Sunday, 25 June 2017

Ups and downs

Just after finishing the very tough and tricky
British long championships at High Dam in the Lake District. 

A lot has gone on since my last post, which is half an excuse for not updating the blog. The other half is that I’ve been quite confused about how I feel about everything and so summarising the situation hasn’t felt easy. Here’s half a go anyway.

First off, I have to say there has been a lot of good. I’ve produced some performances I’m proud of which has meant I’ve been able to add the following to the list of achievements this season: British individual and relay titles, Scottish champs title, equalling Tyrving’s best TioMila result, one of my best World Cup individual sprint runs, and a World Cup sprint relay bronze medal. Certainly when I put it all down on paper, I can’t see how this is anything other than my best season ever.

But yet it doesn’t feel like it. One of my real aims this year was to run in the forest at the World Champs. I had developed a two year plan to fulfil the potential I thought I had. One of the main enjoyments through the winter has been noticing the improvements I have made, going out to run a clean race, and then achieving it. I was so pleased to pull it all together at the JK, even if the terrain wasn’t regarded as particularly tricky.

A very happy time with the girls at TioMila.
But then it came to the test races. For various reasons I didn’t believe performing like I had done at the JK would be enough. I felt I needed to do more. This was a disastrous way to approach the races - I know enough sports psychology to know that - but how do you convince yourself? Needless to say I bombed and blew the chance to race in the forest at the World Champs this year.

What has ‘interested’ me has been my reaction to that experience. For me to mess up a big international forest race is not a surprise, it’s been a regular occurrence every season. In previous years, I have picked myself up, dusted off, and resolved to put things right another time. I didn’t have that desire this time round. I don’t really know why.

Thankfully the sprint side of things is something I can rely on and so I’m channelling my efforts there. I take a lot of positives from the World Cup races a month ago where I was a few route choices away from an excellent result, and I still achieved one I was very proud of (13th). I’m excited by the times I’m posting on the track too, I’m faster than the most ambitious of the targets I set myself at the beginning of the year.
 
World Cup sprint final
Photo:Hannu Kaasalainen
So the stage is set for a really fun sprint relay on the steep hills of Viljandi this time next week. I’m racing with Cat, Ralph, and Kris, and I’m so excited to see what we can do. I’m really grateful to all those who have contributed to the GB team fundraising to help us get there, and to those who have helped in many other ways over many years. I do love a good high pressure sprint race, and they don’t come much bigger than this. Bring it on – give me the map!   

Sunday, 23 April 2017

JK round up


Well that went better than I could have hoped. Three tightly fought individual races and mostly the seconds were almost always on my side. I won the sprint by 5, the middle by 19, lost the long by 5, and won overall by 13! This has earned me an early selection for the sprint distance at the World Championships in Estonia. Yey!

Photo: Rob Lines

This means so much to me after watching from the sidelines for the last few years. I still don't think I'm as fit as I have been, my training times on the track are a little way off what they were 4 years ago. But I think I've made a real break through with the technique and my mental approach to races and I can consider a completely clean run as achievable rather than an unrealistic hope. I'm certainly getting the most out of the fitness I have.

I've just got to make sure I've not peaked too soon now and so am already back in to the hard training before the next round of test-races. It's a bitty few months with lots of travel and competitions which is not straightforward but I'm hoping to keep riding the current tailwind.


Possibly the best memory (and run!) of the weekend
- getting a silver relay medal with these two wonderful Edinburgh University teammates Madara and Klara.
Photo: Rona Lindsay.  

Friday, 17 March 2017

Early season tests

Over the last few weeks I've put myself to the test to see where I'm at technically and physically so that I can make some changes before the main season starts. As my last season was 2014, I thought​ it was worth getting to a few races at this time of year to remind myself what it's all about before it gets serious.

The terrain I faced has been at the tough end of the scale which has been fun but not always the best for inspiring confidence. First I went to Portugal O Meet and tackled the really detailed rocky terrain there. Then I went on to the MOC camp in Italy where we raced around the tiny tricky alleyways of the mountain top towns.

I have spent a lot of time working on and thinking about my orienteering technique over the winter and so I was excited and a bit nervous to see what would happen when I raced. When out in the 'forest' terrains, I felt there were large sections of orienteering where I was running better than I ever had before. I fell down in a few places but I've got a few ideas of how to try to fix that to pull the elusive clean run together. I came 4th overall, and although many did not complete all the days, I was still very proud of this achievement as I'm not sure I'd have achieved that level of consistency in the past.
Map from World Ranking Event middle distance
It was a bit different with my sprinting; I struggled to find any natural flow, possibly overthinking the technique and stressing about my running speed. There were moments when I did feel like things came together, and encouragingly that held to some decent results against a strong field. Most notably, I did well in the knock-out sprint test-event (although helped by my semi-final draw and my gaffling in the final) and I came 3rd. Below is a video of the 1st minute of the race, taken by Emil Wingstedt who was heroic in following us all week with a head-cam doing some ridiculous mileage.


(Conveniently, I can only upload a minute or so of the video which happens to be the only bit I was leading - I spent the following 8 minutes chasing Helena (and Lina), mostly, but not always, knowing where I was.
If the resolution is bad, see the link on my FB page https://www.facebook.com/Tessa-Strain-374918295862172/)


Looking unusually short/small lined up against the vikings ;)
Photo: Linda Verbraken

I've now got a month until the first GB selection races. Although I have some specific technique points to work on, the main aim is to get my head in the right place. I know my best results come from when I focus on the orienteering, and so I have to forget at worries I have about my running speed or anything else. Somewhat easier said than done. But I'm glad to have had this mini-racing block to identify that and so I now have a bit of time in which to sort it. Bring on the season!

PS. Thanks very much to my club IL Tyrving for helping me get to Portugal O'Meet.

Monday, 17 October 2016

World Cup Final

This weekend I made the trip over to Aarau, Switzerland to take part in the World Cup Final. My first international races in two years. I had clear aims: get some world ranking points from the long distance race and work out where I stand in terms of sprint racing.

My forest race result (30th) does not look special but it was a good technical performance from me. I have to judge things by my own averages; although I did make one annoying mistake, the overall race was by far the best I've managed over that distance since I've come back. I was also pretty pleased to physically get through the race, something I wouldn't have managed a month ago.

My sprint final was really awesome. I won the B-final by 1 min and that would have put me 9th in the A-final! I can't quite believe it as I'm well aware of how slow my raw speed is at the minute. But I think I've hit every route bang on. Of course I know how it feels for the other girls who are at the end of a very long season but even so, this is a massive boost for me ahead of next year.

Bring on the winter!

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Back in the game

Last weekend marked four months back training and was my first attempt at ‘racing’ orienteering again. It was full of mixed emotions. Amazing to be back at races I never thought I’d be able to do again, lovely to see old friends and have so many supportive conversations.

Even so, it was really tough trying to race as it just felt so out of sorts. I held things together in both the sprint and middle distance (British champs weekend) but it wasn't pretty. It felt like trying to speak a language for the first time in years. I got through it, but it was hesitant, messy, full of small mistakes, and generally quite frustrating. I’m obviously not happy with feeling like that and it just makes me itch for the next time I can get back out with a map and work on things to get better.

But there is a little bit of me that is quite proud of getting this far already. I haven’t gone into great detail online as to what my 14 months off were like, but the last 9 barely involved any movement. My only ventures off the sofa were to the bus-stop to work three days a week. I’ve worked so hard to build back up from that since February, not just with all the running/aerobic cross training but the strength, conditioning, and stretching too. It was quite a unique situation and there was no blueprint of what to do or what to expect. I think I've exceeded even my optimistic hopes. So in amongst all these mixed feelings, I’m trying to give myself a pat on the back before I return to the hard slog.


Snuck onto the podium in the sprint distance (at least when you excluded the non-Brits).

Nice to be back with old team mates who are running so well.

Friday, 20 May 2016

A grand day out: 5 munros near Bridge of Orchy

It’s hard to say what I missed the most in my year out: the routine of the daily miles, the adrenaline of a world championship start line, or the breathtaking views from mountain summits.  At least it was the mountains that I dreamt about the most.

I’d hated watching other people head out on fun adventures whilst I was confined to the sofa. So when Murray decided to run the five munros round Bridge of Orchy last weekend, I decided that I wasn’t going to miss out again.

The only problem was that the route was 35km and 2200+ metres of climb. My longest hill run so far was a generous 16km and included a third of the climb. With a walk/camp in the previous night and a pick-up at the end, I got this down to 27km – probably manageable but enough out of my comfort zone to be buzzing with excitement.


The view down the glen at 9pm when we were walking in to camp.

Happy camper walking in along the Allt Kinglass.

Our wee tent on the left still not quite getting the sun when we woke up.
I went ‘backwards’ round the route – starting with Ben Mhanach before hitting the main ridge. See later notes on why I strongly advise against it, but it at least got the main track run and climb done while there was some spring in the legs. I can’t say it was the most pleasant of ascents, contouring across gullies, but the views from the top were worth it.

First summit of the day - Beinn Mhanach

View back to Ben Lui (I think)

Where I was heading - summit 2 - Beinn a'Chreachain

I was still moving fairly well on the next big climb up to Beinn a’Chreachain, buoyed by the realisation that the weather was not going to give me the hail and snow flurries forecast but bluebird skies instead. Beinn a’Chreachain was a fine hill, with a final rocky climb and views all the way to Loch Ericht/Ben Alder munros to the north-east, Glencoe in the west, and the incredible Rannoch Moor in between. Quite literally breath-taking.

Summit 2 - Beinn a'Chreachain

Rannoch Moor and beyond. Ben Alder in the distance.

The view northwest

The ridge I was about to run. Summit 3 on the ridge, Summit 4 peeking out just behind, and Summit 5 far left.

The third summit (Beinn Achaladair) was the easiest physically as it was ‘just’ a run a long a ridge. There was a final kick up to the actual summit but I found a scramble-y path very close to the crag edges which focused the mind somewhat. The actual summit didn’t seem to have a cairn on it, but I met the first hill walker (and dog) of day to share some appreciation of the surroundings.

Summit 3 - Beinn Achaladair and a few Starav hills behind

Loch Tulla and beyond

Summit 2 now impressively looming ahead

Things were all going pretty smoothly until the bealach before Beinn an Dothaidh. Then they really took a turn for the worse. I meandered up the 200m of climb, picking up odd snow patches as I was in need of rehydration (not recommended). I’d been out close to 4 hours by this point and I hadn’t felt this sort of exhaustion for a long time. I remembered though that you always go through bad patches on long runs and so I convinced myself that it would just be a patch, not the beginning of a death march to the end.

Summit 4 - Beinn an Dothaidh

Picking up some proper water at the stream in the final bealach did perk me up a bit. Or I was motivated by pride to keep running in front of the many hill walkers that were now also making their way up Beinn Dorain. Either way, I finished the last 300m of climb almost as strongly as I’d started the day and I was rewarded with the final summit.


Summit 5 - Beinn Dorain

The Starav hills

Job done! If only. It turns out there was a very good reason why the guidebook suggests anyone attempting all five should go anti-clockwise. Beinn Dorain rises up 900m from the valley in about 1.5km. It also has a few substantial cliffs and the slope is generously covered in large scree. It took me 40 minutes (!) to get down this. Murray was on a slightly different route (to get our camping gear) but still did a 14 min/km. Definitely up there as one of my more sketchy mountain experiences, probably the worst non-weather related!

Really not recommended. Much better to do the route in the other direction.

So eventually it was job done. A wonderful job. Fantastic to be back in the hills, testing myself on the climbs, overcoming those wobbly moments, and pushing those comfort zones back a little more.

Monday, 11 April 2016

Answers


"How are you?"
"Good thanks"

It's so nice to be able to answer that question positively. Or just to have an answer. For over a year, I didn't know how I was. I didn't know why I felt like I was going to have a heart attack constantly. No one could find anything wrong.

It wasn't a great place to be physically or mentally. I withdrew a lot from my usual world, partly because I was so limited physically but as much because I didn't have any answers. Turns out conversations are a bit difficult when you don't know why you're in the situation you're in, what is causing the pain, or when it might stop.

So the answer is 'rib'. It seems to have been a rib (or maybe a few) causing the problems. Never has anyone been so happy to have costochondritis.

What did I do to get a rib problem? I'm not sure I'll ever get that answer. My mobility through my shoulders/back area is chronic and it could well be that I compensated by overloading through the ribs, eventually causing pain. I am certainly losing the pain by increasing my flexibility and strength through that area. But maybe there were other things going on. I was pushing myself to the absolute limit with WOC 2015 in mind and my immune system was struggling.

Very fitting to share one of my first runs back with Sarah
The real saviour in all this is (Dr) Sarah Rollins. Without her I could still be sitting on the sofa. She's been an absolute lifeline through this whole episode. Amazing woman: my role model, team mate, and great friend. (And just a little plug for support for her bonkers running for charity here - 40km a day for 40 days for her 40th birthday).

Will I ever get back? I sure hope so! It's early days (I've just finished week 8 of training) but of course my mind is rushing ahead much faster than my legs. I think the competitive season will end up being a few months too early to be able to get involved this year. But that's probably a good thing as I'll get a really solid base done ready to race hard in 2017.

See you in a forest soon!