Monday, October 22, 2012

UKCup and UKRL Finals

A couple of weeks ago the UK orienteering season came to a conclusion at the Lancashire Hotpot weekend with the first ever UK Relay League (UKRL) final and the mass-start UKCup final.

In previous years the UKRL has comprised just the four "classic" relays of the JK, British and Scottish Camps and the Harvester with a clubs best three results counting. Having demolished the opposition in the first three of these Interløpers would normally have had the series long since sown up. However times change and this year BOF added two more events to the series, extending it into the autumn with a sprint relay in Sheffield and a new final to round it off.
The three victories in the spring did set us up well and we went into the final at Tockholes knowing that a top 5 result would guarantee us the title no matter what else happened. However we also went into the final with only 2/3s of our spring team available. Due to a combination of field trips to Greece, family commitments and 25manna we had to call up club captain Rob Lee to complete the team - although he's one of the top M50s in the country, he is still an M50 and wasn't expecting to be able to hang with the pace of the leaders. Our tactic was to put him out first and then rely on Oleg and I to chase down the leader. I thought that if Rob could limit his losses to 3-4 minutes then we might even have a chance of fighting for the win and maintaining our unbeaten record for the year.

As it happened Rob ran a strong first half but a miss in vague forest towards the end cost him a couple of minutes which sent Oleg out over 6 minutes down. He ran well to pull us up into that crucial top 5 position but we were still 4 minutes down on the leading teams of Aire, FVO and ShUOC.
I set off hard together with Duncan Archer who was running his second leg of the day. Unfortunately what had looked like nice fast terrain from the outside turned out to be completely waterlogged and really heavy going. That , combined with a lot of very steep sided river valleys, slowed my progress and zapped my motivation to chase for the win. I settled into defensive mode and orienteered carefully and cleanly, only making one miss where I overshot a boulder in some vague forest. Somewhere I must have passed Mike McIver of LOC because I came in in 4th place. Job done for Interløpers - only our second ever UKRL title. The last was 10 years ago and I only featured in the Harvester winning team back then so it was nice to run in all four this time.

The next day we were off to Hameldon for the mass start UKCup final. In last years final I knew that if I won I was guaranteed the title but in the end I finished second to Rich Robinson and the cup went down-under to Craney who had emigrated with an almost unassailable lead. This year it was a little more complex with 6 runners in with at least a mathematical chance of winning. From my point of view I had to win and hope that someone else could beat Dave Schorah and Ant Squire as 2nd was good enough for them to beat me overall. On the day Schorah was a DNS due to injury but I still had Squire to worry about.
Hameldon is a new area near Blackburn. It is 90% open with areas of very intricate old mine workings. The course made the most of this with 44 controls in 10.6km! The format of the mass start race was four short loops at the start, in full view on the slope above the assembly area then a long trip over the top of the hill and into some more butterfly loops in mine workings before a few controls in the forest to finish.

Mines. Crazy.
Because it was clearly going to be a tricky control pick at times I decided to orienteer cautiously, willing to sacrifice seconds here and there to avoid losing minutes unnecessarily. However I found myself alone on the early loops while everyone I crossed paths with seemed to be pushing hard with someone else. I guess this got my competitive juices flowing because after the second map exchange, at the start of the long final loop, I had a clear lead. The next leg was one of the longest of the course, steeply uphill into an intricate quarry area. I knew that I wasn't going to lose time climbing and when I spiked the control at the end of it I knew I was on my way. Aside from one scare on the final butterfly where I misread the layout of the quarries I was more or less clean all the way. When I returned to the common control of the final butterfly for the final time I saw Ant Squire just leaving so I was almost a whole loop ahead of him - and more importantly there were others ahead of him too. I had to keep my focus to the end though, especially with the change in terrain as we headed into the forest. I managed to do so and on a dog-leg saw I had at least a minutes lead over my nearest chasers. In the end I could cruise in for a safe victory and then properly celebrate when Chris Smithard outsprinted Jonny Crickmore and Nick Barrable to take 2nd and confirm my overall title.

View from the top of the hill down to Blackburn.

So I won the UKCup. In years gone by this would have been something to be hugely proud of however this year it just doesn't feel the same. Like the relay league the UKCup was extended this year, to be the best 9 races from 16 plus the final. However I managed to win the series despite only scoring in 8 races before the final (it would have been the requisite 9 if I hadn't mispunched at the WOC sprint selection race). If the UKCup truly was a title people wanted to win this would have been impossible: someone who was good enough to place top 5 in each race would have got to 9 events and comfortably beaten me. The truth is the very top orienteers in Britain are focussed on international competition and will choose the domestic races that will prepare them best for those events. In previous years that has largely coincided with the UKCup because the races in it were logically chosen and focussed on the spring and early summer. That can't be said for this year's drawn out season long series.

It looks even worse for next year with the introduction of the BO National O League - an all ages replacement for the UKCup with even more events and lasting even longer. Inspired by this I raised the possibility of a new "2015 cup" or "Scottish Cup" to give us athletes the competition we need to prepare optimally for our home Woc in three years time. My AP post and email to SEDS got a great response and I look forward to firming up these vague ideas with the key parties soon.

For now though, that is the 2012 "O" season over. Next up some hill and mountain races then the real fun - winter weekend up north laying down the foundations of the next 1000 days - until WOC2015!

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