Using digital to practice old school navigation

I love navigation challenges and having done my first orienteering event in the cold damp months of February I was disappointed when Covid hit that there wouldn’t be more over the summer.

Back in February when being given a paper map at the start and food at the end was what events were about…

Then a friend introduced me to a series of virtual orienteering runs via the East Pennine Orienteering Club (EPOC) and I’ve been hooked ever since.

Virtual Orienteering

Virtual Orienteering has become a popular activity with both Orienteering clubs and event organisers using technology to provide ‘events’ for people to continue to participate in activities.

Whilst there’s a few different apps available, most are using MapRunF which is free to download and simple to use. The app allows the facility to ‘cheat’ (assuming its not been disabled by the event organiser!) by following the red line you create as you move.

Given clubs are using it to replace the punch and card of old orienteering events, most are disabling this function and ensuring participants use good old paper maps which can be downloaded from their own websites.

EPOC events have been great fun as they’ve kept them both short and urban to encourage participation. Theres a choice of length for the linear runs and sometimes there’s score events if you want to freestyle.

I quickly became addicted to racing round villages and parks trying to get my phone to ping at the checkpoints.

A lovely event around Scammonden Reservoir area…

…but with my head down looking for the right spot I forgot about considering route choice as I headed through brambles

Having the opportunity to do a weekly event has been great fun for encouraging me to be active when I’ve been feeling lazy and fed up. It has also given me something to be competitive about at a time when there’s been little happening – which has certainly brought the fun back into navigating.

My attempt at Holmfirth Long event and how it looks on the result page of MapRunF
how the paper map looks to get around the course

During this never-ending period of ‘not-lockdown-but-not-normal’ a number of race event organisers have also been using the MapRunF to organise free events, enabling people to get remain engaged with their events and encouraging new people out.

While I’ve been running races for a couple of years the race in the cold wet months of February was the first time I ever tried an orienteering event. So full of the excitement of EPOC events I had a go at the Explore Events Peak Raid events series.

Set in the White Peak, an area not that far from home but not one I’ve really explored much, this ticked all the boxes for me. A chance to try 2 hour events and get more mileage in my runs at the same time as explore new places. I wasn’t taking the races seriously enough to try to win, it was more about having a go and testing myself.

Via the end of the 4 events I had battled through head high bracken, been eaten alive by midges on sweaty hot evenings, slide down the steepest path into Castleton and been chased through a field by a herd of scary cows.

While I’d happily finished the first event half an hour early as I’d had a nice run, by the 4th event I was definitely zigzagging to get as many checkpoints as possible and actually being frantically competitive!

Geocaching – a geeks treasure hunt

During Lockdown my mountaineering club had virtual catchups with members. During one of these Laura presented on Geocaching. I’m not going to explain what geocaching is as its been around for decades now and if you haven’t heard of it you’ve clearly been hiding under a rock.

Having had a look at the map and discovered I seemed to be surrounded by geocaches around my village, and being trapped at home I took myself out for a spot of hunting.

Now I have to say, there is nothing about geocaching which translates to traditional navigation skills. You basically look at the app on your phone and follow it to find a cache, sometimes solving a puzzle along the way to find the right location.

That said, it is a fun way to get out and find yourself in very odd locations – rummaging down the side of a fence in the long grass for a box, or under a rock on the top of the moors. Its certainly made a few of my local runs a bit more interesting when I’ve been fed up of running the same routes.

If you find yourself a bit bored, geocaching can certainly give you the excuse you need to get out. Many of the caches give you interesting information about the local area, history and geology.

Going digital then?

In a word, no.

I do use digital mapping for planning routes, or quickly checking something when I’m out running. But I love a paper map a bit too much and don’t trust phones to not die when I’m out.

I’m a firm believer that being able to navigate is a life skill everyone should have – that there’s nothing more confidence building than being able to head out with a map and have a fantastic walk. Its also essential to avoid being the idiot who had to call out mountain rescue as all you had was a mobile phone which ran out of battery.

I do promote the OSLocate app to all who come on my courses as its a fantastic free tool to give you a grid reference when you need it. And unlike What3Words doesn’t require you to have mobile phone coverage so will work even when you don’t have data. Giving you a quick grid reference allows you to see where you are on a map and get yourself back to where you need to be. (I might rant about W3W another time)

OSLocate is free on Android and IOS so get it downloaded.

Thank to all the Orienteering clubs and event organisers who have embraced technology and despite the massive organising effort have provided free events for everyone to participate in. I’m hooked on randomly running around the countryside to get my phone to ping, so long may they continue!

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