|THE TEAM :D|
The programme for the week of racing had reverted back to the original structure after Czech Republic; so began with the sprint followed by the classic race, a rest day, middle qualification, middle final before finally the relay.
I was looking forward to this structure as I have never been particularly good at sprint races so considered it a good 'warm up' into the week and let me soak up the atmosphere and get excited before the classic race which I was aiming to podium. Even though I was less focused on the end result in the sprint I still knew I was going to go out there at max and try my hardest - I was still trying to win just knew it wasn't incredibly unrealistic!
The quarantine for the sprint was in a sports hall! Which meant warming up was on a lower level basketball court - although a bit weird I loved it! And the floor was spring loaded so I felt fast and springey :) the pre-start and call up (where they hold you in marked areas where you collect your control descriptions and clear your SI card) was along a hallway. As it is supposed to be a silent start, I was bouncing around, my feet echoing down the hallway and making small talk with the marshals to distract myself. In -1 you reached the end of the hallway where I told myself to calm the fuck down and read the map. If unsure JUST STOP. So then the start beep counts down five seconds before I could take my map, turn at the end of the hallway and out into Samokov town. It was an exciting start, and I felt like a greyhound at the start of the race bursting out of the gates. This feeling quickly disappeared and I reined in my pace so I could last the 3km.
|Loving the attention at the spectator run through|
Technically I was perfect, I made maybe a 10second route choice error but I was so happy at the end - I felt tired when I finished but strong and not mucking up gave me confidence for the following day. Zoe did incredibly well, coming 11th and as we had early start times we stayed until the other athletes finished running. The weather took a nasty turn for the worse at midday and thunder and heavy rain flooded down which made the town incredibly slippy, affecting the later runners ability to run around street corners and cars without falling over. I finished in 26th place which I was pleasantly surprised with, the year before I'd come 53rd so I had halved my previous position!
We were quickly whisked off by the team management to rest and recover for the classic which was a little annoying - although the weather was grim, we missed the prize giving and the opening ceremony. After I was told by a few friends in other teams that all the other teams turned up except Great Britain (just had Ralph and Ed as representatives) - a little embarrassing and I would have loved to be there. However it meant we got wifi at the hotel as there weren’t millions of people trying to get on it.
I didn't do much geeking before the long, I had done some before the sprint day - just going through routes but as the map was relatively old I knew the vegetation would have changed a fair amount. In the team leaders meeting before we were told we would have a butterfly loop and map exchange which help predict the general direction of the course but I was a little unsettled as I knew this meant an extra distraction on the course to deal with and immediately began fretting I'd pick up the wrong map/run the wrong way around the butterfly loop. Unfortunately this make me nervous and seemed to push me off confidence (which I need!!). Nonetheless I recognised the next day with Adam, I'll just follow the course on my map and nothing will go wrong.
|Ha best team coach...kept us all happy!!|
It was a relatively early wake up - about 6.30 (as we had to get a bus to quarantine before 9am) so I was going to have a snooze as I wasn't running until 14ish. On the bus Adam and I had bare chats instead, putting the world to rights. I was in quarantine for about four hours, playing cards with the Irish team, trying to get a massage train going and painting Ralph (the team coach)'s nails. There was a warm up map, but I am a little wary of using them just before I race - I mean what if you can't make it fit, panic, lose confidence and then have to race. And you're not going to learn anything in the warm up area you don't or shouldn't already know. So I walked around it before stuffing my pockets with jelly babies, putting a spare compass down my sports bra and heading to the start with Ralph.
I collected my GPS and was in the perfect state of mind, incredibly relaxed, happy but aware I was about to run the race I'd trained (let's make this dramatic...) my whole life for :P after a cheeky fist pump and four words from Ralph that I had written on my hand: Read The Fucking Map I began the 15 minute call up where I walked up the mountain side to the start boxes. In these I recognised some of the helpers from yesterday's start procedure and shared some more conversation, including taking the piss of everyone who start a race in their zones that comprise them glaring into nothing, looking like the world is about to end.
|The woman's course...what the map should look like...|
In -1 I controlled my thoughts, visualising navigating perfectly to number one, knowing after this I would be able relax and 'just orienteer'. Literally feeling the nerves and adrenaline hit me as I stood waiting for the beeps to count down to 13.49. On the minute, the marshal removed their hand from my shoulder and I picked up my map, rushing to make sense of the paper in front of me; tracing the course to find the start triangle, orientating the map and quickly making a plan for one whilst running, already eating up the distance to the first control. As I was conscious I wanted to nail number one I was a little hesitant and incredible reflexive - so I’d see a feature and immediately think:
'Shiiiiiittttt, where the fuck is that on the map...is it there? Or maybe it's there. Oh god oh god. Okay chill, look at the map. Clearing. Right it's that one. Keep going'.
I then saw a man sat in the forest, clearly a marshal ensuring no public moved or damaged the control. However I hate seeing them as I know I'm close to the control, and then go into this state where I forget to orienteer and just run around the immediate area, hoping to catch a glimpse of the control. BOOM, finally I get my act together find the control, bosh it to control two and am already on my to three before I realise I am running along a path, planning the long leg and checking out the controls near the end (as I know I'll be too tired when I get to that stage of the race to navigate properly). The problem was, I was running on the wrong path. SHIT SHIT SHIT SHIT, quickly doubling back, dropping down the side of the mountain to meet the path I should be on. I then chill out, getting into my more natural comfortable orienteering. This is quickly disrupted when I drop off this path, running down what I thought was a vegetation boundary which should take me pretty much to the control. I stop at the correct distance down the hill, keeping my head up and can't see any sign of the boulder my control is hidden behind. Similarly to one, I continue to run around the vague area trying to realise where I went wrong until I bump into the control.
By now, the doubts are beginning to creep into my head, eating up my energy: 'good one lucy, you've already lost podium - it's not going to be a perfect race. Therefore you're not going to do well. Great.' Nonetheless there was still a significant amount of downhill which I was running fast down, feeling really strong and had a good plan to four (the long leg). I continued battling the forest down the mountainside, the map was covered in green: thick vegetation. But I was tough, falling over, getting back up, getting hit by branches, turning my ankles on the rocky underfoot but I felt good. My plan: to run along a valley until a re-entrant was perfect - I just didn't have the confidence to carry it out, realising after a while of running I should be nearing the point where I need to cross the valley. I suddenly bailed on my plan without discipline or a second thought to reassure myself I still needed to keep going. Crossing the river and entering a vague area I realised it was harder than expected to relocate exactly, realising my confidence and the podium was slipping out of reach with the seconds I took running around trying to find a feature to relocate off.
I eventually plucked up the confidence to make a decision and stick with it, but not enough to stop the hesitations becoming more and more frequent until I found the marsh which I needed cross before my control on a crag. Whilst my head was distracted with this, and only when I checked my map to refresh myself of the route to five did I realise in my previous battles with the forest I had tore my map bag, meaning the paper had a hole directly next to/on control five and around the hole the plastic over the map was steaming up with condensation, making the map inside soggy.
|What my map ended up looking like...check out 3-4 and 4-5.|
I persevered, not letting myself fully comprehend this meant the certain end of any dreams and goals I had held for the past three years. Running to five, I tried the best I could with half of the leg missing and after a few minutes of staying optimistic that I was close, I took the map out the map bag to try and piece the hole back together. Finding no luck with this and losing hope whilst watching guys run through the terrain around me, it hit me that I was useless, lost and never ever going to get a podium, or anything close now. Thinking that even if I complete the rest of the course perfectly I will be a nobody, just another shit athlete filling the results board between first and last place.
As I began to beat myself up, already knackered from the tough terrain I couldn't stop the tears and felt unbelievably pathetic. Soon I spotted another girl athlete and chased her down as she found control five. FINALLY. The rest of the course before the spectator was tough mentally for me, knowing I had been out about the same time as the organisers planned the winners to complete the course but after leaving seven I realised I wasn't ever ever going to give up.
|Trying to keep going...|
That point onwards was really really tough. It was hard to fight for something when you had no chance of reaching it. The orienteering side from then wasn't too bad, pretty sloppy but I didn't make any big mistakes because I was moving so slowly through the terrain! I was absolutely knackered and over the winter I hadn't been training for 90minutes of tough terrain running so all I wanted to do was curl up and never get up again. Falling over, pushing through branches and trying to pick my feet up over vegetation was sapping all energy and I kept bursting into tears whenever I tried to get back up. Finally reaching the spectator run through, I didn't want anyone to see me. I didn't want people to look at me and think: 'Fuck, look at Lucy, she's doing awfull'. I didn't want people to think I was shit, I wanted to give them a reason to praise me and tell me I was good. I hated running past all these people that were out to support me, that had supported me, expected me to do well and it was killing me that I wasn't awesome, and I wasn't even close to awesome. The last part of the course felt like a lifetime, I could barely run in a straight line and as I was a late starter, tracks that should have been beneficial had turned marshy parts of terrain into mud baths sucking my feet down, taking twice the effort to lift each leg. It really wasn't a pleasant experience and along the finish straight I felt like I was running backwards. Crossing the finish line, I couldn't even now describe how I felt. Like I was completely exhausted but I had no excuses for my performance and wanted to fly home, curl up in bed under my duvet and never ever speak to anyone ever. I didn't want to answer the questions of how I did or see my expectant team mates waiting for me.
I took myself away from the crowds and cried my eyes out. My family crept over and sat round me, knowing at this point there was no hope in trying to make me feel better, instead just letting me be a big sweaty mess to cry and shout about being the world’s biggest disappointment. After a good half an hour of hugs and the attempt to reassure me they still loved me, medals or no medals I was taken off to warm down, not really caring if my legs were too sore to run in the following races. In my head that was it, JWOC over. It's a little scary how 86minutes was what my whole year of training came down to, and even scarier how that was all it took to make me want to give up with everything I cared about. The winning time was 68 minutes so I was positioned 30th out of 135. I've already been told it but if anyone dares tell me 30th in the world is good I will hit them.
|Family kept me going <3|
After the race I stayed in the arena, in a weird mood of wanting to forget my race, wanting to forget about orienteering all together and then being reminded of my situation and wanting to cry with the feeling of being completely useless. I had no idea at all how to get over the race, I knew I had to...and quickly before the middle qualification but felt like I'd have this weight of disappointment with me for the rest of my life ha. The coaches soon wanted me to return to the hotel to begin recovery etc but if I'm honest I should have stayed with my family, unloaded to my dad, which even though we might not have found a solution would have been helpful so it wasn’t just not in my head. I felt like a little kid who had to leave their family for boarding school; I wanted to stay with them and forget all commitments/pressures of races. I didn't want to go back and face everyone trying but not knowing what to say to make things better. But I knew I'd have to go eventually, bursting into tears again when I said goodbye to my mum as she told me she came to support me, irrelevant of medals; that she was still proud.
|Eggs kept me happy <3|
Back at the hotel, everyone was feeling pretty low; Zoe hadn’t managed to complete the course, Katie lost her SI card and the other girls finding it similar to me: IT HAD BEEN A TOUGH RACE. I had an ice bath, and had a little chat to Ralph about the race, finding it hard to find a solution without it getting deep and even if we had, would a solution help? Should I really change anything before three more races the day before? Or just stick to what I was doing (which yes was shit) but did I really have anything else to go off? So now looking back I couldn't say what it was, I was happy and relaxed before the race, physically fit and ready for it. It might have been confidence, it might have been the fact I needed to find a way to orienteer for the terrain before instead of just relying on and not panicking that my orienteering isn't good enough. Still gives me a headache trying to work it out.
That evening, we were fed chocolate and pizza and towards the evening we began as a team to get through it :) I had my moments and was in two minds: to be happy for the team even though it would be a show for everyone, or keep mulling the day over. I think I ended up doing both and the following day (the rest day) I began to forget about it, knowing I had the whole summer to beat myself up but needed to refocus my head. At this point in the week my body and legs felt pretty good, it was my head that was absolutely exhausted and I spent the afternoon of the rest day at my parent’s hotel, swimming, chilling and getting happy until dinner.
Thursday was the middle qualification which I was relaxed for and all I needed to do was qualify. I was pretty grumpy in the morning, no idea why...having a few little rants in quarantine and after Adam made a small comment of how we should all be like Zoe after she lent him some ankle tape I snapped and shouted at him hah. I was in one of those moods where I wanted to piss someone off to make myself feel better...very bitchy I know. I wasn't too nervous, just focused on trying to make myself recognise and really belief that I 'didn't need to do anything special to be someone special'. The beginning of the race was pretty shabby, I ran down the slope on a bearing which ended up being far too far left, overshooting to a path and needing to run back up the hill. Apparently I worried my parents, at this point coming 26th (only top 20 qualify) but managed to pull it back through the race to come 9th. Although when I finished I had no idea!! It wasn’t that good a race, making many many errors where I looped too far to one side of the control. Nonetheless it was reassuring I could actually qualify and helped settle my thoughts for the middle final.
So the middle final. If I'm honest after the long I was preparing for it to go tits up. I'll give you three guesses what happened - actually you get one, it's not hard. Take my long performance as the norm and the middle final followed suit. ALTHOUGH it wasn't as soul destroying, my map didn't fall apart and on most legs I was decent. It was a few legs that I fucked up, in the later part of the course I relocated well! But in the beginning it was incredibly difficult to relocate - you could match any re-entrant and spur to any of the hundred on the map/hill side! It was lack of confidence at the beginning, I was incredibly hesitant and it took a lot to reassure me I was where I was supposed to be, every 10m I ran I had to check my map, feeling I'd already got myself lost. Although I could find solutions to my mistakes, and happily say without them I would have come top 6 (so more positive than the long distance) I finished the race, resigning to the fact I, once again, was a massive disappointment.
What was scary, was I didn't care. I was upset obviously but I was tired of trying to convince myself I was good, I resented the fact people believed it without me being able to proof it. I ended up 35th. I had a better chat with my dad this time and the coaches realised I needed to stay with them, letting me have as long as possible with them :) whether it was the chat with dad or the fact that Zoe had got 6th place; I managed to pull myself out of my gloomy hole by the evening for the prize giving presentation. Zoe's 6th place definitely helped, the team was brought together and as her name was called out, she walked up to get her diploma and the team went mental! I have a 30 second video of us cheering for her - as we rarely get podium positions our cheering was THE BEST, THE LONGEST AND THE LOUDEST. Everyone was looking, we didn't care. Zoe was our hero.
|Zoe and the GBR team!!!|
With the individual races over there was one more race - the relay. My team, Julie, myself, Zoe (running in that order) was strong and we were excited and happy. On the day there was thunder which I loved. Every time there is thunder and lightning I have the best races - European youth orienteering champs where I came 3rd, my 7th place at junior world champs in Slovakia, the sprint earlier in the week - all races on days with thunder. Julie set off and unfortunately did not have the race she wanted, finding the week of racing catch up with her so she came back off the pack in 30th place. Obviously I was annoyed but ran my own race, catching up 11 places and feeling good picking off other team’s second leg runners. I handed over to Zoe and finished my last race of the week. I was happy with my run and realised as Julie came over, upset and apologising: the position is irrelevant when people are unhappy. Like my mum had said to me earlier in the week a smiling face is better than a medal, it was crushing to see Julie beat herself up on my behalf. After the middle I realised it doesn't matter how hard you try, you could train every day of your life, make sacrifices - but it doesn't guarantee you with anything. And therefore you might as well enjoy the journey and the performances otherwise it will literally be for nothing - no medals, no praise, no happiness. What is the point of that!?
|Post week pout with the coach <3|
So with Zoe finishing in 11th place I was content with my performance and if honest relieved the week was over! Well almost...there was still the party ;) oh and coaches relay which we stayed around for to support those that had supported us :). We then went to a bowling alley and chilled out for the afternoon - I went to the pub with my family although in my head there was still the seed of disappointment that they'd come all the way to support me, spent LOTS of money on me and I had nothing to show for it.
So before the competition the international orienteering federation had removed an official banquet (Party) from the programme as it has been messy in the past. However the athletes organised something separate which ended up being approved by the coaches so they could still have some control of the athletes :P. After dinner everyone began drinking before all the athletes headed out to Iceberg Nightclub. It was a quality night but the following morning was hilarious at breakfast watching everyone wander in and join the table to share their stories from the night.
|GBR girls before the party!!!|
So that was it. My last JWOC. To those of you who have read it all - congrats! I can say with all my heart I tried my absolute hardest. It didn't work. And that's destroying. However I realise now the importance of psychology and although still pretty muddled with it, have learnt shit loads about how I am and need to be when I race – take the start procedure - by the end of the week I had made best friends with the Bulgarian marshals, by the middle final they knew my face and always wished me luck <3. Although it was my last JWOC, I have one more junior competition - Junior European Cup at the beginning of October which I have set some hopes on now so I have all my fingers and toes crossed for this. Let's hope my map bag stays together hey ;)