Nationals this year was not in its usual spot in the calendar, instead of Easter (when Oceania champs were held) they were at labour weekend. Being at this time of the year was a bit different and for some reason it seemed all a little bit more relaxed. I once again found myself on a plane on the way up to Wellington for a good old Orienteering road trip with Georgia and Chris.
First task at hand was to get out of Wellington as fast as possible, so we were onto the motorway in the dark and in a very small car. Georgia had scoped out a nice little freedom camping spot just out of Featherston where we pulled up and joined the throngs of Cheapskate travelers in their vans with their fold out tables. Luckily for us it is still early in the season for these dang tourists so we only had to share with a couple of vans. Weather was for once on our side and we continued the drive the next morning headed for Hastings.
Hastings central was the location for the sprint and being a public holiday up in the Hawkes bay, the town centre was pretty empty. Slowly but surely the body and mind were warming up to the idea of sprinting around. For the Elites it was pretty cool to be starting last which meant that there was a bit of a crowd watching by the time we came wizzing through. I headed off to the start not so sure of how I was going to do, but as I got closer to the start I knew I was starting to feel running fit again so all I had to do was make snappy decisions and minimise the mistakes. The first control jumped up on me pretty quick, everything was happening so fast and the brain was in overdrive keeping the admin in check, along with running fast and making good decisions. It took until the second and third control before I finally settled into a rhythm and I was up and away again. The rest of the course was pretty straight forward. I missed a little time on one route choice, got ahead…or behind at another, then through lack of reading the program beforehand missed a gap, and fell into a trap loosing me in total around 45-60 seconds. Given the lack of sprint orienteering, the lack of flat speed work training, I was happy enough to find myself in 7th position (5th NZler).
Day two was the middle distance, and I was feeling relatively calm. I usually know that when I’m calm going into the race, its going to be a good day. I had no expectations and in my mind as I was focusing on the long distance, even after some good old winding up from Neil before the start. Just before my start call up, I jogged down to the toilet and as I did I caught my foot and rolled my ankle awkwardly but it seemed to shake out alright.
I started out in the open with a combination of baby deer syndrome and a fair bit of rust. As a result I started slow, not just slow but so slow and overly conservative. Later when looking at winsplits it notes the first 3 controls as mistakes… in realitiy I was just super slow comparatively to the rest of the course. What kicked me into gear was the return of Scott McDonald, who caught me 2 mins at the 3rd control. I took slightly different routes but tried to stick with him for as long as I could, he was smashing it through the open! Eventually just when I thought all was lost we cut into the forest for the rest of the course. This is where the race really began for me, I started to get my flow back and apart from some confusion at the map flip control I made next to no mistakes and took some pretty got routes. I really enjoyed this section and smashed it home to finish with the second fastest time of the day so far. Pretty happy with the second section of my race, I ended up 6th position and again 4th NZler.
After a good afternoon of resting and eating, followed by some intense woodfired/woodsmoked barbecuing, I got up to go to my tent and suddenly my ankle was really sore. I thought nothing of it, went to bed and woke up ready for the long distance, my favorite race of them all. I had pretty much no concerns once at the event arena, strapped my ankle as a precaution and went for a warm up. No sooner did I start to run than I had to stop. I started again, and abruptly, again had to stop, I tried uphill, absolutely no power in the left ankle at all, I had to limp uphill. By this stage it was so close to my start and with no one around I could get some anti-inflammatories off, I just had to hope that it was going to get better once it got warmed up a bit more.
First control I was already hobbling, then the first hill I had to walk. I fought the pain for a good portion of the first few controls, but just was completely unable to run comfortably or at full speed. I pulled the pin, started to walk and then convinced myself to keep going. Two more controls, an easy uphill on a track and I was back walking. Then there was two more attempts at pulling out, before finally I did it. It was a horrible walk to the finish, I really hate pulling out, and it just all round sucked.
The next 24 hours were a bit of a blur of moping around, trying everything I could to get my ankle better for the Relay. Nick had already pulled out due to rolling his ankle quite badly so I was needed to take on the roll of first leg in the number 1 PAPO team. With my ankle strapped, plenty of Ibuprofen, I found myself on the front row of the grid, hands sweating in anticipation of a huge battle.
I calmly moved off the start line, fast enough to keep in with the big boys but just holding back a little bit to make sure that my number one job was carried out and that was to get the correct controls in the correct order! The pace was pretty darn hot the first few controls and quickly the pack strung out, and settled into a natural order. I found myself up towards the front, with a few guys swarming, and Tom just in front of our mish-mash of a pack. Beyond Tom there was Matt and Florian, which we caught glimpses of every now and then. Towards the end of my leg, I was putting in the hard yards chasing Tom hard and somehow, I don’t know if it was just running strength or the luck of the splits at the last gaffling but I managed to put to the front of our little. I pushed hard to the finish line giving everything I had, allowing Katie to head out with the best possible start in 4th place. Katie went on to run a pretty good race, also clocking the 4th fastest time and sending last leg Chris out with a 6 minute deficit to catch for the win. Chris went out hard, he smashed himself, powering past the leaders to take first position and put another 4mins on second place, bringing it home for another PAPO victory in the Relay, the 6th in 7 years, 5th in a row and my 3rd relay title too. There is still the lure of an individual title out there, I guess Ive just got to keep working on it, anyway pretty good way to end the weekend, even if it was on a very dodgy ankle!