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!

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