Are you harbouring an adventurer behind that suited exterior? Does the idea of a map, compass and hidden treasure intrigue you? Do you need to brush up on your fitness? Orienteering may be your ultimate sporting experience.
Orienteers run, walk, ski, mountain bike, or wheel themselves through a forest or trail course, following a map to find a series of control points. Events may be held in the bush, forests, parks, ski slopes, or suburban streets, and control points range from fence posts, river bends and tree stumps to telegraph poles and letter boxes.
The original form of orienteering, foot orienteering, was recognised as an Olympic event in 1977. Now the sport has four types of events at an international level – foot, ski, mountain bike and trail orienteering.
Using a compass to take bearings and follow their map, orienteers usually compete to complete their course in the shortest time, but as the sport has become more popular, some events are purely focused on enjoyment with participants walking the course or using mobility aids if they have a disability.
The hidden treasure you are seeking in an orienteering course is a red and white nylon cube with a stapler hanging from it that imprints a special design onto your control card, signifying that you have been to the right spot. Get all the right stamps and you complete the event.
Until you set off on your first orienteering event it will be hard to imagine the excitement you will feel when you catch a glimpse of a red and white control point. Your pace will quicken as you run towards it, your heart lift and you will be surprised at the renewed energy you have to set off for the next control – particularly if it is the last one.
Courses usually range from one to eighteen kilometres, and participants are divided into age groups, ranging, in some countries, from the under 8s to the over 90s!
The unique fitness derived from foot orienteering is a result of combining the skills of running, climbing, and being foot-sure over rough terrain. If you think of the other animals that have these skills kangaroos, pumas, mountain goats you will be inspired by the level of fitness you could achieve if you compete regularly.
These physical skills, combined with reading a map, drinking water and making decisions while you run, make the orienteering experience an all-round tune-up for the body and the mind.
One of the greatest opportunities the sport provides is that of being alone in nature but in a safe environment. As the starting time for each participant is staggered, you can be alone in the bush or forest for some time without seeing any of the other participants at all. Beware! Many orienteers report that this silent meditative experience can be suddenly broken by the sound of someone else stomping through the undergrowth, hot on your trail.
Like many modern sports, orienteering has its extreme side. Running through the forest in the daylight isn’t enough for everyone and some choose to become night orienteers, setting off after dusk and travelling with a headlight to light their way and to read the map. Not recommended for those who are wary of things that go bump in the night!
Check out http://www.orienteering.org to find out about orienteering in your neck of the woods.
CJ – Fitness