Planning an Event

The British Orienteering website has lots of information for planning an event including the Event Officials handbook accessed from the “Event Officials” tab but here are the basics:

Do you realise how much of the enjoyment of orienteering you’ve missed if you’ve never planned a Level C (colour coded) event? OK, so there’s quite a lot of work involved, but you don’t have to do it all yourself as there will always be someone else willing to lend a hand. In many cases this will be the event’s Controller who not only ensures the fairness and safety of your courses and checks the controls are in the right places, but also is there to guide you through the methodology of the job.

So you want to try it? The first thing you need to do is have a word with our Fixtures Secretary, Alan Bedder, who is on a constant look-out for volunteers. He will show you the list of proposed events and you will then be able to see whether one is particularly suitable for you. Maybe it’s the wood only a couple of miles from home, possibly it’s that wretched area where you got lost last year and on which you want to take your revenge, or maybe it’s one with happier memories! Wherever it is, you are going to have to visit it several times, so closeness to home is an advantage. Alan may already have ideas about who will be the Controller, otherwise you’ll have a chance to say who you would like to work with.

In an ideal world, a Planner should start work a year in advance so he can see what the area will look like at the time of the event. As every orienteer knows, runnability changes markedly from season to season, so course legs which make sense in February may be impassable in September. Other areas, which may be runnable at the end of summer, may be under water after a wet winter. The world is rarely ideal, however, permissions often taking a long time to obtain, the mapper needing time to finish or update his work, felling taking place or one of a hundred other things preventing progress, so you may have only a couple of months to prepare the event. But whenever possible plan well in advance as this will lighten the workload in the final week or two before the event takes place.

Even if you know the area quite well, start the planning process by having a careful walk round it. What are the best bits, how can they be combined, where can we park, where would you like to place the Start and Finish?

You may have little choice about the area for parking, but if you do, remember that the least satisfactory option is the linear one, such as parking along a ride, a long walk to Registration being generally unpopular. Parking in a field creates a much more sociable atmosphere, something our sport is not renowned for. A moderate walk to the Start gives everyone a chance to warm up, but too long a distance can be a disadvantage for juniors and families. Also, if there’s no access for cars, remember that all the equipment will need to be carried there and back. But if you have a choice between making either the Start or Finish some way from the car park, and the other nearby, keep the Finish close as most competitors dislike a long trek back to the car.

When you’ve decided where you would like the courses to start and finish, you need to see whether you can design feasible courses between these two points. To avoid wasting a lot of time, start with the White and Brown. If both of these will fit, it’s pretty certain all the others will, too.

You’ve probably got a good idea about the correct technical and physical standards needed for the course you normally run, but what about the others? Make a start by going to the British Orienteering website and studying the event rules and guidelines:

You should read both the rules and the guidelines thoroughly and find the level of technical difficulty, the expected time for most competitors to complete their course, and the minimum-maximum length for the various colour codes. You will also find the approximate course length ratio between the Black (1.0) and other courses, with Brown at 0.77 and White at 0.14, and more about technical difficulty (TD) for each course, a table defining the sort of routes and route choice, number and siting of controls, how easy relocation should be and the relative cost of errors, and the skills required to complete the course.

When you have walked the area and gained some ideas, settle down to some armchair planning, taking into account the various requirements. For many venues in East Anglia you will be hard-pressed to plan at TD5, and TD4 may seem hard to reach in places. But don’t despair as a course is defined as being of a particular standard if only one of its legs reaches that standard, and it’s usually possible to include at least one difficult leg, although of course you should include more if you can. You can do a lot to make courses interesting by combining legs of different lengths, if possible taking them into varying terrain, providing route choice wherever possible (on courses where this is permissible), and siting controls so they aren’t too obvious. This latter point is often debated as there is a subtle difference between ‘making a control less obvious’ and ‘hiding’ it. How often have you seen a control from 100 metres, or passed within a couple of metres of a pit with a kite in the bottom and not seen it? The guideline is that competitors should navigate to the feature rather than the kite, but that the kite should be visible from 10 metres – good in theory but not always possible in practice!

If you’re happy using computers, you can use the planning mode of OCAD 9 to make life easier. NOR owns a copy which can be used by all club members. OCAD have recently added flash animation how-tos to their site which will guide you through this process. Go to

When you’re satisfied with your initial ideas, go back to the forest to check that the control sites are as good in reality as on the map. Ask yourself whether there are suitable attack points for the difficulty of the course. Have you combined the use of controls in such a way that competitors leaving the control on one course show those on another the way into it? Or have you put a dog-leg into the course whereby the routes in and out are the same? Multiple use of controls is generally not too serious at colour coded events with a small attendance, but becomes much more important at larger events, and it has to be balanced against the need to limit the controls to a manageable number. At NOR colour coded events, we rarely exceed 55 controls, and at some use only 40-45, but it’s a mistake to try to economise too much. If a course can be improved by the addition of another control, I would always be inclined to add it.

If you’re completely new to planning, don’t waste time tagging your control sites until you’ve shown the courses to your Controller. He’s there to help and shouldn’t criticise for the sake of it! After all, you are the Planner, but he will point out any obvious faults he sees, and will offer constructive criticism for you to consider. Where he will strongly advise you to make changes is where he feels you have misinterpreted the guidance on course length and difficulty, but the only time he will insist you make changes is on matters of safety.

When the Controller is happy with the courses and your control descriptions, you will need to tag the sites, and the Controller will check them. Perhaps you and he will combine the operations. You will supply the SI Manager with details of controls by course, and the Organiser with a map of the Assembly Area, the Start and Finish, and details of any other requirements. Either the day before or on the day, depending on the size and security of the area, you will put out the controls and the Controller will check them. Then you sit back and wait nervously for those first finishers to tell you what they thought of your courses, and hope there’s no vandalism for you to rectify!