Beginners Guide to Park & Street Orienteering


This introductory article provides an overview of typical strategies that are adopted by experienced street-orienteers. These tips and hints may prove useful to some of those just starting out in the sport.

We have included a sample map that is used to illustrate some of the key points made in the article.

This article assumes that you have taken part in an event and understand the basic concepts…. let’s take a typical Melbourne evening event.

Before leaving home …

Make sure you know where the event is; better still, keep a copy of the fixture booklet in your glovebox.

Plan to arrive by about 6:30 pm; it’s a much more enjoyable evening if you’ve had time to change, warm up and then relax a little before the event.

Make up a checklist for your running gear; things like shoes, heart-rate monitors, sweatbands etc often get left behind.

Before the event starts …

If you’re taking part in a score event, synchronize your watch with the main timer (this is always set to the Telstra talking clock time).

Note where the finish chute is before starting because as you run back in you will be tired and you may find it difficult to see if there are lots of people milling around.

Make sure you have a scorecard (if you ever do forget this, don’t worry…just punch the controls visited along one side of your map).

Look at the blank master maps stuck on the table. If you don’t understand symbols or what the contours mean, please ask someone to explain. Make sure you know which way North is – if not sure, ask someone. (Note that this is not usually a problem for evening events – the sun sets in the West. Point your left arm towards the sun, you will be facing North).

Think about route choices:

The presence of a creek or un-crossable object such as freeway means that you must pay attention to crossing-points. Most maps you use will mark crossing points/bridges clearly.

In general, stay away from steep areas. Lots of contours means big hills, contours close together mean it’s steep. Climbing one 10m contour is equivalent to about 100m of running – avoid climbs if you can.

Stay away from dark/heavily shaded areas – this usually means dense bush or blackberries – no fun to run through.

You’re not allowed to travel through private property – if it’s shaded grey, you are not allowed to go there.

Listen to the announcements – last minute changes may be important…and will save you time on the course.
As the event starts….

This varies depending on course-type; let’s deal with the two main types of Score Events and Scatter events separately.

All Events

Turn your map over and orient it to what you can see around you. In evening events, the sun is setting in the West – just hold your map so that the sun is off the left-hand side of the map.

Score Events

In score events, you have a fixed amount of time to gather as many points as you can. In street-orienteering events, the time is usually 60 minutes…quite enough time to travel 5-8 km (i.e. most people can walk a kilometre in 10-15 minutes).

The points gained for each control vary – with high-numbered controls offering more points. Each row on your scorecard has different points – 1-5 score 2, 6-10 score 3, 11-15 score 4 and 16-20 score 5.

First, turn the map over and look at it – ignore the other people running off. Locate the high-numbered controls – 16-20….and get a general idea where 11-15 are too. If the high controls are skewed to one side, then that’s the way you should go. On the sample map – note that 18, 16 & 19 are on the lower part of the map….and not too far out (you can get an idea of this by using your scorecard as a measure – if the scale is 1:10,000, then the scorecard is about 1km wide).

To get 1, 18, 9, 14, 19, 3, 16 and 13 is about 4km – well within range – so you probably have time to do a little more. The logical addition is 20 – if you do 20 first, you can then go straight to 18 – do 1 on the way home…or skip it if you’ve managed to reach 15…. It’s only worth 2 points.

If you did all of these, you would travel about 5.9km and get

1 – 1 x 2points
9 1 x 3 3
13, 14 2×4 8
20, 18, 19, 16 4 x 5 20
Total – 33 points – an incredibly good score.
Note the ratio of low/high controls – go for the big ones, leave the little ones out unless you can pick them up easily while moving to the next big one.

Above all, keep an eye on the clock and your rate of travel as you move around the course. If you’re late back, it will cost you dearly in penalties – so plan to be within 1km of the finish as your time reduces to say 10-12 minutes to go. Draw a mental circle, 1km in radius, on the map – and plan to be inside it with plenty of time to get to the finish. If you can’t get back to the circle in time, drop controls and head towards it – better to be 2-3 minutes early than one second late.

As you approach a control, read the control description so you know what you’re looking for, think about where you’re going to next, align the scorecard to the correct square……and as you reach the control, punch in the middle of the square (e.g. if you arrive at control 11, then you punch in square 11) and immediately head towards your next control. Standing around to think about where to go next will cost you 20-30 seconds per control … about 4 minutes on the course above. This is equivalent to about 400m of travel!

Scatter Courses

In a scatter course you must visit a specified number of controls and then return to the finish. The order in which you finish dictates your position in the event.

Which course you choose depends on how far you want to run; street-O courses are typically 4,6,8 and 10km in length. If you’re just starting, choose a shorter course until you get the hang of route-selection and navigation. Making a bad mistake on a 10km course could make for a very late arrival back at the finish – better to make your early mistakes on a 6km course.

As before, there are 20 controls on the map, numbered 1 to 20.

In general, the 14 controls that are closest to the start will be the ones to go for – but any of the following might change your choice of controls:

Obstacles: an obstacle such as a creek or freeway might prevent direct access to a control

High hills or steep areas (i.e. areas where there are lots of contour lines or the contour lines are close together). Climbing 10m in height is equivalent to about 100m of running on flat ground

Control Locations: A group of 3-4 controls off to one side might produce a logical group of controls to run to. (Some course-setters set courses with clusters of 3-4 close controls with empty space between each cluster. If you travel to the cluster, you may as well do all the controls in that group)

Parkland: Why run on concrete paths if you can run through the park on grass?

Mistakes: Most orienteers make lots of these. You might simply miscount or forget to punch a control on the way past. You might not be able to find a control – either way, don’t be too concerned – push on with your course and plead for mercy at the finish (most organizers are pretty easy going with newcomers). No doubt, you’ll add many more reasons in the first few months of your orienteering career.
Unlike score courses, there is no time-limit – other than the course closure at 8:15pm (although I’m sure you’ll have finished long before then).

Golden Rules for ALL Street-O Runners

Take care on roads; look and listen for traffic. Don’t take any chances.

Cross creeks at marked crossing points or bridges. It can be dangerous to cross elsewhere – be particularly aware of the possibility of snakes in long-grass near waterways.

Only cross railway lines and freeways at marked crossing points such as bridges or railway crossings.

The greyed-out area on maps represents PRIVATE PROPERTY – no runners are allowed to run through this area.

A line with double-marks coming out one side is an uncrossable fence – climbing fences can be dangerous and is not encouraged; it also puts those that cannot climb the fence at a disadvantage – giving the climber an unfair advantage.

The course closes at 8:15 pm. If you are running late and can’t complete it by this time, please abandon your course and return to the finish.

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