World University Orienteering Championships 2018, Finland – Nathan Lawson
This year’s World University championships were my primary orienteering aim for the season and I was delighted to be selected as part of a strong British team. Having raced in Finland the previous summer at the Junior World Championships in Tampere, I was confident that I could perform well in the challenging Scandinavian terrain whilst a good winter and spring of training and racing had allowed me to develop some good physical shape. With this being my last year of university, I was determined to make the team and channelled a lot of effort in to making this goal a reality. Sheffield provides an ideal environment for students wanting to train for and improve in orienteering and fell running and I was pleased to have put almost 3 years of hard work to good use. As ever, it was a nervous wait for the team to be announced following selection races at the JK and British championships but some strong performances allowed me to be selected alongside 5 others guys and 6 girls to represent GB.
Having travelled up to Edinburgh on Saturday the 14th July, the team boarded the plane the following day in good spirits as we looked forward to a week of racing. After a short connection in Stockholm we arrived at Vaasa before being whisked through the Finnish countryside by bus to the event centre at Kuortane which was to be out home for the next 7 days. The centre is a Finnish Olympic training facility and so provided a perfect setting to prepare for racing. We spent the following day using the training area that was provided to get our bearings and a feel for the terrain we were to be racing in which was especially useful as it was much vaguer terrain than many other places in Finland.
I was to be running the sprint, middle and relay disciplines and so was afforded an enjoyable rest day after this to spectate other members of the team in the mixed sprint relay. As fast and furious race was presented to them with the emphasis definitely more on running than navigating and the team performed excellently to take 4th position, just +1:30mins on an impressive Swiss team.
The middle distance race followed this the next day and it was time to start my own racing for the week. I felt relaxed and ready to take on the challenge that the terrain at Lapua had to offer. I was starting early but in the middle distance I feel that this matters less as fewer trains of runners develop than in the long distance and the forest wouldn’t track up all that much. My race began really well and I caught several runners in front of me, including my 4 minute Swiss man, however once this happened I began to race rather than orienteer and as a result my technique got sloppy. I made a rookie error on number 7 losing a significant amount of time. I then settled but again got caught up in racing later in the course to lose time on 10 and 12 after panicking about lost time before resetting for a better finish. Generally my performance was good and physically I felt very capable, however a few lapses in concentration stopped it being a really good international result instead of coming in 29th as I did, which was still good, but could have been much better. Other members of the GB team performed really well, notably with Sasha finishing 8th and Megan 13th in the women’s. It was time to reset for the sprint the next day.
I’ve always enjoyed sprint orienteering and the fast terrain of Seinajoki looked ideal for putting yesterday’s mistakes behind me. The heat soared in the day meaning hydration and proper preparation was important but I felt that I did this well and hit the start line feeling good. Generally, it was a similar story to the day before. I had a really good start to my race, flowing well and making sure to plan each leg carefully whilst maintaining a high speed. Yet again I became a touch lazy on my planning leading to a small mistake on number 7 and a large one on 11 when I cut in to a side street one to early! Despite this, I was really happy with how I continued to push all the way through the course to finish 35th in what was a very tightly packed men’s field. Sasha had continued his strong form from the day before to take 5th in the men’s whilst Katie Reynolds kicked off her week in style to secure 11th in the women’s. As a team we were running really strongly and were feeling positive about the long distance and relay races to come.
As I wasn’t selected to run the long race (everyone ran 2 individual races out of 3), it was nice to be able to enjoy some downtime with Sasha and a couple of the girls back at base. We followed the progress of the other members of the team on what looked like a brutal race through some physically and technically demanding terrain. It also meant we could take full advantage of the buffet lunch provided by the organisers to feel fully prepared for the following day’s relay. The long distance provided an exciting watch with Megan leading for large portions of the course just to be caught out in the final section and losing a little time to finish an impressive 15th. It was also good to see Ben and Jonny in the men’s battle it out for 30th and 31st respectively, with the rest of the team coping admirably with the difficult conditions that the race presented.
The relay is always the highlight, team-wise, of an international week. I was to run the first leg for the B team with fellow Sheffield University and good friends, Joe Woodley and Matt Elkington. Having trained and raced together for a number of years this was a real bonus for all of us. I ran a stable race, just losing contact to the leading pack at the end as the result of a longer forked leg to hand over in 18th position, just 2:45 off the lead. Joe ran a clean race to hand over to Matt, just behind a large pack of runners. Matt went on to run his best race of the week, smashing through the competition to bring us up to 10th but more importantly 7th nation! This really put the cherry on what was a fantastic week of racing and to do it with some of your best friends was even better.
This week is a fantastic opportunity to race against the best runners in University orienteering, but it was also a great way of meeting and making friends with people from many other countries. For myself, despite not quite performing to the level I had expected of myself, I was pleased with many aspects of my races and it provided some good feedback on what to work on over the coming months before next season. I’m really looking forward to moving in to the senior ranks and working to challenge at the top level in future years, which with hard work should definitely be achievable.
I would like to thank the BUCS and British Orienteering, as well as the Jack Bloor Fund, Octavian Droobers and Sport Sheffield for all the support leading up to this event. Also, thanks must go to Ed Nicholas, Mark Saunders and Alice Bedwell for the help during it.