A guide to the event structure
On the British Orienteering Fixtures List events are classified by level and by type. This guide will help you to select the events and courses most suitable for you, and answer some FAQs.


What is meant by the level of event ? What if I have small children ?
What are the different types of event ? What's a string course ?
Do I have to run in any specified age or colour class ? What happens if both parents want to take part ?
How long are the courses ? Am I limited to the events I can run in ?

What is meant by the level of event ?

A four-tier event structure is being introduced from January 2011. This classifies events as Level A, B, C or D. Let's explain . . .

Level D
Relatively informal and low cost events, aimed at club members and orienteers from nearby. May have a limited range of courses, which are identified by colour.
Level C
A larger scale of event, generally using orienteering terrain of a higher quality. Draws orienteers mainly from the local and regional area.  A wider range of courses, which are identified by colour, with suggestions for various age classes. Aims to provide competition against a wider group of people, but without travelling a long distance.
Level B
These events provide an opportunity for the more experienced who are prepared to travel in order to enjoy a wider variety of terrain and competition from orienteers from around the country on challenging courses.  Courses based on colour and age classes. Pre-entry may be required for the main courses.

Level A
These are the major events such as the British Championships.  They provide an opportunity to compete against the best orienteers in the country on top quality terrain, and offer the ultimate orienteering challenges in the UK.  Courses usually based on age classes. Pre-entry required for the main courses.

So what are colour coded courses and the various age classes? And how do they relate to each other?

Colour Coded
The courses available will be a selection from White, Yellow, Orange, Light Green, Green, Blue, Brown and Black. Basically, White is the easiest and shortest. Brown (or, occasionally, Black) is the most difficult and the longest. At a Level D Event, there may only be Yellow, Orange, Green and Blue on offer. At a Level B Event, the full range of colours is likely to be available (subject to the technical nature of the area), as well as options such as Short Green or Long Orange. (Entry details will give you the information you need to help you to chose.)
Age Classes
Age classes are based as follows on gender – M[en] and W[omen] – and your age on the 31st December:

10 and under   =   M/W 10
12 and under   =   M/W 12
and so on, in 2 year age groups up to & including M/W20
Age 21 to 34 inclusive = M/W21
35 and over     =   M/W 35
40 and over     =   M/W 40
and so on, in 5 year age groups

You change class on the 1st January. So whether your 50th birthday occurs on 10th January or 25th December you would give your age class as M (or W) 50 for the whole of the year.

For senior courses, there may be long and short options (e.g. W35L and W35S) and sometimes novice (N). Juniors may be offered a choice too (e.g. M10A versus the easier M10B).
Colours & Age Classes
An M/W 10 would typically be advised to compete on a White or Yellow course. Light Green would be deemed appropriate for M/W14. If you are an M50, Blue would usually be the advised choice, or Green if you wanted a shorter option. Such guidance should be available on the entry details. You will need to state your age class as well as your colour choice on your entry.

As a newcomer to the sport, you would normally expect to start orienteering at a Level D Event. However, many of the Juniors would usually start competing on White or Yellow courses. An adult novice might choose Yellow or perhaps Orange for the first experience.


What are the different types of events ?

The most common type of event is the 'cross country'. But there are many other options. Today's Level D Event may be a Score event. Or the forthcoming Level A Event may be the British Middle Distance Championships.

Cross Country
These are the traditional distance events (sometimes specifically described as Long Distance) held in forests, open land and non-urban environments. Cross country means that you take the controls in a set order. Winning times on each course are expected to be around 1 hour.
Middle Distance
As Cross Country, but shorter length courses giving winning times of 30-35 minutes.
Sprint The emphasis here is on speed over a short distance. Cross country, with lots of controls, closely spaced. Often held on urban terrain such as University campuses or high density housing estates. Winning times 12 - 15minutes.
Urban Similar terrain to that used in Sprint races, but courses are longer and distances between controls usually greater.
Long O These are events such as SROC's Tim Watkins Blodslitet, where courses are longer than usual with winning times well over an hour.
Score Competitors are given a set time, e.g. 1 hour, to visit as many controls as possible. Different controls have different points values. The furthest controls are often worth the most points. There are penalties for returning late.

In addition:
  • some events are held at night, where you will need a torch to light your way.
  • you could run for your club as a member of a relay team. Different relay classes exist for different age groups.
  • there are multi-day events (often during holiday periods) where your individual day results are combined to give your overall performance.


Do I have to run in any specified age or colour class ?

The basic answer is No, but there are some qualifications:

When competing in an event where the courses are based on age classes, you have the option of running competitively in a harder age class.  If, for example, you're an M35 you can 'run up' a class in M21. But, you can't run down a class in M40. If you prefer a shorter course you can compete in M35S. Women can compete in Men's classes, but not vice versa.

Where the event offers colour coded courses, you may choose to ignore the age class suggestions. However, you must always declare on your entry your actual age class.


How long are the courses ?

A Yellow [Colour Coded] or W/M10 course would normally be in the region of 2-3km.

A Brown or Black [Colour Coded] or M21 course would normally be in the region of 10-12km.

However course lengths vary considerably according to the terrain. In generally flat terrain, courses are longer, whereas in more challenging terrain, courses are shorter. Other factors that are taken into account are the amount of 'climb', or height gain (every 10m of climb is taken as equivalent to an extra distance of 0.1km). The nature of the terrain is also relevant. For example, open fell guarantees much faster going than dense plantation. Also note that course lengths are measured by the straight line distance between controls, which is not necessarily the best route choice. So in practice you can expect to run further than the advertised distance. This is particularly the case in urban races where buildings obstruct the straight line route.


What if I have small children ?

Small children are catered for in one of two ways. If they are capable of doing a White or Yellow or M/W 10 class then they may. They don't have to be 10 years old to do so. (Older children may also choose these colour courses as a starting point.) It is permissible for a parent to shadow a child. If the parent wants to have a competitive run him/herself, then this must take place before shadowing the child. Arrange this with the event organisers,

Alternatively, many Level A and B events offer string courses.


What's a string course ?

A string course is exactly as it sounds. A length of string is laid out to form a closed loop. Controls are placed along the string. Children follow the string, punching their map at each control (just like the bigger boys and girls !), knowing that as long as they follow the string they can't get lost. This introduces them to the concept of orienteering and helps to build their confidence.

Parents are always welcome and may follow children to ensure they don't get lost.


What happens if both parents want to take part ?

Well it can be something of a logistical exercise! It's catered for with 'split starts'. One parent is given an early start and the other a late one.

It's become a lot easier with the introduction of electronic punching, because instead of organisers having to assign a specific time for the second start, they just advise the parent who runs second to go to the Start as soon as is convenient.


Am I limited to the events I can run in ?

You can compete in most events without being a member of either SROC or British Orienteering. However, you will often have to pay a higher entry fee.

Discounts on the entry fee at events within your region (i.e. North West in the case of SROC) are available if you are a Local Member of British Orienteering.  By becoming a National Member of British Orienteering, you become eligible to compete in any of British Championship Events, and will be entitled to discounted entry fees at events anywhere in country.

Click here for more details on Membership and its benefits.

Want to find out more about the event structure? Go to the British Orienteering Website.

Last Updated : 02.12.10