"Sometimes it's good to just take each race as it comes, judging each on it's own merits and not worry about the big picture. There will be good ones and bad ones but you'll forget about the bad ones and enjoy the good ones. That's pretty much how I approached my sports (o, xc, road & hill running) for a few years after graduating. That's fine for a while, but I've come to realise it can be even more fun to have one goal, one project, one target: one chance to get it right!
This year that project was the Sprint Distance at the World Championships in Trondheim. It started 25 months earlier, when I visited Trondheim on holiday and realised that running a city centre championship sprint race in a city with possibly the highest population density of orienteers would be a fantastic experience. The project came to a conclusion at 15:08 on the 8th of August, when I was standing at the top of a start ramp in the middle of the main square in Trondheim, trying to block out the crowds, commentary, TV cameras and big screens and focus on the challenges that were coming in the next 16 minutes - 16 minutes during which I would have the make decisions which could define my year, and where one lapse in concentration could "waste" months of preparation.
Actually I was quite relaxed. My main worry coming into the race had been the qualification round earlier in the day, rather than the final. While the final was all urban and parkland, the map of the qualification area was mostly forest and the course had the potential to be "proper" Norwegian orienteering. That's fine, but it wouldn't play to my strengths - the flat speed which has been finely honed on the meadows for the last 10 years! If I could get through the qualification I knew I could give it my best shot in the final and be happy with whatever result I came away with - I just wanted that chance to shine. As it turned out though the qualification was much more "parky" than expected, with only a few legs in the forest and even they had options to escape to a road and then dive back in. So I qualified reasonably comfortably: 5th in my heat (15 go through), 40s behind Muller of Switzerland and 1 minute ahead of the 15th guy. The other Brits did well to qualify 6/6 with the highlight being Scott in 2nd place in his heat.
Beep beep BEEP and through the start gate, grab the map and we're off. 20m to the start kite to sort out the first route - three alleyways to choose from! Left looks good, past the last couple of controls, lets go. I'll admit I might have started a bit fast - adrenaline is a crazy thing - and i was in 2nd place at the first control. From there it was across the river and a couple of route choice legs up the hill to the fortress. There was a TV control in the fortress and afterward people commented on how slowly it looked like we were going there - if you'd just run up that hill you would know why! I was in such a state of oxygen debt that I made a couple of wobbles here, I almost ran into an OOB area and then on exiting the fortress I made a 90° error. In my defense, on the leg out of the fortress we had to make six 90° left hand turns and I just lost count! Fortunately these mistakes cost me less than 10s each, but little wobbles like that really add up in elite sprint racing. From there it was a fast downhill through the park around the fortress and then more route choices through the town back to the finish. There were a couple more wobbles, missed shortcuts but still nothing major. Crossing back over the river it was clear it was easy to the finish so I could really turn the speed on and "leave it all on the course".
I crossed the line in 8th place. A quick bit of mental arithmetic (once I got my breath back!) told me that meant the worst I could finish was 23rd which was satisfying. In the end it was 18th, 5 seconds behind top Brit GG, 16 seconds away from the top 10 and 44 from gold - in sprint racing the margins are frustratingly tight. While I probably couldn't have challenged for the win this year (or even the podium, as 7th place was only 7s behind!) it was clear that there are areas i can improve on in the future. Within minutes of crossing the line I was already setting my goals for next year!
Unfortunately for Scott, he lived up to his old Interlopers nickname of "Muppet Fraser" by running right past a control while on his way to a top 10 result. He got over it quickly though by taking 6th place in the Long distance a few days later (GBRs best ever male long distance result) and then anchoring the relay team to 4th, just 10m behind the bronze medal. Watching those races unfold was probably the (non-racing) highlight of the week for me, it was seriously nail-biting stuff and incredibly inspirational. Replacing Jon Duncan, who ran his last WOC this year, in the relay team is now on my "to do" list!
All in all it was a very satisfying conclusion to a two year long project. I had one chance and I achieved my goal - a clean fast run. I learnt a lot and I'm looking forward to building on that in the French Alps at WOC2011."