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!


Sprint Training Camp

You are invited to an open Sprint Camp in Belfast from 14th-16th of February The camp is open to anyone over 18 years who would like to practice Sprint Orienteering. All National team runners are encouraged to participate, but we’d love to see anyone who is interested in improving their Sprint tactics.

The plan is to start with a team relay on Friday night with knock-outs on Saturday and racing a traditional Sprint on Sunday. The aim is to practice race tactics with as many participants as possible whilst having a fun weekend. With WOC fast approaching, as well as the selection races this will help our National team, and you, prepare for your next Sprint race.

Please Email Anton on for more information. Registration is mandatory and registration deadline is 9th February.

Travel: Hoping to arrange carpooling from Dublin and back. 

Fees: No actual fee for the races.

Accomodation: Food and accommodation will be paid individually. 

Why not JOIN US!

The Orienteering World Cup Final 2019, China

Niall McCarthy and Nicolas Simonin traveled to the Guanghzou region of China recently to represent Ireland at the Orienteering World Cup. Following on from the Military World Games the previous week, Orienteering made headlines across the world, unfortunately not for the right reasons as disputes against a number of athletes were upheld by IOF officials. Watching the races from the armchair, the intricate sprint terrain with narrow passages high walls and little in the way of visuals gave the European athletes plenty to work on, a similar scenario in the forest terrain where jungle is difficult to equate with our own temperate forests. Those athletes who were given the luxury of training in Asia would have had an enormous advantage.

Niall takes us through his trip and races….

On the morning of Thursday the 24th October, I started the longest journey I’ve made to date for an orienteering race – just over 16 hours from Dublin to Guangzhou via Amsterdam. So with my Visa in hand (issued by some bewildered embassy workers who’d never heard of the sport), and a bag full of o-gear, I arrived in China the following Friday morning.

I knew that I had very little technical orienteering done since the summer, but I was hoping that the forests (or jungles?) of China mightn’t prove to be as technical as their European counterparts, and I might hold my own and try get a decent result in the final round of the orienteering world cup. Arriving at the hotel five minutes before the bus to the model event, I had made it just in time! The model event was on an unused section of the map and proved to be a good indication of the race the following morning – green and tough and using paths was going to be key for route choices.

On the Friday night we were treated to a very unique and spectacular opening ceremony – the Chinese organisers were certainly hoping to make a lasting impression on the orienteering community. By the time we were back at the hotel, I was delighted it was finally time for bed.

Waking up Saturday morning, I was fresh, rested and looking forward to the race (thankfully my body doesn’t seem to understand how to get jet-lagged). What was to follow however was one of my poorest performances in recent years. No big major mistakes, but a plethora of minor ones, losing time somewhere along the way at nearly every control. My rusty orienteering technique was evident and I was very disappointed with myself for allowing it to happen. The race itself was a very unique setting – Xiqiao Mountain, the plateau of an extinct volcano right in the middle of the city, scattered with ancient burial sites and a large network of paths, and surrounded in every direction by a never ending urban environment. I thought the course itself made quite good use of the area available, in what felt at times like a jungle.

Sunday morning we made our way to Nanhai Movie and TV Town for the sprint relay. With no competitive team, I watched Switzerland clinch victory only taking the lead on the final leg, while cheering on Nick who ran in a mixed team, all before sneaking in a quick tempo-effort run on the map shortly after the official race ended.

Monday was a rest day, and I used this opportunity to sharpen up my sprint-o technique on a training map a mere ten minutes jog from the hotel. The sprint map was crazy and proved to be highly relevant for the race the following day – tiny paths (60cms wide in places) winding through a residential area (it might be harsh to call it a Favela of sorts!) creating an absolute maze. One tiny lapse in concentration and you found yourself struggling to relocate in a grey concrete jungle. There were even locals at their doorsteps cheering on the large amount of teams using the training map that morning! The biggest taking point from the model was that map contact in the race was going to be essential. Relocation following a lapse in concentration is usually fairly simple in sprint-o, but Chinese labyrinths were a whole different ball game.

“The sprint map was crazy and proved to be highly relevant for the race the following day”

Tuesday finally rolled around and I was looking forward to the race. I even did ten minutes on the same training map as part of my pre-breakfast jog in an attempt to hone my skills one last time. The race itself proved to be fast and furious with a wealth of route choice options and areas for mistakes. Even the best, most experienced orienteers were dropping large amounts of time throughout the course. Trying to keep to my plan of steady and clean, I was reasonably happy with the first 8 or so controls, and felt reasonably in control of my race. However, after the 8 control I decided to try up the pace and this proved to be detrimental to my performance. I had a poor 9th control getting disorientated in the tiny streets and paths surrounding the control. While this was followed by a couple of easier controls where I regained some confidence, it wasn’t long before I was back “on the edge” and I made some further rushed decisions and lost crucial time in the latter sections of the course, and thus any chance at a decent result.

Map-Men sprint

In an attempt to make the most of my trip, I tried to put the bad parts of the race behind me and made the most of my remaining time in china, enjoying the atmosphere and sun as I warmed down in the arena and watched as the top elites started flowing into the finish. It wasn’t long before I was back on a 16 hour plane journey that Tuesday night and straight into work Wednesday morning back home in Ireland. A short trip (very busy season at work) – but a memorable one nonetheless.

On reflection

Reflecting back on my trip, there was both positives and negatives to take from the experience. I was disappointed with myself for allowing myself to go to an international competition after very little orienteering practice directly before the races, but at the same time, there was also positives to take from sections of the sprint race, and to a lesser degree the middle distance. I guess it also didn’t help that my season largely ended in mid-August, and this late race in late-October was somewhat separated from the rest of the racing season.

Another season older and wiser (apparently) and I’m delighted to be starting into the winter training period and hoping to set up a solid base for the coming year. While it’s always exciting to be looking at the international calendar, Irish Championships is always going to be an orienteer’s bread and butter. The only Irish titles I’ve won in the senior class are in the sprint distance and the relay, so looking forward to next May it’s safe to say the middle and long distance races will be top of next year’s agenda.

And finally, I’d like to thank Darren and Aine for all their help, helping to sort entries, accommodation and even a please-get-my-visa-sorted-asap embassy letter.

Many thanks to Niall for taking the time to share his experience with us.

If you would like to share your orienteering experience at home or abroad, please contact Debbie on

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