This summer a group of 11 British athletes travelled to St. Moritz in the Engadin valley of southern Switzerland. The 2016 Junior World Orienteering Championships are to be held in the area so this camp provided the perfect opportunity for us to gain experience of the terrain types we will face in a years’ time. The importance of orienteering in similar areas to those in which we will race cannot be understated. By the end of the week we hoped to have a grasp of the mapping style, what certain features looked like on the ground and how they were mapped. We would also discovered just how physically demanding the competition would be; with steep rocky slope orienteering, not to mention the altitude of over 1600m.
We flew to Milan Bergamo airport on Sunday. This gave me just enough time to drive the 7 hours home from the final day of the Scottish 6 days, pack, repack and grab a few hours of sleep before jumping on a train to Manchester airport. Travelling took up the entire day on Sunday and we eventually arrived at St. Moritz youth hostel after what seemed like hours of torturous hairpin bends where nothing but our headlights pierced the stormy Swiss night. On awaking we were greeted by the breath taking peaks that surround the town on every side. Everyone was tired after a tough week of racing in Scotland so we chose to go for an easy run to explore the town and do a lap of the lake. We also discovered the towns’ running track, free and open to all. Whilst we did a few running drills and stretches we watched elite athletics stars from across the world training framed by the imposing mountains that overlooked them. St. Moritz has become a favourite high altitude training camp for endurance athletes, used by the likes of Johnny and Alistair Brownlee. We were lucky enough to be joined by Jackie Newton and Bashir Hussain both experts on physical conditioning and training and racing at altitude. On Monday afternoon we got our first chance to run in the JWOC relevant terrain, this time it was middle relevant. The course was technically and physically challenging but most notable was the amount of rock underfoot making running difficult and running whilst reading your map near impossible.
Throughout the rest of the week we trained in areas relevant to all the disciplines, Long, Middle, Sprint and Relay. Each evening we participated in group discussions about the areas we had run on. These sessions were led by Mark Nixon whose technical expertise and international racing experience helped to identify what made the areas unique or not and how we could best prepare ourselves to perform well in such terrain. We ran a long distance model course in groups each taking different route choices and decided that large route choice legs would play a vital role in deciding the ultimate race winner. Possible track routes, straight options and amount of climb would all factor into decisions about which route was quickest. Making these decisions in oxygen debt and under the pressure of racing is difficult so by trialling different routes and throughout the year looking at Swiss races and route choices we can help form an idea about what makes a route quick and safe. Ultimately this will make the decisions during the race a lot easier. The Sprints were classic European old village areas with small alleys, irregular buildings and open squares. The middle and relay will be technical with rocks and complex contours, though will have fast sections between the small hills. Picking runnable lines through the terrain that also allow for easy navigation will be key to a good performance in these areas.
The trip was a lot of fun as well as vital for preparing for JWOC. Each day we swam in lakes or iced our legs in glacial streams. There was great team spirit and I think everyone began to dream of the perfect race next July. I’d like to thank the Coaches Mark, Jackie, Bash and also Allan Bogle. Without their hard work and dedication such trips would not be possible. I’d also like to thank the John Taylor Foundation whose generous grant helped to make this trip a reality for me. The grant has helped me to prepare the perfect training plan for 2016 and taken me closer to my goal of a top 20 at the Junior World Championships.
Finally I have included three things I will do this year to help me perform if selected for JWOC:
- Practice rocky slope orienteering – In Sheffield where I study areas such as Wharncliffe and Loxley common will be great to practice on.
- Get Fit – You simply have to be at peak fitness to handle the double hit of steep slopes and altitude. Hill reps, strength and interval sessions will be vital to get my body ready.
- Study Maps – Route choice is going to be key in a way unlike it is in British orienteering. Other than perhaps the Forest of Dean we don’t have many areas where round-about route choice and amount of climb is so crucial. To combat this I will look at how the ‘Continental Kings’ of orienteering do it. Looking at races and finding whose route was quickest and working out why will help get me ready for a Swiss style long distance.