Now the Summer Series is over - what next?

At the events towards the end of the Summer Series a number of you have been asking about various aspects of orienteering events you may want to attend now that the Series is at an end. I thought it would be useful to cover a few topics that will lift the lid on "proper" orienteering events and help you to realise that participation in the Summer Series has set you up nicely to extend your orienteering experience. I will cover the orienteering year, the various levels of events and what they mean and the colour coding of courses.

Colour Coded Courses

Firstly let's talk about colour coded courses. It is important that you pick a suitable course for your ability. A few years ago British Orienteering adopted a system of colours to categorise courses based on the belt colours used in judo. The colour given to a course indicates its technical level and, loosely, its distance. So White courses are the easiest and shortest, Black courses are the most challenging and the longest. You have seen this system in use at the Summer Series where we provide a Yellow course for beginners, an Orange course for novices and a Green course for experienced orienteers. Once you reach the level where you are running Green courses you are also on the highest technical difficulty for navigation. So from Green upwards the only difference is course length and therefore expected winning time. This is a bit of a simplification but you get the idea. The colour codes are:

  • White: easy and short; all on paths or tracks;
  • Yellow: slightly less easy, and a little longer;
  • Orange: not all on paths, and longer again;
  • Green: the shortest technically difficult course;
  • Blue: technically difficult, medium length;
  • Brown: technically difficult and long;
  • Black: technically difficult and very long.

You will find variations on the theme with terms like Light Green, technically slightly easier than Green, and Short Blue, technically as difficult as a Blue but shorter distance. Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it!

Age Class

Your orienteering age class is determined by your age on 31st December of the year. Junior age classes go in two year increments from M10 or W10 to M/W20; veteran age classes go in five year increments from M/W 35 upwards; M/W 21 being for ages 21 to 34.

For this year (2013) age classes for year of birth are:

After 2002 M/W10         1974-1978 M/W35        1939-1943 M/W70

2001-2002 M/W12        1969-1973 M/W40        1934-1938 M/W75

1999-2000 M/W14        1964-1968 M/W45        1929-1933 M/W80

1997-1998 M/W16        1959-1963 M/W50        1924-1928 M/W85

1995-1996 M/W18        1954-1958 M/W55        Before 1924 M/W90

1993-1994 M/W20        1949-1953 M/W60       

1979-1992 M/W21        1944-1948 M/W65       

Types of Event and Levels

British Orienteering categorises events by level, A to D, with Level A being the highest. No matter what your orienteering experience you will be welcome to participate in any of these events. As a rule of thumb, the higher the level, the more expensive the entry fee, the better the facilities, the higher the number of competitors and the more courses will be on offer.

The Summer Series events are Level D with a limited selection of courses. Other Level D events will typically offer Yellow, Orange, Green and Blue courses. Level D events may not always offer facilities such as toilets and refreshments and are aimed at club members and orienteers from neighbouring clubs.

The next level up, Level C are known as colour coded events and they offer a larger range of courses and more formal start procedures. What do I mean by formal start procedures? Well at the Summer Series events you will have been given your map before you start and you will have been allowed to start when you like. At Level C events runners are set off at one minute intervals (for each course). At the start there will be taped off lanes for the different course. You will enter your lane at start -3 minutes and step forward each minute until you are set off by the start marshal. Maps are provided in boxes to be picked up after you have punched the Start control. You must be careful to pick up the right map!

Level B are regional events and will attract competitors from most of the UK and abroad. SOC run one Level B event each year, the November Classic. This is one of the UK’s best and most popular Level B events attracting more than one thousand runners. Level B events will allocate age classes to courses so that you can compete against your peers. So for instance the W21 age class will be allocated the Blue course. However bear in mind that this is aimed at experienced orienteers. Beginners and novices are advised to run on a course that is suited to their navigational ability. Most Level B events you have to pre-enter and you will be allocated a specific start time. Entry on the day (EOD) may be available but you might not get the course or start time you want and you will certainly pay more!

Level A indicates a national event – a sort of turbo-charged Level B. Again, there is nothing to stop you from entering a Level A event but you will need to plan ahead.

Types of Event

There are different types of orienteering event for both format and terrain.

  • The Summer Series uses standard orienteering courses where you have to visit a fixed number of controls in a given order. This is the most common format.
  • Score events are great fun. Here every competitor has all the controls marked on the map. Each control has a score associated with it. You are given a fixed time, normally an hour, to visit as many controls and gain as many points as you can. There are penalties for being late to the finish. Most score events are mass start and are great fun.
  • Relay events also use a mass start with competitors running in teams. There are many relay formats, some simple and some very complex.
  • For the brave there are night events which, apart from the lack of daylight, are the same format as standard events.

Types of Terrain

Up until a few years ago orienteering almost exclusively took place in forests, woods and moorland – for the sake of argument we can call this traditional orienteering. Now urban orienteering is gaining popularity and there are many events taking place in our towns and cities. In between the two types you get parkland orienteering such as you may have done already at Southampton Common or Fleming Park.

For urban and parkland events you can normally run in shorts and standard running shoes. Traditional orienteering calls for full leg cover – you may not be allowed to start if you turn up in shorts. When out in the woods and forests having proper orienteering clothing is a real benefit. It is always worth carrying a whistle – you can use this to call for help should you be injured or badly lost. Some events will check that you are carrying a whistle before allowing you to start.

The big issue for urban events is making sure that competitors remain in bounds. Before running in an urban event make sure you know how out of bounds areas and uncrossable features are marked. Sometimes these are not obvious on the ground. For instance a hedge may have breaks in it but there is likely an agreement with the landowner that the hedge will not be crossed.

The Orienteering Year

Orienteering takes place the whole year round. Things are a bit quiet mid-summer and mid-winter but apart from that there are plenty of opportunities and you can orienteer most weekends. For the Southampton area we have some excellent orienteering terrain in the New Forest and lots of mapped areas around Southampton and Portsmouth.

There are certain times of the year when orienteering areas are not at their prime – wooded areas can suffer from high bracken and brambles in the summer, and there are times when the New Forest becomes home to fragile ground-nesting birds.

Apart from the Summer Series most SOC organised events are in the New Forest. Our year tends to run to a fairly standard schedule:

  • January: Level C, Sunday
  • February: Level D, Sunday
  • March: Level C, Sunday
  • April – July: Summer Series, eight Level D events on Saturdays
  • August: A fun street score event. Good introduction to urban orienteering
  • September: Level D, Sunday
  • October: Level D, Sunday
  • November: The November Classic weekend, a Level C urban event on the Saturday and the November Classic Level B on the Sunday.
  • December: Level D, Sunday

And of course our neighbouring clubs are also putting on lots of events. Our weekly email newsletter, popSOCK, provides details of events that are close by as well as details of higher level events further afield.

Other things to know

Level C events and above will issue Final Details with information about the event including courses on offer, location, parking, if dogs are allowed, etc. In Final Details you will find safety information and possibly some information about out of bounds areas. One item that might be in the final details is something called the “safety bearing”. This is the direction you should head if you get completely lost as it will normally take you to a road where you can seek assistance.

There will always be someone available to help and advise at events but be aware that things can get frantic for the officials so you may have to pick the right person to ask – look for someone who is smiling!

When you arrive, if you haven’t pre-entered, you will be handed a registration form. Please complete all of it before you join the queue at Registration. At or near to Registration you should find details of the start location and the distance to it. If the start is a long way from the car parking there may be a clothing dump available. If you are going to use the clothing dump have an identifiable, waterproof bag with you for your clothes.

You are good to go. Enjoy your orienteering!