Okay, I know the title is a bit of a click-bait. I might as well have written addicted to elite orienteering but this sounds less destructive. However, does the title not come from pure harmony so let the diary entry begin.
In August I finally spend some time with the nationalteam again at the World Cup in Czechia, running the Sprint, Sprint-relay and middle. We had a great accomodation, and due to the proximity to Germany also some orienteering friends doing the cooking (kudos for the great food again!). The highlight was certainly the foosball table, after a few days of normal playing it transitioned into made-up rules like the one-handed-switch playing style and the pinnacle being the version where we played in teams of one person blind folded and the other one giving directions of what to do.
Great food, great people and nice terrains only do so much if you don´t meet your own goals in the very event you´re there for. The individual sprint wasn´t a disaster but mediocracy is not what I am competing for so it felt like a disappointment, especially when I wasn´t even meeting my minimum goal of being best German – although I agree that it is kind of a stupid and non-team-mentality goal as well. After the race I was just frustrated, I trained hard the previous weeks and was looking for some confirmation and at least some minor success after months of nothing.
The sprint-relay on the other hand worked out quite well, I don´t think I was ever that mentally chilled before a race and wasn´t even bothered about the gap of my team´s first runner to the front of race which used to be a factor. It didn´t feel like running off anger but just having fun. The middle distance result didn´t look good but for my current shape it was quite okay.
After adapting my goals multiple times already this year, my focus is on the sprint and therefore EOC in Italy. The sprint meeting ASOM in Belgium just this weekend was one step on the way towards EOC. Offically they were test races for us Germans but my main goal was to see where my sprint shape is really at. My bad luck this year got ahead of me again though and just one week before ASOM I twisted my ankle again. While I enjoy cycling, I didn´t make the best sprint preparation. So, again instead of going confident and feeling prepared into an event, I instead had the first real test of my ankle at the sprint-relay on Friday evening. It all turned out fine and I managed to get into the semi-finals of the KO-sprint but there I failed bitterly. When getting ready for the SF, my stomach didn´t feel great and I ended up running for max 3′ in total and was otherwise mostly walking around a bit as a warm-up. Just in time for the start did I feel ready but I wasn´t sure how to race after this warm-up so I decided on having fun and bringing some action into the race. I know I am good at starting races fast so I kept that as an option and did manage to punch the first and second control first. The downfall of this tactic though was that I ran without much focus on actually orienteering.
There I was again failing to lead a knockout-sprint final after putting in the very effort to get exactly to that position. The memory and failure was a stark reminder to the quarter-final at WOC 2022. After having a fun time all day, I was sitting and starring into the void being frustrated and embarrassed once more.
Doing, or at least trying to do something, at the highest level is tough. It doesn´t necessarily get harder but neither does it get easier if you don´t meet your goals – the expectations of yourself in terms of the performances you think you´re capable of. After all, I have high goals – realistic with a touch of dreaming – why else would I to do elite sports if I don´t have high goals. Often dealing with those kind of emotions is really hard and costs me a lot of energy. This season I could argue that there are some actual reasons, as written in previous posts this year, for example not being in my best shape, at the same time do I hate excuses. Still, those emotions are there and while my first reaction is often to quit the sport, move to the other end of the world and hide, I usually find things in those races which actually went well and on which I can further build and improve on.
Most importantly though, do I realize how much I love the sport and the people of this international elite orienteering ‘circus’ which continues moving further with or without you. But being part of it while it moves gives you the most incredible experiences. Struggling is tough in the moment but it is the struggle, and not just the rewards, which makes sports so hard and so much fun at the same time. In the end I always come back to this fact that I love (elite) orienteering too much to quit it. I will probably think about quitting again but I guess it is more likely that I will still do orienteering next year around as well.
Title photo: Jiří Mrkvička, World-Cup 2 – Sprint, 2023