Navigation Running

Have a go at navigation running

Bored with jogging? Put a twist in your stride with this novel form of exercise.

Have a go at navigation running

I’m ready to run, but I notice other runners camped on the grass of Sydney’s Killarney Heights Oval poring over their maps like they’re planning the D-Day landings. I pause to look at the papers we’ve all received. One is a topographical map with streets marked but not named, and numbers indicating targets to find. Then there’s a clue sheet that gives a physical marker for each numbered target: anything from light poles to fences or playground swings. “Each course is designed so that even the best runners can’t quite get to all 30 targets in the 45-minute limit,” says Ross Barr, coordinator of the Sydney Autumn Series, which takes place in a different suburb each Wednesday evening. Today’s run is in a leafy northern suburb with views to the CBD.

After 15 minutes I’ve nutted out a route. I tell Ross I’m ready, and he sets me off: in this format, there is no set start time; you just have to be back in 45 minutes or take a 10-point penalty for every minute you’re late. I head off into a schoolyard and it’s a big relief when I find my first target at a rotunda. As I record the letter at the target on my score sheet, it occurs to me that a cheat – not me, obviously – could simply follow another competitor. It’s not on: this is the only type of race where the competition can be running in opposite directions and going different places.

Brain strain

Bewildered locals stare at runners clutching papers as they tear back and forth through neighbourhood streets like drunken wasps. We’re a motley crew, too, ranging from men in their 60s to teens and mums with young children. My first challenge comes when a target described as a “monument” isn’t quite monumental enough for me to find. I let it go: there’s no time to waste. I find a couple of shortcuts between streets that let me pick up targets I hadn’t counted on, but this temptation leads me astray and I lose my route.

As hard as I try to read a map and mark the score sheet while running, I opt for the start-stop approach before I become wildly lost and motion sick. I gather my bearings after each target, take aim for the next one, then sprint off faster than my normal 45-minute running pace. It’s great for my fitness, but my brain is straining even more than my lungs. With 15 minutes to go, I need to gamble on how many more targets I can attempt.

The 10-point penalty per minute late is a worry when each target is worth 10, 20 or 30 points. I finish a couple of minutes late with 20 targets, then it’s time to compare routes with other runners and see who found what. I know what I found – a more enjoyable way to go running.

Expert tips

Read the map well first, taking note of distances and geographical features such as hills. “A lot of people go well over time when they start,” Ross Barr says. Aim for the big points first, even if it means skipping lowerscoring markers that require detours.

It’s not for everyone

You need your thinking cap on at all times, so navigation running is not for those who like to zone out or plan their working week while they exercise. Some people need to “see the competition” to stay motivated, whether that’s another team or a single opponent. In navigational running, you can never be sure how well anyone else is doing.

Best suited for:

Bored runners
The mental challenge, time pressure, fresh scenery every week and chance to compare notes aft erwards takes the humdrum out of jogging.

No-one knows your city like orienteerers! See urban bushland, parkland and historical sites you never knew existed.

Wannabe navigators
This is a great lead-in to bush orienteering and adventure sports, or it can simply help you learn to read maps better.

Have an adventure with the kids. You can even push a pram on flatter inner-suburban courses, and Melbourne clubs have race categories for walkers.

Sport on a budget
All you need are running shoes. Entry fees vary, but are typically between $4 and $10.

For more information: Navigation on the run is known by many names – park and street orienteering, cunning running, NavDash – but all are a short-course form of orienteering. You can find race series in every capital city in various formats. Visit and go to the link for your state.