Are we training wrong? (Part 1)

I’m not convinced that the way many orienteers train is very effective for orienteering. Why?

It pretty much started when I looked at my training for this year.

2021 isn’t over yet, but by the end of the yea I don’t expect to have much more than 250 hours of training logged on Attackpoint.

That is 100 hours less than last year when I was injured for 3 months, but training way more (especially in university). And now I am in the best orienteering shape of my life after a relatively small amount of training this year.

Do I think that training less is better? No.

But what I’ve learned this year is that more specialized training for orienteering is super important and having effective training sessions can makeup for a HUGE lack of training hours.

Would I have liked to train more this year? Yes, I just ran into some problems and instead spent my gap-year time focusing on how to make my training more effective rather than just more.

The second (normal red) bar in the graph above represents orienteering and I expect that by the end of the year my orienteering volume will match or exceed that of last year while both conditioning and running volume will be significantly lower.

Not only have I been doing more orienteering training this year, but I’ve tried to focus my workouts to be more orienteering specific.

By orienteering specific workouts I mean the following:

Terrain Intervals / Running – running through terrain at a fast pace

Hill Workouts / Training – running up hills at a fast pace

Dynamic Movement Workouts – running/jumping/climbing over obstacles

Why do I do these orienteering specific workouts as opposed to normal running workouts? Well it is pretty self explanatory.

Despite being at a lower speed than say a track workout, these orienteering workouts help develop the leg strength and power necessary for speed through terrain which, as I’ve mentioned in another post, is the primary physical component of orienteering (at least in the forest).

Is doing track workouts useless then? I don’t think so.

At first I thought that replacing all speed work with these kind of orienteering specific workouts is the way to go. But after some thought, it seems to me that track workouts at a fast pace also have their place in orienteering training because 1) they will be easier if you have a good base of strength from orienteering and 2) they help train aerobic endurance and speed in a way that orienteering specific workouts can’t seem to do.

So I do think that if you HAD to choose between doing only orienteering specific speedwork vs. typical speedwork then do the one more specialized for orienteering (like terrain intervals).

But since we have the option to do both I think that doing both is more effective than only one or the other even if traditional speedwork isn’t specifically designed for improving your orienteering.

Oregon Ducks add 5 more victories to close out Hayward Premiere track and  field meet -

So, what would a good week of training look like for me?

Monday: Rest Day / Cross Training

Tuesday: Orienteering Specific Workout

Wednesday: Easy Run w/ Map

Thursday: Traditional Speedwork (either tempo run or track workout)

Friday: Easy Run w/ Map or Cross Training

Saturday: Easy Orienteering Training or Terrain Running w/ Map

Sunday: Long Run or Hard Orienteering Training

I plan to follow something similar to the above when I go back to school in a few weeks (although my club does workouts on Wednesday so I’ll have to move things around).

Anyways, I want to go into how to train during actual orienteering sessions and why running with a map is important, but I think I will leave that for another post.

Thanks for reading! Read Part 2 here.

Analyzing the WOC 2021 Relay

2021 is the year of my first WOC performance. I’m 20 years old, one of the younger athletes in the field, and ran for Team USA, one of the less experienced countries.

I still had a really great time and am looking forward to competing again!

Overall, the relay was my favorite and probably best performance at WOC. It was in the famous Czech sandstone terrain which you can see pictures here and a good video here.

Right out of the start I was feeling a bit crappy from earlier problems with overtraining, but my speed was fine as I chased everyone towards the start triangle.

On the way to the first control, the pack split up between the trail and the forest. I didn’t have a chance to really look at the trail route so I just followed the pack that went closer to the line.

It was rough keeping up with the pack going super fast out of the gate, but I managed to get to the first control right behind Martin Hubmann and Albin Ridefelt.

However, I didn’t really look ahead to the next control so I got confused both by which route I wanted to take and exactly what was going on with the other runners as they were still taking other forkings. I definitely could’ve saved time if I was more confident and looked for a route to number 2.

By control 4 I was already struggling on the physical side of things, taking a trail route around and losing some time to the quicker runners.

I made very few technical mistakes throughout the course so I’m quite happy with that. Another small hesitation on number 6 that you can see on my GPS track.

I’d say that the main things I need to focus on and practice for next time are 1) better confidence in myself and 2) better fitness.

With those two I think I can secure a much better result and hopefully throw myself into the mix with the top runners even in such a packed and technical first leg.

For more analysis about the actual course feel free to watch the video at the top of this post where I briefly go over some of my thinking, planning and mistakes throughout the GPS replay.

That’s all.

A new approach to Orienteering Training

So I’ve been thinking about an approach to orienteering that I’ve been starting to apply recently.

I don’t think it’s a replacement for more traditional training methods, but I still want to propose it as being potentially useful.

So I’m sure most people are familiar with the “Memory-O” technique or format where your goal is to memorize a few controls or even an entire course.

This training method builds off the memory concept as a way to improve key orienteering skills like simplification.

The Method

On any normal training course, memorize one (or more) controls, run to the control(s), stop when you get to the control, rinse and repeat.

Matthias Kyburz and Tove Alexanderson — routes head to head

Even more simply put: memorize one control at a time (as fast as you can), and orienteer to the control without reading the map.

Before I go any farther, I want to address some (pretty significant) drawbacks.

  1. Can’t practice reading the map while running
  2. Hard to use / practice compass skills

The first drawback is really important, since reading the map while running is one of the most important things in orienteering.

Which is why this training technique needs to be supplemented by more typical trainings: orienteering intervals, night orienteering, skill tests (corridor, compass etc.)

How does the “Memory method” work?

There are only 3 things you need to pay attention to during a memory training: memorization time, speed, and error rate.

You want to minimize the amount of time it takes to memorize the leg, maximize the speed at which you can follow the memorized route, and minimize the rate of error when following the route (going off the memorized route and losing contact).

If you can optimize these parameters, you can become a very efficient “stop and go” orienteer.

Short memorization time, high speeds, and low error rate can be further optimized by map reading while running to take in more information.

This method has definitely has its drawbacks during competition including: time lost while memorizing, rigid route choice, hard to use compass, and generally higher error rate.

But during trainings, it is a very effective form of developing key skills:

  1. Simplification
  2. Not overreading the map
  3. Running fast through terrain

There is also some variation and flexibility that can be introduced during a memory session.

Me at the WOC 2021 Sprint in Czech!

Memorizing multiple legs at a time can be useful in easy terrain or if you are training at a slow pace.

Even more useful, memorizing the direction you should exit the next control, and not stopping to memorize the next leg, but instead jog the intended direction (sorry for the scuffed explanation).

You could memorize parts of the leg at a time and try to cut your memorizing time down as much as possible.

There’s lots of ways to use memorization to improve training and make them more fun! (especially if you are going at a slow pace).

Hopefully you find this interesting and/or helpful. Enjoy orienteering!

Anthony Riley

3 Important Skills to Develop in Elite Orienteering

The somewhat well-known orienteer Gustoff Icebergman

Today I ran an orienteering course near central Kiev that reminded me quite a bit of some US terrain, particularly some parts of DVOA and Quantico: good contour detail, steep, and full of trails.

It was also the location for the Long Distance in the 2007 WOC in Russia.

Anyhow. I also got to compete recently for the first time against Elite Orienteers in the WOC 2021 Selection races. Seeing how the elites really orienteer got me interested in how they actually gain so much time on myself and other less experienced athletes. Turns out there are a lot of very important and interesting things that I’ve noticed them doing which hopefully will help take my orienteering up another level (because I got absolutely stomped on).

1. Attacking the Terrain

Truth is that speed through terrain is the KEY physical component of orienteering. It doesn’t really matter how much faster you can run on a track compared to someone else if they can run faster through the terrain.

Elite orienteers run WAY faster than me. When I would really nail a leg then I’d still be 15-20% behind.

Training to be a physically stronger runner does certainly help with your ability to move faster through terrain, but I severely underestimated how big of a role confidence played in terrain speed.

You will frequently see the best orienteers take on an aggressive posture when faced with challenging terrain: forward lean, eyes looking straight ahead, and a smooth stride.

Here you can hear the announcers talk about what I mentioned above:

How to practice and improve terrain speed? I think terrain intervals and overspeed training are the best options. Ever heard of the famous marsh intervals? I believe that the Swedes are particularly known for doing intervals in marshes to prepare for the swampy terrain.

In general, terrain intervals (and terrain running frankly) should be practiced frequently and in many different types of terrain (marsh, rocky, green).

Overspeed training is orienteering at or above your map reading speed. There are a number of uses for overspeed training, including improved speed through terrain by forcing you to run faster than you normally would.

2. Route Execution

Now I know it sounds simple, but it surprised me a lot when racing against elites that I could pick the same route as someone else and lose a lot of time just because of bad execution.

What defines “bad execution”? I think a lot of things play a role: poor planning, micro route choice and lack of confidence primarily.

Take a look at this leg for example:

If we look at the splits, I was OVER DOUBLE the winner’s time. That was largely because of route execution, primarily a lack of confidence and hesitation, which just eats into your time.

So what actually happened? Here’s my best guess.

And that’s only what I remember. Surely some of the 4 minutes lost were because of macro route choice (I believe blue was almost a minute faster). But there was still a lot of micro route choice and hesitation that went into the loss of time.

How to improve route execution? Pretty much any training strategy that helps improve your confidence and your moment to moment micro route analysis (which is pretty much any training strategy).

3. Control Flow

It is pretty well known that the control circle is one of the most critical parts of a leg: entry, exit, control description and zoom map reading are critical components of executing an excellent orienteering race.

However, I definitely underestimated the importance of good flow. Even optimizing 3-5 seconds PER CONTROL can save almost 1 minute on your typical Middle course.

Now that might not seem like a lot, but if you factor in both the entry and exit and approach to the features, there are definitely legs that I’ve lost 15 or maybe 20 seconds on just being plain inefficient.

Here is an example from the Middle selection race I did recently.

Most clearly, the exit from control 8 to 9 was a disaster. What happened? It was a pretty short leg so I didn’t really check my compass and just started running downhill following some tracks made by other runners.

The bad direction probably ended up costing about 15 seconds in itself, but also led to another 15 seconds of hesitation because I had to reorient myself after exiting in the wrong direction.

Also a notably bad entrance to number 8, but that was a result of a parallel mistake and not necessarily carelessness into the control circle.

If you look at the splits I lose about 40 seconds to the winner on control 9. I ran 1:06 compared to a blazing fast 27 seconds! All because of having really bad flow through control 8.

Emil Granqvist who ran 27 seconds to control 9… fast!

It’s important to understand what actually makes up good control flow. Simply put, you are trying to minimize the amount of time through the control circle.

I’m sure everyone knows the feeling of running to the incorrect feature or the wrong side of a big boulder because they didn’t read their description. Or doing a 180 degree error while leaving the control point because you didn’t bother reading ahead.

How do you improve control flow? Again, it’s largely just practice, but control pick trainings (lots of super short legs typically in very detailed terrain) and direction drills (see The Winning Eye)

Happy orienteering!