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.