Interland is an annual 5 cornered match between teams from France, The Netherlands, Belgium (Flemish), Belgium (French speaking) and England which this year took place in the setting of Saint Michel, Northern France. After being selected along with my mum, we both headed south on Friday night and the excitement was building.
The England Team were meeting at Beaconsfield for an early start on Saturday morning and at 6:30am we left and headed to pick up the rest of the team from multiple pick points on our way to Folkstone. Once everyone was on board we began to catch up and make friends. We arrived at the terminal, all went through passport control and then headed on the tunnel to Calais. When we arrived in France, we were greeted by the sun shining and the juniors had just about managed to wake up so spirits were lifting after such an early morning. We then were on our way and travelled to the training event via a stop in a little town where we were supplied with our kit and then carried on with our journey. Fortunately, the training was not too far or dissimilar from where the main competition was going to be held on Sunday.
This training event allowed us to get used to the mapping and the terrain of the foreign area and help us to understand further what we would have to face the next day. I had a clean run, I took it steady and let myself understand how to tackle the terrain and navigation as I had never competed abroad before. Ironically, however, it was fairly similar to the terrain that I am used to in Yorkshire and the sun had held out so it was nice to get a run in and some fresh air after spending all day on the coach.
Once we were all finished up at the training event, we headed to the accommodation for the night and we all got told who we would be sharing rooms with. Fortunately, it was in age classes so I had Chloe, Lucy and Anne to accompany me for the night. We all headed straight for tea as soon as we had arrived and then had showers before getting organized for the next day. We then had a team meeting where the team manager, John, discussed with us any changes from the original details, a run through of the next day and the distances for the start and the plan after we had run. After that we all got ready for bed, ready to race the next day.
Waking up on Sunday morning was tough, it had been a long day before and I was in for another long day ahead. Despite this we pulled ourselves out from bed, changed into our kit and headed to breakfast. Once we were all packed onto the coach, we set off for a 30 minute journey to the event. As the coach pulled up, Chloe and I sprang into action, got our kit on and headed to the start. Here we all started warming up, photo’s were taken of each athlete running and then it was time to focus. As 9:40am was called up I took a step into the first box and took a deep breath. It felt like the longest minutes waiting and the adrenaline was pumping. However, I then had a shaky start after getting confused with the age classes layout and being unsure which descriptions and map to pick up. The start team made sure I was OK and then I was out and heading to number 1. I just knew I had to refocus, which luckily I did, and I settled down into my course. It was so nice to run through the forest although the streams/rivers did give me a fright when they were deeper and faster flowing than I had ever faced before, but I just gave it my all the whole way around as I also knew my fellow teammate Lucy was only 8 minutes behind me.
I had been having a good run and as I left control 13, I noticed I just had to cross a river and then I would be heading towards the finish with just a few controls to go. The river, however, had other ideas for me. I took a step into it and I felt confident I could cross it OK as I had seen 2 French girls make it across before me, but it was fast flowing and deeper than I thought. I took another step further into the river and in the space of a few seconds I was swept off my feet and holding on to my map and a rock with all the strength that I had, however the panic began to hit me and I really began to struggle. Luckily one the girls that crossed before me helped me out but it was a shock to my legs and mind. I decided to take it steady to the rest of the controls but I had no idea how anyone else had done so I knew I needed to focus and make it to the end despite the wet and cold starting to hit my body. Once I had made it back and downloaded, I realized I was only 10 minutes behind Lucy and I was second counter for England as I had beaten Chloe by just over 10 minutes. I changed and warmed up before the prize giving began.
The anticipation for the results was nerve wracking, no one knew how England had done overall and after being previously beaten the past 2 times we really hoped we had done it. The results came in. I was pleased to be 6th out of 12 on my course and in the junior competition England narrowly missed first place by 1 point to one of the Belgian teams. Overall England came 1st by around a 30 point gap. We were over the moon, but with a train waiting for us in Calais we had a fairly prompt exit after inviting the other teams to come to England next year for Interland 2020. We all hustled onto the coach and we set off back.
During the journey the coach was fairly quiet, the tiredness had hit and we all just wanted to get to the terminal but we did get to share out the goody bags of biscuits and other treats the team had won at the prize giving! Once arriving at Calais, we all went through passport control, had a quick tea and then it was back on the coach to head onto the train. Once we had arrived back into Britain we drove off and headed back to Beaconsfield with some stops on the way. After we had arrived back at Beaconsfield mum and I jumped into the car and eventually, 3 hours later, arrived back home.
The experience of an international race was unforgettable and to be able to run for the team and gain the result I did topped off the weekend. Even though it wasn’t the smoothest of rides when I was out on my race, I shocked myself at how much I had improved and what I was capable of. I made some amazing friends throughout the weekend and memories that will last a lifetime, and to finally earn my England kit made me feel so proud of everything I had achieved.
I would like to thank East Pennine Orienteering Club and Yorkshire and Humberside Orienteering Association for aiding me to be able to have this opportunity. I would also like to thank the England Orienteering Committee for giving me the opportunity to compete and to John, our Team Manager, who made sure we were organized for the weekend and ensured the athletes knew what was always going on.
Photo credits: Philip Gristwood