Thursday, October 24, 2013

Aus Champs Part III: Caught in the Middle

The final weekend of the Australian domestic season saw the running of the Middle distance and Relay championships, both on the granite covered, brand new, Gibralter Hill map. Having raced as a proud Kiwi the previous weekend, I was back in my Australian disguise as a Canberra Cockatoo and ready to fight for both the individual and team National League titles. Personally, the weekend ended up being a bit of a mixed bag, but overall the venue, the atmosphere, and the tight finishes led to an awesome end to the Australian season!
If you can't be bothered reading this post, then it's worth just watching Graham Hammond's video of the middle and relay, here. Awesome stuff!

View from the arena. Spot the controls!
 Photo: Orienteering Australia

The Middle distance race on the Saturday saw our first introduction to the highly anticipated 'Gib' map. And it was as technical and physical as predicted, a really cool area. Unfortunately I didn't really do it any justice with my Middle performance! Too relaxed and unfocused at the start, the first half of the course turned into a comedy of errors on my part. I didn't give the map enough respect in the first couple of controls, and then took too long to get accustomed with the mapping style used with the innumerable granite boulders/cliffs/clusters/fields. Having said that, I did nail the first control - however, that's not much consolation, given I wasn't expecting to see the flag for another 50-100m when I came across it! Instead of slowing down however, I dived head first into the 2nd leg...until I found myself in an unidentifiable crop of granite boulders, much lower down the hill than I needed to be! Number 3 didn't exactly go well either, again, although in some small consolation, a lot of people couldn't make the map fit in this area.
Middle Course, no route. Larger image on DOMA.

4 minutes blown in the first 3 controls and I knew I had next to no chance of taking the win, especially with the technically accurate Grace Crane and Jo Allison in the field, alongside the speedy Hanny Alston.
Further mistakes on 4, 5, and was turning into a bit of a nightmare! By this time I'd been caught up 4 minutes by Jasmine Neve, who was on a good run. That gave me the kick I needed and it was as if suddenly the map made sense, the terrain wasn't too bad, and I knew how to orienteer again! I stayed ahead of Jas as we zigzagged our way through the granite detail back towards the finish arena. A confidence boosting second half of the course, which lifted me up to 3rd place in the final standings. Grace Crane took out the win in an impressive time, perhaps helped by a speed increase after almost standing on a brown snake! Jasmine Neve took a well deserved 2nd.
 Looking at the positives, I'm pleased that I picked things up so well in the latter half of the course, however losing 5.5 minutes in the opening 6 controls was inexcusable. And in this case I couldn't even blame my injured glutes - they felt as good as possible for the entire course! Just a bit of end of season tiredness mentally I think.
Over in the Men's race, Matt Crane took out the title for the Cockies, with Simon Uppill 2nd and the Kiwi trio of Matt Ogden, Tim Robertson and Nick Hann all within a minute of each other in places 3-5.
Middle Results

Putting Saturday away in the 'one-for-experience' bag, Sunday saw me line up for the first leg of the relay, running for the Canberra Cockatoos, and ready to put the demons of the previous day to rest! Everything was set for an epic last battle for the Australian National League, with the ACT and VIC women's teams equal on points after 11/12 of the season's races! Whoever crossed the finish line first of the two teams would take out the overall National League title. Not to be dismissed was also the impressive Tasmanian team, who'd be fighting for line honours.

Mass Start. Who's that idiot facing the wrong way?! Typical.

I absolutely love racing first leg, and this race was no exception. As I flipped over my map and saw the long first leg over to the other side of the hill and map, I knew I was in for a tough, fun race, and probably a world of pain! I picked to go around the hill first up - faster running and much, much less climb! Hopefully I'd save energy for later in the race? The entry to the first control was easy from below too, allowing me to punch about 30s ahead of Grace (TAS), who had taken the up-and-over route choice. Grace caught me on the way to 2 as I took a more direct, but much slower going, route, but again I snuck in ahead with an easier entry to the control. As with the latter half of the middle distance, I managed to pick off the following short legs without too much bother, and before I knew it, was faced with our 2nd long leg, headed back to the spectator side of the hill. Nothing for it but to pin my ears back and put on some speed, with a couple of the slower men's elite in sight to pace off.
Coming in to the spectator I knew I had a bit of a gap on the other girls, allowing me to slow down and focus on the final loop - in the same area that I had so much trouble in the middle. This time, thankfully, things went much smoother, with the exception of #8 - in the same patch as #3 from the previous day. In fact, it was recognizing #3's feature from the middle that led me into #8 eventually!
Relay course with route. Larger image on DOMA.

I tagged over to our second leg runner, Mace, ahead of Tassie in 2nd, and VIC in 3rd. A storming run on the 2nd leg by Aislinn (VIC), saw them take the lead at the final hand over though. Our final leg runner, Jo Allison led the chase, with 3 mins to catch up on Kathryn Preston. Setting the scene for a final show down, with the race looking like it was to go down to the wire!

A nervous wait ensued for those of us in the arena, with the first spectator opportunity 2/3rds of the way through the course. It was Kathryn who emerged first at the end of the 2nd long leg, to the cheers of the Victorians. However, Jo was having a smooth last leg, entering the control about 1 minute back. They both headed over the hill and out of sight, into the final technical loop, leaving us all on the edge of our seats. After much nervous waiting, it was Jo who finally emerged from the edge of the forest in the lead, but with Kathryn breathing down her neck a mere 50m back! As they both streaked across the open farm land through the final few controls it seemed that Kathryn was eating into Jo's lead. That was, until Jo recognized just what we were all screaming at her! One glance over her shoulder and she put the pedal down, tearing up the finish chute and bringing the Cockies home their first women's team title in years!

Minutes later, Matt Crane brought the Cockie's men's team in for a comfortable win too, taking it to three elite relay titles for the ACT, after Ian Lawford brought our Junior men in for the win, in the fastest sprint finish of the day - against Tim Robertson and the NZ team. All up, it was an amazing finish to what has been an amazing season for the Cockies - taking out 6 of the 8 National League titles (both Junior and Senior Men's individual and team titles, and Senior Women's individual and team titles). And an impressive return to the elite fold for Jo after a few years out starting a family!

Cockatoos. Winners all round. Where's ya shirt Lachy?!
Photo: Orienteering Australia

I was happy that after being doubtful to race due injury, I was able to compete at all these two weekends. And, thanks mainly to my early season form, managed to take out the Individual NOL title, just ahead of Grace. One goal knocked off the list, but there's plenty still to go!
Relay results

So that's it for the Australian domestic season! My body and brain is calling for a good break from structured training for a bit. The next NOL season starts in February, and it's shaping up to be the hottest contested yet. It will be a tough decision whether to go for back to back titles, or to miss vital NOL rounds in order to try for NZ titles at Easter. But that's a decision for another day!
Next up on the calendar is a trip back over the ditch to NZ for Wellington Champs this weekend. A chance to have some runs on the beautiful steep, open, farmland terrain I grew up with. But more just an excuse to catch up with friends and family. Can't wait! :)

Friday, October 11, 2013

Aus Champs Part II: Back to School

With the Australian Champs run over two consecutive weekends, the days between are traditionally used to hold the Australian Schools Champs. Teams compete from almost all of the Australian States and Territories, (bar NT), and an NZ schools team is kindly allowed to compete (and dominate) each year. The schools competition is an awesome opportunity for the students to socialise, compete, and experience some high level events. The 3 trips that I made during my time in the NZSS team were some of the most influential trips of my orienteering career, and I know the team has been a driving force behind the ever increasing quality of NZ juniors coming through the ranks.

I didn't have much motivation to try and get PhD work done in between the weekends of racing, so thought I'd head out to the schools races, help out, have a run around, and keep a check on who my future competition is likely to be! And of course, being from both NZ and living in the ACT, I had two teams to support, meaning I could hardly lose!

Kiwi team. Australian parliament.
The week kicked off with the traditional live start draw on Monday night. I was invited along to conduct the random draw, which was a very cool experience! My job essentially was to sit on stage, in front of all the competitors, and randomly pull different coloured ping pong balls out of a jar - each colour corresponding to a different state. The corresponding junior would then come up to the stage while their team captain read out their bio, an entertaining ritual.  However, I was informed shortly before the draw, that due to the short time frame, the start list had actually already been job was to read the order of states off the pre-drawn start list, and pull the right coloured balls out of the bin in the right order! All while making it appear like I wasn't looking and selectively picking the balls! Honestly, one of the most high pressure situations I've ever been in in orienteering!! Only twice did I manage to select the wrong coloured ball. Not too bad I think, considering there were two slightly different shades of blue ball for VIC and NSW, and at a glance the maroon of QLD was uncomfortably similar to the black of NZ! But I seemed to get away with the slip ups...I think!

Anyway, with no complaints heard about the start draw, Tuesday saw the running of the Individual competition. The courses, on Wild Deer Sands, started off into tricky sand mining terrain, before emerging into some nice and vague Aussie spur-gully terrain. Concentration and tight navigation was required through the earlier stages of the courses, with accurate bearings and fast legs coming to the fore in the latter stages.

As they have for the last decade, it was the Kiwi team who dominated the results. No prizes for guessing who took out Senior Boys, with Tim Robertson leaving the field 5 minutes behind in his dust. Also at the top were Shamus Morrison and Nick Smith, with only Victoria's Matt Doyle able to break up the Kiwis at the top of the field.
An outstanding week from Nick Smith. Including taking
out M20E in the Aus Long distance
In the Senior Girls, Aussie JWOC rep Lanita Steer (Vic) took out the win, closely followed by soon-to-be-a-NZ-JWOC rep Alice Tilley. Again, the kiwis showed their strength in depth with all 4 senior girls finishing in the top 10.

Alice Tilley carving up the finish chute and taking 2nd
in Senior Girls.
The Kiwis had a much harder task in Junior boys, with Cameron de L'isle the best of the team, coming in 4th, closely followed by ACT's Ewan Barnett in one of the home state's best results of the day. At the top of the field, Simeon Burrill (Qld) and Patrick Jaffe (Vic) had a tight finish, with only 6s separating them.
Meanwhile in the Junior Girls, Asha Steer made it two golds for the family, with Winnie Oakhill of Qld 1.41 behind in 2nd. Katie Cory-Wright was top Kiwi in 3rd, holding off a fast finishing Tara Melhuish (ACT) by 2s in the tightest finish of the day.
Senior Boys course. Suffice to say, Tim smashed me.

Wednesday brought with it the relay competition, held on the adjacent area ,Timber Tops, and using the same wind-swept finish arena. Again, it was a great day to be a NZ and ACT supporter. The Kiwi's showed their dominance in all grades, leading from start to finish in the Senior Boys and Senior Girls. An incredible come back saw the Kiwi Junior Boys team come from behind to take out their grade, whilst, although the Junior Girls posted the fastest time on the day, an unfortunate mispunch saw them dsq. A very harsh lesson in a relay, that a lot of us can relate to!
And from my ACT supporting side - 2nd place in both Senior Boys and Junior Girls completed a great day of spectating, with Tara Melhuish posting the fastest leg time of the day, but not quite enough to reign in the Qld team.

Kiwi Senior Girls coming in to win the relay.
NZ took out 3/4 grades, with a fastest time but mp in the 4th.

All in all, the week was great fun. And that was just from a spectator's point of view! It's been 3 years since I last coached on a NZ national junior camp, so it was awesome to get reacquainted with who the current batch of Kiwi junior talent are, put some faces to names, and realise just how far they've come since I was last a resident kiwi! I was impressed by the motivation and dedication that was apparent, not just within the team, but also from the number of juniors who hadn't made the team, but had still made the trip across to run the spectator races and Aus Champs.
 The Australian Champs and Schools Champs is an awesome opportunity every year for both kiwi and aussie juniors to experience high level competition, as well an introduction to the atmosphere of being part of an international (or inter-state) trip as part of a team. It's done wonders for the depth of kiwi junior talent over the last few years, and it is one of the major reasons our JWOC results are constantly improving. So it was wicked to see the enthusiasm and drive of the juniors to get to the races, as well as the support and encouragement offered by their parents and club mates! Not to mention the organisers and all the team coaches and managers. I bet you're all enjoying a quiet, restful week this week!

 NB: The NZSS manager and coach are notoriously hard to photograph, too busy are they with managing, coaching, photographing and keeping track of 16 school kids! A week long mission, and my cunning tactics of distraction, however, resulted in success. Seriously though, these 2 deserve a massive thanks and congrats for their multiple years of dedication to NZSS trips!

Manager Anna. Tricked into a photo by Gelato.

Coach Derek. Distracted from camera by in depth orienteering discussion.

If I was left with one disappointment from the week, it's that I'm not able to make it to coach on the NZ Junior Camp this year. On the other hand, it has motivated me to continue coaching within ACT next year... hopefully I can help the ACT once again become top state schools team in Australia...If not beat the Kiwis?*

*Just kidding! Honest!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Aus Champs Part One: the Long and Short of it.

Last weekend the ACT played host to the Australian Long and Sprint distance orienteering champs. The races were my first since WOC over two months ago, and I was stoked to even make it to the start line with an intensive physio and rehab period to thank for getting me in any shape capable of competing following my glute injury! As a result I had no idea what sort of form and races I'd be able to pull off, and in the long distance in particular, even finishing wasn't a given. I'm happy to say then, that the weekend was a success, with two podium finishes, and a body that's still working and should be capable of racing again this weekend in the Middle distance champs!

Sprint Distance

Held around the well manicured ground of Canberra Grammar school, the sprint champs were a technical affair, with the courses contained entirely within the complex buildings of the school. This suited me fine, as I suspected that my lack of recent training would tell more on open running long legs than on decision making short legs! Warming up I could feel a bit of nerve discomfort in my glutes, but nothing too bad, and once I had a map in hand, I didn't notice any real pain other than the usual oxygen debt! It was reassuring to find within the first couple of controls, that my brain could remember what to do in a sprint, and the first half of the course slipped by quickly with few hesitations and no slip ups. With the complex nature of the course, and plenty of in-and-out controls, I was catching glimpses of Rachel Effeney, who started 1min ahead, from early in the course, and it was reassuring to notice the gap getting smaller.

Sprint Map 1. No route shown, as that would cover up most of the map!
 A difference in route choice saw me catch Rachel at 17. Fortuitous timing, given I physically hit the wall around the same time! Having someone to race head to head with meant I kept my speed up however, and despite taking some different routes, we were still together coming into the penultimate control. It would seem that I haven't yet learnt from my WOC mistakes though, as I made a mess of finding my way into the finish arena again, losing 15s on the last control! Despite the late slip up however, I managed to take the win for the day, with Rachel 50s or so back, and Hanny not far behind that. A boost for the confidence after a couple of months out, although, despite being ok throughout the race, within 5 minutes of finishing I'd completely seized up and could barely walk!
Sprint Map 2.
In the men's race fellow Kiwi and Wellingtonian Tim Robertson took the win, giving him his 2nd Australian senior elite title, at the age of just 17! His win meant a clean sweep of the senior elite grades for the Wellington O-gang, which is bound to be celebrated in due course with a potluck dinner and copious quantities of garlic bread.
On a serious note though, a huge thanks to those who arranged permission to map and use this area, as it was something a bit special. Hopefully we didn't flatten the sacred grass of the quad too much! And a big thanks to my much loved 3rd home family, who all showed up to support and spectate, despite a big night the evening before at the geology ball! An awesome effort and most appreciated! :-)

W21E race splits.
Check out a video of the day's action, thanks to Graham Hammond!

Long Distance

Following a thorough physio-over (It's amazing how far back in rehabilitation a 15min sprint race can set you!), and a relaxing (?!) evening at the ANUWFC end of season soccer awards night, it was an early wake up on Sunday for the 2hr drive down to Slap Up Creek and the Long Distance Champs. The race served up the tough classic granite terrain that we'd been promised and more. More fallen logs and debris to battle through, more close competition, more snakes than anyone anticipated (luckily I avoided or was oblivious to them!), more high quality and entertaining commentary and more great results for both ACT and NZ!

As expected, I found the long course tough and painful. I started off the race fine, and strung together 5 good  splits on the beginning short controls to get myself into the flow of the course. Unfortunately though, my lack of fitness, and lack of strength in my left leg, started to show in the longer leg to 6. And that's the pattern that repeated itself throughout the course, with the short legs causing me little trouble, but leaking time on the longer legs. I struggled to fight through the numerous fallen branches and logs on the ground, with every lift of the leg seeming a greater and greater effort as the race went on - leading to some very wide route choices as I looked for the easier running. Having the last start, and with Hanny and Grace in impressive form, it was a long and lonely race for me, only glimpsing a couple of other women on the way around the course. Thankfully though, I also didn't glimpse any of the tiger snakes that we'd been warned about. In fact, I'm yet to see a snake out in the bush since I moved to Australia...I'm beginning to suspect they're just an urban legend, like drop-bears? (I'm bound to see loads this weekend now though, having tempted fate by writing that!)
Long Route - decided all the fence crossings weren't worth deviating from
my chosen route. Kiwi upbringing for the win!

All in all, I finished really happy with my race - despite some sub-optimal longer route choices than I'd usually take, I felt like I ran well and cleanly through the majority of the course (8 excepted - where I literally ran a circle around the control without seeing it!). Hanny had a stunner of a race, cleaning up in 73 minutes, with Grace 2nd in 77. I snuck into 3rd place in 80 minutes, closely followed by Kathryn and the remarkable Jo Allison (only just starting up again after a maternity break and definitely one to watch out for in the middle this Saturday!).

Video of the day's action (awesome work again, Graham Hammond!) 

Fellow Cockie Matt Crane took out the Men's race, ahead of Simon Uphill (SA), and Kiwis Tom Reynolds and Nick Hann. Whilst yet more Kiwis to watch out for in the future; Nick Smith, took out an impressive win in the Junior Men's race, and Sonia Hollands placed 2nd in Junior Women.

Unfortunately over the 2 races we (NZ) lost out to the Australian Bushrangers in the trans-tasman test match, but by a close 2 points! However, we (Canberra Cockatoos) did manage to take out the Australian Champs team's competition in both the mens and women's classes, as determined from the long distance results. My dual roles as a Canberra Cockatoo and NZ rep meant that I had plenty of reasons to celebrate various results throughout the weekend. However it also led to some entertaining, more than slightly embarrassing, and well commentated uniform changes throughout the prize giving ceremony! Um. Thanks Blair!
photos: Orienteering Australia

Master of the quick costume change - although I think the grin is just me being stoked I managed to put my shirt on the right way around!

So all in all, a pleasing weekend of racing. The body seems to have come through alright. Or as well as could be expected really. I've spent the week supporting the next generation of Kiwi and Aus orienteers racing at the Schools champs, a report of which is to come. And tomorrow brings with it more NOL racing. Hopefully the body is recovered enough for it! Bring it on!

Oh. And the post-long distance catering was as good as I predicted. :-)