Forest Training Between Lockdowns
‘Do you want some cake too?’ my mum asks as we are going through the Costa drive thru to get lunch. I think we’ve deserved it – we’ve just spent nearly 3hrs in a forest in torrential rain. We didn’t meet a single person but that’s probably because everyone else had bothered to read the weather forecast. And as we walked back to the car through a fast-flowing stream that had started the day as a path, we wished we had too.
But there is something special about having a forest all to yourself, something my family and I have enjoyed many times in the last few months, and something all orienteers would appreciate. Just in the last fortnight we’ve been to the Forest of Dean three times, each time vastly different and each time a great training session, a great mood booster, and a welcome escape from lapping the fields behind my house.
Last Saturday we went to a beautiful open patch of woodland to do some high-speed orienteering where the forest floor had nothing but a cushion of fallen leaves. I did some control pick style courses, trying to practice running at race pace – it’s the closest I can get to a race in the current climate. We met basically no one until I came up a slope and accidently surprised a family of wild boar. I was within 10 metres before we noticed each other and they stormed off up the hill startled. But this happens surprisingly often when you run off the paths in the Forest of Dean, particularly if it’s not in a race and no one has come before you. Several times I’ve met cute litters of 10 or so babies with one or two adults, the little ones running around in all directions not knowing what to do when they see you until an adult takes the lead and they all scurry along behind to go hide in some thicker vegetation. Sometimes you meet the same family more than once on the same run, almost expecting which patch of woods you will see them in next.
By the following day the temperature had dropped and because we were out early the forest was covered in a thin layer of frost, making crunching sounds with each of our footsteps. The focus today was just to get some time in terrain. I’ve come to value these sessions very highly as I think they were the key to my success in the recent UKEOL races in the Lake District, particularly the long distance. The terrain might be a bit different in the Lakes but there are some sections in the Forest of Dean that can be as tricky as anything there. Also, just being used to running in the forest and holding a map gives me a lot of confidence since it means that all the race processes become somewhat normalised. That’s the point of any training – to make everything you might experience in a race feel normal – that includes: running through a bog, orienteering and concentrating for over an hour, getting into oxygen debt running up a hill but still managing to find a control, picking a tricky route choice for a long leg, or navigating just as well when the weather is horrific.
So whilst I hated it quite a bit this week when running in torrential rain, I do it because it gives me confidence that if it rains like that on one of the big races, it will feel ‘normal’. And to be honest it’s not too bad. You reach a point where you can’t get any more wet and I got to wear dads raincoat (which reaches my knees) which helped keep me warm. And that brings us back to the car where wrapped up nice and warm with the heating on full and the car filled with toasties and brownies we are now laughing at the days events. Of how the rain just got heavier and heavier and about all the hills we slipped down on our bums.
I bet you all have similar stories of horrible days in the forest that made you hate the sport at the time but now we’d give anything to be back out there on that horrible day. Let’s hope we can all get out and enjoy the forests safely together again soon. I look forward to seeing you all out there, at some random control in some random forest at some random race but most importantly with a massive grin on our faces.
Please note this article was written before the National lockdown was imposed in January and all rules were followed when travelling to train.