- It’s meant to be fun!
- Go to the junior squad training weekends. These should not be missed for anything! Try to get abroad to compete too. Convince your parents to take a family holiday to a 5-day event :-). The people that you meet as juniors will be your friends for life.
- For the 12/14/16 age groups, doing other sports is a wonderful way to get fit for orienteering. I trained a huge amount with my local athletics club. There was a great group of girls there so it was lots of fun (see number 1 above). If you are in the 18/20 age group, and want to do well internationally, then you need to do orienteering-specific training. Having a group to train with is invaluable. This doesn’t really exist in orienteering in Ireland, unless you are incredibly lucky. Top advice: join a local athletics club.
- The level of training that you do depends only on YOU. Set your goals. Then find out what works for you (I’m shamelessly repeating what Nick said, because it is so important). I found out pretty early in my life that my body breaks down if I do 100 km week after week. So I don’t do that anymore. Tempo running and intervals work well for me. They might not work for everyone. Some people get really psyched up before a competition and are running around listening to death metal (not me). Some people try to stay calm (me). Again, find out what works for YOU. Local events in the winter time are ideal for trying out different things.
- One common experience that I’ve come across again and again, both as an athlete and a coach, is the experience that people get to e.g. JHI, JWOC or WOC and get hugely motivated to train. It’s hard not to – the atmosphere is so exciting. Then you get home and the motivation disappears over time. To be successful, you need to feel that motivation and hunger during the dark and almost always rainy winter months. To help with this, it’s important to have small goals on the way to a big goal. Examples could be a 5k time at your local parkrun, to win the green course at your local league event, etc. Some people use motivation boards in their room – I only discovered them recently, but they look like a great idea.
- Ask for help – your parents, older juniors, members of the senior squad. I have asked a huge number of people to help me over the years and nearly everyone has said yes. People are so kind and willing to help with training advice, but usually they won’t know that you are looking for help unless you ask.
- Read WorldofO. Look at the map collection. Follow top orienteers on Facebook or Twitter.
- The best single piece of advice that I ever received was from my coach Murray the day before the WOC long distance final in 2010. He told me that there were loads of things outside my control – the weather, how everyone else had prepared, etc. Focus on the things that you CAN control. Knowing that I had prepared as best possible (a 3-year training plan and lots of relevant orienteering training thanks to Mike and Catherine for use of their Trondheim home), I had the best night sleep ever, and had one of my best international runs the next day. I focused on the things that I could control – my route choice, my planning ahead, slowing down when I felt that didn’t know where I was going, etc.
- Another good piece of advice as a junior was to compete in your age category as much as possible. The courses are designed for you. You’ll have lots of time to run longer and harder courses in the future. (Though admittedly sometimes there is a large gap between distances of junior courses in Irish and international competitions such as the JK).
- Little things matter. I remember Toni O’Donovan showing us how to tie our shoelaces at a junior training camp in Kerry when I was 15. This was a knot that would not come undone, even in the boggiest of bogs. She had learned from Yvette Hague, a World Champion from the UK. My shoelaces never came undone in an event afterwards. Little things.
As you get older, and want to be a successful orienteer at international level, planning is key.
My template was to start with a year plan, and fill in events and training weekends (ranked as high priority/medium priority/low priority). I’d work the training around those, classified into hard/medium/easy weeks. I would have a training plan for every day. I regard rest days as an essential part of training.
Nick has written a lot about this in his blog-post so I’d urge you to read and re-read his piece: https://www.orienteering.ie/how-to-train-like-an-elite-by-nick-simonin. Plans need to have some degree of flexibility, but get the key sessions done.
Basic lab tests like VO2 give you a baseline to work from, heart rate zones to train in, and improve upon. This would be for age 18+ though. The absolute key to being in great shape is to train consistently and avoid illness and injury.
There is absolutely no reason why Ireland couldn’t win the JHI. Believe in yourself, train smart, and the results will come. And enjoy it. You will have some of the best times of your life. Have fun!