Summary: Do not expect to navigate as fast as you can run when you start in the sport. Do expect to get better on your next run.
The terrain is often physically challenging, and to do well strength and balance, as well as speed and endurance, are required. The race goes to the person who best combines running with map-reading and complex decision-making at speed.
Newcomers should have modest expectations at their first few races, but getting better will happen quickly – and will continue for years. All orienteers have to decide how fast to run at any time. As in any race you should be aware of pacing yourself. But more importantly when you start, given that a mistake with navigation will normally cost much more than is lost by slowing down, you should not worry about taking enough time to work out navigation decisions.
There are a great variety of races – differing terrain, differing course lengths, differing levels of difficulty, not to mention differing conditions from the season and the weather, and it is often said that of course no two orienteering races are the same.
There are also relay and other team format races, and as a club we pride ourselves on fielding teams to take part in these, and we encourage all members, even those quite new to the sport, to join in our teams.
As in any sport, people participate largely for their own pleasure and satisfaction. It is an amateur sport, and most orienteers once settled in like to “put back” by helping their club to put on races.
Typically an “event” includes a set of courses catering for the widest possible range of ages and abilities. Children can start with “string” courses to establish the idea of racing between checkpoints, then take on shorter path-based courses (they get to see the map before they start) before perhaps moving on to longer and more “technical” courses through their teenage years.
Courses for older orienteers are as technical as possible, but of more moderate physical difficulty.
The social side of the sport is very important. As an orienteer you will meet many other like-minded people from all walks of life.