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.