Sunday, May 29, 2016

4th at European Champs Middle!!!

I can hardly believe it myself! And to think that last Friday I was sprawled on the floor in Stockholm airport for the second day in a row seriously considering giving up and trying to get a flight back to Turku. Arlanda airport turned into complete chaos when the air traffic control system broke down and flights got cancelled left, right and center. Part of the British, Hungarian team and I found ourselves at the mercy of Scandinavian Airlines waiting for hours to be rebooked just to have our flight cancelled again. It certainly felt like I was never going to make it to Jesenik but a ginormous thanks to the British Team who delivered me sane and in one piece right to my accommodation at 3:00am… 44 hours after leaving my home in Turku.

Beautiful terrain waiting for us in the Middle Qualifier. Photo: Will Critchley
A week later I’m standing at the start line of the middle final and incredibly happy just to be there! We were expecting a tough race technically as well as physically and we definitely weren’t disappointed. We were thrown directly into a steep, rocky hillside with vague vegetation to try and survive the first few controls with minimal time loss. If you’ve seen the photo on the Orienteering Canada Facebook page you might be wondering why it looks like I took a bath in a mud pit. The start triangle was in a marsh and as I was running through I tripped on a stone and sent a wave of muddy swamp water up into my face. Cue frantically trying to wipe it out of my eyes in order to read the map!

Up to the 6th control I had quite a few hesitations in the circle when I didn’t have concrete attack points and was therefore playing my luck to recognize the features in the circle and see the flag. It wasn’t the technique that I was going for but at least I was able to stop in the circle, fit the map to the terrain and find the control from there.

Photo: Iveta Malá
Tove Alexandersson was starting 2 minutes behind me and I heard the first crackle of branches at the 6th control but resolved to keep my focus ahead no matter what. She came roaring through at the 10th control and there was no keeping up with that train! Physically I was not feeling at the top of my game and it was everything that I could do to keep pushing despite the burning in my legs and my lungs. It really felt like I was at the limit of what I could do physically while still keeping my navigation together. I was walking that fine line between running an aggressive race and running into oblivion. Which is why I nearly got lost going to the go-control (Will agrees that it was surprisingly difficult).

Photo: Iveta Malá
My objectives for running these European Champs were to get a feel for delivering good races under high pressure and to see how I compared to the best in the world. This result is super positive feedback and I can keep training with confidence knowing that I’ve been doing something right this year so far. I even got the interesting but exciting experience of having my very own awards ceremony after the EOC podiums. When you find yourself alone beside the podium just smile and wave!

We wanted to take this opportunity to thank all of the EOC organizers who worked so hard to put together such a great week of racing. Challenging races, beautiful terrain, team leader meetings with no funny business, rides from the arena back to the quarantine to pick up our car, unlimited water for when I had to go through doping control… we’ll certainly keep many fond memories from our time in Jesenik, Czech Republic.
Photo: Léa Vercellotti

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

European Orienteering Championships - A Few Big Hills

Team Canada arrived (mostly) in the Czech Republic last Thursday to get in a little bit of preparation before the first races on Sunday. I say mostly because there was only two of us that were expected to arrive, and one of us most definitely did not. For several days. In short, Emily got stuck in an airport.

With that crisis eventually averted (though narrowly re-crisis’d when we discovered that the hotel locks us in and I was unable to open the door for her at 2:30 in the morning) we managed to get out to a model map for the long the day before the sprint. If you haven’t run in the Czech Republic before, find your nearest hill, run up it many, many times. And maybe jump through a little bit of stinging nettle every now and then. That is a Czech orienteering simulation. 

The forest is actually really lovely. Tall trees and basically no low branches means the white forest is wide open, super runnable, and the visibility is miles and miles, except for that giant hill in the way. Occasionally there are also cool and fun rock/cliff features, though this terrain didn’t have as many as further west and north in places like Novy Bor (see “Czech out those rocks!”)

Alas, this is not our hotel. But it was the sprint final area.
The first race up was the sprint, which I (Will) was the only Canadian running. I was aware that my fitness was not where I wanted it to be, and I seemed to have also picked up a bit of a cold after pulling an all-nighter at Tiomila the weekend before (lesson learned). So, for me, the sprint qualification and subsequent B-final were just opportunities to create good habits and to work on running with relaxed form. The sprint final was a particularly fun race, held on a hillside spa, which meant big hills, many stair cases, a few switchback roads, and ambiguously mapped flower gardens & shrubs!

The fun thing about sprints on maps like these, though, is the difficulty in finding effective route choices when legs go straight up or down the hill or when the legs go across the hill. The ability to plan as much as possible with brief amounts of downtime becomes super important, since you need to be able to both choose a route quickly, but also choose the correct route! I… did not.  Unless the best route included stinging nettles. With short shorts.

At this point, I was tied for 1st place! (photo by Petr Kadeřávek)
In the long distance qualification, we were met with the added challenge of having very hot weather, hovering around 25 degrees. Perfect weather for standing around and watching runners suffering in the heat.  Personally I did not have a strong heat, as I was still feeling the cold and by 2/3rds through the race, I hit a new level of tired that transcended just "race tired" and more into “I’d just like to lay down for a while”.

Fortunately, Emily was more than capable to pick up the torch that I apparently forgot in quarantine and run a strong qualifier, progressing into the A-final. In the long final, thanks to her qualification position, Emily had the opportunity to be starting in the midst of the top runners in the field. By the end of the long A-final, with many racers slowly dropping off the pace, she ended up a remarkably strong 7th place. I asked her to provide her own report on how the race went:

I was feeling calm as a cucumber before the race. I knew that I knew what to do (and that rhymes, too! – ed.), so it was simply a matter of going out there and executing.

When I first picked up the map I saw that the first few controls were quite short, which was good, but it also meant I didn’t have as much time to plan the route to four, which was a very long leg. Route choice is essential in this terrain because a wrong route choice could mean climbing way more than is necessary. So, to be safe, I made sure I left the control quite slowly to plan my entire route, which was a worthwhile “investment” of my time. There were quite a few big trail running sections as well, so I used that time to plan the rest of the course.

Emily melting faces. And just plain melting. It was hot.
Physically, it was difficult because of the nature of the terrain. It was quite rare to be doing anything other than going steeply down or steeply up. So it either felt like you were going “too slow” or “too fast”.  But, in spite of that, I was feeling pretty good. At around 2/3 through the race I took a gel, but I didn’t really feel like I needed it (even though in retrospect, I’m glad I did).

A quick look at the results showed that a lot of runners were really falling off the pace in the last 15 minutes of the race. Although physically I felt good, I could tell that my concentration wasn’t as high because I wasn’t executing my plans the way that I should have, and I was more trying to “fix” them as I was finding myself in the wrong spot. But it just turned out that I could be flexible with my route and still get to the control with minor time loss.

I’m quite happy with this result, but there are still things I need to work on to get me to the level I want to be!


Next up for Team Canada is the Middle distance, which goes down tomorrow (Thursday, May 26). The starts are in the afternoon, and Emily will be wearing a GPS, so you can watch her dot at . You can simulate Will's dot by taking a lazer pointer and shining it against a wall in a random pattern.