Friday, 6 April 2018

Season '18 Begins

First off, I am delighted to say that I have been picked to run for GB's Senior Team at the European Championships next month in Ticino, southern Switzerland. I will be heading out on the 5th of May to compete in the Sprint, Middle, and Relay as a 2nd team runner. Saying I would have a chance at this feat only six weeks ago would have been met with a prompt laugh followed by firm denial (especially at the Sprint selection). The advantage of having a strong base of training to push off though is that six weeks is all it takes to get back on form, from what at the time felt like the gutter.

This is a very special selection for me. Not only does will the championships mark the first real international senior experience for me, I am hoping it will be significant as 'the first days of the rest of life'. To say I haven't been struggling this year would be a lie. Hitting the end of my junior career while nearing the end of university came with an invisible brick wall; and with pressures to begin thinking of my career path both professionally and as an orienteer (very much opposites just now), I became quite anxious about life. With several other factors including an eye injury which threatened to be permanent, my head was set in a spin that lasted most of this year so far.

A slight turn for the better came with my birthday, and an unforgettable 51km run with Ali and Tim supporting for the first 43km(!) followed by a day at Teviot really lifted my spirits. I'm a sucker for making days and events much more significant than they need to be.

Soon though I was moving out to Halden, which although can be compared to opening the gates of heaven for any dedicated orienteer, it was not quite as straightforward for me in my condition. Don't get me wrong, the move brought a lot of excitement and optimism. But the days were dark, the weather was cold, I felt largely alone, and really struggled when additional illness and lack of fitness began hitting me mentally as well as physically. Especially at a time that training was one of the sole factors pulling me through every day.

However, no matter what type; annual or psychological; winters are always temporary. Days became lighter, airways became clearer, legs became faster and with time, my mind slowly descended back down to earth. The concept that time is the cure for all ailments may be clichéd but it has prevailed to be incredibly accurate in my life recently. I grew to enjoy my early rises, my commutes, my work, my food, my books, movies and contact with friends, and very importantly, for me, I began to actually enjoy my training again. A visit from my brother boosted things significantly too, with lots of skiing and orienteering in glorious weather that weekend. It certainly wasn't linear, but the overall trend was that I was improving.

Most memorably came a chance to finally do some proper cross country skiing in Nordmarka, north of Oslo. A goal to hit 50km was met with blues skies and a cool World Cup XC ski stop, as well as plenty of face-fulls of snow on the downhills. I even headed out again the weekend after for some even more beautiful conditions.

With increased fitness came increased confidence. With increased club and work attendance came increased assimilation. With increased training came increased endorphins and fitness. And with an increase in all these things, came an increase in quality of life.

My race performances steadily improved to climax at the JK last weekend, having flown back to Aberdeen for a few days before heading down to Birmingham for the annual event involving key selection races. The terrains were easy so I declined any optimism, thinking my physical fitness was lacking. And that's how it felt in the Sprint, and I finished a disappointing minute behind the win. But it's interesting what the right mental mindset as well as the correct people waiting at the finish line can do. Fast forward through the Middle, Long and Relay, I picked up 4th, 3rd, overall 3rd, and finally the JK Trophy with my EUOC Legends team of Alex and Jonny.

Credit: Wendy Carlyle

It was not about numbers for me though, as the experiences were incredibly uplifting and enjoyable. The middle was a solo, comfortable, contained effort. The long was a 15-round boxing match, helped by Jonny and Spongey, but not so much by brambles. The relay was a panicked mud-fest, but overall a great experience completing something I didn't think I'd get a chance to before leaving uni. A great story was also born when the relay trophy was almost forgotten at a McDonalds victory meal post-race.

Credit: Rob Lines

The time between races with the club and few days in Edinburgh afterwards was just as welcomed; the only downside though was that the grass was becoming greener on the side I was on, and so moving back to Norway began to feel like a difficult task. Luckily though, the feeling was short-lived and probably motivated by significant sleep deprivation. I woke up this morning to singing birds, blue skies and spring in the air. It's peculiar how close a relationship my mindset and the weather have had recently, but as long as it continues before fading away before next winter, I think I'm quite fine with that.


This weekend it's the Norwegian's turn to compete for selection spaces; and I will be running as an observer. There are some exciting weeks coming up including this one, with Tiomila and the Europeans on the horizon. Here's to a promisingly enjoyable new season; it's already massively surpassed any previous ill-felt expectations.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

2017 ctd.

It's been a while since I was collating my thoughts on here post-JWOC. It feels like a distant memory to me, almost like a grandpa reflecting on his youth, and yet time has skipped by almost unnoticed since the summer. It might be of interest to read about my successes since the summer, but I think the most important thing for me is to put my recent thoughts into writing.

Although JWOC ruined my body, it felt satisfying, like I had given it my all. 

My burnt, bald head, that still feels sensitive when in direct sunlight regardless of how much hair I now have (considerable amounts), was soon coupled with an infection in my knee. I can't be quite sure, but it seems a hungover dip in Tampere lake the morning after the JWOC party was probably the most likely point that something entered my bloodstream. On the journey home, my lower leg was totally swollen. I could barely walk, and I had a fever, so I was put on antibiotics when I visited the doctor the next day in Edinburgh. Those of you who know the city should find humour in that it took me approximately an hour to get from Bristo Square to Waverley to catch my train, so handicapped I was at the time.

A few worry-filled days passed at home in Aberdeen before even painkillers couldn't treat the pain nor the fever. My temperature nipped over 39 and so it was off to the hospital for two nights to get IV antibiotics. I felt mildly out of place and therefore guilty, in that my condition wasn't too bad. At least until the current batch of painkillers wore off and my knee felt like it had twisted itself 90 degrees. The doctors gave me morphine which made me almost pass out, that was fun, and had my x-rayed to ensure there was no bone damage that some thought would explain the inability to put weight on it. However, nothing showed and two days later I just about managed to walk out and take several more days off, enjoying the Aberdeen summer and watching endless movies, before I felt ready to jog again. 
Summer in Aberdeen ft. Mum

By the next week, I was chilling in Lagganlia enjoying some of the Scottish summer with some familiar faces plus enthusiastic 14 year olds. I hobbled round a few courses and tried to share some wisdom, but even walking was still met with substantial pain. The experience was great though and I really enjoyed taking the coaches seat for once. One highlight came from shadowing a pair of upcoming MOR stars round Culbin. Along with the rest of the squad, the potential and dedication I witnessed in these juniors was astonishing. There are certainly big things to come!

The Six Days rolled by and I was gutted to not be able to compete. I hobbled round day 1, jogged some of day 2, and attempted to 'race' around the third, WRE day. My orienteering was as lazy as my racing legs were, and I was relatively disappointed at how much I'd lost in the two weeks since JWOC. The party was as good as ever, day 4 was a quickly decided DNF after a day of parking duties, day 5 went well round a lovely course planned by Andyroo, and finally day 6 was a long, but as ever, awesome experience round Creag Choinnich's delights (save for smashing my compass). 

Creds Laurence Johnston

The next few weeks flew by with some cycling, S6D training kite collecting, a fun 10mile race round Newtonmore almost feeling normal again, and eventually normal training again by the second half of August. I raced Ben Hukins round the Lomonds of Fife hill race - one I've always been keen to try - and was delighted to win. Highlights were seeing Andy fly by in his glider followed by giving myself some very bad bacon descending West Lomond the quickest way (sledging on bare arse).

Lomonds of Fife

Fiina then moved back to Edinburgh and we headed back to Aberdeen together for a week of nice easy running while my knee reacted quite badly to the recent load. My left knee also began tugging due to an obvious imbalance in my running style. I was however, fixed in time for Braemar Highland Games race against a strong field of orienteers (GG, Pooboy, Shminty, Carcas) plus James E. I was second to the top, caught GG who's road shoes couldn't face the downhill too well, was caught my Pete, and then pushed out into 3rd by the end. Still, a good indication that things were in fact better than I was expecting. Fiina raced round to dip under the 45min cutoff as well, was awesome to see.

Back to Edinburgh before heading out to the Senior Home Internationals in Northern Ireland. My orienteering brain switched on and my knee pain switched off to perform well round a tough, but only 45min, individual race and take my third consecutive win. The relays however disappointed a little bit and England ran away with the trophy. It was a nice weekend regardless and fun race in some new areas.

Fresher's week hit and so did a nice little fresher's race up on Arthur's Seat. Enjoyed a slip n slide in my Salomon's and it was a while since I was as cold as I was at the finish in some classic September monsoon. Awesome course though and big respect to Dalkeith flat for setting it up!

That weekend, the last few days before uni began, Fiina and I met my Mum and Brother in Glencoe for the skyrunning weekend. Fiina took a last minute opportunity to race round Ring of Steal, while Oleg grinded round the full skyline on Sunday. Both performed outstandingly simply to manage and finish their races in one piece, and I felt extremely humbled by their efforts. Meanwhile I did a bit of running but mainly chilled out and supported their efforts. Sunday included a walk up Hidden Valley with Fiina and my mum, which exhausted me much more than it should have.

Special shout outs to Tim, Beth and Jacob who all ran insanely well too

Then uni began and all holiday fun was over. Illness came but training continued, and within two weeks it was time for the World Cup Finals in Grindelwald, Switzerland. Although the event holds a big title with high quality, senior competition and some of the finest terrain in the world, my mind wasn't in a state to put much effort into preparations nor enthusiasm. Nevertheless, I flew out with an adventure-orientated coach Oleg and the rest of the team to participate in the Long race on Friday, and the Middle the day after.

The terrain was indeed amazing, and with our pre-start at 2000m altitude, our already high 900m of climb on the course was ever more physically challenging. The technicality was moderate, but not high enough to make it any less a running race, and Kyburz made this clear. I shifted round fairly happy to simply complete this full length long distance (at least for my time) and finished in a comfortable 49th, a few seconds down on a tired Olli and ahead of some good names. 

The Middle went similarly, in that I finished 49th, but the packing was much more severe and 60s of mistakes I could have easily saved would have seen me almost half that position. It was a fun experience with a huge deja-vu to JWOC last year, and I took huge motivation out of the races to continue my orienteering in to the next year. 

The cherry on the cake of the trip however, didn't come until a climb up a glacial valley on the Sunday before our flight home. A huge climb with nothing but mist broke through to easily the most stunning views I have been lucky enough to witness. The Eiger poked up in the background, alongside blue skies, white scapes, and even a brocken spectre against the white mist below. It was quite a site.

By the next weekend, somehow, I was raring to race Pentland Skyline. The conditions were favourable, the competition minimal, and it was a really bliss day racing round the local hills with so many familiar faces encouraging me round, and crucially, an obliging pair of legs. The last few hills were grim as usual, but the gap was big enough to relax a bit and finish in a solo effort of 2:28.

The following weekend was a very special one, and it won't be leaving my head anytime soon. Haries finally willingly sent teams to the FRAs, in Llanberis, North Wales this year. I was on second leg with Jacob in a team of 5 orienteers/6. Jack got us off to a good start, allowing Jacob and I to pick off 4 teams to handover in 4th, with quickest leg time. Ali and Ewan pushed round to gain a place, and Alex completed the relay to give us a Silver medals! With such a young, familiar team, the experience was ever more satisfying, and the weekend was one well spent. 

After a weekend's recovery at home (would have raced but a punctured car tyre in Ballater disallowed anything of the sort), it was a fairly typical winter's weekend of National XC Relays on Saturday (young team of Totton, Cameroni, myself and Carcas finished 6th, 14th fastest time for myself) and Drummond Hill SOL on Sunday (ft. the annual cheeky finish ahead of a tired GG). 

However, the main success of the week was not either of these races and instead the weekly mileage of 166km. This was intentional, as a curiosity to see how I would take it. The results were: obviously very well. However, I was soon feeling it a bit, so I think a step back from this at about 145km is where I'm going to aim for most of winter. I've been keeping this up for quite a while (6 weeks now) and it seems to be going fine so we'll settle on that for now.

The weekend ahead was slightly more important: the Scottish Uni XC Champs for a space to the Inter Districts at Holyrood in January. The legs were heavy warming up and the competition seemed much more stacked than the previous year, but my recent training block rewarded me a very surprising Bronze after a somewhat chilled race round a course that likely suited me quite well. We'll see if I can keep up this form in the upcoming races; Braids, Liverpool, and East Champs. 

That takes us up to now, as I sit, finishing this blog post, at some Floorball match in Tikkurila, Finland after having had mixed experiences and results at a TuMe Jukola (Lahti '18) training camp. The night-o brain wasn't particularly there this weekend, albeit with a new, top-of-the-range toy from Mila (new Vega II Headlamp at reduced price), but I took pride in winning a mass-start night test after a shaky start (last at no.2, 3d rerun). Lack of sleep caught up with me for the rest of the camp though, and the next night proved to be almost catastrophic as I tried to push myself back into the forest for a night relay after being exhausted, and horribly cold after my first leg of 2. Warmth and food came soon enough after though for everything to be fine the next day.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

JWOC take four, 2017

This report has been quite a tough one to write for me. Along with my degrading writing skillset after being off uni for so long, I'm finding it hard to choose areas that will be interesting to read about and useful to remember for the future. However, after a week of procrastinating I feel like I'm ready to at least give it a shot.

I'll separate the report into a section for each race, as well as a pre-JWOC intro, and try to convey the key points that went well and maybe areas that I need to work on.


To simplify I will split this into physical, technical and mental preparations.

Physically, I was ready. There wasn't much argument against that. I was significantly faster this year than I have ever been with consistently high mileage and quality sessions. My training changed to perhaps a more old fashioned system in doing either long, threshold-paced runs or fartleks with dozens of reps totalling at least 30mins as my session in the week. Between the end of January and the end of June I had run at least 5km every day with 10km on all but a handful of days. My final test on the 31st of May running a relaxed 33min 10km secured the knowledge that I was at least fit, but maybe not terrain fit.

This is where the technical side of things came in. Over the winter I did minimal orienteering. This risky strategy worked well with a set of easy (technically) selection races and a long stint in Finland over June before Jukola doing nothing but terrain miles with a map. Hence, by the time Jukola rolled over I was accustomed to the spongey stuff and the legs could deal with any surface. My orienteering was still sketchy but I knew I had to live with it, and there was a low chance of getting round any course mistake free at JWOC. I planned to leverage my physical ability to 'afford to make mistakes', and that's also why my focus was on the long distance where this was more of a possibility. In the final few days before JWOC I got out into the terrain. Instead of testing the racing legs as I usually succumb to doing, I checked out the map; the green, the contours, the boulders, the anthills, and became familiar with the style. I didn't like the mapper's vegetation so I knew to use it with care.

That leaves my mental preparation, and this year I saw this as giving any race that I had, especially in Finnish/technical terrain, my full focus. This worked well especially at the Helsinki O-Games and I knew I could pull off a relaxed, good performance. Furthermore, with this being my fourth JWOC, plus fourth Middle A-Final (assuming I qualified), I knew the tricks of the trade and what works for me; to chill in quarantine, to chill in pre-start, and to chill during the race. One of my greatest weaknesses in the past has been the ability to psyche myself out pre-race. Perhaps this is why I opted for some interesting hairstyles, somehow it helped knowing people were staring at my head, they themselves were getting psyched out now.

Anyway, after an interesting opening ceremony, the championships begun with the Middle Qualifier. I really enjoyed the schedule this year, and I liked that the organisers gave everyone a chance to ease in with a qualification race before the main finals were raced.

N.B. every race's GPS is linked in the title.

Middle Qualifier, Mens Q3

To repeat what I said above, this was my fourth Middle Qualification race at JWOC. I knew how to run and I knew how easy qualifying should be. However, what I nor no one knew was what the margin to the final qualifying runner, and this made me nervous about going too easy. I opted for an early start, which might have confused [and annoyed] some people given my first choice at which block I wanted. I thought about this a lot pre-JWOC and decided that I would be guilty in taking three late starting blocks. Furthermore, I wanted to be able to qualify comfortably from any start time even if it was first start. And as luck would have it, first start on my heat it was.

Fiina in the background on the left.

The race was over before I knew it. I had caught the first starters from the other two heats (interesting new starting procedure this year for Middle Q, one runner every minute) and after 26 uncomfortable minutes I was the first finisher at JWOC, quite cool. The commentator called me over and I explained my race. My legs had nothing to give, and I lost almost a minute on a control thanks to some unfamiliar mapping of vegetation, classic. 

But I was worried, it was the first race and I could barely get up a hill let alone get up it quickly. The orienteering was safe and smooth as a qualifier required but being 2+ minutes down in my heat where I felt I couldn't have given much more gave me the feeling that I was going to struggle at this JWOC. I spent the rest of the day with my number 1 supporter Fiina and managed to forget about the race rather crucially, before restarting the next day as no. 45 out of 60 starters.

Middle Final

The interesting phenomena about the Middle Final at JWOC is that it can go two ways. Either a clean, steady run can give you a medal, or it can give you 25th place. At this year's JWOC,  especially after an exceptionally simple qualification race, everybody was expecting a savage fight for medals with seconds splitting the top 10 finishers. And I think that's why it became the opposite, 2:30 down was 5th and 5min down was 20th!!!

The planner was clever, the first half of the race was an awesome, but severely technical 9 control pinball around a hill before the orienteering race was swapped with a running race at control 9, and then a few more technical controls again at the end. Everyone but the top two runners had some significant problems in this control pick including me. For me it started when my headband came off at number 3. I searched for it, gave up 3s later, and then had to start relocating. A small 20s miss was followed by a savage 1 minute lost on a 1 min leg to one of the easiest controls of the pick. I fought hard to get back though, and put in some throttle on the long legs either side of the arena passage. I was clean through the final loop but lost a bit of time on the 'path' to the finish. 1s too much it seems, as I lay in 7th, 1s off 6th, 2s off 5th and 30s off third. 

This really, really surprised me at the finish, as comparing it to last year the race felt like a 30th place performance. I was frustrated, but also excited. My legs had woken up and some big names were struggling in this terrain that I was finding relatively simple, yet still not orienteering very cleanly in at all. I was putting out splits that were ranking high and I only lost 15s to Olli in the final 15min of the course

One of my best skillsets is having the 'least shit' run and ending up on top at British events. Finally, it seemed, here was a JWOC where the same could be achieved. To quote my interview with the Koovee mic legend, at the qualifier my brain was working but my legs weren't. At the final my legs were working and my brain struggled. Maybe if I could get both up to an decent level on the final few races, something really good could happen.

My biggest fear now was 7th turning out to be my highest result of the week, equal top GBR Men's Middle result with Mr. Street. Reflecting back, this was quite a cool feeling to have.


Before I talk about the Sprint I want to get some facts out of the way. This was my 4th sprint race of the year, and disregarding the model map training we had done on the Friday before: I hadn't trained on an urban map since April. Virtually none of my longer winning time-focussed, forest-based training had been orientated around this and although my flat speed was good, there was nothing in my legs suggesting to me that I could lug myself up/down steps, round corners and to/from control points while reading the most complex maps in the orienteering world with utmost efficiency. The same maps that I had spent no time looking at or geeking with relative to most people that I had talked to. I was ready for this race to be a write-off.

And yet I opted for a late start block, and ended up with a very late start. And once I entered the pre-start area, I became quite motivated in giving the race all I had. My legs were bursting with energy and I felt like I would really be able to focus once out there, because I knew I could with the good performances off no specific training earlier in the season. Aside from a pre-race stomach ache (which vanished) and a tired set of legs warming up (which were left at the start) I couldn't have been more ready to race, and as my call up arrived, I jumped off the swing Nixon was pushing me on in pre-start and into the first box. In the final area before -3min I chatted with Olli and then we wished each other good luck. Nothing about the race preparation could have felt more relaxed, it was awesome. 

Of course this was all out of the door once the final beep went and I was off along a bumpy path to the start kite. The race felt rushed, and yet I felt I couldn't get moving as fast as I would have liked too. Luckily, it was technical enough to have to slow down frequently, and so my perhaps unpolished, rather staggered running style with constant map checking was maybe the most efficient. I took time when I didn't know where to go next at a few points in the course, almost always had a good 'buffer zone' ahead of me, and really gave it some gas when I could. Struggled with the sand and hill up to the run in but finished happy with the race, and even happier to learn I had won a podium position of 5th. 

I was shocked how close the results were once again, I really expected some bigger gaps at the front, especially with a trickier race as it was. It was tough knowing that bronze would have been secured with a normal route to 8 and without falling over on the same leg, and even worse knowing gold was within reach (17 tiny seconds). But I had already surpassed my expectations and I forced myself to enjoy the moment, and I did. The post-race high was a good one, the podium was quite an experience, but my the best prize was enjoying the afternoon in summery Tampere with Fiina, with some music, lunch, and a sizeable watermelon. 

I couldn't and still can't understand how Sprint came to become my top result this year, but I'm not complaining either. There have not been many podiums to host the GB flag and I'm honoured to join the list.

Rest Day

While just a rest day, something was brewing in my right leg. The wound I had acquired on the sprint race was causing quite a lot of grief, even thought it had been cleaned and covered fairly well post-race. I think the impact was the problem and it was noticeable on every step. I got round the Long and Relay Model slowly and took in everything I had to, but I was worried about being able to cross the finish line the next day. Things only became more worrying when the pain was worse the next morning.


In the end I was dealt some Paracetamol from Nathan which saved my race. I took them an hour before the start and all pain disappeared. Everything was back on. The exciting difference today was that my legs were feeling really good warming up. The terrain was nice and I don't think I could have been any more ready to race.

I headed out with a steady pace, not feeling rushed, and I was critically feeling focussed - a rarity for high-stake situation like JWOC. I was running well for the first section but nothing special was coming of it, perhaps being too hesitant at times thinking about big losses rather than small ones. I entered the phi loop and was surprised by the control sequence. I got through it but began to fade physically, and made my main mistakes; a 45s and a 30s, towards the end of the loop. In both cases I knew what I was doing but failed to correct it early enough. My legs were avoiding climb and crumbling fast.

Thankfully a drinks point had appeared just in time and I began to focus on the long leg. After a few times changing my mind, I remembered the general Finnish tactic of 'straight unless something horrible is in the way'. I saw the green mid leg but knew that with the local mapping, and especially with my late start time, it would be very much passable. So I hammered it straight, and fell over almost instantly on some of the slippery open rock the terrain is known to have. I hit my knee, the same one that was causing me grief already, and it hurt, but then an awesome surge of adrenaline kicked in. I nailed it straight and got through the green no problem. I considered going straight again on the next section but stuck to the path this time to chill for a bit and take a gel.

Tracks guided me round the last few controls but I was fading towards the end. I looked at my watch and saw I was on for the predicted winning time, so I became excited. I gave the run in everything I had and was satisfied with 2nd behind Olli, though three minutes behind, for the time being. But I knew as soon as I crossed the line it would be a seventh place at best, based on the strong runners coming up behind me. And in the end it was, by seven tiny seconds.

Side note- an advantage of having a new haircut for every race is easily identifying which race it was taken in.
I really can't complain though. Another average race with a dodgy knee had granted me a top ten at JWOC, absolutely awesome. I was alone for virtually the whole thing so I can confidently say that it was a solo effort, something that many other runners can't claim.

The highlight of my junior career was not another top ten place though, it was the long leg. I ran a very average route without dedication and hesitantly, and yet ended up on top. For a crucial quarter of the race, I was the best, and yet still no where near perfect. This fills me with so much pride and will be in my memories for the rest of my life.


The Long race had ruined me, and any attempt to cool down jog post-race failed miserably. I chilled out for the rest of the day and slept well going into the relay. The next morning Ali and I attempted a morning jog, only to end up very slowly limp-jogging for both of us. With a now bald head, we arrived at the arena under a very strong sun. I had my cap on but I think the intense sunshine was at least partly to blame for my lack of energy warming up and racing.

Alex came in after first leg in a very strong position of 6th, in a very nice chasing pack. I headed out with NOR 2 but was almost instantly dropped in the tough terrain going uphill. We hit a track and split up, and I chose a slower route but was crucially able to wake the legs up on a long track section and get myself focussed on my own without distraction. I arrived to the first common control just as a very nice pack of SUI, FIN, NOR 2, and FRA were approaching and slotted right in. The pace was tough but manageable, and I kept Pascal in my sights at the front.

A slight hesitation on one of the only tricky controls of the course (it most mostly ridiculously easy) meant I was forced to the back of the pack and chasing through the assembly. I felt comfortable though and had high hopes going into the trickiest control number 8. The pack went in without a clue where they were and I swooped in to my gaffle. Even better, the two who followed me didn't have my control. I exited with NOR 2, now on the tail of RUS and FIN 2. My legs were going though and I made some risky decisions - sticking to the path on the way to 9 and going left to 11. But these payed off and I had NOR 2 behind me by the time we entered the arena. I handed over to Nathan in 4th and began to pray.

Unfortunately he couldn't hold it together on the day, not sure anyone really could have, and we ended up behind the second team. No matter though, a GBR Men's Relay nightmare is to be expected every year now and I'm sure the team can crack this awful tradition eventually. Nevertheless I had a very high quality race experience at the front end of the JWOC relay and have gained huge amounts of confidence with my shape and orienteering technique under high pressure today and in the whole week.


I had so many doubts going into this year's JWOC races, especially after the unsatisfactory Middle Qualifier, so it's really overwhelming to come out the other end with three top ten results including a podium. Even a week before the championships began, I was questioning my presence at the races; fully expecting another year of mediocre performances.

I think the key difference this year was that I have worked hard to bring my 'average race' up to a competitive level. This can be seen in my selection races that were riddled with mistakes but still very competitive against not only fellow GB runners but the occasional guest like Kaspar at the JK. At JWOC, I ran five very average races, still riddled with mistakes. There was so much room for improvement, but my performances were already competitive against the best in the world. This is a really nice feeling, and the victory in the Long Race's long leg is the cherry on the cake.

So I guess I should keep working hard at bringing up that average, and maybe some day I will learn to orienteer cleanly as well - although this will require a lot more terrain/map time than I've put in this year (less than 1 forest session/week before June).

To quote a Facebook post I made during JWOC: Although the results are individual on paper (save for the relay), orienteering is a team sport - forget the general description. So therefore I clearly have many people to thanks for the results. World class coaching from my brother Oleg and Mark Nixon, huge support from my parents and family, as well as both EUOC and GB squads, countless positive messages from everyone pre, mid and post-championships, everyone who came out to support at the races, and a special shout out to Fiina Närhi for probably being the best supporter, and undeniably one of the most important reasons for my good results.

Now three weeks later it all feels like a dream, but I often look back at pictures from the week and at my diploma, and remind myself of some cool memories, and remember that I have left my mark on the world of junior orienteering. It's a positive one; one to be proud of; and I can't ask for anything more than that.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

June in Finland

Prior to JWOC starting, I had already spent 5 weeks in Finland, half on various orienteering camps but also half holidaying around with Fiina. Things kicked off on the 1st of June when I flew to Tume's Jukola Camp in Joensuu, by far the smallest airport I've visited. Just a few hours earlier I was trying to decide which swimming trunks to Finland, but upon arrival it started to snow. Training on the first day was maybe the coldest I've ever felt orienteering, due to some really saturated snow, cold winds and wet branches with ongoing snow. The terrain was harsh on cold legs, although very interesting and wild. Proper bear country we were told, and if we should meet any, everything should be fine as long as we "don't get between the mum and the cub". Training was cut short early as even the toughest of TuMe boys got a bit too cold to orienteer. I learnt a lot in this session at the same time though, control circles were were mistakes were made here.

Thankfully in the next few days it warmed up, although only slightly. More Jukola specific trainings and discussions were done, and I began looking forward to racing as some night orienteering intervals went my way on the second night at the camp. Things weren't far from race ready as they were, and this was surprising. The only problem with the terrain was that the sessions were significantly more energy expensive, and as I tried to keep my hours consistent my legs grew tired a lot quicker. By the start of our club's Night Test on the final night of the camp, I was a bit more lactate than man, and this was made worse when I was only told this was our Jukola selection race 30mins pre-start. The race went fairly well though and I was in the chasing pack for the first half of the course, plus leading my gaffle round the first few controls. I found myself alone after the long leg and I knew I was up there somewhere. I identified number 9 on the side of the hill as the trickiest so slowed down and attacked carefully, but still not carefully enough. 3mins binned and I rolled in as 4th or 5th TuMe runner a few minutes down on where I wanted to be. But there were so many positives to take that I remained happy with this.

The next day we drove back to regular, central Finland before me and Tapsa split off to stay at the TuMe clubhut on Kimitoon island, the largest 'land-hugging' island in Finland, holding a small swedish-speaking community and many holiday homes. The clubhut was quite special, with sauna hut nearby, lots of space, a quality kitchen and heavenly terrain on the doorstep. Trained well, twice or thrice a day in smaller sessions, and the week went by quite quickly in anticipation of the weekend's Helsinki O-Games ft. Jukola team selection.

The heavy week once again made me question my fitness to race and I was therefore perhaps a bit tired in the middle race. One really stupid mistake put me out of contention for a good place but otherwise I was really happy to be orienteering so well in terrain which was likely harder than anything at both Jukola and JWOC.


The long race was a much better story. It was a relatively long race (80+min winning) time so I decided to make use of the opportunity and really focus on it, with gels, dedicated warm up and full race mentality in some really relevant terrain (at least more relevant than Scotland). I headed off steadily and made a few mistakes early on, but then really clicked and delivered some fast and accurate solo orienteering. It was probably my favourite course of the year, and a real joy to run, in some really nice weather too. The highlight though was overtaking an old man, only to run into a tree catching-features style, except I won. The whole 5m high tree came down with a loud crack and a mid race laugh was shared with the man. The performance highlight was winning two crucial longer legs (7 and 18) against some real Finnish orienteers with their classic tactics as well - ignore any path temptations! This technique served me well at JWOC and I can only imagine how important this race was for that.


After the O-games, I joined with the Latvian TuMe Juniors to go back to Kontioranta (Joensuu) for a further Jukola camp in the week prior to the night itself. Tiring from the last few weeks of O, I moved the focus a bit off the terrain and onto some running. Endijs and I ran most mornings to wake up two pairs of very sore legs, and we even smashed out a very positive 3x10min (path, terrain, road) session together which was very mentally boosting to complete.

As Jukola approached, I headed back into the forest more to fine-tune a few things, especially now that I found out I was very surprisingly running 5th leg for TuMe 1st team! The thought of the race kicked up the most nerves I've ever felt, and I knew I wouldn't be sleeping before heading out. This helped, compared to last year, as when I indeed didn't sleep before the race, at least I wasn't surprised. The team were in contention to improve on last year's 23rd place and I headed out really ready to race, especially after having a gel in the changeover.

The first few controls flew by and I was gaining with another GPS runner from Tyrving (these were easy to pick out). He took what seemed to me to be a risky route 4 so I broke off on a simpler one, and, long story short, binned 6minutes. Filled with anger, I forced myself past several teams and only lost 40s to Ralph for the rest of the leg. I gained a minute on the leading team and lowered my lost number places to only 4. Still this was quite a crucial leg and it could have gone really, really well seeing the rest of my splits. But it didn't and I knew I had let the team down regardless of how supportive they were at the finish. I'm lucky that others were also unhappy with their races, and eventually we finished 1 place higher than last year, 22nd. However, the fact that we were all unhappy with this result makes me proud to be on such a great team, and I'm confident in a few years they'll/we'll break through to the top.


Post-Jukola, a bit of a holiday replaced the training camps that were quite frankly breaking me now. I spent the rest of the period before JWOC with Fiina, with a 3 day gap over midsummer to visit home quickly. Some training was done, but this wasn't the priority anymore. I was ill for a period (probably lucky to get it out the way early), and I was otherwise quite happy to chill before a small build back up in the two weeks before the races. We went back to the TuMe clubhut for a bit, and generally toured round the majority of southern Finland. My plot from the six weeks I spent in Finland can be seen below, quite cool!

Friday, 21 July 2017

Spring and into Summer

Once again it has been a fair while since the last update but then again this blog was never meant to be a regular thing. Last time I left off just before 10Mila, which in brief, was a very nice experience. I did the usual panic about Night-O training and, especially being on long night (4th), nutrition before the race. In the end though, as they usually do, things fell into place once I started, although I didn't have the speed to catch Gustav(!) as my manager requested.

Instead I ran with an old friend Ollipekka Heikkila for the first few controls, before forming a humongous train of runners (which we lead) and then breaking off with an approaching fast group featuring some high level WOC runners. I finished pleased with my run as I had gained places and fulfilled the goal of long night. A bit cleaner on no.1 would have resulted in a very nice run but it was good enough as it was! And my gels worked, and I was very, very satisfyingly tired by the end. Great night, and the team recovered from a very unfortunate and unlucky early slip to finish a respectable 18th. Bigger things to come!


TuMe 1, order right to left
10Mila marked the start of exams for me and although some revision was done out in Sweden, certainly not enough as my first exam, 9am after flying home the night before, resulted in a 36% (42% overall) grade! I am in no way regretful though and if anything this makes quite a good story.

May was filled with 4 more exams and some good training, in fact my highest monthly mileage ever. This was down to having more time to train and although not much time to orienteer, it was still good to really develop my physical side to one that was ready to race. I ran Dumyat hill race in the beginning of May and set a good time, unfortunately GG showed up and ran a scorcher though... ;-)

Then BOC was held down in the Lakes. The Long was very exciting but unfortunately my orienteering was all over the place. I took out some positives though, especially seeing as the rough lakes had never previously agreed with me and yet I was setting really fast paces on the long legs. I knew my shape was there now, I just needed to be able to control it and get the orienteering rewired. Luckily, the first half of June was shaping up to allow for this.

The relay was again nothing special from myself and I was tired. On a good mileage too so perhaps this was it. Some drama unfolded and EUOC 2 were crowned champions, couldn't complain but felt quite sorry for deserving champions SHUOC.

Scottish champs arrived a few weeks later and this was used as Pre-JWOC. I discovered 1 gel wasn't enough on a wet 18km furious race at Gullane, but maybe the mileage was too high to expect anymore anyway. I enjoyed the relay however, testing out 2nd leg before JWOC and setting the fastest pace of the day (although a lack of GG helped). As well as these two races, Tranent SOUL was held on Friday before, the result of which really made me interested in the JWOC Sprint. My fastest orienteering race ever, just about hitting a sub-17 5km. Not that I would put any more urban training into my program but interested nevertheless.

To finish May perfectly, Fiina came up to Aberdeen for a few days of mild tourism and relatively chilled out running and walking. Think my body really needed this after a consistently high mileage month and the acting heatwave around North East Scotland was a nice addition to the plan. The highlights were Lochnagar in too much heat, camping at Linn o'Dee, swimming in just about every water feature, and a long run at Forvie (plus one really bad orienteering performance at a nice Tyrebagger middle race).

Up the main Lochnagar gully, spots of snow still about!

A final physical test that had been in the calendar for nearly half a year took place on the 31st of May, a 30min threshold test on the meadows. This was quite an exciting session for me and I put pressure on myself to deliver some. After a very chilled low 16min 5km opener I bumped the plan up to 10km and went through in 33:03. Perfect, physical box was now ticked and with June approaching, it was time to learn to orienteer. The next day, I travelled out to Finland to begin my string of camps before Jukola. I didn't return again before the 21st!

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Clachnaben, JK and into 10Mila, Gothenburg

My first proper hill race of the year seriously quenched any worries about diminishing hill strength, with a really nicely paced solo race being the end product; only 45s off the record and some good PR in the Press and Journal as a result.

JK was always going to be a hit or miss, with no real taper planned, nor much focus or geeking going into this year's campaign. Thankfully, in the end it was a hit.

The sprint was going to be the tricky one this year with limited practice. I felt some hayfever as soon as we crossed the border going south on Thursday, but thankfully I had some antihistamines on me and everything was fine once the race began. A few dodgy misses but happy to see some brute force speed-wise meant a good result. A clean run would have been tantalisingly close to the seniors, so it's definitely something to consider come post-exam, pre-JWOC build up.

The middle and long were different stories, two big WUs, even after two morning runs, set me up well for two very nice races. Sure, the start of the long wasn't all that easy, and had it been longer than 65 I may have crashed, but given the situation with an 80mile week being rounded off post-long, I am very satisfied. Even more so to be ahead of some quick international competition in the M18s, if I can crack a good taper routine before the summer then good things are ahead.

The relay was the cherry on the cake, with two solid runs from Ali and Jonny putting me out in a safe silver. I held it easily, and the legs were reborn, finishing with my quickest climb adjusted forest orienteering I've done at sub 3:50s. Finally EUOC were on the JK Trophy podium, and a brilliant clean sweep JK was over (individually speaking).

The following week was odd. A crash didn't hit until a fartlek session on Friday, and even then it wasn't too extreme. I woke up on Tuesday and Wednesday with a pair of race-read legs, and even used them for a long, steady run with strides on Wednesday, one of the nicest this year. Some night training at Fairy Knowe - with GG, Alex and Shminty - on Saturday night last week proved valuable, although losing my Garmin was frustrating (as well as a good excuse to get a shiny new one).

Come Tuesday I was recovered, and ran my best session yet. 20min [5min] 10min at 3:14s and 3:10s respectively on a nice, sunny meadows afternoon - a huge step up performance-wise from my previous quickest, just in time for the weekend.

Now after a few days of revision, I am likely screwing up several exam results for the sake of 10Mila, nothing new here! Long Night Round 2 awaits me, although this time for a larger stake - TuMe 1st team. The terrain is beautiful, the legs are in good shape, just hoping (praying) the preparation and semi-taper go well, while the hayfever holds back, so I can have a slightly more enjoyable race this year....

Friday, 7 April 2017

Positive Signs and Unpredictabilities

It's been a few months since the last post and for once this isn't because of a lack of training and racing from illness/injury. The winter months have shown good progress both in and out of competition, and in some cases better than expected.

Orienteering properly kicked off this year with a TuMe Spain camp. Good times were had, 100+ miles were done in the week, and I felt relatively on top of the technical side of things once again.

On the racing side of things, I have so far managed to combine continuing heavy weeks with weekend races without too much disappointment down to arguably slightly less fresh legs. Things kicked off with a bit of a test race in Tensmuir, the CompassSport Cup Qualifier. The race felt fast and although I had some stomach troubles later on, I came out on top but more importantly, clean bar ~60s of mistakes. This was much lower than the prediction, and I was very satisfied with how the orienteering has seemed to have stuck over the winter gap. Improvements have also, somehow, come with a long break off the map reading, with regular control description checks - for actual control features - now being part of the normal leg execution, something that I have never previously done. Perhaps this has come with a more relaxed racing approach due to the speed endurance work, but potentially is just a nice side-effect from some time off orienteering.

BUCS Long and Relay followed on the weekend after, and I was nervous in defending the trophies. In the end, to shorten the story somewhat, my legs were not prepared for terrain on the long and I was caught by the Jonny C train, something that I haven't experienced for a while and was rather horrible confidence wise. Managed to shake it off, with a few final drinks at the night out, and after 2 hrs of sleep (damn red bull), Jack L and Ali M managed to deliver a very good two first legs for me to be able to cruise round the relay and secure the gold. EUOC was also very dominant, and nice to see everyone stepping up their game. Would love to return to the Long area, the rock detail is unknown anywhere else in Britain and it was a pleasure [in attempting] to race in the heavenly stuff.

As well as a seeming step-change in training volume from last year (I had run the same BUCS weekly mileage from last year in the first 4 days of the BUCS week this year), pre-race pre-breakfast runs have become part of the norm. This goes against all former rules I thought I had formed about training, in that surely tiring out the legs on a 20min run on the day of a race would be a bad idea. However, I'm gradually beginning to realise that in running, and especially orienteering, the controllable are somewhat less controllable than they are often thought to be, with more examples later on.

The following week was the Midland Champs. This was a significantly more important weekend with selections being at stake, but I refrained from losing my good weekly streak too much and settled for some good mileage with a single session on the Wednesday before. This, with a stop at Lancaster on the Friday, gave me a chance to reacquaint with Sprint-O, before racing my first specific sprint race in over a year (!) on the Saturday. The race went well, and the map was awesome. Coventry gained a lot of respect from myself that weekend. The Sunday was a full-length Middle on what should have been a very easy Bentley Woods. What ended up happening is that everyone (including myself) ran too fast for their brains to keep up and some big time-losses were experienced. Thankfully, though, I survived with minimal losses (although with some schoolboy errors). It was frustrating not seeing more EUOC boys on top though, with their recently big gains in both training and lifestyle.

Now for the things I can't explain, and don't expect many people can, about training. The following Tuesday should have been knackering, and the legs were still battered after the weekend. I trundled out of the computer lab at lunch and rather hesitantly, decided to do the planned session of 2 x 20min [1km] on the KB dash course. Without going into too much detail, it was a significant step up from an already successful series of tempo sessions, with both efforts averaging 3:20s on a hilly, blowy, tired-legs day. The second session that week was 60 x 30s/30s, which was oddly manageable.

That weekend, after an easy Friday, my legs couldn't even hack a middle race on South Achray. In fact I could barely stand, and I was very annoyed upon finishing. I camped that night, after a less than ideal dinner, and slept minimally, getting very cold in sub-0 temperatures. I woke up at 5am, got up at 7am, went for a slow 30mins, and had the biggest breakfast of my life (lunch box of muesli, plus porridge, 2 bananas, and a coffee and tea). Surely this would ruin the stomach, and surely the legs wouldn't hack a 75min on Trossachs... and yet the best race of my year followed; catching Nixon by 3mins before dropping him towards the end with a lot still in the reserves. Why can't days like that have some international importance, ever(?!).

So today, with some help after speaking to Jonny Muir about training, ultimately for ideas for his upcoming hill running book 'Heights of Madness' (out soon, as soon as he's done a Ramsay Round(!)), I've come to to the following conclusion. In an age where we are trying to make everything somehow predictable, especially as being orienteers, we can easily forget how often events like the above are occurring. It's frustrating, and flashes back to last year's 10Mila/JWOC spring to mind, but it's arguably what makes the sport so exciting at the same time.

Anyway, JK starts in a week and although it doesn't feel like it, I am excited as ever to race 4 days in a row. One word has kept coming up recently, in different contexts but all ultimately to do with orienteering, is consistency. Hopefully my appreciation and dedication to this word in the last few months, and my plans to do so for the upcoming few, will not only reflect in my racing, but also in my training and lifestyle. Fingers crossed anyway.