No two races are the same for Kris Jones
If there’s a race, whether it’s road, cross country, track, or a race that requires a map, runner and orienteer Kris Jones won’t be far away.
British international orienteering had a great 2018, including road wins, cross-country successes and, most recently, a first senior international medal at the European Orienteering Championships.
Most readers know that Fast Running strives to cover the final distance of the race as well as possible, but it’s not all about roads, tracks and cross country. From mountain running to orienteering, cross-country running takes many forms and each presents its own set of unique challenges.
For those unfamiliar with orienteering, the sport involves navigating between a series of checkpoints (called controls) marked on a map. There is no defined route and it is up to you to get to each control using your map as soon as possible.
Born and raised in Swansea, Wales, Jones was introduced to the sport as a teenager, and after making the UK squad as a junior athlete there was no looking back.
On the mostly flat terrain of the roads, the 27-year-old has quick PBs of 14:03 and 29:32 for 5km and 10km, and on the track he has set records of 14:20 and 29:05 over distances. This year he also won the Scottish Cross Country Championships.
As far as his college life goes, Jones has also put his navigation skills to good use, moving from his home in Swansea to Sheffield to Loughborough, and to his current residence in Dundee, where he is studying a doctorate in sports biomechanics at the University of Ulster.
His club affiliation is no different and includes the Dundee Hawkhill Harriers, Forth Valley Orienteers and Lillomarka Orienteringslag, however, he is the true true man of the Swansea Harriers.
Here we chat with the talented athlete about all things running, orienteering and how he manages his training alongside his academic pursuits.
Fast run: Congratulations on your bronze medal at the European Orienteering Championships. Can you tell us about the race?
Kris Jones: I was confident that I was in good shape and could perform well, but for the first two minutes of the race I felt really rushed and chose slower routes. I was out of the top 20 after about four minutes of racing but managed to find some pace after that and didn’t waste much time after that.
It seemed for a while that maybe my time was only enough for fourth place, so I was very happy when I was confirmed in third place.
FR : Is training for both orienteering and long distance running an easy combination?
KR: In a way, yes. The training for both is very complementary. Where things get a little tough is in the planning.
There is a significant overlap between the orienteering season and the track season, which is why I tend to only manage a few track races per year.
FR : Do you have a preferred distance in orienteering?
KR: I’ve always been the best and always enjoyed the sprint distance and all the relay races.
FR: How can others try orienteering?
KJ: I would find your local club and contact you to find out more. There is a lot of useful information on the British Orienteering website which you can find here.
Some clubs have events for newcomers where you can get a little coaching and advice, which can be invaluable in giving you a head start.
That said, some clubs are more proactive than others, just like in track and field. It should be remembered that you will likely get lost as you learn the ropes, this is not something that needs to be embarrassed, rather it is something that happens to everyone. A big part of the fun in orienteering is trying to improve each time.
FR : How does British orienteering compare to other nations?
K J : I would say Switzerland and Sweden are the behemoths, followed closely by Norway, Finland, Denmark and the Czech Republic. It is largely dominated by the Scandinavians. The infrastructure, in terms of the clubs and also the forest land there, is probably the biggest difference.
In international competition I think we British athletes are above our weight, especially given the difference in funding between nations. We have a lot of athletes capable of making the top 20 and it’s pretty common. We also have a good number of athletes capable of achieving top 10 results or medals, although those are a bit rarer.
FR : Does where you were raised make a difference? Orienteering in Brixton can be a little different from a place like the Brecon Beacons.
K J : Yes, some places are easier than others. The emergence of sprint distance, which typically takes place in urban terrain, means that there are many more possibilities for orienteering than there was in the past.
Orienteering maps are quite specialized, much more detailed than an ammo inventory map, so an active local club that organizes events and makes maps is probably the most important thing.
FR : What is your best advice for a young guidance counselor?
K J : Learn to run fast, but also learn when to slow down. Many mistakes can be avoided just by slowing down a bit at the right time.
FR : What was your best result and why?
K J : Probably the bronze medal at the European Orienteering Championships, which seemed to be the culmination of many years of hard work. The performance was nothing special either, which gives me confidence that I can challenge medals in the future as well.
FR : What about your worst racing experience and lessons learned?
K J : The 2017 10,000m European Cup in Belarus. I had achieved something that I never thought possible by being selected for a British track racing team. However, I pushed my pre-race training too much and struggled to recover.
I had a few minor pains but wasn’t going to retire so I ran despite not being in a good physical position. Running fast on a hard track in the crampons was the last straw, my calf seized up and I had to give up.
Not exactly the race I envisioned. It was a painful reminder to keep your balance in training, especially near a big race. It’s tempting to think that more work equals more earnings, but getting to the starting line healthy should be the first consideration.
FR : Could you describe an average training week?
K J : I tend to run a lot so my schedule is quite flexible. I think consistency is the most important aspect of training so I have a general routine around which I manage the load based on how I feel in training and upcoming races.
My training is really nothing special, I don’t tend to do a lot of sessions that would grab someone’s attention.
On Monday: Easy run (45min to 1h)
Tuesday: Intervals with the group Dundee Hawkhill Harriers. The session varies from week to week but is pretty typical in my experience.
Wednesday: UN M. Strength and Conditioning PM. Medium long race (1h20 to 1h45)
Thursday: Medium course (1 hour)
Friday: Easy run (45 min to 1 hour)
Saturday: Race or other difficult session
Sunday: Long race (up to 2 hours if on the road, up to 2 hours 30 minutes if off-road)
I will complete this routine with morning runs of up to 45 minutes depending on the volume I want to achieve.
Typically, I will run around 80-95 miles or 10-12 hours per week depending on the time of year and the running schedule.
Sometimes I will replace a difficult session with a quick orientation training but generally most of my technical orientation training is done on weekends or at training camps.
My training log is publicly available here.
FR : How do family, work and education all fit together for you?
K J : I approached the doctorate as if it were a full-time job, but it still gives a little more flexibility than some jobs. I have found the PhD to be quite self-directed which means I have some control over how I distribute the workload.
I have a short commute (around 40 minutes each way) to my office, which means I work out in the morning or evening most of the time, but I find that gives me a pretty good routine – I cannot postpone training because I have little free time to do it.
My gf is also a runner which helps because she also trains often.
FR : Still in training, what is your favorite session?
K J : All of which brings me to beautiful places so long runs in the hills are always enjoyable. Other than that, I can’t think of one particular workout that I enjoy more than others, but I get a lot of satisfaction from the routine of things.
I love that my legs feel nice and flowing to begin with, then wake up sore and tired after a tough session and slowly heal them back to their full strength with easier days – and repeat.
FR : How is your diet? The good the bad and the ugly.
K J : Better than before, but still not perfect. I have a huge sweet tooth, so the bad and ugly of my nutrition almost always has to do with a binge on something sweet.
I think the rest of my diet is reasonably balanced these days, but like most distance runners, I can put away large plates of food when I’m hungry.
FR : Is there someone in particular you are looking for?
K J : I used to admire British orienteers who ran when I was younger, but now I tend to take more inspiration from my teammates and peers.
Orienteering isn’t a sport with a lot of money or fame, but I’m still inspired by everything people put in it and it always makes me want to be better too.
FR : Do you have a dream race or a special event you would like to participate in that you haven’t done yet?
K J : As I participate in many different types of races; orienteering, hill, cross country, road and track, my shopping list that I want to do is huge.
I have enjoyed watching recent marathons (Gold Coast, London & Boston) and can’t wait to try the distance in the future. However, I don’t underestimate the work involved in competing well in the marathon, so I will need to focus fully on it when I decide to level up.
FR : Finally, what are your goals and plans for the rest of 2018?
K J : My main focus is the World Orienteering Championships in Latvia at the start of August and my main focus will be on the sprint distance and the two relays (mixed sprint relay and traditional relay).
I hope to fight for the medals, but the first goal is to be on the starting line fit, healthy and technically sharp, rather than focusing on the result.