Why I Run

I’ve started running. Some of you have noticed that. But why I run might not be as clear…

To me, it’s quite simple. I run to orienteer. Orienteering, the thinking sport that’s also an endurance race type event, requires stamina, mental clarity, and legs for days. Especially, if you’re sprinting up and down the reentrants of Cuyahoga Valley, or nearby Raccoon Creek in Pennsylvania.

Orienteering is one of my passions in life. I love the challenge of solving a problem from control to control, and having to think on my feet. At the level I have now advanced to, RED, the straight run is never the answer. Up, down, south of the ridge, across the creek, and up the hill requires endurance. And that’s why I run.

I’ve been orienteering in the US for a few years now, but started when I was much younger, in elementary and middle school in Sweden, where orienteering is part of the curriculum. I have always been fascinated with maps, and used to read the Atlas page-by-page, day and night. That practice certainly gives me an advantage in the woods – being able to relate a map to reality, and doing so quickly. I found Northeast Ohio Orienteering Club (my club) in 2014, and it rekindled my outdoor spirit!

So why the running all of a sudden? Well. My stamina was holding me back, and still is to a point (I’m not ready for ultra long distances, and anything over 10-12km in a race gets a bit rough to be competitive).

6-hour races and the like don’t count – you’re not at orienteering pace the whole time, and the format is a bit different – usually a score, as compared to a cross country event during classic orienteering events.

The Middle distance (as we call it in the O-world), with it’s technical challenges, but decent distances in the 5-8km neighborhood, is what I really love. And one of the easier ways to get better (since it’s a race, after all) was to start running for practice.

The goal was to run faster, and running to run longer before getting too tired. Because when you get tired, you tend to make mistakes with the map, and that usually leads to even more distance piled on in searching for controls that aren’t where you think they should be, and so forth.

I started in the new year. It was an easy mechanism to get going, but I didn’t set a New Year’s goal – I just started. At first, I managed to run a few kilometers here and there, often taking quick breaks, or walking in between. (And yes, I measure everything in kilometers, since orienteering is a Swedish sport, and the rest of the world measures using the metric system!)

I started keeping track in a spreadsheet, because I’m a nerd, and that gave me some real insight into what I was capable of, and, gave me a good idea as to what some possible target times and distances might look like down the road. I’ve been using an Apple Watch 2 to measure distance and time when I run for practice, but use my Garmin during orienteering. (more on equipment in another piece, perhaps.)

Now my target pace is around 5:15 min/km for a faster 5K (all on trail, which is the majority of what I run), and about 5:45 min/km for 10K distances. Nice and easy.

I’m not gonna win medals in any street races with those paces, but for me, they translate to a pretty sustained pace of about 10 min/km in the woods, whilst orienteering, which is what I shoot for. And that’s while reading the map, up and down reentrants, and so forth!

Why 10 min/km? Because that seems to be competitive at the national level… And yes, they have national championships, and nationally sanctioned events, and medals – if you orienteer, and haven’t been to one, I highly recommend it. (I happened to win a few myself not too long ago…)

So that’s it, in a nutshell. I run to orienteer. And one of the many unexpected (well, not entirely unexpected) benefits, is that I get on the trail 2-3 times / week, and run about 20-25km per week. It seems to be good for me, on many levels. I get some exercise, I spend some time alone in the woods, and I increase my ability in orienteering. What’s not to love?

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