Thursday, July 31, 2014

Post European Depression

It's 2 weeks already since I stumbled off the plane and back into the embrace of Canberran winter. It's been a busy two weeks too; with not much time left in each day once I've finished with all of my moaning and whining about how cold it is and how Canberra isn't Europe. Every year there's the same shock and let down, returning from a life of travel, training, racing and summer, to the every day reality of work, responsibilities and winter.

The official medical term is Post European Depression, and I was always in line to suffer a bad bout this year, after prolonged exposure! Unfortunately, sitting and watching SOW and Oringen hasn't exactly helped things, (I wish I'd started a drinking game for every time I saw a photo of the Matterhorn). However, JWOC watching did help alleviate the symptoms for a week or so. An awesome week from a kiwi's (and Wellingtonian's!) point of view: Tim becoming NZ's 2nd junior world champion in 3 years, Nick smashing out 5th in the middle, and the boys (Tim, Shamus, Nick) putting us on the podium in the relay! A massive effort from the whole team, and very exciting to see their hard work paying off! It's inspiring to see the juniors' motivation and drive, and how it's turning into results on the global stage. Now us seniors just need to lift our game to match it! ;)

Our most successful national team ever!

Once I'd finished with watching races, however, I had to find other ways to procrastinate around the tonne of work that I should be doing. So I've done a bit of reflecting on my trip as a whole. In short, it was everything I could have hoped for.

In the month or so leading up to leaving, I was seriously having second thoughts about whether trying to race WOC in my final year of PhD was a smart thing to do, let alone taking 7 weeks off to do it. I was stressed, run down, sick and had constant niggles, meaning I wasn't where I wanted to be either physically or mentally. However, I've come back mentally refreshed, healthy (first time in years post long-haul flight!) and motivated. My knee may still a bit bung post WOC middle and relay, but I've come home without a single regret about the trip or the time taken off uni to fit it in. Not only was it great to get a good block of time in Europe pre WOC, and to get some practice races in against top competition, which undoubtedly helped come WOC week; but I've also come home with a much more solid idea of what path I want to take post-PhD. Atleast, I'm told there's a life post thesis?

The race is on!

For all of those who asked me post WOC races if I was happy with my results, only to receive a kind of confused, dazed look and some uninterpretable answer, sorry! At the end of a race, my brain usually resembles a bowl of spaghetti, with computing power of a scrambled egg. Even more so than usual. Having had a bit of time to think it over, I guess my answer is multi levelled:
As a Kiwi, I'm proud of my results, and proud to be a part of a NZ team and wider culture that is driving each other and building our results and profile on the global stage. So yep, I'm happy on that level.
On a personal level, I left everything I had out on the courses (including part of my pants). Performance wise, I did as well as I could in the sprints, I just wasn't physically good enough. In the forest, I did parts great, but fell into familiar mistakes in other areas. The potential is there, but it didn't overcome the flaws on the day. So I left WOC feeling a bit bittersweet, the results were good, but they could have been better.
However, some wise people have reminded me to put things in perspective. I have to remember how I felt prior to leaving for Europe. So. Given where I was 8 weeks prior to WOC, my performances and results were more than I could have hoped for.

So, with the wisdom of hindsight, yes, satisfied with my results, thanks for asking!

 And now, for some full time stats from the trip! Yay. Numbers!

50 Days
5 Countries
63 Training Sessions
14 Races
30 Hours Orienteering
14 Accommodations
11 Room Mates

Some things were a little harder to quantify:
~80-90 Coffees
~40-50 gelatos/icecreams
Countless training partners/hosts/supporters/local guides and friends. Without you the trip wouldn't have been possible. I'm too scared to list you all, as I'm likely to forget someone, but you know who you are, and hopefully I've made it known in person just how grateful I am for all of your help! If not, feel free to slap me next time you see me, I'll deserve it.

And finally:
1 absolute legend. Greta, I don't know what insanity lead you to agree to 7 weeks of my company, and it will forever be a mystery to me how you lasted those 7 weeks without once punching me in the face. Thanks so much for putting up with me and my twisted sense of humour, my inability to interpret foreign bus time tables and my best attempts at Italian driving. For organising me, socialising for me when I was too tired to be capable of speech, dealing with me when I couldn't sort my shit out, and for ignoring me when I was just being a dick! Just the best team mate and travel buddy, hope you're recovering well and enjoying some fresh company now!

Super excited to be Lizzie free!
Once again, thanks to everyone who made the last couple of months what it was! Rest assured, I've discovered the ultimate cure for PED - planning my next escape to Europe! Watch this space :)

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Forest WOC

The middle distance. It's always been my favourite discipline, even if it's my worst going by results. As I'm often reminded by Jamie, it's the only distance I'm yet to win a NZ elite title in. But for me, it still represents the ultimate orienteering test - having to be 100% on top of everything for the entire duration of the race; technically, physically, and especially mentally. It's damn hard to balance everything and get it right on the day, but when you do, far out it feels amazing! So given the restriction of only having 1 runner in the long and middle this year, there was really only one answer when I considered which I'd rather run.

My middle mistakes are so well known/expected that the
actual GPS route from my middle mess at WOC last year
graces this year's TL fundraiser.
With a couple of days off post WOC-sprinting, I was champing at the bit for my turn to get into the proper forest stuff with the middle and relay. Having had more time in relevant terrain than before any other WOC or JWOC, I was feeling the more technically and mentally ready than ever. Physically, given early season injuries, I was in the best shape I could hope for too. (Thanks entirely to Cathy and the crew at Physiosport. Shameless plug cos they're awesome people, plus they let me use their fancy equipment for free (I like to think I pay in entertainment by performing ridiculous looking exercises in the middle of their practice though)).

In fact, if anything, perhaps I was feeling a bit too prepared. Better knock myself back a few pegs then. Literally. So I took the liberty of reducing my head size, courtesy of a rock at the middle model. Cos what fun would racing full intensity at altitude be, without a little bit of concussion and blood loss?! ;) Luckily, it was nothing too bad, but many thanks to Greta, Immy and Liz the GB coach for stopping to help, and reassuring me it was 'just a graze'! (plus a 5cm cut we later found on closer inspection). Not so lucky though, my right knee decided that with the distraction of the head wound, it could bunk off work, completely seizing up. After 7 weeks with no issues, it couldn't have waited 2 more days?! Nothing to be done about it immediately though, other than an afternoon spent balancing an ice pack on the head, and another on the knee.

Well on the way to my usual ouch map before
the race has even started then.

Having survived through to race day I finally found myself at pre race quarantine. As Helen Palmer mentioned (sidenote: thanks for the reference to my rock headbutting - high praise from someone who runs of cliffs!), it's a very weird atmosphere in quarantine. I never know who it's OK to smile at and who not to?! Some people are all good with it, some are too serious to even notice that kind of malarkey, and some give you the sort of look as if you've just offered them a taste of your dirty O socks.

Anyway, having successfully slalomed my way through quarantine etiquette, rambled my way through 4 paragraphs of blog, and sludged my way through the very steep, very long pre-start call up, I found myself on the start line for the WOC middle!

The first part of the course went well, perhaps driven by a good first control that felt just like at home: Up the hill, into a paddock of cows - all standard kiwi stuff. Follow the clearing, into the trees and around to a rock - classic Canberra stuff. Nice. A blip on #2, where things got a bit more European, but still smooth through to 5 - the only snag being the branch that tore open my pants. But who am I to deny the orienteering world an inadvertent glimpse of thigh?! Unbeknownst to me infact, I was in the lead of the race at this stage, leaving supporters at the event and at home in a state of extreme excitement!

Bella in a state of extreme excitement
Unfortunately, things unraveled a bit on #6. Although I executed my plan up to my attackpoint perfectly, I apparently forgot that the most important part is finding the little orange and white thing at the end of the leg! Running straight past the pit without seeing the flag and control minder sitting down in it, I then spent over 1.5 minutes doing a decapitated chicken impersonation around the circle.

Um. Oops?

Flustered, it took me the leg to 7 to try and recompose myself. However, I never regained my momentum or consistency, instead leaking time on the longer legs, and feeling utterly smashed on the hills. The climb out of the spectator was an absolute killer, with Jan waiting 2/3rds of the way up taking photos - just when you thought you were out of sight and due a bit of a walk! This is where I became aware of how close I was pushing my limit, which is when I become in danger of having anxiety attacks. As a precaution I backed right off for leg 13,  knowing that I could then manage the downhill legs 14 through to the finish without risk of an attack. As it happened, a frustrating minute mistake at #14 meant that I could recompose my breathing anyway, allowing me to push on to the finish.

In my defence, if I'd run, I wouldn't have been able to modestly
(half) cover the hole in my pants.
Photo: WorldofO Athlete Profile

At the beginning of WOC, my base goal for the middle was a top 20 result, so 20th =  just squeezes in as achieving that goal. It's both reassuring and frustrating to know that the result could have been a lot better if a couple of things had gone differently - but hey, that's the nature of the middle. It's good to know that the potential is there, rather than having the race of my life and still being 20th. The goal now has to be to take the control and smoothness from those first 5 splits, and extend it to a full race.

I also have to work on my scandi flop.
Still require the trainer wheels/fence at the moment.
Photo: Attackpoint

The aim for the relay the following day was simply for all 3 of us to have steady and safe runs. Following Greta's long and my middle races, we knew we'd all but achieved our women's team goal of lifting NZ up to tier 2 for 2015. The job was to now make that position safe, and put ourselves in good stead for 2016. Following her great run at Venla, Greta lead us out on first leg - making some mistakes but coming back with a grin on her face and still well in the pack in 20th place. As she remarked to me later "I just knew you're better chasing than being chased!", so all in the spirit of a good team race then :)

Heading out relaxed and ready on 2nd leg I had my most satisfying run of the week. Rather than busting a gut to try and catch teams up, I focused on going a pace I knew I could keep up the entire course whilst keeping the navigation steady. Lesson learnt from the day before I guess, and I found myself not just catching up teams, but cleanly passing them. Helped along of course by managing to have all of the short splits!

Coming in to the finish, I handed over to Immy in 9th place, just behind the Brits. It's a freaking hard ask, waiting all week for one race without building it up too much in your head. Plus having to support and put up with team mates (or at least me), as we go through our pre and post individual race demands and moods. So huge respect Immy, you were great all week, and then nailed your job last leg. 18th at the finish line, and securely up to 2nd division 2015. Mission accomplished!
Results Map

So that's WOC 2014. Following a not-long-enough party, a not-very-long last run, a plenty-long-enough last Italian drive, and two far-too-long flights, I'm suddenly back in the 'burra. Talk about a shock to the system - from living the orienteering life and racing WOC, to sitting at my office desk staring blankly into space! I'm sure there'll be a post tour analysis soon once the shock has worn off...I'll need the procrastination.

Can't help but notice it's not summer here...

Friday, July 11, 2014

Sprint WOC

Although the official proposal of having separate sprint WOC and forest WOCs may have been shot down, with this year's schedule I've ended up pretty much having two separate WOCs anyway. Last weekend was all about the sprints, with the individual races held down in Venice on Saturday, followed by the Sprint Relay in Trento on Monday. I'm currently nearing the end of an enjoyable 3 day turn around, such a luxury compared to previous years' schedules! Yesterday I enjoyed the opportunity to cheer on Greta, Matt, some Aussies, and even a European or two, in the Long distance. Matt and Greta both did an awesome job, taking us a good step in the direction of promotion to being a tier 2 nation. Tomorrow it's my and Ross's turn to get stuck into the forest with the Middle.

Greta smashing the long distance.
(Just prior to smashing the last control to the ground)
In the meantime though, a 3 day break has given me no real excuse not to write about the sprints

Last Thursday we wound our way down to Venice from our training base in the mountains, singing our hearts out to the NZ 2014 JWOC CD, to make final preparations for the Saturday's Sprint races. Having picked up Matt, and run a bonus Treviso training enroute, we were finally a full complement, fully prepped, and ready for racing!

Sprint Qual: Burano

Saturday morning dawned bright and too early, with the prospects of a long hot day full of sprint action ahead. Having picked up (and immediately decided against) our packed breakfasts, it was into the car, on with the JWOC CD (off which we had now vetoed 50% of the songs), and on to the doge ferry (such boat, many water, wow!) terminal to Burano! We were pretty stoked to find ourselves organised, on time, and 3rd team in line to get on the ferry. Although, typically, still behind Switzerland.

The sprint qual on Burano didn't disappoint. Plenty of legs requiring quick thinking, some trademark Venice narrow alleys, and lots of colourful houses...which I probably shouldn't have noticed while racing! I had a clean enough race for a qual, missing an optimum route choice or two, and having a couple of hesitations, but nothing too costly. At first I was unjustifiably disappointed to be in 5th...until I saw that there was only 10 or so seconds between the top 7 in our heat - something not common in the women's heats, and great to see for the level of competition. In the other women's heats, it was business as usual, with some very large gaps at the top of the heats.

Disappointingly for us as a team however, I was the only qualifier to make it off Burano, through to the final. Reassuring however, everyone knew exactly where and why they went wrong - leaving us with confidence still for the sprint relay.

Beautiful and colourful houses. Not so beautiful and black me.
Photo: WorldofO Athlete Profile

Heat split results

Sprint Final: Venice

On to a second Doge ferry then, this time cram packed with finalists and their team managers/coaches/physios/doctors/chefs/hair stylists. Somehow, our overloaded boat made it across the lagoon, to disembark at Quarantine round 2. This time, we were held inside a naval base - complete with plenty of men in uniform, watching our every move. An hour of hiding from the heat, then it was time to warm up (not hard), zone in, and off to pre-start...
All set and ready for the biggest sprint race of the year...when the atmosphere was suddenly shattered by the loud entrance of a pirate party ship cruising along the waterfront. Ah, Venice, so classy!
You prepare yourself to deal with a wide range of situations at world champs. But I can honestly say that a pirate ship pumping out 90's pop hits at me all the way from Pre-start to the start line, was not one of my practiced situations! 
The distraction was quickly forgotten however, as soon as I was given my control descriptions. My hear plummeted as soon as I read the 230m taped run through, followed immediately by a map change...plain dead running, not exactly my strength. Nothing to do about it though, and before I knew it, I was out on the course.

When read carefully the sprint analysis at WorldofO tells everything there is about my race. I start off well, despite not realising the route choice to #3 until 5 steps after punching #2. I stay in the top 6 through to the run through, where I leak time on the faster runners. On every single route choice in the race, I choose the optimum route, which I was pleased with. Navigationally, I lose time to a hesitation on #12, turning into an alley too soon enroute to #14, and stopping a niche too soon on #17. All 3 of which were due to reading ahead on the course and not clicking back to the present quickly enough. Everything else is running speed, especially in #15 - finish, which contained minimal navigation and a lot of flat running.

Happy with the routechoices. Paid for the brain fade and leg fade though.

Coming in to the finish, it was a nice surprise to be called in as 2nd = with Tess Hill...although a slightly less nice surprise to then learn she'd actually beaten me by 0.1s ;) 13th once all was said and done, which is realistically close to the best I could have done on the day.

However, I was left a bit disappointed with the course to be honest. With the run through and finish chute, ~10% of our course was dead running without map reading. Add on to that the last few controls, which had minimal navigation...and really close to ~25% of the distance was just running.

A bit more pain face than game face.
Photo: Photo: WorldofO Athlete Profile

At my current stage, I believe I can make the sprint podium, if the course suits me. (Yet i'm always surprised, and humbled, when I realise others think this of me too!) Give me a technical course, and a hill or two, and I should have a realistic chance. However, given a flat, faster course with less map reading, my chances drop. But in orienteering, you can't decide what kind of course you're going to get. It's a definite goal of mine to get to the stage where I'm a podium chance no matter what the course.
Final Split Results

Sprint Relay

Having relocated from Venice to Lavarone - from party central at the beach to our new team hotel...which appears to be a rest home/hotel, Monday brought with it the sprint relay. New to WOC this year, the race promised to be exciting for spectators and runners alike. So down from the plateau we twisted and turned, listening on repeat to the 4 JWOC CD songs that we could still bear suffering. (Seriously, I think I rented the only car in Italy without an auxilary outlet?!). We had high hopes of a good result, with a strong team of Greta - Tim - Ross - Me.

Correct that: Strong AND good looking team.
Things went to plan on first leg, Greta sticking with the top pack and handing us over in a great position. From there however, the simple nature of the course, started to take it's toll - Tim, and then Ross, just not having the legs to stick with the super speedsters. By the time I went out, we were in 15th position, still a good position for us, and still with teams withing catching distance. I raced my legs out from under me, when the rain and perilous slippery pavers didn't try and do it for me. And by the end of the race I felt like I'd been hit by a bus...a situation which I barely missed in reality coming out of #10. However, 14th was the best we could manage on the day - a solid result, but again, one we were left feeling we could have improved on a lot...if the courses hadn't been so very technically easy. Especially on the girls courses, it felt as though there were only 2 legs with any route choice, the rest was running.

Overall I think I, and the team, should be proud of our sprint results, we did as well as we could on the day. However, in both cases we've been left feeling disappointed in the courses: this is the orienteering world champs, so please, give us some technical courses!

Sprint relay results

Having said that, the middle and relay tomorrow promise to be nice and technical. I'm the best prepared that I've been for a WOC middle to date, the aim tomorrow is to be calm, controlled and smooth. We'll see :)

Saturday, July 5, 2014

WOC 2014; the Antipodean guide

They say the night before the night before is the sleep that counts, so perhaps it's a bit worrying that i'm awake at 6.30am writing this...or perhaps it's perfect prep for the early morning and long day that await tomorrow for the sprint races?!
In any case, with races kicking off tomorrow, it's past time I put up the details and program for WOC for the crazy people back home that stay/wake up in order to watch the progress of little Antipodean GPS sperm across your computer screen!

Unfortunately, the internet here in Jesolo is nothing to write home about, in fact, it's hard to write home about. So let's keep this brief! (Ha! Fat chance!)

If you don't want to read all this post (I don't), then just read the below paragraph. It has all the links you'll need anyway!
Live GPS viewing this year appears to be a pay service (17euro for the week, ~7euro a race), which you can get into from the WOC page. There's bound to be free(?) live results though, I guess we'll find out when races start - try the buttons off the live bit of the WOC info page.
 I also highly recommend heading over to worldofo, where Jan will no doubt do a much better preview than me! (Update, he has. it's HERE.) You'll also find a load of far more witty and interesting blogs than mine there, including the Aussie WOC team blog. And there'll be an informative and possibly-better-than-live-results live blog going on there throughout the races.

Team New Zealand. #gameface
Photo: Nic Gorman

As for the races themselves:

Saturday 9AM (5pm AEST, 7pm NZ) : Sprint Qualification

We kick off tomorrow with the Sprint Qualification, held in Burano, Venice. 3 girls and 3 guys from each country, 3 heats, top 15 in each heat go through to the Final.

Representing NZ: Our entire team! Matt Ogden, Tim Robertson and Ross Morrison. Imogene Scott, Greta Knarston, and myself.
In the green and gold: Lachy Dow (Canberra), Julian Dent and Simon Uppill. Rachel Effeney, Fel Brown and Hanny Alston (Canberra based).
Click here for the full NZ and Aussie team profiles. And, apparently, some 'hilarious' pictures of me. (Thanks Brendan, I'll take it as a complement!).
No GPS tracking for this one, but there should be live results and commentary.

Saturday 3.20PM - 5.30PM (from 11.20PM AEST, 1.20AM NZ): Sprint Final

The top 45 Men and Women will race off for the sprint medals in Eastern Venice, in what promises to be a memorable race. All of the teams will have had fun and frustration training in the network of alleys and canals of Venice, all whilst dodging tourist traffic. Hopefully the final will be similar, but with less collisions given it's a bit out of the main tourist stretch!
GPS will be in use, but not sure how good it'll be given the tightly packed buildings (although there could well be a fair proportion of open park running too).

Monday 5.25PM (1.25AM AEST, 3.25AM NZ): Mixed Sprint Relay

The first time this format is present at the world champs, this promises to be an exciting one! Run in the order Woman - Man - Man - Woman, the teams will go head to head throughout the streets and alleys of downtown Trento. Should make great spectator viewing, hopefully online as well as on the ground. And although the Danes and Swiss will go in as favourites, with a lot of nations putting out very strong sprint teams, it's anyone's race really. Be prepared to see some of the less heard of orienteering nations towards the top come the finish line!
In no particular order:
the NZ team: Matt Ogden, Tim Robertson, Greta Knarston and myself.
Australia: Julian Dent, Simon Uppill, Rachel Effeney and Hanny Alston.

Half time kitten. You've done well to read this far!

Wednesday 12noon - 5PM (from 8PM AEST, 10PM NZ): Long distance final

Up, up and up into the mountains, to the Lavarone/Asiago region for the forest events! Following the removal of qual for the middle and long distance, this will be the first time we see the consequences of the nation ranking system. A very small contingent of Kiwis, as both men and women are currently in the lowest bracket. The Aussies have an extra girl as they're up in 2nd division. The top nations will have 3 runners, and a lucky couple of nations will have 4 if they have a world champion or European champion in their team. The terrain will be beautiful, but physically and mentally challenging. Beech forest, rocks, cliffs, trenches, and plenty of hills!
Greta Knarston will feel the full force of the Kiwi support, whilst Hanny Alston and Vanessa Round will be out in the forest for Australia. In the Men, Simon Uppill will be representing the Antipodeans.
GPS is a go for this one :)

Friday  12noon - 5PM (from 8PM AEST, 10PM NZ): Middle distance final

A highly anticipated race for me, following a good rest after the sprint races! To be held high up on the Asiago plateau, amongst the numerous trenches and remains from WWI (and still plenty of hills :), this should be a highly technical race. The terrain is beautiful, based on karst topography, but with counter-intuitive man made contour and rock features, like cliffs facing the wrong way on hillsides. Accuracy and concentration will be key!
I'll be the sole Kiwi girl racing the middle, joined by Jasmine Neve and Vanessa Round from Australia, both of whom have joined me for training in the region in the past month, so hopefully we'll be sharp and well prepared!
In the men, it's Ross Morrison for NZ, and Julian Dent for AUS.

Saturday 1:00 - 4:20 PM (from 9PM  AEST, 11PM NZ): Relay

The final race of the week is the (forest) relay, to be held on the same area as the middle distance the day before. Be prepared for more intense head-head action, with high potential for costly mistakes in the tricky terrain (aka great GPS viewing). Whilst the top nations will be fighting it out for medals, the results will be vital for all nations; with points from the relay worth double those from the middle and long, and counting towards your nation's ranking for the next 2 years. It doesn't even bear thinking about the consequence of a mis-punch or DNF.
Lining up for the ANZACs, again in no particular order, are:
Women: Vanessa, Hanny, Jasmine (AUS), Imogene, Lizzie, Greta (NZ).
Men: Lachy, Simon, Jules (AUS), Matt, Tim, Ross (NZ).

Phew! So there you have it. All the training and prep is done and we're tapered, rested. and ready. Come tomorrow it's on with the game face and into the action! Can't wait!

The game face is also well rested and tapered.
Photo: Tallinn O Week