The days before a major champs are usually pretty boring waiting around to get started. Training is basically nonexistent and you’re just resting up. This was no different here in Portugal for this year’s European champs. My first race was the Long Qualification on Friday and I had the chance to get out on both the Qualification and Final Models on the two days before it. The Qualification Model gave me some good help to put a good plan in place for how I wanted to run my qualification race. I knew that my shape was good enough not to take any risks and could be extra safe by going around the green.
Warming up the legs felt really fresh and ready. Usually in Long Qualification races you can have a very general idea of how you are doing by crossing paths with the guys you started around at various stages during the course. However due to the lack of gaffling during the courses (shown and explained here) I saw Lundanes and Bertuks a lot during the early stages of the course, mostly at the controls after taking different routes. These guys are usually well up there so that give a lot of positive feedback that my plan and what I was doing was working out. My first real mistake came at control 7 where I started looking for the control too early. It didn’t put me off too much and I continued through the middle of the course sticking to my plan and being that extra bit safe. I felt at this stage I was well on course for qualifying having seen a lot of runners who started before me. My second large mistake of the Qualification was on the way to the 16th control where I couldn’t find a way through the green eventually making myself bail out and go all the way around on the track. From there on in the course was pretty straight forward with a lot of transport legs back to the finish. Managed to qualify comfortably in 9th place, 4:29 behind heat winner William Lind.
Although the terrain for the Final is going to require a different strategy I can take positives from this race into the Final. Firstly I know that my shape and form is good enough that on my day I can be very competitive. Also despite all the pack running that seems to have taken place I ran more or less alone apart from the final 10 minutes of the course giving me the confidence to back my own choices come Tuesday.
The day after was the Sprint Qualification and knowing that I was in good form I was feeling good for this. The plan was to take time to plan ahead and not get rushed in quick routes choices. The start of the course was not great and in hindsight I would have chosen different routes on legs 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 losing precious seconds on all of these. Things started to unravel however at the 9th control (the misplaced one!). From about 50m away from what should have been the control location I started planning ahead. When I arrived to the control point I saw no control. The mind started to panic and I continued running thinking I had stopped too early but turned back again quickly as I was sure I was right. Then I saw a control on the corner of the other building a couple of meters away. I ran to it, saw it was my code and punched it. The time loss was not major, but enough to throw me off. My biggest mistake came on leg 10-11 where I choose a risky route and paid the price of about 25 seconds time lost by going left. What is most interesting about this is the fact that the sprint model map had controls in this area. Yes – the embargoed competition area was part of the model map! Due to the organizers not having handed out sprint model maps until Thursday night we were only able to run the model on Friday, the day of the Long Qualification which gave me no chance to be in the area. Had I been able to attend the model and to see how bad the yellow/green was I would have probably chosen a different route or at least been able to find the path through the green. My guess is that somebody was given the task to plan a last minute Sprint Model on an updated map and didn’t consult with the Sprint Qualification course planner or controllers.
From here on in I really pushed knowing that I was more than likely on the edge of qualifying. I ended up in 23rd, 19 seconds from qualifying. In hindsight I left that misplaced control affect my thoughts too much from there on into the finish. But up to that point my run was not perfect and if the control was placed correctly I would still have only been borderline to qualify.
We submitted a complaint based on the fact that control 9 was in the wrong place but this was turned down by the organizers as they deemed the time loss on this control alone not to have cost me missing the final. We accepted their decision and chose not to submit a protest. During the time waiting for a decision I had already accepted that I wouldn’t be running the Sprint Final and instead focussed my energy on the Long Final. I would obviously be lying to say that I’m not disappointed not to have run the Sprint Final but hopefully the IOF adviser and organizers have made one good decision this week by rejecting my complaint and giving me the best chance possible to prepare for the Long final tomorrow.
To finish off here is a short interview about me on the IOF website