Memory-O Analysis by Rich D.

Memory-O: Techniques and How It Can Improve Your Orienteering
By Rich D.

As background, today’s Mile Square Park Memory-O consisted of 13 yellow-level controls covering about 3 ½ km. The course map was only available at the Start and orienteers had to memorize some or all of the course, with the option of returning to Start if necessary to review the map. It was noteworthy that controls #1 and #2, as well as #10 were closest to Start, while the loop #4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 took folks on a couple km loop far removed from the reassuring availability of the map.


During our post-event discussion, it appeared that several distinct strategies were employed, varying from full memorization to three re-visits. But what was most interesting was that the different strategies all seemed to work well for the respective orienteer.

Clare D. spent some 4 minutes studying the map, and never returned to Start for a second look. She also elected to memorize the individual control numbers in sequence (she identified a ‘reverse numerical series’ in the heart of the course, allowing her to segment the list into three sub-groups). Because separate white and yellow courses had also been set in the same area, her goal was to be able to confirm controls were on the Memory-O course, while simplifying the entire course to large-scale features (such as ‘I’ll circle around the Nature Center, go South, then circle around the Lake’.) Knowing the control #’s, Clare could quickly visit any reasonable control along this highly abstracted path and punch those confirmed as Memory-O.

Steve C. simplified the control number memorization, by committing only the final digit of each control number (‘0-1-8-0-9-8-7-6-5-3-6-4-2-F’).

Rich D. spent about 3 minutes studying the map, but returned between #1 and #2 (costing about 20 seconds) for reassurance that #1 was correct and to confirm the remaining pattern could be accurately recalled. He elected to memorize none of the control #’s, but rather concentrated on the control features and any major catching features along legs (‘…then North across the road to the bridge,…’) The leg from #11 to #12 turned out to be trickier than expected since #12 was part of the White course and the central of three closely spaced controls on similar control features (path junctions). Fortunate for Rich, the relatively wide grass field in this leg had prompted him to make, then recall, a single compass bearing for this leg (SSE), which broke the confusion heading into #12.

Alex K. spent only ~45 seconds looking at the map, but this was enough to see that leg #2-#3 passed again reasonably close to the Start (and thus the map). He sped off and punched #1 and #2, before returning to study the map in more detail, having now only 11 remaining controls to memorize. (This technique seemed to work well for several other orienteers, allowing the memory task of the Memory-O to be effectively shortened.) Alex also opted to shorten his memory time by concentrating next on only the controls in the long loop and then revisiting Start after #10 to confirm the final few controls. With his considerable speed, this was a sensible choice as he lost little time and reduced the risk and late-control difficulties faced by some of the other orienteers.

Though the course was set at approximately a Yellow level in a city park, there are still some interesting lessons here that can be applied to higher-level orienteering course, often getting one far enough along a leg, for example, to reach an attach point with minimal ‘map consulting time loss’. First, all the participants had to simplify the course and only look for key or catching features in order to commit them to memory. Recognizing major features and distances ratios worked nicely (e.g. ‘twice as far as the road’.) They also found that they could readily memorize the attack and departure directions for each control. On an advanced course elsewhere, time can often be saved noting these angles to memory and transitioning immediately onto the next leg before beginning (hopefully moving) contact with the map. The value of the control description in completing each leg was highlighted in today’s event, just as it often is once an orienteer gets within a mapped control circle, as was the reassurance of knowing a control’s number without taking time to consult one’s clue sheet at every bag.

It is interesting to reflect upon which of these techniques came as second nature and which are areas for potential improvement. The mere elimination of the option to slow and consult one’s map seemed to speed most every runner today. The Memory-O format conveys illuminating lessons in both rapid decision-making and commitment, as well as reminds us of the usefulness of our own orienteering confidence.

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