Photo: Megan Carter-Davies, WOC2018 Middle Race, courtesy of Janis Ligats / WOC2018 Latvia
With four disciplines to run, I thought the major challenge of the week would be physical: making sure I was in good condition at every start line. Of course, I've raced hard at the JK and World Uni's day after day so I knew I could cope well enough.
Anyway, it transpired that the biggest challenge I would face would be mental.
Photo: Small crowds at the sprint qualification. Megan at the last control of the sprint qualifier (Maprunner)
My first race was the sprint qualifier. I have learned that I can be confident that I will qualify if I don't push myself hard and simply invest all the time I need to read the map properly to avoid mistakes - quite an enjoyable way to orienteer really! I did exactly that, had a nice run and qualified 3rd in my heat. Job done and back to the hotel to rest up for the afternoon race.
I felt good for the sprint final. I knew there would be some tricky routechoices especially if they added barriers, but the actual navigation would be fairly straightforward since the streets and buildings are quite clear cut. Something I hadn't really considered was the sheer number of people about in the centre of a Capital city on a Saturday afternoon and how much this would affect my orienteering. I don't think I've ever orienteered through crowds like that!
I had a shaky start with a mistake to number 2 and only got into a nice rhythm around control 4 which was in a quieter part of town. Heading back into control 6 and 7, I felt like I had less control and I had to stop for what felt like far too long to find a valid route to control 8, also knowing a TV camera was pointing at me here. I took a bad route, and should have spent even more time to find the other valid routes and choose the best one. This stressed feeling continued for most of the race, and I made more mistakes and bad routes later on.
Photo: The Start Kite and Last Control of the Sprint Final or "Spot the athlete (Tim Robertson)"
It was a horrible experience and it turned my usual chilled self into a Megan who was no longer confident in her orienteering. I couldn't shake the feeling all evening and when I still felt self-pity the next morning, I got wonderwoman Liz on the case to help me out. We had a good leg-by-leg debrief and figured that having to look up and people weave meant that I wasn't able to look ahead on the map, so every decision was being made on the spot rather than in advance, which in some cases wasn’t enough time. Now I know, and next time in those crowded situations I'll be aware that I might need to stop to read my map more.
This helped me clear my head, reminding me that I wasn't a bad orienteer, just not used to that sort of pressure. Finally I could focus on the Sprint Relay. My legs felt good and I felt happy again, back to my normal self!
Photo: GB Sprint Relay Team WOC2018, by Kris Jones (on Twitter)
From the map, it looked like it would be tricky if they opened up some of the gardens in the blocks and that it could be similar to the WOC sprint test race we did at the training camp a few weeks before. However this year, we had the unusual situation that after our team-mates finished, they could come back into quarantine and tell us whatever they wanted about their race. I heard from Charlotte that it was really straightforward and mostly a running race. I felt hesitant about taking the ‘run fast’ approach but as soon as Peter handed over I just got on with it. Charlotte, Kris and Peter did great jobs and sent me out in the pack fighting for medals and podium positions. I had a pretty good run all the way, shifting positions a bit due to gaffles and some of the girls being faster.
After the spectator passage through the arena, Maja Alm flew past us all, so now there were 7 of us fighting for 6 podium places. I was aware that medals were going to be far away at this point but I could still fight for a podium place. However, this came to an stop when I ran into a dead-end on one of the final controls - despite checking my route several times, I missed seeing the black wall and was gutted when I realised I was trapped. So I just had to get to the finish and hope no-one else had overtaken. It was a blow to bring the team home 7th, but they were great about it (thanks to everyone who made me feel better!) and we had a nice jog back to the hotel together.
Photo: Eunice Carter
That wrapped up the weekend of sprints and the next morning it was early out to get to Sigulda for the middle distance model event. Here, after my weekend of stresses, I really enjoyed having a chilled time finding controls in the forest and a trip to Misters Biskvits (Sigulda's top cafe) helped me out too.
It's easy to say you'll treat a big race as if it were a local event and ignore the pressures but it's harder to do that in practice when there are lots of cameramen in the forest instead of people running in different club kit. Thankfully, I managed to mostly ignore it and not get distracted. My race was pretty average, I felt comfortable in the terrain having been on a training camp here so was able to race it fully. In terms of time loss, I had a few 1 minute-ers, some I noticed while out there and others not, which is usual for me at the moment. I’m happy with my 20th place here, a good one to work off in future.
Photo: Megan at the arena passage, WOC Middle 2018, by Janis Ligats / WOC2018 Latvia
Then it was full day off, chilling and enjoying a picnic with all our supporters. After that, I was feeling good to go for one last race, just wanting to do a solid performance in the Relay.
Jo sent me out in the second pack with Denmark, Latvia and some other nations. It wasn't my nicest race with a self-inflicted bloodnose in the first loop, a downside of good flexibility (knee to nose), and a unique routechoice on the long leg to 13 which I was wishing I had done a bit better. I could see I had lost some time from small mistakes on that long leg so I was racing hard to get to the finish. On my way to the 15th control, I started navigating to the 16th. Not a rare mistake to make but it was the final control I was running to and not much map checking required. I ran in as fast as I could and handed over to Cat, went to download and the guy said there was some problem. He showed me the map and asked if I went to this control. It was gutting to see what I had just done. Disqualifying your team from a relay is one of the biggest sins in orienteering and to do it at WOC - I’m still not over it! Apologies to Jo and Cat, and to anyone watching who had to witness that. Thankfully the guys were there to save the day and put on an epic relay performance.
Photo: Megan near the end of her relay run, by Maprunner
Despite all the ups and downs, my great teammates and supporters were always there to lift the mood so thanks to all of you guys! Thanks to everyone cheering, watching, those who donated to get us to Latvia, and those who help us throughout the rest of the year. You’re all wonderful!