Monday, January 20, 2014

Lizzie Ingham: "If you love what you do, you make it work no matter what the challenges"



From the other side of the world comes today the words of Lizzie Ingham. The 9th place in Sprint WOC 2012, makes her the most valuable athlete from New Zealand so far, but a new season is about to start and the expectations and ambitions go far beyond this result. Let's see what says and thinks a Kiwi orienteer living, studying and training in Australia.


The first question is always the easiest: Who is Lizzie Ingham? What a Kiwi orienteer living, training and studying in Australia looks like?

Lizzie Ingham (L. I.) - I was born and raised Wellington, which orienteers now know is the most beautiful city in the world! My childhood was spent training by running up hills and trying to stand up in the Wellington wind. Both of which were invaluable in the development of my infamous game face... I first tasted European orienteering when I traveled with my parents to WMOC in 2004. From there I raced 4 JWOCs from 2005 to 2008, with good results for a Kiwi (at the time!), but nothing spectacular. I made the move over to Australia and what is now my second home, Canberra, in 2011. Primarily the move was to study towards my PhD at the Australian National University, but also for the great orienteering community in Canberra, and the increased level of competition that living in Aussie offered. The move has helped me make great improvements in my orienteering, and slight improvements in my game face, leading to top 20 results at the last 3 WOCs and hopefully better to come!

How old were you when first met orienteering? Why orienteering?

L. I. - Haha, I was taken to my first orienteering event at the tender age of 3 days, on my way home from the hospital for the first time! That was just to be shown off to my parent's clubmates, but yeah, I've been orienteering practically since I could walk. Both of my parents were, and still are, keen orienteers. My Mum (Gillian) represented New Zealand at WOC in the 80's, and my parents get to WMOC once every 2 years or so. So I didn't have much choice in whether I took up orienteering or not! What's kept me in the sport, however, is the all round challenge that it offers - physically, mentally and technically, every time you head out on a map. That and the immensely supportive and friendly global community.

I believe that you're about to finish your PhD in an academic area related to geology. How do you combine your studies with orienteering on high level?

L. I. - Well, I'm meant to finish by the end of this year, that's the aim anyway, but we'll see about that! I'm a geophysicist, and study geomagnetism in particular - how the Earth's magnetic field behaves. It's a tricky balance between full time study and training. It's much the same as having a full time job, although the hours are a bit more flexible thankfully. However it's often impossible to fit in all the training I'd like, so it becomes about deciding which sessions are the most important and I'll get the most benefit from. During the week, training gets fitted around university work anyway possible, be it in the morning, lunch break, or the evening. During the weekends I try and leave work behind if possible and focus fully on training. I try to get three quality training days during the week, and two big days at the weekend. The other two days are easier training wise, but with a heavier work load at university! I love what I do with my PhD, but I can't wait to finish and see what I can do with more time to focus on orienteering!

In July 2012, you achieved in Lausanne the best result ever of an orienteer from New Zealand in a World Championship. Would you like to tell me something about your 9th position in Sprint?

L. I. - The sprint in Lausanne was a new experience, and pretty special for me. I topped my qualification heat, so was second to last start with just Annika starting behind me. That was something different, being about the last person left in quarantine! The race itself was pretty average, I missed seeing a gap in a wall, so took the much slower route choice on the long leg. Then started cramping and leaked time in the second half of the course. By the time I finished, all focus was on Simone, so it wasn't until well after I finished that I found out my actual result - off the smart phone of one of the Americans as the results weren't easy to get in the athletes area! So it was a little anticlimatic, but very satisfying to squeeze into the top 10 despite what was an average run. It was only afterwards that I realised it was a NZ best. But with the upcoming group of kiwis, hopefully my record won't last long anyway!

Your start of the last season couldn't be more promising, even more because you achieved the 3rd position in a World Cup at home ground. What meant to you the result, of course, but also the World Cup in New Zealand?

L. I. - That day in Wellington was simply amazing. My goal was always to make the podium, but I never dared to hope too much that it might happen! To pull it off at home was pretty perfect, 3rd place has never felt so good! The best feeling was standing on the podium and seeing the massive grins on all of the kiwi's faces. It definitely wasn't just me up on the podium, but all NZ orienteers. Over all, having the World Cup races in New Zealand was just awesome, I think we really did ourselves proud. It was invaluable in showing our juniors just what there is to aim for, and motivating them. And it was nice to see how the Europeans coped with having to travel across the world and then race!

And what about the rest of the season? Was the 14th position in Sprint WOC too far from your goals?

L. I. - Yeah... the rest of the season didn't really go as I'd have liked! I had a great first half of the year in the Australian National League, and was feeling in good form heading to the World Champs. However, as with 2011 and 2012, I could only afford a week and a bit off university work before WOC to prepare in local terrain. Added onto that, the three girls in the NZ team were asked to run all three individual distances and the relay to try and ensure us maximum points for the new WOC qualification scheme. It completely backfired. WOC 2013 was pretty much a disaster, not just for me, but for the entire NZ team I think. We were under-prepared and over pressured. The sprint day was the exception to a bad week. I was comfortable in the qualification and then had a good first half of the final. But as with my previous two WOC sprint finals, I chose the wrong route choice on one leg, and it cost me. That and missing the entrance to the stadium on the last leg! So 14th was a little disappointing, but I know that if I get the right route choice, and can hold my nerve to the finish, I'll be in that top 6. Hopefully that will come with more experience in high pressure races, something we just don't get down here in Australia and NZ.

Orienteering in New Zealand: What to say?

L. I. - I think elite orienteering in New Zealand is looking the strongest that it has in a long time. We have some really promising juniors coming through, and have highly motivated groups of both juniors and elites training together in different regions. And there's some exciting plans in the pipelines to get a better structure and mentoring system going within the different levels of our national squads. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, orienteering is a very minor sport in New Zealand, and pretty well out of the public eye. The main sports in NZ are rugby union (obviously!), soccer, cricket and netball. Those sports, and olympic sports that we do well at as a nation, such as cycling and rowing, suck up the vast majority of government sports funding. So, as a small sport in a small country, NZ orienteering really is run on a shoe string budget. Even seeing what support the Australian team gets makes me green with envy! But everyone has their hurdles to overcome, be it work, distance, family commitments or money. If you love what you do, you make it work no matter what the challenges. And I think NZ's improved results on the world stage prove that it is possible, even if you're entirely self-funded and on the opposite side of the world!

As for some name dropping?! Matt Ogden is in good form, and looking to move to Europe this year, so keep an eye out! Nick Hann is going from strength to strength following a year living in Norway, and will be one to watch at JWOC this year, alongside Tim Robertson who still has a year or three left at JWOC to improve on his bronze medal last year! His sister, Laura, makes the move up to elites this year, and has been beating me in recent Sprint races. So chances are she'll be racing come July and WOC. And this year sees the exciting return of Greta Knarston, who's been saving her pennies the last couple of years for a move to Europe and a WOC campaign. It's shaping up to be a good year for NZ orienteers!

Living in a country so many thousands of miles far away from Europe, having to face trips often lasting more than 24 hours, suffering the effects of the jetlag and still be able to perform highly. Where is the secret?

L. I. - Haha. Well, the thing is not to dwell on it, just take the travel as an extra challenge and get on with things! But having said that, any extra day you can give yourself to get over the flight is invaluable. I've been lucky that I've managed to fit WOC trips in with work trips a couple of times, which is a different sort of challenge, but means at least your brain and body is in the right time zone come race week. I think it's important to not expect too much of yourself while you recover from the travel- something that can be very tricky when you're trying to overcome jetlag, accustom yourself to terrain, and taper for WOC, all at the same time! Is there a secret? I don't know. Experience I guess?

You've finished a Training Camp in Tasmania, with the New Zealand national team, closing to the place where World Cup 2015 will be. Can you tell me something about it?

L. I. - The camp was actually run by Orienteering Australia for their high performance squad, and they very kindly let a few of us kiwi's tag along! Given our remoteness from Europe and the rest of the orienteering world, shared NZ-AUS camps are vital I think, so hopefully we'll see more of them from here on! The camp was really great. The terrain in Tassie is something special, and very varied - gold mining, granite, spur-gully. It's also very physical, even more so than say Norway I reckon. So it was invaluable to get a solid week of training in it prior to World Cup 2015. It's also Matt Ogden's new favourite terrain in Australasia - that's a pretty high accolade! I know it's a long way for Europeans to come, but I hope the national teams do make the effort to make it to Tassie 2015, as even the terrain alone will be well worth it.

How is it going your preparation? What are your projects and main goals for the season?

L. I. - The camp in Tassie was the kickstart to my preparation for the season. A bit later than most start, I know, but following WOC 2013 I had a glute injury which laid me low for a few months. Since then I've been focusing on my PhD, and then in December I got pretty sick... So I'm rearing to get back into proper training now! The main project this season is of course WOC. The difference this year is that I'm suspending my PhD for a couple of months, and will be in Europe from late May, along with Greta Knartston, to prepare. My last two WOCs have been pretty disappointing, so I've decided to take the time out from work to focus on getting it right this year. While I'm over I'll be looking to race Venla/Jukola, and hopefully I can find a suitable club and plan for a full time move to Europe in 2015. The goal for WOC would have to be a podium finish, middle or sprint, I'll take either! On a team level, the sprint relay holds a great opportunity for NZ, I think we could do really well there. More important however, is supporting each other, and performing as a team, to get ourselves up into the tier two nations for 2015.

The Orienteering Achievement of 2013: What was your choice? And what will be in 2014?

L. I. - Surely I voted for myself?! I can't remember! No, it had to be Simone. To dominate a sport so comprehensively, for so long, and be just a great person all round. Watching her finale in the World Cup final was emotional - and that was just watching from a couch on the other side of the world! I can only imagine how amazing the atmosphere was to be there in person. Similarly Marten Bostrom, gold medal at a home WOC. The baseball stadium just went off! For 2014, I can't wait to see how the Swiss girls go stepping out of Simone's shadow. I'm not really one for picking ones to watch - but I'd love to see some more surprises in the results as we've seen the last couple of years with the likes of Novikov and Bertuks, and the Austrian sprint team.

In the beginning of a new year, I would like to ask you to make a wish.

L. I. - Clear and smart decision making, be it by athletes on the course, or governing bodies in the board room. And perhaps for the Australian summer to cool down a bit so I can get out and train more!

Joaquim Margarido

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