My Sister, Renee, makes some really honest comments on our wonderful sport here in this article.
Orienteering is a tough mental battle, and it’s really hard to explain this to people who haven’t experienced it. “The zone” is everything at the top end of the sport. You must be so focused on the map and the terrain otherwise you will make a mistake and lose crucial time. It can be considered a game of risk, where the athlete is under pressure to push physical boundaries, but at the expense of the athlete’s ability to read the map and make decisions. In the moment there is no obvious balance, no green light to tell you when you are in perfect contact with the map, no red light to warm you when you start making a mistake. Only satisfaction and empowerment when you are in control and disappointment and frustration when suddenly you are not where you expect you would be. The athlete doesn’t know that the running-navigation balance is wrong until it’s too late, the best you can do is to practise again and again so that you habitually read the map more effectively, and one day, you might have that perfect race Renee mentions in her article.
One analogy more people could relate to would be an exam, but a unique exam. Unique because the first to finish is the winner, but you have to get each answer correct before you move to the next question. Do you skim read the lengthy questions and take short cuts in your working to arrive at your answer as fast as possible? The faster the better right! This is a race! Until you choke on question 5. Your mistake appears so avoidable in hindsight, but it was not so in foresight.
Now do that exam on a treadmill… turn the speed up… and let’s see how you feel after 90 minutes.