After the World Championships I found myself seeking a different sort of challenge. I wanted to push myself but also wanted a few months where the map and compass were left in the kit bag. There is a certain satisfaction about a single minded preparation for a goal race, but equally it can get tiring and boring at times. I wanted to take the opportunity to go out and race and not worry about whether I was prepared or not – just do the best I could.
So I hatched a plan. I lined up four races on four consecutive weekends and dubbed it my mini fell running season. I have done a fair bit of fell running over the past couple of years, but always fitted it around my orienteering schedule. I enjoyed doing the odd race here and there but it was always secondary. All the same there is an attractive simplicity about finding out who is the fastest to the top of a hill and back. At some stage I still want to have a crack at doing a full fell running season but these four races would have to suffice for now.
The races were two long Scottish fell races and two relay races with my club Dark Peak. The long races would be a little out of my usual comfort zone at more than two hours, but they were races that I had always wanted to do. The first of these long races was the Two Breweries race in the Scottish borders and the second was the Pentland Skyline near Edinburgh. They are both classic routes of which I had heard many stories and I wanted to test myself on them.
The first of the relay races was the Hodgson Brothers Mountain Relay – a classic in the lake district. This was the one that we as a team wanted to win. For the last nineteen editions of the race it had been won by the same club – Borrowdale. A seriously impressive run, they had proved impossible to defeat over the years. All the same, it had to happen one day and we wanted to put our strongest team together to give ourselves the best chance should that day come.
The second of the Relay races was the British Fell and Hill Relays, also known as the FRA’s. In the last six years, Dark Peak’s record stood at three golds, and three bronzes. I had been a member of the team on two of those occasions, one gold and one bronze. It is one of my favourite races – so much can happen to make it unpredictable.
Both relays are made up of legs with different lengths and characteristics, and some of the legs must be run in a pair – this can make selecting a team tricky and tactical. Before this year I had always run on my own, but this year I would be paired with the new British Champion Rhys Findlay-Robinson for both of the relays.
Revivals are great. My brief attempts at writing here have been almost always punctuated by large expanses of silence. But I’m going to breathe some life back into this blog, however briefly. I don’t really have a plan, more a jumbled mess of thoughts that I find interesting. As a start I have written five posts about the last year and backdated them to where they were actually relevant. I’ve done these posts mainly for my own benefit, as part of the point of writing here again is to help me understand what has worked and what I can do better in the future. This is probably most interesting to me, but if you fancy a read: I start with some of the changes this winter, then talk about being injured and EOC, the lead up to WUOC, WUOC itself and then WOC. In the future, I might try to do some interesting stuff and write about it.
This was the big one, the main goal of the year. I was disappointed to miss my last and only chance for a Stromstad training camp (a flight delay making us miss another flight) but I knew I had done all I could to enable myself to run well. The week before the championships I got a big boost in confidence, posting 14.20 in a 5km in which I had to lead every step of the way. I was ready.
The Sprint programme at the World Championships is pretty busy: Sprint qualifier on the Saturday morning, Sprint final in the Saturday evening and Sprint relay on the Sunday evening. This is always difficult but I was however a lot more confident in my ability to cope with all these races that I was at the Europeans.
Even so, the qualifier was a bit strange and I had a problem I haven’t experienced before. I struggled to fully motivate myself. This was the World Championships, yet I couldn’t really be bothered. I had spent a lot of time thinking how best to play it – I had everything to lose and nothing to gain. Too fast and I’d waste energy, too slow and I’d risk not making it. Also if I tried anything different I risked upsetting my rhythm for the final. In the end I ran at a cruisey pace, keeping one eye on Matthias Kyburz who started at the same time as me. I reasoned that he’d qualify without issue and so if he was ahead I picked up the pace and if he was behind I eased back. I made it through without issue but I’m still none the wiser as to the best tactic in this situation.
Later that day came the Sprint Final. I was a bit nervous that they’d throw us something tricky and unexpected but when I picked up the map it was pretty straight forward. I ran hard and navigated well, but I knew I’d missed some good route choices. The atmosphere in the arena was fantastic and, like most Championships, if you looked beyond the stress it was fun.
Even so, when I finished, I was immediately very disappointed. I knew that I had lost time in the beginning and I knew that I had taken too many slower routes. I know you can’t expect perfection but taking all the little mistakes together, I thought I could have done a bit better. I was going to be 4th, agonizingly close to a medal. At the time it felt like a missed opportunity.
Looking back I’m pretty satisfied. I even feel a bit silly for how disappointed I was immediately after finishing. I didn’t have a perfect race, I did make more errors than I would have liked but in the grand scheme of things it was still pretty good. Once again I found that the margins for error at this level are very fine. On top of this, 4th is still my best ever result at this level. I’m definitely happy with the result, even if I’m a bit frustrated with the performance. All I can do is try to keep getting better each year.
I bottled up some of the frustration I felt for the Sprint Relay. The team was Charlotte, Peter, Me and Cat. Taking into account our performances so far this year, the aim was to send Cat out with or as close to the medals as possible. It wouldn’t be easy but as a team we seemed to be getting more consistent. If we could go out with a chance on last leg, maybe we could sneak something. After three legs it can be anyone’s game.
Charlotte and Peter ran well, although both were a bit frustrated. Both of them had to deal with running longer forkings which meant that I started third leg with the chasing pack, but behind a leading three of SUI, DEN and SWE.
Once again the course offered no surprises, especially given that we were allowed to walk in the area on the friday (why oh why?!). I felt much more in control of my navigation and after catching the front, I started to put some distance into the others in my group. I was helped by having the short forkings that Peter didn’t run earlier and I was happy to be able to take some time back on the leaders.
I sent Cat out in 4th, almost in sight of the leaders but not quite as close as we probably wanted. She pushed to try to get into the 3rd place spot but it wasn’t too be. It was a 4th place once again, but I think we could be happy with our collective performance. Map/Results
After the sprint races, the rest of the week was quite relaxed. I still had the Relay to come, but it was very difficult not to switch off completely. I did some relay training, went to the public races and enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere in camp. It felt like a very chilled training camp without any training.
The relay team was to be Me, Hector and Ralph. It was disappointing that GG couldn’t get over an ankle injury to be in the team, but it was still a really good team. I was very keen to put in a good performance, to justify my inclusion and make up for what I felt was a bad performance at EOC. More than that, I was excited. It has always been a dream to run in the Relay for GB at the World Championships and I was about to live that dream.
My major worry was messing it all up. I hadn’t done much forest orienteering in two months and I had never been to the terrain before. I was under prepared. I felt like I was a risk. What I knew I could do was run fast and make good decisions, so that was my plan. Stop when I needed to, take my time and when it was safe – run like hell.
This approach got me through the first few forkings in the pack and from there it was pretty straightforward to the finish. NOR and SUI had broken away from the pack and whilst I caught sight of SUI, I wasn’t prepared to risk everything to try to catch him. I was satisfied with 3rd place and it was probably the best performance I could have delivered on the day.
Hector ran well and stayed in the group, sending Ralph out with SWE and FIN fighting for a bronze medal. Ralph is one of the best finishers I know, but SWE got a gap halfway through and that was that. Continuing the theme of my week, we finished in 4th place. Once again we were in the fight and once again it wasn’t our day. But that is sport and it was great to be in the fight until the end.
It has been a really good year for me but WOC left me with one burning question. How do I/we win a medal? Really that can be split into three questions since I’d be equally happy with a medal in the Sprint, Sprint Relay and Relay. The jist is the same. It’s not a great leap, but how can it be done? Some people and some teams clearly know how to do it but I don’t think it is a one size fits all answer. I hope in the next couple of years we can figure out a path to the medals.
Just like that World Universities was upon me. I had been to two previous championships and in general performed pretty poorly. All the same, the goal this year was clear. I was there to win a medal. For once, I was one of the favorites – at least in the sprint. The last time I had been in this position had been JWOC 2011. I was the reigning silver medalist, I was in great shape, I was well prepared and I choked.
I wanted to do it right this time. Before that race and in most big races since I had almost always been one of the underdogs. Improving, but still only an outside shot at a top result. It’s a more comfortable position to be in as nobody expects anything too great. If you don’t perform, nobody is too disappointed. This time I wanted the expectation. I wanted to go to the World Universities and prove to myself that I could deal with it.
In contrast to the European Championships, I was in a good place before the week begun. I was fit, I was orienteering well and I was well prepared – those are the important things. Sure, I was also nervous, but nerves are a good thing.
The individual sprint was first and I had a very good race. The pre race geeking proved to be key, as a quick look at the results list afterwards showed the teams that had done some basic research on the complex gardens generally did very well. I felt fast and in control the whole time and apart from a couple of 50/50 route choices I didn’t make any mistakes. I had run the race that I knew I was capable of.
I knew a medal was on the cards but I didn’t expect to win gold by 30 seconds over second place. I was chuffed, I had done it. It was a pretty happy day for the whole team as we had 6 people in the top 12.
Next up was the Sprint Relay. This time it would be Charlotte, Peter, Me, Megan. This was three quarters of our Europeans team and would be three quarters of our Worlds team. Megan was coming into this team on the back of an 8th place in the sprint and a 4th/7th at JWOC. I played down our chances (‘we could run well and come 4th’), but in reality I thought we were favorites.
I was quite relaxed about the favourite tag this time around. I’d done the whole, ‘getting over myself’ thing for the sprint – who the favourites are doesn’t matter once the race starts. It also helped that I find relays to be great fun and I was ready to enjoy myself whatever happened. I had played out a few scenarios in my head before the race but the one that played out was about as good as I dared hope.
Charlotte came in with the lead. Peter broke away from the chasing pack with SUI and gave me a 5 second lead but 30 seconds back to third.
It was on. I started hard with the sole intent on putting the pressure on SUI and from that point I didn’t see anyone. It turns out SUI missed the first control but I didn’t know that so continued to push alone in the lead. My legs felt as good as they ever had and I managed to extend the lead the group behind to over a minute.
We had given Megan the perfect start and whilst this meant a lot of pressure she was her trademark cool and we got to enjoy running down the finish chute as a team. What a feeling.
This race is certainly going to live in the memory for a long time. The atmosphere was amazing and as a team we were faultless. There was a real feel good factor in the whole team, not just the 4 who were running. The individual gold felt good, it felt like a lot of hard work paying off, but the Sprint Relay was on another level. We all work hard and to see that pay off and achieve as a team was just amazing.
The rest of the week didn’t go to plan for me orienteering-wise but I really didn’t care. I had achieved what I had come to Hungary for and then some. I couldn’t get my head on straight for the Middle distance and we had an off day as a team in the Relay, all lacking a bit of something. I still enjoyed the races and much of that was down to the great team vibe we had all week.
It was a great week and in a lot of ways it took the pressure off. I had won two gold medals and whatever happened for the rest of the year, I would still remember this year as a success.
So I was disappointed with the European Championships. I felt out of shape, but in reality I had dealt with my injury quite well. A week after EOC I clocked 8.32 over 3km. OK, that’s no where near as bas as I thought, I can work with that. I had two months to get some good feeling back before my next big race, World Universities, and then another month before the big one, the World Championships.
My approach to this was to go back to the training that had worked for me over winter. Lots of steady running, a track session on a Tuesday and one or two other hard sessions or orienteering per week. I also tried to do some back to back sessions to make sure I was ready for the demands of championship weeks, where races come thick and fast.
It was some of these back to back sessions that gave me my best feedback. I won the both the British Sprint and Middle distance championships on the same weekend. Then I ran a 24.27 5 mile race, the day after an 800m reps session in the track. The form was starting to take shape and the confidence was starting to build.
About a month out from the World Universities Championships Me, Graham and Fanni put on an open sprint orienteering training camp in the Stirling area – Sprint Scotland. The idea was to host two days of quality training, some talks and some racing; with the hope of attracting a wide variety of people keen to share ideas about sprint orienteering. It seemed to be a success and on the whole we had some really good feedback. Watch this space as it will certainly happen again.
For me, one of the big benefits was spending a whole weekend thinking about how to sprint orienteer. I enjoy coaching as I think it forces you to think about technique in a clear and simple manner and I think weekends such as this one are a great place to share ideas. I was finally in a place where I was running fast and orienteering well.
So, 8 weeks out from the European Championships, I was unable to run. This seemed like a big deal. I never cross train and so I didn’t know where to start. I refused point blank to do any aqua jogging, given that I can’t think of anything more depressing than pretending to run while looking at the inside of a pool. So I joined a gym and as soon as I was able I hobbled down and sat on a spinning bike. Thus began a slow and tedious build up, until I was able to basically replace all the running I would have been doing with cross training. I even began to enjoy some of it.
I tried to use the time well; do some hard cross training sessions, get some good volume done and build back in some strength and conditioning. I also started to eat a bit better (mainly by skipping on afternoon biscuits in work). In truth however, I was itching to get back running. When I was able, I started back very slowly with 30 second jogs and lots of walking in between but this didn’t last long. I ramped up the volume as quickly as I dared and was probably a bit lucky to get away with doing so much, so soon.
Part of my rush was the hope that I might still run Tiomila, two weeks before EOC. It’s one of my favourite races and I wanted do my bit for the team. I thought I’d made it, but I went out into the forest the morning of the race and it wasn’t good. I felt the ankle hurt a few times and whilst it was probably just in my head it spooked me and I pulled out. This was a bit of a blow as in my head I’d bottled it. The team performed well, but I felt like I’d let the side down.
Luckily the first races at the Europeans were the sprint races. I had three more weeks until the relay, which would be my first race back in the forest.
The sprint relay was up first. Charlotte, Peter, Me, Jo would be the line up. It would be the first time we’d run as a team but I felt comfortable and confident in my teammates. It actually felt to me a bit more like an established team, probably helped by Peter’s presence (I’ve run with him a lot over the years, lucky me).
We all ran OK, some small mistakes but nothing too extreme and we came 7th. My run followed that overall theme; I spent most of it chasing Soren Bobach after an early miss. I felt OK physically but not on top form. It felt like a ‘well that was OK, but we could definitely do a bit better’ sort of result.
Next day was the sprint. Qualifier in the morning and final in the evening. I felt a bit tired from the sprint relay but better than I had previously feared. I’ve never felt my most comfortable running two sprint’s in one day and the combination of injury and the sprint relay the day before was playing on my mind. An uneventful run saw me through to the final in 4th place.
The final was a different ball game up in the hillside resort. My physical shape playing on my mind and I prepared myself to give it everything. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the best mindset, I went off hard and despite feeling awful, I ran well through the first section. From that point I started to make mistakes. A bad route first but then my navigation started to get ragged and I started to ship time. I pulled it together through the last section but I was disappointed to be so far behind in 15th.
Looking back, I was too focused on my physical shape going in. It is difficult to race when you are not confident in your preparation and I was second guessing myself at every turn. I don’t think I was anywhere near as unfit as I felt or thought I was.
This carried through to the relay, where I had an OK but frustrating run on first leg. My ankle was fine (supported by nearly a whole roll of tape) but I was dropped by the group after a small mistake and a longer forking. From that point I was pretty negative and lucky that the group missed later on so that I could catch them back up. I finished in the group (4 runners had broken away from the main pack) and was satisfied that I hadn’t completely blown it.
I knew I had work to do. I’d done my best to get myself back as quickly as I could but the margins at this level are so fine that you need to be on top of your game. I didn’t feel like this was the case and I wanted to put this right next time out.
It seems to have been a year both full of changes and yet the same as always.
This year I started a PhD in sports biomechanics and moved to Dundee. The title of my PhD is ‘Movement and shot outcome variability in the golf swing’. In answer to the question that everyone asks, no I’ve never played golf. What drew me to the PhD was the topic of movement variability, an area of biomechanics I find compelling. I might write about it here one day but I do that enough in my day job..
Day to day I work in the offices of The R&A in St Andrews, which even for someone unversed in golf history is a pretty cool place to work. The reason this is relevant is that I now have a place to be between the hours of 9-5 and a commute. I get the bus from Dundee to St Andrews every day after leaving the house at 8. The earliest I get home from work is just before 6, but only if I don’t do any training before commuting home.
Most will just call this real life (boo-hoo for me) but coming from student flexibilty the first weeks were a bit of a shock. I soon realised that in order to get my training in consistently, I couldn’t go home beforehand. So I started a routine that saw me get off the bus part way home and run the rest. When I did this I was guaranteed around 10 miles a day. It sounds lazy but if I got home I’d never get out again. Last year I mostly preferred to run twice in a day if I had the option – it’s easier to get the miles in and if you want you don’t have to run for much more than an hour at a time. As a student I could even do this without getting up early. If I didn’t have the commute I might have managed it, but as it stands staying in bed is almost always the most compelling option.
So, and this is probably clear to anyone who follows my training log, the defining feature of my training this year has been my commute. Most week days this means around 90 minutes (18-19km) of perfectly flat running along the same route. I love training routine, so this doesn’t bother me – I like the consistency. I have lots of small options for varying it and adding distance and, if I want to run less, I can run 45 minutes before getting the bus home. The one day that this is not the case is Tuesday. Tuesday is track day.
I used to train on the track when I was at school and I got back into it last year at Loughborough. You can’t hide on the track. If you have an off day it is plain to see in the lap times. During the winter I made it to track training with Dundee Hawkhill Harriers about every other week. Around February time I pulled my finger out and was there most weeks – I think this is key.
That is the background to my year. I didn’t do a huge amount more running than the year before but, by the end of March, this routine had made me pretty fit. Apart from a couple of weeks in December, I had the most consistent winter ever. I made a small step up in volume from previous years, but racing, hills, s&c and orienteering had been in short supply. I still wasn’t doing a crazy amount of training (up to about 10 hours of running a week maximum) but I think this consistent running training is the main reason my fitness has pretty good all year.
To make sure I was ready for the season I binged on orienteering at the beginning March, going to Portugal with Lillomarka and training in the UK with the British team. I’m still not sure whether this is a good approach and I’m certainly jealous of those who can train orienteering all year around. In Britain, I’m not sure that is possible as it gets difficult to find good training areas (maybe it’s possible to train year round for sprint in some places).
So whilst I was happy with my technique, I knew that I had only put in a few weeks of effort to try to sharpen up my technique. I didn’t expect to suddenly be on another level, I didn’t do the training for that. This meant I was a bit nervous going into the first races of the year which actually mattered – The JK. I was happy that I managed to make a flying start and 1st in the JK sprint and 3rd in the JK middle pretty much guaranteed that I’d be going to the World Championships again.
After all my long runs, I also had something to prove going into the JK long. It would have been nice to make it to any of the controls that day but before the first control I sprained my ankle. As an orienteer I thought I had sprained my ankle before but nothing I previously experienced came close to this. I was walking with crutches for a week and the European Championships (8 weeks in the future) were suddenly in doubt. This injury defined the next part of the year for me.
Orienteering is not a winter sport. Sure night orienteering is great fun but on the whole not a huge amount seems to happen from the period from September through to February. Miles are logged ready for the summer.
In February I awoke from this slumber to go to Barbate for 9 days with Lillomarka. This was a much needed break from the winter routine and I had a great week trying to regain some good feeling in my technique. March has been quite busy also, spending my weekends travelling to go training.
In all my winter training has gone well, I think. On Friday I will run the first race of the season, the JK. After that I will have more of an idea but it is still early doors.
No-one wins anything in training and spring time form will mean little come the summer.
This year the British Sprint and Middle distance championships had moved from their normal time of year (around the beginning of May) to the beginning of September. These championships have always been a favourite weekend of mine and had been in my diary since becoming British Champion in the Sprint distance in the 2013 edition. My main goal for the weekend was to defend this title but I also had ambitions in the middle distance race as I won a silver medal for two years running. Maybe this could be my year.
The sprint went well, well my run did at least, and whilst I couldn’t repeat my victory from last year, I managed to win a silver medal behind WOC team mate Murray Strain. We traded the lead for much of the race and in the end a small mistake by me near the end was enough to give Murray the victory.
Whilst the sprint had many of the big players of the UK sprint scene, the middle distance start list was a bit more sparse. Time of year might have had something to do with it, with most people wanting to crack on into winter training by this point but it for me it was a great opportunity. You can only race those who put themselves on the start line.I had another good race but the undergrowth in the race area made small mistakes and hesitations impossible to avoid at times. This, combined with the fact that I ran the entire race alone, without the good feedback of catching a rival, meant that I had no idea how I was doing until I entered the arena. I knew it was a good run on the whole with a only few small time losses but I did not expect to take the victory with three minutes. And as such, I managed to win my first British middle distance championships. Very happy with that.
Maps from the weekend have been uploaded to my map archive.