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?

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