Tuesday, 3 September 2013

The good ol' 26 vs 29'er argument!

Not many people realised, but I had two bikes at WOC this year. One, I had last year, my trusty 8.4kg 26'er Diamant. The other, my new 1 month old 9.4kg 29'er Diamant.

For non bikers, both the bike weights are very light for each wheel size. You won't find many MTBO'ers with lighter bikes.

The reason not many people noticed, was that they look almost identical.
26'er (normal wheels)
29'er (big wheels)

You can see the two are hard to tell apart. Different cranks, XX:FSA, twist shift vs trigger shift and different forks. The 29'er has a blue band on the frame (hard to see in photos), but it's there.

So why did I get a 29'er when I've won two medals on the 26'er?

When I went to Pilsen, I took my training bike, a 26'er Scott Scale 15. I was there to train as well as race, but the emphasis wasn't on riding maximum. I was still training for an hour to 90 minutes in the evenings and putting in longer warm ups to form a training week. Whenever I was passed by the handful of girls on 29'ers, I had no chance to keep up. I was weaving my way around the rocks and roots to avoid excess bumping along the trails, while they seemed to just float over everything. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't bridge the gap. Of course, I had been sick the week before and was still suffering a little. I did have my training bike which isn't as fast as the 26'er race bike. But nevertheless, I came back to Norway feeling rather depressed and negative about WOC in 7 weeks. Despite HJ saying I was riding well, despite faster training sessions, I still couldn't get Estonia out of head. I was lying awake at night thinking about the terrain, and how bumpy the ski tracks were likely to be (based on Falun/Borlange experience) and how much more rolling speed a 29'er was likely to have.

In the end after a week of pondering, I got a 29'er. And from the first ride, I knew it was the right choice. I instantly felt faster, I could climb better and was riding short climbs and rooty sections I had struggled with before. The 29'er just made life easy.

We went to Boden for O-Ringen and I took the newbie with me to see how it handled the ski tracks. I wasn't disappointed and left HJ a sweating mess after an easy ride to one of the race terrains! So all around I was happy with the choice. The mental boost the new bike gave me was unbelievable and all of a sudden, the Finns seemed beatable again in Estonia.

I spent the next 3 weeks testing the bike and getting to grips with the new handling and cornering. Getting back on the 26'er before WOC and it felt small, twitchy and had exceptionally sharp braking! Tests around the car park showed the 29'er went a lot further just rolling along than the 26'er, and tests in the forest showed it to be faster, most noticeably on the fast sections. Technical sections with many corners don't show much different.

It was the right choice for the Estonian forests, and I would hate to have been beaten to the podium by athletes all on 29'ers while I was still on a 26'er. I would always wonder what could have been, so I'm glad I took the leap-of-faith. But the 26 is still great fun to ride ...

WOC overview

To go with the other posts I've written, I thought a summary of the week might be good for those without much time to read my other lengthly posts!

Sprint: DSQ (5th in finish). Rode through OOB area (duh!). Had handlebar problems for 1/2 the race which lead to less map reading time around the crucial OOB area. Quick check of the map, thought I was ok. Sadly not. Was 1st at first radio and 2nd at spectator. Next year ...

Middle: 2nd. Great race. Leading at 2nd radio (or 2nd). Cleanly through technical final section. 33 seconds from gold, 90 seconds ahead of bronze. Next year ...

Long: 4th, good race. Some small 30 sec route choice errors (2x), and a problem control where I was mildly out of control! 50 seconds from bronze, but best GB long result (incl. foot-o) so not remotely disappointed. Next year ...

Now looking forward to getting in another hard year of training for WOC in Poland in 2014. Consistent results this year, just need a little more consistency at the top end to make it 3 medals. Close this year, but still more work to do!

World Champs Long Distance

The WOC week was an unusually busy one. I almost didn't stop from Sunday until Relay day, when I finally managed to find a little time to rest. The British guys didn't want me in their relay team (!) and I was happy to sit it out and watch the races instead. However the courses and terrain looked exceptionally exciting so I was a little disappointed to be sat on the asphalt all day rather than pedalling around an awesome area.

Early part of long distance (Cont. 3 - 30secs)
With a DSQ and a 2nd place so far in the week, I felt the long distance would decide my fate: whether or not to go to the World Cup final in Portugal or not. I was feeling super motivated though, as my GPS tracking and split times from sprint and middle were rather good and close to Laurila and Hara. So I knew my speed was good, but with no preparation for the long what-so-ever I knew this race would mean I had to make all the right decisions out there as everything would be unexpected. I managed to find a few hours to study the map but it was a small amount in comparison to the other races.

I was lucky (and for once happy) to be seeded first of the red group so I knew I should catch the three starters ahead of me. I actually never saw them, I guess some different routes early one. Mickevicuite LTU started 12 minutes ahead and I was doubtful whether I could catch her, but I thought it might be close near the finish. I didn't bother looking at the start list in any more detail as the fast terrain would mean I shouldn't see many people ahead, nor be caught from later starters.

A small rush in the minutes before the start as I changed from leaking Camelbak (a relic of EYOC 2005, kjempe mouldy and generally gross) to a bottle. With a few seconds to spare I was ushered into the -3minute box where I could run through my race mentally for a few minutes.

The long legs (Cont. 9 - 30secs)
I knew the race would be one of pain for 90 minutes, but with 12km less than the men, I also thought our winning times might be longer than expected. My success (or lack of) in the long races in recent years has been more a mental problem than a physical one. But this year I knew my training was good and that my head was also good for orienteering in this terrain, so the positive mindset enabled me to maintain a high pace throughout.

I lost 30 seconds to the 3rd control, it seems the ski track was faster than the straighter option, but I soon regained places after the spectator control. From control 5 onwards the athletes order remained similar Hara, Laurila, Thomasson, me, Hoffman, Sogaard, with only a few changes here and there. Once out of the butterfly loop the order was set for the final results. I was riding well from the start and my speed enabled me (along with a handful of others) to set a gap to the rest of the field. I was undecided on the long leg and choose to take the southern route over the marsh rather than head north. I felt my route was a little shorter, but in the end it was 30 seconds longer. Slowly I had to regain places again but a technical butterfly helped.
Butterfly (I had 16 first loop, 12 second)

Control 13 was problematic for me in many ways. Firstly I hadn't found any good route, so took the shortest that weaved around the straight line. I had to pause a few times on the leg to really get it sussed. I also was struggling to map read and bike (just for this one control) and even went on to miss the junction I wanted, losing 45 seconds as I turned around. Everything that could go wrong, did here, and it was probably this more than anything else that cost me the bronze in the race.

Photo N. Vinogradova
Coming out of the butterfly we had some long transport legs south, I had to keep pushing on and now things were really feeling tough. Judging by the GPS, Thomasson SWE and I were together at the 4th last control, but she took a far better route out than I, and I lost the time again. She also had a stronger finish so I doubt from this point I could have made it to bronze anyway.

At the finish I was exhausted. My first long race I have been properly motivated for, and it was 17 minutes over the estimated winning time, and 5 minutes down on the leader Hara FIN. Silver was reachable, 2 minutes ahead, and bronze certainly attainable with a few better routes.

Photo N. Vinogradova
The rest of the afternoon was spent feeling ill with stomach problems, so I was not in such a great mood. Come the prize giving and I was feeling better but still prone to cramps. Sadly we couldn't stay for the banquet as we had a boat to catch, so I missed finding out I was 2nd in Michi Gigon's dreamteam!

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Silver in WOC middle

My new bike! Diamant Apex T29.1
This is actually my 5th silver of my career (3 at junior level and 2 at elite) which are framed on either side by a lonely gold and a lonely bronze! But I just won my 2nd WOC medal after an almost flawless race so I can't be disappointed to be beaten by the faster woman on race day.

After yesterday I felt I had to have a good race. All the signs were there that I had potential to take a medal in the sprint, and given that the middle was the focus of my race prep (due to the unpredictable nature of sprints), I was feeling confident that things could go my way.

Map of WE course with route
My start was 20 mins later, so I had extra quarantine time, which isn't an issue, I just had to make sure all my bike stuff and tools came with me. I sat, I wandered, I tried to stay warm in the sun. Eventually after 2 hours I could start warming up. I had the 'feelings' of a good race again, as per yesterday, only my thoughts were a little more scatty due to being able to hear the fast times being posted from the commentary. The 'feelings' always seem to become more diluted the further along the WOC week we go, but already I'm feeling ready for the long in 3 days time.

The warm up area was the downhill slope, so not the easy warm up for the first 10 mins I like to have. But as with everything in sport, these routines can be adapted regardless of the situation. So I pedalled around, did a few uphill sprints, before realised I'd left my chain lube in my bag which I'd just handed in so had a 5 min panic to get it back!

As I started the 3 min countdown procedure I heard my wonderful boyfriend being announced as leading and only having a few minutes until the finish. It's nearly impossible to ignore the commentary at this point, and HJ crossed the line just as I started, so it was mildly distracting!
Riding to the first control Photo: Donatas Lazauskas

First control: right where I expected and so the decision on route was easy.
Two and three: again, in the area I expected, ticking off controls nicely.
Four: spectator control. Just ride fast.
Five: the long leg had already been planned on the way to control 1, so the execution was all that mattered. First road crossing as I knew where it was, then under the powerlines before taking the ATV tracks to the control.
Six and seven: no problem, just take the shortest route and start planning ahead again.
Eight and nine: no major route choices. Riding straight up to the railway seemed fastest and easiest so that was a no brainer. Nine had a small route choice where I lost 10 secs by not going under the powerline. Difficult to see the difference on the map, and everyone in the top 3 took my route anyway.

Close up of technical section with route
Then came the technical controls. Sizeable hills compared to the flat north, with a multitude of ski tracks and MTB trails. The controls in here were well planned to balance the great trails and fast riding. To ten I wasn't sure if the difficult path was faster than the ski track. I don't think it mattered a great deal, but from what I heard later it was actually a fast path due to having 100 men ride it. We dropped out the field on a fun trail, before heading back up to the second highest hill on the area (the highest one we climbed). I was pleased here to ride the trail at the top, after the fatiguing effort to get up there, there was a whopping tree root on the final climb to the control. I rode it, wheels didn't slip, so a small celebration after. As I turned I saw a couple of men and a woman walking up which made me even happier! We then had a technical downhill section where I lost 23 secs to the fastest time, despite taking a lovely shortcut to the control. I also lost 20 secs on the following leg which had a technical section in it, so looks like we've found something to work on next season.

WOC medal number 2
Then it was just the final loop. All I could do was to keep riding and keep pedalling. My legs were screaming to stop or slow down, but after a near perfect race there was no chance of my brain letting that happen. The hills by this point were unrelenting, and I rode up the final steep climb with soft dust making the trail harder. But from there it was downhill. The final control couldn't come soon enough, and then HJ was yelling I was in the fight for medals, so I sprinted harder to get the fastest finish time.

As it turned out, it wasn't a fight for medals. I was safely in silver with none of the 5 starters behind me close at the radio controls, so I could instantly celebrate silver. It was short lived when I was told I had to pee in front of someone, and 2 hours later I finally managed to be hydrated enough to manage my first doping control. Unfortunately, I then didn't stop running to the toilet for the next 3 hours ... !

I'm pleased with the result and the time. In quarantine I knew the fastest time was 8 minutes under the planners estimate so I knew the course was fast. I then went another 2 mins quicker, with first place being 33 seconds ahead of me still. It's a shame the courses couldn't have been longer, but it was a mentally and physically challenging course which more than made up for the fast times.

Event website

Emily Benham, Marika Hara FIN, Susanna Laurila FIN
Photo: Donatas Lazauskas

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

World Champs Sprint, from 1st to 5th to DSQ

What started out as a really good race went wrong in two ways that should never happen.

We arrived at quarantine in the morning before the 11am cut off. Quickly finding a corner to call 'home' for a few hours. I spent the first hour wandering around, looking at the start chute, start kite and focussing my mind on the task ahead.

By the time the warm up came around I was feeling nervous and excited but most importantly focussed on the map and techniques I would need. I was 6th last starter so I knew my result wouldn't change hugely at the finish, but it all depended on the coming 21 mins.

The course layout was entirely as expected with the first controls heading to the specially mown area, which we knew from the team leaders last night would be technical riding and navigationally hard. The course then went for a loop around the ski slopes, going to the top twice to get in the 50m climb the course had. As predicted it then came back through the mown area of tracks to the spectator control before the final loop.

I took the first three controls map memory based on the 1 min with the map at the start. The technical mown area proving challenging at speed but somehow instinct and memory guided me to the controls smoothly. On the way up to the third I looked again at the coming legs, and pulled a 10 sec lead to the first radio control. By the spectator I was a few seconds behind in 2nd but I had just started having 'undiagnosed' bike problems.

Most people are familiar with that flat rear tyre feeling, a slightly spongey feeling that's mildly uncontrollable and feels like the bike is 'snaking' the softer it gets. I had this feeling, but I couldn't see that the rear tyre was flat. I carried on riding being a little distracted by the 'snaking' bike. I knew I just had to get to the finish. Checking the front tyre while pedalling: nope, not flat. I started to think the back wheel might have some loose, or the almost-over-the-handlebars incident on the way 4 had broken the frame.

I took the left most route choice to one control, trying to stay with the narrow 1mm gap between the building and temporary OOB area, 7.5m on the ground. In the final 1km the snaking bike became so bad I lost 45 seconds, narrowly missing a pedestrian on a corner I couldn't take and being fairly out of control on any small bend/uneven surface.

On finishing I was announced as 5th. I checked the tyres but still they were fine. I had no idea what the problem was until HJ jumped on and realised the handlebars had come loose. Despite 5th being my second best WOC result and the initial 1/2 the course showing I am fast enough and navigating well, I couldn't help but be disapointed to be 5th. Even when the final results came in confirming the 5th place, I was still annoyed to lose the fight for medals by a mechanical that just shouldn't happen. I even have no idea how, as I've been riding all week without any issue.

As it turned out, the narrow gap on the map was bad printing and 60 or so athletes have been DSQ'd for going out of bounds. Initially I wasn't on the Event Advisors list of athletes, but while querying the problem I saw I was on the marshals two lists so I corrected the error. A 1 mm gap on the map is 7.5m on the ground at this scale and it's not the athletes fault for the problem. A combination of bad printing and lack of clarity at the team meeting has led the situation arising. One or two athletes doing this and the problem is clearly theirs. But 60 or so? I think the situation also shows the need for MTBO to have definitive map printing guidelines and possibly look at approved printers similar to foot-o standards. An issue like this at a high level competition that has been very well organised really shouldn't occur.

To be honest, I'm okay with the DSQ as I don't feel the 5th place did my performance justice today. I had such a navigationally clean race - bar a 20 second error and the OOB area, but the bike problem just devalued the performance for me. But the split times and my general riding and speed are good indictors for the coming races.

But on a positive note the map was generally good and the courses generally excellent. They were a good balance between urban and non-urban, so it's disappointing the day can end as it has. Fortunately the best woman won on the day and the medals for women were unaffected.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

The countdown begins ...

... actually the countdown began several weeks ago, but each week begins a new countdown. One less interval session done, one less training session, one less sleep to go.

With the World Championships a mere 9 days away life is slowing down and speeding up simultaneously. On the one hand, training is tapering but intervals are getting faster. On the other hand the days are ticking by quickly but the hours dragging along.

So what's the plan for the next few weeks?

 Unfortunately last week my plan had to change. Originally, I was due to go to Sweden to race in one of the Swedish Cup rounds, but the folks I was due to stay with changed their minds. I couldn't find any other accommodation at a reasonable price for the week: £80 per night for 6 days is just too much. I also couldn't manage to work the travel arrangements with bike and box due to the change of plans, so ended up cancelling the flight and rebooking to Norway for next Tuesday. It's a real shame as I was looking forward to getting some good competition. After having missed 3 boats on the way to Poland, a change of plans like this isn't enough to stress me out anymore!

Instead, I get to spend a few extra days with my family and then I will go directly back to Oslo to see my boyfriend a couple of days earlier. We'll then leave on Thursday and head to Sodertalje for an evening MTBO event, before driving to Stockholm for the boat to Tallinn.

Once we arrive in Tallinn we'll go straight to the training camp and do some final days preparation with relevant maps. At least on this trip there's a smattering of GB representatives: 2 elite men and our junior! The team arrive on Friday evening for a bit of extra training like us.

Despite how chaotic the last months have been (Poland, illness, Pilsen, Boden, UK) training has actually been going well. My interval distances were further again than in May prior to the Europeans. It will be great to run a one rep test when I get back to Norway, and I feel that I generally moving faster  now.

For now, it's just about playing the waiting game. WOC will come around in 9 days and before I know it I'll be on the start line ready to go.

World Champs website
Photo: Bergstrom

Sunday, 28 July 2013

O-Ringen 2013 - An 'organisers' perspective

When I moved to Scandinavia last year, I was immediately asked if I wanted to go to Boden by Hans Jørgen. Naturally the first response has to be 'where?'.

Boden has many hidden treasures
Boden, 100km south of the Arctic Circle was at the time, the furthest north I'd been. So I could hardly turn down the opportunity (I was swayed in my decision by the prospect of two night train journeys).

Hans Jørgen, as planner and mapper for the O-Ringen MTBO, said he would need to spend a lot of time in Boden over the coming year. Each time he went I was drawn back with him, with persuasive arguements: night trains, best breakfast, MTBO training.

One view from Northern Pagla (unused terrain)
Our first trip was really just checking the terrain and getting to know the area. We spent a week there with 6-10hrs mapping per day over the three terrains we would be using. Most of the areas I mapped in that first week were never used - a large sandy area (technical, but mostly unbikeable), a moto-X section (fun, but limited) and an additional area west of the Day 2, Start 1 start. Partly the reasons for not using these areas was that they were too physical with deep sand, and didn't form part of any meaningful courses. We were also regularly imposed with restrictions from O-Ringen Central: can't use this road/track due to walkers, can't use this crossing point due to bus stop, can't go here, here or here because that's the same area used for O-Ringen Foot-O. At one point I lost a lot of motivation for planning, as the restrictions meant it was impossible to get any good courses. Eventually, after much debating, we found a solution and presented it to O-R Central, which was accepted.

Control site in the fortress
We made a further 2 week long trips to Boden, one in September and one in May of this year. The final trip was course checking, and racing each course to hopefully get the right winner times. The sprint and middle we gauged well, but underestimated some of the older courses in long (I guess we biked too slow for these pro athletes!)

The biggest problem we had was making the courses simple enough! The areas we were using for days 1 and 2 were incredibly technical. In some places so many tracks we couldn't map them all at the scale we were using, so instead adopted a 'many un-mapable tracks' symbol. Many of the junior courses were the easiest we could make them in the terrain, and still they were a little on the technical side. Normally course planners work to make courses challenging. We had no such problems. The elite courses we could take anywhere. But for everyone else, a lot more thought was required to cater not only the fastest, but also the slowest and beginners. We weren't far wrong as even my mother successfully negotiated the open short course and didn't finish last!

In the races, the key was to bike steady and navigate hard. Many people didn't pick up on this and made some sizeable mistakes! But after the first day we were both happy with the comments about the terrain and courses. Most notably 'the most physical and technical sprint ever'!

The final week, O-Ringen week was tough. We spent 3 days before re-checking and re-tagging control sites as some kindly members of the public/army had removed our tags. For which we are grateful ...

O-Ringen days dawned and we were up early to glorious sun at ... 4.a.m. Too early for me and way to soon for breakfast so it was out biking the 20mins to the event and putting out the SI units on the stakes we put out the day before. Then some biking around checking the units continued to work throughout the competition before collecting in some 6 hours later. We then had to transport our stakes to the next days' terrain and put those out, before being allowed to chill at 5pm. The next morning was the same procedure, Si units out, ride around, collect in. Day 2 was the longest day 4am - 11pm as the chasing start procedure needed to be checked and re-checked to iron out the bugs and allow the start team to practise.

Day three was in 'mygg festivalen' on Pagla. A wonderful ski stadium with a fab view of the start, spectator loop, second spectator control and finish loop. By this point I was fed up of being 'mygged' on Pagla Berget, so refused to leave the commentary house all day!

View of Rodberget fortress
Being involved in O-Ringen was really a fantastic experience (I'm writing this a week later and still tired from the lack of sleep). It took two people 3 weeks to map the terrains, plus many many more hours of planning and considerations. HJ was sending emails to our boss most days. The organisation of the event was very professional. 99.9% of glitches were foreseen and avoided, thanks in part to HJ and my experience of major events as athletes, but also thanks to our boss whose outside perspective allowed him to see the bigger picture and things we hadn't really given much thought too. It goes to show the importance for having a separate organiser and mapper/planner. Often the mapper/planner gets too involved in the nitty gritty of the courses and forgets about start procedure, finish lanes etc.

We had a really professional start team who worked hard putting up the start each day and ensuring it was of a professional standard - perhaps a lesson for future organisers, a few bits of tape stuck to the ground won't cut it anymore!

Boden view
Furthermore, the help of the local cycling club, Savast CK, was superb. They helped us to put out controls each days. We divided each terrain into 5 sections of 15 controls, and each person was responsible for one area. My area was 'area 5', so each day I had to hang controls and SI units, and collect, before putting them out in the following days terrain. I was responsible for 'my' units, 86-99. Savast CK helped us by taking areas 2, 3, and 4. They were up at the crack of dawn with dawn and didn't go home until everything was ready for the next day. They even biked all day checking controls, one day putting in 70km (with a few coffee stops on the way). Their assistance and professionalism was key to ensuring the event ran smoothly. (They even spent a couple of months checking their control areas and re-tagging sites so come race day they knew exactly where their controls would be!).

Post event food

Entry prohibited to aliens :-)

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Race 10 - long distance

It's been a few years since I rode in a mass start. The last was a poor experience in 2011, but before that, two in Hungary which I rather enjoyed.

My mistake in the sprint cost me a medal, and I should have stayed with Ingrid and Maja. So, I chose to play the mass start tactically. With the long distance being the 'extra' race for me, I knew I would have to do something special to pull a top 6 again. But I wasn't feeling in a special mood. The intense focus on the sprint (that was cancelled) and middle, really took it out of me mentally, so by the time I stood on the start line, I decided my race was to let the others do the work.

It sounds like a bit of a cop-out, but those were the tactics. Say with the faster group but at the back, let them make mistakes and for me to hit the controls cleanly. If I rode at a slower pace than normal, I should have enough energy and speed to maintain control at the end. Past experience has taught me most athletes in a mass start will lose time in the last controls, when they switch off/get tired/get distracted etc.

The first part of the race was to make it first to the gate out of the field, enough for 3 bikes to pass in a row, but it could potentially cause a small pile up! At the start gun, I grabbed my map and legged it towards my bike, hurdling one in front to get there smoothly. Map in, jump on bike and ride. Suddenly I realised I was the second athlete leading out of the field, not the position I wanted. Since being first to the gate was irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, I slowed down and passed out of the field in 4th. I was second on my gaffle to the first control, but with the longer forking, came in a the back of the pack at the common control. Still in the first 10 mins, everyone was still riding fast. I stayed with a group of riders who I normally beat by a good margin, but I wasn't too concerned. I planned some controls and slowly picked my way up the field. A lot of other athletes were biking very fast here only to make mistakes later.

At the 4th control I was surprised to see Hara and Laurila on their way to the next, only about 40 seconds ahead. These two are the super fast women so I knew they must have been biking fast and made a mistake. A few more controls and they were only 15 seconds ahead. Again this re-affirmed that the front pack were having a bad day and exploring the woods.

On the hill climb I didn't lose any ground to the small pack 50m ahead. Some Russians and Finns came past breathing heavily, but I just maintained my speed. At the top of the hill, the group that had gone past reappeared from a track after having made a mistake. It's all very well to bike fast, but to then lose the time on a mistake is far more mentally draining than sticking to a game plan!

A bit further on and Hara appeared from my right, another mistake from the lead group. Now I knew I was back up with them, and by the next control I was in the group again.

My plan of staying together only failed once on the course, where the map showed a valley, and on the shortest route, it was a perfectly viable option. In reality the massive ravine which was almost unclimbable in both directions, presented a bigger problem. My plan of descending on another path and shortcutting was put on hold when all the others took this path (before the ravine could be seen). Everyone lost 90 seconds here, but on the second forking it could be corrected. The only problem is that more time was gained by having the longer forking at this control second, so athletes who had the shorter control first, then gained 30-1 min on the next round. My gaffle only gained 20 secs later on.

Coming into the finish I knew I wasn't in the lead, but it seemed the field had really spread out after the ravine controls. Heading onto the next loop I tried to maintain speed but was really struggling with my legs tightening up. I was caught by Jaggi on this loop, but while she pulled a gap, a mistake in the later controls saw me finish ahead.

In the end, despite my less-than-optimal feeling I was 10th, about 2 mins behind the medals and 4 mins behind first. It's my closest long distance to date, and as expected I gained 5 places at the end of the course by keeping a cool head. There's a huge amount of room for improvement in long distance races, but for the rest of 2013, sprint and middle races will remain my focus. As for 2014, maybe I will change focus, but we will see. After a successful 2 races, the 10th in the long was a slightly bitter pill to swallow, but up there with some of my best long results. I know I'm capable of more in long races, I believe it's just a matter of focussing more mental effort on them.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

The re-race and World Cup leader!

I'm now up to Race 9 in my 3 weeks of racing. Fairly intensive but fortunately I have the fitness to deal with it. Prior to todays race I was ranked =3rd in the world, and including today I currently lead the World Cup (based on our prelim. calculations!)

After a recovery day yesterday with a couple of hours easy biking to the relay to spectate, I was feeling good for todays Sprint re-race. 

This time the race spent most time the forest, so I knew short cutting would be crucial. I also knew I have the speed to match the world's best now, so if everything went well, it could be another medal.

With my medal, bike and Orifix board!
On the start line I saw no other option to the first 3 controls apart from short cutting completely straight. Taking a bearing, on a bike, isn't the easiest skill to master so most bearings end up being very rough and direction is generally dictated by vegetation anyway. After nailing 1, 2 and then 3 controls, I caught Stengard my 1 min woman, and Rothweiler my 2 min woman. I decided to stay with them for a few controls and see if there came any chances to make a break. 

Annoyingly I got a leafy bramble plant wrapped around the lower gears, so I had hopping gears to contend with. It also meant I couldn't power through to maintain speed and I lost about 30 seconds over the next 5 controls to Stengard. Stopping to sort the problem when there are 4 of the world's best girls speeding through the forest wasn't an option. I just had to wait for the foliage to get bedded into my cassette so I could ride full speed again.

The route choice leg caught me out and I lost a minute here. I saw the right and left options but missed the middle choice. I started off the left and then changed to the middle half way. I would have lost a minute staying to the left choice anyway, so it was the plan change that cost me. Rather the lack of planning the early part of the leg. Stupid.
Another celebratory pic!

As I sped around the lake I could see Stengard and Rothweiler on the other side. Interestingly here my split times picked back up again and I was never far from the fastest time for the final half of the course. I lost the silver through one 'mistake'. And it wasn't even a mistake. A concentration lapse that I paid for. Big time.

Tomorrow is the long distance mass start. It's a race I've not focussed on all season, preferring to see what happens. There are a handful of really fast women, who can be slightly flakey at times with their nav, so it will be interesting to see how this race pans out. I can't wait to get head-to-head with the whole women's field and really see how the results go. I have the speed to get a result, it just depends on how well gaffled the courses are, and whether the athletes lower down the ranking list can hold their navigation together. I hope it doesn't turn into a XC course like we had some years ago. 

Tuesday, 18 June 2013


Yes, you read that right! I'm European Champion of the middle distance. Still not quite sunk in yet ...

After the stress of yesterday, we spent the evening relaxing being 'orienteers' and finding all the mistakes on the map. Not to complain about it, but merely for our own entertainment!

On the podium!
I felt much more relaxed heading into the middle distance. I couldn't help but have a few negative thoughts swirling in my head as I warmed up - 'what if I leave these championships with no top 6 places', 'Competitor X was so fast yesterday, how do they get so fast' etc. But each time the negative popped in, I batted it back out by running through my race plan and key words.

Having spent some time training and preparing for this area, I knew how to handle the technical section. I knew to slow down, take it steady, read the map all the time and get every control right. All i had to do was get it right!

Once I left the pre-start for my 1km ride to the start, I felt more focussed and the negativity was gone. Seeing the other girls waiting wasn't a distraction. But I still felt apprehensive. The first sections would be fast and simpler nav. The last part, if all went as I expected, should be harder.

On picking up the map, I knew I had prepared well. Each of the route choices I had already planned to some degree. My map work had shown where the hills where, that the top wasn't as flat as it looked. And the valleys weren't as deep as they appeared in the eastern section. I knew to go as straight as possible. Not to get tempted to take a longer option - there wouldn't be any less climb.

Part 1 - W21E
First control: hmm, route choice. Didn't expect that choice so soon. Ok. Go round. Pick up the yellow (new road under construction). If it's good to ride, take it. If it's bad, there's another path. Nice line into control, and good to suss out exit. Execute it.

At the first control I met Scaravonati ITA, my 4 min woman. 'Yey, good choice. Ok. Next'. I picked nice routes to the next two controls, while maintaining enough speed to get me there quick, but not so fast I couldn't see the map to plan the long 4th.

At the fourth, Scaravonati still behind. I decided to go straight. 'Yes, it's difficult tracks, probably muddy. But it's straight. And faster'. I messed up the middle section a little, just starting to take the wrong path out, but I realised quickly and ran up the hill through the forest. Once out on the main track,  sorted my map for the second half (a massive 46x39 map does not fit the whole course on a 30x30 mapboard). Fortunately I've had a lot of practise over the past weeks so I could refold while moving.

Part 2 
Another long leg. 'Ok, go straight. Climb looks big but not steep. Same climb to go around on the road. Straight it is'. The leg ended in the start of the technical section and here I was about 30 secs or so behind the leaders. I must have slowed my pace sub-conciously here, but I'm not sure. At any rate, my pace was enough to map read well and without errors. A perfect case of letting the map reading take priority and letting the speed come naturally.

Scaravonati was still on my tail - she'd pulled back a little on the hill. Some years ago, this would have really distracted me. But today I didn't think about it. The only thought I had, was that 2 minds are better than 1, and I hoped she was at least keeping track of where we were, in case I went horribly wrong.

I was a little caught out by how green the area was. Lots of young trees in the middle of the tracks (recent rain had made them grow much thicker). Perfect bike eating trees. Rear derailleur ripping, stick-in-wheel trees. Gotta risk going through at speed. There was nothing else for it. At least the riders before me had flattened them a little. Also enough that I could see where some of the paths went. I imagine the early riders had a tough time out there.

My speed was such that I could think clearly, read where I was going and plan the next control ahead. Any more planning ahead that that wasn't worth it. I'd forget my decision. At each junction I knew which way to go in advance of being there. Perfect focus and control all the time.

Technical section - dense green, small paths
Half way through I saw Barlet FRA on her way out of a control as I was going in. We met 100m away from the control, so I thought I might be seeing her again. I caught her sooner than expected. Before the  next control. A few controlled shortcuts to get the best route, and I now was aware I had two people, possibly three behind. I knew Kaminska POL was around as I had seen her earlier, but wasn't paying enough attention to them to know if she was with us.

Some final controls in the tech section, a final shortcut to the penultimate control, and it was off down the hill towards the finish. It was hard to read the map and terrain on the way down the difficult track to the final control. I got the first half right, and then took the right path at a junction instead of the left. I realised quickly, and cut across the open forest back to the one I needed. I must have cut across far more than intended and I came out within sight of the final control. Down the hill, nice and controlled to the finish.

At the finish I was struggling to make sense of the commentary. A great race I had had, and I knew it. But what were they saying! Hans Jørgen came up and said I was leading, by over 2 mins. But with 5 more riders to finish, and 5 of the world's best, I hoped I had done enough.
Cecilia Thomasson SWE, Emily Benham GBR, Ingrid Stengard FIN

Some minutes later and I was announced as the winner and European Champion! Results

Finally! It's been a long road to get here, there have been ups and downs. Last years break did me the world of good, and I learnt more about what I need to compete than I could have had I kept plugging away trying to force results. Everything in the last 3 weeks has been building up the these championships: running through race routines before each competition (not the Z3 races!), not getting stressed by the small things (missing boats, poor sprint races etc!), and ensuring I was focussed for the races.

In the end the winning margin was 2 mins 13 to 2nd and 3.23 to 3rd. A decent margin considering how fast the first section was, compared to the final section.

As a final plus to the day, my split times to the final 4 controls were faster than HJ. Clearly I was riding faster than I thought!

There's now a recovery day with a couple hours of training tomorrow, while the relay is going (I have no team, as the only Brit here), and then Thursday will be the re-race of the Sprint. Friday is the mass start long distance. If I have the speed on the day I hope for another reasonable long distance performance.

European Sprint Championships - Race 7

Zamosc Centre and expected finish location
This is the race I had spent most of my time preparing for.

Some time ago I was told by one of my Kvarnsveden clubmates the map extract was Zamosc - he had found a key feature on the extract and matched it to the satellite image. It confirmed a feeling I'd had for a while that the sprint would be in Zamosc, despite the lack of embargo in the city.

A bit of internet research and Googling and I felt I had pinpointed the area the race would use. In total my preparation for the race probably came close to nearly two full months of training - most likely around 130-150 hrs. Some of this includes the preparation for the middle distance, but the vast majority was spent on Zamosc.

Naturally the day before the race I was nervous. I knew most likely how the courses could be and where the route choice's would be. I had figured out the start at the stadium and the finish and spectator control in the square. I knew I could win this, no matter what came my way. So imagine my surprise when the evening before it was announced the sprint could no longer be in Zamosc due to security of the road crossings. Oh F***. With a capital F!

Narrow alley - Zamosc
Parkland - Zamosc
The new area was to be in Krasnobrod, but fortunately it was permitted to bike around the village area - not the forest. I set out for a short 30 min pedal just to get my bearings rather than suss out anything. I'm glad I did because I felt more comfortable on a couple of controls where I had been the evening before.

Come race day, I was nervous. My first 'official' outing as a red groupie. I had been in the red group some years ago for a weekend of racing due to one competitor not being present, so I was bumped up. Unlike last time, I felt I deserved my place there, and the confidence it brings.

I set off and took it steady to the first control. To the second I had a crash with a Finn who didn't see me. I didn't realise he hadn't seen me until too late. Both of us where off the bikes in different directions, and after a quick apology to each other I got my control and legged it!

Pic from Hungary last year
The end of the first route choice posed a smaller decision point. Wiggle through some houses or go around the road. The road is longer, but I can plan ahead. That's the decision then. But I got to the junction I needed, control in sight only to find a locked gate. Not just any gate. a massive whopper with spikes on the top to match the b*tch of a fence on either side. Check the map - yes it says it's possible to pass here. I turned around to return to the only entrance through the gate.

I put this upset behind me straight away. At the control I saw the Barlet FRA who started 1 min after me. This helped re-focus me quickly and I quickly got back into the race. We rode together for a bit, neither one of us really gaining a lead, but helping each other through the controls. Barlet eventually missed a path so I got a gap.

As soon as I finished I had to complain about the gate. It turned out I wasn't the only one to find a problem. After much consultation between athletes, the organiser finally decided to void the women's race. The right decision to make. I lost a full 90 secs, possibly a little more. Many others lost more time some threw their bikes over the fence.

Zamosc Map
A re-match will be held on Thursday (the rest day). We did however get to see the Zamosc maps - much to our amusement. Good courses were ruined by far too many OOB areas and forbidden routes. But I think I would have had a good result there regardless. My geeking would have paid off!


Sunday, 9 June 2013

Event 6 - Swedish Champs Long

The training plan that was put in place 6 weeks ago said that todays race should be Z3 HR rather than maximum intensity. After the middle distance I was feeling really motivated. I mean super super motivated. I wanted to go and kick ass there and then! HJ and I discussed the plan, and I decided to wait until morning before making a decision on how to approach the race.

D21 Part 1
I'm glad I did, because this morning I woke up feeling lethargic and tired. So I put my racing Diamant away and got out the training Scott bike. I like each time I sit on the Diamant, for me to be mentally ready and motivated to win. This morning I wasn't feeling the motivation so much so riding the Scott was a good way for me to keep my HR down and back off the pace a bit.

I did a short warm up. No sprints or high intensity efforts, just a little pedalling to get warm. But during this pedalling I realised, that despite feeling tired I actually felt strong. I decided to stick to the plan, back off the intensity and focus on flowing navigation and good route choices.

The first few controls were steady, by number 6 I was in 3rd and 3 minutes down. I spent time in advance moving the A3 map in my Orifix board, so I could think about the coming route choices. After yesterday and missing the road option, I went along the road no.7, about a minute slower than the straightest option, but this one had a steep difficult descent and climb. My route was flat and easy. Had I been biking to maximum I think this route would have been 40 seconds or so faster.

I turned the map just after no.7 and used the same return to route to no.8 so I could plan ahead again. No.9 I went around the road as I didn't know the quality of the dotted path. But since no.9 was at the top of the hill (a sandy hill) I took the dotted path back to the road on the way to no.10. I think I got these routes right as I had the fastest times here (of the SM women). Again to no.10 I had the fastest time, despite maintaining the same pace!

No.11 felt like another crux RC leg. I chose to stay to what I knew, as there didn't seem to be much in the routes anyway. I stuck on the flat track, went past one of yesterdays controls and out onto the slow track (where I knew part of it had compact sand at the edge). I gambled the rest of the track was a similar good condition. I also wanted to avoid going past the marsh on the east RC as there were more contours here and thus more climb. From my track I had a small climb but a direct line in and not much thinking. Again, I had the fastest time here!

D21 Part 2
After that it was straightforward navigation for a few controls. The first control after the map change was a leg I had planned the night before and felt would be logical after the map change! I knew I had to go towards the ravine but then take the path that clipped the top of it, rather than getting muddled on the others. Fastest time.

The final sections of the course were a bit of a sprint. I climbed the hill and would have have another good split, but I stopped to remove a stick from my wheel, and then overshot the control which was on a parallel path. Should have seen this while riding on the road but let's face it - I switched off a little!
D21 Part 3

Then some urban controls with some split times mixing with the fastest.

I was 4.5 mins behind Cecilia at the first map change, and pulled back another 90 secs in the second half. My HR data shows I did keep a moderate pace throughout and didn't speed up after the map change. The course was mostly Z3/Z4, and this was a good mental and navigational performance. To only be 4 mins behind the winner from Denmark over such a fast course (the majority was on fast roads and tracks), I am pleased with this!

Another 2nd place in SM, but 5th today including the open classes. The result should have been higher with another maximum performance but I'll take it for now. The European Champs next week are the focus. I would rather be recovered in 2 days than in 5 days (had the race been max, based on last weeks recovery times).

Race 5 - Swedish Champs Middle

D21 part 1
I decided not to write a race report yesterday as I really wasn't pleased with my performance in the early stages of the course, and felt I needed 24 hours to write something that was fair. Rather than be 100% negative! I spent most of yesterday evening reflecting on the race, what went wrong and most importantly why. I then spent some more time coming up with a plan of attack for the long today (but more on that later).

The first control was easy, but it was controls 2 and 3 that caused all my problems. I realised later I have never encountered this style of terrain before - notably that in the area of 2 and 3. The terrain is moderately hilly, and the mess of contours make little sense while biking (or stood still) as the terrain is formed of 20-30m high hills with depressions between. The paths also, follow no structure here. They are neither solely on ridges or in valleys, but instead form a random unpredictable pattern in the terrain.

D21 part 2 (1)
I opted for no.2 to go around a little. On the big track then cut the corner a little. I lost a minute to Ingrid here who continued on the fast track and came from NW up the slow track all the way. A negligible difference on the map, but in reality my choice proved costly.

To 3 again, I stuck with the route I knew, getting a little stuck in sand on the sharp corners, and lost another 40 seconds. Less than before, but the general downhill nature of the early paths helped a little.

D21 part 2 (2)
After that it was a fairly unremarkable race, I didn't see the road option to no.6, and to no.7 I didn't see the fast track that I had folded off the edge of the board (you can see the crease line to the right of no.7!) Over those two controls I lost another minute.

By this point I was 3 minutes behind, but naturally didn't know this. I saw Cecilia on my way to no.7 and figured she had gained a couple of minutes on me.

However, to 8, 9 and 10 I found I understood things a bit more, and started to mingle in the other competitors split times. I'm not sure why I suddenly changed mentally here, but I started to know which would be the better choices. Rather than guessing and not succeeding.

I spent time thinking about the next leg, and chose to stay on the flat. Longer than the north route, but safer navigation and a chance to pedal.

Using the easier navigation on this leg I could think more about the next one. At first I felt going over the medium path to the south was better, but on closer inspection saw the contours and small hill tops. Instead I chose to take a risk and take the slow track to the north. In fact this turned out to be rather fast, the sand was harder at the edges where cars have driven and soft in the middle. Crossing the middle was treacherous, but in the end I was much faster than my other competitors on this leg.

Race face (Jonas Bierson)
I was disappointed when I finished. Looking at the splits, I lost 3 mins in the first half, and pulled back 90 secs in the second half to only be 1min 30 behind Ingrid, in 4th (2nd in Swedish Champs). It took a while to see the positive in the race, that my biking speed is ok and matching the others. The mistakes at the beginning - well, it's a learning opportunity! At any rate, the time is far better than last years SM middle, where I went exploring in the woods for 7 mins ... so the improvement is there. I just need a little more consistency.

SM Middle Medal winners (Sven Ake Nordenmark)

Friday, 7 June 2013

Race 4 - Swedish Champs Sprint

The Swedish Champs weekend are being held in Borlange, close to where HJ and I lived in Falun until a little more than a week ago. Our Swedish club, Kvarnsvedens GoIF OK, are hosting the competitions.

The first competition of the weekend was the Sprint, with first starts at 5pm in the afternoon. The weekend is competitive, as 5 of the Danish women and Ingrid Stengard FIN, have made the trip here, so along with Cecilia Thomasson SWE there are 5 women from the top 20 in the world. Any performances are therefore a good gauge of fitness as all the women here have potential to win medals in the Europeans in two weeks time.

D21 Part 1
I was fortunate to be one of the later starters but with all day to prepare I was feeling nervous by the time I could start!

But despite the nerves, I pulled out a good race to win by 1 sec over Cecilia. I also finished some minutes ahead of the Danes and Ingrid, so it's a performance that I'm relatively pleased with. I was leading overall for most of the SM course apart from two controls. If the Danes are taken into account, I took the lead after the 8th control, having been a few seconds behind until this point.

Mostly the race was ok. I lost a few seconds to no.2 but the simple RC gave me opportunity to plan later (an opportunity I should have used to plan the long leg!). The first part of the course was deceptive and planning ahead the forest controls was crucial. Here the orienteering became far more challenging with paths everywhere, and at high speeds, they could be easy to miss. It was enough to keep track of where I was and wanted to go, so planning the long leg was put by the wayside.

Idiot! A snap decision. North to the railway. 30 seconds slower than south on the roads, and a 50 secs slower than going through the middle. About 10-15 seconds were lost near the control, with a steep sandy climb, a push off the bike. The other two options had a nicer route into the control and no climb whatsoever. At this point I was two seconds behind the overall lead having had more than a 30 second advantage.

D21 Part 2 (Sorry for being 90° rotated!)
Map change on the move, more standing punches - just enough to hear the beep and see the flash. A risk that the punch may not register, but by the time the SI card is in the unit, I'm already accelerating away.

A few more good controls, then somehow an awesomely fast leg. I felt this could be one of the key legs. Two options were presented, through the big depression or to the left on the flat. I think I gained most of my time on the exit from the control here. After the long leg I had regained my lead to a mere one sec and then extended it to 10 secs by the road crossing.

No.19 another risk. Hard to see the cut through path while riding. But it was there. My eyes didn't not deceive! And then came no.20. I stopped to check the map at the foot of the hill as the circle of no.20 was obscuring a path. I rode on, made the turn and then skidded past the control. At least I could punch on the move as I rode back up the hill, but it lost my 14 sec advantage. Now for the toughest part of the course. The final 2 control sprint. over the bridge, punch, follow the tapes, punch, race for the line. I'm glad my speed has improved this year as while my times were a second slower than Cecilia, I held the lead. Just.

One second separated us at the finish. Close one! But my first Swedish Champs title.

Results: http://eventor.orientering.se/Events/ResultList?eventId=5689&groupBy=EventClass

Photos to follow later!

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Race 3 - Denmark Long

Sometime in the near future, I will start coming up with more interesting names for posts! But for now, Race 3 - Denmark Long will suffice.

Lessons learned from Daniel Hubmann nearly became Friday's title, as on arriving at the start I realised my GPS watch is magnetic, as north on my compass was about 45° off from where I expected. Perhaps Mr Hubmann can be excused for his mistake a few weeks ago! If you missed reading about it, you can find it here.

Onto the race on Sunday. My second of two hard races over the weekend. Warming up I felt my legs were a little sluggish, but after some sprints I at least felt they were better.

At the start I was ahead of the Danes - Hoffmann, Søgaard, Lisbygd and a few others. It was a good position to start in (not optimal as I was being chased) but good for me to feel under pressure all the way and start with athletes chasing me.

Part 1
I started well, picking a good route to the first control. Disaster struck for 30 secs on the approach to the control where I slipped on a root, and somehow the chain dropped off the front chain ring and back cassette . It took 30 secs to put back on, while getting a little knotted in the process which again needed sorting out. But 30 secs at the beginning of the course is no biggie - I should have been on for a time around the fastest split here, highly unusual for me on the first control. I saw my 2 min woman here so knew I had gained a lot of time.

I knew the best route to 2 was to go left on the big tracks, but on seeing my 2 min woman, I changed my mind, took a risk to go right. The risk was based on the fact the path into no.1 was marked as 'slow' but actually good riding. My second option to no.2 was along the 'slow' path to the right of the straight line. As the path to no.1 was good, I decided the risk was worth taking if I could gain some more seconds.

It was not worth it! About 100m into the path, the mud began, and carried on until I hit the fast path. Two mins binned here.

On the way to no.3 I was my two min woman again, but knew she had pulled back about a minute on me with my error earlier. On the way to 4 I didn't want to turn around and go the same way, so I carried on straight, taking a longer route and losing another minute.

On the approach to no.4 I saw Nina, my -2min woman who had clearly gained time on my mistake to no.2 and then overtaken on the mistake early on to no.4. I pulled her back and sat behind her for a couple of controls - taking time to plan the rest of part 1 of the map and waiting for my chance to ride away.

Part 2
At control 7, the opportunity presented itself. I had decided in advance I would take the north route to no.7 as the line into the control seemed better. I could then carry on without turning on the way to no.8. Nina and Caroline (my 2 min woman who I finally caught at 6) went to the south, so I stuck with my plan and went north. I was about 30 secs faster here and saw them on my way to no.8. I then lost 20 secs just after no.7 as the path was bad. I should have turned at the control. I reached no.8 before them, but saw they were not far behind.

Another route choice where I stuck to my plan that had been decided some controls earlier. I went south this time, taking a nice line into the control. Again, this was a little faster than the north route Nina took.

The route to no.12 was another decision leg. Was it faster to go right out of the control and straight up the fast track, or go left and chance it on a medium path? The latter was the shorter route, but the former was easier biking. I opted for the latter, but rode up the road for a few metres before turning after a few secs. Turning at no.12 I saw Nina was right back behind me, so I knew I had to hold it together. I also knew as long as she kept me insight, she was unlikely to make a mistake, and therefore finding 2 mins at the end of the course was going to be hard.

No.13 after my lesson from no.2 I stuck with the big path. I also knew the quality of the paths around no.13 was poor, so I kept my route in simple.

Control 15 was a leg that split Nina and I, both trying to take a different route to gain some ground. I went straighter, she went faster. We arrived at no.15 with Nina a second or two ahead. After that, with one control left, I sat behind again. Nina however was much smoother on the singletrack sections and pulled a few seconds away. Guess it must be those 27.5 inch wheels! She certainly carried speed well on the corners and roots. I pulled back at little to no.16 and it was then to get to the finish.

Sunset from Jønkoping (unaltered image!)
I finished 4th today. Nina won in 1.27.34, Lisbygd in 1.28.54, Søgaard in 1.29.29, and me 1.29.49. There was then a sizeable 10 min gap to 5th.

It's hard to say what could have been without my mistake early on. Without the 2 min time loss to no.2, I wouldn't have taken the idiot's route to 4 (the idiot's route hadn't been in my plan for the leg). But without Nina around, would I have sustained the high pace for so long? Likewise, I wonder if Nina hadn't caught me so early whether she also would have carried on pushing maximum all the way to the finish. I certainly think it would have been a very different race!

The long distance doesn't feature in my plans for the year. Today was only raced hard because I planned an easier day on Saturday. All my training has been geared towards the sprint and middle races, so for me to have been focussed on the long and been relatively close to the leaders was a good thing! Yesterdays extensive route choice focus seemed to have helped today (mostly!) and after the first part of the course, the routes I took were generally faster.