SSaeger WOC2011This summer when I flew over to Europe for my usual adventures, I did something a bit different. Instead of flying to France, where the World Orienteering Championships (WOC) would be held later in the summer, I flew to Sweden with Ross Smith. We always dreamed of living abroad in a place where we could orienteer and race more frequently. With the help of friends we secured an apartment in Uppsala, Sweden and Ross found a job. I took a leave of absence from my teaching job and at the beginning of the summer we first moved in to our new apartment. We plan to live here for a year, training as much as we can with the local orienteering club, OK Linné.

When we arrived the empty apartment echoed with our voices and we slept that first night on the floor with our sleeping bags and pads.

A day later, we went back to the airport and flew to Geneva, where we rented a car and drove to Arith, France. Arith is a tiny village in the Savoie region of France. It’s up in the mountain range above Annecy and Aix-Les-Bains. We stayed for 5 nights in a wonderful auberge run by a French couple. Two of the training maps were right up the road from us, about a 15 minute drive to the furthest parking lot, and the others were a bit further along the mountain. Despite rainy and cool weather, we trained twice a day on the demanding French terrain. I had heard it was thick and rocky underfoot, but I wasn’t too worried. I come from New England! We know thick and rocky. But this was a whole different kind of rocky. On our very first day we discovered hundreds of unmapped holes and crevices that could eat you alive. The ground was covered in moss, which made everything slippery. It felt as if one wrong step would put you at the bottom of a hole with broken bones and no way out. In addition, the terrain was detailed and visibility as low. Finding controls that first day with Ross was a challenge. I just couldn’t imagine how I could learn to run, navigate and come out alive. Fortunately, the other model maps were less death defying, although still thick and very technical. I struggled through the training week to find my flow, but I left feeling discouraged.

Luckily, we soon headed back north to Switzerland where we participated in the Swiss Orienteering Week (SOW). This is an amazing event that I would encourage orienteers to attend if they ever want to travel and orienteer in Europe. Every year the organizers choose unique and fun terrain, so it’s an experience that would be hard to duplicate elsewhere. This year we stayed in the resort towns of Flims and Laxx and took cable cars and chair lifts up to the arenas. One day we took a series of chair lifts up into the mountains and orienteered on bare rock and snow patches. Another day we were in detailed moss covered forests with a 1:5000 blow up excerpt of the map because the rock detail was so extensive. I had an amazing time orienteering in new places and spending time with my friends. One evening, the Bricker family (NEOC members) invited all the American orienteers over to their apartment for food and socializing. It was fantastic to bring the small community together so far away from home!

After a restful week, many of us headed back to France to prepare for the World Championships. I had another 5 days of training, but I still struggled to feel comfortable in the terrain. I was making massive 10-15 minute errors regularly. The trick to this terrain was staying in contact at all times. The moment you lost contact, you were in trouble. Suddenly all the small bumps and depressions looked the same. The small trails were often so indistinct that it was hard to know if you were running over a trail or a game path. And the terrain was so slow that you lost lots of time running extra distance or bailing out to a large trail.

My first race was the long distance qualifier and I went into it a bit fearfully. Try as I might to have confidence in myself and my orienteering, I knew that I had been struggling all week in this terrain. The race started out mostly in fields, with some longer route choice legs. Then it dumped you into the woods on a vague hillside, with lots of small indistinct rides. I had a good plan on the way to my 5th control and was following along carefully on the indistinct paths. Then I cut off one path hoping to jump to another, and I lost confidence. I hit a path that didn’t look quite right and spent a long time running around trying to figure it out. I ended up running far out to the dirt road and attacking back in again. In retrospect, I was doing everything right along the leg. I just lost confidence, panicked and didn’t use any of my relocation strategies. I ended up with 11 minutes worth of mistakes on that one leg. I didn’t qualify for the final, as I had the last two years, and I was incredibly disappointed in myself.

Looking back at the map, I know that I should have been able to relocate faster. I had found a large open depression, of which there was a total of one on the hillside! But I didn’t let myself believe I was there, even though it was by far the most logical, and only, solution. I am still a bit surprised by how much my lack of confidence affected my orienteering ability.

As disappointed as I was, I had a few days before my next race to reevaluate what I was doing. I realized that if I didn’t get a positive attitude about myself and my abilities, I would struggle for the rest of the week. Instead of saying that I hoped I would make the sprint final, I started telling myself and others that I would make the sprint final. No doubts. I went into the qualifier race exuberant to race hard and have fun. I raced a solid sprint qualifier. I missed a set of stairs on the way to the first control, but I think it actually led me to take a better route. When I finished I knew that I had run hard, but I was unsure if it would be good enough. I had made a few possible route choice errors in the middle which could be costly. It didn’t help that the results weren’t working properly at the finish, so no one had any idea how I had placed. Luckily, Boris Granovskiy was a dedicated spectator and he had been keeping times on his own result list. When the results finally came in, I was 7th in my heat, well inside the top 15 who qualify for the final.

That same afternoon was the sprint final in Chambéry and I ran a solid race. The town was full of spectators and tourists. The organizers had people posted inside and outside of narrow alleys to warn people when runners were coming through. In the beginning I took the corners a bit wide, in case someone was coming right at me from the other way. By the end I as too tired to worry, so I trusted that the officials would get people out of my way and I turned the corners sharply and blindly. No collisions! I felt strong in the beginning of my race, but I started fading in the middle. I had poured too much of my physical energy into the sprint in the morning and I didn’t have enough left for the afternoon. My speed slowed down and I started stopping at controls to plan my next route. At the same time, I didn’t make any real mistakes, so it’s still a race to be proud of!

After a few days of spectating the middle and long finals, both of which Alison Crocker (CSU) qualified for, I was ready again to run first leg of the relay - my favorite event of the week! I was nervous going out, but I have run quite well in past years on the first leg and I hung on to that confidence. Overall, the race went very well for me. I finished in 12th and it would have been difficult for me to have caught the team in 11th. The 4th control for all legs was the hardest and it is where the pack completely disappeared. There were runners going every which way, searching for their control. I attacked right over a cliff behind another runner fully expecting my control to be there. As I came around the bottom, there was nothing there. Luckily, after a few moments I was able to relocate and move out of that area. My biggest mistake of the race was after running through the arena. I contoured too low around a hill and arrived at my 13th control when I was looking for my 12th. I carefully made my way back up to #12, coming in from completely the wrong direction. I could see other teams punching 12 and heading toward 13. Luckily for me, I knew exactly where 13 was! I sped down the hill and got ahead of the teams again and tagged off to Alison Crocker in 12th position.

Now I am back in Uppsala, Sweden where I will spend the rest of the year honing my orienteering skills. This year taught me the importance of positive thinking and confidence. I’m a bit of a pessimist by nature, so it might be a bit of an uphill battle. Luckily, my experiences this year taught me that it’s a battle that I have to fight in order to become a stronger orienteer.