Course Types and Lengths
Courses can have varying degrees of difficulty, both technical and physical. Courses for children and novices are made easy, while experienced competitors may face extremely challenging courses. Technical difficulty is determined primarily by the terrain and the navigational problems of crossing that terrain to locate the feature on which the control is placed. Linear features such as fences, walls, and paths generally offer low difficulty; natural features such as forest or open moor can offer high difficulty. Physical difficulty is determined by the length of the course, the amount of climb, and the kinds of terrain (rocky, boggy, undergrowth etc.). General guidelines for orienteering courses are available from the International Orienteering Federation and national orienteering sport bodies.
Both the British Orienteering Federation (BOF) and the United States Orienteering Federation (USOF) have formal systems that define levels of technical difficulty. The BOF system has 5 levels whereas the USOF system has 7. In both systems, novices start on a course with a technical and physical difficulty of 1 and progress according to their age, experience, and ability up to a course with a technical and physical difficulty of 5. Great care is taken to ensure that developing juniors are provided with a course that gives them a satisfying challenge without pushing them beyond their current ability.
Advanced courses can be divided into long distance, middle distance and sprint. For instance, a long course can have expected winning times up to 100 minutes (elite men), or 80 minutes (elite women), while a sprint course will have expected winning times 12–15 minutes. As competitor speed is dependant on the terrain there is no fixed distance for course lengths, instead the course length is derived from an expected winning time, and the actual course length will vary according to the difficulty of the terrain and expected fitness of the best participants.
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