Race Analysis


This section is applicable to orienteers of all levels of ability and contains the following:

  • Suggestions on the minimum analysis you should do after each race
  • Optimising your orienteering technique – a catalogue of errors
  • Do practice – don’t only race
  • A downloadable Race Analysis table

Then there is a seperate page for Advanced Analysis

Review your route and performance afterwards

For all levels of ability it is essential to review your races and identify what went wrong and think about what you can do to improve. In this section we look at some common errors and how you can analyse your orienteering. There is a sample Race Analysis table to download and try.

The Advanced Analysis section links to elevate.run for more sophisticated analysis.

Reviewing GPS traces and drawing your route on the map help enormously.  Then try to categorize your errors to see what comes up most often. 

The minimum of analysis that you need to do

  • Draw your route on the map after running. Identify where you lost time and why it happened.
  • Note how much time was lost and what the key errors were and write it on the map.
  • Keep your maps in date order. You can then look back easily and see whether you are improving or simply repeating the same errors over and over again. That will help you see what you need to work on.

As you develop you can try more extensive analysis – see Advanced Analysis. This can take quite a bit of effort, so for many people it may be worth deciding to do more analysis for a certain number of races to see what patterns and themes emerge.

David Jukes explains how you can use GPS traces and analysis tools such as Winsplits to analyse your race performance and results. Post race analysis

Post race analysis David Jukes



Many UK races and maps are put on here with courses and GPS traces

Click on a club on the left hand column to view maps they have uploaded. On any given course, some competitors will have uploaded their gps traces so that you can see the actual routes taken by runners. Its a great way to analyse route choices.

There are many ways to analyse orienteering performance. The analysis with 3D Re-run is quite impressive. This video by Jan Kocbach shows what is possible.

Quick Route

Quick route allows you to show GPS traces on O maps. You can also render the maps in 3D with Google Earth integration.


Optimising your performance – A catalogue of errors 

There is a lot of material on the Better Orienteering website and only a short list of errors here.  The reason is because it is really important to not develop a negative mind set about navigation.  If we feel negatively about something we typically don’t want to keep doing it.  It is more important to build your skills in manageable stages than to focus excessively on mistakes.  

Try to see mistakes as normal, virtually no-one has a perfect run apart from World Champions and even they will be able to look a race afterwards and see how they could still have saved a few seconds here, a few seconds there, that is just how orienteering is!  As you get better, you can be pleased that your “errors” become 20 seconds, 30 seconds rather than 5 minutes, 2 minutes. That is why it is perhaps better to call it optimising your technique, rather than avoiding errors or mistakes.

Going round and round in decreasing circles for 20 minutes is one way to find a control.  Heading straight there on a bearing from a firm Attack Point in less than 1 minute is a more effective way to find it.  So, as you improve you can get better at optimising how you navigate and increasing your fitness to run quicker.

Also, as you better at orienteering you should be making fewer basic navigation mistakes and focusing more on less tangible issues such as speeding up your decision making without making errors, or improving the reliability of your visualisations so that you can reliably run fast through complex terrain. For example: 

A Beginner might struggle to complete the leg in reasonable time and have several attempts at finding the control.

An Intermediate level orienteer might navigate accurately along a leg and have no obvious mistakes to identify.  

An Advanced level orienteer might do the same leg with a slightly better route choice, less hesitation and have better control flow at the control at the start and the end of the leg and save maybe 45 seconds.  

An Elite level orienteer might do the same leg with better simplification and more confident and reliable terrain visualisation meaning they can safely run faster and also at the same time manage to do some planning ahead whilst cutting another 30 seconds off the leg.

As your skills build and your fitness increases, your perspective on what is an error or a time loss changes.

After that introduction, here are some of the most common mistakes people make orienteering.  These mistakes or errors can occur at any level of orienteering. They are categorised by the levels used in Better Orienteering. It is worth repeating that it is important not see orienteering as a negative experience where you are getting things “wrong”.  EVERYBODY makes these mistakes multiple times and has to learn form them.  Some are avoided by having a rock solid Basic Navigation Routine.  Others can be avoided by having a wider tool kit of skills to draw on.  Others again require quite a lot of experience of orienteering races and analysing your performance afterwards for you to build the knowledge base to be able to anticipate and avoid them.  It is almost impossible to have a “perfect” run and remember that some relocation is a normal part of what orienteering is all about.

As your skills build so does the reasonable expectation of what you should be able to achieve. There is no point measuring an Intermediate level orienteer by Elite criteria, there are different issues for them to work on. It just isn’t possible to get it all working right in one go, skills build up in many small steps – more than the broad categories used here. And remember that it is perfectly possible for even Elite competitors to make beginner’s mistakes, and that really hurts your pride when it happens!

As your understanding of orienteering skills increases you will be able to identify and work on different issues with your performance, which is why it is worth talking with other orienteers about route choices and how they navigated round courses, to gain new insights.

The structured list that follows is not an exhaustive list, but it aims to capture some of the most common errors.

It is worth keeping a record of your most common mistakes so that you can see if you have been able to improve on them.

Beginner mistakes

Didn’t know what the symbols or control description meant and was looking for the wrong feature
Ran 90 or 180 degrees off line by using the compass wrongly
Lost track of location but didn’t relocate – just kept going and hoping
Didn’t see better route till afterwards
Didn’t know/understand the map scale
Mis-punched – didn’t check the control code

Intermediate mistakes

Didn’t identify an Attack Point
Misjudged distance
Led off line by someone else
Drifted off-line but not sure which way due to not Aiming Off
Not varying running speed to fit to navigation
Parallel error – followed a similar but wrong feature
Navigated to the wrong control/ failed to punch control
Failed to clear dibber before start – no time recorded

Advanced mistakes

Not in the right mind set at start – not prioritising spatial thinking
Rushing – ran faster than thinking or oxygen level allowed
Didn’t spot the challenges the planner had in mind for the leg

Beyond Advanced

Unable to visualise ahead due to inadequate mental Terrain Library
Selected notable features that you could not recognise easily at speed
Slow decision making due to lack of research of the map and terrain

This list could be much longer.  You need to draw up your own list.

How bad can it get?

Here are some examples from GPS traces that show just how bad things can get!

Do practice, don’t only race

Photo: Steve Rush

If you only ever race and never train or reflect you will probably repeat the same mistakes over and over again.   When I was a junior I was really frustrated to have 3 bad runs at the Scottish 6 days, so on the rest day I went around the training area with my Dad trying to work what was going wrong.  In short, I was rushing out of controls not being accurate in my direction, not identifying a firm attack point and not slowing down on the fine navigation into the control.  I put those routines into practice and came second each of the next two days.

So, in addition to reviewing your runs the following can help a lot:

  • Shadow a better orienteer.  You can alternate navigating legs.  Discuss afterwards.
  • Walk round a course or the first part of a course as fast as possible trying to get all the navigation and control flow working without mistakes.  If you walk the first few legs, only allow yourself to run when they have gone totally error free.
  • Analyse your runs to see patterns of repeated errors and potential improvements.  Try using the downloadable Race Analysis Table below, to record your analysis.
  • Practice map memory.  Try running some legs without looking at the map.  It can develop your ability to simplify, but don’t get into the habit of not looking at the map, only do it as a specific training exercise, then go back to looking at it, a lot!
  • Practice fine navigation following every detail along a wiggly line on the map to totally tune in to the terrain and map.
  • Where land permissions allow, go around a course or particular legs again, but knowing where the flags are and note how you could have used the map to get right the first time. Remember – It is very important that you do not jeopardise orienteering access to an area by running there without permission. Orienteering is totally dependent on the good will of landowners.
  • Read more on orienteering navigation.
  • Review the discussion by top-level orienteers of their runs posted online such as at World of O.
  • Routegadget 2 with other competitors GPS traces and Winsplits can help your race analysis. See Useful Websites. They are linked in most event results also.

Downloadable table to use in Race Analysis

Race Analysis Table

Routines, concepts, strategies     Event name/date   Event name/date    
    Yes/No secs/mins lost Comments Comments
Map to north        
Exiting right direction          
Attack point          
Finding accurately          
Map read correctly          
Aiming off          
Hand rail          
Accurate Distance estimation          
Catching feature          
Rough compass bearing        
Accurate compass bearing        
Steady to No 1        
Route appropriate to skill level          
Running within thinking          
ERRORS TOTAL Mins/secs      
No talking          
Ignored other runners          
Anticipating possible errors, planning for them        
Relocating quickly          
Treating every leg as a new beginning        
Good control flow          
Committing to route choice        
Varying speed to fit terrain / navigation        
Simplifying confidently          
ERRORS TOTAL   Mins/secs      
Simplifying and seeing notable features on map and ground        
Identifying corridors          
Planning ahead          
Visualising the control effectively        
Categorising types of leg and responding appropriately        
Recognising certainty of features        
Using less words          
Accurate terrain visualisation – good Mental Map        
Optimum route choice?          
Researched map and courses        
Calm mind set          
Good sleep, eating well          
Started well          
Positive emotional response to challenges        
Managed and maintained concentration        
Mins/ km          
Potential placing minus errors          

You can download a copy of this table to use below. Feel free to modify it and if you believe you have made an improved version, do email it to me and we can share it with others.

Leicestershire Orienteering Club have another take on a race analysis form you might like to try. It takes an intentionally more selective focus to help you work on particular areas that are driving your current orienteering performance.

(See the bottom of the page for the form and other skills downloads).


Advanced Analysis

For more advanced analysis see the Advanced Analysis section.

For links to more websites that can help with coaching and analysis see the Useful Websites pages of Better Orienteering