Thursday, September 22, 2016

Living a Dream

How does one put "a dream coming true" into words? How does one describe the roller coaster ride of emotions, those memories that still bring tears to my eyes or the entire journey that led me to my best World Champs ever?

Photo: Ken Walker
When I found out that I would be in the top 6 in the middle distance it was just like a tidal wave of emotions swept over me and all I could do was hang on for the ride. Sobbing uncontrollably seemed to be the only way that I could process what was actually happening. Which is why during the flower ceremony my face is smiling but my eyes seem to be telling a different story. There was so much happiness, so much relief, so much amazement, so much stress that had built up, just so much of everything that there was no keeping it all in.

Rewind one hour and I couldn't have felt more calm and better prepared to take on the challenge ahead. There was nowhere that I wanted to be more than in those beautiful Swedish woods and all I needed was the map in my hands and I would be off. 

Photo: Petteri Kähäri

When I look back to that first part of the race I am amazed to realise that it felt like just my usual orienteering. I was making plans for each leg, looking up for the next features, making sure I was confident coming into the circle and if not I stopped to figure it out. The only extraordinary part about it was that it was all happening during a WOC race and that was something that I had been unsure of actually being able to execute. During the preceding months I had put so much importance on these races; I had so many expectations for myself and I was very aware of the expectations of others. It felt like a herculean effort to be able to put all that to the side and remember that the results of a competition fall into the category of things that I cannot control. I could only run my own race as best I could and then accept the result whatever it turned out to be. And that's exactly what I did.

The feeling of standing up on the stage for the medal ceremony, in front of so many cheering people... that is really indescribable. I had to close my eyes and open them again just to be sure that I wasn't dreaming.

Photo: Moa Gustafsson

From start to finish these World Champs were an adventure: the excitement of the Sprint Relay, the emotions of the Middle distance, the struggle and perseverance needed for the Long distance and the team enthusiasm of the Relay. The support and encouragements from everyone around the world has been incredible and I thank you all from the bottom of my heart! To all of my family, all of Team Canada and Orienteering Canada, all of those wonderful people from Ottawa to France to Finland who believed in me and so generously helped me along the way this is the best way I know how to say thank you... to make sure that everything you've given me and taught me is being put to good use at the top of the world.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

SART 2016

This weekend we attended the Seattle Adventure Running Tournament (SART) in, you guessed it, Seattle! This race series is unique as it is a bracketed tournament in which throughout six different races on five maps, participants move up or down in brackets (and thus possible final results). Each heat this weekend was composed of five athletes who would race together in a mass start. Each heat also had a partner heat who were competing for the top five spots after every race. This year, the first person in each heat automatically advanced to the next bracket along with the three fastest times out of both heats. Ultimately you needed to be in the top half of both heats to advance! This resulted in the 77 people getting split up into top half and bottom half after the first race, then groups of 20, 10, and then battles pursued for positions within a heat of 5 for the final race. 

Here is a link to the very interesting pdf of the final bracket.

After each race, participants got colour-coded stickers indicating their next bracket and start time
The weekend began with a time trial at Gas Works park. This was a very short race but in interesting terrain! Overhead pipes and large industrial machinery composed a technical section of the map. The time trial was used to seed people into heats for the first race. Seeding was done in a way to spread the field and ensure the fastest people would meet only in the semi-final and final. However, all races were competitive and things heated up quickly within the brackets!

Our 6th control was on the one of these structures 

The first mass start race was at Woodland park, a longer course through open forest, fields, and sporting areas. This race secured both of us (Emma and Nicole) positions in the top half of the field. After an eventful morning and a short lunch break post-race, we headed out to Carkeek park - the location of the second mass start race. This race was a big contrast to the previous two as it was a forested, hilly course involving mainly trail running! With limited route choice, physical fitness was key to success. There was more head to head competition in this race as brackets brought people of similar abilities together. At this point the beautiful, sunny (and warm!) weather combined with physical fatigue posed a challenge, but we still had to carry on to the final race of the day on the small but very technical Seattle Pacific University map. This race proved extremely tricky with lots of traps, climb to consider with route choice, and out of bounds areas. There was separation at this point between runners and those who were navigationally competent. Two copies of the map were needed for clarity in the small but technical area. A lot of discussion occurred over ideal route choices; for example, what would you do from 17 to 18?

Here is a link to the pdf of the SPU map, so you can look at the other route choices and traps. Control descriptions were a necessity, notably on the first control.  

At the end of a tiring day we were able to share dinner with athletes from four nations! This included a large Canadian contingent and was a great time for all!

The next day, getting out of bed was a challenge as everyone's body's were just a little sore... nonetheless, because us orienteerers are crazy, we headed out to the fifth race at the picturesque University of Washington campus. Day 2 had limited movement within brackets as we were fighting for placement within a group of 10. However, at this point speeds were more or less matched within heats it was very competitive! The campus is quite large with buildings at interesting angles, green space, a fountain with its own geotag on snapchat (!) and the opportunity for lots of route choice.

A technical section of the first race on Sunday

The course was quite fun with a mixture of short technical sections and long route choice legs in between. There were some challenging sections with lots of staircases, walls and even a bridge that played into decisions. Most people at this point were feeling physically drained but had to pull it together for the final race determining positions within your heat of 5. We only had a short break of about an hour in between races to prepare for the looped final race. It was still a mass start for the final race; however, it had three different loops and arrangements meaning that you were running alone! This required a different mentality than the rest of the weekend as you no longer knew where your competition was at each point in the race. This was a good test of navigational ability, physical perseverance, mental toughness, and being able to push your speed while alone and exhausted. 

One of the many interesting buildings on the University of Washington campus

It was exciting to watch everyone come in as the fastest heats started last. There were many Canadian HPP members in the top heats, including both Adam and Graeme in the hunt for the win. They finished with a very impressive 3rd and 4th, respectively. With lots of good competition all around, we (Emma and Nicole) came in 3rd and 5th female, or 18th and 23rd overall. 

We learned the importance of being well rested physically before races in order to do the best possible, and that navigational ability cannot always make up the difference of speedy running. All in all it was a really fun and challenging weekend with great races and weather. We couldn't ask for anything more! Thank you so much to the organizer, Patrick Nuss, and all the volunteers. Looking forward to next year!

-Nicole and Emma S. 

Friday, August 19, 2016


It's the eve of the World Champs and the rest of the team is going over the final details for the sprints tomorrow. I'm not racing just yet but I still have that feeling in the pit of my stomach that this is it. There are no more Strömstad specific trainings, no more intervals for that extra speed or weight trainings for that extra power. All through the summer I have been keenly aware that WOC has been getting closer and therefore posing myself the question "am I ready?"

I've spent over a month in total training and competing in these terrains. I feel almost as much at home taking the highway exit for Strömstad as I do taking the exit for Turku. I fell in love with the challenge of the terrain last year during the World Cup and every training and race has had the goal of this year's WOC in mind. I used every single competition this year to imagine that I was actually running a WOC race. For the first time I had a final preparation training camp where we ran the exact same program that we would run at WOC.

When I remember all of this I can't help but admit that I have done everything possible to be ready to stand on the start line with a smile on my face.

I had the honour to be interviewed for the Portuguese Orienteering Blog and some of the questions really made me think. I had to think about how I have changed as a competitor and how my own expectations have changed along with that. When I won a bronze medal at JWOC 4 years ago I hadn't really been waiting for it the way that I've been waiting for my results this year. 4 years ago I was practically bouncing with excitement for being able to go out and race whereas this time I've suddenly found my head full of stressful thoughts of "what if's". So it helps to remember how it felt 4 years ago when my thoughts were focused on the race rather than already on the finish line.

I'm so grateful to be able to compete in these championships in a sport that I'm so passionate about. And we're all so grateful for your loving support. We're proud to be Canadian and we can certainly hear you cheering from here.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Most of team Canada has arrived in Stromstad for the World Orienteering Championships. We have been doing a bit of last minute map training but many of the athletes have had several opportunities to run training camps in the area so they are very familiar with the area.
Will, Damian and Emma get ready to start their training
The forest is quite open with lots of bare rock, cliffs, heather, blueberries and chantrelles. It is difficult to stay on a bearing when you are stopping for a snack along the way.
Meghan and Louise picked loads of Blueberries in Oslo during the Nighthawk WRE event
Raphael taping together some maps to make a giant map of the middle/long/relay areas
This year the official accommodation is in a Swedish Camping area and amusement park. Some of the cabins (including our coach accommodation) is pirate themed but the team has a nice non-pirate house.
WOC starts with the sprint this Saturday. Emma Waddington, Will Critchley, Damian Konotopetz and Robbie Anderson will run for Canada. Tomorrow, they will have the opportunity to wander around the city for a couple of hours before it is re-embargoed.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

World University Orienteering Championships recap

The World University Orienteering Championships took place last week in Miskolc, Hungary. There were athletes from 34 nations competing in 5 back to back  day of races. Canada was represented by Pia Blake, Emma Sherwood, Damian Konotopetz, Eric Kemp, Robert Aderson, Robert Graham, and me (Adam Woods).

The Sprint was my favorite of the 5 races. It featured a maze of uncrossable stone walls that were nigh impossible to navigate through at speed. I was proud to make it through the complex session without any significant time loss and finished in 68th, just behind Damian in 65th and Robert Anderson in 67th.

The Long was the race most of team Canada struggled on. Though long (14km for guys, 10 km for women) and hilly (655m and 420m climb respectively) it featured lots of beautiful white forest. Pia Blake had a tough race; She’d wrapped her ankles slightly too tight, but didn’t start feeling it until the race had started. Congrats to her for suffering though it for the 2:10:54 it took her to complete the course.

The third race was the exciting Sprint Relay, which delivered another unique and challenging sprint course. There were man made barriers and passageways through building you’d normally never have access to. There were over 50 volunteers out on course ensuring these passageways remained passable for the competitors. Emma Sherwood ran what she considers to be her best international race and managed to overtake the Japanese athlete who she’d started behind. However, though I really enjoyed the course, my race had multiple errors, including my failure to notice the short 12-13 leg. Emma’s triumphant sprint down the finish chute was ruined when the announcer casually mentioned that the Canadian team had mispunched.

The Middle distance race was much more successful for Canada.  In contrast to the mostly white forest of the long distance, the Middle distance map was varying shades of green. However, though the forest looked nasty on the map, Damian correctly assumed that strait would normally be the fastest route choice. Sticking straight, and running fast resulted in a 30th place finish for Damian. Eric Kemp also ran a very strong race. Unfortunately, he was caught by a course setter’s trap. He was on the fastest route to his control, and only 30m away from the pit he was supposed to find when he came across the far more obvious women’s control. He was so close that he caused a New Zealand athlete to make the same error and a third member of the pack was flabbergasted to find they had mispunched.

The final race was the traditional 3 person Relay. Damian, Eric and Robbie Anderson formed Canada’s only official relay team, while the other Canadian athletes ran on mixed nationality relay teams. Robbie Anderson had good third leg to bring home the Canadian relay team to a 22nd place finish among the official teams. Similarly, Robbie Graham had an impressive third leg run to bring the MDA-CAN mixed team in 9 min ahead of team Canada. (Thanks to Roman Ciobanu from Moldova for sending out the MDA-CAN team in 8th after the first leg).

Finally, I would be remiss to avoid mentioning the Coaches Race. Patrick Saile followed the athletes’ instructions and pulled ahead of the other coaches off the start, arriving at the start flag in second place. He had the loudest supporters on the run-through, was supplied with sports drink and thoughtfully cooled down by large quantities of water. Though Patrick was unable to complete the course faster than world champions Simone Niggli-Luder and Ida Bobach, he had an impressive finish sprint. Flanked by Eric and I waving Canadian flags, Patrick crossed the finish line to chants of “CANADA, CANADA” from the Swiss team.

The Wold University Orienteering Championships in Hungary featured beautiful white forest and some of the most interesting sprint courses I’ve had the privilege to run. Thanks to all the organizers, volunteers and the city of Miskolc. The memories of WUOC 2016 will stick around a long time, motivating me to prepare for the 2018 WUOC in Finland.
Good luck to Damian Konotopetz, Eric Kemp, Robert Aderson at the Canadian team trials!

Friday, August 5, 2016

Sass Peepre Junior Training Camp

Between all the events happening at home and abroad in the last couple weeks, it is hard to keep track of it all. Things seem to have settled out a bit with WCOC, COC, JWOC and now WUOC coming to a close. BUT before you all go into orienteering withdrawal, World Masters is starting today and we still have WOC and NAOC to look forward to. 

It is so much fun to be able to see our athletes compete nationally against each other and doubly exciting to see them compete on an international stage. When watching a GPS dot squiggle its way across your screen while following a big international competition, sometimes you stop and wonder about the long journey they took to get there. One of the stepping stones for a lot of our athletes was attending the Sass Peepre Junior Training Camp when they were young. Below are two camp photos from the early 2000s. Bonus points for anyone who can guess the year! If you look close enough you can see many a familiar face including much of our senior national team! As well as those that have gone on to be orienteering Canada committee members and coaches! 

This is our camp photo from this year. How many future Canadian athletes, coaches and committee members do you think there are here?! 

This annual junior training camp has been happening for years with many volunteers coming back year after year (after year). Kitty Jones being the first name that comes to mind, but there are many more! Then there is the participant turned volunteer , like our head coach this year, Meghan Rance who has attended a countless number of the camps first as a participant (try and spy her in the old photos) and then as a coach. The junior camp is a great way to bring together youngsters from all across the country to make friends in a sport that doesn’t always have a big club in their home town. I know I have many fond memories of attending the camps. 

This year the camp was based out of  Cochrane AB. The training exercises were planned ahead of time by our head coach extraordinaire Meghan with the kids grouped according to their LTAD level. Throughout the camp there were orienteering exercises, talks from a couple of Olympians that were present (Mike Rascher and Joanne Woods) as well as presentations from some of the coaches and athletes present. Of course it wouldn’t be complete without some sort of fun dress up relay at the end!

Thank you very much to all of the volunteers that worked tirelessly to put this event on year after year and continue to legacy of this amazing camp!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

OO Cup 2016

Stage 1

     The 2016 OO Cup took place in three different countries this year, with one day in Italy, two in Austria, and two in Slovenia, exposing the runners to a plethora of different terrains. Runners were blessed with very complicated maps for the first two stages of the race which heeded it a necessity for contact to be kept all along the way.
      Personally my favourites, I will go into detail about the terrain type and running style that was exhibited in the first two stages, as each took place in a different country whose terrain varied completely.
      The first day’s course was a neatly constructed middle distance, where a majority of the running was in the complex forest while the rest of it was full of features that made it a pleasure to orienteer in. One long leg with route choice was included that required choosing the trail that one would run on and following it nearly all of the way to the control.

     On the course I had made a total of two big mistakes. One was near the beginning going into the second control and the second was at a relatively easy section as I was attacking the twelfth control. In the first case, I had made a good plan and executed it perfectly up to the control circle, where I misinterpreted the contours and did not have a very strong bearing. This caused me to slow down and veer a bit to the right onto a small hill from where I regained perfect contact of the map. This little hitch most likely cost me a minute of the race. The second mistake that I made was due to a failed speed change, as I ran into a simpler section of the map. I wasn’t in full contact with the map and was coming at the control a little bit high. When I came down to attack then I misinterpreted the scale and came down the wrong wide spur, and landed on the trail. Not knowing where I was I went left along it and cut up from where I could see the very large re-entrant, and could make my way back to the control. I lost a whopping  4 minutes due to that mistake. I believe that I made it because I was a little too high and I didn’t see the re-entrant in the control circle. When I saw a different one, then I had cut down to the right of it, and made the parallel error.

              For the rest of the course I managed to spike nearly every control therefore I must have been doing something right. I’m fairly good at using contours as reference points, and in this terrain that seemed to work very well.  To controls 1, 2, and 3 that tactic worked fine.  Locating 4 was trickier as there is a knoll and a bunch of cliffs in the circle; therefore in that specific case it was again better to look for the obvious re-entrant that it was placed in. A control that required lots of micro navigating would have been 5, where one really had to check off all of the features on the way to the clearing after they got onto the hilltop. After the clearing, I pretty much walked into the control on a hard bearing and with constant verification of features that were on the way, most notably the cliff.  For more complicated controls this technique nearly always worked.
     The transition into the simpler part of the course was easier and gave time for a portion of easier orienteering. At this point I was personally quite tired and had to brace myself for the rest of the course from control 20 – 21. The water control was also very motivating at this point in the course.  For the long leg I stopped, as always, for a few seconds and planned it out where I think that I was able to pick the best route choice.

22 – 25 became a bit of a dog leg, as I chose the same route out that I had taken in. In the last part of the course the most important thing to do was to keep focused on map reading and not to get lazy. It was easy to simplify a route choice too much and end up making a mistake. For the most part these legs were easier than the first part of the course, as there were more trails, and less details.

The Stage 2 map was the highlight of this year’s OO Cup for me.  The course planner didn’t hesitate to get right down to business when it came to it, staring the course off in the hardest section of the map.  On this map, the strategy that I went by was checking off each feature as I passed it, and stopping as soon as I exceeded my map reading speed. This way I was able to finish the course with a sum of 2 mistakes, adding to about 2-3 minutes.

Stage 2
     The Stage 2 map was the highlight of this year’s OO Cup for me.  The course planner didn’t hesitate to get right down to business when it came to it, staring the course off in the hardest section of the map.  On this map, the strategy that I went by was checking off each feature as I passed it, and stopping as soon as I exceeded my map reading speed. This way I was able to finish the course with a sum of 2 mistakes, adding to about 2-3 minutes.

     My first mistake happening on the way to 4, where I exceeded my map reading speed  on a bearing and stopped just short of the control to relocate, this took at least a minute as I stood there before I found the two large cliffs just N of the control.

     After that, I simply continued each leg with a more or less straight plan, which minimized the distance I would have to navigate and run.

     The only other navigational mistake that I made was a compilation of distance misinterpretation, compass laziness, and misreading the terrain.  On the way to 14 I was drawn into an elephant trail that was bigger than the normal trails on the map, and thus I began misreading all of the terrain.  I had also disoriented my map slightly and thus hadn’t been watching my compass. When I was about halfway to the point at which I realized that I was in the wrong spot, I should have noticed that I had gone too far without seeing any green.  Thus my mistake concluded with me cutting left, and relocating then going back to the control from there.
     In the detailed sections my orienteering was adequately sufficient to spare me of needing to deal with mistakes. On a leg like 17, I would make a solid plan and execute it nearly perfectly. In this case it was to come around the right side of the cliff on the hill, go on the left of the massive cliff, and on the right of the smaller one, cross the path, between the gap of the two cliffs, then cross the saddle with the rock in it. Just beyond that I knew that there was a clearing from which I could take a bearing noting the rock on the way out, and the slowing down into the area in the re-entrant, and finally finding the rock with the control. Most of the legs compiled of a long sequence of steps like that, in which if you left one out, you could make a fatal mistake on the whole for that leg.

     The last few legs seemed relaxing compared to the constant focus of the previous part of the course, as here you could simplify more and think just more about running.

     Overall the terrain was amazing, and the map was probably the most complex middle distance map that I’ve ever run on in my life.  The course planning was great, and the overall organization of the OO-cup was amazing. This event is one of those that elite orienteers definitely must go to at least once in their life!