Preparing the big competitions of the Summer, Tim Robertson took a little break to answer some questions for the Portuguese Orienteering Blog. It's another great interview, in which the New Zealander athlete looks back on his elite athlete career and lists some of the goals for this season.
Let me start by asking you about the last season, the first one in the Elite. How big the gap can be between the Junior category and the Elite?
Tim Robertson (T. R.) – This, of course, depends on many things. The step up in every country is different and the step up for sprint, middle and long are also different. In New Zealand I began running elite in local competitions at age 12 and by age 14 was starting to reach the podium at the New Zealand Champs, something that wouldn’t happen in a nation such as Switzerland or Norway.
When racing internationally, the step up is a lot greater. But I feel the step up from junior to senior in the sprint distance is very achievable. I was lucky to be exposed to this step up very early on at age 16 when I ran my first World Champs in Lausanne, Switzerland. I qualified for the final and finished in 33rd position. Since 2012 I have competed every year at the World Champs in the sprint distance and also from 2013 the middle and relay events; and I believe the experience I gained from these races helped me to get to the level I am today.
How happy are you with your achievements in 2016?
T. R. - I was very happy with my achievements in 2016. Originally it was going to be a ‘building year’ for me, just taking results as they came and trying to keep the motivation high, even if the results weren’t. But after finishing 5th place at the first World Cup, in Poland, I realised I already had the potential to perform well in the Elite class. Next on the 2016 calendar was the European Champs. In my opinion EOC is the pinnacle of orienteering with top countries sending up to 8 runners. I was very pleased with my preparation and my result of 7th equal, narrowly missing out on the podium by 1 second.
After this competition I had a goal of a top 10 performance at the World Champs. A goal I was close to achieving but lost in the final few controls, finishing 13th place. A little disappointed, this fuelled my training for the final World Cup in Switzerland. I had an almost perfect race here, only lacking the endurance/stamina in the final few minutes. I finished 4th place, 3 seconds off the bronze medal.
Is there one in particular that you keep in your memories?
T. R. - The most memorable was probably the first World Cup in Poland. I wasn’t sure exactly how my shape was. I had a good qualification and finished second behind Daniel Hubmann. This meant starting the final as the 4th to last competitor, a position I had never found myself in before. The race itself suited me perfectly. It was flip map race in a very small technical area, a style I have raced often in New Zealand. I knew I was having a great race but the noise in the arena was so loud that I couldn’t hear, during the run through, which placing I was in. After finishing I only had to wait three more minutes to know my official placing of 5th, it was a very unbelievable moment and something that drives my training so I can experience more of these feelings again!
2017 is a new story and it seems that you're starting to write it in the best way, after some great results in Italy and now in Denmark. Would you like to tell me about your winter season?
T. R. - Not everything went to plan for me over winter. After returning from China in October I took a month off training to refresh my body and mind for the 2017 season. Unfortunately when I was ready to begin my winter training I got sick for a few weeks. During this time I also moved from Oslo, Norway to Vienna, Austria. So there were many new changes!
It was also my first whole winter in Europe, the first month I was very excited and motivated. I wasn’t worried about the snow or the cold temperatures; it was all a new experience. But the next month and a half were very difficult. I had no motivation for my training; I wasn’t use to training in cold temperatures and struggled to find my rhythm. In February I travelled to Northern Ireland for a weekend of sprint orienteering and this was a ‘turning point’ for me. I raced a 5km there and was very disappointed with my time. I was also lacking speed in the orienteering and when I returned back to Austria I had full motivation back and started to prepare for the next trip to Italy.
How far from the best shape are you?
T. R. - It is still very early in the season and although I am happy with my shape now. I feel like I have a lot I can improve on over the next few months before WOC. I have a big focus on my physical shape this year. I have seen from my results in the World Cup races last year that I was always beginning strongly but fading in the final minutes. From the top 10 runners in the world ranking for sprint I am quite sure I have the slowest personal best times over 3000m and 5000m. This weekend I was racing another 5000m, this time on the track, so it’s a good comparison to the 5km road race in Armagh that I ran in February.
Is mental training part of your concerns?
T. R. - For some people, mental training is essential but for others not. I don’t do any specific mental training but I do like to prepare myself for competitions with the help of google maps or old maps and this I call my ‘mental training’. I know other teams are working a lot more with specific mental training however I have not looked into this much.
What are your main goals for the season?
T. R. - Next up on the calendar is 10Mila where I will race with my club Fossum. Hopefully we can improve on last year’s great result. We will also race Jukola later in the year. My 2017 plan is to race all of the World Cup rounds. The main focus will be on WOC in Estonia, but I will also be running the World Games a few weeks later. New Zealand has a very strong relay team here and I look forward to this competition. I hope to improve on my World Cup and World Championships results from last year, it would be great to finish in the top ten, but maybe a podium finish is also possible.
What kind of WOC are you expecting?
T. R. - I haven’t spent much time looking at the WOC terrains yet. I like to approach races one at a time so at the moment for me the focus is on 10Mila.
Where will the key for a successful WOC be?
T. R. - Being the best prepared I can be for the race. Getting my running speed faster and making sure I can still navigate well at that new pace.
You're a Sprint specialist and I'm sure that you are already living in the dilemma of a WOC forest vs a WOC urban. What are your thoughts on the subject?
T. R. - It’s an interesting subject, one I didn’t agree with but am following closely to see what the outcome will be and how it will affect me and my preparations. The first forest WOC is still a long way away so, for me, the focus over the next few years will be mostly sprint orientated with the goal of reaching the podium before it splits into Forest/Sprint Championships. I am still very interested in forest orienteering and love to run the Long Distance. When WOC splits I plan to start focusing on forest orienteering for a year and then continuing with sprint the following. The other option for me would be to train athletics/cross country/mountain running/mountain biking during the forest WOC year and then focus on sprint orienteering the following. It was great fun to be a part of the MOC training camp in Italy where we tested the new format for Sprint WOC. I enjoyed the concepts and am very interested to see how they are developed over the next few years!
To those who are stepping up to the Elite this season, would you like to leave a message?
T. R. - I think it’s good to acknowledge the step up but not to let it get too much into your head. Keep your motivation high and the results will come. If it is possible it’s also a great idea to train with the Elite runners. You get to see the level they are on and can gain a lot from their experience.
Personally I think it’s important to have things outside of orienteering to be doing so that it’s not just orienteering every day. For example when I was living in New Zealand I was often surfing between trainings, or now that I am living in Europe I am doing a lot of bike riding in my spare time, or skiing in the winter. It’s still exercise, but gives your mind a short break from orienteering which I feel is great for the motivation.
[Photo: Natalia Gemperle]