Last year I was a bit of an unknown to the majority. In 2010 I came 4th, 2nd in 2011 so the logical progression was obviously to win in my mind. I worked hard and targeted the 2012 race, this paid off and I was much more successful than I ever imagined. With a huge improvement from 2011 to 2012 I came into this year’s race thinking it wasn’t going to be all that hard, but with this course you can never take anything for granted…
My build up this year was not ideal. One week before trial races for the Orienteering World Cup I pushed my body a bit too hard and pulled my calf muscle. After some intense rehabilitation I was back into speed work in late December, just in time for the World cup in early January. The Last race of World cup was the hardest and toughest race I have ever done and I pushed my body to the point of breaking. I might have gotten away with it too if I didn’t try and race two days later. It was my hamstring that gave out this time…. so one month out from Avalanche Peak I had to go back into some more intense rehab. Only the week before did it start to come right, and only just!
There was a bit more hype and a bit more competition at Avalanche Peak this year. I figured any one of five people could have the potential to win this year. Added to this was the pressure to back up my win from last year and the race favourite tag. My biggest threat was going to be Rhys Findlay-Robinson as he was a complete unknown. He had some knowledge of the course and I knew that he was of comparable speed to me looking at the Orienteering World Cup results. Chris Forne was and always is a freak and if anyone could have pulled it out of the bag it would be him, he happened to only turn up right at the last minute so I didn’t have much time to worry about him. The pre-race hype was mostly focused on the second half of the course from the summit onwards. Speculation was that this was the best place to beat me. I had to back myself to a certain extent as the biggest improvement I had made between 2011 and 2012 was in the second half of the course, but I kept this little bit of knowledge to myself!
As race day rolled around I woke up a little nervous and a bit reluctant to race, but still excited. Once down at the start with the arrival of the sun all the nerves quickly escaped. There wasn’t too much banter and although there was a lot of doubt in my mind I was confident that I had all the tools to complete the job. Right from the start gun I was immediately at the front of the pack without even realising it. Grant and I lead the pack to the bend and once round it with a little uphill I took the front. I was first to the track and first to start climbing the ladder. I immediately gained a small gap on Grant but it wasn’t long until Rhys was close behind me. Then it wasn’t much longer before he was in front of me. I stuck with him for a short while but he was much stronger and able to run on some of the less steep bits putting time into me each time. Eventually he got enough in front that I could not see him ahead. I was slightly worried and had practically conceded the King of the Mountain title at that point. There was a large gap back to third place too so I was still confident I was in a good position for the overall race. Just beyond the bushline was the first real place that I was able to consolidate my position. Rhys was about 2mins ahead and I could spot Chris below me about the same distance back. By the time I arrived at the low peak I could see that Rhys was beginning to slow, while Chris was sticking to his race plan and taking it easy to the top. I was little slower than last year but the top was a welcome relief and where the race actually began.
Once off the summit I knew that I had to keep running hard, the leppin came out and the gap to Rhys quickly closed. Near the end of the ridgeline Rhys drifted a little too low on one hill top and wasn’t sure of where to go. I yelled out to him to stay high, but he didn’t appear to take my advice and kept low. This was the break I was looking for so I put the hammer down and took the lead. It was a short sprint to the top of the Crow Slide.
Rhys had a reputation for descending well and was apparently good on scree and Chris had told me before the race he was going to smash me down the Slide. So I for the top part where they could both see me I made sure I meant business and descended pretty hard. Previous times down the slide I could take a bit of a rest but this time I was going down fast enough that I was puffing hard and not mucking around. I passed a good number of people down here including 3 of the top 5 women.
Once on the hard rocks I was into the technical section at the very top of the Crow. It’s not far to the hut and the start of the tracks but it is very easy to lose time in this part of the race. I picked some good lines and got to the tracks quickly still with my gap over Rhys. However I was beginning to worry as my legs were starting to show signs of cramp. I took on food to keep the cramp at bay, but it was only the start of a long battle down the river bed. Once on the tracks I started to feel a little bit better. Halfway down I spotted Rose (2nd woman) she was doing really well and seemed pretty happy when I passed her which was encouraging! I was now confident that I had a good lead, then as I was nearing the end of the Crow I caught a glimpse of Lara (1st Woman). I told Lara before the race I was going to catch her in the riverbed! I was surprised I caught her quite early. She was also quite useful to use for finding the route. To her surprise also and some relief it was me and not Georgia hunting her down. She provided me some encouragement and eventually I was off into the distance.
One of my favourite parts of the race is just coming out of the Crow and through the forest to the grassy flats. Along the flats I was able to relax a bit, get in some food and prepare myself for the long journey down the riverbed…and by relax I mean, still maintain sub 4min/k but the mind could rest a bit! Eventually the clean running came to an end and with the cramp still hovering around I hit the river stones.
It was only after about 2mins on the river bed that I allowed myself to take a look behind. To my surprise Chris had just passed Lara but was still far enough back that I was confident that I was travelling fast enough. It did scare me a little bit though…and I increased the speed for a while. I was still being plagued by cramp, eating and drinking didn’t seem to help much either. Every deep branch of the river I crossed with caution as not to bring on the cramp. I wasn’t too sure of the efficiency of my route this year (GPS analysis later seemed to say it was ok?) I tried to go as straight as possible and up onto the banks at the Klondyke corner flats to get some easy running. I’m not sure it paid off, but the GPS said it was pretty straight anyway. I was beginning to suffer a bit at the bridge. I could tell I wasn’t going to beat last year’s time by now and my focus was solely on making sure I got across the line first. Just before the bridge I got a bit of a fright as I could hear from the cheering behind me how close Chris was now. I only took another glance back while under the bridge. I was fairly confident that I could maintain my speed now and I could hold him off to the finish under the thinking that he had to work harder than me now just to catch me so passing would be difficult.
It felt like it took ages to get from the bridge to the flag. But once there I could savour the moment a little and knew I had the win. Still with the fear of cramp in my legs I walked the first bit of the hill in the bush, before coming into the open and breaking into a jog just to make sure Chris wouldn’t go flying past me!
Once over the line I fell into a heap and could relax. A contrast from last year where I was so comfortable! It wasn’t long before Chris made it to the finish closing the gap a little bit with a much faster finish than me. Compared to last year I was slower, I felt more tired but I was much more satisfied with such close racing and to come out on top again. I was pretty happy with that race considering my build up. It was also really good to see my training mates, Chris Forne (2nd), Lara Prince (1st), Georgia Whitla (6th) and our World Cup Manager Al Cory-Wright (1st 40-49) do so well too!
There is nothing more satisfying than sitting on the grass at the Bealey pub in the warm sun soaking it up, reliving the race, watching everyone else come in, seeing the sense of achievement on everyone’s face of completing such a fantastic race up a Mountain, along the ridge top and out through the river beds. It’s a really technical race in terms of running, there is no let up, you have to concentrate the entire way, which is probably why orienteers strongly feature in this race every year. This year 8 of the top 12 finishers overall had some background in orienteering!
Also thank you to all those people who cheered me on while out there! Sorry I was completely incoherent that I could not thank you at the time, but every little bit of encouragement helps, and it’s you guys getting out there and doing it that I really admire and provides inspiration for all of us to achieve great things!