Orienteering: Interview with Megan Carter-Davies

The elite orienteer explains how every second counts in her sport

Megan Carter-Davies joined her first orienteering club – Mid-Wales OC – aged eight and became a member of the Welsh Junior Team after a few years, hosting her first Junior Interregionals and Junior Internationals at home aged 12.

She then placed 20th at the World Orienteering Championships and hopes to improve on that at this year’s event in Østfold, Norway.

Carter-Davies shares insight into her sport and its crossover with running here.

Weekly athletics: What was your background in orienteering? Did you first be a runner or an orienteer?

Megan Carter Davies: A bit of both. I started racing cross country in elementary school and also tried orienteering when I was eight years old. I continued with both, and as I became more interested in orienteering, running became more important to me. I started focusing on coaching around the age of 14.

READ MORE: World Orienteering Week: Interview with Ralph Street

AW: What do you like most about orienteering?

CDM: I love the racing feeling, having to stay focused all the time. At the elite level, every second counts. We ran hard the entire race over rough terrain, going up and down hills, weaving through trees and hiding under branches. At the same time, we’re reading the map (while running!), looking up to see where we need to go, making decisions about our route, and being aware of where we’re going next. Without a doubt, mistakes are made, so it’s all up to you while you’re there. I also love that we can race in so many interesting and beautiful places.

AW: How do you prepare for the big championships? Do you have an “average” training week?

CDM: During the week, my training is similar to that of a typical 5k or 10k runner. Weekends are time for orienteering, both to practice technical skills and to run a bit on more difficult terrain. It takes time to organize an orienteering race, so I usually go to local races for that. All in all, that puts me at around 60km a week, supplemented with a bike ride on weekdays and a bit of gym.

AW: Can you talk about the crossover between the two sports and the skills needed?

CDM: Orienteering in the forest is most similar to trail running or running in the world of athletics, with hills and rough terrain. We call it ‘forest’ but it could also be on sand dunes or heathland. Reading the map takes time to understand as there are many different things to consider like contours, vegetation, direction and distance judgment. Errors are fairly common in this style of orienteering, but those who can navigate better and minimize errors tend to be successful. We also have orienteering in urban areas. Navigation is simpler because it’s easy to make sense of buildings and roads. The challenge is to make quick decisions because you can run much faster on the tarmac. Although you still need to be nimble, speed is a bigger factor here than in the forest. Many world champions in sprint distance (short urban races) have also represented their country in athletics in one way or another. In terms of skills, it would be easier for runners to get involved in urban orienting but, if you want to try ‘forest’ orienting, there are usually club members on local runs who will do a pleasure to help you.

READ MORE: World Orienteering Week: Interview with Cat Taylor

AW: What are your key goals for 2019 in running and orienteering?

CDM: Last year I finished 20th at the World Championships, and my goal for this year is to improve. I am working on getting faster and I would like to be able to run almost 17 minutes for 5 km this summer. Apart from that, I will continue to do orienteering as much as possible. I have a few training camps in Scandinavia to get used to running in similar forests before the World Championships in Norway in August. As a team, we are also aiming for a great result in the relays.

AW: What are you most proud of having achieved in your elite career so far?

CDM: I think the coolest moment was at the World University Championships in 2016. After some great performances from Charlotte Ward, Peter Hodkinson and Kris Jones, I was sent into first place for the final leg of the sprint relay and j was able to take us home. gold medal! It was great to race with them again at the World Championships last year. I’m also proud of my 20th place finish at the World Middle Distance Championships last year and happy that I was able to make an easy transition from junior to senior level.

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Dino J. Dotson