|Saeger keeps her focus in the Long Final at the 2012 World Orienteering Championships in Switzerland.|
In preparation for my own trip to Hungary to compete in the 2012 Mountain Bike Orienteering World Championships, I asked USA Foot Orienteering Team Member Samantha Saeger about her experiences traveling and orienteering abroad.
But first, allow me to introduce you to Sam!
How old were you when you first started orienteering? What club or region did you grow up in?
I first started orienteering when I was quite young. My parents would take my sister and I to orienteering meets and we would run the string course. When I was about 11 I started going out on white courses alone. I grew up outside of Boston and was (and still am) a member of New England Orienteering Club.
When did you first decide to focus on being competitive? What prompted you to be?
I suppose there were different stages of my focusing on being competitive. When I started going to JWOC in 1999, I was running track in the winter and in the spring. I used this as my training, but when the track season ended in the early summer, I kept on training for JWOC. When I graduated from college in 2004 and moved home for a year I started training more for orienteering. I think this marks the next stage in my training, as now I was training everyday for orienteering. The following summer I went to the World Championships for the first time. I think that the higher level of competition at home and abroad is what prompted me to be more serious about my training. I wanted to do well, and to do well I had to train more!
How many years have you been on the US Senior Team?
I ran my first US team trials for the world championships in 1999, and was named an alternate. The people in front of me were unable to attend the championships that year and I was asked to go. I declined, as I was already planning on going to the Junior World Orienteering Championships (JWOC) that year for the first time and that seemed like enough! But I think that is when I was first a part of the US Senior Team.
|Saeger runs hard to the finish in the Long Final at the |
2012 World Orienteering Championships in Switzerland.
What/when was your first experience traveling abroad (in general)?
The first time I traveled abroad was in 1999 when I went to Bulgaria for JWOC. After the races in Varna, Bulgaria a few of us did a whirlwind tour of Europe. We had Eurail passes and we took the overnight train between cities. We spent a day in Vienna, then Zurich, then Paris and then Amsterdam before I flew home.
What/when was your first experience traveling abroad for orienteering?
The first time I went abroad was for orienteering!
What did you discover about orienteering abroad that is different than orienteering in the US?
On that first trip, I discovered that trees can be spiky, running down the beach on the way to the finish is a difficult way to end a course, mapped boulders can be much smaller than in the northeast, and the dark green should be avoided at all times. :) So, I think one of the first things I discovered was that you have to practice in order to be successful in new terrain. Luckily, in the US we have a large variety of terrain types, so this is something you can practice without ever going abroad.
In the years that followed, I've noticed a few other things. To be honest, though, now that I've traveled so much and live here I've become so used to any differences that I don't notice them anymore! But some differences that surprised me in the past:
- There can be very long and hard walks to the start. One year at the Swiss O Week, the walk to the start was about 115 minutes, all uphill. It took me close to an hour to run there!
- In Sweden, there are always showers after races. This is true in many other places as well, but it's mandatory for large events in Sweden.
- In Sweden, a medium sized event will have around 500 people. At the Swedish Champs, Women's elite has qualifier and final races for sprint, middle and long. And Swedish champs only include the elite categories.
- When there is a large race you often get elephant tracks. There are so many people running over the same area and in the same direction that small trails can form. At times, it can be hard to distinguish these from real trails!
- Many Europeans consider it fair game to ask you where they are when they are lost. The elites tend not to do this, but I get asked where I am about two or three times per race when I'm competing in a multiday event. I've even had people try to grab the map out of my hands.
- At some events, I think mostly in Switzerland, you're allowed to look at your map for one minute before you start.
- Most Swedes know what orienteering is, as most of them did it in school, but they often don't remember enjoying it too much.
- In Switzerland, Simone Niggli-Luder is popular and most people seem to know who she is. In other places, it's less well known to the general public.
- Instead of keeping all your bags in the car and returning to your car to change and eat after you run, everyone parks and then walks with their things to the finish arena. The parking is often a few hundred meters or more from the arena. This creates a nice atmosphere at the finish. Although, the Americans are still always the loudest people cheering.
What did you discover about orienteering abroad that is really quite similar to orienteering in the US?
I think the overall experience is very similar. Most of the time the difference is the number of people. Events tend to be much larger here. Or at least the events that I attend. If you go to a local meet in most orienteering countries it actually wouldn't be much larger than some of the ones in the US. But when you go to a multiday event, which is what most Americans do, there will be many more people than you are used to!
The organization is the same. The procedure is the same. The courses are the same. The finish is the same. The split comparing afterwards is the same. Although I listed a bunch of differences, they are all small. I would say that there are many more similarities than differences. One important thing to remember is that not everyone in Sweden is better than you! We have this preconceived notion that they all are. It's similar to the US - there are competitive people and there are recreational people. It's just that since there are more people overall, you will have more elites and more recreational runners than you are used to!
|Saeger keeps in mental contact with the map |
during the Relay at the 2012 World
Orienteering Championships in Switzerland.
How does being abroad affect your orienteering performance?
Traveling is stressful on your body, so you have to be careful when you first arrive to take it a bit easier. Jet lag does make it tough for the first few days and you have to be strict about going to bed at a reasonable hour and getting up in the morning. No naps!
Also, because the terrain is new, it's good to spend the first few training sessions just getting to understand the terrain and the mapping style.
It is good to be flexible about what you eat. Sometimes when I'm traveling, it's easy to find food similar to what I would eat at home. At other times, the choices can be quite limited. The more open minded you are about what you can eat, the better!
Another thing to adjust to is the number of people what you will probably see in the woods. During a big multiday, there will be people everywhere! And many of them won't know where they are going! It's good to practice keeping a cool head and sticking with your own plan while ignoring those around you. People may be shouting to each other in different languages and asking what control you're looking for, but you have to keep doing your own thing.
What advice would you give to an orienteer who will be orienteering abroad for the first time? Enjoy it! Don't worry too much about the logistics, as events are run more or less the same as the US. Make sure you stick to a good sleeping schedule from the beginning to overcome jetlag. Spend time moving slowly through the terrain, as it will be quite different than where you are from. If you can, find a few maps from that area before you go and study those. Look at courses and routes from people who have run there to start thinking about how to move efficiently through the terrain. Be prepared to see lots of people in the woods. Don't be intimidated. When I first came over, I was always worried about what other people would think of me, this young American lost in the woods. Mostly, they don't notice or care :) Run your races just like you would at home, incorporating your knowledge about this new terrain. Don't try to overreach, or prove yourself. Run a clean race, and you will have a great time! Last, but certainly not least, pack a raincoat and umbrella.
Thanks, Sam! You can read more about the USA Foot-O Team's adventures on their blog here.
To follow the new USA Mtb-O team, follow our blog here.