My summer of orienteering – Laura King

This year’s Junior World Orienteering Championships (JWOC) was Great Britain’s most successful ever. There were many incredible stories that came out of it. Who would have thought that the girls relay team would have won GOLD! Unfortunately, mine wasn’t one of them.

My preparation had been significantly better than any previous year. I had finally learnt how much running my body can tolerate after years of running more, getting injured, taking time off and starting over. I carefully managed my training load through winter and worked around the odd injury I picked up including a bruised knee from running into a bollard in Spain in January! Training had become much more enjoyable and seeing improvements made me more motivated.

Come the first selection race in March, I picked up a cold the day before. On the morning of the race I wasn’t feeling good but had to give it a shot. To add to the stress of racing with a blocked nose and tight chest I managed to drop my compass on the way to the start and had to borrow one. My race wasn’t great, and the result reflected that. Luckily from the next set of selection races in Lake District I achieved some comfortable results. This took the pressure off for the JK where I managed more results well within the top six (the JWOC team consists of 6 girls). I was still relieved, to be selected for the team.

The month leading up to JWOC I was at home in Ilkley working and training with the odd weekend trip to Scandinavia. One was to Denmark to take part in the test races for JWOC, which were highly relevant to the competition areas. I also went out to JWOC 5 days early in order to get some more training done on the model areas, without tiring myself out too close to the competition.

The first race was the sprint. There were no previous maps of the area and they were using artificial barriers so there was only limited preparation you could do for it. I had a rough start after colliding with another runner round a corner who managed to rip my bib off and wind me! It took a few controls to regain my flow. A few little mistakes after the spectator control meant I dropped quite a lot of time finishing in 41st.

The nature of the area meant lots of twists and turns, weaving in and out of small gaps between houses and I’m not the best at accelerating and decelerating quickly so I was going round the whole course at one speed that was slower than I’d have liked. It wasn’t the best start to JWOC but it was by far better than the year before.

The next day was the long race. I felt good warming up on the model map and was very prepared for the race. I knew roughly where we were starting so I knew the first section wouldn’t take me long to get into. All I wanted was a clean race . I started well just picking off the first 4 controls nicely. Then it was the long leg. I saw the two possible routes and immediately picked the one I wanted which involved a long track run uphill. I felt very slow running up the track but just kept pushing and planning ahead. At the end of the long leg I had caught some other runners. I pushed on to overtake them. I was running down a hill confident of where my next control was. I jumped down onto a track and heard a “pop”! I had gone over my ankle.

Normally I just run off an ankle roll but it doesn’t normally make that noise. I immediately sat down for a few seconds unsure of how bad it was. Then the adrenaline took over and I pushed on to the next control. I was waiting for the pain to fade. I messed up the next control a little but still found it before the group of girls I had caught. The next control was downhill and it was obvious I wasn’t running half as fast as I was before and the pain was getting worse not better. The group of girls came past me again and I knew I couldn’t stick with them. There was no way I was going to be able to get round in any kind of respectable time and just walking was becoming a struggle. I kept changing my mind but in the end I began the walk back to the arena in pain having flashbacks to the long course the previous year- I had just dropped out again.

I was rushed straight to the first aid tent where they strapped up my now very swollen ankle. It was only then that it really hit me and I cried for quite a bit. I was so frustrated and angry. I felt like the opportunity to race had been taken away from me but there was no one to blame. I sat to watch the rest of the GB team come in which was some great spectating as we saw Grace Molloy come in to take her second bronze medal!

Luckily, it was the rest day next so I could spend it icing, compressing and elevating my ankle in the hope I’d be back on the start line for the middle qualifier. I could barely put weight on it so racing wasn’t looking likely but by the next evening I could walk with a slight limp. I decided to act as if I was going to race so I’d head into quarantine and make the final decision on warming up.

Our team physio, Anwen, strapped up my ankle so it couldn’t move in any direction and I borrowed my team-mate, Fiona’s ankle brace. On the warm up I could run surprisingly faster than I thought. It was like running with a wooden leg and still quite painful despite the ibuprofen but I tried to get into a racing mindset as I really wanted to just give it a go. I started my race really well and was getting the controls spot on. At control 4 I was in 6th place and its top 20 to qualify so if I’d been able to keep that up I think I could have easily got into the A final.

Unfortunately at control 4, which was on top of a big ridge, there was a map turn over. I flipped the map and headed off to 5. Things didn’t quite fit and I hesitated trying to work it out. I suddenly realised I had run down the wrong side of the ridge. Frustrated, I sprinted back over only to then completely mess up the next control as well, loosing even more time. My head just wasn’t in it. I hadn’t made a stupid mistake like that in a very long time so I can only put it down to having my ankle on my mind. There was no way of making the A final. I was pretty devastated after retiring from another race. I sat in the corner of the arena feeling I had let everyone down. Mum and Dad were there to support me, which was nice, but probably not the holiday they had had in mind.

The middle final was a good day for spectating. Fiona Bunn had a storming run to bring GB their third medal of the week, beating both Grace’s bronzes with a silver medal! I think this was already Great Britain’s most successful JWOC before the relay had even begun.

I knew I was going to run the relay since I knew I could physically get round a forest however, I was moved from first leg of the B team to last just in case. I watched the boys come in to take 6th place which was extremely exciting.

Unfortunately I was out in the forest when the girls had an incredible race to come in and take the GOLD medal. I had heard a huge cheer when I was approaching the spectator control and I knew we were in a medal battle but I wasn’t sure who they were all cheering for. I finished in 18th place pulling up our 2nd team by 2 places with a very clean run to be told the good news that 1st team had just got gold which was amazing! I was very ready to move on with my summer and put an emotionally draining week behind me.

It was not the end to my junior career that I would have liked, especially after the hours and hours of training and preparation. It was incredibly frustrating not to be able to put it all into action and see the results I was capable of.

After a few relaxing days travelling through Denmark and Sweden I arrived at O-Ringen with a crowd of friends. I managed all 5 days steadily with the ankle brace on and really enjoyed it. It was important for me to get back out into the forest in a less stressful environment. The following week was the Scottish 6 days in Pershshire which was great fun as always. On the last day I found myself in a head to head battle with Grace Molloy for the overall title which I actually won! That was a nice end to the my summer of orienteering but left me thinking what more could I have done at JWOC if I been on form.

I’m ready for a break from competitive orienteering but not for too long. I’ll probably aim for World University Championships next year hoping for a little more success. Thank you again to Airienteers for their support throughout my junior career.

Laura King