Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Full Scottish Experience

The orienteering train never stops, and after the World Championships in Italy, it was time to for a majority of the senior team to head to Scotland and begin to start thinking about next year. A short two hour's drive north of Edinburgh, the forests and sand dunes near Aviemore and Inverness are significantly more runnable (in my opinion) and open than the forests of Italy. This is quite nice since the orienteering seems far easier. Unfortunately 'easier orienteering' brings on another stark reality: we'll all have to run much, much faster.

Also, it never rains in Scotland. Ever.

Since arriving on Tuesday the 15th, we've had the opportunity to get out on two training maps per day. Among them have been the wide open heather covered rolling hills of Loch Vaa and the sand dunes of Roseisle. The former actually feels mildly reminiscent of Rumsey in Alberta. Its relatively fast with very high visibility, but you can also run the risk of losing track of which hill in the distance you need to be running towards. In a way, it's easy. Unless you get lost. Then it could be hard. What makes it distinctly different from Rumsey, though, is the heather, the small shrubs that are underfoot through the open areas. They're not a major bother, all it typically takes is picking up your feet a bit, but over a longer period they can sap away your energy and make it progressively more and more difficult to run.

Roseisle, on the other hand, is one of those terrains that rather than run, you'd be more inclined to skip and frolic through. It's set just back of a long beach front, with firm ground and wide open forest. You can see a great distance but the hills are big and have plenty of detail to make it a challenge, and even more so at very high speed. Add in swimming in the only mildly frigid ocean and it turns out to be a really great map to visit. There is a similar map that has been embargoed for the World Championships, though from what I understand it may only be a reserve area. So, possibly not relevant, but relevant for fun. There's always fun.

I photoshopped in some trees to make it look more like a real place.
However, it has not been all-orienteering all the time. On Friday evening, we were looking into things to do on Saturday beyond just training - and we found one. The 173rd Tomintoul Highland games, which was a mere 30km away. As a bonus, they also had a hill race.  If you're not familiar with UK hill races / fell races, they're usually straight uphill and straight downhill, and more often than not completely off-trail. There may have been some initial trepidation, but eventually the enthusiasm took over and we all piled in the car to run up a big hill and maybe take in some local flavour.

And boy howdy, was there local flavour. Mostly in the form of bagpipes. But there was also highland dancing, tons of bagpipes, large men throwing your standard Scottish implements (logs, weights, hammers), bagpipes LITERALLY EVERYWHERE, "pillow fighting" (4-6 times less hot than it sounds) and a remarkably long line for venison burgers.

We convinced Tori to enter the highland dancing competition. That's her in the middle.
The hill race involved climbing up the Tom Na Bat, the relatively small hill overlooking town, heading down the back side, climbing back up the hill, and then blasting back down and into the games ground. It seems the most crucial part of the uphill route choice was trying to find some form of trail to carry you up the heather a little bit faster. Damian and I managed to find that trail about 1/3 of the way up and made a gap to the rest of the field. We ran the rest of the race for the most part together, though Damian was clearly stronger on the descents. In the end he managed to keep enough of a gap to take the victory, just a few seconds away from breaking the course record! I rolled in about 10 seconds later,  though not after a bit of a slowdown after hearing that we were supposed to be running anti-clockwise, and my brain suggested we were in fact, running clockwise. After the race, Damian was pleased, "I didn't know what to expect, and it was a weird feeling when were suddenly in the lead after 800 meters".

Eric getting dangerous. We ran down there. And then back up here. And then back down there.
Eric came in shortly after, polishing off a solid 5th place result. In the women, it was a tight battle with a runner from Edinburgh, but Emily eventually took the win, apparently owing in large part to her ability to run downhill very quickly, saying "I caught my competitor at the top of the first uphill, and then turned on the jets for the downhill and never looked back!". Coach Toni also absolutely slaughtered the first 500 meters.

Tom Na Bat Hill race > WOC relay

Damian and I also jumped into the "800 meter race", which was interesting given the grass track was mostly circular and also had a hill. Both of our legs were pretty much shattered and it was pretty ugly from about 25 meters in.

In all it was a pretty successful day for Team Canada, and we're all thinking of ditching orienteering for hill running. They call the Tomintoul Highland Games the "friendly games", and that slogan rang true. We met plenty of very friendly people, cheerful, who were happy that we were there. Unlike Italy, they didn't all simply have "cousins in Toronto". It was a great (and absolutely exhausting) way to spend the afternoon. Tomorrow its back to orienteering training. Or sleeping in.

Exhausting enough for a post-race leg soak in the River Spey!


  1. Great story - thank Will. It was really fun to read. Great to see the focus on WOC 2015 already - I'm getting excited and might start setting some courses at Rumsey for your training ;-)

  2. Glad to see I was able to remain with you guys... even if it was just in spirit... the spirit of a dancing kid...

  3. Thanks for the great post Will!

  4. and were there 'wee drams' to celebrate your wins...?

  5. A nice read! I hope you don't mind me sending a link to your blog to the Tomintoul Games Committee - I'm sure they will be pleased. It was great to have you guys along to the Badenoch & Strathspey O Club training night last Tuesday. As guests ourselves we were pleased to supply our own token Canadian in the shape of Denise Main! Best of luck with your preparations for WOC2015 and "haste ye back".
    Mike Rodgers (Moravian Orienteers)