Top 10 - Mistakes

A list of the all-time top ten mistakes to watch out for that even the experts still make from time to time. If you haven’t done some of these yet then it’s only a question of time. (Reproduced from Pacemaker 93, September 2004)

1 - Running Off The Map

Map reading is hard enough at the best of times, but at the worst of times it gets impossible. Duncan Archer's admission in the last Pacemaker that he ran off the map at the Harvester simply shows that no matter how good you are this will happen to you at some time. You can normally blame the map for this one if it has no distinct boundary, but this fails to explain how I ran off the map across a road without noticing at a JK in the Lake District. I have two personal favourites in this category. I sprinted off the map at an event in Russia whilst  trying to lose the Austrian who was clearly following me. I did manage to lose him whilst off the map, and have never seen him since. And then there was the Scottish 6-Day at Bowhill when four separate LOK M21s ran onwards and upwards after assuming the map stopped at the top of the hill but finding it only really went half way up.

2 - Forgetting a Control

This one can be really upsetting. There you are at the end of a great run and someone tells you that you have left out a control and you are disqualified. At my first JK in Scotland in 1980 leg 3 to 4 was about 100m and leg 4 to 5 was nearly 2.5km. I was so busy looking at route choices that I ran straight past 4 and on into the distance. Luckily I didnt realise this until after I finished since I'm not sure I could have faced running the extra 5km to go back to 4. I did exactly the same thing at a QO Event, planned by  someone who specialised in long legs. He was collecting route choices, and asked me where I had gone since I had done the fastest time for the course. I carefully drew my route on for him, at which point he asked why the line started at control 4 rather than control 5. The results booklet for the event included a selection of route choices, including mine just to widen the embarrassment. Ironically of course the best route choice from 5 to 6 went back through control 4. My only excuse was that it was a master map event (remember them?) and the rain had somewhat smudged my circle for control 5.

3 - Mispunching

In theory this is terribly easy not to do. All you have to do is check the control description. Some people seem to invert this concept and find it terribly easy to do; it's certainly something that can be associated more with some runners than others. The straightforward method is simply not to check the control code and punch at the first control vaguely near where you think it should be. In more complicated situations you could always try blaming the planner, controller, mapper and a whole host of other people for putting two controls too close together or on dubious features. The relevant BOF rules relating to allowable distances between controls (6.2.3 and 6.2.4 for those who need to know these things) are still the cause of much debate. I can honestly say that in well over 1500 events I have only been disqualified for mispunching once, and this clearly fell into the latter category. I punched a last control on a rootstock, which later turned out to be on a knoll about 30 metres away. That's my story anyway.

4 - The 180° Error

Those nice grid lines on the map make things terribly easy. The arrows point north. So does the arrow on your compass. But in the process of taking the bearing and then following it there is all sorts of scope for getting things a little wrong. You can take your bearing on the map but align it to south rather than north. Or you can take a correct bearing but then run on it with the wrong end of the compass needle aligned to the required direction. Both result in the same outcome: running in exactly the opposite direction to the one you intend. This is a case where being a slow runner can help, since you won't run as far in the wrong direction before you have to turn round and retrace your steps. This is not any real consolation however.

5 - The Parallel Error

The theory here is that you end up in one block of forest looking for your control when you should be in a similar block parallel to the one you are in, where the control really is. This can take a long time to sort out if you are unlucky, especially in southern areas with grid path networks and a dearth of relocating features. Less difficult to excuse was the LOK runner who made a parallel error and managed to run up the parallel wrong hill during a Capricorn mountain orienteering event in the Lake District. What made it worse was that the wrong hill he ran up is known as Little Cockup. Whoops.

6 - The Imaginary Map Error

You can always spot this when you reflect afterwards about what you were thinking at the time. Let me quote from my thoughts on the way to control 7 at JK Day 1 this year: 'Looks like the marsh coming up. Just need to cross that and follow the path right. Strange, that seems to be a ruined fence Ive just crossed. Nothing shown on the map. I suppose it is fairly indistinct so the mapper must have decided to ignore it. Just keep going for now. (One minute later) Now what is this major path junction doing? Oh dear, I seem to be 300 metres from where I thought I was. And look, theres the marsh I really crossed, and there is the ruined fence I thought the mapper had left off.' Trust the map. Looking at it more often and more carefully also helps in these situations.

7 - Running The Wrong Course

I cant say I've managed this, but it does seem to happen with reasonable regularity. Electronic punching has undoubtedly made it easier to do, since you no longer always have control descriptions to look at to check which course you should be running. Even then the multitude of boxes at a busy start presents all sorts of scope for error. If you're really unlucky it may be several controls, if at all, before you realise what is going on and return to the start for another map.

8 - Ignoring The Correct Control

Good orienteers talk about navigating to controls, rather than finding them. Everything is under control, and luck plays no part. This is the mistake for them. You navigate perfectly over 500m of Scottish contour detail and drop into the small re-entrant just as planned. Wrong control code. Panic. Five minutes of headless chicken act later you finally end up back at the re-entrant and realise it was the right control all along but you had memorised the wrong code. This really is an annoying error. As a variation you could try running confidently straight past a control, knowing it isn't yours, only to come back later when it turns out that it is yours. This is particularly recommended to those who are short-sighted enough not to be able to read the control codes from more than five metres away.

9 - Changing Your Mind

Route choice is all about spotting a good route and then executing it well. The cunning planner will aim to offer you two or more sensible options. The good orienteer plans ahead and will have spotted the route choice leg early. You can then spend half the course worrying about which way to go, and eventually get to the point where you need to commit yourself. Tip number one: if you can't work out which route choice is best just get on and do one of them well. Tip two: do not get 200m into your route choice and then start thinking about how you should really have gone the other way. Tip three: whatever you do, do not get 300m into the leg and decide the other route really was better, and then do some sort of half and half route choice. This inevitably ends up being a) longer, b) hillier and c) slower  than any of the other options you considered in the first place.

10 - Misreading The Map

Lots of scope here. Selecting a route choice along a path that turns out to be a magnetic north line is quite a favourite, and can lead to hours of fun when you can't find the path junction. For maps with blue magnetic north lines simply change paths to streams. Getting up and down mixed up is also a good one to try. Many's the time I've looked forward to the nice downhill section for a quick breather, only to find it's a nightmare climb. Funny how the reverse is so much less common. Then what about not noticing the uncrossable fence, or overlooking the band of impenetrable fight. To be honest this mistake is nearly always associated with not looking at the map enough. The one case I can think of where this wasn't the case was a DEVON National Event at Plym Forest. A nameless orienteer managed to navigate a significant way around his course, including punching a control on a pond, before being confronted by a major river that wasnt marked on his map. This wasn't so much his error in misreading the map; rather it was because there was no blue printed on his map at all.