With the arrival of spring, both city streets and forest trails all over Estonia fill up with amateur athletes. At first glance, the most popular spring popular sport is running, which is easy to do for obvious reasons. It doesn’t require top-of-the-range equipment, frenzied preparation or years of knowledge – just step outdoors and start jogging according to your mood and goals. 

For some, however, the running circuit can be a challenge, as finding the motivation just to push in a certain direction can be tricky. Familiar street corners and wooded trails create a monotonous environment that can quickly become overwhelming. Add to this the usual spring running challenges and other events that can sap enthusiasm even before the season starts.

Just as ball games add a ball to motivate and create a competitive momentum, you can also make ordinary running interesting. All with just a map and a compass! To keep your body and mind fit at the same time, orienteering is your way of accumulating running kilometres so that your adrenaline-pumping body doesn’t notice tiredness or boredom, because every time you step onto the track a new challenge is in front of your eyes.

What is orienteering?

Orienteering is a sport in which the competitor independently traverses the terrain, using an orienteering map and a compass to determine his or her position and make choices between points. Most orienteering is done in natural terrain, but increasingly runners are also found in urban streets with a map in hand. This is known as an urban orienteering sprint, which can be a short 15-minute run or a full race. 

The nuts and bolts of orienteering – the smart use of maps and compasses – can help you achieve high places and best times. How? This means that the fastest runner on a course is not always the athlete in the best physical shape, but that the right choice of course and pace is a combination of mind and body to achieve a high place.

Most commonly orienteering is where you go through the checkpoints marked on the map in a certain order. If you happen to miss all the checkpoints during the day, don’t worry – all the competitors who have passed at least one checkpoint will be placed in the orienteering race, where they will compete separately according to the number of checkpoints they have passed.

It is worth stressing that this is not just a competitive sport, but also has a strong grassroots orientation to spread healthy physical activity and provide a daily challenge through a combination of mental work and physical strength. Orienteering has grown out of the most popular form of orienteering, orienteering running, to include, for example, ski and cycle orienteering. In a nutshell, however, the aim is to push oneself every time, to develop physically and to enjoy movement. 

Excitement throughout the year

If orienteering seems to you to be mostly a weekend of running in the bush somewhere deep in the woods, in reality there are orienteering events happening literally every day across Estonia – and there can be several of them in a day. Like running, orienteering can be done all year round. For a better dissemination of information, a large number of the series have been brought together under the umbrella of RMK Estonia’s orienteering days www.päevakud.ee, where you can find stages for all levels and interests. However, despite the busy calendar displayed there, there are still a number of different orienteering day courses taking place in various centres throughout Estonia.

What is recreational orienteering?

Orienteerumispäevak aka recreational orienteering events are a good place to get a first taste of orienteering. According to the Estonian Orienteering Federation’s website, recreational orienteering is a day-long family health sports event where everyone who cultivates an active lifestyle and nature is welcome. As these are sporting events for all, the trails and terrain should not break anyone’s bank and are suitable for all age groups, offering the opportunity to go on the trail with family or a companion. The trails at day camps in urban areas are often accessible by baby carriage. Participation fees are also affordable, usually ranging from a child’s free entry to €7. One of the biggest advantages of a day run is that the track is open for several hours after the end of the working day, allowing participants to choose their own starting time.

In total, there are more than 300 recreational orienteering events a year in different series, with several hundred people taking part each week in larger centres. The regional events on a chosen day of the week provide a good routine for the week – why not try it? For example in Tallinn and Tartu recreational orienteering events are organised on Thursdays. Find your local day series and buy a ticket on Stebby HERE or take a closer look at the calendar of the Estonian Orienteering Federation HERE.

Fresh air is for everyone

According to Mait Tõnisson, the leader of recreational orienteering, orienteering offers new experiences every time, even in the same place and with the same map. “The same checkpoints and the same trails are rarely encountered, and the familiar landscape opens up before your eyes and under your feet from a new angle. Rushing alone, trees whiz by at high speed without noticing much but with a child you discover an ant trail or the world’s most interesting tree in the same place,” he says. 

As mentioned earlier, you don’t need expensive equipment or hundreds of hours of training to start orienteering – you just need the initial drive, because the training and wisdom come while running. It’s no secret that being active in the fresh air has great benefits for everyone, so why not do it purposefully and, with a competitive spirit. What’s more, different age groups and competitive classes give everyone the chance to challenge themselves and, thanks to the growing popularity of urban running, you often don’t even have to run anywhere separately. 

Take a closer look at the different orienteering days in the Stebby environment HERE

Photos: Tartu Orienteerumisneljapäevakud / Reigo Teervalt

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