At the end of last year I was selected as reserve for the England team for the Interland match on Sunday 10 March in France however unlike last time I soon received the call up to the full team; this was my first time running for England. Interland is a one-race team competition (like the CompassSport Cup) between England, Hauts-de-France (LFHCO), the French-speaking region (FRSO) and Flemish region (VVO) of Belgium and the Netherlands. Last year in the Netherlands we came second to the Flemish-Belgian team so we were keen to put that right this year.
After meeting to catch the coach in Beaconsfield at the not-so-bright but rather early time of 6:00 on Saturday 9 March we set off on our way to the middle distance training event on a similar area to the actual competition. The forests were very similar to ones back in England: slightly hilly with lots of low bramble but also some very nice super runnable bits as well as a good path network. I was getting over an annoying cold the week before so wasn’t able to run before Saturday, so I spent the course trying to get back into my stride.
Me getting my England team badge with Philip Gristwood (P. Gristwood)
Later that evening some of us took part in the night sprint race around the Val Joly Leisure Centre where we were staying. This was a fun mix of cabins, woodland and other buildings in the centre that lent itself to a fast sprint (with the occasional complex area to catch me out when I lost focus!) and I was pleased to be running much more comfortably than during the middle distance. Then we had a very nice dinner followed by a team meeting where those of us who were running for England for the first time received their Orienteering England badges.
Sunday came and we grabbed our breakfast and promptly headed off to the race venue at Saint Michel. The forest was nicer than Saturday’s but had some massive streams that were waist deep at some points! I started my race reasonably well getting the first few controls fine with only a small mistake on the way to number 5. Then there was the longest leg on the course from 7 to 8; I chose the path route with not much climb but a little bit further. This might not have been the fastest for me but it did give me an opportunity to look ahead at the next few legs.
Over the rest of the course I managed to catch up the other England M20 runner, Ethan, who set off 6 minutes before me (an oddly small gap we thought; CSC is 8 minutes between club-mates). The last few controls were physically tough with another ‘stream’ crossing, uphill to 15, down to 16 then up again for 17 and the finish with legs screaming on the run in after 13km of running! After a short shuttle ride back to download I found out that I actually won M20 by only 8 seconds!
The prize giving area was in the courtyard of the Abbaye de Saint Michel and was surrounded by a very picturesque cloister. It was the moment we had all been waiting for: had England won back the Interland trophy or would we strike out for the second year in a row? First to be awarded was the Interland Junior Trophy, awarded to the team with the best scores from the M/W20, 17 and 14 classes. Sadly we lost out to our rivals from VVO who just beat us to retain the trophy. Now for the main Interland Trophy and after wins by myself in M20, Clive Hallett (BOK) in M50, Melanie Slade (SN) W50 and Alison Simmons (BOK) W60 we managed to win back the trophy by a comfortable margin! Very well done to fellow Yorkshire juniors Alex Crawshaw (SYO), 4th in W14, Laura Harrison (EPOC), 6th in W20, and Jamie Lightfoot running as M14 reserve, as well as SYO adults: Amanda Crawshaw despite illness managing 7th in W40, Nick Barrable 2nd on M40 and Tim Tett 2nd on M50. We then went up for the individual prizes and I got a very nice bundle with lemonade and biscuits! We then embarked on a long coach journey back to Beaconsfield, which was made much easier by substantial quantities of food provided by the team organisers.
Like last year, the competition was a brilliant experience; despite the similarities to English terrain it was a good, long, challenging course that pushed me to use a variety of skills and concentrate for all of it. I learned what I do well and what to improve in my race-day preparation and routine and I of course had a wonderful time! I would definitely recommend any juniors keen to improve their racing skills to attend future selection races for Interland next autumn as they are very much looking for those who are enthusiastic enough to go to national standard races all year round, not just the big spring races like the JK which get you on summer training camps. I’d like to thank SYO and YHOA for subsidising costs for the trip and my brilliant mum for driving me all the way down to London and back. Finally thanks to John Rye and Philip Gristwood and the rest of the England Orienteering Council for selecting me and organising such a great trip!