Twenty RAF Orienteers – regular, reservist, veteran and family members – spent their unexpectedly hot Easter weekend competing in the annual Jan Kjellstrom International Festival of Orienteering. Taking place in the South-East over the 4 days of the Easter weekend the Festival had over 4500 athletes from more than 25 countries competing with the best of the RAF.
As the unseasonably hot temperatures increased from Friday through to Monday so our RAF Orienteers’ daily race distances increased from 15-minute fast and furious urban sprints up to as much as gruelling 3-hour long distance races in hilly woodland terrain.
Navigating and running quickly around a technical urban area on Day 1, Squadron Leader Rachel Sullivan was the RAF’s most successful competitor, taking her age class W40 bronze medal on the sprint event at Aldershot Garrison against high-class competition. Although Sullivan could not match her Day 1 success later in the festival, she nonetheless placed well in the longer disciplines. Esther Woods also worked hard throughout the weekend, picking up a convincing 1st place on the podium for the W18 Short course on Day 2.
As a ‘bonus’ all athletes and spectators were treated to the expert commentary of RAF veteran Mike Edwards who relied on his encyclopaedic orienteering memory to provide facts and figures on both elite and regular athletes when the data connection to the commentary team failed!
After 3 days of individual events, 9 of the RAF runners came together on day 4 for the UK’s biggest team relay orienteering event. With 3 teams entered in different classes, the mass start led runners on to multiple loops of different lengths, with each course bringing athletes through the finish area before sending them back up a vicious climb in to the woods for a final fast and furious lap. While unable to match the pace of the elite runners, the mixed RAF teams acquitted themselves well in challenging conditions.
The next major fixture for RAF Orienteering is the British Champs in Yorkshire in May. If you’d like to join them, RAFO is an inclusive club for all levels and looks forward to your message. Find us at @RAFOrienteering on social media or via the RAF Sports Federation website.