Fiona Bunn is an orienteering athlete supported by the GLL Sport Foundation in partnership with SportsAid. She has written an account of her journey up to and during the Junior World Orienteering Championships (JWOC). Fiona’s blog is a fantastic example of not always achieving the results you want, but never giving up and striving for further achievements in the future.
You can view a diary of Fiona’s training camp leading up to the championships here.
Fiona Bunn – JWOC Blog
The selection races went very well this year, as I won 5 out of the 6 races. Training was back on track after an injury ridden winter and I was building confidence in my final preparations when I managed to badly sprain my ankle in some sprint training just 5 weeks before JWOC. As a result I had very limited training in the build up to JWOC and travelled with a lot of doubts in my mind about how the week would go and whether I would cope with the terrain.
On the last day of training I had a tight chest as I warmed up, which soon developed into a nasty cold. I had a temperature, sore chest and chesty cough and just wanted to stay in bed (which is unusual for me, even when ill), but the first race was the next day: Middle Qualification. I started the race with no adrenaline, not feeling like I was competing against any of the competitors around me at the start, but more just hoping to finish the race in one piece and praying I would feel better the next day. Top 20 in each of the 3 heats qualify for the final.
I knew all I could do in my state was focus on navigating cleanly, and I was actually quite pleased with my execution of the race. After some small time losses at the start, I forced myself to focus extra hard on taking safe route choices and having strong plans to deal with any “danger areas” where I could lose time. My race was clean enough to qualify for the A final in 11th position, although not quick. Towards the end of the race I used the paths more than normal to escape the terrain and protect my injured ankle, but the main thing that held me back physically was my illness which was a completely unexpected factor.
I tried to recover as best I could for the Final the next day, but a test run in the morning confirmed that I wouldn’t be able to start. I barely made it to the end of the road, so was confined to spectating. It was a great disappointment for me, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to do myself justice and wanted to give myself at least a chance of recovering for the races at the end of the week.
The next day was the Sprint. I had been doubtful of whether to race, but decided it was a short enough race to give it a go. It would be better to start and have to retire than miss the chance completely.
I regret starting the race with so many worries in my mind. For a sprint you really need full concentration and that was something I was lacking. I have learnt from the past that I should not worry about the running during my races as all my focus should go into the navigation, but in this race I knew I was going to struggle physically so I felt I had to be aware and try to push myself whenever possible. This potentially distracted my attention from what I should have been thinking about during the race. The big mistake came on an easy 50-50 choice around a building. I looked up and saw the corner that I had to reach. When I got to this corner, the midway checkpoint in my route, I saw the Boy’s control, checked it off and mentally moved on, running straight past the control I should have punched 30m later. Disqualified. It was a bitter pill to swallow. It felt like a pointless race and a complete embarrassment. I have higher standards for myself and no excuses for such a stupid mistake. I still had no individual results from JWOC 2017 and time was running out. I tried to forget the race and move on to the next chance: the Long distance.
Looking back on the performance, I also have a lot to learn from the rest of the race. I originally thought I would have been reasonably happy with the run, and if I hadn’t mispunched a 22nd position would have been respectable given the circumstances. What I didn’t realise at the time was that I actually chose a sub-optimum route for the majority of the legs, often even after considering the optimum route and deciding against it. This is clearly a focus for my training in the future; small time losses everywhere add up.
The rest day was much needed. For most the team members because they had 2 or 3 hard races in their legs, for me it was just a case of trying to return to health and prepare for the Long distance.
I was concerned about the Long distance. I did not have confidence that my ankle would last 60-70 minutes in the terrain, so in my mind I committed to taking path options (if one existed) to give the ankle a rest. Physically I was feeling a bit better, and I wanted at least one result that I could be proud of, so I was more prepared to race than I had been in the Middle and Sprint.
I started with a safe path route choice, nailed the next 2 controls and came to the first long leg 3-4. I knew these legs would be important to the results and maybe rushed myself. I could feel myself losing time due to the injured ankle so maybe slightly panicked and didn’t properly plan ahead. This meant I was hesitant and made errors such as ploughing into some dense green forest and having to back out (see GPS insert) and leaving control 4 in the wrong direction.
As I corrected and returned to control 4 I saw my Czech friend Tereza Janosikova punch and leave, having caught 2 minutes on me after my shaky start. This was the catalyst I needed to focus. I caught her back up and we ran together for much of the race. I knew she was a good runner and in contention certainly for podium or top 10, but equally all good runners can make mistakes. I found myself suddenly orienteering much better when alongside her as it gave me the confidence boost I needed, but also a bit of a safety net. We split a few times but always came back together with no significant time differences.
The long leg approached but I didn’t plan ahead too much as it was a tricky control before. The path option was a long way round and I had some doubts about whether it was a good route choice, having heard the catchphrase “Straight is great” applied to this Finnish terrain too many times, but to my relief Tereza set off towards the track and I followed, knowing in my heart that this route choice fitted my race strategy and played to my strengths more than going straight would. I decked it straightaway in a stream crossing and completely soaked myself so my clothing felt heavy (to match the feeling in my legs and my breathing!) I was losing time to Tereza but forced myself to hang on to them as best as possible. It was frustrating to not be at my physical best for this race as it should have suited me perfectly. Nevertheless, I focussed 100% on getting the control right at the end of the leg so as not to waste any of the hard work along the track, and ended up closing back the gap that had opened with a good entrance to the control, getting 4th fastest split on the leg, quicker than all those who ran straight.
The rest of the race was fast and furious, with micro route choices seeming important but never really making much difference. I came to the final control ahead of Tereza but lost out in a painful sprint finish! I finished 14th, just 6 seconds behind Jenny (the top Brit) in 13th, and Tereza was 7th. It was a good day for the British girls with 3 top 20 performances in the Long; the best we have ever achieved! I was satisfied with my performance, despite the shaky start, but need to be able to orienteer as well alone as I did when running with others. It is all down to confidence and how I build it throughout the season.
Relay time. We had high hopes for the team, with all of us being in the top 20 in the Long and qualifying for the Middle A final. I was excited for first leg, but incredibly nervous that I wouldn’t be able to live up to my performance last year where I returned in 2nd position. Anything could happen and I knew it would play out very differently to last year’s race.
Unfortunately I couldn’t pull together the race I wanted. I had small time losses on a number of controls, and although I was working hard, could only pull us up to 12th by the end of the leg. If I had come back closer to the leaders I think our team could have finished much higher than 17th, with a chance of podium. But anything can happen in a world class relay, you really have to bring you’re a game.
Looking back on JWOC I can definitely take some positives from it. I was more focussed on my own performance than before and less concerned about others. However I realise I didn’t voice many of my pre-race concerns and worries to anyone at the time. Perhaps it would have helped me clear my mind if I had properly confided in someone, and enabled me to focus and achieve the best performance I could on the day.
Since JWOC I have been learning to coach, and helping on a junior training camp, which helped me to put everything into better perspective. I realise not everyone can achieve the success that they aim for, but it has made me more motivated than ever for next year. As ever there will be difficulties and bumps along the road, but I think that everything I have been through this year will make me a stronger athlete and more able to perform, even when preparation does not go smoothly- let’s be honest when is life ever perfect?! I want to improve my ability to get the best performance that I am capable of on the day, as that is something that I failed to do this year. Even with a bad build-up to the event, I could have delivered a higher position in all of my races with simple changes, and the feeling of regret when you haven’t performed to your full potential (whatever it may be at the time of the race) is something I could do without! At senior level in particular I need to be able to trust in my ability to perform consistently at the level I have trained to be. I don’t want to waste any opportunities I may get!