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Orienteering for Runners - an Overview

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Updated: June 29, 2007

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What is Orienteering?

Orienteering, according to The US Orienteering Federation (USOF), is “a sport in which orienteers use an accurate, detailed map and a compass to find points in the landscape.” In short, most runners can consider orienteering as being a trail run with a map.

At most orienteering meets, also called an “O,” each participant is given a map as they start the course. The map has control sites, called controls, marked on it (and sometimes a list of clues to go with each site). The participants then must decide on a route and find each point, using a “punch” (like a hole punch) at each site to prove that they found each one. The fun is really in the strategy of deciding a route. Should you stay on the trail (run faster, but longer) or cut through the woods (slower, possibly hills and gullies, but more direct)? There is also the added skill of having to know when to turn off the trail, reading the map and understanding the lay of the land well enough to know where you are, etc.

Orienteering is a great sport for any runner who wants to add a new aspect to their race or who wants to add more of a mental game to their fitness routine. Orienteering also is wonderful for slower runners who want a chance to win a race, because orienteering can be won by a combination of brains and speed, not just speed alone.

Types of Meets:

  • O meets: This is the “conventional orienteering” as described above. A win would be the first person from each level to finish having punched all the controls.
  • Score O: This type of meet is like conventional orienteering but, instead of having to punch all the controls, the winner is designated by the person to finish in a certain time limit with the most points.
  • Rogaine: (Rugged Outdoor Group Activity Involving Navigation and Endurance) This is the sport of long distance cross-country navigation in which teams of two to five members visit as many checkpoints as possible in 24 hours.
  • Metrogaine: This is a Rogaine in the city.
  • Night O: This is a version of orienteering in which a team (usually of 5) navigates in the dark to find as many checkpoints as possible in 3 hours.
  • Canoe O: This is a sport where competitors use a canoe or kayak to navigate part or all of an orienteering course.
  • Ski O: This is a sport where competitors cross-country ski an orienteering course.
  • Bike O: This is a sport where competitors use a bicycle to navigate part or all of an orienteering course.
  • Trail O: This is like conventional orienteering but slightly changed to allow able-bodied athletes and disabled athletes to compete on equal terms.
There are many other versions of orienteering races, as well, but these are a few of the most popular.

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