Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Wherever you go...

... And there you are.

This simple expression has taken on so much meaning for me when, all of a sudden, I found myself re-starting my life in a new country, a new city, and creating a new home. About a month ago I stepped off a plane onto Finnish soil... and there I was!

Ever since my first Junior World Champs in Sweden in 2008 I have always wanted to live and orienteer in Scandinavia. After finishing my Bachelor's degree in France I decided that it was time to put Phase II of my master plan into action. Complete chaos ensued with university and visa applications, packing and last-minute furniture selling but, skipping the details, I can now say that I am an official Master's degree student in Turku, Finland!

How did it all fit?! Thanks to Amel and Philippe for the skateboards for easy transportation! photo: Amelie Chataing

This will be my fifth year of living in Europe and, honestly, I haven't seen the time fly by! I feel so fortunate to have gotten the opportunity to live and train in France because it really has shaped me into the human being and athlete I am today. I learned so much from star athletes like Thierry Gueorgiou, Amélie Chataing, Philippe Adamski. I am so grateful for the overwhelming support from the French National Team, le Pôle France, and my French club le NOSE; they were all fantastic!!!

The French Connection: when it all started in 2009! 
Can never get enough of these smiles! photo: Theau le Loch
JWOC 2012 memories :) photo: Simon Leroy

I learned many things the hard way: how to properly take care of an injury, how to not over-train myself during a training camp, and how to balance training, school and sleep. However, I have also been so inspired by seeing things first hand: what happens behind the scenes before the big race day and the dedication and commitment required to really go after your dreams. All this knowledge and these unforgettable experiences are what I'm able to take away from my time in France as I strive to become an even better orienteer here in Finland.

Incredible training camps with the French team! photo: Willy Guillemin

Since this isn't the first time that I've moved to a new country I knew what to expect when I would have to furnish a new apartment, sort out a bank account and a telephone number, and just adapt to a new lifestyle in general. I knew it would be difficult at first but that everything would eventually fall into place. 

A Canadian teammate (Will Critchley) in Finland! photo: Toni Louhisola

What I didn't expect though was the immense generosity I received from the stupendous orienteering families living in Turku. I can remember running and smiling to myself one day while thinking about all the lovely new people I had met so far and how incredibly lucky I am. It's like having an extended family spread across the entire world! It really says something about orienteering as a sport when you can arrive in a new county and already feel like you're at home. I am so grateful to everyone who has so warmly welcomed me to Turku... kiitos!!

Turku has fantastic biking...
...And orienteering!

I think I will be really happy here :)

Monday, May 6, 2013

Jag är hungrig!



What's the most efficient way to become nocturnal? Race and spectate the infamous 10mila weekend and then attempt to travel back to France in time for your chemistry class on Monday of course! So far I'm succeeding at it pretty well, however, it may be a hard blow when I arrive in class where napping is quite strictly frowned upon! **Update: the gentleman who cleans the floors in the airport just told me I look tired so I guess I'm doing a better job at that than actually becoming a night hawk. And for the record if that was supposed to be a compliment I'm not flattered!

The last time I tried to take public transport in Uppsala the intended 12 minute bus ride turned into a 2 hour tour through the Uppsala countryside. I wanted to avoid a similar debacle and so I gave myself 6 hours to arrive at Arlanda on time. Obviously the public transport decided to work in my favour this time because not only was the bus driver a super sweetie - not making me pay for a ticket and able to speak french - but I have arrived with only 4.5 hours to soak up the super exciting Monday morning ambience here in the airport! Good thing I have enough rice pudding and peanut butter and banana sandwiches to last me until next Tuesday!! In one week's time (aaaaaah!) I will be entering my final exam period which means that as soon as I'm no longer a sleep deprived zombie it's crunch time! Therefore, why not take advantage of this valuable time in the Arlanda airport at 2 a.m. to recount some of the stupendous times I've had this past month in Sweden?

Unfortunately, after my first race I started feeling a little bit funky and sure enough I came down with the flu... perfect timing to let down your defences body! Geez! To give you an idea of how fast I was moving when I was able to train, Thierry's favourite nickname for me was "super turtle". I already have to take 3 steps for one of his so, when you add in my lack of energy to keep my feet moving forward, it's understandable that I had so much trouble keeping up! I tried to be reasonable though and didn't start training hard again until my legs felt like they were able to turn over all by themselves. I exceedingly enjoyed running a long distance on some classic Swedish terrain! Heading into the race I wasn't counting on feeling in tip top shape so I decided to concentrate on my technique of trusting my compass and having a good image of which features were in the circle. There's nothing like the fantabulous feeling of cruising through this type of terrain and nailing the controls! It was also the first day in two weeks that I was feeling close to my normal, 100% functioning self so I was absolutely over the moon! 




By the time Silva League weekend rolled around I had a few speedy trainings under my belt and a lot of excitement bubbling up with the prospect of racing on some spectacular terrain in Tibro. I knew that running two long distances back to back was going to be an enormous challenge considering the amount of time I had spent down and out these past two weeks. These races were also a major factor for the Linné team 10mila selections and so... no pressure! I figured the best I could do was to "giv'er all I got" and just keep in mind my objectives on running with my compass and being careful in the technical contours area.


The butterfly loop from Saturday's course.
My compass and I were best of friends at the beginning of Sunday's course (however, we experienced some misunderstandings near the end).

There were ups and downs in both races but I was pleasantly surprised by my results ( 33rd and 27th respectively for the two days) and they earned me the third leg on Linné's first team! I was fortunate enough to be running on a team of super talented ladies: Lina Bäckström, Rasa Ptasekaite, Annika Billstam and Catherine Taylor. 

Fast forward a week and I find myself donning a GPS and heading into the warm-up area to scamper around with the rest of the women waiting for our second leg runner to come storming into the arena. Rasa handed off to me in 41st and with almost a kilometer of marked route to the start triangle I turned on the turbo jets. The third leg had no forking which meant that we were all supposed to be going to the same controls. Right off the bat, though, I didn't like the attack that the others were taking for the first control. It's one of the tricky things about relays; you want to use the pack as much as possible to aid your orienteering and speed, but you have to have the confidence to know when the train is running off the tracks and abandon ship! From the moment that I spiked the first control I was in the zone and taking no prisoners! I was navigating while leading an entire train of girls, calm as a cucumber and loving it! It wasn't until the 6th control, when I caught another pack of girls, that I realized how hard I had been running, how great this race was going, and how exhausted I was!


The live GPS tracking!
Unfortunately, that's where my concentration cracked and I had a few small troubles at the end of the race but I was still able to hand off to Annika in 15th place! Annika and Cat went on to run superb races and we finished in 10th/disqualified place... there was a bit of a sticky situation about an out-of-bounds area but nobody is really sure how it's going to finish. Whether we were first, tenth, fortieth, or disqualified, though, it doesn't really matter. What's really important is the passion and commitment that each one of us put into all of the training before 10mila right through to the race itself! All of us poured our heart into representing OK Linné as best we could and I think it really showed. I feel so privileged to have run with such amazing women and I hope to do it much more in the near future! I've had the most spectacular month living and training in Uppsala with the most incredible group of people! As I'm sitting here watching yet another sunrise I'm already dreaming about the next time I'll be in this airport but with clean clothes packed in my suitcase and striding out of the doors excited to get to another sensational Linné training!

Note: the title is one of the more important Swedish phrases that I learned during my month-long stay. At this rate, I'll most likely be fluent by the year 2052 (but at least I’ll never go hungry)!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Hej hej!

That's right! This little Canadian is in Sweden! My Swedish, however, is not exactly improving in leaps and bounds. Having Thierry and Annika take me in while I'm here (and a big "Tack!!" to them) means that we speak a mixture of French and English which can get quite confusing at times! Another pickle we've run into here is that there is snow everywhere: in the fields, in the forests and in my shoes when I try to go running! The day before I left we were running in t-shirts in France so this has been quite the thermal shock! But hey, you always have to find the positives in every situation! I just keep telling myself that this is fantastic strength training and when the snow finally melts we'll be absolutely flying through the woods!

Before coming to Sweden, though, I had some crazy adventures during the last few weeks leading up! For one I got the most extraordinary experience of getting my head stapled at one of the races in France! If I have one piece of advice to give... well, it's to never start a fight with a barbed wire fence... especially with your head! At least I can say that out of the whole experience the least painful part was getting the staples put in and taken out aaaaand... the very nice fire-fighters didn't have to shave off my hair to do it!

More importantly though, I had two amazing visitors from the other side of the ocean - Serghei Logvin and Andrew Childs! I was able to give them a little taste of orienteering in France when we spent 3 days training in Clermont Ferrand. Of course, this included a trip up the Volcano of the Cow (yes that is a direct translation) and lots of sessions in the infamous tricky terrain!

Take that Clermont!    
This terrain has gotten the better of me many times. My most recent kerfuffle was in November when I managed to completely get turned around, 180 degrees, while running and didn't realize for a good 200m. Has anybody tested these volcanic rocks to see if they influence compasses?! Hihi no just kidding! After a whole entire winter of working on following my compass I had much more confidence and showed this terrain who's boss!

Running up to the top!
A beautiful (and windy!) view from the top of the volcano featuring our smiles!
One of our last trainings was a risky window orienteering course drawn by Amélie and she had forewarned me that it was a tricky one! I may have only featured the successful windows... but they definitely out-numbered the ones where I ended up completely off my bearing. A spectacular way to finish up the camp!




And now I find myself in beautiful Sweden where I ran my first competition this weekend, Skärgårdsmedeln, staged on an island! It was a good race to get my jitters over with but I'm hoping that the navigation will be easier once I don't have to worry about tripping over my own feet in the snow.

An exert from my race.

Taking the ferry back to the mainland we were able to get a picture in front of the Vaxholm castle!

Photo from Annika Billstam

I will be staying in Sweden right up to Tiomila and I hope that it will be a spectacular month of training, competing and getting to know my new club, OK Linné. I'll do my very best to keep updating but for now I have one small favour to ask of everyone... if you could all do the sun dance and send some warm sunshine up here it would be much appreciated by all! ;)




Friday, March 22, 2013

Spring Fever

Yesterday marked the first day of spring and for most everyone that means April showers, May flowers... the whole sunshine shebang! However, for most orienteers, spring more importantly  means the snow melting from the forests, the end of hours and hours of Catching Features fixes, and the beginning of the competition season. For me, yesterday marked the end of our winter training period. This, however, was a winter that was made up of so many wonderful memories of over two hundred hours of training with some of the most spectacular of people. I realize that I did a really dismal job of relaying all my adventures onto this blog so I’ll do my best now to transmit all of these fabulous memories through photos and snippets of different trainings.



As promised in my last blog post, there are volcanoes and elephants; just maybe not the ones that you were expecting! For those who haven’t been to Clermont Ferrand, the terrain gets its technical aspect from the lava formations made when the surrounding volcanoes erupted a gagillion years ago. To quote one of my fave French orienteers, “if orienteering is rock n roll, then Clermont is heavy metal”!!


A view of the volcanoes on a crisp fall afternoon.
A couple weeks after Clermont we were up north near Paris in the forest of Fontainebleau riding elephants and surfing in between the giant boulders!

Can you see the elephant?

One of Philippe Adamski’s superb creations is his Be Offensive training. The map is pre-simplified to show only the critical features needed to navigate to the control. The goal is to orienteer with as much confidence as if you had the whole map. It’s intimidating at first, but once you get the hang of it, it’s a piece of cake!

Philippe's Be Offensive training with the real map underlain to show the level of simplification.
 I was able to spend Christmas “à la Bresse” enjoying the skiing conditions, the tobogganing slopes, and of course the incredible French food and company. 

My ski legs are a bit wobbly after moving away from Canada where we usually ski all winter long.
My tobaggining outfit sized... 10-12 years old?!!
The famous home made Christmas Log!
To start off 2013 I travelled to Portugal where we brought in the New Year in real style… an orienteering course at midnight complete with champagne and a swim in the ocean! 

Happy New Year!!!!
These ten days were jam-packed with over forty hours of quality orienteering along the coast as well as in the mountains. And holy macaroni!!.. was it ever an adventure! With three trainings a day we had time to run countless corridors (some being better than others)...

 
One of the tougher corridors that I ran...
  ... plenty of night trainings... 


... morning runs along the beach...

 

...crazy technical sessions in the mountains...


...and of course I never got tired of spending time with these jokesters!


With le Pôle France we spent our annual winter training camp in the south of France scampering across the plains of le Larzac.

The view of the Viaduct in Millau!
A rock features only training...
...followed by a window-o!

In February I was back in Portugal but this time for the Portugal O-meeting to put all this winter training to the test! The terrain was breath-taking, the competition fierce, and I was rearing to go! The competitions went swimmingly and they were a great way to figure out which parts of my technique still needed more work.

The butterfly loop for Day 4 POM

A big rock... or a little Canadian?
Practising running in a straight line.

And last but not least, after almost three years of living in France, I was finally able to take a weekend off and visit the beautiful city of Paris! The highlight, of course, being the Eiffel Tower at every angle and lighting imaginable!



Et voila! I learned so much this winter about managing the humongous training volume, dealing with fatigue and recovery, training analysis, and of course all of that with a beaming smile on my face!