ROUTE CHOICE

by Lans Taylor

(Ed. note: This article is a continuation from an issue of THE HOUSTON ORIENTEER. )

Scenario 2: Consider, a good navigator who runs quite slowly. For this person, reducing the distance is the primary goal of a route choice - they are confident in their ability to execute what ever route they pick and they can plan ahead while moving slowly through the woods.

The route shown below is short but requires careful navigating in the first 600 meters and again from the road to the control. For the strong runner, this wouldn't make any sense. He'd have to go slowly, picking his way through the maze of trails. It's much faster for him to just dump out and run the road, which is a poor option for the good navigator.

Scenario 3: Consider the person who is an average runner and an average navigator, but who doesn't look ahead and select attack points. The route for this scenario is shown at the top of the next page. From the start, the boldest line on the map is the western road, so that's where he heads. Unfortunately, he doesn't notice that the small trail out of the start includes 5 contours of climbing, so he's already worn out by the time he gets to the road. From the lake, the flat shoreline in the shade looks a lot more inviting than heading up another hill that looks bigger in the real world than on the map. Besides, he reasons, if he goes up the hill on the road, he's just going to have to go back down into the ditch later on.

The choice to go along the lake leads him to a long struggle up a complicated ditch system where he loses track of where he is. Without an attack point, he wanders up onto the hillside and spends half an hour looking for the control. Actually, this is the way I orienteered for many years - driven by what looked easiest from where I was standing at the moment and how tired my legs felt. Planning and sticking to a plan always pays off. Another idea that I'll interject here: Always navigate from where you are, not where you wanted to be. If you make a mistake and get off your route simply imagine that you're just starting the leg from your current location. There is never a need to backtrack just to get on the route you wanted to be on. Select the best route from where you are. I have a friend (a respected US team member) who talks about "getting back to the line". When he does a leg, he likes to be close to the line on the map and will go out of his way to go back to where the line on the map is. Unless you are on that line, the shortest distance to the control is a line from where you are to the control not the line on the map, so ignore it.

Scenario 4: What did I do? I didn't take any of these route choices. I'm a strong navigator and a mediocre runner. I can run extremely fast downhill, moderately on the flat, and have to walk anything that is uphill at all. My route choice was selected to reduce climb to a minimum, and to concentrate what climb was necessary in short sections. For me, it's faster to walk up a steep short hill and run along a flat than to jog up a long gentle hill. I go the same speed whether it's in the woods or on a road (actually, I think I run faster in the woods because it's more fun - I get a serious motivation problem running on the road - just another factor to consider in route choice). With that in mind, I selected the route shown at the top of the next page.

I selected attack point #4, one of the ones that I considered higher risk. I decided that the two contours I saved by not dropping all the way down to attack point 2 were worth it. To reduce the risk I aimed off to the east and ran down the ridge (aiming off is intentionally running to one side or the other of the control, so when you arrive in the correct area you know which way to turn. This technique is particularly useful for controls on linear features like ditches).

So, I've shown four successful and one unsuccessful route choice for this leg. Many other possibilities exist, and I suspect that the most common route that people took during the meet was none of these. What route would you choose? How far is it worth running around to get an easy attack point for you? Is it faster to cut corners or run through all the trail junctions? How long should you search for a control before you bail out?

There was some question after the meet as to whether this was a "good" leg from a course setting perspective. I personally think it was the single best leg in the entire Bastrop meet, simply because it presents the competitor with the most options - I actually came up with over 50 distinct route choices that made sense for this leg, although you could boil these down to about 14 that I thought people might actually use. Orienteering is called the thinking sport. Forgetting to think on this leg may easily turn it into a bingo control, or lead to an unfortunately long and hilly route choice. Route choice is the foremost navigational challenge in orienteering - it is the essence of orienteering. Finding controls is the result of selecting an appropriate route choice. I hope that I've shown that there are many route choices on this leg, and that there are many factors that need to be considered in selecting the best route choice (i.e. it's not at all obvious what is the best route). The best route will be different for different people. If this seems like a boring trail run to you, look closer at the map and see if you can decide which is really the best route - count some contours, measure some distances, think about how fast you can run in different kinds of vegetation, think about attack points - see if it's still a boring trail run. If you ran the meet, did you take the best route choice for your abilities? How was the analysis you did at the start with the clock ticking different that what you do sitting at home now with lots of time to think?

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Last Updated:  03/02/2003