Impressions of Estonia

I’ve now been 1 week in Estonia, staying with 2 new friends in Tartu and finding my old friend consistency. Kaupo and Heinar, a multisporter and a marathon runner, have been great value and very kind to let me into their apartment. Although we have been mostly doing our own training,  it always feels like a training camp when we regroup for stretching and rolling each evening. Estonia appears to be a nice country and everybody I have met has been friendly, although the scars of soviet occupation are everywhere.

View from my window – the evening sun over the university grounds

View from my window – the evening sun over the university grounds

This week I’ve been out to 3 maps for 2 long sessions and one shorter one, with another hard interval session on the road and some easy runs around town. My body seems to coming into some better form again after 3 sluggish weeks, possibly with too much racing and not enough resting. Knocking off 7 races in the last 4 weeks has of course been fun, but with 5 of them long distance races, I’ve always felt like my fitness-fatigue balance has been lopsided despite my best efforts to calculate and correct for these races within the greater training progression. This week has corrected for that, keeping the intensity low for all session except for some flat and fast intervals – a recipe I know my body responds well too. It was also important to get some descent time orienteering on maps relevant to WOC and clocking in over 5 hours across 3 runs sees that box ticked also.

Kaupo and I after our first long run

Kaupo and I after our first long run

The 3 sessions are up on my DOMA so be sure to check them out and see what kind of terrain awaits us for WOC, with my first race now 8 days away. I would describe the terrain here as messy, with small patches of different trees and different undergrowth always breaking the flow that the smooth contours suggest is possible. In places, a lot of branches on the ground demand high levels of aggression and micro-route choice becomes important for maintaining high speed but an additional challenge for maintaining directionMap 1

Map 2

Map 3

Although there are clearly mistakes in my orienteering so far, I would describe the technical difficulty I’ve faced so far as on the easy side and I’m only really concerned about the one mistake I made today where I can’t put the pieces back together. The others have been due to out of date mapping and distractions such as talking to training partners or thinking I’ve seen a bear. I really don’t want to see a bear!

Hooning through one of the nicer patches of forest

Hooning through one of the nicer patches of forest

I’m looking forward to 2 more orienteering sessions, one at higher speed, and a few sessions cruising around on the road or trails, one also with intervals, and then I think I’ll be as ready as ever to face race day.

First Jukola Run Down

After many years of waiting, I have finally experienced the Jukola mass start. This outrageously big race has never been at the right time of the year for me to compete in, but with WOC earlier than usual this year the opportunity arose. I ran for the Finnish club Hämeenlinna Suunnistajat, not a super star club but a really nice one with some young and older talent which reminded me very strongly of NWOC back home.

The Team

The Team

I have always loved running the first leg of relays and I aim to be a reliable first leg runner for New Zealand at WOC. Experience has shown me that I am able to pace myself well earlier in the race and then use other runners to increase my speed later on, and also know when to concentrate more on the navigation. My strategy at Jukola was no different, I knew that I would be fast enough to be close to the front, but probably not fresh enough to be on the front. I started in 75 place (out of 1600) , not so far back that I would get stuck behind slower runners. The pace from the start was as furious as expected, but I didn’t feel the need to push forward through the pack, instead I stayed relaxed and waited for the pace to slow. The first leg was very long with two possible route choices and I was happy to follow the pack either way. I tried not to get caught up in any bottle necks, and only moved forward through the pack when it was easiest. I see this as my characteristic style, aiming for high efficiency.

I never saw the pack split coming into the first control which was forked quite widely, so when the lines of runners crossed mid-way to control 2 I was very confused, and all around me was total chaos. I was very careful not to get into the wrong train. I ignored everyone and spiked 2 on my own before putting the map away to do some more blatant following for the next few controls. I was passing people quite easily here and started to navigate on my own again at the perfect time coming into 6 and strangely found myself completely alone. I find it unlikely that I was the only one around me with this split control and suspect a lot of people followed too much here. I rejoined the train at 7 which was beginning to fracture, and I wondered how far I was from the front. Turns out I was just over a minute off the lead, but this was too far to see in the forest. I wanted to push the pace of those around me to stop gaps from forming in the line, but it was too late and naturally a bunch formed before the long leg to 12. This was the second bunch. I wanted to run the road wide to the right for this leg but no one around me exited in that direction so I decided to follow again and not risk being alone.

After a lot of track running we arrived at some very tricky controls, in totally dark forest and there was a lot of action here. The first bunch (which was split across 2 route choices) was slow here, and the bunches merged to form a super bunch. 2 control later this turned into chaos with trains crossing through another double split. I could see a number of people make mistakes here. I was trailing on the back of the bunch and after being a little slow to 15 I did not have the legs to rejoin on the very physical leg to 16. The first bunch pulled away and then shed a number of runners again on the final hard control. I also made a small mistake and I was feeling pretty burned here and just held on to this second bunch to finish in 29th, 2 minutes down.

Formation of the super bunch, 31 runners (not all with GPS tracking)

Formation of the super bunch, 31 runners (not all with GPS tracking)

Full course can be found here: http://www.tulospalvelu.fi/gps/2017jukol1/

Given my training and travelling to Europe there was a good chance I wouldn’t be in great shape, but to give the Hämeenlinna team a stable first leg was a previlage, and they went on finish in 58th, their best result in recent years. As expected this was the most fun I’ve ever had with all the elements of sport I love thrown in together and I look forward to starting Jukola, or maybe Tiomila, in the near future. Now I need to recover from another race and get in some consistent training and recovery before WOC.

And here’s the money shot from KopterCam: https://vimeo.com/222195922

European Campaign for 2017

Here I am on the eve of my first Jukola surrounded by orienteering in another European summer. I’m feeling pretty rough after the travelling this year, possibly not helped by being very busy in the days leading up to my flights. Sleep deprived but not able to sleep. I did some training this morning in Hämeenlinna and another one here in Eno, which was good value, but I’m quite fatigued and a little worried about Jukola, in which I am running first leg for Hämeenlinna Suunnistajat. This will be a pain train like no other!

The iconic start of the Jukola relay

The iconic start of the Jukola relay. Photo cred: Jukola

Jukola has never been at the right time to me to compete in, but with WOC earlier than usual this year I took the opportunity to experience this iconic relay. I’m a first leg fiend, loving the intensity that pack running brings, so to be runnning first leg here is a dream come true.

The real purpose for me being in Europe though, is WOC in Estonia. This week (22-16 days out from race day) was planned to be my biggest in terms of training load in this build, but travelling and jet leg has made that unlikely to be the case. Next week in Estonia will also be very important, as I will try to get many hours in relevant terrain before using the next week to freshen up before racing. My 3 races at WOC are not until the end of the program; long, middle and relay. Long and relay have had my explicit focus for a some time now, and to good affect, but I am still somewhat unable to demonstrate consistent middle distance performances.

After WOC I’ll be shooting back to Finland to spectate JWOC and compete in the accompanying Fin5, which will be a very tough competition in the elite grade and I aim to perform well over the 5 races, also with a lot less stress and pressure than at WOC. That will round of 9 races over my month in European summer.

You can follow Jukola at http://www.jukola.com/2017/en/follow-jukola/ – I’ll try to get a little TV coverage.