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...

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