After making my debut at the Junior World Orienteering Championships (JWOC) last year in Norway (and struggling with an ankle injury) I was hoping to build on my previous performances at this years’ competition in the Engadin valley, Switzerland (10th-15th July). After the 6 selection races throughout the spring, I was selected for the Middle distance, Long distance and Relay B team. This year, as I still have 3 more years left in the W20 age category, the focus was again on experience and I can safely say that I have a lot to take away from it (both positives and negatives). I would like to thank the John Taylor foundation for their generous support to fund this opportunity!
The team arrived on the 6th July and spent the following days on the training and model maps gradually becoming more confident in the terrain. It was also important to acclimatise to the altitude and heat, but without overdoing it to ensure we arrived at the races feeling physically fresh. Nutrition and hydration were a key focus, with the use of Beet-it shots to help oxygen uptake when racing at higher altitudes, and hydration tablets. Every morning our hydration score was recorded using an osmo-testing machine, with the aim to optimise it for our race days.
My first race was the Long distance at Val Mustair. I was quite tense whilst waiting to start. This was the race that I had been waiting and preparing for ever since arriving 4 days ago, and in my mind it was the race that I had focussed on throughout much of my training, as I believed it was my best chance at a top 20 position. Having not run the Long last year, I was also taking a step into the unknown and could not be sure of what to expect.
The first 4 controls were in a technical semi open area. I started with a safe route choice to #1, trying to get into the race and settle my nerves. You can’t win a race on the first leg but you can definitely lose it, so I was relieved to find the first control with no major difficulties. I was in 40th position here, but it is all so close and by managing to stay pretty clean through the technical area I moved up to 6th position at the first radio control #4 (and ahead of the eventual winner!). The two legs after this were the crucial long legs, and were my downfall.
Having lost confidence in my direction on the steep and rough descent on 4-5, I misidentified the path bend I was and entered the forest in the wrong direction. This caused a mistake that dropped me down to 52nd and played on my mind when making the route choice to #6. I changed from my safe path route which I had previously thought was obvious, in favour of an “all or nothing” straight route. 2 more minutes lost. The other long leg went better for me, catching 10 places and getting 4th fastest split which showed that my fitness was there after all, but I was scrappy around some controls after this and struggling to maintain concentration, so finished exhausted and disappointed in 47th position.
A rest day followed to pick ourselves up for the next race: the Middle distance qualification in Ftan. I focussed on the positives: I had been in the mix for podium at #4 which was effectively half way through a middle distance length course and clearly had the fitness to carry me through. All I needed to do was focus on being clean.
Top 20 in each heat qualify for the A final, which was my main target. Last year I had missed out on qualification by 5 seconds and I wanted to safely qualify this year. I took safe routes with clear attack points and double checked everything. It was intense all the way round as I was so terrified of making a mistake that I would regret, but each control ticked off safely was a relief and it was not until the final control that I could finally relax and run in happily, knowing that I had succeeded in my aim to be clean. It had not felt fast as I had been safe, but clearly paid off as I finished 2nd in my heat (Heat3), only beaten by Simona Aebersold, who came out of JWOC with 3 Gold medals.
The middle final at Susch-Lavin was exciting as I was one of the last starters due to my qualification result. I was hopeful of a top 10, or with a perfect race even a podium, but thought that
everyone would step up the pace a level in the final. I started in a blur and nailed the first control. 1-2 was the most technical leg on the course, in a complex contoured area that none of us were really expecting (as there were no old maps of the area to prepare from). However I did not take time to look at this before running off, succumbing to the pressure I had put on myself for the final. I began to lose contact with the map, leading to a very large time loss. It took me until #3 to clear my mind, and again try to focus on bringing some positives out of the race. I lost a small amount of time on 2 more controls, and ran in to 50th position, not even able to appreciate the giant 4m high inflatable Capricorn that was the feature of the last control in my disappointment. Of the 4 GB girls in the A final, 3 of us lost significant time on #2, and the other, Meg, finished in 4th position, matching the GB record highest women’s performance. It was nice to have something to celebrate, and GB were definitely the most vocal supporters at the prize giving ceremony that evening.
I was running 1st leg for the B team in the relay the next day at Tarasp. My job was to have a clean run so that we could be a backup if the A team made a mistake. I started in my allocated position at the back of the pack and gradually moved up on the run-out. I took care on the first control on a forested slope and nailed it, punching in second just behind Megan! A lot of the pack may have had a slightly harder or longer gaffle here and many teams (including the Swiss A team) lost time, but Meg and I emerged from the chaos in the lead and with only a small pack of about 5 other countries chasing us. The feeling of the two of us leading the world was amazing, but we had a job to do. We briefly checked our next control codes and were on different gaffles so put our heads down and focussed. The small pack were together for most of the middle of the race. I fell to the back when I was too high on #5, then the gaffles split to #6 and I was running alone. At the spectator run-through I was in 3rd behind the Swiss and French runners.
A steep hill out of the arena allowed me to catch the French in 2nd, but then the navigation started again and I forgot about positions and focussed. Having had such a good run up to that point, the only disaster would be to make a mistake in the last loop and lose chunks of time. Luckily the French lost some time behind me and I stayed ahead, sprinting in to hand over to Jenny Ricketts in 2nd position just 8 seconds down on Valerie Aebischer from the Swiss B team. The GB Women’s A team went on to finish in 5th which is the best ever GB women’s relay team result, and the B team backed it up in 16th, also 5th out of all the “B” teams to finish. It is probably my best performance, alongside GB’s best ever performance, and gives me confidence going into next year. Whilst I may not have delivered the individual final results that I wanted, I still showed that I have potential to perform well and have learnt a lot about the psychological pressures and how to overcome them. The only thing standing in the way of a top 10 or podium next year is my mentality, and I already feel much better prepared after this JWOC!
In addition to the John Taylor foundation, a particular shout out goes to my super-supportive family who have helped in so many ways that I cannot even begin to describe. I love this picture of my brother David cheering me in on the relay, looking happier than I do myself!!!!
Full details, including all maps, GPS tracking, videos/live TV feed, photos and results of all the races can be found at the website http://www.jwoc2016.ch/ .