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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.