World Orienteering Week: Interview with Cat Taylor

The elite orienteer talks about her journey in the sport and her crossover with running

Cat Taylor started orienteering aged seven and made her British debut in 2012, achieving results including bronze at the European Championships and a victory in a Cup round of the world.

After seven years of living and training in Sweden, the South Yorkshire Orienteers athlete now lives in Sheffield and combines training with work as a translator. In the spring and summer she is often on the road for camps and competitions and is currently attending a training camp in Norway.

Ahead of the World Orienteering Championships in Norway in August and as part of World Orienteering Week, Taylor shares insight into her sport and its crossover with running.

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

Cat Taylor: I’ve been doing orienteering since I was little, I was certainly first an orienteer! I did cross country in school, as well as many other sports, and I was good but never great. Of course, I do a lot of running now, but it’s only to practice orienteering. I ran a few drop runs and did a few 10k on the roads (my best time is 35:32) but that was never a main focus. I like to run any type of race where I can fit in, but I always have a pretty packed schedule.

AW: What do you like most about orienteering?

CT: I got hooked when I started running off the trails, right through the forest. It’s a great feeling of freedom. I also like that the physical and technical challenge is really different from place to place. A track is the same everywhere, but for example a forest near Stockholm is very different from one near Madrid and to always be good at orienteering you have to be very adaptable.

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

CT: At home, I try to do a good mix of running training – a bit of everything on all surfaces – and consistent technique training. That means a bit of variety, but I have a consistent week plan. The hardest thing with this sport is that specific preparation for a championship means traveling to the field and racing in conditions similar to those you will encounter on the big day. You’re not allowed to run or even visit the area you’ll be running in before you start, but you can get a good feel for the type of challenge by training in nearby forests. So this year I’m spending about five weeks in total in training camps for the World Championships (near Oslo, Norway). All the movements can sometimes disturb the training but it is a necessary compromise.

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

CT: Once you’ve learned the basic navigation skills you need to orient yourself, it’s mostly about managing the balance between running fast while staying focused on navigation. The higher your aerobic threshold, the faster you can run without being in the “red zone” (where you have to focus on running, which means you can’t make decisions and risk getting lost!). My physical training aims to be the best all-around runner I can be. you need to be strong uphill, downhill, in rough terrain, through swamps, over rocks and on flatter, faster surfaces.

The biggest difference for me is the feeling on the starting line. Even in cross country you know exactly where the course is going to go, where it’s going to hurt, you can have a pretty specific plan of how to run every bit. In orienteering, you may have very little idea where you’ll be going until the timer starts, you pick up the map, and you run away. You’re also often on your own throughout the course and have to be very good at pushing yourself and staying positive, as it’s nearly impossible to run completely without technical errors.

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

CT: In fact, I had a great time last winter. I’ve been injured and done a lot of alternate training, but I’m still aiming to be back in top shape by August to fight for the top positions at the World Orienteering Championships ( near Oslo, Norway). I had to frustrate race plans while I recover, but I’m gradually getting back into action. Since all the most important competitions this summer are on soft ground, I won’t be prioritizing road racing or track racing, but hope to have time for a few local races in the months future.

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

CT: I’ve had some good international results so far, including winning a World Cup round and a bronze medal at the European Championships. I’m happy whenever I feel like I got the best out of myself on an important day, it means that the project I’ve been working on for months or even longer has been a success and it is this feeling that makes all the pain and the expense is worth it!

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Dino J. Dotson