Tuesday, 18 June 2013


Yes, you read that right! I'm European Champion of the middle distance. Still not quite sunk in yet ...

After the stress of yesterday, we spent the evening relaxing being 'orienteers' and finding all the mistakes on the map. Not to complain about it, but merely for our own entertainment!

On the podium!
I felt much more relaxed heading into the middle distance. I couldn't help but have a few negative thoughts swirling in my head as I warmed up - 'what if I leave these championships with no top 6 places', 'Competitor X was so fast yesterday, how do they get so fast' etc. But each time the negative popped in, I batted it back out by running through my race plan and key words.

Having spent some time training and preparing for this area, I knew how to handle the technical section. I knew to slow down, take it steady, read the map all the time and get every control right. All i had to do was get it right!

Once I left the pre-start for my 1km ride to the start, I felt more focussed and the negativity was gone. Seeing the other girls waiting wasn't a distraction. But I still felt apprehensive. The first sections would be fast and simpler nav. The last part, if all went as I expected, should be harder.

On picking up the map, I knew I had prepared well. Each of the route choices I had already planned to some degree. My map work had shown where the hills where, that the top wasn't as flat as it looked. And the valleys weren't as deep as they appeared in the eastern section. I knew to go as straight as possible. Not to get tempted to take a longer option - there wouldn't be any less climb.

Part 1 - W21E
First control: hmm, route choice. Didn't expect that choice so soon. Ok. Go round. Pick up the yellow (new road under construction). If it's good to ride, take it. If it's bad, there's another path. Nice line into control, and good to suss out exit. Execute it.

At the first control I met Scaravonati ITA, my 4 min woman. 'Yey, good choice. Ok. Next'. I picked nice routes to the next two controls, while maintaining enough speed to get me there quick, but not so fast I couldn't see the map to plan the long 4th.

At the fourth, Scaravonati still behind. I decided to go straight. 'Yes, it's difficult tracks, probably muddy. But it's straight. And faster'. I messed up the middle section a little, just starting to take the wrong path out, but I realised quickly and ran up the hill through the forest. Once out on the main track,  sorted my map for the second half (a massive 46x39 map does not fit the whole course on a 30x30 mapboard). Fortunately I've had a lot of practise over the past weeks so I could refold while moving.

Part 2 
Another long leg. 'Ok, go straight. Climb looks big but not steep. Same climb to go around on the road. Straight it is'. The leg ended in the start of the technical section and here I was about 30 secs or so behind the leaders. I must have slowed my pace sub-conciously here, but I'm not sure. At any rate, my pace was enough to map read well and without errors. A perfect case of letting the map reading take priority and letting the speed come naturally.

Scaravonati was still on my tail - she'd pulled back a little on the hill. Some years ago, this would have really distracted me. But today I didn't think about it. The only thought I had, was that 2 minds are better than 1, and I hoped she was at least keeping track of where we were, in case I went horribly wrong.

I was a little caught out by how green the area was. Lots of young trees in the middle of the tracks (recent rain had made them grow much thicker). Perfect bike eating trees. Rear derailleur ripping, stick-in-wheel trees. Gotta risk going through at speed. There was nothing else for it. At least the riders before me had flattened them a little. Also enough that I could see where some of the paths went. I imagine the early riders had a tough time out there.

My speed was such that I could think clearly, read where I was going and plan the next control ahead. Any more planning ahead that that wasn't worth it. I'd forget my decision. At each junction I knew which way to go in advance of being there. Perfect focus and control all the time.

Technical section - dense green, small paths
Half way through I saw Barlet FRA on her way out of a control as I was going in. We met 100m away from the control, so I thought I might be seeing her again. I caught her sooner than expected. Before the  next control. A few controlled shortcuts to get the best route, and I now was aware I had two people, possibly three behind. I knew Kaminska POL was around as I had seen her earlier, but wasn't paying enough attention to them to know if she was with us.

Some final controls in the tech section, a final shortcut to the penultimate control, and it was off down the hill towards the finish. It was hard to read the map and terrain on the way down the difficult track to the final control. I got the first half right, and then took the right path at a junction instead of the left. I realised quickly, and cut across the open forest back to the one I needed. I must have cut across far more than intended and I came out within sight of the final control. Down the hill, nice and controlled to the finish.

At the finish I was struggling to make sense of the commentary. A great race I had had, and I knew it. But what were they saying! Hans Jørgen came up and said I was leading, by over 2 mins. But with 5 more riders to finish, and 5 of the world's best, I hoped I had done enough.
Cecilia Thomasson SWE, Emily Benham GBR, Ingrid Stengard FIN

Some minutes later and I was announced as the winner and European Champion! Results

Finally! It's been a long road to get here, there have been ups and downs. Last years break did me the world of good, and I learnt more about what I need to compete than I could have had I kept plugging away trying to force results. Everything in the last 3 weeks has been building up the these championships: running through race routines before each competition (not the Z3 races!), not getting stressed by the small things (missing boats, poor sprint races etc!), and ensuring I was focussed for the races.

In the end the winning margin was 2 mins 13 to 2nd and 3.23 to 3rd. A decent margin considering how fast the first section was, compared to the final section.

As a final plus to the day, my split times to the final 4 controls were faster than HJ. Clearly I was riding faster than I thought!

There's now a recovery day with a couple hours of training tomorrow, while the relay is going (I have no team, as the only Brit here), and then Thursday will be the re-race of the Sprint. Friday is the mass start long distance. If I have the speed on the day I hope for another reasonable long distance performance.