Must Have Nav

It's good to have some idea of where you're running to

A friend of mine who is an experienced racer and top navigator for a nationally competitive team has offered up some awesome tips for fledgeling teams when it comes to navigation.  To be honest, as he mentions, navigation is the aspect of AR that is the most lacking in rookie teams.  Someone with even a very recreational level of fitness can often finish in the middle of the pack or even better in sprint races if they are paired with a good navigator.  If you are patient and can read a map and compass you have the makings for a great navigator.  Check out his thoughts on the subject and get some great ideas for ways to get out there and improve your nav skills.  So i'm not saying not to get out there and train - i'm just reminding you that AR isn't like other racing - this isn't some glorified triathlon. In AR, fitness will only get you so far.  In fact, without good nav, the fitter you are the more lost you will end up getting (i.e. the faster you'll be running in the wrong direction).  Cheers everyone!

Navigation Training Games

The equipment you will need:

  1. Map. Preferably a 24K USGS map. Get a good one, that has clear detail. If you just print one off the internet, you will lose key details that can make a huge difference. Spend a few dollars to purchase a MyTopo map of an area or two you frequently visit.

  2. A handheld GPS or GPS logger. Any GPS that will track your route so you can download later will work. A GPS logger we use is the i-gotU logger…. It is water resistant and the batteries will last through a 36hr race.

  3. Good orienteering compass. We recommend a good thumb compass (Suunto or Moscow are good ones. Moscow has bearing marks, which can be useful at times). A baseplate type compass works ok too, but a thumb compass is much more convenient and will help you use it more often.

  4. Not required, but nice: Some type of “controls” that are cheap and durable. We recommend spray painting 2” diameter x 6” long PVC pipe a bright orange, and putting some reflective tape around it. Then tie a string to one end, put a squeeze clip (like a clothespin) on the string, and now you can hang a control from any tree.

Navigation Games

  1. Walk the Line:

    1. Take a map, any map, and randomly draw a line around the area you will be hiking in. Make it squiggly, make it straight, make it cross paths… it doesn’t matter. Now, go out in the area and try to walk the line as close as possible. Then when you get home, compare your line with your GPS route to see how accurate you were.

    2. What this teaches: 1) How to keep contact with the map at all times. 2) Understanding fine, or micro-navigation. 3) Forces you to study all map details and locate the real life features. 4) Emphasizes accuracy over speed.

  2. Set up a course.

    1. One person goes out and sets a course in a park. Make it about 5-10 controls, not too many or it just takes a long time. Then give another person a map with the controls marked on the map. They go out and find them. Simple enough.

    2. What this teaches: 1) for the setter, it teaches them they better know for sure where they set the control. 2) For the finder, it teaches them how to read the map.

    3. A “twist” or fun game you can play is to set the course, let the other person find all the controls as fast as possible, while timing them, but leave the controls up. Then run it again (now that you know where all the controls are) and see how fast you are, again timing yourself. Consider the difference between the two times a result of your navigation speed. The lower you can make this difference, the faster you are getting at navigating.

  3. Set up a virtual course.

    1. This is easier than the above, and you can set your course, and run it too! Plot random points on a map, then with your GPS turned on, and in your backpack, go out and find all the points. Then when you get home, see if you really did “find” all the controls…. That is, did your route go through each of the CP locations? Make a Waypoint when you believe you are at the “control”

    2. What this teaches: 1) To know where you are. 2) To navigate to find the feature, not a control.

  4. Variations of the above games:

    1. Make them “Fast” or “Slow”. Some points, see how fast you can get them, by choosing fast routes, or just increasing your speed. Some points, see how accurate you can be (this is more applicable when you do a “walk the line” course). Do this by drawing segmented lines…. Some are a squiggle line between controls, and gaps between controls can be done as fast as you can.

    2. Get lost…. Make a “walk the line” or virtual course on a map, put it in your pocket, and go out in the woods for a run (don’t look at the map). After about 20-30 minutes (set your stopwatch), stop running, and pull out your map. Do what you can to relocate yourself, and get on your line as quickly as you can. You may have to move around a bit, studying the terrain and the map to get them to “fit” each other. Then do the remainder of what you want to do on your map (course or walking the line).

Things to remember:

  • Navigation is the #1 discipline you should train for Adventure Racing. It is much more beneficial to spend any time in the woods with a map in hand, with navigational purpose than to just run to get in shape. Do as many orienteering meets as you can. Get used to looking at 24K maps, and seeing what earth formations do and don’t show up on the map because of the map’s resolution of details. Learn how to use handrails and catching features.

  • Keep your map aligned at all times. Your compass will always be right, resist the urge to fight your compass. Use it to make sure your map is pointing the same direction as the terrain. Rarely (if ever) should you set a bearing on your compass and only follow that. Learn how to primarily navigate with the map, but use the compass to make sure the map is looking the same way you are. (the map’s north end should always point in the same direction as the compass needle… no exceptions!)

  • Make liberal use of handrails and catching features. Know how to use terrain features to guide your way so you “can’t” get lost. Handrails: a feature that is easy to follow, as long as you follow it, you are going in the direction you wish to go. Catching Features: Something obvious that tells you when to turn, or if you have gone too far, or if you are getting close to where you want to be. These features should be as obvious as possible, both on the map, and in real life. The better you get at navigation, the smaller or less obvious these features can become.

  • It is always wiser to take a safer navigational route, even if it is longer. If you miss your turn, you end up taking 3 steps to correct for one step in the wrong direction (one in the wrong direction, one to get back to where you were, and one to get to the point you should have been in the first place. Now replace the word “step” with “miles” and you can see how quickly it adds up).

  • If the route is “safe” e.g. the catching features are easy enough to identify, the straightest route is usually the fastest. Going up and over a hill is typically just as fast, if not faster than going around a big hill or deep reentrant, especially on a 24K map.

  • Speed is ALWAYS secondary to navigation accuracy. (see above). If you are at all unsure of exactly where you are, don’t be afraid to stop for a few moments to make sure you know where you are on the map.

  • Shorten up long legs into smaller, more manageable segments. Don’t look at a long leg as overwhelming. Break it up to just move from catching feature to catching feature. The easier you can identify those features, the easier that leg becomes. Use handrails in between those catching features.

  • Know that a Race Director (normal ones like Jason) does not ever hide the controls. 90% of the time, they are right in the open, as long as you are at the correct feature, you don’t have to do a micro-scavenger hunt to find it. If you don’t see it, but feel you navigated well, look for a few minutes just to ensure yourself you are at the correct feature, but if you still can’t find it, don’t be bashful to doubt your navigation or your plotting. Check that out right away, and you might save your team hours of looking in the wrong area. If you really truly are lost, go back to a point that you can easily identify and know for sure where you are at, then retry. If you still can’t find it, find another location to attack from (come into the control from a different direction).

  • Take the map out of a big bulky case, and put it in a ziplock style/size bag when you are on foot navigation. Fold the map up so that you can keep your thumb on the route you are on. You don’t need to see the entire course, only the leg you are navigating. Folding up the map for each leg helps you keep your focus.

  • Use a highlighter to draw a straight line to each control you are going to, in the order you will be getting them. Do this before EVERY navigation section. In fact, highlight your route for the entire race before you even begin. Even if you are plotting on the clock, it will save you much more time taking the few extra minutes to draw in your route than to try to “remember” what you are going to do on the course. Planning goes a long way in AR. Wedali won Nationals last year by 10 minutes (or less), and they started a few minutes late because they took extra time to tend to their maps. Highlighting a route will also help prevent you from inadvertently missing a CP because of a poor map fold, or fatigue.

  • Break up routes into “Green, Yellow, Red”…. Green means you are on something super easy to locate yourself, and you can’t miss an easy catching feature (on a highway, looking for the next intersection), Yellow means it is fast or possibly runnable, but the catching feature isn’t too obvious, and you could overshoot it. Red means you have to go slow because it is very easy to make a mistake, and you might be close to your control at this point as well. These aren’t hard and fast rules, but it might give you an idea about when you can run, and when you should take it slow. Always remember, if in doubt, slow down.

  • Don’t follow other teams…. Ever! Do your own navigation. They might be lost. If you do follow them, you lose focus on your map. If they do get lost, then guess what, so are you, and now you don’t have a clue where you are on the map because you were watching them instead of your own map. Concentrate on your own map, your own strategy, and your own speed. If you do it right, you will come out ahead.

  • Let the team navigator lead the way. As simple as this rule sounds, it’s easy to get ahead of the navigator while busting through the woods or riding on the bike. You may think you are following the lead of the navigator, but you will most likely lead them astray, or get them to take a route they are not quite comfortable with. You may end up rushing the navigator with your speed, and get them to lose contact with the map. Let the navigator stay in front, set the pace, and everyone else just follows and asks what the next feature they are looking for is.

  • Encourage your navigator, even if they make a mistake. It is not easy, they are under a lot of stress to not screw up. If they do screw up, they know it, you don’t have to remind them about it. Tell them it’s ok, and ask where you need to go now. Move on. Crying about a mistake, no matter how bad it seems, won’t make it go away, time didn’t stop, so neither should your team. Keep going, and hope other teams made mistakes like that too…. Chances are, they have. All of the above tips have come from a mistake made and learned (sometimes several times) in a race. You will find that often times, those mistakes you made end up being your team’s favorite race memories and stories.

Quick and dirty, non-navigation related AR advice

  • Pack as light as possible.

  • Pack with the least bulky items as possible.

  • Keep your gear as simple as possible. But make sure it is useful too.

  • Only carry your required gear (and wear it if possible so you don’t have to carry it), and only take extra gear if you are 90% sure you will use it. Do not take items that are “nice to have just in case”. Chances are, you will not need it. If you did need it, and you don’t have it, that is when the time comes to be innovative. Pack rips? Stuff all their gear into everyone elses packs. You get the picture. MacGyver’s are good to have in AR.

  • Make sure you have a way to keep your core warm in some way or another. Don’t necessarily rely on body heat keeping you warm because you are active. The long paddle gets cold, even in summer. When the sun is down, it gets really cold. An emergency blanket can double as a wind/rain jacket (if the jacket is not required, and you didn’t bring one)

  • Only take as much food (or less) than what you think you will eat. In our experience, you will eat between 100-200 calories per hour. So, for a race that will take you 8hrs, only carry 800-1600 calories…. No more than that! Unless you are an eating hog. When you are finished with your race, just empty all the food you didn’t eat into a pile, and you will see.

  • Have fun. Getting too serious will take the fun out. If you are having fun, you can suffer a lot more than if you are miserable.

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