The idea of depicting runnability on the orienteering maps was introduced as early as the seventies. The reason for it, of course, was to make the sport fairer and to eliminate another of the "bingo" elements, namely the possibillity of unfavourable route choices due to "bad" terrain.
At this early stage, runnability was not classified in degrees to any extent. This came at a later stage, and in the mapping standard of 1990, map makers found themselves with 9 different classes of runnability in the yellow and green colors, distinguising not only degrees of runnability but also between runnability and different "sight" conditions. This was in line with evolution, to try to eliminate as much as possible the presence of "chance" on an orienteering course; several elite runners expressed their strong opinions in this matter.
But how has the use of the green color developed since the 1990 ISOM standard was presented? There are several observations to be made. First of all, there has been a general tendency for o-maps to become greener as time passes on. It is not unusual to see maps where the 20% green seems to be the basic color, with some white spots of runnable forrest within it. The reason for this could vary, but a general feeling is that mappers underestimate the capacity of the runners, and do not test the terrain properly.
It is of basic importance to understand that it is not eyesight but runablility (=speed) that should be taken into account! On several occasions during recent years elite runners have stated that they pay little attention to the light green color (if any at all).
Route choices from a (top-contry) national championship on extremely green maps showed that the runners in several situations preferred a "through-the-green" route even if an obvious "white" option existed. This means that the runner judged the runnability in a different way than the map-maker and did not bother with the light green.
Vegetation Screen Ignored
Another example could be seen from one of the 1996 World Cup events. The mappers put in a lot of effort to field-work the vegetation (IOF407-sparse green stripes). When commenting on the event, one of the top runners said that he tested this map feature on the model event and immediately found out that he did not need to pay any attention to it! This shows again that the map makers underestimated the runners, and invested a lot of time and money into something that was never used!
The effect of the misuse of the green colors will be that the runners lose confidence in the runnability features, and do not know from one event to another if they are reliably describing the actual runnability.
Testing Runnability in the Field The only way to correct this error is for the map-maker to use a method to "test" the runability in different situations. One example of such a test was developed by the Danish Federation Map Committee. It was demonstrated and practiced during the Instructors' Conference in Germany 1995, and has been used on several other occasions thereafter. In a majority of cases, the test made it clear to the map makers that they generally classify the green color one degree "too green". This means that when 20% green is used, it should be white, and when 100% green is used it should be 50%. Since this method is self-proving it is a very pedagogic way of educating a map maker where he should be in terms of classification.
Border Accuracy Not Important A second problem, especially with the light green color (IOF406) has to do with size and accuracy. In many situations map-makers use a lot of time to field-work the borders of these light-green areas with high accuracy. This sign is not primarily intended for positioning purposes, however, and therefore it should be treated with less demand on accuracy. Its primary function is to give the runner the information he needs for route planning. This also means that there is no need to depict very small and isolated areas of this type.
Map-makers must Co-operate with the Runners The introduction of the many classes of runability has made the maps more expensive to field work, and given them a shorter life span. On the other hand, this information adds a degree of fairness to the sport that has proved essential. Current trends on the use of green diverge from the original intentions when the detailed degrees of runnability were introduced.
The problem seems to be for the map makers to understand better the needs and capacities of the runners. This is a co-operative effort which needs to be focused on in the coming years. The number and exact definitions of runnability symbols may have to be revied in the coming ISOM revisions, but the most important task for the future will be to develop and introduce methods to further standardise the classification. This cannot be done without close cooperation with the users, the runners.