I attended my first ever European Trail Orienteering Championships (ETOC) around Jesenik in the Czech Republic from 23rd to 28th May. Having won the public PreO competition at WTOC (World TrailO Championships) in 2015 and come 53rd in the WTOC TempO, I was keen to see what I could achieve. The area was beautiful and mountainous, allowing some good runs in the rare free moments in the week, so made for an excellent trip on both the TrailO and other fronts.
After a disappointing start for me in the relay for team GB1 (Ian Ditchfield, me, Nick Barrable) on Tuesday contributing, in best tradition, to being beaten by GB2 (SJ Barrable, Pete Huzan, Charles Bromley Gardner), I qualified for the TempO final (36 places) on Wednesday morning, along with Nick. Since I have still only done relatively few TempOs, I was still finding my optimum technique, needing to balance speed and accuracy with a 30s penalty per wrong answer. My strategy for accuracy was clearly working, so I used it at the final that afternoon around Jesenik Spa. What an experience under pressure! Knowing from my experience at the relay there would be contours, I carefully proceeded through the stations to reach the final spectator station, which started with a classic parallel-feature zero (no kite correct) and had a fiendish third problem. In the end, I was as accurate as Martin Jullum of Norway who came 2nd, but 200s slower, leaving me with a respectable 23rd place in 466s. Nick came 19th with a time of 432s; both of our results were better than any GB athlete has achieved in TempO before! Now to speed up without losing the accuracy…
Friday saw the start of the two-day PreO competition. Day 1 was in a complex, pitted mining area adjacent to the TempO qualifier in Zlaté Hory, and I have never done a course so hard! It was a fair course as, given enough time, all the controls were most certainly solvable, but I found myself woefully short on time, having spent 8 minutes on each of the first two problems when the time limit says 4. I then rushed the second half of the course and was still 3s late at the finish, costing me a further point, leaving me with 16/23. A thorough debrief after a well-earned rest and a plan to stick rigidly to time worked wonders on day 2 in a large quarry near Vápenná, where I scored 22/24 to come 17th and be top Brit for the day. Overall, I came 43rd (3rd Brit), but learnt so much after the disappointment of day 1 that I’ll be in a strong position for future tough PreOs.
In summary, the highlights of my week were the TempO final and the 2nd day of the PreO, knowing that I can compete against the very best. I learnt a lot which will no doubt mean stronger performances in competitions to come. As always, I am very grateful to those who supported me financially, including the Orienteering Foundation who paid for my entry and accreditation fees, BOK and SWOA, as these trips are really beyond a student budget, so I would not be able to go otherwise. Next stop: WTOC, Strömstad, Sweden in August.