Tommy Hayes (Auckland Orienteering Club) is the latest Kiwi orienteer to achieve top results at an international level. His potential has shone through on multiple occasions over the last few years. His high-speed navigation has been building to match his fast leg speed. Results like grabbing fastest time at the 2016 NZ Orienteering Champs as an 18-year-old, ahead of all elite men, have been becoming more regular. We spoke with Tommy about his experiences at Junior World Orienteering Champs 2017, his medal winning race and plans for the year.
GKO: Well done on your results over at Junior World Champs. Obviously, the Silver medal in the sprint was a highlight. Watching the live feeds from back home, the terrain chosen looked like a quite challenging area - long and narrow with a mix of buildings and parkland. Was it what you were expecting?
Tommy: We weren’t expecting them to use the bottom part of the map. 80% of the embargoed area was narrow stairs between houses so we had imagined that. We had set quite a few hypothetical courses around the houses. Running to the start was a big surprise going right down to the bottom. That being said, they did choose a realy good part of the map. The first half of the course took in a really complex area, had to be spot on with flow out of controls. A lot of close map reading was required as some details were not really clear in the terrain, like tunnels and stairs. Had to be onto it with planning too. It had a technical challenge that was missing in the WOC sprint.
GKO: Did the unexpected element have an impact on your race?
Tommy: Maybe. For me pre-setting some hypothetical courses is a lot more about mental prep than actual map reading. The main benefit is having confidence right from the start, having a little bit of familiarity with the process. I often find that once I am through those first moments, I just need to focus on the course at hand. The unexpected choice of location did give a little uncertainty in the first few controls I guess. It didn’t fully throw me though, I did know about the tunnels and the complexity down the bottom of the map. Maybe the biggest impact was shoe choice. I was wearing racing flats while others were wearing inov8s.
GKO: Thinking of WOC, in recent years drawing a “training map” using google earth and other available online data has become a bigger part of the game? Just look at Denmark and their success over the last few years in sprint. Soren Bobach for instance and his pre drawn courses in Venice. Do you think this is having an impact at JWOC too?
Tommy: Yeah some people do. It has definitely changed the way people prepare for sprint races. I had a go at drawing in part of the Tampere map in OCAD. Luckily I chose the area that the race ended up being on. That was how I had seen some of the tunnels. I guess it did give a bit of an idea of what to expect. Overall though, predrawing for me is alot about confidence. You can’t memorise an entire map, running on it is a lot different from drawing it. It was good that they embargoed such a big area. It meant the organisers kept everyone guessing right up until the start where the race would go.
GKO: Had you expected them to use the forest on the map?
Tommy: Nah, having driven past the forest and used street view it looked very green and thick. From the information in the event bulletin, it seemed that normal running shoes would be fine, so figured forest was unlikely.
GKO: Had you run on a similar map before?
Tommy: Yeah, Devon and I used the map from the Finnish JWOC trials for a training earlier in our trip. It had some similar terrain with staircases and height change as well as spread out houses.
GKO: This was your 3rd JWOC, what made the difference this time that helped you to bring home the Silver medal?
Tommy: Getting a top 10 in 2016 meant I knew that I had speed and technical ability to do well. Solid training back in NZ over summer helped, and I was pretty excited for my last crack at JWOC. Going to WOC just before was a huge influencing factor, kind of got me in the right mindset. Despite a horrific race there, I kind of knew where I had gone wrong. Being there with all the stars of the sport also gave some confidence heading into JWOC. I knew that I really could compete at the top level. Hanging out with NZ team made a difference too, Tim especially. It helped me to get to grips with fact that I could do well.
GKO: Was it physical or mental improvements that made the difference?
Tommy: I wasn’t too much faster than 2016, and I was only a few seconds of the podium there. So no massive change in physical shape. The map in Finland suited me quite a lot in that it was technically challenging with fewer fast running legs. Some of the Europeans are super quick and they had no massive running legs to pull out time.
GKO: What are the key techniques that helped you in your race? What made the difference for you technically?
Tommy: In sprints, there is never much time to think about routes. You can’t spend seconds weighing up which will be fastest. Better to pick one and run with it. This is especially relevant on short legs in more difficult technical sprints. As long as you can pick a physically viable route and go as fast as you can with no hesitations, you will seldom lose time. Route choice comes in more on long legs with a greater margin of error. More like 10-15 sec for the wrong route. Being decisive and choosing quickly was a big help.
GKO: So the sprint is about much more than being a fast runner?
Tommy: I was not by any means the fastest runner there on the day. The technical side is still what makes the difference. Can trail hard all year and lose it on a 10 second mistake come race day. Over last few years feel that I have really improved the technical side of my sprint orienteering. There are also alot of sprint competitions relative to forest competitions in Aus/NZ. We also have world class sprint competitors like Tim [Robertson] and Henry [McNulty] to test against. Races like Australian sprint champs are always tough and excellent prep for JWOC.
GKO: The sprint was obviously a highlight of the week. How did things go in the forest?
Tommy: I had been over a few weeks before JWOC. I had been really enjoying the training in the terrain. I found that lots of the forest was quite technical. The middle distance had lots of rock features, quite big hills, many scattered hill systems and loads of vegetation changes. To go fast you really had to be spot on with navigation. I was keen as to get stuck into it come race week. In the middle qualification I had ok race and qualified well. Before middle final I was uncertain about how to approach it – I was aware that I would not be as confident in the terrain as the Europeans. From my perspective the only chance to do really well was to go balls-to-the-wall. Go as hard as possible and hope it works out. We knew that the hitters, the top guys, would have been holding back in qualification. So tried to run as fast as possible from the start. This worked well for first few controls, then one mistake, and another. Then I felt I was kind of out of contention. At this point, after a few mistakes, I eased off a bit before the sprint the following day.
GKO: How was the long distance event?
Tommy: It was really physically hard. Made me realise what training back home I had been lacking. A really different fitness was required. Exposed that I had not been getting out in tough enough forests. The only relevant parts of Woodhill for example would be felled areas or running in the sand dunes non stop. Kind of not really enjoyable to run in back in Woodhill. The main difference is in the vegetation underfoot. In Finland it is hard, physically tough in terrain, but really enjoyable underfoot with blueberries and soft vegetation. The super clear open areas in Woodhill don’t recreate this, and while the coastal strip is close, the Finnish terrain doesn’t quite cut you up so bad.
GKO: And how about the relay?
Tommy: Good fun. We knew that we could do well with our relatively old team. Pretty pumped standing on the start line for leg 1. Nothing compares to how fast Scandinavians run through the forest in a mass start relay. I was running as fast as I possibly could and it is hard to do that and navigate at the same time. It was pretty hard to put out that sort of intensity after a physically tough week. I dropped off main front bunch after first few controls then sat in next bunch back for a while then started to feel the fatigue, split from group to run a road route choice. I was feeling pretty wrecked by then. With such fast running, small mistakes are amplified.
GKO: Do you think recent results in international competitions have changed the reputation of Kiwi orienteers in the international arena? We have more JWOC medals in the last 5 years than many European countries.
Tommy: With Tim’s rise especially it seems to be opening eyes as to NZ’s ability to produce orienteers. Especially in the sprint disciplines. NZ certainly seems to have some more respect as an orienteering nation. It was really cool this year where our team spent the rest day chilling with the Swedish team. A great way to get to know their runners a bit better. A marker of NZ being there for more reasons than just making up the number.
GKO: In things aside from orienteering, you had some pretty strong results in trail races over the last 12 months. Do you have any plans for trail running over next little while?
Tommy: Actually have a bit of a change planned for early 2018. Planning on racing in Godzone down in Te Anau. We have a team of young orienteers with Matt Goodall, Nick Smith and Danielle Goodall. We’re racing the Pure event. I’ve not really done much adventure racing before so will be a big new challenge. No team name as yet, waiting to hear back on some possible team partners.
GKO: Some big plans for 2018! Will be exciting to see more orienteers lining up for Godzone. Thanks for your time Tommy and congratulations again for that stellar run to the Silver medal at JWOC over in Finland.