Sziasztok – Hello from Hungary

This post has been a few weeks in the making but I’m here, I’ve touched down in Hungary and started my 6 months in Europe!

Over the last 2 weeks I have been totally absorbed in study for exams. I have sat 3 of these over here – something I would not recommend. It is very hard to concentrate on study and training without getting distracted by being in Europe and wanted to look around!

I’m staying in a little town in Hungary called Soltvadkert, about 110km south of Budapest. It has 3 small supermarkets, an ice cream shop and 4 churches but more importantly for my purposes it is only 6km from the middle and 8km from the long maps for JWOC! The area is totally flat, huge plains which extend for miles and miles like nothing I’ve ever seen anywhere else. It’s pretty boring and pretty hot, some days up to 35 degrees.

The best part about staying here I think is the cheap food. Gyros (the Greek version of Turkish kebabs) seems to be the national takeaway/cusine. For NZ$2.50 you can get a delicious filling pita or splurge a whole NZ$7 you can get the ultimate tower of overloaded fries (name of dish still unknown). The only frustrating thing has been finding fruit – incredibly they don’t even seem to have decent apples! I did manage to find 15 cheap nectarines in Budapest last week but it has been a struggle!

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So good, so big, so full afterwards!

Back to Budapest – I have found the city both quite interesting and quite disgusting from what little I have seen so far. Some random facts:

  • It has a massive public transport system of buses, trams, subways and trains which is quite impressive, especially coming from Auckland!
  • History. So many old buildings, it’s like what you imagine the world was like 30,40 even 100 years ago in places. Quite a unique feel.
  • Everyone smokes. Like everywhere in Hungary someone is smoking, even when there are signs saying no smoking.
  • Compared to other cities in Europe it is so dirty and everything feels neglected. There are also tonnes of homeless people, many missing legs and arms which is quite shocking at first.
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A very impressive castle in Budapest on the side of the Danube. Visual amenity along this sides bank could however be improved..

On to Orienteering Stuff!

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So open, so fast!

The areas they are using for JWOC are unusually suited to New Zealanders I think. The long map is mainly plantation pine trees, clean underfoot. The contours are subtle (being only 2m!) but generally very easy as they have big obvious shapes. See below a 70min easy run I did on the training map right next to the actual long map – for some perspective the straight line distance was about 12km compared to that for JWOC of 15km.

 

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They don’t call it the str8 compass for nothing!

The middle terrain is much trickier and a bit less familiar. The organisers describe it as a ‘Labyrinth’ which is not far from the truth. The green bushes on the map are totally impenetrable – you have to find the little gaps round. But the bushes out there tend to blend into the yellow which means the smaller gaps often you need to be right on them to see them! The trick is to be 100% confident with your orienteering and attack the bushes hard, reading the contours and avoiding any wide green patches. Tracking will also help a lot. I definitely believe this kind of terrain is something you need lots of practice in before an event to understand how to orienteer accurately and quickly through it – it’s quite different to normal terrains and very easy to become timid in.

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The ‘Labyrinth’. Hectic.

I have only one week left in Soltvadkert now until I leave for Belgium and my warm up races for JWOC. I am only doing some sprint races in the lead up as there isn’t anything in the right forest terrain pre-JWOC. I will be running in M21E with a whole bunch of other Kiwis  – this event is made extra special as for the 100 year anniversery of the end of WW1, we will be racing near Ypres.

Now my exams are over, I hope to post more regularly! Stay tuned as JWOC prep starts to ramp up even more.

6 months.. and 17 hours

I’m rebooting my blog for Europe episode 3. This time will be bigger (and hopefully better!) as I attack both orienteering world championships, JWOC and WOC as well as a university exchange to Glasgow! I hope to post often over the next 6 months as I travel around Europe, competing in some interesting and unusual places.

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Throw back to Europe ’17 – can’t wait to meet some more random bronze dudes! #thatstridelength

Currently I’m sitting in the departure hall of Auckland airport contemplating the second longest flight in the world which I’m about to take. 17 hours in a cramped little seat, although my trusty foam roller is on hand. In a little over 28 hours, I will however, land in Budapest and move on to the first stage of my trip, a month in some random Hungarian desert before JWOC. (JWOC starts on the 9th July – mark it in your diaries!)

After JWOC I will move onto the Czech Republic, hopefully meeting up with some friends from NZ and abroad. This will also be my training base leading into the WOC sprint and sprint relay (4/5 August). On the 28th July I move on to Latvia for WOC and the spectator forest races afterwards!

In August, I’m looking at spending a month in Scandinavia, exploring and of course training, this time for the World Cup races at the start of September in Norway. Finally, following this I will move on to Scotland, Glasgow and my exchange!

With so much to look forward too, I will have lots to write about soon! Now my flight is boarding, only 17 hours and 6 months until I return! Seeya later NZ!

 

 

 

 

First Steps in Finland

After 30 something hours of flying, full body security scans in San Francisco and weather delays in Frankfurt, I landed in Helsinki on the 29 June. My host for the first few days met me at the airport and soon we were winging up the highway towards the forests and his home town.

I am staying in a place called Mansala currently, a small town somewhere south-east of Tampere (where JWOC is). The area is just made up of ‘fields and forests’ (as my host Tuomo says), all of which seem runnable.

One of the interesting things about Finland I have learnt so far is of course, all about their saunas. In Finland, every house pretty much has it’s own sauna which Finns crack up to 70 degrees or hotter. Saunas are so popular apparently there is a sport here where you sit in one cranked up to 120 degrees+ and see how long you last! It can be deadly with a Russian passing away a few years ago apparently due to drugs and the effects of the heat!

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A typical Finnish home sauna

Orienteering

Of course, the main reason I am here is to orienteer. So far I have done 3 trainings in the forests nearby. Typical Finnish forest does not feel too slow to run in but is very draining – with a lot of small low bushes to push through you get tired quickly! However I have found the forest types can be very mixed, ranging from open and mossy to dense and slow (and yet still mapped as white – green here is often very slow).

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Pretty typical example of the forest in Finland (from my first training)

The orienteering itself requires a high level of confidence. The contours tend to be vague although there is always a big feature to tick off I have found. Having a good plan is essential as is running straight – if you lose focus and lose where you are though, you can be in trouble.

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Middle sim – map from a national event earlier this year. Also an official training map for Jukola next year

I ran this middle in the evening yesterday – 8pm with the sun like it was midday! The area around 9/10 was pretty cool/hard! You can see that running straight is important – the forest can be quite low vis though which makes executing this a bit harder.

Today I jogged a long distance style course on a pretty amazing map:

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Orienteering heaven, unfortunately the camera quality doesn’t do it justice

The area on the left side of the map was just incredible. Every few hundred metres the forest changed from mossy to bushy and everything inbetween, low vis always. And the rocks were just incredible as well as being tricky (the map scale was 1:15,000). I loved it, probably my favourite map I have ever run on!

Tomorrow I will be running a local double sprint competition near where I trained today. There should be a few decent Finns running so it will be a good test of where my speed is at. After that, the official training week begins!

 

 

EUROPE: Episode 2!

In only a few minutes I will be starting the 30 hour trip to Helsinki. Exams finally finished, countless hours of training completed and a fair bit of fundraising done.

This year I will be using this blog to give friends, family and all my other supporters a bit of insight into what’s going on as I build up to the Junior World Championships. As I travel through Finland, Estonia, Sweden and Hungary, keep tuned for updates on how my journey is going!

I would also just like to take a moment to thank all the support I have received to get here. From family members to family friends, businesses, club members and even those who I have never met, thank you so much for your support and help. Thanks to you all, hopefully soon I will be able to achieve some of my dreams!!

Halfway

One of the crucial elements of success in a sport is to always be improving and growing as an athlete. For me, 2017 so far has embodied that.

I started the year with three clear goals:

  1. To pb in a 5km
  2. To win a race at Oceanias
  3. To win the M20 NZ super series

Each of these goals was a small step up from the previous. And as I ticked all of them off, I knew that the success represented something I have done well over the past 2 years – steady constant improvement.

Oceania

For me, there is so many aspects of a race which defines my success in it. Oceania’s came around after a long controlled training block which ended with getting sick and not running at all in the week before the first race. Oh the pain of it! I lined up at the sprint start, mind not in it and found myself a fair way behind 1st but in a surprising 3rd.

The long came next. I had taken a fair tumble in the sprint and was still feeling sore and a little distracted. 45minutes in and I had run the best 45 minutes of Orienteering in my life. Controlled, calm and confident, even two decent mistakes near the end couldn’t stop me.  My last Oceania’s as a Junior and by far my best result.

What made the result worth more was the control I had. Orienteering should be simple and for the first 45 minutes at least, it felt like that. I was not necessarily the fastest runner but I feel I was the most confident. Everything came together on that race and it is a feeling I hope to emulate increasingly.

The other half

The last few months has been overwhelmingly busy. Lots of racing including athletics (cross country) as I build towards JWOC, on top of endless University work. I took out the Super Series and struggled through numerous tests, assignments and projects. Raced some more, volunteered at the World Masters Games and set some courses.

Possibly one of the biggest things this year however has been changing my diet. I cut out added sugars and reduced my intake of highly processed foods considerably earlier this year. Why? Unfortunately while sugar might trick us into thinking it’s good, the substance (which research suggests is as addictive as cocaine) has several negative effects. Sugar tends to be absorbed very quickly – too quickly in fact for the energy gains from it to be very useful. Why does this matter? When we do exercise, we require fuel to drive our muscles. Eat a lot of highly processed foods and sugar and this fuel will be absorbed too quickly, excesses turned into useless fat. Run 5 times a week refuelling like this and by the end of the week you will be exhausted, tired and sore.

Since cutting out sugar, I’ve found my energy levels spiking – while I train an extra 2 hours a week and exhaust myself with Uni. By replacing ice cream with an apple, plain pasta with wholemeal, I am able to train that little bit extra. And the best thing about it is my body feels greater doing it.

 

Sweet end to a long year

It’s been a little while since my last post. In that time I have caught a bad flu, ran some bad races and suffered through exams. But since university has ended things have turned full circle.

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Te Henga part of the race – this track is very overgrown and narrow, winding along the top of cliffs above a spectacular coastline

Two weeks ago I entered the Speight’s West Coaster half marathon. Know as one of the toughest off road half marathons in New Zealand with nearly 900m of climb, I went into the race without any real ambitions apart from to win. Coming off the back of a strong training period, I know that this was very much achievable.

The first 2km of the race is a crazy downhill. Downhills are not my strength and I knew the leaders would probably motor down here sub 3 min/km. So I edged back, let them get away on the open stretches while closing on the more technical stairs. Hitting the bottom of the valley I felt fresh as we approached the first major hill of the course in Goldies Bush.

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Pretty spiky elevation graph!

Going up this hill, I upped the tempo to an effort which I knew I could just sustain past the top of the hill, hoping to drop the pack or break the others before the slow stream section. Only one guy stuck with me up the hill as I smashed it, taking half a minute out of the previous record holders time on this section. On the highly technical stream/waterfall section a km later, I soon dropped this guy too who was utterly wrecked.

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Great view into O’Neills as I try to maintain form

The rest of the race I sat into a comfortable pace with the goal of upping it after the last major hill out of O’Neills bay. Coming into Bethells, I realised that not only was sub 2 hours on, the course record was in sight too. Upping the tempo once again, I sprinted the finish chute in the hope I would squeeze under.

1:55:20. 7 seconds under the previous course record! Not only had I nabbed my first open men’s win, I had taken a record in the progress!

With 2017 looming ever closer now, it is time for me to switch my focus back to Orienteering. I am now halfway through an intensive training period focused on building up my skills for a busy year ahead. With Oceania’s in April, the NZ elite super series and the Junior World Championships in July to look forward to, I can feel anticipation of a big success building!

Learning how to HURT

After my disaster race at Waharau I considered skipping the next trail race in order to try get some more fitness up. When one of my training mates however decided to enter it, it was too tempting not too! So once again I was up early and out to a forest for 2 more hours of pain.

This time I was racing the Xterra Woodhill trail race. Woodhill presents a different and unusual challenge to other trail races in that all the trails are sandy – and some quite steep. This meant that almost the entire race was very physical, an exercise in learning how to hurt – and there was a lot of that!

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Starting lineup – I’m on the far right-front having a bit of banter with training mate Sam

The start of the race was a quick dash up a gravel road with a bit of climb. Me and Sam quickly took the lead in the Super Long course however I could feel from the beginning his pace was going to be unsustainable. After 4km, the pace hadn’t dropped although I was starting to feel the effects of 4min/km on sandy trails and found myself dropping back. Soon I had lost about 7 places and found myself in a bad head space as I pysched myself for the crux of the course, the first hill climb.

While the first few sections of the course were a relatively boring mix of slightly undulating gravel roads and sandy tracks, about 10km in this changed dramatically. Over 1.2km the course climbed 120m straight up a steep, very sandy track. This was an absolute killer of a climb made worse by the sand clinging to your shoes. The only respite was the view from the top of the hill which was incredible.

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An incredible day – and an incredible view which stretched 360 degrees

At this point I caught up to and passed Sam who had hit the wall and hit injury problems. While the view and the knowledge I was catching up to those who had started too fast was uplifting, the course quickly darted back into the forest for more undulating climb. After a short downhill, we were out in the open felling for a second loop up the hill just as the heat of the day started to hit.

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If you’re still smiling you ain’t hurting enough! ~3km to go

While the course up to this point had been somewhat painful, over the next 8km to the finish I was to learn a lot about pain. Somehow I forced myself on with another guy right on my tail all the way up the hill again and around the loop. In the open I could feel the heat starting to become a factor and as we hit the last major downhill back towards the beach, I found myself struggling to keep going. The last 5km from here was a blur of putting one foot in front of the other and trying to just get it done. A final surge at the finish and I found myself in 6th place overall, 9 minutes down and 1st Junior U20 once again. 23km/400m climb done and dusted in 1:53.

This was not my best racing performance and certainly not as good as my first race in Riverhead. My race strategy is still poor/non-existent although every race I am learning from others tactics. Importantly though these races have been teaching me how to hurt and deal with pain. That was one of the weaknesses I picked up on at JWOC 2016 and hopefully something I can remedy in time for JWOC 2017, my big ambition at the moment.

Next is 3 weeks of hard training for my first athletics race representing Bay’s, the NZ road relay championships on the 1st of October.

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Crossing the finish line never felt so good!