Interview with Natalia Gemperle

14. June 2023

Foto: Rolf Gemperle

Natalia Gemperle has won twelve orienteering world championship medals for her native country of Russia. As of this year, she will be officially competing for Switzerland as a Swiss national.

Is there a difference between the training philosophies in Russia and Switzerland?

There are many training philosophies and they vary greatly, even within a country itself. You therefore need to find one that suits you.

What makes orienteering so fascinating in your opinion?

Orienteering is like rally driving. You have to navigate your way around as fast as possible while always looking ahead. You'll also find yourself in situations where you need to slow down or change your route altogether. The art is to optimally combine everything by finding the right balance between speed, precision and endurance. In an orienteering competition, you might be able to run at full speed 80% of the time but you'll need to take it steady for 20%.  The challenge lies in getting this 20% right.

What does your orienteering training involve?

It naturally involves a lot of running; in June I was often running around 140 km per week. The basic training generally doesn’t require a map but then there are plenty of intervals involving a map in order to focus on precise orienteering. I also do lots of strength training.

Does this mostly involve endurance or maximum strength workouts?

Both, but mostly with free weights and exercises rather than workout equipment. The heavier the weight, the fewer the repetitions and vice versa. Sometimes, I'll do 1,000 squats in a row using a barbell and 30 kilos of weight.

1,000 squats? That sounds brutal!

(laughs) No, no, it’s fine - it's just a form of endurance training. It takes around an hour and a half with around 10-12 repetitions per minute. Lighter weights mean more repetitions whereas heavier weights require fewer reps.

What about the mental training aspect?

That’s less of a factor. I'm pretty experienced now and know what I need to do. For me, working 1:1 in the forest is a lot more important. My husband, Rolf Gemperle, oversees the technique side of things as he used to train the Swiss national team.

What are your most important traits?

I'm highly motivated, determined and follow through on whatever I set my mind to. I focus on achieving my best performance rather than beating other people. By delivering my best performance, this automatically leads to a good result.

The next major goal is the World Championships in Flims Laax from 11 to 16 July. What are your current preparation plans?

First, I need to make the team. The selection runs take place on 22 and 24 June. If I'm successful, there'll be a four-day training camp with the national team in early July followed by a few days of rest and recovery. After that, I'll be trying to win a medal for Switzerland.