World Orienteering Championships 2018

My main goal this year was the World Orienteering Championships, where I was selected to compete in the individual sprint, the mixed sprint relay and the relay. The run-up to a major race can be a bit strange sometimes; it sits out in the distance for so long and then all of a sudden it is right on top of you. The build-up this year felt a little like that, but my shape was good, I was confident, and I wanted to challenge for the medals (as I told athletics weekly). 

It didn’t quite work out. I was disappointed with my performance in the individual sprint, finishing in 10th place, 38 seconds behind the winner. I had the speed for a medal (I less than 1 second behind on 14 of 19 split times), but I made too many mistakes. I was much happier with my performances in the relays, especially the sprint relay, where I ran the fastest leg time of the day by 30 seconds, fueled by the frustration of performing poorly the day before. However, while we were in the fight for the medals until the final stages of both relays, our challenge faded, and we left with 7th in the mixed sprint relay and 6th in the forest relay. As always, the margins for error at this level are tiny and the competition super strong. 

I’ve written race write-up’s in my training diary on Attackpoint. Most of what I write there is for my benefit, but hopefully, it is interesting to others too. Also, World of O produced their usual analysis of the races throughout the week, which tell the story of how the races unfolded using the GPS tracking and split times.

Sprint: Training diary, World of O analysis

Sprint

Mixed Sprint Relay: Training diary, World of O analysis

Sprint Relay

Relay: Training diary, World of O analysis

Forest Relay

In terms of both the results and the performances, I’ve been here before, so it is tempting for the main takeaway to be frustration about what might have been. After all, a lot of work went into these championships, and I didn’t quite achieve what I set out to. However, that is the risk we take. It was still a great week, with a fantastic group of people (the support staff, Ed, Liz and Jack deserve a special mention). It was great fun, and I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.

A fantastic team to belong to.

T-minus five weeks

With a little under five weeks to go to the World Orienteering Championships, I’m just about ready to start thinking about final preparations. I’ve had a good block of training since the European Championships, but a lot can happen in five weeks. A lot still needs to happen in fact!

One of the things I think when I enter races and set goals is: ‘What if I were to stop running tomorrow?’ That might sound a bit dramatic, but I find it helps to get to the crux of what I want out of the sport. It helps me aim high, but it also keeps me grounded in doing things that I enjoy. As a result of this thinking, I have a bucket list of things which I would love to do, which may one day get turned into goals or targets. It felt great to tick two things off this bucket list in the last two weeks. First, I won the first leg of Jukola, one of most the iconic orienteering relays, and second, I ran under 14 minutes for the 5000 metres. The 5000 metres was more of a definite goal than winning the leg at Jukola, but both were bucket list moments which have given me confidence that my training is working.

Taking a medal at the World Orienteering Championships is also a bucket list goal. It’s right at the top of the pile in fact. I know that I am capable, but then so are a lot of others. If I were to hang up my running shoes tomorrow, I would have a lot of great memories, but I would wish I had managed to achieve this goal. Motivation to get the next five weeks right is not in short supply, but I enjoy chasing goals, so the pressure doesn’t feel too much.

I’m ending this update with a couple of plugs, so if that isn’t your sort of thing, feel free to stop here.

First, for Sprint Scotland; a weekend of sprint orienteering in Scotland on the 19th-22nd July. I’m involved in the organisation, although there are a lot of people doing a lot more than me this year, and I’ll be using the races as part of my preparation for the World Championships. It’s a packed weekend, and if you enjoy sprint orienteering, you will find a lot to enjoy during the weekend. Entry fees for this year’s races increase in one week’s time.

Second, for a crowdfunding campaign for this year’s World Orienteering Championships team. The campaign has been set up by the people behind On The Red Line, a website set up this year to cover British international orienteering. I’m incredibly grateful for the support that they have already shown the team and spearheading this campaign is just another way that they have rallied behind the team. You can find the crowdfunding page here. There are so many good causes out there, I’m not going to give this the hard sell, rather I’ll leave it to you to decide if this is a worthwhile cause. If you don’t feel you can donate, the team also appreciates any message of support, be that on social media or in person. Elite sport can be a very individual pursuit at times and it’s so nice to know that there are people out there supporting.

The next five weeks will fly by, and there is still a lot of work to be done.

European breakthrough

TLDR: After a lot of ‘nearly’ results, I finally managed to win a senior international medal. Bronze at the European Orienteering Championships in the Sprint distance. It felt good.

I’ve done enough international orienteering over the last 10 years that my approach to championships is now a bit more relaxed than it has been in the past. For me, it is now about building confidence in three areas: Physical, Technical and Mental. The three weekends prior to the championships let me know that I was good: A strong run in the 12 stage road relays, a focused orienteering weekend in York and a stable performance in the pressure cooker of 10mila first leg. In my mind, I had checked off all the boxes I needed and, as such, I was feeling ready to go.

However, in the week before the championships, I was felt very run down. I think this was largely due to the late night and excitement of 10mila, which left me feeling very drained, but I gave myself a lot more rest, tried not to panic, and crossed my fingers that a good feeling would return. The good feeling returned a bit slower than I would have liked but had returned by the morning of the race. I was confident.

I won’t write about the races, I’ll focus more on what the result meant. I’ve written short entries on the morning’s qualification and the afternoon’s final in my training log if interested, but the short story is that they were good. Not great, not perfect, good. That the performance wasn’t anything special is important.

You see, I’ve been in the top 6 before: EOC 2014 sprint (6th), WOC 2014 sprint relay (6th), WOC 2016 sprint (4th), WOC 2016 sprint relay (4th), WOC 2016 relay (4th) and WOC 2017 sprint relay (6th). 6 times in 4 years in fact. In orienteering, a top 6 result gets you on the podium. You stand next to the podium steps as the medals get brought to the top three and you get a diploma. It’s pretty cool, the first time. However, my performances made me believe that I (and the relay teams) could take that next step and walk away with a medal. I didn’t want to keep seeing the medals walk past.

That’s why this medal meant a lot. Sure, I wanted to win and I got third place, but I made a step. A step that I believed wouldn’t need anything special and didn’t. The more ‘nearly’ results I had, the harder it was to believe that would be the case. Maybe I would need something special? Maybe I wouldn’t be capable? It makes you question yourself.

On the day, the wait for the final finishers was excruciating. I finished in the lead but was soon pushed down to second and then third. I don’t know how I would have reacted if I had been knocked down into 4th. I knew I had lost some time, surely history would repeat itself? When my third place was confirmed I was of course very happy, but overwhelmingly relieved. I knew I was capable, so it wasn’t a surprise, but the doubt had nonetheless niggled away. It was awesome to celebrate with my teammates, and I hope to be there to celebrate their breakthroughs also.

My week wasn’t over at this point however, I still had to run in two relays; forest and sprint. In these races, unfortunately, the normal service resumed. Our teams both held medal positions for large portions of the races, only to fade to a podium position in the final moments (6th in the sprint relay and 5th in the relay). As a team our performances were good. Not great, not perfect, good. We were beaten by stronger teams. However, looking at the performances I still believe that we are capable of winning a medal and I don’t think we need to do anything special to achieve this.

The World Orienteering Championships take place in August. I hope to be aiming for a higher step in the individual and to break the run of ‘nearly’ performances in the relays, but for now, I’m happy to have achieved a goal that has been a long time in the making.

JK 2018

The annual Jan Kjellstrom (JK) Orienteering Festival, the largest orienteering races in the UK, took place last weekend. These races form part of the selections for the GB team and are the first opportunity for people to show their form after a long winter build. My orienteering ambitions are quite narrow, and have been for several years. I want to perform well in the sprint distance and in the relays (both the forest relays and the mixed sprint relay). These are the races I perform best at, I most enjoy (probably a link there), I can combine with racing on the road, XC, hills etc, and I believe I can achieve my goals without moving to Scandinavia (not the case for the middle or long distance). Thus, my approach to the JK was simple: try to win the sprint and then use the forest races as high pressured training.

JK Sprint

With this in mind, my JK was a success. I won the sprint and, although there was certainly a lot to improve on, there was a lot to be positive about with my forest performances. I’ve written about each race on my training log so I won’t repeat race reports here. Next on the agenda is the European Championships in Ticino Switzerland at the start of May. Before the JK, I was already selected for the Sprint, Sprint Relay (pool) and Relay (pool), and my performances at the JK shouldn’t have hurt my chances of getting from the relay pools into the teams for the championships. In preparation I will race at the 12 Stage road relays and Tiomila during April and I’m excited to get back competing on the international stage.

Finding my feet

I haven’t done so much orienteering in the last year, so I’ve been aware of the need for a technical focus if I want to achieve my goals this year. I feel like orienteering training works best in focused blocks and so I’ve planned one in the run up to European Champs and one in the run up to World Champs. I don’t want to use up all my holiday time going on training camps in February when World Champs is in August. I know that this approach leaves me slightly behind the curve in the early season but that is something I’ll just have to deal with.

To try to get something in before the start of the domestic season, my first orienteering block started two weeks ago with a weekend training camp in Stockholm. This weekend was geared around the terrain for Tiomila 2018 and organised by my Norwegian club Lillomarka. The first steps in the forest felt like I was re-learning how to orienteer but thankfully this feeling faded fairly quickly. Over the weekend I ran six orienteering courses, totalling 50km of orienteering (see in my Training log for the weekend).

Snowy fun

The terrain was very interesting but covered in snow. This was probably a blessing in disguise, slowing your progress and ensuring that the navigation was at more comfortable pace. I ran two harder sessions, a night mass start relay training (GPS/Results) and an interval start long distance (GPS/Results), and came away from the weekend with more confidence in my ability. Not having orienteered for a long time, I had feared the worst. Thankfully, I found my orienteering skills were still there, if a bit rusty.

Last weekend I stayed much closer to home and competed at the Scottish Spring races in the Scottish central belt. This was a chance to practice my orienteering at a faster speed before next weekends JK orienteering festival. I wanted to find the right balance between safety and speed for my current skill level. I competed in the Middle (Results/Route), Sprint (Results/Route) and Long (Results/Route) and had a very tired attempt at night orienteering also (Training log for the weekend).

The weekend was a bit of a mixed bag in terms of the navigation but I’m satisfied with where I am before next weekend. I’ve tried to focus on the basics in my navigation, on the good habits which should provide the base to work off in the next few months.

Scottish Spring Middle – Photo by Crawford Lindsay
Next weekend I will be competing at the JK orienteering festival. There are four races over four days (Sprint, Middle, Long and Relay – in that order) and these races are the last opportunity for people to secure a place on the GB team at the European Championships. I am sure that the competition will be fierce. My selection to the team for the sprint distance is already confirmed, but I’d like to start the season on the right foot and make the most of the opportunity to put my orienteering skills under some more pressure. I’m excited to see where everyone is at after the winter.
For those that are interested, a new website https://www.ontheredline.org.uk/ has been set up to follow GB elite orienteering. Here you will find updates from the GB orienteering team (including myself) over the course of the season. Hopefully, it will make elite orienteering a little bit easier to follow! Check it out if you are interested.

Stepping out of winter

It took me a while to find but, in the past couple of months, I finally found that familiar winter training groove. The early cross-country season was somewhat of a disappointment with little nagging injuries. It took time to get on top of the niggles but, once I gained some consistency in my training, my form started to improve and the results started to come. Confidence can be as important as fitness and that started to return as well.

To give myself something to aim for in January and February, I decided to target the (Scottish) national cross-country, and The Big Half. These races would be on consecutive weekends but would each have a different focus. The National would be about racing, whereas The Big Half would be about trying to run a fast time. These races would give me a good check on where I was at the end of winter.

How did things go? Things started very well. I won the national cross-country. I wrote a brief description of how the race unfolded in my training diary, so I won’t repeat that here. However, I will say that looking through the names on the trophy afterwards, I am certainly very happy to have been able add my name to that list.


Scottish Cross-Country Champion – http://www.thatonemoment.co.uk/

The next week didn’t go quite so well. It started snowing on the Tuesday before The Big Half, and it carried on snowing for the next four days. As most people know, Britain doesn’t deal very well with snow. Whilst conditions in London were fine, trains between Scotland and London were cancelled. The alternatives would cost more in time, money or stress than I was happy to commit. I found myself stuck in Scotland and unable to race.

Running in the snow in Dundee

On past attempts over the half marathon, I didn’t ever feel like I had run to my potential. I had run OK on the whole, but it is a difficult distance to master. The pace seems easy to start but, over the course of 13.1 miles, it just gets harder and harder. I have felt like I have cracked and slowed down at some point in every half marathon I have done. I wanted an opportunity to change this trend and my performance at the National XC gave me the belief that I had the shape to give it a good go. Unfortunately The Big Half, with its flat course and stacked field, was going to be my opportunity, and my opportunity had gone.

Given the disappointment of not making it to The Big Half, I was happy to get a second chance with a late entry to the Inverness Half Marathon one week later. It wouldn’t have the same depth but it would have a relatively flat course and good competition in the form of Robbie Simpson – due to race the marathon at the commonwealth games next month. Again, I’ve written about the race in my training diary, the headline of the race being that I was soundly beaten by Robbie but managed to sneak under my 65 minute goal. I cracked like every other attempt at the distance, but this time I managed to hold the pace until much closer to the end and achieved my goal.

The last few weeks have been good. I achieved the goals I set of myself, I feel good and I’m enjoying my running. My focus will now shift to orienteering, as I look to build towards the European Championships in Switzerland at the start of May. I’m confident in my fitness, but I have a lot of work to do on the navigation. I haven’t done so much orienteering in the past year, so I need to put in a good amount of work with a map before I can expect to be competitive. I’m excited about this and keen to get back out there with a map in my hands.

Racing

At last weeks Armagh 5km, 94 men ran under 15 minutes. This astounding depth is part of the reason the race is one of the most talked about races on the early season calendar. I can attest that it is a crazy race to take part of. I have only run in the race once, but my experience tallies with that of those who have run it many times. It is run with your foot to the floor the whole way as there is always someone there to push the pace on the front. With the race taking in five short laps of the mall, the encouragement from the crowd is always there pushing you onwards. I had a great time there last year and I had been looking forward to lining up on that start line again this year but a sore hamstring meant that I made the call to sit this one out.

Despite sitting out more races than I would have liked already this winter, I know this was the right call. I’m already back running, feeling good and everything seems to be back to normal (touch wood). There are always more races on the horizon and I hope to put some of the frustration of missing out on Armagh towards good performances in the months ahead.

As an athlete, I train to race. I enjoy the training, sure. But I wouldn’t put half the effort in if it weren’t for the carrot of racing. Regardless of the result, there is something liberating about racing – you have to put your neck on the line and test yourself. This is also one of the reasons I enjoy running different disciplines wherever possible, I get to test myself against different distance, terrain and competitors. Every race requires something different and I think this helps me overall. Over the next couple of weeks I will compete on the mud (Scottish National XC) and then the road (The Big Half) before putting in a solid block of orienteering training for the highlight of the domestic orienteering season (The JK). I’m feeling fit and hungry to race.

Forfar Multi Terrain Half Marathon – Photo: John Mill

2017 in numbers

Training hours
Total
-> 543 hours 30 minutes 51 seconds
-> 5559.8km (3454.7mi)
-> 69662m gained
Running
-> 441 hours 25 minutes 42 seconds
-> 5321.0km (3306.4mi)
-> 66135m gained
Orienteering
-> 19 hours 30 minutes 18 second
-> 238.8km (148.4 mi)
-> 3527m gained
(Training log)

Days trained
-> 342 days
-> 15 rest days
-> 1 illness days
-> 7 injury days
-> 54 days cross trained due to injury

Training camps
-> 16 days on training camps

Races
-> 2 Parkruns
-> 7 Track races
-> 9 Road races
-> 6 XC races
-> 4 Hill races
-> 19 Orienteering races

->  44 Individual Races
->  3 Relays

->  18 Victories

-> Longest race = Ring of Steall SkyRace – 2:57:05 – 28.1km
-> Shortest race = MOC Camp Chase Final – 8.00 – 2.1km

Personal bests
3km – 8.07 (Glasgow BMC – 4th January)
5km – 14.03 (Armagh 5km Road Race – 16th February)
10km – 29.05 (Highgate Night of the 10,000m PB’s – 20th May)
Half Marathon – 66.11 (Great Scottish Run – 1st October)

Race records
White Tops Hill Race – 40.28
Swansea Bay Parkrun – 14.27

Countries visited
-> UK (Wales, Scotland, England and Northern Ireland)
-> Italy
-> Belarus (Also Ukraine but only Kiev airport)
-> Latvia
-> Estonia
-> Australia (Also Netherlands and China but only Amsterdam Airport and China Airport hotel)
-> Iceland
-> Norway

Number of times run over the Tay Road Bridge
-> 6 (down from 72)

Happy new year and lets see what 2018 brings!

Downtime and into the new season

The World Orienteering Championships didn’t go to plan for me but getting injured before a big competition is nothing new. I hope that I have learnt something from this experience, but in the immediate aftermath I needed some time off. I worked really hard to get to the start line in one piece but the most difficult part was managing my thoughts in the run up to the race. I went from being full of confidence to doubting whether I could even race and this was quite draining mentally.

In the weeks after I gave myself the break I felt I needed. I had five weeks without structured training, running whenever I felt like it and eating whatever I felt like. This was awesome – especially the last part. However, as the weeks passed I started to get itchy feet. Training is hard, but it gives a structure and routine to life which I actually started to miss. I knew when this happened that it was time to get stuck in again.

I’ve now built back up to a decent weekly mileage (85, 85, 87 for the last three weeks) and I’ve started to feel like some shape might be returning. My plan for the winter is to race XC and road races but keep the training at a consistent level as much as possible as I think this is the most important part of training for me.

This weekend, I will race at the Glencoe Ring of Steall Skyrace (29km, 2500m climb). This will be outside my current comfort zone but I’m looking forward to the challenge. I will follow this up with the Inverness 10km and the Glasgow Half Marathon which, in all honesty, excite me more than the rough and tough mountain race of this weekend. I truly am becoming a wimp.

WOC 2017

Injuring my calf three weeks before the World Orienteering Championships (WOC) wasn’t ideal, but given the nature of the injury I was still confident of performing on the day. I threw myself into the routine of an injured runner – stretching, strengthening and cross training – and initially things progressed really well. I built up to 40 minutes of easy running and was feeling good. Unfortunately, with just over a week to go things took a backwards step.

I had to reassess and go back to square one. It was only at this point that doubts began to creep in. I cut back from running again and after some days without running I adopted a new plan which would see me limit myself to 20 minutes of continuous running complemented by running drills and strides. This routine got me through the last week and onto the start-line of the Sprint qualifier race.

The schedule at WOC for a sprint orienteer is always tough and the three races in three days which I was facing was actually an easy year – normally, it is done over two days. It is with this in mind that I made the decision to use the qualifier as more of a test race. If things went well, I would focus on the sprint relay, where I was part of an exciting team and would get an extra day of recovery. If things didn’t go well, then maybe I wouldn’t be in that sprint relay team.

The qualifier went well. My body felt awful, it had been almost four weeks since I had pushed it for that long, but the speed seemed ok and I made it through unscathed. The next day, I was glad of my decision to give myself extra time to recover. My calf was fine, but my left glut was giving me problems. I was relieved that I could recover and still get my chance in the sprint relay.

We had an exciting team – Cat Taylor, Ralph Street, Myself and Tessa Strain. We would be an outside shot for a medal, but would need things to go our way on the day. I felt like this was the race I had prepared for the most, and had spent a lot of time making a map of the area, measuring route choices and lurking on google street view. When we arrived at the quarantine, I felt relaxed and ready to go.

Cat and Ralph did their jobs to perfection and I started my race in second place, just behind the lead but still in a group of strong teams (SUI, AUT, CZE, SWE). I started assertively, running at the front so that I could make my own decisions and after two thirds of the race I was still at the front and the group had stretched out.

I was working hard, but with the lack of hard running in the weeks leading to the race I expected it to feel like hard work. Unfortunately I was working too hard. The 14th control was my downfall and, despite knowing it was a decisive point in the race, I contrived to make a big mistake. I had been pushing too hard and ran onto the wrong hill. My oxygen starved brain had been distracted by the other runners around me and I took my eye off the ball. It is something that every orienteer has done at some stage, but to do it on the big stage was tough to take. I pushed hard to the finish, but knew I had lost a lot of time as I had been caught by the Russian and Danish teams. I finished in 6th, just seconds behind 3rd place but kicking myself. I had messed up.

Tessa fought through the last leg but we finished in 6th, not what we had hoped for. It is always more difficult when your mistakes affect others, and I was gutted that I couldn’t match the standards of my teammates on the day. In truth, my difficult preparation showed on the day. I didn’t keep a cool head when it mattered, and the confidence lost from a few weeks of fighting to get on the start-line would have been invaluable here.

Thus completed my World Championships. It was short, difficult and disappointing – not words I’d like to be using –  but I gave it my best shot and I live to fight another day. The thing with sport is that things don’t go to plan. I wasn’t the only one dealing with difficulties at WOC and I won’t be the last. This doesn’t make things any easier, but in the long run I hope it will make me a better athlete.

I’d like to finish this blog on a happier note. I am always grateful of the support I receive as an athlete, but this year in particular, I have to thank the Orienteering Foundation (and everyone involved). Not only did I receive a grant so that I could get a map made in Dundee to help my preparations, but the foundation also spearheaded a crowd funding campaign to help fund the British Team at the World Championships. I feel incredibly humbled by the generosity to those who have supported this fundraising campaign and am incredibly grateful to all.