Control flow & Exit direction

by Margaret Jones, Uringa Training Officer

Control flow and exit direction are advanced techniques in the sense that you have to have experience at using the basic tools of the orienteer to route plan. You then need to be able to use these at speed out on the course before you can hope to achieve control flow, or plan for exit direction.

That said the sooner an orienteer can start practising these things the better, and in fact it is easier to practice on the simpler courses where there is less to think about!

What is control flow? 

In simple terms it is the speed and smoothness you can achieve as you approach, punch and leave the control on your way to the next checkpoint. Valuable seconds can be gained if you can ‘flow’ through the control without having to stop.

Have you ever been beaten by a rival by only a few seconds? If you currently get to a control and then pause to re-establish your bearings and your direction to the next one, you are wasting precious seconds (and maybe minutes for some!) Even on a novice course with 12 controls, saving 2 seconds per control will gain you nearly half a minute on the opposition.

Carol McNeill* estimates that good control flow can increase your overall speed by up to 1⁄2 a minute per km – and that’s without getting any fitter. That’s got to be worth trying to master!

What is exit direction? 

Again this just means that when you approach a control you know already which direction you need to exit the control in order to get on your way.

So how do we tackle this marvellous, timesaving technique?

Planning each leg is the starting point. You must know how you are getting to the control, which orienteering techniques you are using en route (handrails, attack points, breaking the leg into manageable pieces) and the ones you will use going into the control (attack points, catching features).

One of the main features of this technique is the visionary map contact mentioned in the Uringa 2011 article ‘Efficient use of the map’ – by which I mean that you know where you are going to be in 100m time, and are not focused on proving to yourself that you know where you are now (though of course you should know that to a degree!).

By the time you are approaching the control you should know:

  • The detailed description of the control feature
  • Visualised to yourself what that control feature will look like
  • The control code
  • The direction you want to leave the control
  • And, possibly, an attack point which is also known as a ‘leaving point’ for that directional change – say a large boulder, or that the change in contour as the land rises, a knoll or saddle that you are going to head for, a vegetation boundary

As you approach the control and begin to slow down you should be taking notice of the bearing, or feature which you will use to navigate out of the control. If you are using a compass bearing then you can adjust your baseplate to the required direction and turn your map in anticipation.

It is important to not to head out from the control in the wrong direction. Having already set your map to the direction you want to go in, will help prevent this. However, if you find that your plan for exit doesn’t match with what you see in the terrain as you head off STOP! It is very easy to make a 180’ error from a control and you can quickly get disoriented and lose more time than such a simple error merits. If in doubt, check and go back to where you last knew your exact position even back to the control if necessary.

As you become more comfortable with the technique you can start planning more than one control in advance. Use the dead zones, or those safe periods of hard running where you know where you are and what major feature you are looking for, to set up your thinking for the next few controls.

For those of you who think in traffic light orienteering terms, plan during the green phase. Good control flow means that there is no real red phase of your traffic light orienteering; the aim is never to stop still but to keep moving smoothly, albeit more carefully, on approach to the control. Constantly thinking forward will help maintain your sense of urgency and hence your speed. Duncan Currie, Garingal super-junior, has perfected the art of memorising control numbers in threes. He knows precisely what the codes are coming up without having to slow down look at his control description sheet to check as he heads into the control.

Simple steps to control flow and exit direction technique:

  1. Before you leave the start triangle make a simple plan of how you will navigate to the next control.
  2. Look at your control description and number and memorise it
  3. As you run use the dead zones to start looking at the control following the one you arecurrently on course for, and devise a plan
  4. Identify the direction you will leave the control and if there are any suitable attack pointswhich can underpin your exit direction
  5. In the last 100m into the control you should be concentrating on that current control so all the planning for the next one should have been completed by then
  6. Check your control code again if necessary, find your final attack point
  7. As you see the flag, take a compass bearing to come out of the control
  8. Punch the control and head out on your bearing towards your identified leaving point
  9. Repeat!

All this takes practice but the good thing is that you can practice every time you go out on a course and the simpler it is, the easier it will be feel how the technique works.

One other thing. The new SI sticks register much faster than the older ones – the new models coming out in 2012 will be faster by a factor of 4 than ones which were produced in 1997.** Consider getting a new SI stick, work on your control flow and exit direction and leave your rivals in the dust!

*Carol McNeill is a first class British orienteer, having competed for Britain during the 60’s and 70’s. She was a senior coach for the British Orienteering Federation and team coach for the British Squad. Her very useful books ‘The Skills of the game’ and ‘Orienteering – Skills, techniques, training’ are well worth a read.
** SPORTident timing system Siegfried Ritter (The Australian Orienteer March 2012)