Sunday, June 30, 2013

Europe and the Final Countdown

This year's goal - prove that I'm not a one hit wonder. ;)

Today sees the final countdown to World Champs begin, with one week until the first race, the long distance qualification, next Sunday. Last week I made the jump (...or 30 hours of travel) from Australia to Finland, from winter to summer. I have to say, it makes a nice, but drastic change - swimming in lakes post-training, rather than rushing home for a hot shower!


After months of what felt like a scratched together training regime, my last training block prior to departure felt like it went really well. The block began with the Aussie WOC trials, also counting as a round of the National League, held in and around Canberra at the beginning of May. Three quality races in quality terrain were a good test to see where my fitness and technique was at. And three wins left me buoyed, but with plenty of room to improve, heading into my final month of training.
AUS WOC trial long dist.

As the temperature continued to decrease in the 'burra, I continued to increase my number of orienteering specific sessions. Relatively easy when you live in a city surrounded by bush! Lachy Dow (running for Aus at WOC), Jacqui Doyle (Aus at JWOC) and I put together some quality sessions. These included trips to the granite terrain of Namadgi, and Badja, used for Oceania champs in 2011, and both bush and urban sprint sessions around the city. I find it's the company that makes all the difference when you're struggling for motivation to get out in the cold and miserable weather to train, so a huge thanks to Lachy and Jacqui for getting me out the door! Maps can be found on my DOMA .Orienteering sessions were well supplemented by trainings and games with my amazing team at ANUWFC - although I'm not sure all the post game wedges were so beneficial!

Post sprint training in the rain, sleet
 and thunder at ANU
Wrapped up for training at Badja


Finally, having survived the onset of winter, the inevitable knocks taken at football, and the distraction(?) of uni work, I've found my way to Vuokatti, orienteering central for the next two weeks!
Arriving early last Wednesday, I spent the first 3 days here attempting to blend in to the Australian team... I almost got away with it too, until they noticed my refusal to call my jandal a thong. That, and something about the way I pronounce my vowels, gave me away. (but seriously, thanks for adopting and putting up with me for a few days Team Aus!). The last 4 days have been spent in equal share orienteering, swimming in lakes, and eating. Such a life! Having read in the previous months what the European teams have had to say about the terrain, it's amazing to finally be here and running in it. Parts of the long distance type terrain is some of the nicest looking forest I've been lucky enough to run in - but it's deceptively energy sapping! Other areas are much more junky and tough to get through, and have given me plenty of opportunities to optimize my faceplanting technique!

The rest of the kiwi team started to arrive two nights ago, and we've moved into our accommodation for the WOC period -  a cute farm house 15km or so out of Vuokatti. The plan for our final week of prep is a bit of terrain familiarisation, mixed with plenty of rest, swimming, eating and sleeping, and sharpening up! Be sure to check in as I update the blog throughout the next couple of weeks with photos and stories from the team :)
Here at last!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Departure Day!

Finally, it's here. Tomorrow is departure day at long last, although to be fair, I think my brain departed for Finland a couple of weeks ago!
I've survived my last football match for now, had a hard last weekend of training, and tied up enough loose ends to last 4 weeks away.
The last few weeks have been good training wise, with plenty of orienteering specific trainings, and uni work being put on the back burner (to a certain extent...kind of...maybe!) It has been tricky trying to balance the two, so I'm looking forward to hopping on that plane first thing tomorrow morning and forgetting all about uni and general life for a few weeks!

See you in Europe!

Looking forward to summer, and a break from work. Jacqui and I following a sprint session in sheet hail!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Easter 4-day - a belated report!

Ever since I can remember, Easter time has meant NZ Orienteering Champs time to me and my family. The last two years I've made the trip back across the ditch for the races, even last year when I couldn't compete due to a late Achilles injury. This year however, it was time for a change. After spending 3 months back home preparing for and racing world cups, I couldn't  really justify another trip back so soon. So it was with regret that I had to make the decision to skip NZChamps, held by PAPO club on some awesome areas around Canterbury including the stunning Castle Rocks. Incidentally, for various reasons the rest of my family couldn't make it either, making it the first NZOC in about 30years with no Ingham’s competing!

In any case, the decision to skip NZOC was made easier by the prospect of instead running my very first Australian Easter 4 days, this year held down around Bendigo, Victoria. The weekend doubled as the 2nd round of the Australian National League, following the 1st round in Adelaide which I’d skipped due to uni commitments. I looked forward to a weekend of tight racing in varied terrain with both Grace Crane and Hanny Alston (both based in Canberra but racing for Tasmania) in form, and Aislinn Prendergast (Victoria) at home in her local terrain.

The first race of the weekend, the sprint, was held around La Trobe university. Having looked at old maps with Cockatoos manager Grant McDonald, we knew roughly what to expect from the university campus map. It still came as a surprise however to turn over the map and see the first third of the course was predominantly in the bush! The race went reasonably well, although I never felt like I hit top gear, I kept the navigation clean and the route choices close to optimal. Talking to the other girls post race, their stories were similar, so I guess it was just the nature of the map and course. I had an early start, so had to wait a bit for the full results to come in, but by the time I’d finished a decent warmdown, I was pleased to come back to find I’d won my first NOL race of the year.
Saturday brought with it the middle distance, held in mining terrain just outside Bendigo. We’d heard good things about the terrain, and were all expecting a tricky course requiring full concentration and tight navigation. The course didn’t disappoint. Although the runnability was generally very good, speed control was vital – with the area punishing any slip in concentration. I had a fast start to the course, with the first few controls allowing some running speed before hitting the more technical areas. By the far end of the course I had caught up Aislinn, Kathryn and Grace, and with 4 minds working on the navigation we were able to keep the speed up through the mining areas. Finishing at the front of the train, I took my 2nd win for the weekend, 2mins up on Grace in 2nd. The middle distance is perhaps my favourite distance, it’s the one I’ve made my largest mistakes in the past with, and the distance I’ve been working on a lot over the last couple of years. I think it’s the hardest distance to get right consistently, so it always gives me great satisfaction when I pull off a fast paced, clean middle like this one!

Finish of the middle with Kathryn (Vic) and Grace (Tas)
Photo: Orienteering Australia

Sunday’s long distance on Mt Alexander brought with it a whole new set of challenges. The area’s previous usage includes as a warm up race prior to the World Champs in Australia in 85. In short, our team discussion while looking over the old maps had left me wondering how the heck anyone could navigate amongst all that granite detail?! You can imagine how happy I was to turn over my map at the start and see we were heading straight into all that detail then! However, I managed to keep things calm and smooth through the first couple of controls. Some hesitation on no.3 and a bad first loop of the butterfly dropped me some time, and meant I was running alongside Hanny through my 2nd loop. That gave me the kick I needed as I knew she must be ahead of me on raw time. The rest of the course I really pushed myself and was really happy with how I strong I felt. I came into the finish knowing I’d had a really good 2nd half of the course, but knowing that others could do the same thing. I was surprised then to come away with a 6 minute win after Hanny had similar problems to me in her 2nd butterfly loop.
Last control of the long. Must remember to breathe...
Photo: Orienteering Australia

The last and final day of Easter was held on our 4th completely different type of terrain for the weekend. After throwing us into urban, mining and granite terrain – the final was back to classic Aussie spur gully complete with super fast running and vague contours. A bit harsh on legs with 3 days racing already in them!
The overall winner of the 4days is done on cumulative time, and I came into the 4th day with about a 10minute lead on the rest of the field. But I was determined to ignore that and go out and race as I had done the previous 3 days. I started at the back of the field again, with Grace 2 and Hanny 4minutes infront. As expected, the race was fast and furious, with compass bearings being the technique of the day, and running as fast as your legs were capable of! Having said that, you should never run faster than you can navigate – so it was important to hold back at times to make sure of each control. I managed to keep my run clean and comfortable, taking my 4th race win for the weekend ahead, along with the overall 4 day win.

Podium for the 4 days with Grace (L) and Hanny (R)
Photo: Graham Hammond
Overall I had a great weekend. Not just my results (which I have to say came as a surprise to me, all be it a pleasant one!), but the areas, courses and organisation as well. I’m not sure I’ve had a 4 day competition consisting of such varied terrain and challenges before. Each race required a different mindset and range of techniques from the previous, making for an awesome set of races all up! I couldn’t have asked for a better (belated) start to my domestic season and have to say I’m pretty happy with my choice to come to the Aussie 4 days over NZOC. (Although I’ll be back to NZ in 2014 for NZ Champs, being run by my home club, Wellington OC). A huge thanks to the clubs around Bendigo that put together the weekend of races!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

2013 Thus Far

The countdown is on to WOC 2013 in Finland, with 3 weeks until I leave Canberra winter and head over to European summer. I certainly can’t wait to leave the everyday balance of uni, orienteering, football and everyday commitments, to have nothing but orienteering to think about for a month!
Aside from the appearance of an early winter bug in the last week, preparations have been going reasonably well. In fact, 2013 has been a good year thus far! Training has felt scratchy at best, but come competition time, whatever I’ve been doing seems to be working. I’ve surprised myself with how well my results have been going – I’m not sure they’re entirely deserved, but I’ll take them! So, as a warm up to racing in Europe, over the next few posts, here's a not-so-brief summary of my main races thus far this year :)

The World's Best in my Backyard - World Cup NZ 

Of course, 2013 started off with the World Cup races in my home region of Wellington, NZ. For the last 10 years or so, Southern Hemisphere summer has meant base training period for me, consisting of long runs in the mountains, and the odd bit of orienteering when it’s been available. So to have to peak for mid-summer races was a bit different, and required taking a decent break, both mentally and physically post WOC 2012 to ensure I would be refreshed and sharp come January.

After a month of reclimatising and training in NZ, a low key Christmas period, and a last minute injury scare, with my knee flaring up one week out from races, 6th of January 2013 rolled around surprisingly quickly. Finding myself on the startline amongst the sanddunes of Waikaia was an extremely surreal experience. Going through the usual start procedures for a world class event, but recognising every face of the start team, I had to remind myself that this was a world cup race, not a local event! That first WC race didn't exactly go as smoothly as hoped. Despite a good start, and at stages having Grace, who started 2mins ahead of me, well in sight, I threw away a lot of time within the circles and finished a disappointing 21st. The open dune terrain was unlike anything else we have in NZ. I found that although my navigation to the circle on each leg was fine, it was a map and area where you had to navigate all the way up to the control flag – not to within 20m and then look around to see it. I failed to do this, and payed the price…over and over again!
Waikawa Sand Dunes.
Photo: Gillian Ingham

Leaving behind the sanddunes, the sprint qualification was held around Parliament in Wellington. I’d jogged through parliament about 5 years ago with some friends, and we commented at the time what a cool map it would make – but you’d never get permission to use the area. We were wrong. Firstly, WOC somehow managed to get permission to use Government grounds for a race. And secondly, it was a far, far more awesome map than we had any comprehension it could be! The narrow alleys of the residential block behind parliament felt the closest to a technical European sprint that I’ve experienced on this side of the world. And the front of Beehive made a world class event centre – not to mention the size of the home crowd!
"You Can't Beat Wellington on a Good Day" - such truth.
Photo: Nic Gorman

I had a decent, clean race in the qualification, and was pleased to finish in 5th place. This was only surpassed by my feelings the next day in the sprint final. Held around Wellington East and Wellington Colleges, alongside Government House (another area I never thought we could get access to to race in!), the sprint final was an entirely different style of map to the qual. Rather than fast urban sprinting, with snap decisions, the final was much more physical, with a focus on route choice. I had a slow start, with sub-optimal routes on all of the first 3 controls. Call it nerves. Again, jogging along Mt Vic’s tracks to get to the pre-start from quarantine, I had had to remind myself that this was a world cup final I was racing, not an evening training in my home town! Any chance of mistaking the race for a local event was shattered on running through the spectator control at 3 however. And I made damn sure I didn’t trip on hurdling the fence into the control!
I think my face says it all - the moment I saw the leg 4-5!

The defining point of my race came on the route choice to 5.
Perhaps home town experience made the difference here. On seeing the uncrossable fence that ran across the leg, I searched for gates. The obvious one was to the left – but up a massive hill. And meant attacking the control downhill through the forest. No way. There had to be another way. And there it was – another gate, wide to the right. A lot further running, but far far less climb, fast running and an easy entry to the control. Off I went. The rest of the course was more straight forward, with 50-50 route choices. I had Ida Bobach ducking in and out of sight infront of me for the rest of the course, but never getting closer or further away. I kept the route choices simple and clean, only hesitating on one late control.

Coming into the finish and being called in in 2nd was simply amazing. I knew I’d had a decent race, but you never know how others have gone, and I knew I’d lost time at the start of the course. Plus I’d seen Tove and Helena in the last loop. Surely they’d caught loads of time on me?!
Final Route Map 1
Final Route Map 2

Apparently not. 12s behind Tove and 3rd overall. Usually when you come less than 15s behind the winner you start looking for where you lost the time. Not this time. I can honestly say 3rd has never felt so good! To podium at home world cups was always the goal, but one that, to tell the truth, I knew was a big ask. I knew I was capable of such a result, but it all comes down to on the day. To be able to get my race right, on the right day, and infront of a home crowd, was simply unbelievable. An experience I’ll never forget! Words cannot describe just how proud of how my home club, Wellington OC, I am. They managed to pull off three world class orienteering events in 3 days and I know just how much time, effort and sacrifice went into making the events go smoothly. I maintain that I had the easiest job of anyone in the club – I just had to run the races! Given the support my club has always given me, and as I wasn’t allowed to help organising the events, I was proud and relieved to repay their faith and support by performing on the day. It was an incredible feeling, standing on the podium and seeing my huge grin reflected back at me on the faces of the people who have supported me from the day I first started waddling around a string course.
Utter elation and relief - the post race collapse.
Photo: Martin Ward
Final results. With fellow Wellingtonian and top 20'er
Tim Robertson.
Photo: Anna Robertson

Having pulled out a podium finish in Wellington, the pressure was somewhat off for the prologue and chasing start in Hawkes Bay. I’d run on The Slump area a couple of times a few years ago, and knew it would be physical. My aim was to just go out to enjoy myself…and show the Europeans how to jump a fence properly! Well, mission accomplished on all fronts. Firstly I don’t think anyone anticipated just how physical it would be, mainly due to the mid 30s temperatures and open terrain! With such heat it's hard to call what I experienced enjoyment, but it was certainly satisfying! I succeeded in my fence crossing goal - starting the prologue with Annika Billstam we had a common first control. She may have beaten me to the control  but I took honours on the fence crossing enroute! I was satisfied to finish 6th in the prologue (perhaps due to the number of fence crossings?!).  A couple of minutes back on Tove and Minna, but I’d put myself in a position to fight for the podium again.

Who Killed all the Kiwis? The team tries to recover and hide from the heat
prior to the chasing start final

Utter pain and exhaustion. Finish chute of
the chasing start.
Photo: Orienteering Australia
Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. The temperature only got higher prior to the afternoon final, something that didn’t faze me too much, as everyone had to deal with it. What did get me however, was the simple lack of high pressure mass or chasing start races we’re exposed to down this end of the world. Racing head to head against former world champions and girls who run Venla and Tiomila every year, I was certainly the least experienced in the top group fighting for places! Up until the 11th control, places 3-8 were running together. I found, that although it was fast paced, I could stick with these girls. Just. However given the chance of route choice to 12, I split from the group. Bad move. Although, Ida, after a moment, came with me, which gave me a bit more confidence in my decision.
However attacking the control, I made a slight mistake. On correction the group was gone, I could see Ida and Helena headed up the hill behind the control. From there, especially given the heat, I knew I didn’t have the strength to recatch the group. I knew the chasing pack were a minute or so behind, so set to keeping my run clean and maintaining my position. A task which I managed to accomplish, finishing in a comfortable 8th. Not a podium as I’d hoped, but still a result I was more than happy with, and a race that I’ll learn a lot from. When running in a group – you better be damn sure before splitting from the pack!

Overall, the whole NZ World Cup leg was an incredible couple of weeks. I am so so proud of the events that our country managed to put on for the rest of the world. I mentioned prior to the races that I was looking forward to showing off my country to the top orienteers in the world, and showing off the top orienteers in the world to my country. Mission Accomplished. I can only hope that others enjoyed the races as much as I did, and that it won’t take another 20 years for World Cup racing to return to NZ!
What was that about Wellington on a Good Day?