Elite Class at O-Ringen

I’ve finally put all of my thoughts together for O-Ringen and have some analysis that I think could be really interesting for many New Zealanders looking at racing overseas in the future.

Last week was truly an epic, racing at O-Ringen for the 5th time, but only my first time in the senior elite class. We had 3 longs, 1 middle and 1 sprint to make the week. I finished 37th overall out of the 80 runners selected to race in this top class, a position I am satisfied with for now but I am determined to get to the very top of this competition once I can spend more time training and racing in Sweden.

Each time I return to Sweden it takes me a few sessions to get used to the terrain and to get my confidence back up to levels which are required to race at the highest level. This really showed in my first race, as I had many navigation issues in the first half of the course and found other runners much more proficient in the rough terrain. After learning about the speed of the marshes and stony areas on the first stage I made much better route choice decisions in my second race but still came unstuck on few occasions. The Elite Sprint was also a really good race and a very special experience to be racing with so many spectators and TV cameras around the course. This was perfect preparation for WOC sprint.  The middle distance on the 4th stage was my most satisfying race and I was stoked to pull of one off my best races this year on such technical terrain. The final long distance and chasing start was set to be my best race of the week but losing aggression and then a mistake near the end cost me and I dropped from battling for 35th place to a clear 37th, and lost my chance at a top 20 on the stage.

Here is a look at some more specific points I have come across in my analysis.

The beginning of Stage 1

The beginning of Stage 1

I made a good start to the first control and planned well to the second but had difficulty with my direction into the control. I did notice the risk of ending up on the wrong hill and tried to keep my direction but still couldn’t prevent the mistake. The same happened going into 3, where I noticed the risk of ending up on the wrong vague spur but couldn’t get my direction right coming down the hill. This has been a common problem in the wild Scandinavian forests where it is harder to run in a straight line than in the man-made forests of New Zealand.

The end of Stage 1

The end of Stage 1

Another common occurrence at big competitions like O-Ringen is the trains of runner that form around the course. In the middle of the race we had 8 runners together. I was the weakest navigator of the group and it was clear that only 2 runners were driving the pace. I had been caught by everyone around me, but was physically strong enough to hold on to the fastest 2 until the second last control while the other 5 dropped off at various stages probably loosing minutes compared to me in the final quarter of the race. Sometimes the opportunity is there and its fortunate if you can take advantage of it.

The beginning of Stage 2

The beginning of Stage 2

I analysed my first stage and decided that I needed to go straighter and use the hill tops as a way to avoid the marshes more. I started aggressively and increased my technical intensity from the previous day. I was really happy with how I was going and passed a number of people early on but noticed I did get distracted by them while I was with them, noticeable on my GPS when leaving control 3. I lost a few minutes near the end of the course but up until this stage I was much happier with how I was navigating and this gave me a lot of confidence in my ability to improve with time in this foreign terrain.

The beginning of Stage 4

The beginning of Stage 4

After the sprint as the 3rd stage, it was back into the forest for a middle distance. I was pumped and determined to lift my intensity again. I attacked from the start by driving my navigating as far ahead as I could and dragging myself through the tricky terrain as smoothly as I could. I was disciplined on my compass in the lower visibility areas and came through them unscathed, only losing map contact for a short time on the way to 8.

The end of Stage 4

The end of Stage 4

I was buzzing towards the end of the course because I knew I was having a very good run, probably the best run of my year so far considering the difficulty of the terrain. I simplified well near the end and continued to spike the controls one by one and pushed hard through the forest to finish a hugely satisfying race.

The beginning of Stage 5

The beginning of Stage 5

The chasing start has traditionally been one of my strongest formats in orienteering. I have been very successful at integrating some running strategy into my orienteering and using other runners around me to gain further advantages. I started with a runner 30 seconds in front and another 20 seconds behind. I pushed very hard from the start and made the catch by the top of the hill on the way to control 2. This was also enough to prevent the runners behind me from joining me. At number 2 we caught more runners to form a pack of 4 so the race was going perfectly.

Some long legs in Stage 5

Some long legs in Stage 5

This final stage had some brutal long legs and it was best to attack them mostly straight but also avoid the marshes. On the way to 6, 2 runners got dropped and it remained just 2 of us for most of the race and despite taking different route choices in places we could not shake each other off.

Tough terrain in Stage 5

Tough terrain in Stage 5

I led from 11 through to 14 but lost time on my rival on the way to 15. I was feeling quite tired here and my aggression in the tough terrain was reducing.

The end of Stage 5

The end of Stage 5

I took a track option to enable me to run fast even through my strength may have been lacking. I almost caught my rival at 18 but we both made a big mistake on the 19th. This was a combination of my dwindling concentration and thinking more about his race than mine. I made an incorrect relocation going down the hill and changed my direction to compensate, inadvertently making the actual error. I lost 4 minutes here, the biggest mistake of the week for me, and at a time when my confidence was at its highest. Another runner ran through while I struggled to relocate and I finally finished in 37th place. Not bad for a someone who only spends one or two week ever year in this Swedish terrain.

Moving onto World Champs now, where I will be running sprint races, a far cry from these epic longs.

 

Trolltunga

My first mission after JWOC was to get into some real Norwegian mountains. The plan was to visit Trolltunga on our way to Bergen for a very special adventure.

I did the 21km run with Alan Cherry, a Brit who now lives in Bergen and Shamus Morrison who is travelling with me after JWOC. The run starts with a brutal 400m climb up some stone steps to a board valley of streams and bare rock. The beaten trail was quite busy on this sunny Sunday so we went cross country heading straight for the snow covered saddle which would carry us across to the next valley over. The ability to leave the trail and take your own route is one of the joys of running in Norway for me. It gives a different sense of freedom to running though the trails of New Zealand’s dense forests.

The trail made out of stones across the wetter areas

The trail made out of stones across the wetter areas

There was a lot of snow still around for this time of year and it must have been meters deep in the saddle. The track was basically a trench through the snow here and we ploughed on strong and flew down the other side. Once again the snow allows you to be more adventurous and to make your own path.

The adventurer’s paradise

The adventurer’s paradise

The track was really nice from here on and was constantly changing between dirt, bare rock, and snow, making it one of the most special runs I have ever done. We also got our first view of the deep valley and the lake over which Trolltunga stood. The track wounds around the hillside with snowy slopes up to the left and a massive cliff down to the lake on the right. The snow-capped mountains in all direction completed the dramatic scene.

Spectacular views of the dramatic landscape

Spectacular views of the dramatic landscape

We pushed on around the top of the cliff and could and could see our destination. After 1 hour 31 minutes of running we arrived on the scene. There was a small queue to get onto the rock to get that iconic photo and many people sitting all around eating and enjoying the view. We had a bit to eat, explored some of the other spectacular cliffs around the Trolltunga site and then joined the small queue to get the photo. It was an amazing feeling to finally make it here after planning the run a year ago.

Peeking of the edge, 300m directly down to certain death and 700m down to the lake

Peeking of the edge, 300m directly down to certain death and 700m down to the lake

Shamus and I sitting on the edge

Shamus and I sitting on the edge

The return trip was equally adventurous and after a few kilometres we turned off the track and headed up the slope to get a different perspective. The long strips of bare rock made the running along these hills and ridges quite fast a very fun. We kept gaining height until we came to a snowy valley and cashed in on our elevation by sprinting, tripping and sliding our way back to the main track.

We made the return journey in 1 hour and 11 minutes, running all the way to the icy lake back at the base of the track. This run had absolutely everything I could have asked for and will definitely go down as one of my most favourite runs. Here is the session on Garmin Connect.

A very brief dip into a very cold lake

A very brief dip into a very cold lake

 

JWOC Recap

When I first discovered the feasibility of coaching the NZ team for JWOC this year in Norway I was very excited and put my name forward. I knew most of the team well from previous coaching I had done and I got the job alongside manager Anna Robertson. This was her 3rd year as manager and I learned a lot from her experience. I also worked with the Australian coach and manager to improve the training opportunities we had during the week prior to JWOC.  The star athletes in the team attribute their successes mainly to years of quality training and high level of competition, but the JWOC training week definitely makes a difference to the results of the whole team and the confidence that all the athletes carry into the JWOC competitions.

The Team

The Team

The results achieved by the team this year ware again an improvement on previous years and the young age of the team gives very high hopes for the next 3 years. The star performers were as expected with Tim Robertson retaining his world champion status by winning the sprint distance for the 2nd year in a row and Shamus Morrison getting our top results in the middle and long distance, 1 place ahead of Tim in both races. I think Shamus’ result in the long distance makes him the top placing New Zealander at a JWOC long distance. Kayla Fairbairn and Danielle Goodall showed great promise by placing 1st and 3rd in the middle distance B-final and the women’s relay team placed the highest they had in recent years, while the men’s relay team slipped 1 place down from last year’s 6 place, but still keeping us amongst the strong nations.

I didn’t get very much running done during the JWOC week but I did get a chance to experience the men’s relay by running in the coach’s race and the men’s long distance as training the day after JWOC finished. I loved the terrain and the courses but unfortunately didn’t manage to pull off completely clean runs.

Here are my GPS routes for both.

 

Beautiful Rauland

I have been training in the beautiful hills of Rualand for the past week with the main focus of preparing the NZ JWOC team for their competitions. We have been doing some quality orienteering on some great terrain under the picturesque backdrop of snowy mountains and sparkling lakes. The terrain here is dominated by marshes which create highways through the forest. Streams, boulders and cliffs add to the detail on the hills and slopes.

A training course used for a middle distance race simulation

A training course used for a middle distance race simulation

On my first 2 days here in Rauland we did training focused on applying good orienteering techniques to the new terrain and learning more about the style of mapping. This was very useful for the team and their confidence in the new terrain increased greatly over those 2 days. I really enjoyed this terrain right from the start. The low visibility tested my strength with the compass and the increased running speed in the open marshes made planning route choice very important.

On the following days we did some more training but with a focus on race preparation. We gave the athletes start times, bus times, and simulated the JWOC start with quarantine, warm up map and full start procedure. This concept was first used last year and I expect it will remain an essential part of the pre-JWOC training for New Zealand and Australia. The idea stems from the fact that the issues many top orienteers have running at JWOC are not because they haven’t done enough training in relevant terrain but because the pressure of competing on the world stage is intense can greatly influence your performance on race day. Simulating the 3 individual races allows the athletes to become more familiar with the emotions they will be feeling on race day and to become more familiar with the start procedure which is more intense than anything they will have done in New Zealand.

Exploring some of the forest near the accomodation

Exploring some of the forest near the accomodation

Endless runnable terrain

Endless runnable terrain

My training included some slow orienteering as I allowed an injury to recover fully and then some long runs in the hills around the accommodation. Long runs here can be pretty loose because the forest and open areas are so runnable that it really doesn’t matter where you go. On my long runs here I have tried to stay on the trails but on both occasions found myself floating down spongey marshes and bounding through the green birch forest for the majority of the run. I’m hoping to add to these 2 long runs with another on the JWOC rest day on Wednesday.

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/822016030

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/822098069