O Log - More on Sprint Races

[12-Aug-04] 

    I had a request to write more about sprints. My sprint experience is limited, that being one race in Ust-Kamenogorsk, KZ, one in Asiago, IT, and the qualifer and B final in Roskilde DK at EOC. I took it easy in the Asiago race, and was absolutely physically shot for the latter two. I ran hard and had a good race in Kazakhstan. I've likely written some of the following in one form or anther previously. This is also from someone who does not know what it is like near the top; I could envision how people near the top would have different perspectives. My comments are based on urban/parkland sprint venues. I would take them as speculative at best.

    • I think sprints are fairly far removed, as a skill, from traditional orienteering, much as rogaining is removed from O. Navigation skill, in particular, is much less important, while physical prowess (speed in the case of sprints, obviously) is much more of a factor. Route planning has a bigger share of the mental component. As I've written previously, I don't really believe in decomposing O into skills, but if we give O a breakdown of 50% physical, 35% nav, and 15% route planning (which I guess is debatable but seems reasonable to me), I would put a sprint at 70% physical, 5% nav, and 25% route planning. (I believe, like O, it is more of a skill in and of itself, and also, the numbers will skew at the top when there is less variance in physical prowess among the top people. Then route planning dominates. In other words, in O, its not just speed, but navigating at speed. In a sprint, it is more route planning at speed. I think the required skills are easier to do at speed in a sprint, and I believe you can run closer to capacity in a sprint (not because of the distance, but because of the skills). (By "navigation", I guess I mean contact and execution skill).

    • Instance of booms (and poor routes) is more important than magnitude of mistakes than in traditional O. While a 1 minute boom may be a disaster in an O race, I think it is alot harder to make a mistake that large in a sprint, but you really have to worry about the 5 second mistakes adding up. I think relocation is easy, and almost automatic, in a sprint, and not really part of the skill set. The one exception is that it is easier to mispunch in a sprint. Code memorization is a more important skill in a sprint, both because of the higher risk of mispunch, and the relative value of time to punch.

    • It is easier to read ahead in a sprint due to both the majority of the running not requiring contact attention, and it is just simply easier to do on a street or park than in a wooded area with tough footing and trees in your face.

    • In a sprint, you must have every inch of your route planned before setting out to the next control. I don't think that is entirely true in traditional O, where planned feature hopping is sufficient, and you don't need to worry about surprises between the features so long as the map shows "forest", "trail" or whatever. It is more of an attention to detail required in the planning. This is because the out of bounds and uncrossable features are more subtle, and it is easier to miss the features that can paint you into a corner. In urban settings, you will have out of bounds features that cannot be mapped in olive or cross hatch, such as ornamental hedges, walls with flowerpots, and so on. In traditional O, I can only think of one feature that can trap you that doesn't really stand out, and that is the uncrossable fence. Sprints in urban settings have many more things that are more subtle to worry about. Moreover, O typically doesn't have mazes of uncrossable watercourses, fences, and the like, yet sprints may have mazes of uncrossable buildings and other obstacles.

    • In a sprint, backdooring is more of a factor. You must always consider the backdoor route, both at the beginning and end of your route. This means consider routes were you "come in as you might leave" on the approach of a control, and "leave the way you came in" when starting a leg. You may be running away from the control to save time in the long run.

    • Many route choices are "across the building" and the like. They may look the same, but course setters plan them to be different, perhaps only by 10-20 seconds, but this is alot. Analyzing the geometry and picking up on subtle differences is important. Again, attention to detail is much more important.

    • Attackpoints are not a factor in a sprint. (Of course, if your technique is like mine in traditional O, they are not much of a factor there, either). Compasses are not a factor either except to perhaps orient yourself at the start. Simplification, which may be a skill in traditional O, may be a liability in many aspects of a sprint.

    • Exploring the venue beforehand seems more valuable. In Asiago, I had map in hand and explored the city, in order to find a bank, grocery, etc. Before the race, I knew were everything was, what it looked like, and what the spatial relationships between the features were. It would be difficult and less valuable to get the same perspective by exploring a forest in a afternoon. In Roskilde, I intentionally didn't do this, and had my companions direct me how to drive. We were allowed in the city "as tourists", and I limited myself to the main street and the Domkirke. While I probably legally could have explored the city, I didn't. Other teams did. The difference was noticeable when running -- that "knowing where that is" seemed helpful. This seems somewhat contradictory to my assertion that navigation is a small part of the pie; I guess I'd say that while the difference was noticeable, its impact was still in the small part of the pie.

    • I think if a nation were to try to quickly win a world championship by taking the route of drafting a world class runner with no O experience, the sprint would be the discipline were this would be more likely to be successful. I think it would be easier to draft a runner and teach them to be effective at a sprint than in a traditional forest race. It is both physically and mentally more similar to road and track running.

    • Footwear considerations are more important. You don't want to get caught wearing studded O shoes for a lot of street running, but may wish you had such shoes if there is alot of parkland or woodland in the course, especially if the forecast calls for rain. For the city races, it was obvious to wear running shoes and not O shoes. For the WC qualifier, it was not obvious, but the organizers "recommended" O shoes (turns out the terrain was mostly grassy hospital grounds so this was a fine recommendation). For the WC final, the organizers "made no recommendation" on footwear, and some competitors were concerned. The speculation was that it would be in the city, so most people wore running shoes, yet there was a good portion in grass and woods, and it rained, and the running shoes were a liability. Many people were slipping near the end of the race. The bottom line is to learn the most about the venue as possible beforehand, and make sure you have appropriate footwear. I'm not sure we think that much about this before a traditional O race. (And I don't know much about running shoes, but there may exist the sort of shoe that is a good hybrid to wear on both the street and parkland/light woodland).

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