Monday, June 02, 2014

IOF's Athlete of June: Catherine Taylor aims for the best possible race

Catherine Taylor took a surprise bronze medal to Great Britain in the European Championships long distance race. She has been close to the top before, but this was her first international medal. How has she come here, from the seven-year-old junior orienteer who decides to become a World Champion, and what are her goals in the future?

Name: Catherine Taylor
Country: Great Britain
Discipline: Foot Orienteering
Career highlights: World Orienteering Championships 2013: relay 8th, long distance 10th, European Orienteering Championships 2014: long distance 3rd
IOF World Ranking position: 15th/orienteering, 37nd/sprint orienteering

One of the big surprises at the European Orienteering Championships in Portugal was the bronze medal of Catherine Taylor on long distance. Though the Brit has been near the top before, not many had dared to hope for a medal for Great Britain just yet.

Catherine, our IOF Athlete of June, says she has been dreaming of a World Championships medal since she was 7 years old. Now she is one step closer to that! We asked her how she has come here and where does she aim to go with her career from now on.

Living in Sweden

For three years, Catherine has lived in Sweden to train orienteering with Swedish orienteers. She has finished studying now and she has two smaller jobs besides training: ”The first job is translating from the Scandinavian languages into English, where I work by myself at home. The second is coaching orienteering at Uppsala Idrottscentrum, a programme to help the development of orienteers from high school age through to university. I work with the youngest group, aged around 12-15. I really enjoy training with them, helping them learn how to train smartly for orienteering and having fun along the way”, Catherine says.

Started early with big dreams

Catherine started orienteering at a young age. ”I didn’t have the choice (laughs). My mom and dad were orienteers before I was born so…. ” She also dreamt of becoming an elite orienteer from the start: ”My parents report that soon after I started running easy courses on tracks, I went on an orienteering training weekend led by Carol McNeill, a top international orienteer in the 1970’s and a great orienteering instructor. Here, we read contours and ran off the tracks and I must have been inspired as suddenly I was saying, “Mum, Dad, I want to be World Champion at orienteering.” My parents did a very good job of accepting and nurturing the unusual dream of their seven-year-old daughter without putting any pressure on me and keeping enjoyment as the most important thing.”

“I do some “normal” running in addition to orienteering, but it’s always been as training for orienteering. Maybe I would have done another sport in other circumstances but when I was little my mum and dad went orienteering at weekends, so me and my sister Lucy went too. We liked seeing friends and making dens in the forest so we were usually happy to go and it was natural to start orienteering ourselves. I stopped competing for a while when I was about 14. I’d put too much pressure on myself and it had stopped being fun. But I was really unhappy without it and I started again, knowing this time that it was definitely for me.”

Training and the other orienteering disciplines

We asked Catherine how she trains at the moment. ”Like just about everyone, my training varies according to the time of year. I don’t do any huge volume but I try to keep it consistent from week to week and nearly all my trainings are running or orienteering, though I do run quite much in the pool and try to remember to train some strength. A normal winter week in Uppsala would have 12-13 hours and three harder running or orienteering sessions; usually one running intervals, one progression run and one faster orienteering training. In competition season of course I rest more. I like the variation you can get in orienteering training; there’s so much to work on that you never get bored.”

”I did a bit of MTBO when I was young but I like how running is simple, without so much equipment. I also tried PreO once but I’m not patient enough to take the time to get it right – I just want to punch the control and run off! I’ve never tried SkiO but anyone who’s ever seen me ski can confirm that taking my eyes off the track to look at a map would not be a good idea. So I think I’m stuck with running for now.”

It’s all about the best possible race

When asked about her best races so far, she answers: ”Tough question! I’ve run so many races but I’m not often happy with a whole race. I’m quite happy with my WOC Long final from last year as I prepared well for the race and even though I know I can do better I don’t think I could have done much better on that day – it was my first forest final at WOC, a new experience. I feel the same about EOC Long this year; I hope I can run better another time but I got all I could from myself on that day.”

She admits having been surprised after the bronze medal: ”Yes, I was. I’ve been aiming to win medals but not this soon and from the feeling before and during the race I was really surprised that it came on that day. My aim had been a stable run and getting a top 10 result. It took a week or so for it to sink in, but luckily there’s so many other races to work towards and that helped me refocus.”

At the World Championships in Italy, Catherine’s goal is to run as the best race she can, bot in individual races and in the relays. ”I can’t have any pure results goal in this sport where everything is so different in each race. In Long, my individual race, of course it would be good to have my name further to the top of the list than last year but I will focus on running the best race I can. In the relays the aim is the same. In the Sprint Relay, we have a very strong team and would like to be in the fight for the win and for medals. I also think our forest relay team could do very well if we all run like we are capable of. As for my own part in those races, I would like in each case to get the feeling that I made the most of whatever the situation is on the day.”

She says she likes all the distances, but if only one is to be chosen, it is the long distance: ”I like the feeling of running fast and still being just in control and you can get that on any distance. So I like all of them! But I guess I’ll have to choose Long as my favourite. A good Long race is always a bit of an adventure. In that amount of time there’s always a battle against tiredness, a good patch and a bad patch to deal with and something unexpected, as well as the orienteering itself.”

Long-term ambitions

”I still have the same dream as when I was my seven year old; I would like to win a WOC gold medal one day! I’ve learnt to accept my best performance even if it’s not a win but I still have high ambitions. I’d also like to further improve my orienteering technique and mental resilience, so I can race well in all situations and all kinds of terrain. Just now I’m still inconsistent and can race both well and badly.

I’ve only run at WOC twice and have so much left that I want to do, both in terms of achievement and experience. I’ll continue as long as I enjoy competing and my body is happy for me to do so. I hope there will be many more years!”

Athletes’ questions

Athlete of May, mountain bike orienteer Susanna Laurila, had this message and question to Catherine: “Congratulations on your EOC medal! I hear that you live in Sweden and do mostly just orienteering. Coming from a country where orienteering is not that big a sport, how difficult was the decision to move to Sweden and start devoting your life to orienteering? Was it hard to justify to yourself/family/friends?”

“Thank you! It was also early that I decided I would like to move to Scandinavia, when I learnt that many of the top British runners trained with and competed for Scandinavian clubs. I thought it sounded exciting. I came to Sweden for the first time when I was 12, to O-Ringen, and found it amazing how much nice forest there was everywhere, and so many good orienteers and big clubs. So the dream stuck! My family are happy with my decisions, as long as I’m doing what I love, so they didn’t take much persuading. My non-orienteering friends maybe think it’s a strange choice but understand that it’s important for me. At least it’s quite easy to keep some contact with people in other countries now, easier than for people making the same move 20 years ago.”

[Photo: Joaquim Margarido]

[See the original article at Published with permission from the International Orienteering Federation]

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