World Orienteering Championships 2021 – Czech Republic

A review and analysis of the Sprint races at WOC 2021 thanks to Cork Orienteering Club’s Josh O’Sullivan Hourihan

Sprint Qualification 3rd July 2021- Terezin

Preparation for WOC 2021 was different, both physically and mentally, it wasn’t ideal but it was as good as it could be given everything that was going on globally. It was a very long wait between standing on the start-line and failing to perform in Riga (WOC 2018) and getting another shot in Terezín. The original goal after WOC 2018 was Denmark in 2020 but due to Covid the goalposts moved to 2021 in the Czech Republic. 

During the lockdowns and restrictions my coach in Donore Harriers kept me on course with structured trainings and a clear plan. He’s the mastermind behind everything. I would say I was physically in the best shape I have ever been in. Mileage through the winter went well with structured and sensible training including 26 weeks of 100mile/week average with big workouts and then speed work on top of that foundation in the spring/summer. I drew some sprint maps of areas around my side of Dublin that myself and Kev (since he’s in the neighbourhood) were able to run some trainings on. We did a “Stay @ Home Training Camp” on them over the Easter weekend. It wasn’t ideal but working on your O processes is working on your O processes, no matter where you are. I was lucky that I was able to rope in some National Team runners from other countries to plan trainings for us.

I flew to Prague and travelled north to Staré Splavy, near Doksy, on the Tuesday before the competition to get settled and get on some training maps. We had some time in Pevnost Josefov on the Wednesday and in Terezín Bastion 1, the Sprint Model, on the Friday. Pevnost Josefov was the first in person look at this fortress style sprint terrain, relevant for the individual Sprint races. The walls were bigger than I expected and the multilevel sections were tricky to get your head around. On the Friday morning the Sprint Model calmed my nerves somewhat as the printing was really clear and the map was easy to read and understand. There is a difference between reading it at jogging pace and race pace though! For those of you who don’t know the model map is usually in the embargo, it won’t be used for the race and it shows very relevant terrain and gives you a feel for how things look and how things are mapped. In this case what did the tunnels, levels and walls look like and how fast was the grass for running compared to tarmac. 

I was able to get my pre-race routine of 20-25mins including a few 12-15sec strides done on the model map. This is what I do for all my races, if it ain’t broke then don’t fix it! The rest of the day was filled with eating, a walk around the technical model to see how the start and control set up looked and some napping! It’s important to keep calm and relaxed while keeping the mind somewhat occupied, the waiting is the hardest part! 

Sprint Qualifier day was an early start for the 3 of us; myself, Kev and Paul, with the alarm going off at 05:30 for breakfast and we were on the road by 06:45 to get the drive done and get into quarantine (not COVID related quarantine though!). I wanted to be in quarantine early to get the drive out of my legs, be calm and have time for something to go wrong. The only issue with being the driver on these trips is you realise you are one of the old guys on the team!

I did my usual warm up routine, nothing flashy and nothing ground breaking and as I stood in the first start box with the Finn and the Argentinian I felt a mixture of preparedness and nervousness. Nerves are always good though they mean you care and they keep you alert. I’d put in the work and it was now time for the big dance! Once I got the map in my hands it was like someone flicked a switch and the nerves were gone and I was in the zone. The start of the course (controls 1-10) was kind of “JK-sprinty-style” (technical term) which took me a bit by surprise, especially with the artificial barriers to block off roads which were open on the old map of the area. I was relatively smooth through this section of the course but I picked a wrong routechoice to #3 which ended up costing me. I ran the B alternate which was 50m longer and included more corners. It was a bit helter skelter in this section with 3 men starting every minute on the different heats and all heats having ~10 controls in here. Fast guys going in all directions! 

There was a transition to the more fortress area and down into the moat. In here the planner had built some artificial barriers to create S-shaped routechoices and just generally try to impact your flow. We then had 3 quick controls before going into a routechoice to #18 (I ran the B alternate). I was slowish leaving #17 to see the alternatives as I could only spot one and I knew there couldn’t only be one for this kind of leg. I was happy with my choice but maybe in hindsight I invested too much time in making my decision. 

When I finished I was in 6th place out of 10 men in my heat but in the WOC Quali a lot of “favourites” look for the early start block in order to maximise the recovery time in between the Quali and the Final. I went away and collected my bag, got some water on board and did a cool down with Paul and some of the British team only to come back and see that I had been bumped down to 17th place and missed qualification for the final by 12 seconds. On analysis later I found that my wrong decision on the leg to #3 cost me 13 seconds when compared to the Lithuanian who finished in the final qualification spot, 15th. After a quick look at the splits I was in the top 15 times on 23% of legs and the top 20 on 59% of legs. In short I was close……but crucially not close enough and at the end of the day you either qualify or you dont.

On review, despite it not being the result I was aiming for, it is still my best result at WOC and I’m proud of my performance. I prepared as best I could given the circumstances  and I gave it all I had on the day. I pushed hard to be right on the limit of control throughout the race, sometimes it just isn’t quite enough.

The goal now shifts to WOC 2022 in Denmark. My athletics based training will remain the same as myself and my coach have been working together for 3 years now and I trust his guidance and judgement 100%. We both operate in the mindset of – if you can’t run at close to the high pace that these top guys do then in sprint it really doesn’t matter how good your map skills are, you won’t be there at the business end. I’ll be planning to get some trips to Denmark for some races and training camps while also making use of any options I have available to me closer to home.

Thanks to everyone for the support through the journey, for sharing training miles with me, for any pointers or advice, for planning courses and trainings and for all the good luck messages and positive vibes in the lead up to WOC. It is very much appreciated. 

Here’s to a solid and injury free winter and to taking the next step at WOC 2022 in Denmark!
Some links – Pevnost Josefov Video, Results, Splits, GPS tracking (Men Heat A), Polarsteps

Josh O’Sullivan Hourihan, orienteer, athlete, member of Cork Orienteering Club and Donore Harriers AC

Belfast Sprint Camp 2020

Anton Hallor, together with Darren Burke and their counterparts in Northern Ireland brought together orienteers from across the country for the Belfast Sprint Camp.

Here Josh O’Sullivan Hourihan (Cork Orienteering Club), of late frequently found running with the deer in the Phoenix Park, tells us of his take on the training camp.

“Give me 6 hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend 4 hours sharpening the axe” – Abraham Lincoln

At a time of year when Finnish, Swedish, Czech and Danish athletes are on training camps in Portugal, Spain and Southern France a group of Irish orienteers, plus a Swede and a Scot, headed to Belfast for a Sprint Camp accompanied by Storm Dennis. We always like to do things a little differently here!

My physical training has been going to plan so from my point of view this camp was a chance to sharpen up, to put some of the theory into practice and to test out some race tactics, especially for the Knockout Sprint. I was lucky enough to be able to get some pointers/advice from Øystein Kvaal Østerbø (Norwegian National Team), Olli Ojanaho (Finnish National Team) and Otto Simosas (Finnish National Team) about how best to attack this new format from their experiences.

We kicked off the camp on Friday night with head-to-head racing on 4 short courses (1.1km – 1.2km) around the Botanic Gardens to simulate a Sprint Relay style race. A really fun way to start the weekend off and get straight into some maps. Head-to-head racing is probably something we don’t really do enough of.

Saturday morning was a parkrun with a twist. Anton had designed a puzzle for us to solve while running at speed. Over 400 turned up making this the biggest parkrun I’ve run in. The puzzle was a mixture of questions, a maze, finding logos and animals, doing maths and then solving a riddle at the end to reach the “finish”. During the run I was asked by fellow parkrunners if it was a course map so I didn’t get lost or if I was doing my homework! I spent the first lap glancing at the puzzle and piecing the steps. I was able to get a gap at the front going in to the second lap, which was the plan beforehand. It gave me some clear air and thinking time to focus on the puzzle without risking losing my parkrun streak! 

( Josh maintained his streak finishing third and appearing once again on the Fast Running top ten park runners with a time of 16.28.- Josh was too modest to include this fact himself!)

The parkrun was to simulate the Knockout Sprint Quali race, and a Quali race in general as there is one for the “classic” sprint format too. Since I have embraced my nerd side I can say that, based on some number crunching, we will need to navigate cleanly and keep a footspeed of <3:46min/km (for men) and <4:10min/km (for women) to make the quarter final of the KO Sprint. In order to progress from the Sprint Quali the men will have to average <3:34min/km and the women <4:03min/km. These paces are only theoretical values based on bulletin information and results from previous years but I personally think it is a useful thing to be aware of when training. My mindset is that if you can’t run at these paces how realistic is it to chase a KO Sprint QF or a Sprint Final?!

After some refuelling and a short nap (the glamorous side of training camps!) it was back out for Knockout Sprint training for which Anton promised us sunshine. This is the newest WOC format and consists of a qualification race in the morning (which parkrun was to simulate), a quarter final, semi-final & final. The race winning times are ~10min, ~8min, ~7min, ~9min. We ran 3 mass-start “races” with the runner’s choice forking system and I was able to test out my 3 pre-planned tactics on how to get the most out of the 20 seconds you are given to choose the fastest forking. It was really good fun racing head-to-head again and I left the training a bit wiser as to how to approach this format with one of my tactics not working as well as the other two. That isn’t to say it is a bad tactic, just maybe needs more tweaking going forward.

Sunday was back to the “classic” sprint with a qualification race in the morning and a final in the afternoon. Both held in Belfast city, a map which is very very similar to that of Kolding, the area for the WOC Sprint in Denmark this year. 

It was fast running with plenty of routechoice on almost all legs especially the longer legs which proved to be decisive. This is exactly how I expect WOC to be having read the bulletin, from my own experiences of racing the Fynsk Cup in Odense last year and also having considered the strengths of the athletes on the Danish Team. In the afternoon we ran in roughly reverse start order as it would be at WOC. The city was much busier now so it was hard to focus on the map while not getting run over/running over anything or anyone in the city. We managed to get in some quick after training analysis before the rain rolled back in…….again…… 

From my point of view, and I’m sure I speak for everyone in attendance, it was a fantastic high quality weekend camp that we are all leaving having learned some new things moving forward in our WOC preparations. Personally I still have a few more Cross country races and some more technical training to chomp on before the first WOC Selection race at the Jan Kjellstrom Festival 2020 in the middle of April.

Thanks Anton for making this happen and to Darren and LVO for organising permissions and use of the maps for the weekend. 

Josh O’Sullivan Hourihan.

You can follow Josh on Instagram , twitter and Strava too.

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Meabh Perkins (UCD Orienteering Club) also attended the camp, although sadly injured she was unable to fully participate. Here follows Meabh’s account.

I’ve always enjoyed sprint orienteering the most, so having an entire weekend dedicated to sprint orienteering in Belfast was very exciting. Unfortunately, I am currently injured so I was only able to participate in a few of the training sessions that Anton had planned. For the rest of the races Clodagh (who is also sadly injured) and myself studied the maps, comparing our route choices, whilst the others raced.

It was very enjoyable to watch everyone sprinting around the place and cheering them on (admittedly not as enjoyable when it started raining.) The maps were extremely intricate and challenging with many possiblities of route choice. It was an extremely well planned and well executed training that explored many areas of Belfast city. All the athletes found it extremely beneficial. 

From a social element, it was an extremely fun filled weekend. Despite the awful weather, everyone was in high spirits (possibly due to the delicious Boojum that fuelled us for the weekend) and there was a great sense of community within the team. It was lovely to see everyone and was, overall, a great weekend. I’m very much looking forward to the next training camp where, fingers crossed, I might actually be able to fully participate in the training.

Thank you Anton for a wonderful training weekend!


Orienteering in Ireland
Orienteering Ireland, Irish Sport HQ, Blanchardstown
D15 DY62, Ireland