In Autumn 2020, as orienteering events began to return after the first lockdown, ex-international orienteers and all-round orienteering legends Martin Bagness and Carol McNeil organised a low-key weekend of racing, aimed primarily at elites. Numbers were kept low, organisation minimal, but the quality of maps and courses was high, which was all that mattered to athletes like myself. The weekend was such a success that another was organised a month later, with Masterplan Adventure getting involved this time, before another lockdown put paid to all orienteering events for a while longer.
Another two editions of Lakeland Warrior followed in December 2021 and February 2022, attracting slightly larger fields but retaining the same character of the original weekend. October 2022 rolled around and the proposition of a Lakeland Warrior weekend in December arose. I was beginning to do some work with Masterplan, as a couple of the 'founders' were getting too busy to organise such a weekend, so I took on the job of organising. This time it would be a bit different in two respects:
- With no covid restrictions, the event could be opened up to a wider audience, rather than just elites, so more people could enjoy the quality maps and courses.
- One of the people in charge of the GB squad got in touch to say it would be great if we could make the events World Ranking Events (WREs), because there was a chance Team GB could move up in the IOF Nation's League, which is based on the top-10 men's and women's ranking scores from each nation, and determines the number athletes a nation can send to the World Cup.
Thankfully, Martin would still be organising the maps, courses and on-the-ground stuff. My job was coordinating the entries, website, pre-event information, start lists and communication with our IOF advisor, whose job it was to make sure we stuck to all the WRE rules.
It was great that the GB Squad got involved by using the weekend to kickstart the push towards the 2023 and 2024 World Championships. We all stayed together at YHA Windemere and spent Saturday evening having a big team meeting to galvanise the team spirit heading into next year. We also spent time analysing our races from the weekend, as well as simply chatting - a fantastic opportunity for the younger athletes to gain inspiration, insights and wisdom from the more experienced members of the team. You can follow Team GB's journey over on their blog, and Tom Bray (coach of the Development Squad) has also written an article on the weekend in CompassSport Magazine.
Thankfully, the organisational side of the weekend went fairly smoothly, only the odd hiccup (nearly running out of toilet paper on Day 2)! Most of the work is in the preparation, particularly making sure we followed all the WRE rules in this case. We had to provide a water point, despite the temperature being 5oC and the races only being 35-40mins long for the leaders. We had to use a back-up timing system, consisting of a dashcam at the finish, which happily didn't get called upon. We had to maintain 2-minute gaps between all the runners, even those without world rankings, which meant extending the start window by 45mins from the originally anticipated 2 hours. The maps had to be 1:10,000 and offset-litho printed (most of the time in Britain we'd be using 1:7,500 and laser printing for a race like this, without WRE status). In the end though this produced really high quality maps and we received lots of compliments.
Day 2 in particular was something special. Perhaps the most challenging orienteering area in England, the terrain was both tough and technical in the extreme. The darkest shade of green is dense pine trees, where you really have to fight to make progress, but it's not completely impassable. Remaining in control of your navigation whilst battling your way through the forest is a challenge to say the least, but it's what makes orienteering so great - the feeling of satisfaction when you do it successfully.
On a personal level, I'm glad the organisation of the weekend went well as it was the first proper event I've been involved in organising. Next up for me is Christmas Cup, where I have a bigger role than just coordinating entries/website/info/start lists. I've also updated the maps, planned the courses and organised the on-the-day helpers.