By Ethan Childs
Every orienteer knows the day after Thanksgiving is the best time to hop in your car and go out to the woods—if you can get there. And we did exactly that with an advanced orienteering training camp at Harriman State Park in New York. The maps at Harriman were used for the 1993 World Orienteering Championships, and the terrain is so good that it remains one of the best places to orienteer in the Northeast to this day.
In other words, it was bound to be a great weekend.
The three days of training involved a variety of orienteering exercises such as control picking, long-legs, farsta, speed control, and O-intervals—as well as one or two others I missed while stuck in Black Friday traffic (because some people don't orienteer). Due to Harriman's rough terrain and technical nature, most of the trainings focused on either map-reading or speed.
Long legs, speed control, and O-intervals were the three I would consider to be most geared towards practicing speed in difficult terrain, and in a place like Harriman running fast is a challenge all on its own.
O-intervals are basically a few short controls that you run as fast as possible, and then you walk to the start for the next set and repeat throughout the course. These were particularly difficult because of the amount of skill and coordination it takes just to move through certain parts of the forest without bashing your shin against a rock or getting caught in a patch of mountain laurel, let alone read a map along the way. For those of you who have not yet spent hours frolicking through the woods, imagine trying to play hopscotch while reading a book and moving as fast as you can. Even those of us who are used to rough terrain had a very hard time maintaining a high speed, but that's what makes it such a good place to practice.
The speed control was a bit more straight-forward. This training was designed so the first control would be on a large, obvious feature, and the second would be in a much more challenging location. The idea was that we could run fast to the first control, but had to slow down for the second, sort of like using an attackpoint to find the control. Even though I've been orienteering my entire life thinking about running legs in this way was tremendously helpful because it allowed me to focus on speed and navigation at the right times, making me both faster and more accurate overall. Who knew?
Long legs were/are a bit more of a hybrid. While Harriman is challenging enough to make just about everything technical and confusing, practicing long legs anywhere is about finding the balance between distance, speed, and technicality. Do I go straight through the woods, or around on the trails? Do I go up the steep hills or run through the dense green? Do I take the longer and simpler route, or the more direct and challenging one? And the most important question of all: How long do I stand at the top of this hill admiring how beautiful Harriman is before running again?
On the other hand, we did get to do some things that only made our brains numb instead of our bodies. Since I wasn't around for the farsta, the control pick was basically the only technical training I did, although fortunately we had a different control pick for each day.
Unlike the technical map reading aspects of the long legs, the control pick is more geared towards reading ahead and being able to flow through terrain. Even though the controls are all close together so it's hard to make any real mistakes, doing a control pick correctly is actually very tough because you always have to be one step ahead. Always. And in a place like Harriman this is super challenging because it’s hard enough just to keep track of where you are let alone where you're going. Even though I only made a couple "mistakes" over both days, I would say I only did about half of the controls properly without having to stop, slow down, or interrupt my flow.
Overall the training camp was absolutely fabulous. On top of great trainings and great weather, we also had a lovely AirBnb nearby where most of us stayed overnight and played hours of board games. While all of us absolutely love running around in the woods on our own, we equally enjoy socializing and spending time with our friends. At the end of the day, it's all about having fun.