Report by Duncan Birtwistle, UK Elite Orienteering League Co-ordinator
Please note: this event took place before the new lockdown measures came into force across the country.
The Lakeland Warrior. Three training races in two days tested athletes on some lesser-used areas of the Lake District in a low-key weekend staged at short notice accordingly to national guidance and social distancing by Warrior Orienteering Club with the help of Lakeland Orienteering Club and Masterplan Adventure.
Like at Lakes Reloaded in early October, then men’s races were a battle of old versus young with Graham Gristwood against junior Alastair Thomas, alongside 2020 debuts for William Gardner and Jonathan Crickmore. In the women’s Laura King and Cecilie Andersen were coming in favourites following a win each a month earlier.
For Saturday’s middle race athletes started in pairs, heading out onto two 2.5k loops with a run-through in between to gauge progress and ratchet up the pressure. Thwaite Head is a small area tucked at the south end of Graythwaite and a terrain very few had been in before. Athletes were heading into the unknown.
Former JWOC competitor Victoria Stevens (Aire) has been off the scene for some time but she set an early leading time of 42.05 in the womens. It was only the third-last pair of Fay Walsh (Mid Wales) and Helen Ockenden (Cambridge University) that managed to dislodge Stevens from the hot seat. Both competed at Lakes Reloaded so couldn’t pull the ‘out of practice’ card, with Ockenden coming back 18s ahead of Stevens.
Photo above (right): Victoria Stevens (Aire)
Niamh Hunter (Edinburgh University) and Laura Robertson (Edinburgh Southern) started next with King (Edinburgh University) and Andersen (Bristol) last. The final pair passed each other on their first-loops even on time but heading onto the second loop Andersen was running away. King pushed on through some downhill mistakes, catching Hunter (who took fifth) and finishing 46s in front of Ockenden. Except Andersen hadn’t merely run away, she had flown away, stopping the clock five minutes before King and clipping a couple of top guys in the process.
In the mens the early lead was set by Rhys Findlay-Robinson before Lakes specialist Tom Fellbaum (Manchester & District) took a minute off and the fastest time down to 31.36. Joe Hudd (West Cumberland) and Will Rigg (Lakeland) failed to live up to the pre-race hype and finishing a couple of minutes adrift.
From the Octavian Droobers pairing on fifth-last start it was Matthew Elkington who finished first, 33s ahead of Fellbaum. Starting next, Graham Gristwood (Forth Valley) and Peter Bray (Southern Navigators) both finished in front with the leading time edging down a full two minutes to 29.03. None of the next four could do it and it was left to last-starters Alastair Thomas (Edinburgh University) and William Gardner (Octavian Droobers).
As they climbed to the common control (#11/22) at the end of the first lap Gardner drifted left, letting Thomas enter the run-through 10s ahead. The pressure was getting to Gardner who contoured when he should have dropped to #14, losing precious seconds. Lapping in the other direction however Thomas’ legs were tiring. On the return to the finish Gardner was ahead of Thomas this time, and ahead of everyone else, taking the win in 28.49, with Thomas 14s back on the exact same time as Gristwood.
Photo above (left): Fay Walsh (Mid-Wales); Photo above (middle): Matt Elkington (Octavian Droobers)
The lights flicked on and the forest lit-up for Saturday evening’s night race at Bishop Woods, with stronger fields than the British Night champs.
Bishops Woods has hosted the British Relay Champs and the JOK Chasing Sprint so is more than up for testing the country’s best. Deciduous forest in the north gives over to conifer in the south where green plantation has grown into mature white making racing even faster.
You would have been brave to bet against Graham Gristwood in the mens, with seven British Night Champion titles accrued.
Gristwood took the lead on the steep uphill leg to the first control, but Alastair Thomas was the one in first by number 3, a position he commanded for the next fifteen minutes of the race as it looped round the north end of the area via long legs requiring careful map-reading all the way.
The final few controls were easy to lose time on if you didn’t keep your compass when crossing the parallel spurs. They prised Thomas away from the lead and cost Gardner the third that Crickmore was to seize.
Photo above (right): Laura Robertson (Edinburgh Southern) with Nathan Lawson (Octavian Droobers)
In the womens it was a very close start before legs five and six started to split the times. Helen Ockenden dropped from a 30s lead to sixth in just one control and King from fourth to sixth a checkpoint later where she was caught by Laura Robertson who was running strongly again.
King and Robertson were racing hard and matching the pace of Andersen for most of the course, with King opening a slight gap to Robertson as they approached the finish. Like it did to the guys, the last control caused upset, with Robertson’s lead over Andersen vanishing and King slipping out of third which went to Ockenden.
Another area with little use but many names: Blind Lane, Breasty Haw, Bogle Crag, Bowkerstead. These pockets at the southern end of Grizedale link up a steep slope at the top with a broad craggy hill at the bottom.
Courses started with a loop around the hill and then stepped onto the slope. The women’s course turned back a little sooner but they got to attack all the key long legs. These long legs, plus a couple of shorter ones, decided the race.
#5 - Careful in the green
With a downhill finish over a fairly flat slope, into green, this leg was asking for trouble.
Big time loss here which dropped Bray, Lawson and Gardner out of the fight for third whilst Smithard and Crickmore also missed.
Men #17 / Women #12 - Get to half-way, then you’re on your own
Even to the bottleneck, in the second half do you swing out left for the track or follow one of the broken walls closer to the line?
The round route proved to be faster in both womens and mens with the best executions leaving the track before the quarries to pass near the start on the way to the control.
Men #20 / Women #15 - Getting tired: take on the hill or smash the path?
Gristwood twisted from round to straight for the final long leg, but this was not the fastest route. Bray left #18 at the same time as Gristwood but headed north east to take the track and took a monster 30s out of the rest of the field.
Andersen stuck to her round strategy but King went straight this time and found her 45s deficit getting stretched out to two minutes.
At the finish
Throughout the race Cecilie Andersen and Laura King traded the lead but that final long leg cost King with who finished three minutes down on Andersen’s 56.46. Helen Ockenden added a consistent race to a consistent weekend picking up another third just 8s ahead of Victoria Stevens.
Graham Gristwood caught five competitors through the course of the race on his way to win in 58.14. His two minute man Jonathan Crickmore was a beneficiary of this from half-way but managed to hold on to second even as the elastic snapped at the end. Not known for his tough forest performances, Chris Smithard ran solo to third whilst Alastair Thomas unfortunately finished injured.
So who were the real Lakeland Warriors?
With an incredible win in every race Cecilie Andersen took the women’s with ease. Laura King and Helen Ockenden were second and third with Laura Robertson and Victoria Stevens also getting close.
Photo (middle): Jonathan Crickmore (Southern Navigators); Photo (right): Will Gardner (Octavian Droobers) and Cecilie Andersen (Bristol OK).
With a night race and a rough long this was classic Graham Gristwood terrain, who took the overall win. Jonathan Crickmore made his return to elite orienteering for second with William Gardner taking third.
The lead sponsor NVii Str8 UK were in attendance demonstrating their high performance shoes and compasses. NVii and Str8 products are available direct by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or online from formline.uk.
Big thank you to Warrior OC, Lakeland OC and Masterplan Adventure for staging and assisting. Maps copyright Warrior OC and Lakeland OC.