just glanced at it, but it looks interesting. Even orienteers who have no interest in making maps can probably learn something about orienteering if they understand a bit about how mappers work.

2. Record number of visitors? I think this web page usually gets about 40 visits a day. I just looked at today's site statistics and saw 159 visits today (with a few hours still left). That's probably a record. The reason? Orienteeringonline.net linked to yesterday's entry.

3. A record number of visitors, but none of them added themselves to the "guest map." Click on the guest map link to the right to see the map...and if you're not already in the guest map, add yourself.

4. Training in the terrain = running on the basketball court. I think an orienteer needs to spend a lot of time running in the forest. Running on the roads is fine, but it doesn't get you the technique you need to run in the forest. The new Kansas basketball coach had made a lot of changes compared to Roy "I don't believe in Astronomy" Williams. One change is that Kansas doesn't do much (if any) running training except running on the court. Williams used to have the team run on the track as a test at the beginning of the season. Bill Self, the new coach, thinks that to be a basketball player you should train by running on the court.

5. It has nothing to do with orienteering...but Kansas opened the basketball season tonight by beating UTC. Having a new coach makes watching the games interesting. It will be fun to learn about a new offense and defense. After watching the Roy William's coached team for years, I didn't see much new or different. With a new coach, I see some new stuff. It is fun to watch.

posted by Michael | 9:25 PM


Thursday, November 20, 2003

Oystein on concentration


I've translated an article from Oystein Kristiansen on concentration. Oystein wrote this in a response to a thread on a Norwegian O' discussion forum.

What is O' technique? Petter Thoreson told me a few years ago when I came to Halden, "O' technique is everything going on in your head from the start to the finish, but first and foremost it is the ability to concentrate."

Clearly the reason most orienteers get better over time is because they've built up a bank of experiences through a long career. Experience solving problems in different types of terrain, weather, stressful situations, time of the day and maps is essential for how you succeed as an orienteer. So an orienteer needs to go out and get experience with all of these factors at a young age (in particular as a junior and in the first senior years). But the most important thing is that you are conscious of what you are training. Too many orienteers go to trainings and just "run a course." I think you don't get especially good by doing that. If you come to the training session with an idea of what you are going to train, ideally one thing each time (entry to the control, concentration, compass or whatever), you'll get a lot of benefit from the training. You'll become a little better during the session, which is not the case if you train like a chicken with its head cut off.

It is one thing to practice a skill in training; it is another thing to get it to work under a stressful situation. That's where the differences between the really good and the next best are apparent. Mental skills determine whether someone is best when it really matters most. Anyone who has run in the front of a TioMila or Jukola, or has run a WOC, knows that all of the world's physical and technical training won't matter if you haven't trained how to perform under stress. Performing under stress is also an O' technique. I told my students at the O' school in Amal, "You should be so focused on the relationship between the map and the terrain that you won't lose concentration if Princess Victoria is standing naked at one of the controls." In Halden we call this type of dealing with stress "behendighetstrening" [I'm not sure what to call this in English. Behendig means handy, deft or adroit. Handy-training, deft-training or adroit-training all sound stupid.] You have to be deft at handling unexpected situations. And in orienteering you face unexpected situations from the start.

It is impossible to concentrate 100 percent on orienteering. Even in a 10-minute sprint race your mind will wander a few times. But you can train to be able to discover a slip in concentration soon and get your focus back. You have to train the "trigger" in your brain -- you want to hear the alarms early -- and the more you train it, the sooner you'll be able to discover when you've lost your concentration and you can avoid mistakes.

Concentration is easy to train because you concentrate many times during each day. The problem is to do it consciously as training. Concentration in stressful situations is something you should train. And this is where there are lots of activities to use. A tip is to try an activity that you haven't done before where the consequences of lost concentration show up in the results. Some examples include shooting, gymnastics, downhill skiing and downhill mountain biking. Or perhaps the best thing if you want to be a world class orienteer: get yourself in a situation where you are in the lead of a big relay race with the responsibility for 9 or 6 other team members. You don't want to be the one to sink the team.

It is possible to write a lot about how you can train O' technique, but in the end, it is all about the ability to concentrate. That's why the ability to concentrate is a fundamental skill. It is much more important than the ability to run 3000 meters under 9 minutes. A few are born with the ability to focus on the right things, the rest of us apologiesain.

My appologies if I've misunderstood or mistranslated any of the text. I should also note that I usually get permission from the author before I translate and post this much text. But, I don't have an email address for Kristiansen, so I haven't asked for his permission. I'll just trust that if he posted the text to the O' forum at Staff-Valstad.com he won't object to me translating it.

posted by Michael | 1:23 PM


Wednesday, November 19, 2003

A few words from Kim Fagerrud


Kim Fagerrud is one of those Scandinavian orienteers with his own O' page. If you can read Swedish (or Finnish), it is worth a look. Actually, it has some maps so even if you can't read it you can see some maps (click the link labeled "kartor"). Check out Kim and Salla.

Fagerrud wrote an analysis of the season. Overall he had a strong season. He missed make Finland's WOC team, but had some very strong results.

Here is a bit of what he wrote:

In 17 races beginning with the Spring-Cup in March and through Jukola in June, I missed a total of 13-14 minutes. That doesn't count misses of under 15 seconds even though those are important in short races. The WOC selection races were a disappointment. I was in poor form, but the biggest problem was my self confidence. Bad training --> bad self confidence. I didn't reach my goal of being in the top 5.

posted by Michael | 8:11 PM


Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Running in the forest


When I lived in Sweden I could run in the forest as often as I wanted. I lived on a map. The forest began about 100 meters from my door. It was great.

I don't have that any more. But I still make an effort to train in the forest. I try to do a fair amount of technique training which gets me out in the forest.

I've never really tried to measure running in the forest. I ought to do that some time. Running in the forest helps your running technique, but I don't know how much I need. What is the minimal amount worth doing? Is once a week enough to do any good? When do you reach a point of diminishing returns?

In some terrain I change my running technique after just 30-40 minutes of running in the forest. When I run in Hudson Valley terrain (rocky, hilly, Scandinavian-like) I try to spend a half an hour or so jogging around in the forest the day before the race. It seems to help. At the same time, I'm sure 30 minutes isn't enough to reach a point of diminishing returns.

Here is a comment from Bjornar Valstad about running in the terrain:

Last year I didn't run in the terrain through the winter because of a knee injury. Looking back at my training log I see that I wasn't satisfied with my running strength/technique before the middle of June, after 12 weeks of intensive running in the forest.

12 weeks is a lot of training (and Bjornar trains a lot).

How much do orienteers in North America train in the terrain?

It isn't exactly a random sample, but I took a look through the last week of training logs at Attackpoint for the 20 orienteers with the most training logged right now (i.e. about 7 p.m. today). For each of the 20, I read through their entries for the last seven days and counted how many sessions appeared to be running in the terrain. I might have missed something because some people don't record enough information to be sure what they are doing. Still, I'm pretty sure I haven't missed a lot of terrain running training...

It looks like people don't spend more than about one session a week running in the terrain (and most of the terrain running is in O' races). The average for all 20 was 1.35 sessions in the terrain (and the median was 1 session a week).

One way to gain an advantage in a sport is to do something that your competitors aren't doing. I suspect most of us could gain a bit on our competition by spending a bit more time running in the terrain.

posted by Michael | 7:10 PM


Monday, November 17, 2003

Three thoughts - GPS, course setting and team building


Take a look at this GPS track from a mountain bike O' race. I found it most interesting to let the animation run, then look at the route choices (I find watching the little animated dots appear a bit of a waste). Being able to see the biker's speed along the route choices is slick (different colors indicate the speed).

I've talked about direction change and course setting before. The number of direction changes is one of my quick-and-dirty measures of course setting. I'm not sure if direction change itself is important. There isn't anything wrong with it, but I'm not sure it really adds much to a course. Direction changes don't cause good courses. Direction changes are a symptom of good courses. Course setters making good use of an area will often (maybe even usually?) have direction changes.

Take a look at this story of a team building exercise gone mad.

posted by Michael | 9:15 PM


Sunday, November 16, 2003



I wonder if it is easier to concentrate continuously or to concentrate in little bursts?

When I ran a long control picking course last week, I felt like I was able to hold my concentration well. I concentrated more-or-less continuously for the entire session. Of course, my mind wandered now and then, but the training session was designed to require concentration continuously. When I ran six short courses today (each between about 600-900 meters), I struggled a lot more. Between each course, I jogged for 5-15 minutes. When I was jogging, I let my mind wander. Then when it was time for the next course, I needed to concentrate, if only for 5 or 6 minutes. Today I struggled a lot to concentrate.

Tuesday, when I needed to concentrate continuously, I was able to pay attention quite well. Today, when I needed to concentrate in little bursts, I struggled. It felt like it was harder to "turn on" concentration than it was to hold concentration once it was turned on.

Two days is not enough to reach a conclusion. But, over the years I've orienteered with the strategy of holding a fairly steady level of concentration. Maybe my way of thinking requires me to pay attention continuously rather than flit around.

I do very little planning ahead. I rarely look at anything other than the leg I'm running (though I think ahead about the leg I am running). When I tried to plan ahead -- looking a leg or more ahead on the course -- I had trouble. I found that I'd miss the leg I was running because I seem to have trouble switching back and forth between the leg I'm on and other legs. So I don't plan ahead.

Planning ahead seems like a good idea. People who are much better orienteers than me plan ahead (people who are much worse than me also plan ahead). But it doesn't seem to work for me.

posted by Michael | 4:11 PM


Saturday, November 15, 2003

More on team building/team feeling


I wanted to write a few more thoughts about "team feeling." I should begin with a definition of what I mean by a good team feeling. I should, but I won't. But, a good team feeling doesn't necessarily mean everyone gets along and likes everyone else. Part of a good environment is everyone understanding the goals and expectations. Another part is a lot of communication taking place, especially about how well people are performing.

Ok, moving on...

Why would team feeling matter?

For an organization to do well it has got to have people in the organization who are good and who are working. I think that's true of a work place or a basketball team or an orienteering national team. A strong environment (work place or team) keeps good performers and encourages everyone to do their best.

A workplace is a good illustration of what happens when the "team feeling" is bad. People leave. Good employees leave. Hiring good employees gets harder and harder. The employees who stay lose motivation. The quality of the work suffers. A strong team environment keeps the top employees and motivates the rest to do well.

Here is a short quote from Bjornar Valstad after he'd been at the Norwegian national team session a week or so ago:

A functioning team gives energy, enthusiasm and encourages improvement. But it doesn't happen by itself. At regular intervals measures have to be taken to provide and maintain "troekket" among the participants.

I think I understand what Bjornar is saying, but I don't actually know what "troekket" means (it ain't in my Norwegian dictionary).

Here is another short quote, this one from a professional coach:

My number one job as a coach is to create an environment, a culture, that players and coaches enjoy working in.

This coach -- the quote is from the KC football coach -- recognizes that people need to enjoy what they are doing if they are going to perform at their best. The paragraph after the quote describes him chewing out a player who'd let down the organization by gaining too much weight to perform well.

I should spend some more time writing -- I don't think I've done a very good job of explaining what I mean. But, I'd rather go outside an run.

posted by Michael | 9:45 AM


Friday, November 14, 2003

Is night orienteering as hard as it sounds?


Night O' is hard.

At night you lose some of the things you can use to navigate during the day. You can't see very far. That makes it harder to keep track of how far you've gone and keep moving in a straight line. If you lose track of where you are, it is harder to relocate at night.

In one way night O' can be easier than day orienteering. At most night O' races the markers have some reflective tape on them. The tape often shows up very clearly from a distance. Sometimes you can find the control by just getting near and then sweeping the terrain with your lamp until you get a reflection. You have to be careful, though. Wednesday night a couple of people had trouble when they mistook the glowing eyes of deer for control markers.

Running at night is different. I wouldn't say it is harder to move fast, but it takes some practice.

A distant memory...

The first time I saw a Scandinavian O' map was at a USOF convention in Indiana (in 1982?). A visiting Norwegian student had some maps that he showed me. I remember studying one course. After a few minutes I decided that even though it'd be difficult, I was pretty sure I'd be able to finish the course. Then I found out it was a night O' course.

Take a look at some courses from Norway. Check out the part I and then take a look at part II.

The courses are from the M17-18 championships in night O' in 2003. Oystein Sorensens routes are shown. He won the race.

Some maps relevant for the 2004 Junior WOC

While I was looking for night O' courses, I discovered a page with a number of maps from a Norwegian training camp to prepare for the 2004 JWOC.

I'm not sure if anyone who reads my page is preparing for the JWOC, but just in case I thought I'd provide a link.

Here is Tiltnes' JWOC 2004 training camp page. The top four maps are areas that will be used during the races (so you can't train there). The other maps are relevant areas that are open for training.

posted by Michael | 7:27 PM


Thursday, November 13, 2003

Words of wisdom from Oystein


Oystein Kristiansen is one of the world's best orienteers (bronze medal from the middle distance in Switzerland) on the world's best O' club (Halden SK), so when I found an article he'd written about O' technique I was interested in reading it. As I read, I realized he was writing about some of the same stuff Randy wrote about at Mapsurfer and I posted on November 3.

I'll probably get around to translating the whole article in the next few days, but until then I've translated one paragraph:

It is impossible to concentrate 100 percent on orienteering. Even in a 10 minute sprint race your mind will wander a few times. But you can train to be able to discover a slip in concentration soon and get your focus back. You have to train the "trigger" in your brain -- you want to hear the alarms early -- and the more you train it, the sooner you'll be able to discover when you've lost your concentration and you can avoid mistakes.

posted by Michael | 7:18 PM


Wednesday, November 12, 2003

A technique training experiment


Yesterday I ran a long control picking course -- 62 controls -- at Knob Noster. I've done a lot of control picking (i.e. O' courses with short legs, typically 100-200 meters or so, and a number of direction changes). But, I'd never run such a long control picking course.

In general, I don't do long technique sessions. I usually err on the side of doing short, but intense, technique work. If I need to get in a long run (say 90+ minutes) and want to do technique, I've done things like -- warm up for 20-30 minutes, do a short course of 20 minutes, jog for 10 minutes, do another short course of 20 minutes, then jog a bit.

Eric W. (and maybe someone else) have talked about doing long line O' courses to practice O' technique for long periods of time. That idea inspired my training yesterday. Except I prefer control picking to line O' because I feel like line O' "feels" different from how you orienteer in a race.

How was the 62 control course?

I enjoyed it.

I expected to have trouble holding my concentration for two hours. I had a bit of trouble, but I was able to notice my mind wandering and get my concentration back quickly. I made a couple of booms and hesitated at a couple of the control locations (I didn't have flags set out, so in a couple of places I spent a minute or so double checking my location).

I got quite tired by the end. Running for over two hours in the terrain wears me out. Knob Noster has enough hills that I got a tired from the climb, too. I carried some Hammer Gel and took a couple clunks every 30 minutes or so.

I'll probably try similar courses this winter and next spring.

posted by Michael | 5:24 PM


Tuesday, November 11, 2003



I stepped on a thorn while orienteering today. The thorn went through the sole of my O' shoe and into my foot. I guess about half an inch of the thorn went into the foot.

Fortunately, the thorn had a bit of a hook on the end. I was able to pull on the hook and got the thorn out (having a thorn through the sole of the shoe is a bit like having your shoe nailed on to your foot). I also managed to pull the thorn out without breaking the tip.

Let's hope I don't get an infection.

posted by Michael | 8:03 PM


What a mess


The O' meet at Wyandotte this weekend was a bit of a mess. That's too bad because the turnout was decent, the map is mostly good and the weather was perfect.

Here is a control-by-control run down of my course:

1. In the right place.
2. Hung about 1.5-2 lines too high.
3. Hung about 1 line too high.
4. Hung on a spur, about 2 lines too high and 30-40 meters away from the center of the circle.
5. In the right place.
6. Hung about 20 meters too far southwest. This control was also on the green course. The circle on the green master map was correct.
7. I never found the marker (I think it may have been about 40 meters too far to the south.
8. In the right reentrant, but about 2 lines too low (about 35 meters off).
9. I never found the marker.
10. I never found the marker.
11. Hung about 25 meters too far to the northwest.
12. In the right place.
13. In the right place.
14. I'm not sure. The control was hung in a flat part of the map with thick woods and no features. It seemed to be about 35 meters too far to the west.
15. In the right place, I guess.
16. Hung about 15 meters off, but it was on top of a spur and the circle showed the control being on the side of the spur.
17. Hung about 10 meters to the north. The circle was on a trail/stream junction. The control was hung where an unmapped trail met the stream.
18. In the right place, I guess.
19. In the right place (though the circle on the master map was off by about 20 meters).
20. In the right place.

By my count, 8 of the 20 controls were hung in the right place. In baseball, that'd be a 400 batting average!

I think the problems with control placement came about because several of the controls were put on features that were NOT shown on the map and the master maps were not drawn carefully enough. After the race, Gene and I compared the master maps for some of the controls that were on two courses. They master maps didn't match.

Mary* walked the white course and one of the white course controls was misplaced (or I guess you could say the master map was mismarked). One of the white course controls was shown at the top of a hill on the master map but was hung in a reentrant (the clue was reentrant) about 80 meters (and 4 lines) away.


Possum Trot, the local club that organized the event, has a yahoo group that's been buzzing with discussion of the meet. I haven't added my two cents worth, but I've read the discussion. Without getting into details, there is discussion of a lack of volunteers, needed to vet course, debate about whether or not controls were misplaced, suggestions to reduce the number of events in the future, etc...

I'm interested in organizations and how they work. I'm also interested in orienteering. So I'm interested in the discussion.

I think organizations differ in how they identify and address problems. Identifying problems is tricky. Some organizations, and some organizers, have mechanisms for identifying problems. A few examples:

The City of Kansas City has both an internal auditor and an independent audit function. Both audit functions look for problems (the internal auditor reports to the city manager, the city auditor to the elected governing body) and recommend solutions.

One of the local event organizers seems to make it a practice of chatting for a few minutes with orienteers after they've finished asking "How was it? Where the controls all in the right place? What'd you think of the course?"

The Norwegian orienteering national team just had a planning meeting where part of the emphasis was on evaluating 2003 (presumably using some sort of process to identify what worked and what didn't).

NASA has formal and informal policies, procedures and practices for ensuring safety. The Columbia Accident Investigation Board published a detailed analysis of the accident full of discussion of NASA's approach.

*By the way, Mary is doing well. She walked the white course on Sunday and worked half a day yesterday. She's back at work full time today. I got a few email notes during the last week wishing her a speedy recovery and I passed them on to her. She appreciated the notes.

posted by Michael | 9:05 AM


Monday, November 10, 2003

Night orienteering


Wednesday night I'll do the first night O' practice of the season. I'm psyched.

Night O' is great training. Navigating at night takes a lot of concentration, even in terrain you've run in a lot. I also find it easier to keep a hard effort when I'm training night O' than when I'm training technique in the day. I don't know why that is.

A few more-or-less random thoughts about night O':

Buying a headlamp might have been the best investment in O' equipment I ever made. I don't know how many hours of training and racing my headlamp has been through, but it has been a lot in the 14 years since I bought it.

My first night O' was a "direct course" at the Ostergotland District Champs in 1988. I ran with a friend shadowing me and offering advice. I remember grabbing my map, turning it over and taking about five steps running toward the first control. My friend yelled at me to stop, take a look at the map and think about taking the trail. Good advice.

Running with a headlamp takes a bit of practice. The lamp, because it is so close to your eyes, makes shadows disappear. You can't judge depth as well as if the light came from an angle. It is easy to stumble or trip over rocks or logs.

Running with a headlamp also attracts police and park rangers. Mary was stopped in Shawnee Mission Park by a ranger who thought she might be illegally hunting. I've been stopped regularly and asked what I was doing. Once I explain what I'm doing I haven't had any trouble.

I did Google searches for "night orienteering" and "natt orientering" and found relatively little information. I figured I'd bump in to some pages with information on how to race at night. I didn't find much.

When I first began night O' I used to do a hard run the day before each race. I wanted my legs to be sore when I started. I figured that'd force me to run a bit slow and take it easy. It worked. But, after a bit of experience, I realized that if I wanted to have good results I needed to go in to races with fresh legs.

posted by Michael | 9:10 PM


Sunday, November 09, 2003

Short course...very short


Take a look at the first part and the second part of a race in Olso this weekend.

The map is drawn at a scale of 1:1000 with 1 meter contours. The course measures just 740 meters (with 24 controls). The fastest time was around 6 minutes.

It looks like fun.

posted by Michael | 7:43 PM


Saturday, November 08, 2003

Bad terrain


I spent 90 minutes today running around on one of our local orienteering maps and it struck me -- we've got some really bad O' terrain. The woods are thick. But, the woods aren't just thick, they are also full of thorns. Navigating is not very interesting. We don't have complicated fine orienteering or difficult route choice.

Here are a couple of maps that show the typical terrain around Kansas City: Prairie Center and Woodridge. Both of these places are ok, but just sort of boring and not especially nice. Both maps look more interesting than they are.

So, the terrain around here kind of sucks. But there must be some advantages to having crap terrain. What are the advantages?

1. Everywhere you travel seems nice (even Texas!).

2. You probably develop some mental toughness from running in thick and thorny forests.

On the bright side, we do have a couple of really nice areas...well, maybe not a couple, but Knob Noster is nice. And we have orienteering. Lots of places in the U.S. don't. I'm sure there are lots of places in the U.S. that have fabulous orienteering terrain, but no orienteers. I'd rather have races in crap terrain than no races. I'm also sure there is worse O' terrain (places around Tucson look pretty horrific, though some of the terrain is quite nice).

Still, looking at some of the maps from races I've traveled to over the years and maps in O-Sport make me envious.

posted by Michael | 4:27 PM


Friday, November 07, 2003

Sprint race last weekend


I wasn't at the DVOA meet last weekend, but one of the highlights looks to have been the 1 km sprint race on Saturday afternoon. The event was a fund raiser for the U.S. Team.

You can see the course here.

When I look at the course a couple of things strike me:

My eye doesn't do a very good job of seeing the second control. I could imagine running to one, then heading off to three. Clearly one of the challenges of sprint orienteering is running to the right control in the right order (a lesson exposed at the world champs last summer, too).

Even though the field was small, it looks like a small boom would cost you a lot. Mihai, for example, missed the first control and dropped maybe a minute or so. Over a distance of just one kilometer, that's a huge portion of your total race time. If Mihai lost a minute (which seems reasonable looking at the times), he would have run about 5:30 for the kilometer. If you figure a regular blue course takes 75 minutes, an equivalent boom would be almost 14 minutes!

Peter's comment about the race was, "Turned out to be both fun and an intense workout, and also proof of the old saying that even an easy course can be hard if you just run a little faster."

You can see the results here. Also, check out my OK team mate Peggy in action in a photo from Kenny.

posted by Michael | 7:31 PM


Thursday, November 06, 2003

Team building


The Norwegian national team has a meeting coming up this weekend. Bjornar Valstad wrote a bit about it:

The schedule for the fall meeting includes an evaluation of the 2003 season, planning for next season and, among other things, "Team Building" .... A subject that is always interesting and important for individual sports. History shows that good results in international championships are dependent on a well functioning team.

I have no idea how many national teams do this sort of thing. I've read articles about team building from the Norwegian and Swedish national teams. I know a lot of Scandinavian clubs do this sort of stuff. I don't think the U.S. has ever done anything. What about the rest of the world?

My personal experience has been that Bjornar is right. Even in an individual sport, team feeling is important (as an aside, as a manager in a work place I've reached the same conclusions).

It is worth investing some time and energy in managing that feeling. The world is full of consultants who'll be happy to take your money and hold "team building" sessions. But the quality of those sessions varies. In the work place, I feel some of the best "team building" comes from training and activities that aren't labeled "team building." Some of the worst "team building" sessions I've seen in a work place are those labeled "team building." I think the problem comes from the combination of weak teachers/trainers and cynical participants.

posted by Michael | 1:19 PM


Wednesday, November 05, 2003

From an old baseball book


A couple of days ago I wrote something about change and motivation. I guess there is a fine balance -- you don't want to get stagnant, but you also don't want to throw out what worked before. There is something to be said for conventional wisdom. There is something to be said for looking for something new and different; seeking an advantage that your competition hasn't found.

I was reminded of these ideas when I was reading a bit of an old book by Bill James (one of my favorite writers). Here are two quotes from James' 1981 Baseball Abstract:

...That balanced strength is always preferable to imbalanced strength, certainly. That there is more strength in personalities and in individual skills -- that these are truer things to rely on -- than in theories and philosophies about the game, probably. That is it dangeous to brush aside the conventional habits and emark boldly on one's own path, because there resides a sure wisdom in the things that Are. That the game of baseball is and will always be unpredictable, because you may study a kaleidoscope forever and you will not become able to guess what the next picture will show. You may know what all the pieces are, but you will never know how they will fit together on the next run of the glass.

James is basically arguing for a conservative approach. Don't ignore conventional wisdom. Ignore what has been done before at your own risk.

Later in the Abstract, James presents a bit of a different idea:

One thing that I write sometimes, and which is ingrained in the Bill James Theory of Success in Anything, is that nothing can stand still, but must move forward or it will inevitably fall back.

Maybe the lesson to take from James is to keep trying to find ways to move forward without forgetting the lessons of the past. Not bad advice (if a bit generic).

By the way, if you're interested in baseball I can recommend reading Bill James. He has written a lot of stuff that makes for good reading. Reading a Bill James book in entertaining and gives you lots to think about. He's also a Lawrence resident and KU graduate! Check out an article about James "The Professor of Baseball" published in New Yorker magazine this summer.

posted by Michael | 8:58 PM


Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Huh? What?


I don't usually "rant" on my web page. I don't like reading blogs that are collections of "rants." But, sometimes I can't help myself. From the USOF yahoo group...

I'm doing some research on incorporating mind-body work into orienteering training.

Does anyone out there regularly use mind-body practices -- meditation, breathing techniques, visualization, guided imagery, self-hypnosis -- to help with their orienteering, training or competition? I'd like to hear from you. If it comes together, I'd edit the info into a column for ONA's new training feature.

I suppose this guy might be on to something interesting...but he's lost me with the jargon. Among the jargon I don't understand: mind-body work, breathing techniques (don't we all breath when we orienteer?), guided imagery and self hypnosis.

I suspect most of the jargon can be explained in plain English. The guy who wrote the post might even understand what the jargon means. I wish he'd have taken the time to write in plain English.

posted by Michael | 1:36 PM


Monday, November 03, 2003

"Wrong Thought"


Randy wrote about a race he ran this weekend (the complete report, including maps, is on Mapsurfer.com). Among other things, he wrote:

I felt the ability to "turn on" the 100% concentration like I wrote about after Pond Mountain. I don't remember feeling that before except after a really bad race, but I guess its possible. I just figured you can't control your thoughts, but I believe you can, I guess. Three races in a row. I had the ability to force out irrelevant thoughts, like is this pace fast enough to beat so and so or whether or not I should buy another Iced Earth album. I would just say "wrong thought" to myself....
The problem will be remembering how to do this next year....The cost of 100% concentration/contact is not free.

Randy describes something that I've noticed when I'm orienteering well -- as soon as my mind wanders, I notice that it wandered and I'm able to immediately think about what I'm doing again. When I'm orienteering really well, my mind doesn't wander. But, orienteering that well doesn't happen so often. On the other hand, orienteering nearly that well -- where you say "wrong thought" to yourself -- hasn't been so hard to do. It just takes practice and remembering that feeling.

I can't remember when I first figured out what Randy wrote about. I'm sure it took me several years. When I first understood what was going on I developed a little habit. Instead of telling myself "wrong thought," I told myself to look at the compass. Looking at my compass did two things. First, it was a trigger to get my mind back on what I was doing. Second, since my mind had begun to wander, looking at the compass kept me from doing something really stupid (like a 180 mistake).

I think what Randy describes is very close to what the Scandinavians call "Flyt."

posted by Michael | 8:25 PM


Sunday, November 02, 2003  

I've found that changing how I train can help keep me motivated. When I think back to the times I've been most motivated, I've usually also made some changes in how I've trained.

I don't know if motivation leads to changes or changes lead to motivation. Maybe it is more complicated than that. Maybe something else leads to changes in both motivation and training.

Bjornar Valstad wrote a bit about how he plans to change his training in the coming year:

I'll make some changes for next year. I've trained systematically and relatively hard since I was 15 years old, and it is important to make some changes to avoid stagnation or becoming worse.

Last year I focused on very high training volumes through the whole winter. I will continue with high volumes because that is a central part of my training philosophy. But the biggest volume peaks will be a little lower to be able to work with some other qualities. This year, I'll work with a wider range of intensities in order to take advantage of the base that I've built over many years. The system for this is something I've developed together with Anders [Garderud, Norwegian Coach and Olympic Gold winner in the steeple chase] at I'm looking forward to getting going.

posted by Michael | 8:13 PM


Saturday, November 01, 2003

O-Sport magazine


Two copies of O-Sport magazine were waiting for me in my mail box when I got home from work last night.

Perfect. I'd spend the evening reading the magazines and handing out candy to trick-or-treaters. I'd write a review of the magazine for okansas.

I began by flipping through the two issues and counting. How many pages are in each issue? How many pages with color maps? How many pages with color photos? How many pages of advertising?

Issue 4/2003: 52 pages, 24 pages with color maps, 16 pages with color photos and 4 pages with advertising.

Issue 5-6/2003: 60 pages, 28 pages with color maps, 41 pages with color photos and 4 pages with advertising.

O-Sport is colorful and dense with maps and editorial content. Only 4 pages with advertising means each issue is more like a book than a magazine. That's good and bad. The good is that each issue is full of content, full of stuff to read. The bad is that you'd like to see a bit more advertising support to help the magazine's financial condition.

After flipping through the issues and doing some counting, I planned to read a few articles and pick out the type of articles that you see in O-sport.

My plans didn't quite work out.

I spent the evening at the hospital. Mary had emergency surgery to remove her appendix. Instead of reading O-sport, I spent my evening pacing around the waiting room and worrying about Mary. She's fine and should be able to leave the hospital in another day or two.

I'm hoping to have a bit more time to read a few articles today and tomorrow.

Even without carefully studying the articles in O-sport, I feel comfortable recommending the magazine. You get a mix of maps, reports and analysis of big races, interviews with top orienteers and discussion of how top orienteers train. The people writing and editing the magazine are serious about orienteering.

As I flip through the magazine I feel the editors are interested in exactly the same stuff I'm interested in. I've never had that impression with another magazine regardless of the subject.

You can get an idea of the magazine by checking out the O-Sport web page.

The magazine is edited and published in the Czech Republic and doesn't yet have a North American subscription agent. No problem, you can subscribe through the U.K. agent and pay online with a credit card. I suspect it won't be too much longer before one of the North American O' gear dealers will start selling O-Sport.

My conclusion -- Get out your credit card, point your browser to Compass Point in the U.K. and subscribe. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

posted by Michael | 11:57 AM


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