The "JK", the biggest annual festival in the UK orienteering calendar, held every year at Easter, is upon us. What a lovely prospect! This year the West Midlands Association are hosting. How's the training gone, have you got it all planned out and read through 28 pages of programme, how did you fare on your big weekends in February and March? Do you miss chatting to your friends at a model event before the real action - once upon a time that was the Friday entertainment. And will we have snow? (No is the latest I've heard).
On a personal note, many years ago Beaudesert Park was where I did my first run at a JK. Of course I didn't go to the model event on the Friday. The relay was between the individual days, on the Sunday, somewhere nearby. I remember it because my wonderful local club, Nottinghamshire, who hardly knew me, got me in a team. It was my first relay and I had a reasonable run*, very unusual and unexpectedly for me (and whoever was taking over from me) - and certainly not what I managed on the individual days. I was greatly enthused about orienteering by the whole experience of a big event - and look where that went.
Thankyou to the clubs putting on the competition, and particularly to those carrying the main roles of organisers, planners and controllers - their names are in the programme and those are parts I pause at. I wonder what Ray, Sue, Henry and Andy have created for the courses?
After first publication of this article a copy of the A5 results booklet for JK1981 has been found, and I am pleased to report "P.Street" came second on the A2 variant of the 100 team Open (Short) relay - 4.8km 9 controls. 4.8km is actually longer than any of the JK Premier course legs in 2018. There were nearly 150 teams running the JK Trophy class, which was won by Bristol OK.
In the individual results "Paul Street" was a respectable mid-table 46th on H21C, comfortably inside the "bronze" standard (but outside the "silver"). There were H21E, H21A1, H21A2 and H21B classes for those wanting more challenge.
Meanwhile in the youngster classes, Simon Errington of SARUM was 35th on H17A (17 places ahead of Clive Hallett of BOK). First place in that race was tied with Richard Baker and Stephen Hale both taking a combined time of 104:37 for the two days.
Maybe not all will takeup their entries but I count 20 of the 24 squad members are entered: 15 to run both sprint and forest days, one to run sprint only, and four to run forest only. It is the best chance of the year to connect with them. On which matter, on the first day many of them will be about the gym, and they invite you to drop by. And in particular they rather hope there will be some juniors about, interested in chatting, between the end of the racing and the prizegiving. They are hoping a group will get together and juniors can hear several of the athletes chip in on relevant topics. The timing of that seems likely to be from 4 to 4:30, and it'll be in the gym or not far away.
Custom suggests the squad athletes will wear UK club colours for the middle and relay (presuming they run with their UK club), overseas club colours for the long, and their favourite running vest or top - which could be almost anything - for the sprint.
A few athletes are not travelling from abroad as part of their whole season plan. Peaking at Easter, especially if for a gruelling long race on the Sunday, affects the season's plans. The European Championships follow only six weeks afterwards, and Tio Mila is before them.
(Thanks to Robert Lines and Hannu Kaskaalainen for photographs. Others are On The Red Line originals.)
(Thanks to Robert Lines and Hannu Kaskaalainen for photographs. Others are On The Red Line originals.)
The M21E and W21E classes have good numbers of entries. All of the individual days, Sprint, Middle and Long, have World Ranking Status - they gain the abbreviation WRE for World Ranking Event. The fields are largely British, and for them, as well as the JK podiums, good performances are likely to be rewarded with invitations to join the British Team for the European Championships (EOC) in May.
EOC is a large competition with qualifying rounds for sprint and middle allowing six women and six men to be entered for each. About half the GB team places across the whole programme have been allocated in the early selection round in December, but there are places left in every discipline, and candidate athletes will be aiming to run at their best. Notably there are five men's places not yet selected for the middle racing at EOC, and three women's. The JK Middle race is usually the most important domestic race of the year for forest athletes, as it is always technical and competitive, a selection race, and the fact that this year the World Cup begins with the EOC confirms its importance. So expect high focus on it from all the forest athletes in the squad.
For the Sprint Day 133 women and 187 men are entered in the WRE, and start times have been published. The start interval is one minute, with the last women's start at 14:55 and the last men's start at 15:20. Start time allocations closely follow the reverse order of world ranking list. Six of the squad women are entered, ten of the squad men - some of whom are starting quite a while before the last runners.
The women's entries include four of last year's top five: squad members Megan Carter-Davies and Charlotte Ward, last year's winner but not a member of the 2018 squad, Tessa Strain, and the New Zealander Laura Robertson (not pictured). Current British Champion at this distance, Alice Leake, is also entered. These are the last five starters.
|Jo Shepherd||Halden SK||204||14:49|
The men's entries include three of last year's top five: defending champion Kris Jones, and fellow squad members Peter Hodkinson and Jonny Crickmore. Peter returns strengthened from a winter in Australia, as does the West Midlands' own Will Gardner (not pictured.) The current British Sprint Champion Jamie Parkinson (not pictured) and runner-up Chris Smithard are also in the startlist.
The last five starters are all squad members, the four pictured plus Will Gardner. Jamie runs quite a bit earlier (having only last year's JK as a counting score for his world ranking) - there are 26 starters after him. Give a cheer too please in the direction of Murray Strain, starting at 13:30, now M35, recently 25th in the English National Cross-Country at Parliament Hill, six times a WOC team member, and all six times in the top 20 of the WOC Sprint. Murray's best position was ninth, in 2013.
|Chit Hei Shiu||HKG (Hong Kong)||40||15:12|
|Kin Kwan Kwok||OD HKG (Hong Kong)||22||15:13|
|Wing Chung Tam||HKIOF HKG (Hong Kong)||29||15:14|
|Giacomo Barbone||Cambridge Sports Union USA||13||15:15|
As described above a good run in the middle race is vital for those with ambitions to run in the forest for the British Team this year. The start interval is two minutes.
In the Women's five of the last six starters are squad members. The last six are: Cat Taylor, Hollie Orr, Jo Shepherd, and Jess Tullie pictured here. Megan Carter-Davies and Tessa Strain (who is the non-squad member in the last six starters) are pictured in the sprint section above.
In the men's race the last nine starters are squad members. They include last year's overall champion Graham Gristwood, Matt Speake, and Alan Cherry (all pictured), the four athletes pictured in the sprint section, plus Peter Bray and first-year senior Sasha Chepelin. Sasha currently keeps Graham company in the top three of the domestic rankings, along with Alasdair McLeod (pictured), winner of the long race at Scottish Spring last weekend, who is now with the Airienteers club. Alasdair starts earlier - he has 11 runners after him having only done three ranking events in the world ranking counting period, where scores are calculated by adding best four.
If the sprint and middle were both intense, pressured competitions, how good that April is now here for the long romantic drama of the classic courses. For many it is the true orienteering: a long, physical, extremely challenging, and perhaps lonely endurance experience in the great outdoors. For them this is the absolute highlight of the weekend.
The race, especially if run at full race speed, is extremely draining even for the best-trained athletes. So maybe not everyone who starts will finish, and some may choose not to start. And the weather could always play a part.
For all competing at the JK today is the one day with a long course, but fewer than 5% of the festival's runners will be starting the longest courses for men and women. The men's is 17.9km with 485m climb. The women's is 11.4km with 350m climb. These courses are, even within orienteering, something a bit special. The runners have had this race in the back of their minds as motivation through many hours of winter training. And very few of those that do tackle it do so in hope of a medal. How do you explain it to a non-orienteer? A half-marathon (although the men's winner will take 50% longer than Kris did recently for a road half (and yes, the winner might be Kris)), much of it in rough, physical terrain, with a lot of climb, and - the very essence of orienteering - the runner taking sole responsibility for the success of the navigation. The runner has to find the way, and if and when something goes wrong, they have to sort it out. Once the start clock heartbeat has counted down you're off and on your own. Self-reliance in spades.
Having said that, "trains" can be a factor on the day. Because the start is in reverse order of finishing time for the middle, a runner may find they close on runners in front, and the ones behind close on them. In races taking well over an hour this means groups form. Being aware of one another and knowing the value of being in a group for finding the kites, and being motivated by the running of others, groups tend to choose the same routes. And they can get known as "trains", particularly if one of the runners is "driving" the train. So you might hear a finishing runner say: "I was mostly on my own until the final loop, when I was caught by the Bryony train."
In my view this is the race least likely to produce a surprise - runners high up in the World Rankings (who started in the last slots the previous day) are there for a reason: they are very good at this sort of race.
picture: JK Trophy Relay start in 2015, by Robert Lines
Last year it took Forth Valley Orienteers rather less time to wrap up the JK Trophy than it took Graham to win the long race. Edinburgh University were second and Nottinghamshire third. And it may be the same this year.
South Yorkshire Orienteers, who won the Women's Trophy last year, again look strong. Second and third were teams from Edinburgh University.