World Orienteering Week: Interview with Ralph Street
The elite orienteer on discovering a love of running through orienteering
Ralph Street was born and raised in London and admits that to have ended up among the world’s elite in a sport that has its origins in the Scandinavian wilderness is probably fairly unexpected.
He first competed for Great Britain in 2007 and since then orienteering has taken up more and more of his life. After finishing university in 2012 he moved to Scandinavia to really chase his orienteering dreams and last year finished 13th in the middle distance at the World Championships which is his best individual result so far.
Ahead of August’s World Orienteering Championships in Norway and as part of World Orienteering Week, Street shares some insight into his sport and its crossover with running.
Athletics Weekly: What was your route into orienteering? Were you a runner, or an orienteer, first?
Ralph Street: I was an orienteer first as both my parents were involved in the sport so I started competing as a youngster. Orienteering gave me a love of running, particularly cross country, so I took that up at school when it was on offer.
AW: What do you love most about orienteering?
RS: I like the challenge that orienteering presents: it is always different. The forests vary as well as the courses; sometimes there are short straight legs or longer routes that are more complex. You have to keep thinking and concentrating the whole time, so the key is to match your physical ability and mental alertness. I like the sense of adventure in orienteering, it’s no exaggeration to say you are heading off into the unknown and even at a big race you can find yourself completely alone in the terrain.
AW: How do you prepare for major championships? Do you have an ‘average’ training week?
RS: At the start of the year I sit down with my coaches and we set a plan for the year filling in the races, training camps and key sessions. I usually follow a single peak periodisation plan focused towards the World Championships where, like all other athletes, I am trying to be in the best possible shape both physically, technically and mentally. On the physical side, I have found that focusing on threshold training is the best way for me to hit my peak, so this forms a key part of my taper. For mental and technical training, I try and work out what kind of challenges I am likely to face while out in the forest and how I can overcome them in the best possible way.
As I am based in Oslo my training varies a lot from winter to summer; I do a lot more cross training (mostly cross country skiing) and gym work when the snow is here. On a snow-free average week, I will fit in two hard sessions, two gym sessions and a long run. I then fill in the rest with as much running and orienteering as my body can sensibly tolerate.
AW: Can you talk about the crossover between the two sports and the necessary skill sets?
RS: All the top orienteers have to be very good runners. The main difference is that orienteers have to prepare for a great variety of terrain: hills, marshes, forest, rocks, so we learn to be most efficient over rough terrain. Even running on a forest trail can be different from a tartan track. Another big difference is most orienteering competitions are run as a time trial which means that you are alone in the forest and have to judge the pace and effort yourself; there is no lead pack to hang on to.
AW: What are your key 2019 targets in both running and orienteering?
RS: My main focus this year is the World Championships in Norway in August. Before then I hope to go to Finland in June for some World Cup races and I will also compete in the big Scandinavian club races (think National Road Relays but along with about 20,000 other orienteers at the largest race) which is good for dealing with pressure but also great fun. The key for me now is managing the transition back into a high running volume after a winter largely on the cross country skis so that I avoid any injury setbacks.
AW: What are you most proud of having achieved in your elite career so far?
RS: Fourth place in the World Championships relay when it was held in Scotland in 2015 was a great result in front of a home crowd.
If you are part of a small club, you are probably dealing with some of the same problems as us at SBOC;
In order to try to solve some of these issues for the future, we are trialling some beginner-focused coaching sessions this spring as a way of getting more people signed up for events and spreading the love for this amazing sport. If this sounds like something that you are/would consider for your club, read on.
Firstly, the idea came out of discussions by the club committee. We have always done our best to break people into the sport gently by giving a bit of help on their first event, however, this often means a 2min lesson in how to orientate the map then showing them how the dibber works before sending them on their first course. Some of these people have returned for a second event but some probably haven’t. A bit of more formal coaching, we thought, might encourage more of them to stick at it and get some success.
A plan was duly hatched and a programme of sessions was together with help from some of the committee sorting out maps, funding, incentives and access etc. The original plan was to book people onto four consecutive sessions which would follow a series of logical progressive skills based on the ‘step system’, each including a short practise competition and culminating in an introductory event using SI punching in a relatively friendly area that would hopefully give people the confidence to enter events such as our summer league events. As an incentive, we planned to offer free membership for a year and a free copy of Carol McNeil’s book for people booking onto the full series. To promote the sessions we spent about £20 on Facebook advertising and put an Ad in the local ‘What’s on’ publication. Of the two, Facebook gave the best results, possibly as social media makes it easy to click on details and booking forms and also encourages sharing with friends. 50% funding support from the Welsh Orienteering Association helped to run the programme, incentives and advertising and make it affordable for the club.
Locations are a key factor in providing an enjoyable event and even more so for getting beginners hooked. We opted for Pembrey Country Park, Clyne Valley and Clyne Gardens, all easily accessed from the Swansea/Llanelli area and with reasonably non-intimidating, safe terrain with good path networks. Having some open areas where it is easy to keep an eye on the junior beginners was also useful.
Each session basically consisted of a map walk with coaches helping out beginners, some coaching exercises followed by a small event using old school control cards for the first few then SI punching on the final session. Club members helped out with the coaching so we could work with groups of 3-5 beginners for most exercises. Getting buy-in from the more experienced club members is essential to get the programme to work and we are fortunate at SBOC to have some very enthusiastic and capable orienteers who are happy to pass on their expertise.
Octavian Droobers Orienteering Club juniors Florence and Tabitha Lunn were live on BBC Coventry and Warwickshire radio on Tuesday night last week talking about World Orienteering Day happening at Abbey Fields, Kenilworth on Wednesday 15 May – celebrating the start of World Orienteering Week.
They also spoke enthusiastically about their recent performance representing England at the World Schools Orienteering Championships in Estonia and this weekend helping their school to win the West Midlands Schools Championships at Cannock Chase.
Karin Kirk Publicity Officer for and member of Octavian Droobers Orienteering Club, said:
“As well as our World Orienteering Day event on Wednesday last week we have also welcomed and given instructions to 40 school children around the grounds of Compton Verney in Warwickshire. It was their first ever experience of orienteering.”
"A thrilled 6 year old having completed her first orienteering course said that she 'cannot wait to come to our next events'."
British Orienteering would like to thank Octavian Droobers Orienteering Club for again supporting World Orienteering Day and for putting on two great local events.
The England team won the Interland Cup last weekend (10th March) in the forests above the Abbey of Saint-Michel in the foothills of the Ardennes but finished second to OV Belgium in the Junior Cup. The Individual and team results are available from the links below:
The Interland Cup is England’s only international competition outside the British Isles. England competes annually in this five-cornered match against two Belgian teams (Flemish and French speaking), the Netherlands, and the French Ligue des Hauts de France de Course d’Orientation (LHFCO). The competition is truly a team effort spanning age groups from W and M14 to W and M60+: 42 team members in all.
Find out more about The Interland Cup event here.