Back to the Woods
“The struggle is great, the task divine – to gain mastery, freedom, happiness and tranquility” Epictetus
Monday morning and already the thermometer shows over 30’C in Vieste, Italy and it’s not even 8am. Decision made. Back up to the cool shade in Foresta Umbra, the venue for the recent 2022 World Masters Orienteering Championships.
Opening ceremony in Vieste
Hard to believe almost 3000 competitors were here only a couple of days ago. Now the woods are empty, I have them all to myself. It’s my first run since finishing the Long Distance race on Saturday and my right achilles has tightened up.
First I go for a walk, stretch the legs, have a look at where the finish Arena was. Just a few butterflies fluttering around in the sunny grass paddock. A big terrapin plops into the brown water of the lake when I venture for a closer look.
Back to lace up my shoes, then a slow jog with a map and my phone for taking photos.
Foresta Umbra is perched high above the coastline of south-eastern Italy, around 1000m above sea level. It’s ancient beech woodland on limestone. In addition to the usual hills, lumps and bumps, there are huge holes worn into the rock.
This makes the orienteering here so challenging. Contours mark both hills and these depressions creating confusion with your mental picture when you mistake one for the other. It’s also hard to see these big depressions from far away. They only take shape when you’re right on the edge. Some of them are very steep, guarded by cliffs a few metres high.
Sprint Qualification in Peschici
A perfect place for these World Championships.
Jogging along and the map reading is easy. It’s a whole different ball game with the pressure of competition, when you’re running as hard as you can, making smart decisions, trying to look at map, compass and the ground all at the same time. Difficult to ignore other competitors running in all directions, some going quicker and looking more competent than you.
It’s such a tempting place to run faster than you can map read. A small error can lose a huge amount of time as everywhere looks the same and can be made to ‘fit’ with only a small amount of imagination.
So easy to lose concentration. Any lapse is going to get punished severely.
Confidence – gone.
Sprint Qualification in Peschici
That’s the game. That’s the reason we do it. To test ourselves against the forest, the terrain, the map and the course. It’s both physically and mentally challenging.
You’re on your own. It’s a time trial and you haven’t a clue which way others are going to the various checkpoints, or how fast they may be running. The pressure can mount too as the fastest orienteers in qualifying set off last. Only when everyone has finished do you get to compare times, see how you fared, what your final position is.
Anyone can have a ‘good run’ orienteering. Do enough events and one of them is sure to stand out.
Yet it’s harder to produce the goods when it really matters. And the World Masters is the biggest stage of all for orienteers around the world aged 35 and over. Being an ‘open’ championships, you’re not ‘picked’ to represent your country, so there’s no politics to bother about. No selection policies, no selection panels.
Anyone, anywhere, can have a dream, enter online, put the hard yards in, turn up and see what they’re made of against the best in the World.
That’s what I like most about the event.
Sprint Final Medal ceremony in Vieste
So what does success feel like now that I’ve stood on top of the podium with a gold medal round my neck after the Sprint Final and can now call myself a World Champion?
Here’s a great definition of success from the coach John Wooden:
“Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming”
I don’t think I could put it any better!
19th July 2022
Founder – Lakeland Trails
World Masters Orienteering Champion 2022