Selection to the British team for the 10,000m European Cup in Minsk was a dream come true and was just another way I surpassed my own expectations in what could be considered my first real ‘season’ of track running.
Unfortunately, whilst the selection was a dream, the race was anything but.
Not even 4 laps into the 25, my calf tightened to the point that each step sent a jolt of pain through my lower leg. I tried to give it a chance to ease off, but there isn’t much that can be done when you are running in spikes on a hard track. You need your calves, no getting around it. A lap later, each step a little worse than the last, I stopped and walked off the track.
It wasn’t a decision I took lightly but I think that it was the right decision for the time. There was no way I was going to finish when less than a quarter of the race had left me hobbling. With any luck, I stopped before I did myself any real harm but that knowledge doesn’t make it any easier. What had gone wrong?
Looking back, there were warning signs. A Friday night 3000m followed by a tough weekend of sprint orienteering and had left my legs shot. I had planned for this but didn’t recover as well as I’d expected and had more fatigue than I would have liked on starting my journey out to Belarus. The journey left my lower back and hip tight and this impacted on my running on arrival – my calf in particular seemed to be bearing much of the load when running the day before the race. Everything wasn’t flowing quite the way it should have been. I thought that I had this all managed with the help of our physio Graeme and I was feeling good when the race arrived. Even so, a smarter athlete might not have risked spikes and the non-existent margin for error that they give but I stuck to what I’d planned.
It is inescapable that the events in that race were ultimately my own fault. This might sound like I’m beating myself up but I’m not. Whilst I seek advice as much as I can, I look after my own training and preparation so the buck stops with me. This time I got it wrong. I have got a lot right over the past year but I got this wrong and learnt the hard way. That said, now is not the time to beat myself up, I need to focus on getting the next few weeks right. It’s early days but in terms of recovery the signs have all been positive thus far – it shouldn’t affect my performance in races to come.
Those that know me know that I’m relaxed about most things and will deal with this in the same way. I don’t tend to shout from the rooftops after a good performance and I’ll not wallow after this bad one. For there to be ups, there must also be downs, it’s part of the ride.
It wouldn’t be right of me to write this without mentioning the support staff (David, Maddy and Graeme), who did a great job of looking after me, and the other athletes (Kat, Claire, Louise, Matt and Graham), who all put in a hard shift in difficult, hot, conditions. The atmosphere throughout the trip was relaxed and friendly, which certainly makes things easier.
If I’m lucky enough to get another chance to pull on the vest, I hope I can do it proud..
Firstly, and this cannot be understated; what an amazing event!
Highgate Harriers, Ben Pochee and everyone involved in the organisation deserve huge kudos. I haven’t experienced atmosphere quite like it and doing my last few strides before the start (through the beer tent with the live band) I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.
I was paranoid the week before the race, I was struggling to shift the cold that I had picked up before going to Estonia (For the World Championships test races – they went pretty well and it was nice to visit the area where the races will take place). The cold wasn’t bad enough to make me feel ill through the day but running brought out a nasty cough and I wasn’t able to train exactly as I’d have liked the week before the race. That said, I was getting a good rest and feeling better every day.
I flew down to London the morning of the event (A 4am alarm call) and spent the afternoon napping in my hotel room. I felt OK, but didn’t know how I’d respond when the race started. I arrived early enough to soak up some of the atmosphere and whilst this was inspiring, the stiff wind at the track was not.
I’m making lots of excuses here but these were just the things that added to my paranoia before the race. The race itself went well. I didn’t rush off with the front group, rather I settled into a pace that felt comfortable and tried to run my own race. I did some good turns setting the pace and the group I was in cooperated well. Going through half way in 14.31 I felt good, but there was still a lot of running to do at that point! I waited and waited before pushing on but, when the time came, my legs refused to cooperate. It was all I could do to hang in from there to the finish, sticking in and trying my hardest not to get dropped.
I finished in 29.05, a new PB but not quite what I thought myself capable of. I set myself tiered goals before the race (because I genuinly had no idea what was realistic):
Minimum: 29.15, a new PB
What I want: 28.59, a magical sub-29
If the stars aligned: 28.49, the commonwealth B standard
I achieved what I set out to do, but on the day didn’t quite have the legs to push on and go after it in the second 5km. Slightly disappointing as I managed this very well in Glasgow a few weeks ago, off a slower first 5km. This makes me think there is a little more performance to squeeze out in perfect conditions, but I’m still over the moon.
It hasn’t passed me by just how far I have come in a year. This time last year my PB’s were: 3k – 8.29, 5k – 15.19, 10k – 31.47. They were a bit out of date and I suspected I had a little more in the tank but I never would have thought I’d have run the times I’ve run over the last year: 3k – 8.07, 5k – 14.03, 10k – 29.05. In total, that is 4 minutes and 20 seconds difference..
What has made the difference? I can’t be sure what has made the difference but I’m putting it down to getting the basics right consistently.
I think I’ve been good at the bread and butter of training consistently, eating well and having a good daily routine and this consistency has been paying dividends. I’m certainly not planning on changing much anytime soon!
I’m aiming to fit in another 10,000m before World Champs if I can, but I don’t think I’ll find one quite like Highgate!
I’m trying to put myself into unfamiliar territory this year. Over the last 6 months I have been in great shape and I have surprised myself with my results on a number of occasions. I have set new 3km, 5km, 10km and half marathon bests and I want to see how far I can push it. In my eyes, the only way I can do this is by putting myself into fast running races on the road and track. Given that this is commonwealth games selection year, I see no better time to see what I can do (regardless of how slim the chances are of me actually running fast enough).
In January, I made the difficult decision to focus on sprint Orienteering and track running. I think that these two aims complement each other and I will be able to do my best while focussing on both. All the same, this decision has meant that I have had to give up some things I would very much like to do. In particular, I had to watch my clubmates in Lillomarka OL from the sidelines as they ran the orienteering relay, Tiomila. Whilst, they smashed it out of the park with two new club record performances, I was running 25 laps in not so sunny Glasgow. It was my choice, and I was very happy for everyone involved but it was still difficult to watch.
The 25 laps were the Scottish 10,000m championships as part of the British Milers Meet in Glasgow and the main goal was to prepare myself to run a fast time at the Highgate Harriers Night of the 10,000m PB’s in a couple of weeks time. That is the next big goal and in that regard the Glasgow race was perfectly timed. The race went perfectly to plan: I sat in with the pacer for the first 5km (14.56) and then was able to pick up the pace for a faster second 5km (14.20) – picking up the gold medal in the process. It was great to begin to get my head around the relentless task of running 25 laps; churning out the pace, lap after lap.
The next weekend I managed to add to my tally of Scottish Championships medals with another gold in the road 5km Championships in Edinburgh. It was a very windy race and fast times were off the table, but I went out to make it an honest race and managed to pull away after the halfway point to take the win in 14.31. The next day, I climbed part way up Stuc A Chroin to spectate the British Championships hill race. It is a brute of a race, in hot conditions, so part of me was happy to sit this one out from the side-lines, but the other part of me was jealous of those racing.
I’d love to do everything, but hopefully by sitting some races out I can better prepare for those that I really want to do well at. Next week I will head out to Estonia to prepare for the World Orienteering Championships and I will try to use the time saved by not training in the forest to get the best preparation for the Sprint and Sprint relay. Racing season is starting and I am excited!
So it has been a week since the British orienteering season opened with the JK. This year, the JK was pretty simple for me given that my focus is on the sprint and this race would be the first race of the weekend. Of course I also wanted to run well in the relay, so as to not let my team mates down, but I didn’t have any ambition in the middle or long distance.
I was focussed fully on the sprint and it went as well as I could have hoped. I managed to take the win and seal my spot on the plane to the world championships later in the year. It was a case of job done, and a nice confidence boost, but it wasn’t the most difficult of sprint races and I am not fooling myself that I still have plenty of work to do in the next few months.
I had little ambition for the other races, but this could have been an advantage – no pressure. I still wanted to go out, race and give my best and so I was pleasantly surprised to take third place in both the middle and the long distance and this was good enough for third overall. Kudos to Ralph and Graham who were in a different class in these races.
The weekend finished with the relay and I was quietly confident given I was in a team with Forth Valley teammates Chris Smithard and Graham Gristwood – 5th and 1st in the overall! I ran the last leg but Chris and Graham had done such a good job that the race had almost been won before I even started running. It was awesome to finish the weekend by winning the relay – especially as it was a year after I had to pull out of the team with a sprained ankle. I was very glad I didn’t have a repeat of that this year!
Over the next month, I will be heading to Estonia to prepare for the World Championships and I will also be running a couple of 10,000m races on the track. Hopefully I can beat my track PB of 32.28! Finally, I’m not the only one writing about last weekend, make sure to check out the blogs of teammates Cat Taylor and Tessa Strain.
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.