The JK, or Jan Kjellstrom International Festival of Orienteering to give it its full title, is one of the major events in the UK (and International) orienteering calendar. Held every year over the Easter weekend, it sees 4 days of competition between both the top orienteers and thousands of normal runners over a range of terrains from city centre to isolated countryside and forest and over different distances. This year it was based in Sussex.
This was my first time competing properly at the JK; I had hoped to take part in 2016, but only managed the first sprint day before injury forced me to sit out the remaining days. I was not on top form going into the JK though; at only 4 weeks from the Hardmoors 55 ultramarathon and with only 3 weeks to go before my goal race of the year, the Hardmoors 110, I was feeling cautious about how my legs would stand up to 4 days of hard running and anxious about picking up an injury. I therefore resolved to concentrate on enjoying myself and learning more about orienteering at this level, rather than worrying about being overly competitive.
Day 1: Sprint Races, Brunel University
We arrived at the first day’s venue at Brunel University feeling both excited and nervous. There were lots of competent and fit looking people everywhere and I felt inexperienced and worried about making lots of mistakes. This was only my second time competing in an urban sprint event (the first being the previous year’s JK) and it is a very different experience to my usual orienteering in forestry blocks! However, once I got into the start routine it all felt more familiar and I calmed down and focused on the course ahead.
Sprint orienteering is fast and furious and I had 20 controls to find over a 2.2km course. Setting out from the start I quickly orientated myself and found my first few controls easily; I was starting to feel more confident. However, at control 5 my inexperience showed.I collected control 4 and headed along the path to collect what I thought would be a straightforward control at number 5; I reached where I expected it to be and there was nothing there… After a bit of frantic running up and down I suddenly realised that I was next to a big fence and drop (shown by the thick black line on the map) and that the control was actually down on the other side of this, requiring a long run around the fence and buildings to get to it!
Kicking myself I got on with things and all was again going smoothly until I made a similar mistake at control 9. I approached from the East side of the building, failing to spot the thick black line on the map indicating that I couldn’t get into the underpass where my control was located from that side. Yet more frantic running backwards and forwards trying to work out where the mysterious control could be and I again realised that I needed to be round the other side of the building.
The rest of the course passed fairly smoothly, other than a couple of smaller mistakes towards the end as I started to tire. I was pleased with the majority of my run, but felt a bit silly to have made some very novice mistakes! Given my errors, it was a pleasant surprise to finish 10th in a time of 23:17 and achieve a Championship time.
Day 2: Middle Distance, Ambersham Common
Ambersham Common felt like more familiar territory back in the countryside for Day 2. We had a long warm up jog to the start through some beautiful bluebell woods, before joining the sandy heathland and forest which would comprise most of the day’s terrain.
From the start I had a straightforward route to my first control and quickly settled into my stride, but shortly after this control I was running through the undergrowth when I scraped my shin on a concealed tree stump leaving a bruise and nasty cut. It was rather painful, but thankfully not enough to stop me carrying on. The next controls went smoothly, before I made a daft mistake muddling up my fourth and fifth controls and heading to control 5 first.It was only when I arrived at the control and checked the code that I realised I was trying to get them in the wrong order! I quickly headed across to control 4 and then back to 5, but I had wasted plenty of time with a silly mistake.
Controls 6, 7 and 8 were then straightforward, before a careless error wasted more time at control 9. I didn’t take a proper bearing from the previous control and ended up in the stream gulley to the North East, rather than in the one I was aiming for. More lost time…
From here my navigation was generally better and I really enjoyed the fast downhill run in to the finish, although I was slightly disappointed not to be on one of the courses that had the vintage tractors as their penultimate control! My time of 48:42 left me in 10th place again (this was to become a recurring theme over the weekend!).
Day 3: Long Distance, Holmbush and Buchan Country Park
My legs still felt fine on Day 3, which was a good job as I was anticipating plenty of hills! The previous day’s shin scrape had finally prompted me to invest in a pair of orienteering gaiters which I was looking forward to trying out. I found the first two controls easily, but then just missed my control 3 (running straight past it according to my GPS trace) and had to double back. I then made what can only be described as a complete hash of control 4, resulting in much running around in circles and up and down various paths, before doing what I should have done all along, relocating properly and taking an accurate bearing which of course brought me straight onto the control!
I then had a very long leg to control 5 requiring plenty of detailed navigation. The following controls all passed smoothly, before I headed back into the area where I had made my previous mistakes, this time for controls 10 and 11. I stumbled across control 10 more by luck than judgement, but then got confused heading to control 11. I was actually correct and just needed to head a bit further to hit the control, but I got myself extremely muddled and after running around in circles several times needed to completely relocate. This required heading most of the way back to number 10, before I worked out where I was and then executed the leg correctly, finding my way straight onto the control!
By now any competitive inclination had gone out of the window and I resolved to concentrate on completing the rest of the course cleanly without any more major mistakes. As a result I had an extremely enjoyable run around the rest of the course to finish in a time of 01:34:55, good enough for yet another 10th place and also leaving me 10th in the combined competition across days 2 and 3.
Day 4: Relays, Pippingford Park
The final day was the relay event, which was a completely new experience for me, never having competed in an orienteering relay before. This involved club teams of 3, with each member being tagged in by the previous runner to run their course.
I was in a team with fellow SUFFOC members Louise Walker and Sarah Mansel and running the last leg in the Senior Women 120+ competition (the 120 referring to the combined age). This event was a great spectacle, with runners going in all directions, particularly in the mass starts where the first runners in each class start together, but are not all running the same route! A control in the arena situated next to a pink cow provided more fun viewing for spectators, particularly when one competitor managed to crash straight into the cow, knocking it over!
I had a better run than the other days with only one major mistake this time and was pleased with a time of 37:58 which brought our team home in (yes, you’ve guessed it!) 10th place.
I really enjoyed my first JK experience, although I didn’t really compete at anywhere near the best of my ability. In hindsight, my focus is currently on the Hardmoors 110 and this was always in the back of my mind, meaning I never really gave this year’s JK the physical commitment or mental focus needed to run well. I learnt a lot about competing at this level and it was fascinating to watch the elite runners and the speed with which they are able to cross difficult terrain while reading the map at the same time! I’m now planning next year’s JK and intending to give it the proper focus it deserves!