In depth with GPS-analysis

Posted on | December 5, 2016 | Category: News, Newsletter

Elite orienteers use it. Ordinary orienteers use it. GPS-tracking. Analysing your race with help from GPS has become common practice. Tools like QuickRoute and Livelox make it very easy to spend time on orienteering long after you return from the forest.

Orienteers have always discussed route choices. Where did I lose or gain time on my opponents? Split times was the first tool to solve the discussion about which route was the fastest but with the rise of GPS-technology, analysing orienteering has been taken to a completely new level.

The developer behind tools as QuickRoute and Livelox, Mats Troeng outlines some of the possibilities:

– GPSs give hard facts. Differences in time between different route choices, how straight you actually run, time losses when making mistakes or hesitating for instance. It gives increased knowledge about technical performance and ways to improve it, he says.

The new way to improve your orienteering technique has been noticed by most elite runners and national teams. For instance, the Swiss national team use GPS analysis as an important tool in the preparation for major championships. The team go to similar terrain as for the championships, do some courses with GPS devices and compare the tracking:

– With the tracking you can compare running speed in the terrain with running on a track.  It will give an indication of how much you can go around without losing time. That knowledge is very useful when you have to make a route choice in the competition, says Baptiste Rollier, who has just resigned as elite orienteer after almost 14 years at top level.

Baptiste Rollier at WOC 2014. Photo:

When comparing with others, the GPS tracking can tell you about the fastest route choices and time losses on a leg, but Baptiste Rollier also carries a GPS when he does orienteering trainings by himself:

– If you go straight on a control, the tracking shows how straight you actually were. It can be hard to notice when you hesitate but the GPS tells and you can consider why that might happen, Baptiste Rollier says.

Many ways to use the data

Orienteering at elite level often has very tight margins, and the smallest improvement has an impact. At the men’s WOC Sprint Final, the difference between coming third and first was only eight seconds. Afterwards, a journalist asked bronze medallist Daniel Hubmann if he could find those eight seconds somewhere on the course to beat winning Jerker Lysell:

– It is hard to say. Maybe, but I have to analyse the split times and route choices before I know, Daniel Hubmann said.

In addition to the analyses the elite runners and national teams do themselves, Jan Kocbach, the founder of, is one who is far ahead with using GPS in orienteering. After major events, he often makes detailed analyses of the races and publishes them on his webpage. The Swiss national team has a joke that you do not need to do your own analysis; Jan Kocbach will do it for you.

Leg 12-13 at men’s WOC Sprint with most route choices. The greener the faster. Photo:

With the right tools, different kind of analyses can be made from the GPS data:

Magne Daehli’s and Gustav Bergman’s route choices at leg 21-22 at the WOC 2016 middle distance compared for every third second. Photo:

– One way is a video of the course with a mass start of the tracking. It gives an illustrative view of the progress on the course. A second option is to take out one specific leg and show the tracking from many runners in different colours depending on how fast they are. It is a good way to highlight the fastest route choice. In another analysis, you compare two runners tracking each third second. This allow you to analyse parts of a leg and decide the best micro route choices, Jan Kocbach explains.


The article continues below the video.


GPS-animation from the women’s WOC 2016 Long distance. Press the animation to start it. Video:


Where have I been?

As preparation for big events, elite runners spend time on the GPS-tracking to analyse the small things that can be improved. For ordinary orienteers, the technology can be used for a simpler purpose. Where have I actually been?, is not an uncommon question for many orienteers:

–Beginners sometimes do not know where they have been running, and the route gives the answer. For more experienced orienteers, it is about identifying time losses in the same way elite orienteers do, although they might be easier to identify, Mats Troeng says.

With tools as 3DRerun and Livelox, it has become easier than ever to compare routes with others. It can be satisfying to look at someone doing worse than you do, but to improve it is better to compare with someone at the same level as you:

– The ideal is to compare with someone at the same or higher level. It gives a better picture of where you lose time and where to improve. In addition, it is more efficient to compare leg by leg instead of the entire route, Jan Kocbach says.


New players on the market

It is hard to imagine, but it is no longer ago than the late nineties that split times were introduced as result of the electronic timing systems SI and EMIT. It was the tender beginning of knowing where you lost or gained time. Through the 00’s, GPS-watches got more and more common. The launch of QuickRoute back in 2008 opened the possibility of analysing orienteering for ordinary runners. In the beginning, you were looking at your own route, but with new players on the market such as TracTrac and GPS-seuranta, it became possible to compare routes with others.

After 14 years at elite level, Baptiste Rollier has experienced the change first hand. A big difference using GPS-analysis, compared to the time before, is that it makes it easier to understand running in a new terrain. As preparation for the world championships in the past, you had to travel to the host country many times to understand the terrain and figure out where to find the best runnability. Nowadays you still need to go on training camps to get a feeling of the terrain, but much more of the preparation can be done from the computer at home.


“The mistake we just saw cost 35 seconds!”

GPS gives new opportunities over and above orienteers analysing their own routes. Live TV-broadcasting plays a central role in larger orienteering events and GPS-tacking is an important way to illustrate what is happening in the forest. The commentators use the data to increase the excitement in the broadcasting:

– Interesting trends can be picked up by commentators to tell the story and present the excitement of a live race. “This athlete is right now gaining time on the leader, now only 20 seconds behind.” “The mistake we just saw cost 35 seconds.” This is already in use today but can be utilized even more, says Mats Troeng, who used this kind of data as expert commentator for Swedish television during WOC in Sweden.

GPS in orienteering is here to stay. Recently the IOF recognised that, and from January 2017, runners will be allowed to carry a GPS-watch at world ranking events, as long as they are of no help during the competition. A good move if you ask Jan Kocbach:

– It think it is very positive with the new rule. Especially runners from smaller orienteering nations with no accessible tracking at WRE-events, now gets the possibility to track their own route, Jan Kocbach says.

Some progress is made by the IOF. Other progress is made by the technological development. Mats Troeng does not think we will see new revolutionary tools in the near future, but that the tools we already know will be smoother:

– I think that the route analysis tools will be simpler to use. Easier to upload and easier to compare. And it might be more integrated with mobile devices, Mats Troeng predicts.

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