Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Post WOC 2013: Back to Reality

It’s been over a week now since I crossed the finish line of the final race at WOC. A week to reflect on and analyse the races, what went well and what went wrong. A week to recover from the mentally and physically exhausting ride that is WOC. And a week to start planning the next set of goals and competitions.

Where it all unravelled
If I’d written this post a week ago, it would have been far less positive than this post will hopefully be. WOC 2013 didn’t go as I had aimed, and worked so hard for. A week ago I was devastated about it; hugely disappointed and in no small measure embarrassed with my results (the long and middle anyway). Of course, I still am to a point. But the good thing about coming home from Europe, and catching up with friends and loved ones, is that you remember that orienteering isn’t all there is to life. (It may be a large part, but it’s not everything!)


Re-run the next day
I’ve covered my long and sprint races already. Then came the middle. The distance that I’ve worked towards the most in the last couple of years, and the distance I’d most like to succeed in over the next couple of years. Heading into the qual, my confidence was at a low following my meltdown in the long, but I knew that if I remained calm and focused  I’d qualify comfortably for the final. 
Unfortunately, that mindset lasted all of 1.95 controls. The GPS replay can tell the story as well as me – going right past the control at 2 and into the wrong gully, and then panicking when I didn't see the control. I picked myself up again, only to lose myself on the slope above 4. There I had the good fortune to look up as Simone steamed through (catching me up something silly like 10mins…). Unfortunately, the first time I've had the chance to race alongside the best in the world, and she made two uncharacteristic errors in a row! The end of my race was clean enough, but my chance of qualifying was long gone, well back in 20th place.
Still missed 5 the second time round

A gut wrenching result. I've felt few worse feelings than waking up on the morning of the race you've worked towards all year, and knowing you don't even get to run it.

As a team, we went back out to the qual area the following day, where I re-ran the first 2/3 of my course. Funny what race pressure can do to your brain. Rerunning the course I had no issues whatsoever – even taking 30s off the fastest split on the long leg. A day too late though.


The relay didn't go well for us as a team either. Orienteering relays are something special in that you can experience immense joy and pain as a team, on a level that isn't there for the individual races. Unfortunately this time Lara had a nightmare run on first leg, coming unstuck on #2. The mistake could have happened to any one of us, on any leg, but coming so early in the race it left us in the position of just chasing down what places we could.
It was a bit of a long, lonely wait in quarantine going out on 3rd leg. But on the bright side, I got to watch the finish of the women’s race from the change over area before I went out!
Emit High Five!
Photo: Attackpoint

So, personally not a WOC to remember. But not one to forget either, there's plenty of lessons to be learnt from my mistakes. And some positives still to be taken. My sprint, despite mistakes, was still a good result. When I was navigating well and holding my head together in the middle and long, my splits were reassuringly high ranked. For things to go well at WOC, you have to put everything together on the day. This time around, I was physically and technically well prepared, I just didn't show up psychologically on two days that counted. Highly disappointing. But. Shit happens. I can only go away and work on what went wrong, and come back next time stronger for the experience.


What has made my WOC results harder for me to come to terms with, however, is the effect they've had on NZ’s qualification spots for next year. As a team, we didn't perform this year, with none of us, girls or guys, qualifying for the middle or long, and a below par relay result. As a consequence, what was near unimaginable prior to WOC has happened, we've dropped down to 23rdranked nation in the Women, giving us only 1 spot in the middle and long distance races for 2014. I was almost in tears when I first read the rankings whilst waiting in the airport for the long flight home.
The way the qualification system is set up at the moment, if a country’s top runner performs, then they can pull their nation up to tier two, and open up a 2nd spot for their team. Alison Crocker and Emily Kemp are prime examples of doing so this year, having great results in both middle and long. I could, and should, have done the same. But no matter what excuses I could come up with, the fact is, I didn't perform.
So. Apologies to all the Kiwi girls. I know there’s a large group who are motivated and keen for Italy 2014 – it’s terrain (yep – terrain, so middle, long and relay!) that should better suit us Kiwis. So it’s gutting to know that we’ll have a smaller team simply due to two bad performances this year.

The contrasting faces of NZ Orienteering.
Kate I don't know how you do it?!
Photo: WorldofO Athlete Profile

But let’s use this as motivation to create a higher level of competition nationally. More pressure to make the WOC team can be a positive thing, and I know that if as a team we perform like we’re capable of, next year should see us up in tier 2. And with Oceania Champ spots up for grabs as well, Scotland 2015 should see a large, strengthened, and highly motivated Kiwi team. Tier One 2016 anyone?!


So yeah, thanks and goodbye WOC 2013! It was an amazing trip, with an amazing group of people. A huge thanks to the rest of the NZ team for an awesome and often hilarious week. Thanks to the Aussie team, who treat me as a pseudo-Aussie. You're not a bad bunch despite your ridiculous accents ;) And as ever, a massive thanks to all those back home and around the world who supported us the entire time. Even (especially!) when our little gps dots were running around in circles on their screens! 
Such a good looking team too.

Looking Ahead

For now though, it’s back to the ‘burra and my much neglected PhD for me. It can be a bit depressing heading back to winter and work, while others are off to the likes of Oringen, Scottish 6 days and World Games (why did I decide I didn't have time for WG?!). But like I said right at the start of this post, I’m privileged to have such great uni, orienteering and soccer families here in Canberra, who keep me grounded. 

Time for some relaxing and some football.
But maybe not at the same time.
WOC isn't everything, and I’m looking forward to a mental break from orienteering. There’s a soccer season to finish off, a PhD to make progress on, and a social life to pick up again! And when I feel refreshed, there’s the Australian Champs and a National League title to work towards in early October. Not quite the same as racing the World Cup Final in Switzerland, but a lot easier and cheaper to get to!
Jamie. I expect there'll be retribution for putting
this photo up...

Side note: Jamie has the NZ O-Squad blog back up and running. Read it, he's funny. :)

Thursday, July 11, 2013

WOC: Half Time Report

2 distances down 2 to go; we've reached the half way point here at WOC. And as with last year I've had contrasting experiences in the Long and Sprint distances. There'll be a full debrief once I'm back home and emotions have had time to settle, but a few initial thoughts;

Long Qual:

There's no other way of putting it. This was a disaster. Anyone who's talked to me about WOC in the last 6 months will know that I was unsure (to say the least) about the wisdom of running this race. It's too easy to blame my race on lingering doubt over how wise it was to run all 3 races, and how running the long would compromise my sprint and middle. However I also didn't adjust well to the vague vegetation changes in the terrain, and how they were interpreted on the map. After a rookie mistake on the first control, doubt crept into my mind over why I was racing the long. From there, big misses on #4 and #6 shattered my confidence, leading to further mistakes on #8 and #10. I've never had my confidence destroyed so completely on a course before, and it led to me second guessing my every decision. It was literally like a recurring nightmare - navigating fine to the circle, but not having any belief that I could find the control once I got there.
In the end, even after the mistakes on #1, 4 and 6, it was my lack of self confidence that resulted in me not qualifying. A lesson for future years.

Glad to finally be in the finish chute.
Photo: British Orienteering

Sprint Qual:

It was a tough job, but somehow I had to forget about the long and get myself in a mind state ready for the sprint qual on Monday morning. The positive atleast is that sprint terrain is much the same the world over, and relies less on the mapper's interpretation of what they see in terrain. A building is a building, a path is a path - there's no other way of seeing it!
The sprint qual around Vuokatti Holiday Park was fairly fast and furious, with the dozens of identical buildings and gardens making it vital to keep your head up and an eye on where you were headed. I had a pretty average run, the legs feeling it from the long qual a bit. The nerves were definitely there on the first control when I headed in one building too early and the control wasn't sitting there waiting for me! But I managed to hold them down, and lost only a second or two in hesitation. A fairly large mistake followed at 7 however, where I missed a turn among the spectators, and misinterpreted the playground as being the paved area my control was on. Keeping it clean from there to the finish however, had me end up in 7th place and comfortably through to the final. I was disappointed with my mistake, but reassured that my speed and strength were on par with the top qualifiers.
Unfortunately though, as a team we ended up just on the wrong side of the top 15 cut offs, with me being the only kiwi through to the final. (Although the Aussies seemed to judge their quals just right - with 4/5 through to the evening's final, an awesome effort!)

Sprint Final:

The evening's sprint final was a completely different task- raced around the town of Sotkamo, which had been modified with the addition of 40+ fences to introduce more technicality and route choice to the race. Doubts from Sunday completely banished, I thoroughly enjoyed this course. Starting off and finishing inside the baseball stadium infront of 7,000 spectators, with another 2-3 thousand spectating around the course, the atmosphere was something special.  Constantly having to read ahead in the maze of the town, I didn't feel very fast, but felt smooth through the first 2/3rds of the course. On the long leg back over to the stadium, I made the snap decision to go up and over, thinking around looked too far. Deceptive though, as the flatter route, if done well, was the same distance - and on a better running surface. This was the race defining leg - at 16 I was on par with Tess, who ended up 5th after nailing the route choice. My next mistake however was just as costly - after missing the gap in the hedge to get to 19, I then proceeded to also miss the gap in the fence into the stadium to the last control! (Full cringe worthy action all caught on camera, and replayed on gps. Thank you live TV!) Not realising for a good 8-10s, the blunder cost me the lead at the finish line, and a top 10placing overall.
Packed stands for the final 
14th all up. If you'd told me just over 2 years ago that I'd be top 15 at WOC, I'd have been over the moon! Today, I'm happy with it, but also know it should have been something better. However, I'm happy atleast in the knowledge that I have the ability to be on the podium, I just have to do it on the day. The most I can do is keep working hard to give myself the best possible chance of putting it all together on the day!
Punching #19
Oh THERE'S the gap... goodbye top 10.

Awesome to see both Scott and Tessa of GB on the podium!

2nd Half

Now the focus turns to the technical challenge of the middle distance. I'm taking it one race at a time - so at the moment it's all about the middle qualifier tomorrow. The legs have had a couple of days rest which has done them a world of good. I've picked up a bit of a bug since the sprint qual, but that will just have to be dealt with and run through. Here's to the next 3 days!
...And more game face to come!
Photo: Attackpoint

Sunday, July 7, 2013

WOC 2013; A beginner's viewing guide

Tomorrow sees the 2013 World Orienteering Champs kick off, with the long distance qualification being held in forest near Sotkamo, Finland. Our sport is becoming easier to follow globally each year, and the past two years I've been humbled by the number of people staying up in NZ and Aus just to watch us race, particularly those who have never stepped out on an orienteering map themselves! It's awesome to come home to friends' excited stories of staying up all night and watching little gps 'sperm' wiggling their way over the map. And I can even laugh when people who have never orienteered before ask me what the heck I thought I was doing on certain controls!
Having more people taking an interest in our sport can only be a positive thing, so to make things easier, I've sketched up a viewer's guide to WOC 2013. Hope it helps!

Race Schedule + Viewing Times

Start/Finish (Fin)
Start/Finish (Aus)
Sunday 7th
Long Qual
Men Only
Monday 8th (am)
Sprint Qual
Monday 8th (pm)
Sprint Final
Tuesday 9th
Long Final
Thursday 11th
Middle Qual
Friday 12th
Middle Final
Saturday 13th

Viewing Info

Information on how to watch the races online can be found on the WOC page. This year the live results and split times throughout the races will be available for free. If you want to watch the full coverage though, there's a fee of 10Euro. But that covers all of the week's races, and includes GPS (for all races including quals, excl. the women's long qual), commentary, the TV productions, and the organiser's personal video coverage. So well worth the token fee! To pay and get full coverage, follow this link (I think).

Qualification Structure

2013 sees the final year of the qualification scheme as we know it. We'll wait and see what next year brings, but for now, the qualification races see 3 different courses/heats run for each gender. 3 Men/Women start at each time, 1 in each heat, with no-one knowing which heat they're on prior to picking up their map. The courses are often quite different from each other, so when you see other competitors in the forest, it's probably best to ignore them rather than follow them! From the finishers in each heat, the top 15 go forward to the final, creating a final field of 45 in each distance. Each country is allowed up to 3 runners in each distance (plus the world champ in that distance), and each heat will have a max of 1 runner from each country in it.


The WOC week sees the racing of 3 different individual distances, and finishes off with the 3 person relay on the final day.

Long Distance:

Looks to be in fast and furious coniferous forest this year, with good visibility for the most part. Having said that, in the areas of more contour detail and less visibility (younger trees), it will be easy to lose time if you're not concentrating. Everyone I've talked to has certainly had fun training in the nearby terrain, so should be some enjoyable racing! However it will be a good mental and physical challenge to keep pushing for the full distance. Given the fast terrain, courses are of record length this year, with a corresponding low km rate expected. (For the non-orienteers, the distance listed for non-sprint courses is measured in a striaght line between controls - so is the minimum possible running distance, whilst climb is measured by the best route possible, so again, is probably less than that actually run!)
Qual: Women: 8.5km, 275m climb, winning time 45mins. Men: 12.5km, 430m climb, winning time 59mins.
Final: Women: 13.4km, 430m climb, EWT 71mins. Men 19.5km, 680m climb, EWT 91mins.

Long distance terrain. Open, sand-dune like.

Sprint Distance:

Both run on the same day, it's always a balance between ensuring qualification, and saving your energy for the final. The qualification is to be run around a holiday park area - plenty of identical looking buildings and garden hedges by the look of things. Certainly fast running, but the potential for hesitations about which hedge the control is behind, or parallel errors. Speed control will be important!
The final is around Sotkamo town, with the arena in the baseball stadium bound to make good viewing for spectators. Plenty of town shops on the map will make for some route choice, whilst the hilly forest area will get the legs burning on the hills! (non-orienteers; distance here is measured as the minimum feasible - so around buildings rather than measured in a straight line)
Qual: Women: 3.3km 30m climb, EWT 13min. Men: 3.7km, 35m climb, EWT 13mins
Final: Women: 3.4km 50m climb, EWT 14min. Men: 3.9km, 65m climb, EWT 14mins.

Middle Distance:

After a rest day, the competition heads into the hills behind Vuokatti for the Middle distance races. Here the terrain is much hillier and more detailed than the long terrain. The bush is thicker and the ground rockier and marshier, making for a far more technical race. Tight navigation will be to the fore, as well as physical strength to keep pushing through the tough terrain and up the hills.
Qual: Women: 3.6km, 110m climb, EWT 25min. Men: 4.1km, 150m climb, EWT 25mins
Final: Women: 5.0km, 195m climb, EWT 36min. Men: 6.3km, 245m climb, EWT 37mins.
Marsh, Rock, Control, Tane. Middle distance terrain.


The final race of the week, and always a highlight. Run like a classic cross country relay, in terms of each team having 3 runners, each running in turn and handing over to their team-mate once back at the start/finish line in the arena. The first runner in each team sets off in a mass start, making for good viewing. There are splits in the courses, so although some controls are the same for everyone, others will be different. When done cleverly, very few runners out on the same leg of the relay will have the same course as each other. However once all 3 runners have finished, every team will have run the same total course.

The Arena and terrain this year is the same as for the middle. So perhaps expect to see some race changing mistakes as errors are made under pressure in the technical terrain!
Women: 4.1-4.4km, 200-220m climb, EWT (per leg) 32-34min, EWT (total) 100min.
Men: 5.1-5.6km 250-285m climb, EWT 32-34min, EWT (total) 100min.

Names to Watch (aside from NZL and AUS):

Simone Niggli (SUI); The queen of orienteering will start as favourite in all of the distances. Has so many WOC gold medals to her name that you need all of your fingers and toes to count them.
Tove Alexandersson (SWE): First year senior after dominating Junior Worlds the last few years. Silver in the middle at WOC 2012 and World Cup wins to her name in 2013. Has been the only one to consistently give Simone competition this year.
Minna Kauppi (FIN):  9 WOC golds to her name including being reigning middle champ. Home town favourite and the face of Finnish orienteering, look for her to have a big WOC.

Thierry Gueorgiou (FRA): The king of middle distance. Sure to be looking to his tally of 10 gold medals this year.
Matthias Kyburz (SUI): Winner of last year's Sprint at WOC, and overall 2012 World Cup winner. Has continued his form into 2013 with 3 World Cup wins so far this season.
Edgar Bertuks (LAT): Surprise winner of the middle at WOC 2012, following up with a Bronze in the Long. Can he repeat it this year?

And if all that's not enough...

Jan at WorldOfO beat me to this post anyway, with more info and links :) WOC 2013: All you need to know!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Finding our Finnish Flow. And Flies, Lots of Flies.

The majority of the NZ team has been based near Vuokatti for almost a week now, training and acclimatizing prior to the World Champs, which begins this Sunday.

Two of the big disadvantages of being based outside of Europe is the long-haul travel required to get to major events, and the lack of opportunities to train in relevant areas prior to racing. As a result, the week or two prior to WOC (and similarly JWOC, World Cups etc), is a fine balance of recovering from jetlag, getting accustomed to new terrain, and resting the body and mind pre-competition. It's easy to get frustrated at these additional challenges, you often feel like you're five steps behind your competitors before you even get to the start line. But having to deal with it year after year, I atleast feel like I've learnt how to better cope with these hurdles, so maybe it's just 2 steps behind these days!

In any case, the last week has been a fine balance. Luckily most of us seemed to get decent (or as decent as possible!) sleep on one or both of the long haul flights to the Northern Hemisphere, which makes a big difference. So jet lag hasn't been too bad - and I'm even getting used to it not getting dark, but merely dim, overnight. (last night's weather forecast - rain til around 10pm, then sunny from 11pm).

Terrain wise, most of us kiwis are feeling fairly comfortable after a few sessions. I've found that I can relate the terrain to areas I've been on before, which helps with determining what techniques will be best for navigation and speed. The long distance terrain, or what we've been allowed to see of it, is honestly some of the cleanest, nicest forest I've been lucky enough to run in. For those back home - it a hybrid of open Manawatu sand-dunes, Naseby like patches of detail, with a sprinkling of Tekapo! And there's even some Aussie style termite mounds to boot!

Lara tearing up some long training terrain
Long training. Straight is Great.

The middle is a lot tougher, as expected, and will require some close concentration and tight navigation. Much rockier, with small marshes, interpreting the mapping is vital. The best description I can think of is a bit France like - but missing 2/3 of the rocks! Maps can be found on the Wellington DOMA.
Tane spikes another middle training leg.

The last few days have seen our final terrain sessions, mixed with watching the kiwi juniors racing at JWOC. We finished with some sprint sharpening up in Kajaani yesterday. Today has been spent picking up our official accreditation, relaxing, and for me, a haircut. I now feel a couple of kgs lighter and down to race weight! With 2 days until the Long Distance Qualification on Sunday, it's time to put our feet up and rest, easy enough given our sweet as accommodation out on the farm! Bring on Sunday and "the atmosphere of electric and tingly excitement in the competition centres"!

Loving summer and the post training swims! Not so much the flies and mozzies...