Friday, 26 August 2011

WOC 2011

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My first World Champs and they weren't a disappointment. I really enjoyed the whole experience, preparing to race, being on the start line, racing through crowds, commentary, big screen, adrenaline, getting to the finish line.

I came 22nd in the sprint final and I was very happy with that. Even though before the championships I had been hoping for a top 20, I was pleased with my performance on the day and so I can't complain about the result. I was most happy with the fact that I'm learning to produce good performances under pressure - something I've never really done before. My aim this year was to move up from just running international races to being reliably in the top 30 so it's nice to have achieved that so far.

3-4 on this map is 14-15 in the race.
Red route best, yellow route mine.
Maps and results found here
Without getting too geeky, I've done a bit of splittimes analysis. In the final I was between 6 - 38% behind the fastest time for each leg but most of them around 16%. I didn't think I had made any mistakes when I had finished, but this analysis showed up that I took a longer route to 15 and lost 10 seconds. It also showed up that I started a bit steady compared to others. At control 5, I had lost 40 seconds to the leaders after 4 minutes running. By control 12, I was only a minute behind after 9 minutes running.

The good bits seemed to stand out as a section between controls 6-10 where I was in the castle grounds, and from 16 to the finish. I also seemed to loose less time on the long leg (7 seconds from a 1.40ish split) than I did on most controls of around 1 minute. Drawing some vague conclusions, running speed is not a main weakness (although it still needs to improve) but flow through controls definitely is.

After all that was over, I got to enjoy the men's race: see GG get even closer to the medals, watch Murray improve again on last year and cheer Scott on to an amazing performance after such a crazy few hours of disqualification debate. It was a good day for British sprinters (Sarah was 13th and Hollie 26th) and it was fun to be part of it.

The view from Dent du Chat - the obvious
rock sticking out from the ridge opposite Aix-les-Bains
The rest of the week was spent running up mountains in baking heat to get incredible views followed by watching the worlds best orienteers get lost in the forest. Respect to anyone who found a control out there, just watching the GPS made me confident I made the right decision to run the sprint and not the long. Despite nearly 3 weeks of training camps in the terrain, I was still in no position to race in it.

Although I'll hopefully be heading to the final rounds of the world cup in Czech and Switzerland in September/October, it's a good time to look back on my season. I've improved more than I thought I would both physically and technically and this translated into surprise wins in the domestic season and my totally unexpected 12th at one of the Nordic Tour races. I think this is because I have been working part-time so I have increased my training hours and quality and had better recoveries. My work was also very flexible so I could do a number of training camps in the Lake District and make up for the poor terrain around London.

The main hairpins of Alp d'Huez
- one of the amazing runs I did during July
The only slightly negative thing is that I have a (unproven) feeling that I was in better physical shape in June than I was at WOC. As I spent a lot of July travelling I didn't get the quality interval sessions in that I needed to at this stage. Again, I've looked at split times in the Nordic Tour race and saw I was more like 10-12% behind the fastest split times for each leg. Either I got slower over the next 6 weeks or the others improved more. Whichever it is, it's a lesson I should learn for next season. However, there are no regrets. I had a great month doing a lot of training that helped me be better prepared in other ways for WOC and hopefully making me better when I get back to chasing the flags in the forest.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Life as a pro athlete

It’s been a long while since I last updated this blog and so much has happened. In a nutshell – I went to Nordic Tour and got my best international results to date, got swapped from running long to sprint at WOC this year, finished my job in London, moved to Edinburgh, went on a sprint training camp in Switzerland, went mountain running in Switzerland and France, went on a training/racing camp in Slovenia, and then landed up at the Scottish 6 days. Going into more detail: here are some photos, maps and stories...

Just before I went on the Nordic Tour I ran a hill race at Skiddaw in the Lake District. It was the European Trials Race and the first UK uphill mountain running champs. I was doing the race to get an idea of how far behind the best UK hill runners I am, particularly before I moved to Edinburgh and started training and racing on hills regularly. I came 10th and I was pleased with this, about 4 minutes down on the winners over about an hour. Results are here (see Race 2 European Trial Results Womens)

Taken from the Nordic Tour website
Then I headed off to the carnival circus that is the Nordic Tour. I ran a very good qualification race especially given that it was a bit bizarre – tricky forest, middle race course, but all on a sprint map. I didn’t expect to qualify so I went out with the attitude of trying to get everything right and seeing how far away I was. I managed to get most things right and pick some ok route choices. I qualified in 29th place with about 10 seconds to spare!

Again from the Nordic Tour website
I then ran the final which was a standard sprint in the old town of Porvoo. I felt really relaxed with no pressure, just happy to have got this far. I’ve got to learn to repeat this frame of mind as I went on to run to my best ever result - I came 12th. I did a pretty perfect race, I can’t think of many places I lost time. I thought my route choices were good and it all flowed nicely. This was a real encouragement as I’ve tried to focus on sprint racing this year but have not managed to perform in the races so far this season. GPS tracking here.

After this race came Jukola where I was running for the NTNUI 3rd team. A super start by the 1st and particularly 2nd leg runners meant that we were in the 40s by the time I went out on last leg. I went out carefully and soon got swept up by Mora and Linne teams who were running much faster. I held on as long as I could, I made one mistake with them, but otherwise going well. I then had a different gaflfle and lost them as I got stuck in a thick marsh. I think I lost a lot of time there, but another pack soon ran past and I got to the finish safely and I was happy with my run. I think we landed up 41st which is awesome for a 3rd team. It’s definitely my highest ever at Jukola and it was a new experience running so high up in a big relay  - things definitely moving faster, to state the obvious.

On-on and we landed up in Gothenburg ready for Nordic Tour round 2. Qualification was a straight sprint race so I fancied my chances of getting through after last week. I was far more nervous and so tried to take things slowly and get the navigation right. Sadly it was all just too slow – a combination of nerves and tiredness from bad sleep at Jukola I think. I didn’t make mistakes in a big way, but it was a good reminder that I still need to run qualification races hard. Results are here.

Click here for GPS tracking and here for TV coverage.
After a few days relaxing and seeing the sights with old friends in Oslo it was then on for the final Nordic Tour race – a chasing start based on some algorithm of your previous race results. I was going out in  27th with a lot of girls just ahead and just behind. I managed to stay with packs all the way, but also keeping control of where I was. The gaffling system was a bit funny as there was a map exchange so you weren’t entirely sure where the gaffles were. Also, there was just a huge number of people running very fast in a small space of forest which added to the chaos. I think I picked some good routes (mainly path options) which helped, and I also didn’t make any major mistakes so I managed to pick up a few places and finished 25th. Results are here. I did lose some places towards the end as I was getting tired and I wasn’t pushing as hard. I also got a bit more nervous about making a bit mistake so I was a bit more careful and took longer to make decisions. I was very happy with the result and the performance and the whole 10 days really. It was a much better experience than last year because I was that bit higher up the results list that I got involved in the chasing starts. I think I may even be in 20th place in the current World Cup standings - crazy.

After the O-festivalen relay (running for the first time for the NTNUI 1st team), I came home for my final week at work in London. At the end of the week I packed up all my stuff into the car and drove all the way to Edinburgh – and then asked Murray to come and reverse park for me once I got there. After another week of unsuccessful job hunting and interviews, I packed up again ready for life as an athlete for a month.

First I headed to Zurich where Sarah Rollins, Murray and I made our own sprint training camp. We ran sprint courses and training exercises fairly hard for about 2 hours every day in Schwyz, Bremgarten, Richterswil, Zurich and Einsiedeln. It was really good for focusing me onto sprint orienteering and learning a lot from Sarah. Particular things I’m trying to work on are long route choice legs and planning ahead. I tend to find I choose the wrong moment to plan ahead and then end up making a mistake on the current control.

After that, Murray and I headed to Grindlewald for some chill out mountain running time. We ran in the hills that are overshadowed by the Eiger, read books about the climbing attempts on the North Face and laughed at American tourists who asked “where is the Eiger?” We went on one very long run and photos are here.

We continued our adventures by going down to Aix Les Bains and Chambery to walk around the sprint areas for WOC. We met up with other GB team members and some Aussies and I got a bit of time in the terrain reminding myself why I’m happy running the sprint this year. As a bit of a break from the limestone we ran up Alp d’Huez. It was great fun as it was a week before the Tour got there but the Dutch had already claimed their spots and were cheering us on up. Sadly we missed a bus on the way down so it ended up being an even longer day out than planned.

After these adventures, Hollie Orr and I got on the train from Geneva to Trieste and joined the some GB juniors/young seniors to fulfil our talent in Slovenia. We missed a few days of training but got to join them for some excellent racing at the OO Cup. It was a great opportunity to get excellent coaching and to try out some new things. I’m trying to improve by taking fewer looks at the map, simplifying a lot more as at the moment I play dot-to-dot when I get into tricky terrain. I spent the first 3 days of the OO cup experimenting with this, blowing 10 minutes here and there, but absolutely loving it. I then tried to put it together on day 4 but didn’t really focus properly. On Day 5 I went out like it was a World Cup qualifier with some real determination to get it right. I felt it went really well and there were only a few bits where I lost time. I ended up 3rd, a long way behind the two Danes but I felt like I had really improved.

Finally I arrived back in England and after a short trip to Grandma and a school friends wedding I was driving the long journey up to Oban for the Scottish 6 days. I only intended to run the middle and long days as they counted for the UK Cup. I went out for the middle race quite hard. I was tired but I wanted to do well so I thought if I pushed I might concentrate better. It didn’t happen and I lost lots of time at every control and then I never found 9. At this point I decided I desperately needed to get some sleep and relax and so I gave up and came home. Just before I left I was given an amazing present from Harlequins. The whole club had signed a little message to me of good luck for France.

I now have about 2 weeks to get ready for the sprint race at WOC. I am going to do some training in Perth and St Andrews as they have similar old towns to Chambery and Aix Les Bains. I’m also going to do a lot of resting.