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Training and Racing in Sweden
By:  Colin Abbott   (2008/07/06)

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Nearly two weeks ago myself and fellow Yukoner Lee Hawkings departed Whitehorse for the Junior World Orienteering Championships in Goteborg Sweden. After a full twenty hours of travelling, we arrived at the Landvetter airport at ten at night. In a foreign country with no Swedish vocabulay at our disposal, we hopped on a bus that took us from the airport to the center of Goteborg, a city of a half-million people. We had instructions on how to get to the military medical base where we would be staying, but they soon seemed useless in the maze of trams, busses, cobbled streets and masses of people in central Goteborg. Lucky for us, Goteborg has one of the best transit systems I've ever seen, and the tram we needed came within ten minutes of our arrival at the central station. This was just as well, as we were surrounded by a croud of goths getting ready to take in one of the many death metal music festivals that Goteborg hosts every year. We arrived at our dorm-style bunks at nearly one in the morning, and prepared for training the next day at seven o'clock.

While orienteering is not ski-specific training, it provides excellent training for running, balance, coordination and multitasking. For those of you that don't know what the sport is, it is best described as self-navigated running over unfamiliar terrain with few, if any trails that can be followed. My first session in the Swedish forest was interesting. It had poured rain the day before we arrived, and the rock we were running on had become slick and treacherous. Our first training run began with a twenty minute warmup of road running to get to the map we would be on. I spent the next hour thrashing through swamps, bare rock and old military bunkers as I tried to get a sense of this new terrain. While I managed not to fall on the slippery rock, my confidence for the upcoming races took a bit of a hit as I felt overwhelmed by the difficulty of the terrain. We concluded the first session with the same twenty minute run back to the dorms.

As the training camp progressed, I became more confident in the rocky, wet forests and felt a little more able to run with the best junior orienteerers in the world, some of whom have lived and trained in Sweden for the past year just to prepare for these races. I quickly learned that military food leaves something to be desired and is not the best for training or recovery. To add to my nutritional uptake, the Canadian team scoped out the nearest grocery store and we were soon visiting it daily to supplement the salty, mystery-meat filled meals we were being served. The fresh fruit and yoghurt we found was excellent, but it couldn't kill the desire for a simple salad or unprocessed meat. Pretty quickly, we settled into a daily routine of: waking early (7:00), eating breakfast, training at one of the locations around the city, eating either a boxed lunch or going back to the dorms for lunch, showering, touring the city or relaxing, eating supper, team meeting and bed.

With the start of the races, I tried not to have any results-based goals, as this was my first international competition, and I was going to race against the best in the world. It was a good thing I had this frame of mind, as I had a disastrous series of mistakes in the sprint distance, which pushed me into second last, in one hundred and seventy first position. While this was a bit of a humbling race, it was offset by free entrance into Liseberg, one of the largest amusement parks in Europe, and home to a terrifyingly fast wooden roller coaster. For the next race, the middle qualifier, I pulled myself together, and told myself to get back to the basics and focus on the essentials only. It worked, and I just missed making the B-final along with most of the Canadians. The technical terrain and difficult running made it hard for me to focus in the final, and I blew a couple of legs on my course leading to a less than satisfactory race for me. We finished off the racing in the past two days with the long distance and relay events. The long distance was a difficult race to say the least. It was nearly ten and a half kilometers long, with four hundred meters of elevation gain. The course took us through swamps and over cliffs with very slow running had by all. I found myself walking much more than normal, even though I had taken a number of feeds and was well hydrated. This was frustrating, but there was nothing I could do about it, so I used the slow running to plan ahead for the remainder of my course. I was pleased with my race, if not my result, as I navigated well, planned my routes ahead of time, and avoided major mistakes. As for the relay, it was the best race of the week. I was running fast, navigating well and helped our team beat the other Canadian team, and both American teams. While this may sound impressive, we were still close to the bottom of the overall results, and the awards ceremony had finished by the time our last runner came across the line. While we didn't have good rankings compared to other countries, I learned a little about orienteering, and a lot about international competition in the past eleven days.

I hope to recover well in the next week while we visit friends in Sweden. I plan on resuming regular, ski-specific training as soon as I arrive in Canada, with larger volumes than I have managed so far, and more roller-skiing. My next big focus for the summer will come just before I move to Ottawa. At the end of August I will join the Yukon ski team as we head to the Haig glacier for an on-snow camp. This will combine altitude training with large volume, technique work and some intensity over the period of nine days.

If you want look at maps, photos or results from JWOC, go to http://www.gmok.nu/jwoc2008/index.php and look for links to the different races.

 
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