Race analysis from the FISU WUOC events:
Ronan Lee | Sprint event – Biel / Bienne- Wednesday 17 August
Map: Biel-Bienne, 1:4’000, 2m
The World University Orienteering Championships kicked off on 17th August with the Sprint event around the town Biel/Bienne, a short funicular ride from the team base in Magglingen. For many of the athletes this was their first ever international race outside of New Zealand and Australia. This provided a chance to see how we stacked up internationally, and the opportunity to tip-up some of the more fancied European athletes. The terrain for the sprint was typical old town European style, with many fast interlinking roads, odd shaped buildings and many alleyways. It was evident that like many sprints these days, speed and route choice were going to be critical for a great result.
With many legs providing a plethora of different options, the aim was to minimise route choice error whilst keeping speed high. One of these such legs was 8-9 on the men’s course and 6-7 for the women. This was the longest leg on both courses, with the course planners identifying 3 major routes, with many micro route choices in between. (These are highlighted in the image shown). The shortest and quickest route, taken by all 3 of the medallists in the men’s field, was the green option, with 3 seconds separating the top 3 splits on this leg. In fact, all the tracked athletes, bar 2 in the men and 4 in the women, took either the green or blue options. All the kiwis were quite far down on this leg with Nathan the best placed of the Men, 15s down on the leader in 59th . Amber the best placed of the Women on this leg, was 21s down in 61st . The rest of the course was relatively straight forward, with legs 13-14 (10-11 Women), and 16-18 (13-15 Women) the only legs offering much route choice. Here the key was maintaining composure and hoping that you hadn’t “run the legs” out of yourself before the run through. Overall, the race was extremely fast -paced with the top men holding 3:20/km avg pace over the 3.4km course and the top women holding 3:55/km over 2.9km.
A summary of time behind the leader for the men is shown. This is clear evidence that speed was a massive factor in our results, something that has been brought up in previous discussions. Although Ronan did make 2 big mistakes on controls 9 and 14, he still would have finished over a minute down on the winner. Despite this, the results of the kiwis, although not spectacular, were solid for a first outing and provide a platform to build upon for future international competitions.
Heidi Stolberger. | Long distance event – Gondiswill – Thursday 18 August
Map: Schmidwald-Horben, 1:15’000, 5m
The Long distance event was held on a map called Schmidwald-Horben, this same map would later be used again for the relay at the end of the week. The women ran a 10.8 km course and the men a long 14 kms.
The map was made up of two main hilly forest blocks, separated by open fields. The forest was covered in a variety of green and striped patches making for some big opportunities for mistakes. A vast track and ride network weaved through the forest making many of the route choices very fast and provided a course that would work well for the faster orienteer.
While the shear number of tracks and rides meant many of the control sites were relatively easy and more yellow to orange level, there was still opportunity for some tough legs and still plenty of places that errors could sneak in particularly when fatigue from the distance crept in. The dense green vegetation patches threw you around and pushed you off your bearing with ease. The tracks also provided a variety of route choice decisions as choosing the right track sequence or putting 100% focus into a strong bearing could mean all the difference.
One of the better route choice legs was control 10-11 on the women’s B course. From GPS analysis there were three main routes taken with some micro routes within these. The green and yellow routes to the left appeared to be the more popular options based off those who had GPS with the 2 fastest runners on that leg taking a choice that was a mix of the two options. Likely because of its closer proximity to the line. My route choice was the green route, however, I had wondered if it would have been better to take the red option as once out of the control circle, the height didn’t drop too much compared with the green one which had a significant climb at the later part of the leg.
For me speed and fitness was the main downfall, as I didn’t feel like I had much more in the tank to push harder. Another improvement would be in strength in terrain. I found picking up the features and the differences in vegetation relatively good due to my more cautious approach, this did result in a much slower pace. This slower pace is evident when analysing winsplits, apart from the first two controls which were around 40th place, the rest of the course was very consistently in the 60th place range with no major mistakes.
Dougal Shepherd | Long distance event – Gondiswill – Thursday 18 August
Map: Schmidwald-Horben, 1:15’000, 5m
The WUOC long distance was on the Thursday and was the first event for those not competing in the sprint. During the model map training earlier in the week we had spent some time looking at the rides (think they were tracks for forestry thinning/pruning crew vehicles). They were all quite distinct with quite a variety of undergrowth. Those that were more open had more blackberry type scrub so were not the best options at times, thus were a gamble as a route choice. There were also some quite intricate stream networks with tiny tributaries that were quite hard to see sometimes since they are often in green forest.
It is quite a cool forest area. Some patches were awesome to run in as you may have seen on the Southerly Storm insta video. The map has lots of really built up roads and is littered with rides and small tracks. Some of the legs were really fun, however, long legs with only road options as feasible was a bit of a shame. I was kind of annoyed by this after the race, however, looking back through the GPS, I did often take the linked road sections on short legs by choice and it wasn’t the fastest route, so I probably should have grown up, taken some straighter routes and stopped complaining. I can’t speak for the rest of the team entirely, but I think in general we had pretty decent runs in the long. Fitness was obviously a huge part of this race, perhaps more than others with the long road legs. Also the ability to fully focus in the last loop, when mentally and physically fatigued, would have helped a lot.
I recommend pulling up the long map and having a look at the tracking or following along with my analysis here (just search ‘WUC long map’). I’ll talk about some of the route choice options used for some of the interesting legs. Control 3 was a very long leg, unfortunately for those that prefer taking the bush option over the road, the many patches of green and steepish gullies made the only option the top road. Control 5 had a straight option or an angled road to the main road. I took the road, the tracking showed that straight was slightly faster. Control 6 had a split leg with again 2 road options available, I took a pretty bad route on this, jumping from one route to the other. Control 8 was definitely one that was the best route to just bomb straight through the small green patches, however again I opted for the road to the south. Control 10 going low to the track was better than high, again a bad route choice. Control 18 was quite a cool control with probably the best option being going back down to the track, along it, crossing the steep river and reasonably straight up to the control. However, there are lots of other options, which attracted people to other routes. For this control I went up, along the road, took the ride going NW and road around to the control. This was significantly longer. I think the reason for this was to try avoid the gully in the middle of the leg, as running past it in previous legs it looked really scrappy. However, taking the track across it and power walking the white hill face would have been much faster. Control 21 had a split leg again with half going more west (GPS showed much faster) with a big cut up through the striped green and half going along the road above.
Controls 28-33 was a much trickier part of the course. This was pretty difficult after being pretty tired, then wrecking yourself coming through the run-through to not let the fellas hollering down. Control 28 out of the run through I had a little fumble around on a pretty easy control. 29 was on a tiny stream tributary which had a few route choice options to it. As seen on the GPS, quite a few people struggled with it. I went west ride and then NW ride and cut in and missed the control. This was likely due to it being also in the green, so more difficult to see and the stream being so small. I think it would have been best to go west ride, then slow down heaps after the junction continuing on the ride west and watch for the stream and probably just walk that last sections up the stream to not mess it up.
Overall, I’m not hugely disappointed with the run. After a few injuries (running and non running related) & covid 3-4 weeks before, I was stoked just to be able to run. However, this trip was a huge wake up call. This sort of run would have put me middle of the pack in NZ, but put me in 73/85 there. Yes I can say I had a bad lead up blah blah, but the route choices I took to some controls were just stupid, taking scenic routes around the road. I would back myself for generally decent route choices in NZ, with probably my compass letting me down more often, but maybe the fear of making a big mistake led me to take the safer option too often. I think this let me down more than speed did.
Take aways for next time
- Hard long run (90 min) into an O course (30 min) . It would be a really beneficial training to do a few times in the months before competition I think. This could be combined with the local OY – ie do a long run and then a short red course – would just have to try to minimise rest between the 2 as much as possible.
- Train on maps with not just similar steepness and complexity but also plan with features in mind of what could be in the course. Ie for the long, using small streams, finding rides to use and route choices with linking up tracks.
- Don’t do dumb stuff the weekend before leaving to Europe – just chill.
Scott Smith | Middle event – Corselles BE – Saturday 20 August
Map: Corcelles BE, 1:10’000, 5m
From 15th-22nd August I was racing in the World University Orienteering Championships (WUOC) in Biel/Bienne, Switzerland in the Sprint, Middle, Long, and Relay events. Before the competition most of the team headed to Flims/Laax for some training on the WOC2023/Swiss O-Week training maps.
The terrain was a mixture of open forest with lots of rocks and branches underfoot and rough open pastures (think Hogsback or Caanan Downs for an NZ comparison). The key difference from most New Zealand terrain was the non-homogeneous bushes, trees, and undergrowth which limited visibility and made holding a good bearing very difficult. It took a little while to get used to what size of rocks were/weren’t mapped during the training week and the classic knoll vs boulder debate (if it has dirt on top it’s a knoll in many countries!). As expected from the Swiss the mapping was top quality for the competition, in particular vegetation boundaries within the forest were very accurately depicted and could be used for navigation (map above). Controls were typically located on point features such as boulders and cliffs, one notable point about the control placement was that knowing which side of a boulder the control was on could certainly save you valuable time. Unlike at home where boulders are typically about waist-height and placement doesn’t matter, having to loop around a 5m x 5m boulder in Switzerland searching for the flag takes a while!
My main focus of the week was the middle distance so I spent some time before the competition looking at previous maps and analysing potential route choices. I felt well prepared mentally for the event, if a bit fatigued from two weeks of training/racing. The course was very similar to versions that I had planned but the physicality and steepness of the terrain was a level above what we typically experience in New Zealand. The navigation was actually quite easy barring a couple of controls in light green areas later in the course. It really was the running speed and execution of each leg that was decisive. There were only two notable route choices in the course, the first came on leg 10-11. At first glance this probably doesn’t look like a decisive leg but the exit from Control 10 was complex with undergrowth, scattered trees, and contour detail. I immediately identified the left route as my preferred option, climbing through the open pasture and then re-entering the forest by the fence corner which would lead me to the stone wall and then a short climb to the control. However, I failed to plan the control exit which meant that I got pushed right of the line by a patch of undergrowth into the large depression in the open pasture. Here I made a second mistake and committed to the right route choice rather than reconnecting to my original route. While I executed the second half of the leg well and found the control without any issues the poor execution of the first half and bad route selection cost me significantly. This was a case where identifying the optimal route choice was relatively easy but being able to execute it in terrain under race conditions was much harder. I was 2:17 behind the winner on this leg of which I would attribute a minute to fitness and the rest to poor leg execution.
The second notable route choice came in the last loop from Control 17 to 18. When I saw this leg in the race my immediate thought was to contour to the right and take the shortest distance while maintaining flow through the controls in the loop. It was only after when rewatching the GPS tracking of the top runners that I realised how much better the left route was. Viktor Svensk took the left route which was longer but much flatter and with easier running underfoot allowing him to gain 10-20 seconds on his closest competitors and secure the win. Aston Key (taking the right route) lost 29 seconds on this leg which cost him dearly, finishing in fourth 3 seconds away from a bronze medal. Overall, it was an incredible experience racing at a world class competition in Switzerland. Each event had a great atmosphere and the attention to detail from the organisers with maps and courses made for great racing. I would highly recommend WOC and Swiss O-Week next year to anyone looking at travelling to Europe, the maps in that region are the best I’ve ever run on.