I remember when I first realised that orienteering was a race. I was 12 years old and on a training weekend in the Lake District organised by Carol McNeil. Most of the exercises over the weekend focused on basic technique rather than speed but something clicked in my brain that the whole point was to do these things FAST. The final exercise of the weekend was a "tour champs" on Torver Back Common and for the first time in my life I raced an orienteering course. I just figured out what I needed to do and got on with doing it. I think I won that race, surprising a few people including myself. I went on to finish 2nd at the Scottish Six Days a few weeks later, my first notable success at a GB level. My orienteering career had begun!
I had a similar epiphany while watching the knockout sprint rounds during NORT. Orienteering is a race. The whole point is to get from the start to the finish as fast as possible. I think I'd forgotten that at the start of that week: I was more concerned about planning ahead, being in control and having a good flow than actually getting anywhere fast. As such I was off the pace in qualifying and missed out on the rough and tumble fun of the knockout stages. As I knocked out a tempo run along the side of the lake that afternoon to release some frustration I resolved that Finland would be different. Finland will be fast.
The next day we made the most of arriving in Turku in good time to get out on the sprint model map. With the luxury of a full two days between races we could run hard then and still have an easy day the next day to recover before the sprint races. And boy-oh-boy did I run hard. I split the model course into three control sections and really attacked them, running flat out and barely hanging onto the navigation. In fact I was often out of control navigation wise. It was reckless orienteering but it was brilliant. I was hurtling down roads, accelerating out of every bend and cutting every corner. This is what racing should feel like!
I took my newly rediscovered racing spirit into the qualification race on Friday. I was left nothing to chance this time, I ran it as if it was a final. The course was about as British as you get, with a mix of university campus, halls of residence and typical urban terrain. I only lost time on one leg, to the 16th control where I initially planned to cut through the woods to the riverside path, but doubled back to the steps instead. I finished 5th=, tied with Daniel Hubmann: a very satisfying result!
The final was a more difficult course with much more route choice and some controls in tricky locations. I didn't have as good a feeling during the race but I kept pushing all the way and was rewarded with 10th place - my best ever World Cup position, 39 seconds behind Mattias Kyburz. I got caught out by tricks on a couple of controls (7&8) and actually got lucky on 8 where I hadn't checked which side of an uncrossable wall the control was on - I got it wrong but fortunately there were some hidden steps to reduce the cost of this mistake to just ten seconds.
The best thing about running well in these races was that I *decided* to run well - it wasn't a case of repeating the approach from the earlier races and hoping it would work, it was a conscious change in approach which means it should be repeatable in the future.
The next day was the chasing start long distance finale to the tour. I was completely shattered and could barely do anything more than jog around the forest but I enjoyed the interesting course and it reminded me of the challenges to come at Jukola and our WOC selection races in coming weekends. We travelled back home the following day and while the results at NORT might not have been all I hoped for the I definitely took a lot of learning away and I now have a clear focus for the run in to WOC.
But first... JUKOLA!!!
Maps with routes can be found in my map store here: