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.
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.
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.