Different, is the word that I would use to describe the terrain here in Hungary, in the area where JWOC will be taking place. There are a number of aspects that create a relatively difficult environment for me to orienteer in, which I have never had to deal with in such a combination.
These critical factors include, low contours (2-2.5m), no point features, minimal visibility and the very fast terrain.
Accustomed to 5m contours from Bow Valley and every other map in Calgary, makes running on 2m features feel quite indistinct. Certain shapes are not as prominent as with higher intervals, meaning that you need to have a perfect direction heading into features to be able to identify them correctly. Otherwise it occasionally happens that a certain hill and the bushes around it look the same as the another, and you make a mistake.
The lack of obvious point features does not help, as compared to Scandinavian terrains where scattered boulders and knolls are obvious and can be picked off easily. The only point features other then random bushes would include pits, and knolls. The problem with these is that the pits are more like little bowls with radii ranging from 0.8ish meters to 1.3ish meters. They are often not deeper than a foot and are effectively just a bit smaller than the cup depression symbol which is the same dent in the ground; just slightly bigger. The actual middle distance map should have more of these point features so that might make it a bit easier to navigate.
(I haven’t actually confirmed this too much by staring at a cup depression and then a pit, its more just what I’ve gathered from running into them in trainings)
The minimal visibility is probably the worst factor. Certain maps have white forest sections going over the same contours, and as long as you know which hill / depression you are on then a good bearing will get you across no problem. The issue is when you get into the green sections of the terrain, which are 2 to 3 meter high bushes that you cannot see through then two things happen. Your bearing becomes much harder to hold, because now you are zigzagging and constantly correcting for error. And you can’t look into the distance very well, because your vision is often blocked by the 2-3 meter tall bushes. Looking up is one thing that has been critical for my navigation style, as it allowed me to identify features in the distance and then head towards them visualizing what comes next. With limited vision, the area of terrain in front of me that I can predict is minimized considerably, which shouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t for the final factor.
The high running speed has probably been the greatest and worst fear that I have had. It is incredibly fast terrain even with some parts being worse due to sandy soil (mostly sand). The long (which is in open terrain) demands a 4:00min/km pace for 15km, which I am considering not running due to the physical demand this requires and the affect that I would have on my focal race; the middle. (we shall see in the upcoming weeks).
The middle distance, (about 10km shorter than the long) only demands a 4:30min/km pace in order to be in top 5, which is alot nicer, and realistic for someone like me to achieve. The catch is, that this terrain is still turning out to be fairly difficult for me, and in the past I would slow down when it gets difficult. I know though, that I need to average out 4:30min/km on a 5km in this terrain meaning I need to choose one of 2 strategies.
a) running a continuous 4:30min/km pace (this, is unrealistic, and will cause mistakes in the hard parts)
b) running a 4:00min/km in open areas and then slowing to a 5:00min/km or even 6:00min/km in the harder sections where features are less obvious (this is the better strategy that the top runners will be doing, except that in the open, they will most likely be holding a 3:40min/km)
So my goal in the coming weeks will be to adapt this average of about 4:30min/km in the green sections. I will most likely do this by running intervals in the terrain, and doing most of my courses there. I’ll add more details as to my analysis of the terrain in later posts.
I need to mention the Danish Team! Whom I had a great time training with in the first week of being here and learned alot about the terrain. Running with them and getting my first exposure to pretty much every training map here, taught me the most about the terrain and what its like running with other people.
I had one good training, which was the long simulation, where even though I was running relatively slow (about 5:30min/km) I didn’t make almost any mistakes. In this one I was actually close to the Danes that ran it, not including the first guy who was 10min ahead. The open terrain allowed me to read ahead and use my normal strategy that works usually.
One of the most notable trainings was the relay simulation at the end of the week in which we were also joined by the Belgian team, amounting to A LOT of people in the forest at one time. The terrain was the most similar to the actual relay terrain and therefore it was fast and not as difficult as the middle type forest.
The simulation started out great for me where I got in the main pack, (no less than 10sec back from the lead) but we all had the same first 4 controls. This part of the map was still the most simple, and so we were doing like a 4:00-4:30min/km right off the bat. At the first forking, I headed off in the right direction with a decent plan, reading the first half of the leg, and then I decided to make some ground on a Belgian ahead of me so that I wouldn’t lose him. Sadly, he made a mistake, taking a bad direction and I was not in contact with the map for about 10sec of running before I did not know which hill I had run up. (It was only one over from the intended one) But at this point, I made the mistake of not slowing down and then losing contact in the harder terrain.
I’m confident that I could have handled the change at a 5:30min/km pace as it wasn’t too difficult, and with a good bearing I would have spiked the control. This lesson will hopefully stay with me and not be repeated. 😐 We shall see, but the story ends with me taking about 2 min to figure out where I was in the mess of hills, and then continuing the course. After making the error, I was passed by most of the girls on the same forking, and had completely lost the main pack, knowing that I was physically too tired to try and catch them. So I finished the course dejectedly at a slower pace making no mistakes from there on out.
In conclusion, I am making too many mistakes, (maybe because I’m not willing to slow down enough) and need to find the threshold at which I make no mistakes, and then try to bring that average pace down to 4:30min/km.