by Samantha Saeger
This summer was another orienteering adventure! I set off in June for an orienteering wedding in Yosemite followed by the North American Orienteering Championships (NAOC) in BC, Canada. This was a milestone year for the US as we won the Björn Kjellström Cup for the first time since 1982. The cup is awarded to either the US or Canada, based on results in the male and female elite categories at the North American Orienteering Championships which are held every 2 years. The Cup is awarded to the country with the highest point total after the sprint, middle and long distance races. Points are awarded to the top 15 finishers in each M21+ and F21+ according to a points system similar to cross country scoring. I always love competing at NAOC with the rest of the US men and women. Unlike a WOC team where there are only 5 men and 5 women competing in a foreign country, the US team at NAOC can be larger and we are surrounded by our supporters. I’m proud to be a part of the team that won the trophy back - finally!
About a week after returning home from BC I flew to Sweden and began my 5 week European trip in Karlstad, Sweden. Tom Hollowell, former US Team athlete and coach, lives in Karlstad with his family. His club, OK Tyr, has a club house right on the edge of town. Eleven athletes, a mixture of members from the US Junior, Senior and University Teams, stayed at his clubhouse for a week of training. The clubhouse consists of one main room, with 6 longs tables and a kitchen where club members can gather before and after trainings. There are men’s and women’s changing areas with showers and a sauna for after training in the dark, cold Swedish nights. It’s not meant to accommodate people sleeping there, so we put pads and sleeping bags down on the floor in the 3 changing rooms. Every morning a junior from the club, My, set out a training course for us. One day we focused on running long legs hard and then slowing down to attack several short, technical legs in a row. Another morning we did two short courses on a 1:5000, contour only map. But, the most challenging exercise was a corridor-o. In this exercise only a small strip of the map is visible between controls. That means if you wander a bit too far to one side, you are no longer able to find yourself on the map. Luckily, My was kind and gave us a copy of the entire map to bring with us, just in case. I ended up having to use it on a few occasions, mostly after trying to take a corner in the corridor while on a rough compass bearing in the green. Trying to take the corners at the right angle was by far the most challenging part for me!
Along with the trainings set up every morning by My, the OK Tyr juniors were also putting on a mini 5-day. For 5 evenings in a row there was an event, complete with epunching and the entire range of courses. The final day was a chase start based on your best 3 of 4 finishes. I was racing the longest course each evening and started very near the end in the chase start. As I started racing I noticed that the control descriptions on the map said that the course was only 3.5k. I figured they must have decided to make the final day short. Then as I was coming into #9, my last control, I noticed that there was no finish drawn on my map. A mistake? Did they just assume I would be able to find my way there? It turns out there was a map exchange, which I learned about as I ran into #9 and the girl overseeing the control told me, in English, to drop my map and take a new one. It turns out the American boys in front of me all tried to sprint into the finish. By the time I came through she knew we had not read the Swedish meet notes. It’s experiences like these that make me wish I could understand Swedish!
After a week of training I joined the US University Team in Borlange as their team leader. It was a busy week for me and the athletes. They had back to back races for 4 days. I went to the start with them early each morning and saw them all off. Then I took transportation back to the finish arena, where I saw the last few finish. Then the athletes headed back to the hotel and I stayed around to run a spectator race. After my race, I hitched a ride back to the center of town just in time to shower and run to the team leaders meeting to get the information on the next day’s race. Then I finally had time for dinner around 7:30 and I met with the USA team atheletes at 8:00 to pass on the information for the next race. Finally I updated the spectators back home on the team’s performance through the blog and facebook, and then I went to bed. The next day - wake up and repeat! It was very fun, but also very busy! At the end of the week I drove with some friends across Sweden and into Norway to begin training for the World Orienteering Championships.
This year I arrived in Trondheim, Norway two weeks before the start of the World Orienteering Championships (WOC). The whole time I spent in Norway was amazing, and I can in no way do the whole trip justice in a few paragraphs. I trained for two weeks with members from the US, Canadian, Australian, British, Irish, and New Zealand teams. I ran on almost every training map available. Normally I arrive in the race area one week before the competition. This gives me enough time to practice in the terrain without wearing myself out. This year was different. I had heard that the terrain was very physically demanding as well as being incredibly technical. One big difference between Trondheim and home was that you could, and should, run in the swamps. From afar the swamps look like open or semi-open areas. Using the swamps to navigate was a great skill that had to be mastered to succeed in this terrain. Although they were very open, it was sometimes hard to see where a semi-open swamp ended and the woods began. You could only tell by the footing. The swamps squished underfoot, while the white woods did not. More than once I did the “jump test” 4 where I jumped up and down to see if it would squish to determine where I was! The added difficulty of running in the swamps was that you sunk down a bit with every step. It was similar to running in sand, in that you didn’t get as much push off as you would if running on harder ground. Luckily for all of us racing, it was a dry season, which meant that the marshes were firmer than usual.
My final race at WOC this year was the relay. I look forward to running this race all year and I was again able to run the first leg. It’s a three person relay and I was handing off to Alison Crocker and Sandra Zurcher was anchoring. The warm up for this race is always the most nerve wracking. I think I was more relaxed this year than past years because I knew that I could run a strong race in this terrain as I had successful races earlier in the week. The small boost of confidence was enough to keep my stomach from doing too many flip flops. As I warmed up with Carol Ross (Canada) I noticed that my ankle brace was rubbing in a painful way. I stopped to try to adjust it several times, but I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Finally I sat down, took off my shoe and inspected the brace. I remembered washing it the day before and realized that I put it back together improperly. I fixed it and still had time to finish warming up and get into the start zone. I was certainly reminded of the importance of leaving plenty of time for warming up!
Standing on the starting line with all the other teams and looking down the long start chute, I did my best to calm my nerves. I’ve run first leg of the relay at WOC for the past 4 years, but the dreadful anticipation never goes away. I love running it, I love finishing it, but I could do without having to start it. This year my goal was to finish in the top ten, which would mean paying careful attention to the individuals and groups around me, while at the same time running my own race to my own forked controls. As nervous as I get while standing on the starting line, I love the mental and physical challenge that comes with running first leg. The gun went off and the pack flew through the arena, across the road, and then up an open hillside. I was near the back as we ran up the hill and I watched the people in front of me enter the forest. Before we reached my control, we hit another one. Although I knew it wasn’t mine, I was frustrated that a third of the pack was punching their first control and already on their way to the second. The rest of us had to keep fighting our way through the older logged terrain and dense pine trees to our control on top of a small hill.
After finding the first control with no problems and seeing that I was still running with other people, I relaxed a little bit. My biggest fear in the relay is making a mistake on the first control and losing the pack. I ran with a group of about 5 girls for the next 5 controls. Then the pack changed, but I was always running with and around other people which helped push the pace.
The course had 12 controls and the end suited fast runners. 9 to 10 was mostly a trail run, and then we ran through the swamp and parking lot from 10 to 11. From 11 there was a streamered route to the last control and to the finish. I was with two other runners going into 10 and as we punched it and headed toward the crowds of people, I slowly passed them. I began to gain on the next girl in front of me as I approached 11, but I could feel the exhaustion in my legs. I had been pushing at the edge of my physical limit almost the whole way I was becoming concerned that I wouldn’t make it to the finish. I punched 11 and ran hard up the chute lined with cheering spectators and up the small hill to the last control. From there it was down and then over the bridge to the finish. I could see the runner from Sweden finishing and the runner from Denmark was right in front of me. As I climbed the bridge I heard the announcer say that Sweden was finishing in 5th. Exhausted as I was, I could still do enough basic math to figure out that this meant I was currently running down the finish chute in 7th position and gaining on 6th. I suddenly found a whole new reserve of energy as it occurred to me that I had a chance to catch the runner in front of me. I ran off the bridge as fast as I could and 5 slowly gained ground on the final straightaway. I didn’t quite make it as I was about to come level with her just as we crossed the finish line and continued over to tag off to our second leg runners. I tagged off to Ali with my usual saying, “Run hard and have fun!” I was exhausted, my legs were wobbling, my brain was fried, but I was beaming.
I, again, had an amazing summer traveling and competing in Europe. Every year I learning more about orienteering and my skills become stronger and stronger. I wouldn’t be able to do this year after year without the support of my friend, family and clubmates.