Thursday, October 10, 2013

How Was Your Run?

It’s probably the first question anyone asks after you finish a race – and it’s a question I think orienteers are particularly bad at answering. How was your last run? Chances are it was pretty successful and you had a good time but that’s not what you’ll say. Instead you say things like “Oh I blew it on control 9” “Ach, I missed 90 seconds on the third and gave up after that” or “the map was completely wrong in the technical bit”. We even do it after non-orienteering races: one of my team mates tweeted at the weekend “Feeling tired at end of Ben Venue today. Close to Findlay’s record despite a 2min detour on a checkpoint though.” How negative can you be after winning a hill race up and down one of the best hills in the southern half of Scotland?!?
I’m no psychologist so I’m not going to postulate why orienteers are so negative. What I am is a math geek so here’s a formula for how orienteers might rate their run:

M = Largest mistake made, in minutes
m = personal factor for maximum size of mistake before writing run off
n = number of rivals in race
Ix = indicator function. Ix = 1 if rival x beat you, 0 otherwise.  I1 = greatest rival, I2 = second greatest etc.
T = % of training goals completed in last month
C = number of complaints about the map, course, terrain, weather
S = number of injuries sustained
Fun = % of fun you had.

I’ll let you digest the detail of that one. In short, I think we overvalue our mistakes and the external result and undervalue the actual experience of completing the course. We must enjoy it or else why would we bother? I’m not claiming this is definitive but try filling in the values for your most recent race and see what you come up with.

Last weekend I flew to Switzerland to race in the final round of the 2013 Orienteering World Cup. On the agenda was a middle distance and town centre sprint race round the hilly spa town of Baden. The middle distance produced a disappointingly ‘normal’ result for me in a middle distance race at this level: 52nd, out of the points and 10 minutes behind the super-Swiss winners. But not for the last time this weekend I wasn’t too disappointed with what others might see as a poor result. Because I had fun! The terrain had included a mad section known as “The Devil’s Cellar” – a steep, craggy heavily contoured section of <geoglogical term> reminiscent of the French limestone used for WOC2011, a really good orienteering  challenge. Sure, I wasn’t as fast as the best but I navigated through this crazy terrain as best I could and got it mostly right. And the rest of the course had been nice Swiss forest with controls that generally popped up where you expected them.  It was FUN! On top of that, it reminded me that, while I am far from World Class at this discipline, I can see how I might improve with a bit of specific training. I know how to do this, I’m just not good enough at the moment. This is just the kick up the ass I need at this time of year, as we prepare to start winter training!

The next day was the sprint race – the real reason I was here. After top 10 results in my last three international sprint races I was looking forward to this one-off race to finish my season. I was in good shape, with consistent high volume training since mid-August and some great hard tempo runs on the Dalkeith railway line in recent weeks. I’d done my geeking on the old map – I’d studied every course from the 2008 Swiss champs on the same area, measuring routes and checking split times so I knew the best choice for almost every possible leg – and I’d had a good wander round the area, getting a feel for the steepness of the hills and slippiness of the steps. My legs felt good after the middle distance and I’d done some short sprintervals in the morning of the race to wake up my sprint-o brain which has been a bit dormant since the summer.

The race went well. I had a great flow round the old town, my geeking paying off in helping me make quick descisions and executing them well. Buoyed by the impressive and enthusiastic crowds all over the course I thought I was running pretty fast too.

The results board disagreed. 31st wasn’t the position I was aiming for, and 1:26 behind Mattias Kyburz is my biggest deficit since New Zealand (ignoring my implosion in Oslo). I couldn’t make sense of this at the time. I’m used to the Good Run/Good Result and Bad Run/Bad Result combos. Even Bad Run/Good Result happens from time to time, such can be the woeful state of Elite races in Britain (see the British Long Distance champs this year). But Good Run/Bad Result just doesn’t happen to me.

Getting an orienteering result is a two stage process. You have to get yourself to the startline as well prepared as possible: physically, mentally and technically. You then have to turn that preparation into as good a result as you can. The preparation sets your limits, the race is a test of how close to those limits you can go.  On Sunday I executed a race that I am proud of and was as good as I could hope for on the day. I was initially disappointed to be so far down in time and position but on reflection I think I did OK. I took the legs I had and the training I’d done and turned it into a good run. And I did that in one of the most fun races in orienteering, with the crowds, the pretty town and the atmosphere of the Swiss retirement party.

How was my run? Awesome.



Terje Mathisen said...

I really don't get your formula!

I agree with the basic idea, that the idea is to have fun (why else should you do anything at all?), but as you've posted your calculation, the last term is a subtraction of (1+Fun) where Fun is supposed to be how myuch fun you had (in percent).

I.e. the more fun, the lower rating?

mark_nixon_gbr said...

As I have a BSc and MSc, I can tell you that the geological term is "rock"

Rebecka said...

That's like the best thing said in years! I totally agree that orienteers always keep talking to much about the bad parts of their races, instead of focusing on the good things!It's a disease!

Valerio Casanova said...

One of the best post I have read on the net in years! Thank you. I will try to give the message to my Kids Group!

Szabolcs Tornai said...

I don'think it's a bad habit, because it comes from the nature of orienteering: one serious mistake and you can say good-bye to the podium. just like in gymnastics: perfect exercise except for one big mistake that ruined the whole thing.

AYZ said...

Right on!

I think it crazy how much people talk about their mistakes - and especially so since I don't think most people learn much from this talk. People rarely, in my experience, get to the root of the error but get stuck yakking about the symptoms (eg: I went down this gully instead of that one - but WHY did that happen is the only useful question). So bring on the Fun - lets talk about that instead. Talk about your mistakes with your coach if you have to - but talk to me about your greatness.

As for the comparison with gymnastics - that isn't so valid. Gymnastics is a completely controlled sport, in which you practice exactly the same moves over and over. There is no decision making during competition, nor reaction to the environment. Perfection should be expected from those that will practice the same thing for ever. But for us in orienteering, where we demand new challenges each time, we are bound to make errors. Just like soccer players, cricket players, referees too for that matter.