18 Jun

Racing Tips – Orienteering Part 4 – Judging Distance

Over the coming weeks we will be posting information that we hope will help you improve your adventure racing skills. If you have topics or questions you would like us to cover, send us an email at flatfeats(at)gmail(dot)com and we’ll try to address them in the near future.

In our last post we discussed how to properly measure distance on a map. Now that we know how far to go, it’s time to learn to keep track of distance traveled as you move along during a race.  Before we get to race day, however, we need to do a bit of prep work and that involves figuring out your pace.

What’s a Pace?
Finding your pace count is the quickest and most efficient way to calculate distance while running during an adventure race. A GPS device would be the most efficient way, but they are illegal to use during race time (We will allow you to carry a GPS as a safety measure during the Adventure-O, but you won’t be allowed to look at it during the race). You technically could use a measuring tape or yard stick during the race but you probably wouldn’t be very fast. If you really wanted to, you could use a meter wheel during a race, but that might be as useful, and entertaining for me, as riding a unicycle in the biking parts.

The Pace as a Unit
The pace unit was first widely used in Ancient Rome and is the distance of taking two steps. If you take a step forward with your right foot and then take a step forward with your left you have moved forward the equivalent of one pace. The distance of everyone’s pace is a little different as people are of different heights. The pace unit was somewhat standardized back in antiquity, but it was still a unit of measurement that wasn’t very favorable to the shorter portion of the population. With these caveats aside the pace is the best low tech way of calculating distance.  In order to be able to use your pace for an accurate reading, it’s best to count the number of paces within a given distance – in our case 100 meters.

Counting Your Pace
Counting your pace is an easy thing to do, but to do it right it takes a bit of time. First thing is to measure out 100 meters. You could find a 100 meter track and count away but the best option is to buy twine for about 5 bucks at your local hardware store, measure out 100 meters of it and lay it in a straight line on flat ground (you’ll need a roll of at least 350 feet). Once your distance is measured start walking and counting how many paces it takes to go 100 meters (remember, every 2 steps equals one pace).  Do this a few times and take the average number. Then, jog or run those 100 meters a few times and count those paces as well. Once done you’ll notice the number of paces for running will be smaller than the one for walking. It might be something like 50 paces for running and 70 paces for walking. The difference is because your stride length changes as you speed up. You have now successfully counted your pace for 100 meters on perfect flat terrain for walking and running!

Knowing your pace for perfectly flat terrain is great for a road race or a park event, but we’ll be crashing through bush and traversing hills and valleys. Our pace is going to change. Going down hill will tend to give you a smaller pace count, going up hill will give you a higher count, going through uneven terrain will give you a different count, and going through thick forest will definitely bring that pace count up. You’re going to have to repeat laying down that 100 meter twine in different types of terrain to count your pace. It’s probably best to get your pace number for different terrain types like:

  • Flat terrain
  • Hilly terrain
  • Mostly downhill
  • Mostly uphill
  • Through walkable forest
  • Through thick forest

All of these numbers should be taken at your race pace and at walking speed (in case something bad happens and you can’t race). “That’s a lot of work and a lot of numbers!” you may be saying to yourself, but the nice thing about doing all of this leg work before the race is once you have all of these pace numbers you shouldn’t ever have to do it again (unless physical abilities change). You may even want to write all of those pace count numbers down and put them in your filing cabinet for the next time you do an adventure race.  You can bring a cheat sheet for yourself at the race if you feel like it.

Going the distance
Knowing your pace for 100 meters is all fine and dandy but what if you need to go 600 meters; or 1 kilometer or something crazy like 2.7 kilometers. You actually have all the tools at hand and I’ll show you how you’ve got skills… and they’re multiplying. Misheard lyrics aside, keeping track of long distances doesn’t necessarily involve multiplying but you will have to do a bit of addition.

It’s Best to Learn by Example
Let’s say we’ve looked at our map to calculate our distance and we need to travel 700 meters on hilly terrain without too many trees. Fortunately for us, before the race we calculated our pace count for 100 meters of hilly terrain and know that number (For the purposes of this example let’s say it’s 78 paces).

We take our bearing and start counting our pace. Every time our right heel hits the ground we add one to our count. One, two, three, until we get to our magical number of 78. Once we get to 78 it’s time to celebrate. Lift your index finger in the air and start chanting “We’re number one! We’re number one!”. We have successfully traveled 100 meters and our index finger is there to mark the occasion. Now let’s start our pace count again (while still waiving our index finger in the air like we just don’t care). One, two, three, until we get to 78 again. It’s now time to celebrate by bringing your middle finger up with your index. Peace man! We’ve just travelled 200 meters.

200 Meters
Distance travelled – 200 meters

It’s time to start counting pace numbers again. One, two, three, four… seventy-eight. 300 meters completed and we add our ring finger to the pair for a nice W.  Double-u are the winner for knowing you’ve gone 300 meters! Let’s count our pace once more for 400 meters and celebrate that with four fingers in the air. Count another 78 paces and you’ve hit 500. Thumbs up! Now you’ve got it. Do another round of pace counting and bring that index finger back out to make a nice reverse L shape. You’re no loser! You’ve successfully counted 600 meters travelled.

600 Meters
Distance travelled – 600 meters

Your close to your destination and now’s the time to start looking for the feature you set out to find. Counting pace isn’t an exact science. There are too many variables involved to be accurate. The terrain could be hillier than expected. There might be more trees or obstacles. Your original pace count might be off. A hundred meters either side of 700 meters is probably a good plus/minus buffer. Remember that, as a team, you can fan out to find what you’re looking for. This is probably a good time to do that. Remember to stay in constant communication and not be any further than  50 metres apart while fanning out.

With 78 more paces you’ve hit 700 meters. If you’ve kept your bearing, you should be at your destination. Take your time, slow your speed and find what you’re looking for.

Note: If you still can’t find it after going 700 meters keep going a little farther. Your pace count might have been slightly off. Try going another 100 to 200 meters. If you’ve added a few hundred meters and still haven’t found what you’re looking for chances are you missed it. Reverse your bearing and start going back or look for a hand rail on your map such as a road, trail, river or  fence and head in that direction to regain your bearings.

Keeping track of Kilometers
You have now learnt how to keep track of your pace for 1 kilometer! That’s quite the feat with your feet! Celebrate by holding the index finger of your other hand and saying “we’re number one” even louder. Use your now free hand to do fist pumps in the air and start counting your pace for yet another hundred meters. Once you hit 1.1 kms lift up both index fingers and have a party etc.

Here’s an example of counting to 2.1 kms.

See how to count all the way to 99 at this wiki how page. With this method you can count up to 10 kilometers! 9.9 km on your fingers and one last round of counting pace.

Other Ways to Keep Count
Instead of fingers some people use different counting devices such as pace count beads. This is nothing more than a piece of cord with 9 beads (which is the same as counting with one hand) and a second piece of cord with 4 beads which allows you to count for up to 5 kilometers. These counting devices might come in handy if your hands are full and you can’t use your fingers to count but I’ve never seen anyone use beads in an adventure race.

What about Biking and Paddling?
When it comes to paddling it’s very difficult to calculate pace. There are too many factors such as changing water and wind currents that can affect your speed. Your best bet is to use your watch to time a set distance at the beginning of a paddling section and use that as your rough estimate for the rest of the race.

Biking however is much easier to calculate distance. Remember that meter wheel I was joking about earlier? A bike computer is simply the high tech equivalent of a a meter wheel and is one of the few electronic items that you can use in adventure races (we highly recommend it for our race).

Video Time!
The following video goes over what we just learnt and uses pace count beads to keep track of pace counts (as opposed to our fingers). After the 5 minute mark the video gives instruction on circumnavigating a danger area as well as estimating short distances. You shouldn’t need to know the information for the latter two for our event but it’s still interesting to know.

Note: The best way to fully understand these concepts is to practice them at an orienteering event. Visit moa.whyjustrun.ca or orienteering.mb.ca to participate in orienteering events that are happening in the Winnipeg and Manitoba areas.