On arrival you'll find the "event HQ" - the Registration, Helpdesk and Download tents - pitched close to the parking area. You'll probably have been given an entry form by the volunteer directing the parking, but, if not, collect one from Registration. The Club helpers will talk you through the procedures, demonstrate how to use your timing chip (the SI card or "dibber"), explain the map and control symbols and help you select a course if you're unsure. Experienced orienteers will take part individually, but it's perfectly acceptable for families/beginners to enter as a small group, sharing the map and using one timing chip. Once you've registered and hired your SI card - take a deep breath and make your way to the Start....
The Start area comes as a surprise to newcomers: unlike a race, where everyone sets off together, orienteering competitors have to set off separately as individuals (or as entry groups for families/beginners). In order to achieve this a taped grid is used: competitors stand in the squares and move along at the designated time intervals. Before you enter the first box you'll need to delete any previous data on your timing chip. How? Just find the control box marked "CLEAR" and insert your SI card until the unit bleeps and flashes.
If you've entered the White or Yellow course you'll be able to pick up your map and study it before you enter the Start grid. Take your time, find the printed pink Start triangle on the map, orientate the map correctly, identify where you are and spot any recognisable features around you, and decide the route you'll take to your first control point. If you've entered one of the other courses you'll still need to go through the same procedure, but after the timing has started!
As you enter the Start grid the helpers will check your SI card to ensure that you really are starting with a clean timing chip. At some events there will be an opportunity to study a map (no courses shown) as you proceed through the Start grid.
When it's your turn to start you need to "punch" the Start control box, then, if you're on one of the Orange to Brown courses, pick up your map from the labelled crate. There will be a familiar red-and-white kite, without a control box, somewhere just ahead of you, and this marks the exact spot of the pink Start triangle on the map. So - another deep breath, orientate your map, and head off to your first control. Don't forget that there may be several people starting at the same time but they'll be on different courses, so don't panic when they go off more quickly than you and in different directions! The best advice is to take things steadily at first until you get a feel for the map - and you'll be a great deal more confident if you achieve the first section of the route reasonably accurately.
At each control, check its printed number against your control list before punching - the number won't follow the sequence on the map itself and there may well be controls for other courses in the vicinity.
What if you get lost? As you follow your route, keep a mental check on easily recognisable features so that you can go back a bit and relocate if you miss your control. If nothing matches and you're totally stuck, don't be afraid to ask - other orienteers will usually give you a quick indication of where you are, but don't be upset if they don't hang around for a chat in the forest as they'll be focussed on their own competition!
Once you've successfully found all your numbered controls you'll need to follow the mapped route to the Finish (marked on the map by the pink double circle) which will usually have a large banner or flag. As you breathe a sigh of relief, don't forget to punch the Finish control and then take your SI card back to the Download tent to receive a print-out of your result. The overall results will be published here on the website, usually by mid-evening.
If you'd like to discuss your experience - and many people do while it's still fresh in their minds - then the people manning the Helpdesk would love to hear from you!
One final note - and hopefully this won't happen - but if you decide not to complete the course, or find you have run out of time, then please ensure you notify the Download people, otherwise search parties will be scouring the forest looking for you!!