Category: Running

How to Start Orienteering and Learn to Love It

Female orienteer running from control

I’ve written before on why I believe orienteering is the best sport ever. But I will admit that it’s not necessarily the easiest sport to get into, particularly as an adult. It takes a bit of perseverance and a willingness to get lost (a lot). But as someone who has spent a good hundred or so hours of her life wandering lost around forests, moorlands and country parks, let me tell you this: it is worth it. So for those of you who are keen to try this awesome sport (and who wouldn’t be?), here are some practical tips on how to start orienteering and learn to love it.

Ditch Your Ego and Start Small

If you start orienteering as an adult, you’re likely to already be a runner. (You don’t have to be a runner, but most orienteers are.) Which means that orienteering can be frustrating because the best thing you can do to improve when you’re starting out is NOT RUN.

I know, it’s counter-intuitive, right? Orienteering is a race, which means you want to get around as fast as possible. My (now) husband made this mistake on one of his first events and ran 1 km past his control before he realized his error.

Think of it as an apprenticeship. If you take it slowly and learn some basic skills, your running ability will help you quickly improve. If you’re determined to run every step of the way, you’ll quickly get frustrated and probably quit.

Orienteering courses are typically colour-coded. If you’re a total beginner, I’d recommend starting with an orange course. Yes, you may be the only adult surrounded by kids, but swallow your pride, this is just your first small step into the world of orienteering. If you’re already confident with a map and compass then you may be fine starting with a light green course, particularly if it’s an ‘easy’ area (such as parkland or urban woods).

Try Urban Orienteering

Urban, or street, orienteering events are a great way to start orienteering. In fact, they’re becoming so popular that many orienteers are choosing to run at urban orienteering events instead of ‘proper’ events. Personally, one of the things I love about orienteering is the opportunity to get out of towns and cities and run on different terrains, but each to their own!

For newbies to orienteering, urban events are ideal because the navigation is straightforward and the map is usually simpler to understand. Although there won’t be any road names, roads and buildings are clearly marked, along with other distinctive features such as trees, hedges and walls. Street orienteering events used to be purely local training events run during winter evenings, but they’ve become so popular that there are urban events every weekend around the country. You can find a list of upcoming UK events on the British Orienteering Federation (BOF) website. (If you don’t live in the UK, check your own orienteering federation’s website.)

Get Free Training

I’ll let you in on a secret. Orienteers LOVE introducing other people to the sport. Which means there are tons of opportunities to get help with the basics, learn new skills and get tips from more experienced competitors.

One of the best ways to start is to go to a local event. Sometimes a club will put on an event specifically for people who are new to the sport and there will usually be someone around to show you the ropes. If you’re not sure whether an event is suitable for you, contact your local club in advance. You can also search for events near to you that are suitable for beginners using the BOF events search. (Tip: click the smiley-face icon to filter for events that are suitable for newcomers.)

If you join your local club, you may have access to more free training opportunities. Many clubs offer local coaching sessions or an annual club weekend away to test out your navigation on technical terrain.

Make Some Orienteering Friends

Orienteering is a deceptively social sport. Although you run around your course on your own, there is nothing a bunch of orienteers love more than analysing and comparing their experiences on the course, whether they were good or bad.

Joining your local club is the best way to make orienteering friends. Many clubs hold post-training socials (usually in a pub) where you can rehydrate (ahem) and get five different views on the optimum route choice to number eight. At the big events, each club has its own club tent where you can gather before or after your run, cheer on your fellow competitors and moan about the bramble patch you got caught in.

Another great way to make friends is to volunteer to help out. Orienteering events are all run by volunteers – you don’t need to be an experienced orienteer to help. Some jobs are more menial than others (I’ve done my fair share of marshalling in the rain and pushing cars out of muddy fields), but all are vital to delivering a successful event. It will also earn you a lot of brownie points (which you can trade in by asking for tips to improve your navigation) and often free entry to events.

Go to some of the bigger events

Once you’ve honed your skills and are reasonably confident about navigating in different types of terrain, it’s time to hit the big time. Unlike many sports, anyone of any ability can compete at regional and national events, including the British Championships. (Although for some of them you will need to join BOF – it costs a bargainous £10 a year and you can normally sign up when you join your local club.)

At larger competitions, courses are based on age classes. If you’re an adult, you’ll be competing at the highest technical difficulty possible in the terrain. If you’re not that confident about your abilities, then you may want to enter a colour-coded course instead. If your orienteering experience to date has been urban and local parks, then I’d suggest you may want to go for the light green rather than the green course as these events will be more technical than what you’re used to. You want to enjoy the experience after all!

There are two reasons why I love big orienteering events: the areas and the atmosphere. You get to run on some of the best orienteering areas in the country – places that you’d never normally be able to go. And the atmosphere of a big event, particularly where the finish is located in the main assembly area, is brilliant. Even when it rains.

Are you convinced? If you’re in the UK and are keen to find out more, the British Orienteering website has everything you need to know including a list of local clubs and events. If you live elsewhere, it’s likely your country will have its own orienteering federation with information on how you can get involved. And if you liked this post, don’t forget to share it with your friends and check out my article on 10 Reasons Why Orienteering is the Best Sport Ever.

10 Tips For Your First Mountain Marathon

Mountain marathon

I had originally planned for this week’s post to be my lessons learned from trying to plan a sustainable wedding. And that will be coming up, but it’s going to be a big post and I’ve been struggling with RSI in my wrists and forearms this week, so it was really a no-go.

As the rain lashed across my window this morning it struck me that we’re really into autumn now. And I always associate autumn and winter with mountain marathon season. That’s not to say all mountain marathons take place in the winter – there are many summer events, which I would definitely recommend to mountain marathon newbies. But I seem to be a glutton for punishment, so have always chosen events which, based on the time of year, are almost guaranteed to bring you the worst of British weather.

The ‘big one’ is the OMM. Now in its 50th year, it’s always held the weekend the clocks go back, ostensibly because it gives you an extra hour of daylight on the Sunday, but really because it always rains. Always. (At least, every time I did it.) If this year’s OMM is your first foray into mountain marathons, congratulations! You’ve jumped in with both feet to the waist-deep bog. But to make your experience a little more pleasant, here are a few tips from the wise…

Tip 1: Prepare for the worst

This is both a general comment and a weather-specific one. Lightweight is all and good but the number one priority is survival. If this is your first mountain marathon and you haven’t yet tested your comfort vs safety limits when it comes to warmth, then don’t strip your pack right back. Besides, you want to enjoy this right? And there’s nothing like a dry change of clothes and a hot chocolate at the overnight camp to instantly make you feel a hundred times better.

Tip 2: Bubble wrap does not a good night’s sleep make

You may hear it said that you can skip carrying a heavy blow-up mat by shoving a square of bubble wrap into your pack and sleeping on that. After all, nowhere on the mandatory OMM kit list does it say ‘sleeping mat’. Now you could do this, and you would probably survive the night (presuming you have a decent sleeping bag), but you’re not going to get any sleep.

Do yourself and your tent mate a favour. If you can’t afford a super-light blow-up mat then at least get a length of lightweight roll mat or a balloon bed. Of course, these come with their own set of problems …

Tip 3: Don’t leave your balloon bed pump behind

“What’s a balloon bed?” I hear you ask. Well, it’s very simple. It’s a bed made from balloons. Not the big round ones you blow up for your kid’s birthday party, but the strong, long, thin ones magicians use to make giraffes and dogs. The ‘bed’ is a thin piece of fabric with sewn ‘tubes’ down which you stuff your blow-up balloons to make an airbed.

If you think this all sounds like a big faff, then you would be right. But do you really have anything better to do with your sixteen-odd hours at the overnight camp? And packed down, the balloon bed is about the size of your fist and weighs 100g. Perfect for mountain marathons.

There is one potential downside. You have to be one of those people who can tie balloon ends. I have never mastered this feat, but fortunately, my past tent mates have all been experts. You may be tempted to save five grams and leave behind the little pump that comes with the balloon bed. Many people have been stupid cunning enough to do this in the past and only realised too late that the balloons are impossible bloomin’ tough to blow up without it. Oh, and take a couple of spares in case of popping (and to make giraffes).

Tip 4: Take plastic bags to put your feet in

You can spot the mountain marathon newbies at the overnight camp as they’re the only ones walking around without plastic bags sticking out of the top of their shoes. This tip is tried and tested.

However much you try and bog-hop, by the time you get to the overnight camp your feet will be sopping wet. And it’s not great for your feet to sit stewing all night in wet socks. So, once you’ve got your tent up, get changed into your spare layers and put on your nice dry socks (you have got dry socks, haven’t you?).

Presuming you’re rehydrating like a pro, at some point you’re going to need to visit the portaloos. (Guys, just opening the tent flap and pissing out is really not on.) That’s where you have the wet shoe dilemma. And where the plastic bags come in. One for each foot. Just don’t bring cheap supermarket ones with holes in, as they’re kind of pointless.

Tip 5: You don’t need a toothbrush

Really. It’s ONE night. Your teeth will survive. Acceptable alternatives are a piece of chewing gum (mmmm, minty) or those little chewable toothbrush things you get in capsules in service stations (which do no good but may make you feel better).

Tip 6:… Or a hairbrush

All you people out there with no hair, SHUT IT. Have you ever tried to get a brush through a tangled head of long hair? No? My point exactly. It’s hell. Worse than tangled climbing ropes. Anyway, despite all this, there is still no need to take a hairbrush on your mountain marathons. If you have long hair, plaits/braids are the way forward. And buy a Tangle Teezer – you’ll never look back.

Tip 7: Tie your compass to your wrist

Loose compasses are another newbie error. You do not want to lose your compass. Particularly if you have ten-metre visibility on a mountain plateau surrounded by big cliffs. A simple piece of string and a wrist loop mean you never have to worry about losing your compass to a man-eating bog or forgetting to pick it up when you stop to tie your shoelace.

Incidentally the same goes for your dibber. Especially when it comes to man-eating bogs. (I nearly lost my husband to one, but that’s another story. He survived. The dibber didn’t.)

Tip 8: Look at the map before you set off

This is perhaps more pertinent to those competing in the score classes than the linear classes. When it comes to score events, tactics are key and spending five minutes planning your route is time well spent.

And make sure you look very carefully at the final section up to the finish. That way you won’t miss the four miles of dead running between the last control and the finish. And you won’t forget to take that into account in your timing assessment. Which means you’ll get in on time and won’t lose out on a prize as a result of misinterpreting a load of red squiggles. (I’m still bitter, alright?!)

Tip 9: Look after your partner

There are solo mountain marathon events, but for most classes, you’ll be in a team. Which means you need to look after you buddy as much as yourself, particularly if it’s their first time and they’re starting to wonder exactly what you talked them into after five pints in the pub that night.

Use each other’s strengths. If your partner ends up doing most of the navigating, why not offer to take the lion’s share of the tent? Or blow up their balloon bed. But remember this, there are times to be kind and sympathetic and times when you have to be tough. And you will each have your ups and downs.

The last OMM I did, I ran with my sister. On the first day, she was striding out ahead of me and I struggled to keep up. But nearing the end of day two, just after we’d spotted those soddin’ red squiggles mentioned above, she was starting to feel it. At one point she tripped over a tussock and refused to get up. Fortunately, by that point, the quickest way back was to follow the rest of the (over-long) trudge to the finish. So I gave her a hug and told her that she’d forget the pain in a couple of years. Tough love is sometimes necessary.

Tip 10: If it’s windy, stash one of the maps

What’s worse than losing a map? Losing BOTH your maps. Without them, you’re screwed (unless you have exceptional map memory skills). It can get pretty windy in the hills, and it’s surprisingly easy for a map to be whisked out of your hand and blown over a cliff. When the winds pick up, have one person stash their map safely in a jacket pocket or rucksack and navigate using the other one.

If the wind takes both of them? Well, that’s just careless …

And, there you go! I have many more tips whizzing around my head, so perhaps they’ll be a follow-up, ‘Part 2’ post. Feel free to share your best mountain marathon tips in the comments below! And best of luck to everyone competing in the OMM or other mountain marathons this winter. May the (navigational) force be with you.

The 10 Best Tips to Smash Your First 10K Race

10-tips-first-10k-race

There’s a reason ten kilometres is the most popular race distance. For new runners, it’s achievable but challenging and for more experienced runners, it’s a chance to show off speed and strength.

But if you’ve just completed your first 5K run, then a 10K race may feel like a long way off. You may be thinking that the 5K run felt hard enough; that there’s no way you could have done two loops of that course – it was tough enough just walking back to the car afterwards.

But, let me let you in on a secret. Everyone feels like that at the end of a tough race, whatever the distance. I swore after doing my first half-marathon, that I could never run further than that. And admittedly, I still haven’t got round to running a ‘proper’ marathon, but last year I did run an ultra-marathon. And yes, I was adamant at the end of THAT that I couldn’t run another step. But I know that if that half-marathon had been 15 miles rather than 13.1, or the ultra 45 miles rather than 41, I would still have made it to the finish line.

This is the secret to the mental game of running. Whatever distance you are there to do, you can do. If you’ve done the right preparation, you just need to keep that distance and the finish line in mind, and with a bit of grit and determination, you will get there. So if, as you’re proudly clutch your 5K medal and hug your supporters, there’s a tiny little voice inside of you saying ‘but what if I could run 10k?’, I am here to tell you that you can. However much it feels an impossible challenge at this moment in time.

Mental toughness aside, as with any race, the right preparation is key. I’ve pulled together ten top tips to give you the best chance of achieving the result you deserve on race day.

1. Give yourself enough time to prepare

Doubling your distance doesn’t happen overnight. Leave yourself plenty of time to build up your training gradually before race day. This ten-week training plan may provide a useful guide to the rate at which you may want to increase your training. Remember – you can adapt it to suit your target time.

2. Don’t over train

Aside from doing no training at all, probably the worst thing you can do is over train. If you’re pushing your body hard, it needs recovery time. This is as true if you’re a beginner runner as it is for an Olympic athlete, though your tolerance for training will be quite different.

Make sure you schedule in rest days each week and prioritise rest time as much as you prioritise training. Rest activities may involve going to bed earlier, having a hot, relaxing soak in the bath or spending an evening watching Netflix (yes, you can quote me on that).

3. Include some strength and flexibility training

As you’re pushing up the distance, strength and flexibility training becomes more important to keep yourself supple and avoid injury. This set of basic strength exercises don’t require any special equipment and at least one can be done in front of the telly. 🙂

Evidence shows that increasing your flexibility can improve your running performance without adding extra miles. Incorporate these exercises designed to improve your range of motion, into your running routine and you should soon notice a difference.

4. Add in speed work

You may be thinking this is starting to sound a bit too hard-core, but remember – everything is relative. Your speed work is not going to be the same as Mo Farrah’s speed work. It just means having a session a week where you run or jog faster for shorter periods of time.

Speed work gets your body used to running at different speeds. Over time, it will make you faster and fitter – whatever pace you run at. Have a look at this post on speedwork for beginners for some suggested sessions (hint: if you’ve never done any speedwork before, I’d start with the 5K sessions and build up to the 10K).

5. Invest in a foam roller

It may not look like much, but this humble piece of kit can help prevent injury and improve recovery. I’m not going to lie, it’s not always the most comfortable exercise, but stick with it. If you’ve no idea where to start, there’s a good article here with some basic exercises.

6. Get to the race in plenty of time

Last weekend, I turned up at a race with just enough time to nip to the toilet and get ready before heading to the start. I wasn’t anticipating a half-hour queue for the loo. After that, getting ready was a bit of a rush and needless to say, I wasn’t in a very relaxed frame of mind when I got to the start!

Don’t make my mistake: leave yourself plenty of time to get to the race (taking account of traffic) and get ready. There are often long queues for the toilets so take this into account! That way you’ll get to the start physically and mentally prepared for the race ahead.

7. Stay relaxed and positive

Stay relaxed. Easier said than done, right? But remember, you’ve done all the hard work in preparing for the race – all you have to do is keep putting one foot in front of the other until you reach the finish line.

For some people, listening to music helps them relax and focus ahead of a race. (Though be aware that many races now ban headphones during the race itself.) For others, having a friend along to keep them company is a better way to keep their spirits up.

8. Warm up properly

I know, warming up is the number one rule of running without injury. You don’t need me to tell you that. If you’ve got all the way to race day injury-free, then I imagine you’ve been doing a good job of warming up for your training runs. So don’t go and blow it on race day. Yes, it’s hard to warm up when you’re outside the comfort of your own home. And yes, it’s even harder to stay warm when packing into a pen with a hundred of other runners, all impatiently waiting for the start of the race.

But even a short warm up will help prepare your body physically for the race ahead. A gentle jog from the car park (or the train station) to the start of the race will help warm you up. Once you’re in the designated start area, keep your arms and legs moving, even if you have to do a bit of jogging on the spot to stay warm!

9. Set off steadily

If you’re in a big race, you may not get much choice about this! The crowd-shuffle at the beginning can continue well past the official start line. But even so, resist the temptation to start off fast. It’s hard when you’re feeling excited and raring to go, but you’ll feel the benefit of a slow start later on in the race.

Practice this in training. Time yourself for the first half of your run, then reset the clock for the second half. Your aim is to complete the second half in a faster time.

10. Give it your all

By the time you get to the nine-kilometer mark, you’re going to be feeling pretty tired. Your legs are screaming at you to give them a break, and getting oxygen into your body feels much harder than it did eight kilometers ago.

But you’re nearly there! Nothing can stop you now. So if you’ve been going slow and steady up to this point, now is the time to give it your all. Hear the cheers of the crowds lining the approach to the finish? They’re cheering for you. See the banner up ahead with that beautiful six-letter word emblazoned across it? That is your finish line. Run for it with everything you have left. Then congratulate yourself on having smashed your first 10K race.

And as you hang your 10K medal proudly alongside your 5K medal, you may think that was as far as you could possibly go. And for that run, it was. As for the next race? Well, that’s for another day.

Enjoyed this article? You may like my other posts on How to Start Running, Stick With It and Enjoy It and How to Train for Your First Ultramarathon.

9 Things I Learnt from Running My First Ultra

ultra-runners-in-mountains

Setting off into the hills on the final stage of the West Highland Way


Two days ago I completed my first ultra. The ultra I got roped into trying just ten weeks ago. My friend Telle asked myself and my fiance, Sam to keep her company on a ‘training run’ she wanted to do along a 41-mile section of the West Highland Way. Technically I think this classes as a ‘social ultra’ as it wasn’t an organised race, but hey, I’m still taking the tick!

The plan was to run from Tyndrum up to Fort William (the official finish of the West Highland Way). Off-road, with over 2,500m of height gain, it was not a straightforward first ultra. And it was November, which in Scotland could mean weather conditions ranging from driving rain and gales to snow and ice.

In the days leading up to the run, friends sent me photos of snow-covered landscapes and reports of icy, treacherous walking conditions on the route. But in the end, we were lucky with the weather. It was a cold, but (mostly) dry day with barely a breath of wind, and the snow underfoot was crunchy, not icy. We were also lucky to have a support crew in the form of Telle’s fiance, Liam who met us with spare kit, water and food at the 7, 18 and 26 mile marks.

Setting out I honestly didn’t know if I’d make it to the finish, and I had my doubts on the way round. But we made it! And here are a few things I learnt along the way.

It will hurt

Yeah, sorry to break that vision you had of running for miles and miles with fresh legs. Obviously the more you train the easier it’s likely to be. But really, training just puts off the aches and pains for a bit longer. They will come. Remember, when you’re doing your first ultra, you’re pushing your body hard. You’re making your legs go further and for longer than they’ve ever been before. And all that pounding takes its toll.

You are stronger than you think

Everyone will have a low point on the run – a point where the first niggling doubts set in. For me, this was after our first decent rest stop, around 18 miles in. We’d been running for four hours – the longest I’d run for in training – and my body decided that it was time for a post-race nap. (Yup, even in the snow.) My hips were aching and after switching shoes to give my feet ‘a break’ my arches had started hurting.

The truth is, I wasn’t suffering half as badly as many people do. And looking back on this time made me understand – really understand – what endurance athletes mean when they say that it is all a mental game. Because you can keep going. It’s just a case of continuing to put one foot in front of the other until you reach the finish line.

So be prepared for it to hurt, and be ready to grit your teeth and push on through, even when you think you can’t go another mile.

If in doubt, eat

When I asked Telle for some last minute tips the night before the run she told me this: “If you feel crap, eat. A lot of the time it’s a fuelling thing.” She was right.

I found that the time passed a lot quicker than I thought it would. I’d planned to eat about every 45 minutes but often checked my watch to find over an hour had passed since my last snack. This was particularly the case towards the end when it’s tempting to focus purely on getting to the finish. You’re burning way more calories than you can physically consume and if you don’t keep eating, you’ll pay for it at some point.

Also, remember to eat AFTER you’ve finished. This was the one big mistake we made. In training we would always have a protein recovery shake or bar as soon as possible after our long runs. But when we finished the ultra, we were too wrapped up in the joy (and pain) of having done it to remember to eat. We then rushed around getting checked into our hostel for the night, having showers and stretching, so by the time we finally sat down to eat it was about two hours after we’d finished the run.

Just as our food arrived, Sam said he felt sick, staggered a few paces and collapsed in the doorway of the gents’ toilet. (He does like a bit of drama.) We’re pretty sure this was his body demanding payback for not having given it recovery food. (And yes, by the next day he was fine.)

Don’t run the full distance in training

Running an ultra is a huge mental challenge, so save that mental strength for the day of the race. It also puts a huge stress on your body which takes time to recover from. If you try and build up to running 30 or 50 miles in your training runs, you’re more likely to end up injured, or burning out too soon.

One great tip a friend gave me was to do some ‘pre-fatigues’ before your long run. This is essentially a set of exercises that works the big muscles in your legs (e.g. squats, lunges, jump squats etc.). Completing 4-6 sets of these before you run means you’re starting out with tired legs and simulates what you’ll feel on a much longer run. For more tips on training, check out my post on How to Train For Your First Ultramarathon.

Look after your feet

In my experience, people tend to fall into two camps: those who get blisters, and those who don’t. I’m one of the lucky ones, but I do get foot pain from pounding (particularly on long walks) and on this run, a pain in the arches of my feet.

Whichever camp you fall into, taking care of your feet will make the whole ultra experience a lot more pleasant. If you’re prone to blisters, get used to where your hot spots are and tape, tape, tape. Possibly the best tip of all is to carry spare socks (or have them stashed in your bag at support stops). There’s nothing like a nice dry pair of socks to make your feet feel better.

Break it down into stages

During my low point of the ultra, Telle told me we’d just passed the half-way point. She said it to make me feel good, but it just made my heart sink. How could we be only half way? If this is how I feel now, how can I possibly keep going for another six hours?

Sometimes contemplating how far it is to the end of the race is just too much. It’s much easier to focus on the next milestone or checkpoint. After all, you have to make it there – there isn’t another option. So I asked Telle to just let me know how far it was to the Kinlochleven checkpoint and focused on just getting to that point. After that, the final stage was easier as the finish was in sight.

But always aim for the finish

When we got to the end of our run, I swore I couldn’t have gone another mile. But is that really true? Or was it just that I had that 41-mile distance in my head. If there had been another ten miles to go I probably could have done it. It would have been hard, painful and slow, but I could have pushed on that bit longer.

If you tell yourself that it’s ok if you only make it to 30 miles and anything after that is a bonus, then you will only make it to 30 miles. So even when you break the race down into stages always have that final figure in your head: the finish is your ultimate goal.

It won’t all be fun, but it will be worth it

I spent quite a lot of time on the run asking myself why I was doing this, or coming up with mantras to get me through the next mile. There were some amazing parts: the stag silhouetted against snow-capped mountains and the mountains glowing in the pre-dawn light. But I can honestly, hand on heart, say a lot of it was not particularly fun at the time. But was it worth it? Hell, yeah.

You may not be able to stop at one

I hesitate to write this, only two days following the run. Normally it takes me much longer to forget the pain and even contemplate going through it again. But I wouldn’t be the first person to find that their first ultra is most definitely not their last.

10 Reasons Why Orienteering is the Best Sport Ever

Girl holding a map and orienteering

Who would have thought getting lost could be this much fun? (photo (c) Federazione Italiana Sport Orientamento)


When you see the word orienteering, what springs to mind? Funny red and white flags? Getting lost in damp forests? Strange people dressed like they’ve just emerged from a 1980s psychedelic pajama party? (If the latter, then you must have been to a ‘proper’ orienteering event.)

I would be the first to admit it can appear a crazy sport. The basic principle is this: you have a compass, an electronic dibber thing and a ‘map’, which to the uninitiated looks rather like an artist’s impression of the London tube map overlain with hieroglyphics. And it probably makes about as much sense.

But stick with it. Because with a little patience (and a good sense of humour), what is at first confusing, transforms into a delightful puzzle. There is no other sport that tests both the mind and the body in quite the same way. It’s like trying to solve a level four sudoku puzzle whilst simultaneously running an obstacle course and playing a virtual reality car racing game.

Are you convinced yet? If not, then read on for ten very good reasons why you should get out orienteering today.

1. Orienteering is a sport for life

Literally. As soon as you’re able to toddle on your own two feet, eager parents will be fighting to take you round the string course (especially if there are sweets at the end). At the large events there are age classes that cater for runners from age ten (younger competitors can ‘run up’) to ninety, and everyone shares the same finish lane. There aren’t many sports when you can carry on winning well into your eighth decade.

2. It’s not all about running

‘But you have to be a super-fit runner to orienteer…’ is probably one of the most common excuses I hear for not trying out the sport. And the answer to this is a big, fat resounding no. Sure, if you want to be winning events then it helps to be a decent runner, and elite orienteers are some of the fittest bods around, but fitness is no barrier to orienteering. Many people walk round their courses, and if you’re just starting out this can be a good idea whilst your navigation improves.

Plus, there are actually four disciplines of orienteering: foot, mountain bike, ski and trail orienteering (designed for people of all physcial abilities to compete on equal terms). So there’s something for everyone.

3. Every event is different

Bored of running the same old training routes? Plodding the same streets, week after week. Yup me too. This is why running is BORING and orienteering is FUN. I can pretty much guarantee that in your orienteering lifetime, you will never run the same route twice. Which means there is always an element of the unknown when you set off. Variety is the spice of orienteering life.

4. Orienteering is the friendly sport

Orienteers love introducing new people to the sport. Turn up to any event and you’ll be sure to find some eager face to help you work out which bit of the compass points north, the difference between a re-entrant and a depression and what the blue squiggly lines on the map mean. Most orienteering clubs have specific events aimed at beginners or young families, plus training sessions when you can get to grips with basic navigational techniques.

Many clubs hold post-training socials, and at the larger events, members congregate in club tents. Wander in after you’ve finished and within two minutes someone will be peering at your map excitedly jabbering about ‘optimum route choices’ and whether you took the direct or long route to number five. Just humour them, ok? It’ll be you one day.

5. There’s always room to improve

There is rarely such a thing as a perfect run in orienteering. Even on your best day, you’ll lament the two seconds you ‘wasted’ climbing over a stile, or debate whether you could have stolen a minute if you’d have taken a slightly different route. Don’t get me wrong, it can be incredibly frustrating when you mess up. (And even more frustrating if you’re stuck in the car with a sulking companion for two hours on the drive home.) But it means there’s always something you can work on and some way to get better.

6. Orienteering takes you to places you’d never otherwise go

Quite literally. Many orienteering events are held on private land where the organiser has to get special permission from the landowners to hold the event. So you get to explore woodlands, moors and valleys you’d never normally go to.

7. It’s a full body workout

Orienteering is not just off-road, it’s off-trail. Once you get beyond the easier beginner routes, the courses are designed to avoid paths as much as possible. Depending on the area, the terrain can vary from beautifully runnable pine forests, to heather strewn moors, and intricate boulder fields. You may end up jumping across streams, leaping fallen trees or fighting through thickets of trees (usually only if you’ve got lost).

This is why orienteering courses are quite short. But try running a 7km road race and compare that to a 7km orienteering race in the Lake District and tell me which one you wake up aching from the next day. Yup, and that’s your core aching as well as your legs.

8. But it’s not all about getting muddy

Whilst orienteering is traditionally associated with hills, forests and parks, a whole new niche of orienteering has sprung up in towns and cities across the country. Urban orienteering combines lightning-speed navigation with fast running. Many clubs run monthly, or even weekly urban evening events, particularly during the winter months. As the navigation and the maps tend to be much simpler, these can be a great introduction to orienteering for newbies. Plus they usually start and finish in a pub. It’s important to rehydrate y’know.

If you live in London, I would highly recommend the Street-O series of events – even if you don’t fancy being competitive, they’re a great way to explore parts of the city you never knew existed.

9. You can compete all over the world (without being an elite athlete)

There aren’t many sports where you can compete in 70 countries, whatever your level of expertise. Once you’ve learnt the basic orienteering map symbols, the language is the same wherever you go. Many countries host orienteering festivals: multiple days of events with social activities in the evenings. And city races are a great way to add a bit of interest (and exercise) to your next city break.

If you’re looking for international events, the World of Orienteering Calendar is a good place to start, but it’s by no means exclusive.

10. It gives you skills for life

I’d like to see anyone try and deny that navigation skills aren’t important. EVEN in this modern day world of iPhones, Google maps and GPS watches. I sometimes wonder why other people struggle to remember directions, seem to have absolutely no sense of direction and can’t hold a map the right way round. Then I remember that these people probably weren’t sent out into a deep dark forest to get lost (literally) from the tender age of ten. (Thanks Dad.)

So the moral of the story is: parents take your children orienteering! Let them go out and get lost! It will teach them to be independent, adventurous and non-directionally challenged. And one day they will thank you for it. Even if it’s just because they managed to find their way home from the club rather than spending the night behind the wheely bins.

If you’re raring to go, check out the British Orienteering Federation website for details of all UK events and your local club. Still hesitant? Watch this video and then dare to tell me it doesn’t look just a teensy bit fun.

Thanks to Federazione Italiana Sport Orientamento for the great photo (used here under Creative Commons licence). You can view the original image here.