The series is brought to you by members of Oxford's two orienteering clubs:

Thames Valley OC

Oxford University OC

What is Orienteering?

Control next to a tree

Control at a tree

The Oxford Street-O events are a type of orienteering, intended to provide accessible competition with minimal overheads. If you enjoy them, you’ll probably enjoy the much larger events that are held at weekends as well!

Orienteering is a fun, energetic sport, in which competitors have to run around a course with the aid of a map and compass. A number of control points are marked on the map, at each of which is a marker flag and some method of proving that you have been there. At most events, this will now be a form of electronic tag which automatically records your time at each control as well (Emit and SportIdent are both used widely in the UK). The old-fashioned system, which is now rare, is to carry a control card which you mark with pin punches (each has a distinctive pattern) at the controls.

Where does it take place?

Action photo from the forest

Running hard through the forest

Traditionally orienteering takes place in forest and woodland areas, although events also take place on fell and moorland areas, or on sand dunes. Small local events can be found on commons and parkland. As well as the Street-O series, larger events are also held in the streets of towns and cities across the country.

There is a large range of courses available, which depend both on the type of event and the terrain on which it is run. A beginner might start with an orange or red colour coded course between 3 and 6km long, while a longer course might be 10km for men, and 7km for women. These lengths may sound short if you are used to road or cross-country running, but they are measured in a straight line between controls, which is often not the fastest route, and do not allow for getting lost! Younger or less confident children can start with a very easy white course about 1.5km long. In general shorter courses are easier than longer ones, but there are some exceptions – if in doubt, ask!

What does all that jargon mean?

Map of a simple area

Example map of a simple area

The most common type of event are District events, which take place about twice a month within reach of Oxford from roughly September to May. These have colour coded courses, a standard range of courses of given length and difficulty classified using the names of colours. These range from white (very short and easy) through yellow, orange, red, and green to blue or brown (long and hard). Runners of any age can enter whichever course they like on the day.

Regional events are larger, and attract competitors from further away. They must usually be entered in advance and have a wider range of courses.  Most people enter a course recommended for their age class,  so that you compete directly against your peers. Within each class there are long and short courses, the short being about two thirds the length of the long. All apart from younger children’s courses require good navigational skills. There is probably a Regional events within reach of Oxford about once a month during the main orienteering season.

What other sorts of events are there?

Action from an urban event

Urban events are popular too

Below District events are local and introductory events, which can take place on small local areas such as city parks as well as in forests. Around Oxford these are exemplified by TVOC’s once-a-month Saturday Series. There are also novelty events with different rules to make small areas more challenging, such as having to remember your route and complete the course without a map. There are also higher levels of age group competition, though you will have to travel further afield to get to them: there are about six National Events a year, which attract competitors from all over the country; the two-day Jan Kjellstrom (JK) event at Easter; and the British Championships.

Over the summer there is always a multi-day event in either Scotland, Wales or the Lake District, with many similar summer events all around Europe if you’re feeling adventurous. There are also variations on the usual type of course, such as relays, night events (in case you think navigation is too easy when you can see), score events (like the Street-O series), or head-to-head sprint races.

Do I need lots of special clothes and equipment?

Map of a complex area

Example map of a complex area

You don’t need special clothes to start with, but you will need trousers rather than shorts, and often a long-sleeved top. Unless the weather is cold, you will want thin clothes so you don’t get too hot. Trainers are fine for shoes, but don’t wear anything too nice as they will probably suffer from undergrowth in the forest, as well as getting wet and muddy – this applies to clothes as well. Once you become a regular, you’ll want to buy some special orienteering kit in club colours, and some hard-wearing O-shoes.

The only fairly expensive equipment you need is a compass, but you can probably borrow one to start with if you don’t have one. A whistle is advisable in steep or exposed areas to call for help if you injure yourself. Safety pins are useful for all sorts of things. If you come to larger events you’ll soon get used to seeing the Ultrasport and Compass Point vans, both sell a large range of orienteering kit and equipment.

So what happens when I’ve got to an event?

Action from a park race

Parkland events can be a good introduction

When you first arrive at an event, you will need to register for your chosen course, usually at a tent. There may also be a separate enquiries tent at which you’ll find plenty of people willing to help. You may be allocated a start time and given some control descriptions which tell you what to look for at each control site. At most events, you will also need to hire an electronic card for the event. It used to be normal to be given a blank map, but most events now have pre-marked maps which you don’t get until you start – there may be some older maps of the area on display, though, to give you an idea of what to expect. Having changed and checked that you have everything, make your way to the start, leaving plenty of time to watch what everyone else does.

You will probably be called up a couple of minutes before your start time, and kept waiting in a taped box. If you are using SportIdent, you will need to clear your e-card, though Emit doesn’t need this step. A minute before your start time, you then move into the final box, and you will be given instructions about the maps; usually the event will be using pre-marked maps  which you will pick up just after you have started.

With electronic punching systems, you usually need to punch as you start. On the way round your course, each control is marked on the ground by a red and white marker, and is identified by a three-figure or two-letter code so you can’t (shouldn’t) punch the wrong one by mistake. Once you’ve visited all of the controls in order there’s just the short (usually) sprint to the finish, giving you a chance to show just how fast you can really run…

How can I find out more?

The best way to find out more is to come to an event and have a go. The local club for the Oxford area is Thames Valley Orienteering Club (TVOC): have a look at the main events list and Saturday series calendar. For a comprehensive list of events further afield have a look at this interactive fixtures map.