New to a Blue: finding your way with the Cambridge University Orienteering Club

An orienteering club member navigates his way through a forestUniversity of Cambridge Career Club

The Cambridge University Orienteering Club has been running, card in hand, since 1970, making it 48 years old. And in recent years it has gone from strength to strength, being awarded ‘College Club of the Year’ by the UK Orienteering Federation in 2017. But, University asks CUOC women’s captain Fiona Bunn, what exactly is it?

“Orienteering is a running-based sport often described as ‘a cross with a map’. Races are usually held in the form of a time trial and athletes must complete the course on their map as quickly as possible by visiting checkpoints in order, taking the best route between each. Electronic timing chips register as you pass each checkpoint and special detailed maps are used (normally 1:10,000 scale). The terrain can be extremely varied; from forest to open moorland, from mountains to intricate sand dunes. The sub-discipline, Sprint or Urban Orienteering, takes place in city centers and college campuses – the perfect preparation if you ever need to locate an uncharted amphitheater.

“I am driven, like many others, by the goal of having a perfect race: there is always something I could do better and improve that keeps me coming back for more!”

Originally from Sweden towards the end of the 19th century, Fiona explains that initially the sport “was used as a military training exercise, covering the ground with a map and a compass. The first race open to civilians was held in 1897 in Norway, and orienteering remains hugely popular in Scandinavian countries, being taught in most schools.

Sailing through the shimmering Scandinavian fjords, perhaps under the dancing lights of the Northern Lights, doesn’t sound too bad to us and Fiona also agreed that a major benefit of the sport is how it takes you to the great outdoors of Britain:” I especially like orienteering because it gives me the opportunity to visit new areas and run on different terrains, so the challenges are constantly changing. For example, last year the Varsity match was held in the Peak District where the women triumphed and the men suffered a narrow defeat.The 2019 contest is set to be held on the Isle of Wight.

Bun continues with his easy sell: “It really is a race with a difference, offering both physical and mental challenge. I’m driven, like many others, by the goal of having a perfect race: there’s always something I could do better and improve on that keeps me coming back for more!

2018 BUCS Silver Medal TeamUniversity of Cambridge Career Club

Since orienteering includes both physical and mental elements, the training unsurprisingly involves both physical and mental workouts. There are “two key components: physical training and technical training, both of which are delivered weekly at Cambridge. Physical training involves improving speed and endurance, and is similar to a normal cross-country runners regimen, although athletes may focus more on the ability to traverse any type of terrain rather than to stay on the slopes all the time.

“Technical training is aimed at improving navigational skills such as compass work, map memory, route selection, etc., and this is the focus of our Wednesday evening training evenings. You can even do “wheelchair training” from the comfort of your home by studying maps and old courses and practicing making and evaluating route choices and visualizing the terrain.”

For the Cambridge Club, that hard work of mind and body paid off. Not only were they the Guidance Club of the Year in 2017, but as Fiona Bunn reports, “this year the team came second in BUCS, beating Oxford on their home turf” and, equally impressively, “This year two athletes competed for GB in the World Junior Championships in Hungary (U20 team) and one competed for Ireland in the World University Championships in Finland These three CUOC members were also in action in the Senior Home competition International, competing for their respective home countries.

So if you want to avoid getting lost again, get in shape and get out in the countryside, you are invited to “sign up to our mailing list to find out about all the upcoming workouts, socials, races and recent news. The link is on our site. Or you can join us at one of the Wednesday practice nights to try orienteering. No equipment is needed at the start, just a decent pair of running shoes. If you have any specific questions, email us and we’ll be happy to answer them.

Dino J. Dotson