For runners looking for something a bit different to a 10k, but feel their cerebral talents are wasted on a muddy obstacle course, urban orienteering is proving an attractive way of mixing up their training. Unlike traditional road races where you compete against other runners, orienteering events are mainly time trial races where you're up against the course and the clock, similar to downhill ski races or time trials at Olympic cycling events.
Andy Paterson who organises the Scottish Orienteering Urban League (SOUL) series explained: "The best way of describing orienteering to a runner, is to think of it as a cross country race, but where the course is marked by points on a map, rather than by tapes on the ground. Recently, urban orienteering has taken the concept into towns and cities, which is a fast and furious version of the sport."
He added: "Anyone who thinks of orienteering as a walk in the country should think again. Top Scottish orienteer, Scott Fraser, is a serious contender for the Scottish Commonwealth games team at 10,000m."
Participants needn't worry about feeling lonely or exposed; often about 12 competitors will start at the same time, all on different courses and there can be 100s out in the area all at different stages on their course or on different courses. The object is to visit all the numbered controls in the correct order in as fast a time as possible, hopefully by the shortest route. Courses usually vary in length from about 2k to 10k, although because you choose your own route, the distance you run depends on you.
There's no secret to being good at orienteering, all you have to be able to do is keep your map the right way up and turn left or right. It helps to be able to judge the distance, of course. Most urban orienteers don't use a compass (you keep your map set by matching up the direction of the streets) but you can use one if it helps.
The map above shows the start (triangle) and the first five controls in an urban orienteering race. The main rules are common sense - for example, you can't choose a route through houses (grey) or private gardens (olive green) and you must take care crossing roads (pink/beige).