Cambridge University student Peter Molloy sets the compass to make an impact in the world of orienteering


When it comes to stereotypes, it’s hard to move away from portraying orienteering as anything other than someone in a field with a compass and a map.

Peter Molloy is quick to correct this assumption.

“For orienteering the vast majority of the training you do is just running, so I train like a runner and then I do orienteering as well. I run 120-130km per week.

Molloy not only sets the record straight, but also provides information on joining the University of Cambridge Athlete Performance Program.

This was in the context of how the program helped not only funding, but also structured strength and conditioning training to the British competitor.

We sit in Nevile’s Court at Trinity College on a cloudy day wedged into exam season and ahead of a busy summer for the 20-year-old.

When you first meet Molloy there is something that says athlete about his physical profile and so it is no surprise to learn that the heart of the training is in this area, and with Cambridge University Hare & Hounds Cross Country Club.

But just being at Cambridge means he breaks the family line.

Orienteering is now ingrained in the family, and it was brought to them by her mother, who met her father at the Oxford University club, of which her sister is currently a member during her studies.

“Technically I’m a product of the Oxford Orienteering Club, which is weird,” jokes Molloy.

It was a combination of study and sport that brought Molloy to Cambridge.

He is a second year student of modern languages ​​in French and Russian.

“It opens up this whole world,” he suggests. “At the time, I thought it was pretty irrelevant in the global context, and now it’s become the most relevant thing – way too relevant, I would say.

“It’s as if you have experienced world events thanks to your degree.”

But the Oxford internship would have deprived him of a last chance of world success.

Peter Molloy Orienteering competitor. Photo: Keith Hepell. (57245735)

“At Oxford if you do Russian they send you overseas in second year so I would be overseas now and I didn’t want to do that because I’m still a junior athlete in orienteering – I would have missed the last year.”

Molloy is a fascinating character and each conversation area opens up a maze of topics, such as the Scotsman traveling to Georgia and Kyrgyzstan for his year abroad after plans to travel to Russia had to be scrapped.

But we are here to talk about orienteering.

You could say it’s a sport with a bad reputation, but that’s probably not true – so little is known about it in mainstream society that it probably has no reputation, aside from these preconceptions.

“It’s like running, long-distance running, but it’s more interesting because you have to find your own path,” says Molloy.

“I just think it’s a more interesting way to race.

“Orienteering has a reputation for Boy Scouts because the main way people encounter it is through Boy Scouts where you have your walking shoes and a compass.

“What I do isn’t like that at all. We all use thumb compasses, so they’re much smaller and more versatile and don’t sit on your thumb. You have your map, but it’s a very sport. intense.

It explains in detail how a race works, the concept being a time trial where competitors collect a card from the starting line as they set off.

“For me, that’s the good thing about it – you have to be quick-witted, able to adapt to what you see. The level of effort is exactly the same as I would give in a cross country race, if not more.

There’s something really nice about the passion with which Molloy talks about orienteering.

It’s unwavering and, if you’ve got a competitive spirit, it’d probably make you want to give it a shot – it’s, in his own words “a family sport…with age ranges ranging from under 10 years to those over 85”. ”.

But that shouldn’t hurt the high end.

Orienteers naturally run slower in races than in a straight line race due to terrain and map reading.

the fastest he would run in an orienteering race would be 3min 30sec per km, which equates to around 17min 30sec for a 5K.

“In orienteering there is no element of PB, best times, season records, they just don’t exist because every race and every course is different,” he said. he.

Urban sprint races can last 15 minutes and forest races up to 100 minutes, with competitors wearing a dibber on their finger which they pass through an SI unit at each checkpoint, similar to a self-service scanner in a supermarket.

As Molloy describes the race in detail, it becomes clear that one of the most enjoyable aspects is the mental challenge.

Peter Molloy Orienteering competitor.  Photo: Keith Hepell.  (57245623)
Peter Molloy Orienteering competitor. Photo: Keith Hepell. (57245623)

He downplays the suggestion, instead emphasizing how fun it was to do as a kid and as it got harder and harder it helped with motivation.

Even though he explains this, you feel like you’re talking to a deep thinker, especially if you consider not only orienteering, but also his choice of studies.

“I guess I like a challenge and I won’t hesitate and I think that’s what orienteering is all about and that’s learning Russian,” says Molloy.

“I think the hardest things are the most rewarding and the most fun. As much as studying Russian was a nightmare at first, it becomes enjoyable once you realize “OK, I can do this”.

“It’s the same for orienteering. You work on it, you improve and you practice it and it gets to the point where it’s really rewarding.

“I really love doing it.”

But he refutes the idea of ​​being a deep thinker, when asked which came first – deep thinking or orienteering?

“I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a deep thinker because I think orienteering is much more about quick thinking, I think it’s more important,” he replies.

“How quickly can you weigh the options and then make a decision because you don’t have time in a race to slow down and think ‘what am I going to do now?’

“It must be what I’m doing straight away, it’s also very intense mental work.”

You can understand exactly what Molloy means, which is why you can also see how mental exhaustion manifests after events.

“Orienteers always talk at the end of long runs about feeling really tired mentally because you’ve just been making decisions for an hour, hundreds of decisions, and your brain is getting tired.

“It’s the same thing if you work very long, you get tired. If you do a very long period of driving, you get tired because you make a lot of decisions.

Quickness of mind, after all, is the prerequisite of all elite athletes, it is what defines them and adds to their ability to reach the top, which is a course Molloy certainly seems to be on.

He is the British men’s under-20 champion in the sprint, middle and long distance, and represented Great Britain at the Junior Orienteering World Championships in 2019.

“I had booked two weeks vacation in Paris during the competition, I didn’t think I would go there, but the selection race went very well,” explains Molloy.

It’s an event he will return to later next month as part of a 12 GB team in Portugal, while further afield the World University Orienteering Championships are held in Switzerland in August.

“Certainly if I think of the places I have been able to go thanks to orienteering, I have been to the most incredible places in all of Europe that I would never have done as a conventional runner” , he adds.

“I just think it’s a more interesting way to race.”

And it’s hard to find a reason to disagree.


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