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!

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.


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Tre Rifugi Mountain Relay

I was first asked to run this relay in the Italian Alps during WOC2011. When one of the original team dropped out Anne Buckley called me up to see if I could ‘pop over’ from Chambery to fill the space. I thought about it then but it would have meant missing the WOC banquet and taking an extra day off work so I had to turn it down. However I didn’t forget about this interesting sounding race and when I was asked to take part this year I signed up straight away.
Refuge #3: they were selling beer at 9:30am when I arrived. Maybe to help calm the nerves?

The race, which is featured in the excellent “World's Ultimate Running Races” book, is a three leg relay. The first leg starts with 2km of gentle climbing from the village of Collina to the first “rifuge” then climbs steeply up to the second at the changeover on the Austrian border. Second leg is the real showpiece of the race, a steep scramble up a sheer rockface followed by a technical trail run to the third of the three rifugi where the final leg starts. From here it’s all downhill back down to the valley floor.  Every year a British team is invited to take part by the hosts and this year it happened that all the guys in the men’s team were Scottish so we ran as Team Scozia.
Second leg basically traverses this rock face: not for the faint hearted!

Robbie Simpson is spending the summer in the Alps and has been getting some great results including 5th at Sierre-Zinal the week before Tre Rifugi. He powered up the hill to win his leg by 10 seconds – read more over on his excellent blog. Finlay Wild is also spending some time in the Alps while he is between GP jobs and used the skills which saw him recently break the record for the Cuillin Ridge to power away from the opposition. He handed over to me with a minute lead which made my job on last leg fairly straightforward.
θ >> 0.  θ ~ 40°?

Straightdown might be more appropriate. I knew the first 200m would be the hardest descent and I was glad to get them done before I heard the cheers from above signalling the opposition starting. From there it was a slightly less steep sprint down alpine meadows and into a twisty singletrack path through the forest. 
Nice smooth track back to the valley floor. Not.

The race is incredibly well supported and all the way I was cheered with shouts of “Bravo” – slightly different to the usual “Dai” that you get in Italian races when you’re not leading. “Die” might have been a bit closer in some places as you leap off cliffs and drop offs with no idea what’s coming next.
A relatively short time later I dropped out of the trees and onto the road for the final 2km to the finish. By my reckoning I dropped 700m in that first 10 minutes: over one metre per second. Not quite free fall or terminal velocity but pretty quick nonetheless! 

Out on the road I could run a good fast pace on the gentle downhill and I knew that the victory would be ours. That said, the tiny little rise back into the village (10m?) felt like a mountain and the soles of my feet were burning up. In the end we won by the same minute margin that I had at the start of my leg, and sure enough I had two new blisters on the sole of my heels. The Red Cross even laughed at my feet when I went to get patched up – my heels have only partly recovered from the same affliction at Snowdon.

The girls finished second and also had two fastest legs so we fairly cleaned up at the prize giving and even spent some time signing autographs for the locals before heading off to enjoy some classic Italian hospitality at the after party – local food, beer and music with the organisers.

 All in all a great weekend away in the mountains – after spending so much time in the Alps last summer it was good to go back for a wee reminder of what a great place they are – especially after spending 5 weeks in the somewhat flatter Finland earlier this summer.
Travelling all the way to the Alps to run downhill for 17 minutes got me thinking about different sports and where they are best done. Here’s a diagram of my findings:

As this clearly shows you can run anywhere. This is not surprising as the oldest and most versatile of physical actions. But while there are plenty opportunities to run on the flat and on undulating or even uphill only courses there are precious few downhill only opportunities – while for disciplines like mountain biking and skiing these are some of the most popular disciplines. Well the good folks of Scottish Hill Running have spotted this gap in the market and for the next three Wednesdays are putting on a series ofdownhill only races to find the best "doonhiller" in the country. I’m not sure it fits in my training plans this year but it looks like a great laugh!
A short video showing the start of my leg:

Longer video of the whole event
Many thanks to the organisers of the race for inviting us over and making us feel so welcome!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

World Games: The Races

The first of three blogs on my World Games experience - my view of my races.

Sprint: Easy and Hard, Fast but Slow

Of course it looks easy, because it was. Any beginner with a few Saturday afternoon introductory events under their belt could have got round without too much bother. But that doesn't mean it's not a valid race. When it's easy it just means you can run more of the course at top speed and the margins become even tighter. And thus, it was also a hard, hard race. The sun was directly overhead and temperatures in the shade were in the 30s. On the long route choice legs I felt slow and tired but unlike at WOC where I panicked a little that I was too slow this time I just relaxed <this is as fast as I can go, so I better just go at this pace and accept the end result>.

Sprinting. Photo: IOF

At the spectator control I heard I had the new fastest time, one second ahead of Khramov. <Ok, that's good but there are still lots of top runners who started after me and Khramov hasn't been on top form this year>. By now I had nearly caught my one-minute man Martins Sirmais of Latvia. As we ran to the 16th control he turned in too soon. I knew he was too early and I carried on to the gap in the thick green where there should be a path to take me to the control. I turned in as soon as the terrain changed - grass now rather than thick bamboo. But this isn't much like a path - and no control at the end. <Damn.> Panic reaction- back out and find the path, back in 10m further on and hey presto, there's the control. <Damage limited.>

Excerpt of the Sprint map. 16 cost me a medal, I didn't notice the green dot in the rough open was separate to the green and turned in before it.

But not enough. That mistake, which flashed past in the blink of an eye, almost certainly cost me my first international medal. I finished in 6th place, a mere four seconds behind bronze medalist Jerker Lysell. My split at the spectator control held up well with only eventual winner Mathias Kyburz going faster.

Usually 6th place would gain recognition as a "podium" result however at the World Games only the top three are rewarded so I had to take consolation for my lost medal by celebrating my first "pseudo-podium".

Sprint map: without route - with route

The next day was the middle distance in a recreational park SW of Cali. I tried to race it like a double length sprint but I lost some time fighting in the green and in the heat. Despite this I finished in 14th place which I was reasonably happy with.

Middle map: part one without route - part two without route - part one with route - part two with route

In Colombia thicket means THICK!

Finally came the relay which was probably the biggest aim of the week for the British team. We know we can sprint, we know we are all in good shape (all getting a top 10 individual result at both WOC and World Games) and we know the new Mixed Sprint Relay is a discipline where we want to fight for medals in the coming years. But none of us have ever run a sprint relay before so there was still an air of uncertainty as we lined up on Sunday.

I ran the first leg, the same as at WOC. However my tactics at WOC were quite different. In the technical Finnish forest I wanted to be near the front but not leading so I could observe the race and benefit from the other teams. In a sprint situation I thought that other teams could be more of a distraction than a benefit so as we set off I had a simple mantra to follow: "Get to the front - and stay there."

This turned out to be easier than expected as the planner had made the gaffling at the start quite uneven - something I am not impressed about but more on that in a later blogpost. So after four controls I only had Gernot Kerschbaumer (AUT) and Carl Kaas (NOR) for company. A small miss on the fifth where I misread the uncrossable fences meant I was chasing again but quickly caught up in the green at eight. I was clean from there to the finish and Gernot and I were able to run away from Carl. I was leading as we crossed the line but I think Gernot actually managed to sprint past me to handover first.

The next hour or so was a bit of an emotional roller coaster. First Cat dropped the Austrian girl and extended the gap to the other big teams to over two minutes <We could do this! It could be gold!> before getting reeled in a bit by the spectator and then passed when she made a mistake near the end <but it's only Switzerland and Sweden ahead, and the Swedes don't have a complete team>. Once Scott was out news came through that the Norwegian team were disqualified <one less team to worry about> and I learnt the Danes had lost big time on leg one when Tue got a thorn wedged in his big toe <definite medal on here with Nogs and Swedes out and Danes behind. Not much we can do about the damn Swiss now but the silver is there for the taking>. Then news came through that Scott had dropped time at the radio controls. Kyburz was pulling clear and the Scandi teams were breathing down our necks. Scott held on to send Tessa out in 2nd place with the Czechs and with Maja Alm of Denmark hot on her heels. <get away from the Czechs and its a fight with Maja for the silver - but a medal feels almost certain>

I could barely watch or listen, I was so nervous as she set off and the news that the Czechs had made a big mistake early in the final leg didn't help much either.

I was listening 5 minutes later though when the commentators announced that there had been another disqualification.



Scott mispunched on a gaffled control in the woods (#6) when he ran down a ditch and didn't see his flag and carried on and found the wrong one. In the dark jungle it was easy to mistake a knoll for a boulder and several teams did - us, Norway, Sweden and Czech Rep all MP'd on this control. With 26 controls in <20 minutes checking codes, which were only on the descriptions on the map is tricky. On my own leg I only managed to check some codes as I was half way through the next leg. Clearly this is something we need to work on before next time.

Tessa would have finished in the bronze medal position, had she been allowed to finish at all, but I had to go and stop her at the penultimate control so as not to confuse the spectators or TV audience.

Sprint arena nestled at the foot of 4000m mountains. Security advice was that we shouldn't go exploring as the "farmers" might give us a frosty welcome.

There wasn't much we could do but accept the result. I had bittersweet feelings when the Austrians were presented with their medals: happy to see some new faces on the podium but deep down knowing that it could so easily have been us. It just serves to remind us that come sprint relays in the future we have to treat them with the same respect and focus that we do individual sprints, making sure we do everything right to get the best result we can.

Map: no route - route

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

WOC 2013: I love it when a plan comes together

July 14th 2012. Lausanne, Switzerland, the day before WOC Sprint. I’m pretty sure that I won’t be running WOC next year. With 2015 on the horizon and three consecutive WOCs under my belt I need a year off to refocus and prepare myself: spend some time developing my forest technique so I can be a multi-discipline runner come our home games in three years time.  I’ve heard that the sprint in Finland is going to be a forest race so it might be a good one to skip. I can come back in Italy in 2014 to get me back in the zone before Scotland.

July 15th 2012. WOC Sprint result: 11th, 1.1 seconds away from a top 10 result. Aw man, so close. Probably my worst WOC run technically but it was a tricky course and everyone struggled. Yesterdays plan scrapped. I’ve got to go to Finland, to have another crack at getting it right. If it’s a forest sprint then I’ll have to get good at forest sprinting.

July 8th 2013. Sotkamo, Finland. WOC Sprint result: 9th. Job done.
For some reason only the British flag displays on my results.
July 9th 2013 (today). Vuokatti, Finland. How did that happen then? You might argue that not much changed. If I’d been 1.9 seconds slower yesterday – one hesitation to check a route, or one missed micro route choice – I’d have been in the same frustrating 11th place asking the same questions as last year.
But those 1.9 seconds feel more significant than that. They feel that way because they were the result of me executing a season-long plan to improve on last year’s result. In March I sat down with a few people I value the opinions of to plan out my training up to WOC. My conclusions from these conversations were that while yes, I can get faster, there are probably bigger gains to be made from improvements in sprint technique.  It would take a huge effort to improve my 14:36 5km pb by 30 seconds or so, but I can easily see where that time could be saved in cutting out small mistakes. The problem I’ve had in the past is that I’ve put a lot of focus on demanding physical training which means that when I turn up for technique training I’m unable to run at race pace. Then when I turn up to WOC with nicely tapered fresh legs I’m running faster than I’m used to and technically it all gets a little scrappy. So for the 14 weeks from the JK to WOC I slashed my mileage and prioritised sprint technique.  Rather than getting faster I just looked to preserve the speed I had. Morning runs dropped from 15km+ to 5km. The only long runs I did were classic races. I ran a sprint course at least once a week and almost always felt fresh for it. It didn’t always feel like the right thing to do, particularly in the last few weeks before WOC when I started to doubt my shape but on the day it turned out right. An improved position compared with last year, much closer to the winner than previously and in the second half of the course I was running as fast as anyone – so the speed was still there!
Split times for nerding over. Note the low numbers in bottom half of right most column.

Of course there is still room for improvement. The margins in the sprint race are so tight that you can always see that next step. But I know that I can find those improvements. I have a plan.

Crossing the line in the lead with a satisfied feeling. That feeling turned from satisfied to thrilled when I found out Tessa had taken 5th and when Scott stormed home to an incredible silver medal it was sheer joy. What a team! Photo courtesy of Martin Ward/British Orienteering 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

NORT part 2: I got that racing feeling

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: 

Thursday, June 06, 2013

NORT update: Knocked Out Before the Knock Out

After my moment of madness in the first sprint race things didn't improve much in rounds two and three of the Nordic Tour. I had a very "average" run in the Norwegian middle distance on Sunday then on Tuesday I failed to progress to the knockout stages of the knockout sprint. 

The middle distance was held in the forest surrounding the sprint area at Ammerud. I trained  here a few years ago while staying with Østmarka so I had a good idea about what we were in for: mixed forest, some steep and rocky slopes and a reasonable path network. What I hadn't expected was the torrential downpour (with associated thunder and lightning) in the hour before I started which absolutely waterlogged the terrain, making the rock treacherously slippy, the vegetation very heavy going and the marshes into lakes. 

I thought I ran reasonably well: I had no problems finding controls and I was happy with my route choices. So I was a bit bemused to find I was over four minutes down when I arrived at the finish, and seven minutes behind the eventual winner Carl Godager Kaas. Where did the time go? A bit of splits geeking later confirms my feeling about my run: no major misses or time losses, just generally a bit slow. Thinking back, although I felt like I was running hard I think I was a bit within myself and a bit too much in control. I've heard it said that to race well you need to be on the edge all the way, slowing down just enough to avoid mistakes but generally pushing yourself to the limit all the way. I was nowhere near this style in the middle distance and at this level of competition that costs you badly. 

Map - no route
It was a similar story in round three. At our team meeting the night before I told everyone that I thought we had to treat the qualification like a final as the competition here is so strong. However I don't think I listened to my own advice as I ran my race at a decidedly cruisey pace. I was running fairly hard but not flat out. In the end I missed qualification by 13 seconds. I lost 17 seconds on a short leg in the forest near the end but I feel like I should have had more of a cushion. I know I have the speed and technique to contest for podium positions in races like this so I should have been at least 30 seconds faster - and then a small mistake would have been less critical. 

Map - no route
Map - with route

After punishing myself on a tempo run round the edge of the lake I enjoyed being a spectator and supporter at the finals. The compact arena, big screen and some exciting racing made me forget about the disappointment of the morning and and got me motivated for running fast again. 

After a couple of days off we are racing again tomorrow in hot and sunny Finland. I've remembered what racing should feel like and I'm looking forward to making this one count.