Control Pickup as Training Session

By Andreas Johansson, NEOOC Member (cross-posted from

I volunteered to pick up a few controls after the Python Goat event a few weekend’s ago, and got my assignment for which controls to grab. They happened to be controls on the part of the course I didn’t run, so I took my time in navigating to each one, paying particular attention to the finer details of the map, or micro-orienteering, that I normally would during a race.

Then it hit me! Picking up controls is a great way to do a bit of training on just that – the finer details, honing azimuth readings, and really paying close attention to the terrain around you. After the first control pickup, I got real serious about what I was doing, and took some photos of each control in order to share here the map for each, and what it looked like in real life. Hope you get a bit of knowledge out of it all.

The controls may not be in order here, and they are all based off the master control list either way, and not necessarily in the order for the course (they were all on the 10K Python Goat course).


Here’s a boulder on the map, and I approached from the south. The boulder was located on a mini-spur, but when I got there, I had drifted a bit east, and so had to do a sweep around to find it. In addition, the control was placed very well, low to the ground, and I missed it the first time because my eyes were looking a bit higher in the terrain.

Once I swooped around from east to west, using the water feature as my definite limit, I found it. The lesson learned here was looking lower than I had before, as it was placed right on the downslope side of the spur, and behind a bunch of debris.

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Stream Junction

The stream junction control was pretty easy to pickup, but here I also approached from the south (disregard the legs on the map) and I was able to run in using the southern most stream bed, and navigate right to the control. In the picture, that’s the stream in the top-right hand corner of the photo.

However, the control was placed just around the corner, again a bit lower, so seeing it required extra attention to the area. This type of placement though is pretty easy, considering there are some major features to dial in on like the two stream beds, and they catch you, especially coming from the south.

Depending on the direction of approach for this control, it may have been a different story, and I think for the Python course, runners approached from the west off of a pretty long leg, with additional navigational challenges, which made this one a bit tougher.

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Earth Cliff

The earth cliff was located right on the border of the allowable area to run, so navigating to it wasn’t too hard. I again approached from the south. My initial approach was to navigate in and around the hills / saddle to the south, coming in from the south-west, but I ended up running more directly to the east of the saddle, and right in line with the border line (and found to my surprise a neighborhood to the direct east, about 200m out).

I found the water feature (sort of a dry stream) which was very deep / steep, and followed the edge of that in to the control. I figured based on the placement that it would be located on the back end of the wall, and indeed there it was.

I hopped a few rocks and mudbanks, and got the control unscathed for pickup. In this case the control was placed high, but didn’t matter as the approached was quite hidden from either direction (south, or from the west) and one needed to get right to it.

With a control location like this, I look for the obvious feature like the bank / cliff itself, and try to follow that in. Usually, as was the case here, it’s a matter of finding some good foot placement, but following the water here was not an option (at least not in it…).

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Top of Knoll

I spotted the control here way early, by luck (see photo #1) and got right to it. If the control had been hung differently, I don’t think I would have seen it as early. It’s always a good idea to start scanning for the obvious placements once in the red zone, or even earlier, depending on your style of orienteering. I like to keep my head up as much as I can to spot the orange and white, and have good luck with that generally, as was the case here.

The nice thing about this control, is that it was placed just west of a major feature – the water. So regardless if coming from the east (which was the case) you can run fill steam until the water (assuming you’re okay with a basic direction / azimuth) or follow the terrain downward.

Once I hit the stream, my eyes went scanning and found it. It would have been more difficult had the control been placed a bit farther in, say up the ride to the west…

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I really learned a lot about myself, and about the terrain here. I truly enjoyed being able to take it a bit slower, really get down to the fine details, and concentrate on being spot on. I use my step-count quite a bit, and find that I’m pretty accurate with that in wooded terrain at semi-running pace (~61 lefts per 100m). It really helps, especially making sure I don’t overshoot a control (as in going too far) before scanning and sweeping for the location.

By paying real attention to the terrain details, the compass becomes secondary, and just used for longer legs through multiple areas. But, at running speed, I try to combine the two to make sure I don’t get off course.

Here’s my track for the pickup, as logged with my Garmin 310XT, using QuickRoute to overlay the route on the map. Pretty easy to see where the controls are, but just in case, there’s one with them mapped as well.

So the next time you get a chance, volunteer to pickup a few controls – you might learn something in the process!

Brecksville All Seasons Course

Updated – December 2017

We have a permanent course at Brecksville Reservation. Here’s more about it, including maps, instructions, and a bit about orienteering. If you enjoyed the course, let us know. If you had problems because of something that we could correct, let us know that too!

The orienteering course you are about to follow is mostly on interconnecting trails that will bring you back to the general area of the Nature Center and its parking lot. There are, however, some short forays off of the trail included to make the course a bit more interesting, so you should be prepared for that. The course is approx. (6.1 km or 3.7 miles) in its entirety. This is rather long as well as hilly for a beginner level course of its type, so feel free to attempt just a portion of it if your time or fitness level will not allow you to complete it all today.

The object of orienteering is to navigate efficiently to a series of land features that are represented on a detailed topographic map. The land features that you will seek are described for you on a clue sheet, which you see illustrated below. The clue sheet contains both symbols and a narrative description of the feature, but typically it only provides symbols. A land feature can be any reasonably permanent, clear and distinct object identifiable on the land or that identifies the type of landscape –a bridge, boulder, gully, stream, field, building, etc.

To confirm that you have found the correct feature you will find an orienteering control marker at that feature. For this course, the control marker is a 4×4 inch square plate that contains an opposing orange and white triangle on it. In its lower left corner it also contains a two letter code that coordinates to an identical code on your clue sheet. This confirms that you are at the land feature that you sought. Some are on posts. Others are above head height on trees.

It is helpful to orienteer with a compass, but for beginner level courses (truly all courses) the map typically contains more than enough information that allows you to navigate successfully from point to point. Keeping in touch with your map –meaning, frequently examining the area of the map as you move along and seeing those features on the landscape around you– will typically keep you found. And that’s always a good thing.

Download the course map and instruction below. This map is for recreational use only and is intended for use with adult supervision. The park contains dangers both obvious an hidden. It is a good idea to check in at the Nature Center before and after your hike, or let someone you know what you are planning. Most of the markers are on trail, but some are a short distance away from the path. Watch for poison ivy.

Maps & Instructions


  • The Brecksville Nature center is south of Rt. 82 and east of Rt. 21, less than a mile from the center of Brecksville.
  • Google Earth coordinates: 41.319,-81.616 /
  • The Nature Center is only five hundred feet south of the parking lot.

Mapping Resources for Orienteering

There are lots of great tools for orienteering, and mappers interested in creating their own maps. We have put together a small sample of the tool we use in the club for creating maps, setting up events, and so on. Our favorites are probably OCAD (the industry standard) and Purple Pen (for route setting), and many of the club members track their runs using GPS, and then some sort of analysis tool. Visit our Mapping Resources page for more.

Top 5 Tips to Get Better at Orienteering

Here are five basic skills that you need to practice to help you get better at orienteering.

1. Fold your map – Always make sure that you fold your map so that you can easily see the part of the map where you are.

2. Orient your map – Always make sure that your map is the correct way round or oriented. This means that the features which are in front of you on the ground are in front of you on the map. You can also orient your map using a compass by making sure that the north lines on the map point the same way as the north or red end of the compass needle. Each time you change direction you should change your grip on the map so that the map is still oriented to north.

3. Thumb your Map – To help you know where you are on the map it helps if you mark your position on the map with your thumb. As you move along the ground you should move your thumb to your new position on the map. It is common to move your thumb to the new position at a ‘check point’ such as a path junction or some other obvious feature where you will stop or slow down and check where you are.

4. Check your control card – Once you have found a control you always need to check that the code on your control description sheet matches the code on the control. You should also check that the control is situated on the correct feature on your map. You will then know for sure that you have reached the correct control.

5. Have fun and enjoy yourself – This is the most important skill to remember. Orienteering should always be fun and enjoyable!

Orienteering’s Key to Winning: Not Getting Lost (via NYTimes)

via NYTimes:

UPPSALA, Sweden — About 100 yards inside one entrance of the Lunsen forest is a rock ledge formed millenniums ago when all of Scandinavia was covered by ice. A thicket of bushes lines the near edge of a gully that drops down 15 feet. On the far edge, a group of trees rises, like fingers splayed wide, providing the false impression that they are not so far away when in fact, a steep fall awaits anyone who steps off the precipice. To the side of the ledge is a medium-size stone.

Click here to read more