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! :)

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