Jason Tong's Training Tips

Contributed by Jason Tong (Updated: 2/10/01)

Establish a Goal

Set a goal in terms of pace in minutes per kilometer. For example, if you want to run around 80 minutes on Green, (which is usually 4-5 km) then you need to be running 16-20 minute per km. Set a realistic goal for one yearís improvement, even if your actual goal is longer term. What is realistic depends on your current level of ability and your commitment to improvement. If you donít have a number in mind, pick someone else in your club who you think you can match and ask what their typical pace is. Your pace goal will now be the focus of your training and the measure of your progress. The DVOA results page contains a pace calculator you can use.

Identify Weaknesses

Running, Navigating and Route selection are the three main skills that determine orienteering success. You need to evaluate yourself with respect to your goal and determine which area(s) need the most work. Each time you race, record your leg splits. For each split that did not meet your pace goal, determine which skill needs to be improved to meet the pace. For example, if you ran the leg with no navigational mistakes and route choice was not a factor, then you need more work on running. You can go one step further and identify more specific areas, like running uphill, or pace counting. Prioritize your areas for improvement. Be as specific as possible.

Specific Training

Most serious athletes spend 90% of their time training and 10% of their time competing. For most recreational orienteerers, that percentage is almost reversed. Training should isolate and improving specific skills, rather than repeat the competitive activity. Once the skills are mastered independently, then they can be put together as a whole. When training, work on improving the specific skill identified from your race results analysis. Run single legs at race pace using the skills you are working on. Allow adequate recovery between legs so fatigue does not become a factor. Strive to make each leg as perfect as possible. Do not practice making errors.


There is lots of information and theories about training for running. Read some books or talk to experienced runners about their training. There is no one ideal approach, and each person has to experiment to find what is right for him or her. The generally accepted philosophy is to develop strength and endurance first, followed by speed and skill. Off-season is for distance running and weight lifting; in-season for speed and technical work. During a single workout, the order is reversed. Do your speed and skill work first while the mind and body is fresh, with the strength and distance afterwards.

Orienteers should do much if not all of their running in the woods, including interval work. Set up measured legs that you can run by memory without navigating, to concentrate on running. Use your pace goal to determine the training times for your intervals. Obviously you need to be able to run those legs at or above your target race pace without too much physical strain. Aggressive runners should also include weight training to prevent ankle and knee injuries. Specific jumping and bounding workouts called plyometrics are also valuable. These involve hopping and bounding on one foot onto, off of, and over, small boxes, sometimes while carrying weights. This is very intense training that requires a high degree of fitness and preparation.


If you are a beginner, make sure you know how to use all the various techniques (pace counting, aiming off, collecting features, etc.) Intermediate runners may know all the techniques in theory, but may be weak in certain skills, particularly those needed on advanced courses only, like pace counting. Advanced runners presumably have all the skills, but need to be more consistent, especially when running at faster speed.

For training, pick the desired skill and practice it on a leg. Use a leg that is appropriate for the technique. Go at low speed at first, but eventually practice at race speed or above. Make sure to recover between legs so fatigue is not a factor.

At home, study old courses and practice quickly determining which technique is most suitable for each leg. Establish a set of criteria that you can use to quickly make a choice when presented with a leg. (For example: leg less than 200 meters, bearing and pace; greater than 200m look for an attack point.) The goal is to make decisions quickly and decisively without second-guessing yourself. Your criteria may change as your skills evolve.

There is more that one way to win a race. Some may choose to concentrate their limited training time on one or two techniques to the exclusion of others. They become experts at them, and do not lose as much time on the course deciding which technique to use. If this is your strategy, then beware that your results may vary with the type of courses your run.

Route Selection

Again, the orienteering literature has many sources of information on technique. The key is to get feedback on whether the choices you make in a race are the correct ones for you. Comparing splits and routes with others is helpful, but you must take into account different runners abilities and preferences. The best choice for someone else is not always the best choice for you.

For training, make a short course with legs that require route selection. Run the course twice using different routes on each leg (with adequate recovery between). Compare your actual splits with your estimates of which route would be fastest.

At home, study old courses and practice quickly finding all of the possible route choices for a given leg and determine which is the shortest and has the least climb. Then measure each route and study the map carefully to see if you found all possible routes and your assessment was correct.

Computer O games can be used to compare route choices and practice route selection on the fly. Use a game that allows you to "run" by moving the cursor over the map, not the virtual running games that you move by looking at a simulation of the landscape. You want to separate the route finding skill from the navigation skill. Run the same leg with different routes and see which is fastest. Remember that the speed estimated by the program is for a typical runner. Your skills may dictate a different route choice.

Ken Walker has an interesting website called "Attack Point" (http://www.attackpoint.org) with information and discussion on training along with links to other websites.

Distance Judgment

Do you find yourself overrunning controls or attack points? Try the following:

Draw a straight line on a map. Pass through as many different types of terrain and features as possible. Have someone hang streamers at varying intervals (from 50m to 1500m) on features on the line and mark them on your map. Then run the course at race pace and find the streamers along the way. The course should be designed so that navigation only requires holding a bearing. The terrain should allow running close to the line. Pace count if you wish, but try to develop a sense of distance without actually counting. Try not to read the map too much, either, just focus on how far you have run.

This drill also serves as a good interval workout to develop race speed. Since navigation isnít the objective, you can run the same course many times. Time and record your intervals and keep track of your improvement over the season.