Most juniors will agree that Interland is a great experience as well as a great competition and is definitely worth making the effort to get selected. If you didn’t know already, Interland is a team competition between England, Northern France, 2 Belgian teams (a Flemish speaking one and a French speaking one) and the Netherlands.
On to Interland 2018, it was the Netherlands’ turn to host this year and they chose the sand dune forest of Herpduin for the event. They recommended gaiters for the area, which was a bit disappointing when I was reading the final details, but it tuned out it was lovely runnable forest – nothing compared to the man eating brambles in Yorkshire! The accommodation was also amazing, nice chalets in the middle of the forest with the area right outside your door.
It was a fairly early start to get to the meeting point near London at 13:00 but we made it fine and we were soon on the coach heading towards Dover with the rest of the England team. We had a passport check before we got on the ferry and then we were off across the channel towards Calais. We had food on the boat, it was ok but probably overpriced for what it was. Nevertheless it was only an hour and a bit before we got to Calais and then it wasn’t too long a journey to youth hostel in Belgium.
Before bed we had a quick team talk, mostly information and then we got our England kit. I have to say my O top was a little bit big for me but it was an XS anyway so there wasn’t much I could do about it apart from tucking it in and hoping it didn’t annoy me too much whilst I was running. The youth hostel was very modern and the food was also quite nice.
The next morning it was a bit of an effort to get out of bed (only 6:30 in the UK), eat breakfast and make pack lunches. On the way to Herpduin we stopped at the Dutch town of Breda where we wondered round for an hour or so before we continued on to Herpduin. Upon arrival we were given a map and keys and then we had to navigate to our chalets, which was easier said than done since we weren’t even on map! Once we did find where the chalets were we had to carry all our bags for about a kilometre. As soon as we got into the chalets we had to get ready to run the middle distance race. The good thing was that we didn’t have to travel to get to it.
The terrain was really nice, flat with intricate contour detail, quite runnable as well. Personally I thought that the map and courses were good too. Most people used it as a warm up for the main event the next day but some raced it competitively, hoping do well in the open Interland event. Everyone got a good feel of the terrain, ready for the long on Sunday and thankfully there were no injuries after the first race – always good.
Next on the agenda was dinner – Spaghetti Bolognese and soup – and then the 2nd team talk of the weekend, which involved runners representing England for the first time being presented with badges. Then there was the night sprint, for those who felt like doing some more orienteering. The temperature had dropped significantly since going into to dinner but the courses were just round the chalet park and were over nice and quick.
Then it was Sunday and time for Interland proper – the whole reason for being there! Start times were early so we had breakfast in the chalets as we didn’t have time to have to walk to the café and back in the little time we had. The start was once again fairly close so it was only a 15 minute jog to the start. At the start we had our terrain photos taken, oops shouldn’t have given that away! And then one by one we were off into the forest attempting to defend our Interland title. I would say the terrain on the long wasn’t as good as the middle but it was still ok, obviously still very flat so the winning times were all quite quick. It was very nice after the race because we were still allowed in the chalets so you could have a nice shower and get changed. It also meant you weren’t rushed in the morning to pack before you ran. The prize giving was at 2 o’clock, at which point we had to haul all our bags back to the coach. The results were in and there was a tense wait before the prize giving, so we passed some time by taking a team photo. Suddenly it was time…we were 2nd. Sadly we were beaten by one of the Belgian teams although I’m still clueless as to which one it was.
And then the long long journey home…..
Thank you to John the team manager and all the other helpers and thank you to SYO and YHOA for the financial support they gave me. It was a fantastic experience and I hope to have the chance to represent England again in the future.