World Orienteering Week: interview with Ralph Street
The elite orienteer on finding a love of running through orienteering
Ralph Street was born and raised in London and admits that ending up among the world’s elite in a sport that has its origins in the Scandinavian wilderness is probably quite unexpected.
He first competed for Great Britain in 2007 and since then orienteering has become an increasingly important part of his life. After finishing college in 2012, he moved to Scandinavia to pursue his orienteering dreams and last year finished 13th in the middle distance at the World Championships, his best individual result ever. this day.
Ahead of the World Orienteering Championships in Norway in August and as part of World Orienteering Week, Street shares insight into his sport and its crossover with running.
Weekly athletics: What was your background in orienteering? Did you first be a runner or an orienteer?
Ralph Street: I started out as an orienteer because both my parents were involved in the sport, so I started competing when I was young. Orienteering gave me a love of running, especially cross-country, so I learned that in school when it was offered.
AW: What do you like most about orienteering?
RS: I like the challenge of orienteering: it’s always different. The forests vary as well as the rangelands; sometimes there are short straight legs or longer routes which are more complex. You have to keep thinking and concentrating all the time, so the key is to match your physical ability and mental alertness. I like the sense of adventure in orienteering, it’s no exaggeration to say that you are heading into the unknown and even on a big race you can find yourself completely alone on the ground.
AW: How do you prepare for the big championships? Do you have an “average” training week?
RS: At the start of the year, I sit down with my coaches and we set out a plan for the year by filling in races, training camps and key sessions. I usually follow a single peak periodization plan focused on the World Championships where, like all other athletes, I try to be in the best possible shape physically, technically and mentally. On a physical level, I’ve found that focusing on threshold training is the best way for me to peak, so it’s been a key part of my tapering. For mental and technical training, I try to figure out what kind of challenges I am likely to face in the forest and how I can overcome them in the best possible way.
As I am based in Oslo, my training varies a lot from winter to summer; I do a lot more cross-training (mainly cross-country skiing) and gym when the snow is there. In an average week without snow, I will do two hard sessions, two gym sessions and one long run. I then complete the rest with as much running and orienteering as my body can reasonably tolerate.
AW: Can you talk about the crossover between the two sports and the skills needed?
RS: All the best orienteers must be very good runners. The main difference is that orienteers have to be prepared for a wide variety of terrain: hills, swamps, forest, rocks, so we learn to be more effective on rough terrain. Even running on a forest trail can be different from a tartan track. Another big difference is that most orienteering competitions are in the form of a time trial, which means you are alone in the forest and have to judge the pace and effort yourself; there is no lead pack to cling to.
AW: What are your key goals for 2019 in running and orienteering?
RS: My main goal this year is the World Championships in Norway in August. Before that, I’m hoping to go to Finland in June for some World Cup races and I’ll also be racing the big Scandinavian club races (think national roadhouses, but with about 20,000 other orienteers at the biggest race), this who is good at coping with pressure. but also very fun. The key for me now is to manage the transition to high running volume after a winter largely on cross-country skis to avoid any injury setbacks.
AW: What are you most proud of having achieved in your elite career so far?
RS: Finishing fourth in the World Championships relay when they were held in Scotland in 2015 was a great result in front of a home crowd.
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