Orienteering can very briefly be described as a navigation exercise in which you are asked to run to, and find, a number of features on a map in as short a time as you can.

These features are natural or man-made features which you find on all maps, such as stream or path junctions, bends in walls, hollows, knolls (small hills), boulders and the like.

Events are most often held in woods, though this isn't a necessity.

An Orienteering Event

At the start you are given a special Orienteering map. It will generally be an A4 size sheet, on a scale of 1:10,000 (1cm=100m)

The map may be pre-marked with the points you have to find, or more usually you have to mark them on your map from a Master Map at the start.

The map doesn't look quite like an ordinary map because it has different colours describing the accessibility of the terrain. White means a wood is nice and open suitable for running, dark green means it's a fight to get through. This helps you choose your route between the marked points.

You generally have to find the points ("controls") in a certain order and get back to the finish as quickly as possible.

Along with the map you are given a control card with a stub attached, with your name and start time and a set of numbered spaces.

At the start, the starter will tear off the stub of the control card. This will be used in sorting the results. It is also very important in case you get lost or have an accident - until you come back with the main part of the card, they know you are somewhere out on the course, and can send a search party if you are very overdue.

Leaving the start you note the position of the first control and navigate to it. What you'll find is three-faced red and white marker about 30cm square at about knee level, with a coded punch dangling from it, which you use to mark the appropriate space on your control card to prove you've been there.

At the finish you hand it in, the finish time is marked and a little later you will see, on a string between two trees, like washing hung out to dry, the stubs with your name and time, pegged up in order of the time taken.

It is always nice to be one of the faster ones, but nobody minds if you are slow, and if you can't or don't want to run, you can walk! Sometimes the walker studying the map carefully can beat the runner who takes a snatched look at it!

How to Get Involved

There are active orienteering clubs all over the country, with Dublin and Cork particularly well served. A list of clubs is provided on the Orienteering Ireland website (see below).

Orienteering for Everyone

Obviously, fit young 21 year-old competitors of either sex are able to run faster and farther than ten year-olds or sixty year-olds, so at each event there are many courses of different lengths and difficulty to suit all ages and both sexes.

The courses vary in length from perhaps 12km down to 2km in length, and finding controls is sometimes easy (beside a path) and sometimes difficult (a small hollow in a wood). They will be easy on the first courses you try!

Courses are designed to be completed in an hour or so (less for junior courses, more for élite)

It is a wonderful family sport; it is very social, and there are courses for everyone, male or female from 10 years to 75 years.

It requires no special skills, except fairly basic map-reading (which you soon learn if you take part) and little specialised equipment - studded running shoes, old clothes - and don't forget a watch!

It can be seriously competitive - there are National and International Championships, but most people come for recreation.

The competition, as in all Adventure Sports, is mostly with nature. Which is the best way from A to B, through the wood and over the hill, or round by the forest road?

It is bad enough to be beaten by someone two years older than you, but it is much worse to have made that stupid mistake in your route!

While the easier courses can be followed with just the help of a map, serious orienteers will always use a compass to ensure they go in the correct direction if they are not on a path or linear feature.

Most events are as explained above, you do the controls in order; but there are also score events where you have to find as many controls as you can in a fixed time, trail -O, which can be done without leaving established paths, night events, street events, cycle events, sprint events where the controls are close together and at the other extreme 24 hour score events!

Where to Orienteer

The main areas for orienteering are Cork, Dublin, and Fermanagh in Northern Ireland. In these areas there are events at least once a fortnight between September and May/June but there are clubs all round the country with local events. The Irish Orienteering Association(*) lists all the Clubs and also has a calendar of events. There's a separate Association in Northern Ireland, but they combine for international events. Most events are on Sundays; you don't have to join a club to take part, just turn up between about 10.30 and 12.30 at the event location with a few euro in your hand and enjoy yourself.


Irish Orienteering Association: www.orienteering.ie
Orienteering Questions List: http://orienteering.ie/wiki/doku.php?id=ioa:faq/

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