Friday, 9 August 2013

Crashed in Colombia


It was a massive honour to be at the World Games (quick description: Olympics for non-Olympic sports) in Cali, Colombia. It's not often that orienteering is part of a multi sport competition or in South America. Sadly for me the body just said no. Maybe it was the excessive heat or the long flight there but more likely I think I've just already cashed in on my bank of winter training and I'm now into the overdraft.

This season was the first time I've felt like I've properly peaked for a competition (the aim being the World Orienteering Champs in early July). This involved taking most of June pretty easy to the point where I was starting to feel lazy. But I got my reward - mainly getting on the podium at the World Champs sprint but also I managed a good vertical km the week before in the Skyrunning World Series.

But since WOC I have felt flat both in the legs and the head. The goals have been achieved for the year yet the racing calendar is still going. Last year I managed to race well straight after WOC (I won the Snowdon race) so I had a little hope that I might have a similar boost this year. But the seasons were totally different. Last year was plagued with injuries and I was always playing catch up physically - training hard until quite close to WOC. I found the season stressful and once WOC was over I felt a huge weight off my shoulders and my legs responded positively to that too. So maybe I was silly to expect some kind of similar response after this season has just gone so perfectly. But I am definitely not complaining - I know which template I'd like to repeat next year.

Image taken from here
Having said all this, just because the legs aren't in top form, it doesn't mean I still can't enjoy competitions and the experiences that go with them. Going to Cali and taking part in the World Games was something I am very grateful for and will never forget. 

Cali was absolutely buzzing and it didn't seem to be just because of the World Games. Salsa music was a backdrop to most of our adventures and we grew to love waiting for things - mainly buses and lifts. We were very well looked after by an enormous team of volunteers who were mostly students dressed in brightly coloured trousers. 

With security issues in mind, we were a bit conservative with our non-official travels. On our jet lag recovery day we managed to watch some gymnastics of which the men's balance competition was both hysterically funny and impressive at the same time. 4 guys per team looking like a row of Russian dolls ranging from stacked to tiny and then balancing on each others heads in sparkly shorts (really worth a watch here). 

And onto the races themselves. The sprint race was held in a park relatively central in Cali. The course was not the most technically challenging but the incredible heat and humidity meant that most of us felt like we'd had a horrific day out. I felt like I blew up at the 6th control and crawled in for the remaining 14. I ended in 9th place, surprised to be that high and actually pleased with that. (Course, GPS, results all here)

Dying in the heat. Photo from the IOF Gallery

The middle race was held further out of town in what was best described as a jungle with lots of paths through it. It was a bit trickier than it looked as the small paths could be hard to pick out. I never found one to take me to the 5th control. I think I started on it but then it went into a thorn bush so I stopped and tried another route. Apparently carrying on a bit was the answer here, I think I was too quick to doubt myself. The rest of the course went quite straightforwardly. I didn't feel like I was running fast enough and with half a thought to the relay the next day, I didn't push through any pain barriers. I finished in 22nd - again course, GPS, results all here.

Didn't see the route choice through the river! Went back for some post-race recovery instead.

And so the final event, the relay and our strong GB team had been recognised one of the medal contenders. We knew we could do it but there were also a lot of other teams that could also say that. And relays never really go how the paper start list would predict...

Murray started things off well as he is now making a habit of doing. Cat also did the business going through the spectator with about a 2 minute lead. Exciting times. Scott went out on 3rd leg with a small group but with the Swiss starting to fly away.

It then started to get a bit confusing as news of a Norwegian mispunch filtered through and as Sweden's incomplete and mispunched team pulled out. Out of the competitive teams I went out behind Switzerland but with Czech. Or it would have been with them if I had remembered to clear my SI card. I still am shuddering at that moment I saw Scott coming up the run in and I just felt like something was missing. It was my own fault I had been warned that the clear units were hard to find but I had totally forgotten as usually they are impossible to miss.

So after a mild panic I cleared and set off trying to keep calm. I could see Czech ahead. It's all ok. I got number 1 fine but was now alone (think the Czech had made a mistake) and I so looked ahead to the course. I saw the control 3 that my team mates had told me about - "it's just as we planned into that green. Go round the paths. I got so much time on others who were hacking through the green." Easy decision for me then. Round I go. As I came into the control Austria appeared. Hmmm, not ideal.

My long route to 3-D. Cutting through the light green better.
Or better still, going along the edge of the fence apparently.

I ran to 4 and came across Denmark punching their number 3 (C). It all made sense- the gaffles are massive, Murray and Cat had that one (C) and that's why they thought they gained by going on the path! The next few controls involved some doglegs so I saw other teams and knew where I stood. I'd overtaken Czech but them and Austria were not far behind. Norway (already dsq but still running) and Denmark had overtaken in part due to gaffling but I knew I would struggle to hold them both off over the full course.

I had Denmark 10m ahead and used them well to get through a large part of the course putting time into Austria and Czech. Just before the spectator, control 15, I had another long gaffle (sorry I know it is really bad form to moan about gaffle lengths but I really felt that it was silly for me today on combination AD) and Denmark extended the gap. But we were still in the bronze medal position and I was going to secure that. A slog up the hill and through some fences and I was home.

I looked up and saw the penultimate control - and Murray with his hand over the unit. Oh dear. Have I disqualified the team? No, it was Scott on third leg. I wasn't allowed to finish as it would confuse the TV so I had a walk back to the arena all a bit of a muddle. (Full course, GPS, results all here)

The next day was weird for me getting over it. I'm obviously gutted that we didn't bring a medal home especially as it would have been my first big international medal. But equally I had a feeling that I had messed it up too - what if I hadn't cleared? I could sympathise with how Scott must be feeling and it is a horrible feeling to have. I was also a bit mixed because I felt like I didn't really hold my own on last leg. I felt like I ran well apart from my route choice to 3 but it was sad not to even get the chance to battle with some teams as they were just suddenly past me. Definitely not how I had hoped and imagined it to be.


Despite the disappointment, walking into a packed 50,000 seater stadium for the
closing ceremony was a moment to enjoy. See my 360 degree shot here.
I tried to salsa and discovered I don't really have hip joints like the Colombians do.

So now I am home and looking forward to a break from competitions. It's been a great season but I can't help but feel a little down as the last few races including the WOC middle, the Dolomite sky racing and now World Games have just pushed me too far in various different ways. It's time to rest up and the start building up the miles in the bank ready for the next year.

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