Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Top 5x2 Races of 2013

Inspired by Robbie Simpson’s blog of his top 5 races of lastyear0 I thought I would try to come up with my own list. I couldn’t keep it to five though so I split it into two lists: my top five sprint orienteering races and my top five ‘other’ races. I do sprint races because I’m (usually) good at them and I find them exciting and I do everything else for fun so I think it is a fair way to split things.

Top five Sprint races

5.            NZ World Cup – Sprint Final

A real eye opener and a bit of a shock to the system. The terrain was completely embargoed beforehand and we had only the roughest of ideas about what was in store before we started. What we got was relentlessly difficult route choice on both a macro and micro level, complex urban terrain around the school grounds and a trip into the Prime Minister’s garden. I went in confident after a good qualification race and got blown away – caught by my minute man Jules Dent after just 4 controls and finishing over 2 minutes down. After the race some of the world’s best orienteers were walking around shell-shocked, asking “what just happened?
Map Part 1 - Part 2

4.            World Games

At the other end of the season was a race at the other end of the technicality scale. About the only difficult thing about the race was keeping the pace up despite the hot humid conditions. A small mistake right at the end cost me the chance of winning my first international medal but I still finished 6th – my best ever result so it has to make the top 5.


3.            Jan Kjellstrom

The JK Sprint round Reading University was the first big race of the British season and I really put a lot of pressure on myself to start the season well. One small mistake where I almost ran across an area of OOB grass (marked on the map but not the ground) was the only flaw in an otherwise perfect run which was enough to get me the win and with it pre-selection to WOC.

JK Sprint Map

2.            Nordic Tour – Finland (Qualification)

The first two sprints in the Nordic Tour were unmitigated disasters for me so when we arrived in Finland I was keen to put them behind me and focus on racing hard. The qualification race round some university halls of residence and a bit of the city of Turku was very British in style and I made the most of it to finish in the top 5 for the first time at this level (albeit in qualification). The final was OK and I got my first World Cup top 10 result but I didn’t have quite as good feeling in that race as the qualification where everything went to plan.

1.            WOC

How to steal victory from the jaws of defeat. In the morning I almost crashed out when I ran off the map in qualification. I can’t explain how that happened and the thought of it still sends shivers down my back. I made it to the final by four seconds .
Having made it there I was determined to make the most of my second chance so with a clear plan and good idea of the challenges ahead I sprinted out of the packed baseball arena into the town of Sotkamo. The next 15 minutes are a bit of a blur of route choices, temporary fences and spectators but I remember that I was ‘on it’ and executed a run I am really happy with. I didn’t get every route choice correct and there was one “Eek what’s going on” moment but it was a tricky sprint and no one was perfect. My run earned me a long desired top 10 result and was part of GBR’s best ever day at the World Champs, with a silver medal, top five, top ten and two top 20 results to shout about (out of only five starters).

I’m unusual in the international orienteering world in that I work full time, in a non-sporting world (the insurance division of a large bank). I don’t think my colleagues really get orienteering. They are generally supportive and this year were exceptional by letting me take a laptop out to Finland so that I could minimise travel and make my training as relevant as possible by being based out there for the three weeks before WOC but they still don’t really know what I do. When I was running WOC and aiming for a top 10 I was doing it for myself but having got back to the office being able to say that I was top 10 in the world really makes a difference – my colleagues do really get what that means. With the story of my ‘home games’ (a popular phrase I’ve pinched from the 2012 Olympics and 2014 Commonwealth Games hype) coming in 2015 I think I can count on their support for the next few years.

Top 5 non-sprint races

5.            WOC Long Test Race

Someone (Tomas Dlabaja maybe?) who had an early start came back from this and said “if you are an orienteer, you have to love this”. I have to agree. WOC Long was never a goal for me so I’d done no specific training for this but it was just such a joy to run through the fast gently undulating track free moraine.


4.            British Middle Distance Championships

Winning this race was the least expected result of the year for me so it has to rate a mention in the top five. A cool mix of tricky overgrown old mine workings and fast moorland running, speed control was key here and I managed to nail it.

3.            Scottish 5km Road Running Championships

A blustery night on Cramond prom meant this was a real race rather than a time trial. The tactics of when to push and when to sit in were key so I put my watch away and tried to finish as highly as I could. Andrew Butchart got it slightly more right than me but I was rewarded with a silver medal (my first at national level in Scotland) and surprisingly a one second PB – despite the less-than-ideal conditions.

2.            WOC Relay

First leg for a ‘developing’ GB team. What would happen when my sprint legs met the tough Finnish terrain and my urban-evolved brain met the vague Nordic contours and rocks? Answer – a smart, controlled run where I stayed in touch with the leaders, navigating my own way but using all the other guys to good effect. I came in 7th, in the main pack and within a minute of the Swiss leaders. Job done – hopefully I get to do it again in the future.

1.            Pentland Skyline

About the only race of these ten that I’ve not mentioned on my blog already this year so I’ll give it a little more attention than the others. I have written about it in the past, when I had a crack at breaking the record three years ago: in short, it’s an iconic long hill race just south of Edinburgh which my mentor Andy Kitchin has held the record for for 20 years despite the best efforts of hill runners and orienteers such as Jon Duncan, Jamie Stevenson and Joe Symonds. Since that effort three years ago, where I posted the second fastest time ever, I’ve not managed to fit in another go until this year. I did slightly handicap my chances this year by running the English Road Relay Championships the day before, which involved a 5.85km hammering on the roads followed by a six hour drive home in the back of a cramped car but that was perhaps a blessing in disguise. With tired legs I took it pretty easy at the start and was actually in third place after the first three hills. I was happy enough just cruising along – I figured that if it wasn’t a day for breaking records at least I’d get a good long run out of it, and there are few things I enjoy more than a long run in the hills. On the long fourth climb up Turnhouse I got into the lead and a pattern started where I would pull away from Matt Whitfield on the series of climbs along the Carnethy ridge then he would reel me in when I cruised the downhills. There are 16 climbs in total on the Skyline route which means 16 descents too. Overdoing it on one descent can wreck your legs for the rest of the race so I was aiming for damage limitation on the descents in the first half.

Skyline Route map on ScottishHillRacing

I hit halfway in just under 73 minutes, around a minute faster than three years ago. From there I concentrated on keeping up a steady pace and making sure I was taking the best lines. The third quarter of the course is the bit I am least familiar with and also the section with no paths but fortunately I managed to fit in a recce on a cheeky Friday Night Hill Run a few weeks earlier so I was confident I’d learnt my lines. The landowner requested we take a new line off Hare Hill to prevent erosion which probably added a minute or so of bashing through deep heather, although I probably lost less here than others thanks to my lanky legs and orienteering background. (Interestingly a few weeks later a new bulldozed landrover track appeared on the side of the same hill, presumably made by the same erosion-worried landowner). That behind my I nailed the route up Black Hill, finding the trod all the way and then took a new line across to Bell’s Hill which had the advantage of missing the tussocky marsh but the disadvantage of missing Oleg, Kara and baby Inis with their supply of Jelly Babies. It paid off though as I was able to keep running all the way up the hill, the first time I’ve managed this in the race. I still thought I would be touch and go for the record so when my hat blew off on the descent of Harbour Hill I wasn’t stopping to get it – what if I missed the record by a couple of seconds! Sorry Arc’teryx for losing your kit – hopefully someone found it and is making use of it.
Running the Skyline - before my hat blew away.
I didn’t have a record of my splits from my previous run with me but once I got over Capelaw I knew I must be in with a good chance of breaking the record. However it was only when I got to the summit of Allermuir that I realised by how much. The last two hills are just the first two hills in reverse to get you back to the finish at the ski centre. I knew it had taken 15 minutes to get there at the start and now I had over 15 minutes to get back down – a 300m descent rather than a 300m climb. This is ON!  Apart from one scary moment on the final climb when my legs threatened to seize up  I was able to keep pushing all the way to the end. My whooping and hollering as I careered down the final slope alerted the finish team to my presence and as I crossed the finish line I got a high five from Mr Kitchin himself – passing on the baton of Skyline record holder as I smashed his mark by just over six minutes: about four minutes faster than I thought I was capable of.
So the Pentland Skyline was undoubtedly my race of the year. It’s probably the one race that, if my career ended today, I would be truly happy with. I can see the Pentland Hills out my kitchen window and it’s quite nice to look out and think ‘Yes, they are my hills’.

The Skyline got its revenge though, as not long after it I developed an inflammation in my knee which hampered my training for the rest of the year. I think I’m on top of it now and I’m gradually building my volume back up and hoping I can still do all I want to do in 2014. That starts with trips to Norway and Italy for the Bergen Sprint Camp and MOC/PWT camps respectively in the build up to the European Champs in Portugal where I’ll run Sprint, Middle and hopefully Relay. After that attention turns to the summer, with trips to Finland for the WC Sprint and Jukola in the build up to WOC and then a return to the SkyRunning scene – hopefully racing the Dolomites Skyrace, Sierre-Zinal and Ultraks before starting the 12 month build up to those long awaited home games. Here we go!

1 comment:

Owen said...

Hey, there's no 'like' button! Great article Murray. The review of Pentland Skyline race was very inspiring - it's the kind of race everyone dreams of having. It looks like you've really progressed in the last couple of years with some great results.