So I've kind of given my sprint race report so I'm going to briefly talk about my long distance and middle.
I didn't have a great long race. I messed up the route choice to 2 and lost about 10-15 minutes. At that point I was considering ditching it... But I thought that I might as well finish. I wasn't in the race channel which is what cost me when I made the mistake. I tried to remain in the channel for the rest of the race and it seemed to work.
It was really tough going and most of the time the best option was to run hard along the road and pick a solid attackpoint before going into the control. There wasn't much going straight, it just wasn't very runnable at all and the vegetation and marshes were very physical. Physically I was actually just fine. I had quite a bit of energy going into the final loop and I received multiple comments about the amount of energy that I had left. But that usually means that your orienteering hasn't gone so well!
What was great was that it seemed like although I hadn't done many long runs I had the race fitness from doing some long races. Ideally if we want to compete in the long you really have to train specifically for it though. I haven't done enough terrain running and the orienteering over the past three weeks has been extremely physical.
I was quite anxious for the middle distance... I had a slightly better start time which I was hoping to use to my advantage. I also knew that there would be nothing strange like a butterfly. I started conservatively and picked the road route choices wherever I could. This actually cost me significant amounts of time where straight was a lot better. The safe route choices may have prevented me from making big mistakes, but at the same time I lost a lot of time on short legs where I could have just navigated from feature to feature. It's something to learn from. I just didn't feel very confident in the terrain! An Irish guy and I worked together really well though and I felt like I had a reasonable race. This didn't really show position wise though, just reflecting exactly how out of my depth I am in the forest.
So I'd like to start a public discussion on how we move forward. I had initially published something late last night, but I didn't want it to affect the junior's relay preparation so quickly removed it.
What is the best way forward for elite orienteering in South Africa? My own opinion may be one that is a little controversial for the purists... I believe that we need to focus our efforts on only sprint orienteering. We do not currently have any financial support from the federation which means that training camps in terrain are pretty much out of the question. Some orienteers do have extensive experience in different countries, but we're yet to really perform in the forest. So is it worth beating a dead horse? In order to really compete in the forest we need someone to move to Europe solely for orienteering. And that is just competing, say maybe placing in the top 50 at WOC. I still believe that it will take, and Coni confirms, around 2-3 years of living here solely to train and compete to actually get to that level. We're yet to find someone who will make the move, but if we do maybe that will also inspire others to take the same path.
In the meantime, we haven't managed to find the very technical terrain in South Africa that can prepare us for overseas competition. And even then, we're competing against the New Zealanders and Australians that spend years in Europe just to improve their orienteering.
We may be able to compete at JWOC. Brad pulled off a great result to qualify for the A final for the middle. But that is also JWOC. You're racing against people your age. You don't compete against people like Daniel Hubmann, Olav Lundanes, Maja Alm and Tove Alexandersson.
So why should we race in the forest races at WOC? I find it incredibly interesting that even the juniors enjoy the sprint the most. It's pretty disheartening to race in the forest and do badly... I wonder why we enjoy the sprint so much? Is it just because we're relatively good at it?
When it comes to sprint orienteering things are completely different. We have the terrain, we have excellent maps. There's also slightly more competition. This means that when compared to other nations we are actually better technically prepared. It was really strange coming to the UK where park races are far more common than urban sprints. And most urban sprints are actually longer urban races. I've actually maybe suffered from the lack of technical sprint orienteering that I'm used to in South Africa.
So please, I am really interested in the opinion of my fellow South Africans. I think that we should stop messing around in the forest at the WOC level. Until we can compete at the top of the field in 5 days events we are simply not ready.
And when it comes to sprint there are no excuses to not perform. I was a good sprint orienteer even before I moved to Europe. We have technical training in South Africa. There is also no excuse to go to an international competition when you are not fit. That is something purely within your control. Representing your country shouldn't just be a cool holiday where it is ok to travel across the world when you haven't put the physical preparation in.
Of course, I do not mean to overemphasise elite orienteering in any way. We have made some great strides when it comes to development. But it also helps to have fellow orienteers to look up to and aspire to. It can drive the conversion from the school's league to the club level.
So what do you think?