Occassional thoughts about orienteering

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Aslpleaf on O' in the Olympics


If you can read Swedish, check out Aspleaf's latest.

posted by Michael | 8:19 PM


More about what makes a good orienteer


At the TJOC I had a "fireside chat" with some of the better juniors about what makes a good orienteer. I also had a similar chat with a group of the adult leaders at the camp. Tonight, I thought I'd roughly outline the main points I tried to make.

I began by explaining that I thought it takes three things to be a great orienteer and asked the kids to come up with those three things. It took just a minute or two to come up with:

1. Good navigation/technical skills.
2. Good running.

I then proposed that the third thing was motivation/drive/desire.

Next, I pointed out that we have a very good idea of how to get those first two things.

1. To get good navigation/technical skills you need to train and race a lot.
2. To become a good runner you need to do lots of physical training, especially running.

Most of TJOC is about those two things.

What does it take to have the third thing? Motivation/drive/desire...

One person (one of the leaders) said that it is something your born with. You either have it or you don't. None of the kids really had an idea.

I don't believe that motivation/drive/desire is something your born with. My thinking is that there are ways to generate motivation/drive/desire. I think it might involve being able to "tell your story."

Let me try to explain.

I've spent a lot of time listening to good orienteers. I've spent a lot of time reading what they've got to say. I watched some really good orienteers. I've reflected on my own experiences, both as an orienteer and a manager.

It seems to me that a lot of the best performers have clear goals and that when they articulate those goals, they tell a story. The story has a beginning in the past, a description of the present, and a view toward the future. The stories are concrete. The future usually involves a clearly stated goal and a set of steps to try to reach the goal. You can see that structure in a lot of what the best performers say when they talk about themselves.

You can see good examples from the training camp presentations from Holger and Sandy Hott Johansen (check How I Train and The Way to the Top).

Here is where I make a leap -- maybe if an orienteer develops their own story they will improve their motivation/drive/desire. Maybe the process of thinking through your own story -- even writing it down -- has an effect.

At TJOC, I told my own story (from the point of view of my orienteering when I was a 17 year old junior) and gave the participants a set of questions to think about that would, if they answered the questions, help them develop their own story.

I have no idea if my idea works. I have no idea if any of the kids will develop their own stories. But, it might work...

If anyone has any thoughts (even, "no way, what a flaky idea, that is just stupid") please feel free to drop me an email or leave a comment. I'd be interested to know what you think.

posted by Michael | 7:15 PM


Monday, May 29, 2006

Some TJOC notes


I just got back from a couple of days at TJOC -- Texas Junior O' Camp. As always, it was fun. I took a few snapshots.

Check out this snapshot from the start of this morning's 6-point course. The course was only about 3 km but you'll notice that this guy is wearing a camelbak. That's because it is a rule. Everyone has to have water with them when they train. No exceptions. While that might sound a bit crazy for a 3 km course, the heat in Texas at this time of year makes it a sensible rule.

Also check out the slick LaPorte O' suit from Axis Gear. Does cool clothing matter? It can't hurt.


Texas is full of strange (and often unpleasant) stuff. Last night I was sitting and enjoying a little ice cream when the kids pointed out a scorpion. I'd never seen a scorpion before, so I found it pretty interesting. Sorry for the lousy photo (very low light and the camera had trouble focusing).

I don't really know if a scorpion sting is a big problem. I suspect it hurts.

posted by Michael | 8:07 PM


Sunday, May 28, 2006  

this is an audio post - click to play

posted by Michael | 5:26 PM


Saturday, May 27, 2006

Maps to compare


OPN.no showed compared maps. The first one is from 1976:

The second is from 2004:

Compare the two maps and look for differences. Looks like maps have come to be much more detailed and precise. And the mapper shows more levels of vegetation. When I say "precise" I mean that cliffs and contours are drawn with more distinct shapes.

Another interesting comparison is to look at Eva Jurenikova's draft of the final sprint race compared to the actual final sprint race.

Looking at those two maps reminds me that it wasn't all that long ago that organizers map an effort to keep anyone from knowing what was coming. Those days are past. In the race Jurenikova wrote about, the terrain was open to competitors before the event and the map was available, too. I guess that is fair.

Maybe the next step will be to publish the courses in advance (which actually might be an interesting experiment for a local event).

posted by Michael | 11:55 AM


Friday, May 26, 2006

What makes a good orienteer?


Three things:

1. Good O' skills developed by racing and practicing.
2. Strong running abilities developed by training.
3. Motivation and drive.

I was thinking about this as I was getting ready to go to the Texas Junior Orienteering Camp (which begins this weekend). At the training camp, we spend a lot of time working on 1 and 2. But, in past years we haven't done much with 3.

Why is that?

I think it is because we tend to think of motivation and drive as attributes people have rather than attributes people develop. We think about praciting O' making someone a better map reader. We think about going out and running as making someone a better runner. But maybe we don't think about how to make someone motivated and driven.

I've got some ideas about how we might go about developing motivation and drive. I plan to test them out at the Texas Junior O' Camp. When I get back, I'll write about how it worked (especially if it seemed to work well).

posted by Michael | 8:16 PM


Thursday, May 25, 2006

Some snapshots from the team trials


At the 5th control on the sprint, Fritz punched the control. Then he also punched the split button on his watch. I guess Fritz didn't trust the SI unit to give him splits.

Tom and Eddie discussing the middle distance course. Eddie impresses me. He runs fast and navigates well. But, he hasn't been orienteering very long and he doesn't train consistently.

Elephant Rocks State Park is worth a visit if you're orienteering near Hawn. Mary and I spent some time hiking around the park. In the snapshot, Mary took a picutre of some other visitors.

Despite being a bit heavier than I should be, I was able to squeeze through a narrow passage.

On the evening before the final races, Hillary and Ross arm wrestled while Eric looked on. Ross probably needs to do some strength training.

The U.S. WOC team and alternates gathered for a group photo after the selection was announced.

posted by Michael | 8:06 PM


Wednesday, May 24, 2006  

this is an audio post - click to play

posted by Michael | 5:58 PM



this is an audio post - click to play

posted by Michael | 5:57 PM


Sunday, May 21, 2006  

this is an audio post - click to play

posted by Michael | 1:31 PM


Saturday, May 20, 2006

A day to forget or maybe not


I orienteered miserably today. If you could do something wrong, I did it.

I didn't warm up and follow my normal pre-race routine.

I ran with no confidence.

I took risks.

I relocated poorly.

I tried to run hard, to make up some time.

It was a day to forget. Except, you can (I hope!) learn from that sort of day and make adjustments for tomorrow. We'll see if I can do that. Tomorrow's race is 13.6 km at Hawn. It should be tough.

posted by Michael | 4:00 PM


Friday, May 19, 2006

Sprint race at UMSL


You can find results from today's sprint selection race at Attackpoint (scroll down a bit). You can also find a link with some photos and the map.

As far as I can tell, Marten Bostrom didn't arrive and run. If he did, it was quite late.

I shuffled around the course and had a nice run. I'm just not fast enough to have a nice result. Train more, eat less. That's probably be worth a minute or more.

I enjoyed the course and the map. Despite the map being 1:5000, I carried and used my magnifier. As I jogged around the model map, I realized a magnifier might help me pick out some of the smaller gaps between uncrossable features and would let me read the map a bit easier without slowing down. It felt a bit silly to be using a magnifier at 1:5000.

I was a bit disappointed, but not really surprised, to see a runner or two cut through the out-of-bounds area (olive green on the map) between 5 and 6. I understand a number of people did that. Bad form.

posted by Michael | 8:41 PM


Thursday, May 18, 2006

What should I do in Stockholm?


A reader participation project -- tell me what I should do in Stockholm.

I'll be in Stockholm from June 4 - June 11. I'll be fairly busy, but I will have some free time. What should I see? What should do? If you've got suggestions, send leave a comment.


posted by Michael | 8:23 PM


Irregular updates until Thursday, May 25


I'll be away from my computer this weekend and the first half of next week. I'll try to post some audio updates, but don't be suprised if I don't update this page each day.

posted by Michael | 7:33 PM


3 Days, 3 races


This weekend the U.S. will select the team for the WOC in Denmark. The races are in St Louis -- sprint tomorrow, middle distance Saturday, and long/classic on Sunday.

The team trials are always fun to run because they typically attract a good field. It is fun to see how you stack up against the best. One of my goals for the year has been to have decent races at the team trials and see if I can beat at least one person who wants to make the WOC team. We'll see how it goes.

My strategy is simple -- stay ahead with the map reading and concentrate.

The team trials are also fun because, typically, the courses are interesting. I think the course setters usually pay a little more attention to the trials. And, maybe the course consultants pay a bit more attention (or maybe the course setters pay more attention to the course consultants?).

I don't usually look at the start lists. But, I looked at the team trials start list and saw Marten Bostrom's name. It'll be fun to race against one of the best there is.

posted by Michael | 7:23 PM


Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Sweet terrain!


Aspleaf posted a little clip of one of my all-time favorite places to orienteer -- Karsta (it is north of Stockholm). To be correct, I should put a little tiny circle above the first "a" in Karsta. But, I'm not sure how to do that on my non-Swedish keyboard.

This is the sort of terrain that is really fun to run through. The technique is straightforward -- run mostly straight, while keeping track of where you are and where you are going. It is easier said that done (check out Aspleaf's little adventure at the 3rd control).

My first time at Karsta was a night training session. When I finished the course, I was suprised I'd found my way around (and so were the other people in the club).

posted by Michael | 6:37 PM


Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Words of wisdom from Hammer


Hammer wrote about his experience at the European Champs, including this:

I think this terrain caught a lot of Europeans by surprise and some big name athletes have called it the worst terrain they have ever run in and others have stated that the woods were too thick. Are they making excuses for their poor performances? Making excuses is an orienteering tradition and it is certainly a very Canadian thing. If I had a dime for every excuse I have made the last 20 years racing for Canada I could retire a rich man. But one of the themes of the National Training Camp hosted by Holger and Sandy Hott Johansen earlier this year in Hamilton was "No excuses". We as Canadians have often qualified our International performances by making excuses. Examples: 1) We work harder and longer at our job in North America, 2) Our maps aren't as good, 3) We don't get Government funding, 4) Our forests are too thick yada yada yada. Well, yes, lots of these things are true but the point made at the camp is that we can do things about them. Work less, take time off work, approach sponsors, take out a loan, travel to good maps and faster woods, etc. OR, we can flip those old excuses around into advantages. Yes, some of our forest is thick but as I stated above for today's race being able to relate to running in thick woods was a big advantage.

I've got just a couple of comments about what Hammer wrote:

1. It is interesting that he's looking back to the January training camp. That camp, and Holger and Sandy's presentations, seems to have had a big effect -- something like a "tipping point." I suspect that in less developed O' nations like the U.S. and Canada, we can try to figure out how to increase the chances of those tipping points (and I think bringing confident, experienced, world class orienteers to North America for training camps is a good way to increase those tipping point opportunities).

2. Hammer shows what I'd call an "active" attitude (which is a bit different from a "positive" attitude. An active attitude is taking a look at the situation and doing something active to make the best of it. A positive attitude is looking on the bright side of anything. A positive attitude is looking at a situation. An active attitude is looking toward the future. They are related, but distinctly different. I'd say that an active attitude is probably more important than a positive attitude.

posted by Michael | 7:18 PM


Monday, May 15, 2006

New glasses


Orienteering isn't much of an equipment sport (especially compared to, say, cycling). I wonder if that hurts the chances of the sport to get sponsors. It might.

Looking at photos from the just finished European Champs, I was struck by how sun glasses seem to have become the fashionable new equipment. The snapshot above is of the Norwegian team in their shades (photo lifted from Oystein Kvaal Osterbo's page).

While I wrote that shades have become the "fashionable new equipment," I actually think orienteering in sunglasses is useful. I've been wearing glasses to protect my eyes for two or three years. I don't wear them if it is raining because the rain makes it too hard to read the map. But, I feel much more comfortable running through the forest with something protecting my eyes.

A long time ago, I took a thorn in the eyeball and had to have the bits of thorn removed by an opthamologist. But, that wasn't enough to get me to wear glasses. Then a couple of years ago I went through a series of races where I took a stick in the eye (never causing any problems, but still). I decided to give glasses a try. I'm sold on them now.

To get a very rough idea of how many top orienteers race in glasses, I picked (more or less at random) one runner for each of the 31 countries at the European Champs, looked at the runner photos at the European Champs web page, and counted how many raced in glasses. 20 ran without glasses, 7 ran with glasses, and for 4 countries I couldn't tell from the photos.

Clearly, I have too much time on my hands.

posted by Michael | 7:47 PM


Sunday, May 14, 2006

Watching a bike race


Watching sports -- especially suffering sports like cycling, running or skiing -- is always inspiring. I spent a few hours this morning watching the US Collegiate Cycling Champs in Lawrence. As expected, it was inspiring to see all those people working so hard.

I shot some video of the women's division one race. The women did 55 minutes plus three laps. Each lap was one mile in downtown Lawrence.

For those of you who don't know Lawrence, the course was a mile with 8 turns and a few gentle climbs. For those of you who know Lawrence, the course began at 9th and Mass, headed south to 10th, then over to New Hampshire, back north to 8th, then up Mass to 7th, west to Vermont, back to 8th and then back down Mass to the start/finish line.

Since I didn't add naration to the video, I'll give you a bit of info. The video shows the start and first lap. About 20-25 minutes into the race, you'll see a little group of 4 riders try to get away from the pack. It didn't work. You'll see the last three laps. Including the last corner, a right hand turn 200 meters from the finish. You'll be able to see the winner, but I didn't catch who she was (she might have been from Florida).

posted by Michael | 6:18 PM


Saturday, May 13, 2006

Local Sprint Race


PTOC hosted a sprint race at Sar Ko Par today.

Mike Shifman set the course. I thought it was interesting. He tried to give us several legs with some route choice options.

I think I had fun. But, if Apsleaf's sprint orienteering flowchart is to be believed (and he's always a good source of info), maybe I didn't.

posted by Michael | 7:07 PM


Friday, May 12, 2006

Snapshot from West Point Sprint


Too lazy to write tonight, so I'll just post a snapshot. That's John Fredrickson starting the sprint course. I removed color from everything except John. I kind of like the effect.

posted by Michael | 8:11 PM


Thursday, May 11, 2006

Don't read the map on the run


Sometimes you don't want to read the map while moving. Thacher, where the U.S. long and short champs were held a couple of weeks ago, was one of those places.

Parts of the forest at Thacher were pitted with holes. If you didn't pay attention to where you put your feet, you could easily take a wicked fall.

I shot a couple of short (and low resolution) videos after I ran. Both are from the area around control 7 (Peter's routes are shown). The brown hatched marks indicate the limestone pavement areas. The first video shows the typical holes. The second video shows an especially scary one.

posted by Michael | 7:34 PM


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

"Deliberate Practice"


An article in Sunday's NY times looked at research on what makes someone really good at something, like sports of music. Here are two short quotes:

And the best way to learn how to encode information meaningfully, Ericsson determined, was a process known as deliberate practice.

Deliberate practice entails more than simply repeating a task --? playing a C-minor scale 100 times, for instance, or hitting tennis serves until your shoulder pops out of its socket. Rather, it involves setting specific goals, obtaining immediate feedback and concentrating as much on technique as on outcome.

And another quote that caught my eye:

Ericsson's research suggests a third cliche as well: when it comes to choosing a life path, you should do what you love Â? because if you don't love it, you are unlikely to work hard enough to get very good. Most people naturally don't like to do things they aren't "good" at. So they often give up, telling themselves they simply don't possess the talent for math or skiing or the violin. But what they really lack is the desire to be good and to undertake the deliberate practice that would make them better.

This sounds very relevant to orienteering. And it reminds me of something I wrote about talent a month or so ago.

The idea of "deliberate practice" is something I want to learn more about. I've downloaded a paper by K Anders Ericsson (they Ericsson referred to in the NY Times). I haven't read it yet, but I'm hoping to learn somethiinterestinging. You can find more information and links to some papers over at Freakonomics.com.

posted by Michael | 8:57 PM


Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Recruiting juniors to orienteering


How can you get more juniors? In Norway, they're going to try paying young girls to orienteer.

If you're an F14 and run the O'Festivalen in Norway, you'll get a 500 Norwegian Kronor gift certificate to use at the Trimtex shop. That's about $80.

Kondis reports that:

They chose the girls category because, "when the girls attend, the guys follow." They selected the A-class to encourage participation at that level, and they picked the 14-year group because that is a common age to lose participants from the sport.

Interesting idea.

posted by Michael | 8:17 PM


Monday, May 08, 2006

Word Wars and orienteering


Watching "Word Wars," a documentary film about Scrabble, gave me a few ideas about orienteering.

The film follows four very serious Scrabble players as they prepare for and compete in the national championships. I'm always interested in learning about people who are both fanatic and good at just about anything (except I'm not really interested in golf). So, I enjoyed the movie.

Scrabble as a sport is a bit like orienteering in that it isn't a big professional sport and the top competitors seem to be (don't take this wrong) real odd balls.

The movie showed a couple of interesting ways the players trained that could probably be translated to orienteering:

One guy practiced while he drove to and from work. He'd prepared a bunch of flash cards and studied them while he drove, taking short looks at the cards.

Two of the players practiced by organizing a one-on-one competition. They played something like 50 games in a row, with the winner taking $1000 (which the loser would put up). Certainly playing under those conditions would simulate the stress of a big competition. It turns out that they didn't finish all 50 games. Matt, who was trailing, offered to settle for $500 after about half of the games were completed.

I'm sure there are ways an orienteer could figure out to practice or train while going to/from work. I'm also sure that one-on-one "bets" in training would help simulate the pressure of a big competition (which is something that is otherwise quite difficult in the U.S.).

At the sprint race at West Point, Peter put pressure on me by betting me that I couldn't beat Pavlina. If I'd won the bet, Peter would have bought me a Starbucks espresso brownie (which I've never had, but sure sounds good). I had a terrible race (booming the first control and then skipping a control half way through the course). Maybe the pressure got to me.

A note on the European Champs Sprint

Halden Arbeiderblad has an article about Emil Wingstedt's win in the European Champs sprint. Here is a little bit of it translated:

Phenomenal concentration

Goran Andersson, the Swedish team's trainer who also works with Halden, points to Emil's drive to be best when it matters as he explains his wins.

"Emil is so good at focusing an performing at races when he wants to do well. At less important races he doesn't do so well."

posted by Michael | 7:10 PM


Saturday, May 06, 2006

How slow can you go?


I had a decent race today and covered just 6.2 km in 67 minutes.

How can you go so slow?

Hills. On my way to the second control, after just 500 meters on the course, I'd already climbed 20 lines (5 meter contours). On the 12th leg, I covered 600 meters and climbed 22 lines. My split for that leg was 10:36.

Obviously the whole course wasn't like that, but we did climb a lot.

posted by Michael | 3:28 PM


Friday, May 05, 2006

Scandinavian versus North American O' club models


A good question from a comment a few days ago:

In your post on 4/27 you said that GHO was implementing a Scandinavian club model. What exactly is a Scandinavian club model?

Let me highlight some of the big differences between "typical" North American and Scandinavian O' clubs. Of course, there are exceptions. Of course, I'm over generalizing. Keep in mind that my experiences are limited (I've only run for one North American club and three Swedish clubs). That said, here are some major differences in approach:

1. North American O' clubs host a lot of orienteering events. Scandinavian clubs host a lot of orienteering trainings. PTOC, the local club in Kansas City (which is not my club), usually hosts two events each month. IFK Lidingo (which is the club I ran for the most in Sweden), usually had 3 or 4 or 5 training sessions each week.

2. North American O' clubs often draw from a big population, spread over a big area. Scandinavian clubs tend to be based on much smaller areas. So, for example, a big metro area in the U.S. might have one O' club (Kansas City, actually has two, but that is probably an exception). A big metro area in Scandinavia -- like Oslo, Stockholm or Helsinki, will have dozens of clubs. Few small towns (say a population of less than 100,000) have O' clubs. But, most small towns in Scandinavia will have an O' club. I ran for a club called OKS Ljungsbro for a year or so. My impression was that Ljungsbro was a town of maybe 5,000 people.

3. North American O' clubs don't have any competitive focus. Scandinavian O' clubs typically focus on relays -- like Tio Mila and Jukola.

There are lots of other ways to compare North American and Scandinavian clubs. But, I think these three comparisons begin to sketch out the different "orienteering environments."

In looking at these three comparisons, GHO "fits" more with Scandinavian clubs than North American clubs.

posted by Michael | 3:36 PM


Thursday, May 04, 2006

A sight for sore eyes


I ran on an honest-to-goodness offset printed map today. It was really nice. I run with various inkjet and laser printed maps so often that I've nearly forgotten how much easier it can be to read a well drafted and well printed offset map. Though, I still had to use a magnifier to read the fine detail at 1:15,000.

I ran on a map called Bushy Ridge at Fahnestock State Park, New York. The park hosted a world cup race a long time ago (1986?). The map has aged well. Sure there are some new trails and some changes to the vegetation. But the quality of the fieldchecking was very high.

posted by Michael | 3:24 PM


Wednesday, May 03, 2006



I could get used to this:

1. Wake up.
2. Have a cup of coffee, read the paper, relax, play with the dogs.
3. Some O' practice in a beautiful forest with a nice map.
4. Hike around the map, checking out the terrain and studying the mapper's decisions.
5. Walk the dogs.
6. Check email, update this page.
7. Dinner.
8. Watch some TV? Read a bit? Relax?
9. Go to sleep.

I definitely could get used to this.

posted by Michael | 5:41 PM


Tuesday, May 02, 2006

One course, two times


George, Peter and I ran a short (modified green) course earlier today. We ran the course twice, giving us the chance to compare times. I was interested in seeing how much faster it'd go the second time around.

George ran 42:08, then 33:43.
Peter ran 32:26, then 24:41.
I ran 28:26, then 25:29

We all improved substantially the second time around the course. But, the times require some careful interpretation. For example, on his first time around the course, Peter was hanging tapes at the control locations (and at least one other spot) and he made a big boom on one early leg.

After we ran, we spent some time comparing splits at the local Starbucks (I can recommend the crumb cake). I'll have to spend some time looking at the splits to get a better sense of the level of improvement if you take away the errors.

I got a sense that, for me, the second time around the course was a bit faster because in the first 2/3rds of each leg I ran with my head up a bit more, spotting major features from further away. It didn't feel like I was gaining any speed in the last bit of each control. But, I'm not really sure, perhaps I was going faster but just didn't notice it.

As an experiment, I'd say running a course, re-running it soon afterwards, and then studying the split times, is a useful training exercise. I'm looking forward to learning how to run a course as if it was the second time around.

posted by Michael | 5:52 PM


Monday, May 01, 2006

Sprint training without an O' map


One of the nice things about sprint O' training is that you can get decent training using maps that aren't really O' maps. The map at left is the SMU campus. Tom used it to do sprint training yesterday.

I did a little sprint training today. But, I got by without a map. I walked around the C.I.A. campus* thinking about how a sprint map would look and making decisions about what I would map and what I would leave off the map. I also explored the forest just north of the campus, again thinking about how the map would look.

In the old days, I used to do a lot of training that involved looking at the terrain and thinking about how I'd map it. Sometimes I'd bring along some paper and sketch out the map, but mostly I just studied the terrain and thought about mapping. In my experience, it seems to be an effective way to train.

*The C.I.A. campus would make a really sweet (pun intended) sprint venue.

posted by Michael | 5:56 PM


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