Saturday, 23 February 2013

MTBO thoughts. Why don't we ...?

Having started Ski-O this winter and completed the majority of a season, I've begun to notice some aspects of the sport that make me wonder: why don't do we do things like this, or in such-and-such a way?

1) 1 minute to look at the map in MTBO. Why? It gives us time to put the map in the board, especially when the map is a difficult size and requires special folding to get as much of the course on the board as possible. Re-folding means time lost.

BUT, what if organisers made sure (as far as they possibly can) to make the maps for events one of 3 'standard' sizes - A4, 275x275mm, or 300x300mm. There are many boards out there on the market, and I have recently started choosing the board I use for each event based on the published map size.

So why not reduce the time with the map to 30 seconds, or even 15 seconds for an A4 sprint map?

2) Still a little related to map size. Map scale.

I looked at the M21E courses from the World Cup in Poland last year, and the middle was 1:15000 A4. The long was 1:15000 A3. Why was the long not 1:20000? It would reduce the map size and result in less re-folding (especially considering there was a map change). Given how far athletes can ride in a long distance - large maps are a faff. Possibly for some events, a 1:25000 or 1:22500 scale might be used.

3) Why don't we have long mass starts? A common argument against mass start races (esp. in Foot-O amongst WOC athletes) that mass starts reduce the navigation element. True to some extent, but mass starts also make everyone race a little harder to stay with the pack. But if the course is well gaffled, as in Ski-O ESOC long distance last week, the majority of competitors won't see many others on the course except for common sections. When the loops are gaffled, including a long, middle and short gaffle somewhere out there, then you don't know who is leading until the finish. HJ was 15th and 5 mins behind the leader after his second loop, but he had a shorter gaffles, and the short forking at the end and finished 18seconds behind the leader in 2nd place. He said after 'apart from the common controls, I wasn't skiing with anyone after the first 50% of the first loop'.

Racing harder pushes athletes to the limit so their chances of mistakes are higher. Yes, head to head racing is tough, and it hurts. But it's also fun.

4) Why is the red group only ten athletes, and not 20, or 30? Currently you can be ranked 11th in the WRlist, and despite requesting a late start block, you can be starting as the first of the late starters, eg middle of the field.

Yes, in Ski-O I felt a little hard done by, when I was in the first 10 starters, but I also am not good enough to be starting just in front of the red group (a possibility with requesting a late start at the moment).

Why should an athlete from, say, Belarus, who goes to WOC in their first international race for MTBO,  start in front of the red group? Surely it's fairer to have random allocation 1-10, 11-20 and 21-30. Anyone ranked in the top 30 can then choose their start group, early, middle or late, but are likely to be in the first 30 or more starters.

Additionally, with the current established method, I could be starting behind 3-4 athletes I know I can catch. If I can overtake them one by one, I will over the course be riding faster. Seeing athletes who start ahead of you can be a real advantage and can easily lead you into tracks and controls. But if I am starting amongst the 11-20 best in the world, I am less likely to see them out there as they often finish in a similar place in the results to me and ride at a similar pace. Therefore I am more likely to spend the course on my own, so the conditions are more likely to be the same throughout the last 30 starters, with less chance of packs forming.

5) Why don't we have special equipment points? Currently the courses can start at a remote location and the course will take you across the map to the finish. But if a mass start gaffled long is introduced, with 3 or 4 passes of the finish/start area, then an equipment point will be useful.

But the current argument against such an equipment point is that it's unfair on smaller nations. Well, sport is always going to be unfair towards smaller nations. Take Ski-O, GBR send a team but no officials, so any equipment point is un-manned. There's no-one to hand us drinks as we pass the stadium. And the same is true in MTBO. We just have to do things differently: have drinks set up before the start, carry a camelbak etc. Likewise in XC skiing, the GB team is far smaller than the Scandinavian teams so coaching zones are far more beneficial to larger teams who have many officials.

An equipment point doesn't need to have coaches and officials in it. Instead, 2 or 3 organisers would suffice, and teams/athletes can set up their spare kit in advance - wheels, tyres, tubes etc. Organisers would merely be there to ensure no-one panics and nabs another teams kit! There could also be some 'all-teams' kit which is provided by the organisers/IOF. A cheap make-do wheel, and some tubes. This way, smaller nations who travel a long way to the event and can't take spare wheels on the plane have access to kit if its needed.

6) Why don't we have a Mixed Sprint Relay at WOC? A fantastic chance for men and women to race together. It's been in Ski-O for years. Foot-O are introducing it soon. So why don't we have it at MTBO WOC too.

7) Now the Long Qualification has been scrapped, for some athletes from smaller nations, the sprint and middle will be their only chances to compete at WOC. Take GB, last year 2 of our men didn't qualify for the final, but this year there is only one space available, so 3 men will travel to WOC to not compete in the long final, but one or two of those will only get to compete in two races (if a junior rides the elite relay again).

Why don't we ensure the Sprint and Middle races are held on two consecutive days, (possibly the weekend at the end of the week), so athletes only eligible to compete in the Sprint and Middle distances can travel over for a long weekend, rather than have a weeks holiday and two races. I'm sure many athletes would prefer to not take so much time of work if they are only competing in two races, and would prefer to travel for a long weekend and the banquet.

These are just some thoughts that I've been mulling over for some days. Athletes often say they don't want change. Remember the introduction of the Sprint at WOC/JWOC? Remember when we started using SI/EMIT? And currently the introduction of the Mixed Sprint Relay in Foot-O?

Once athletes try something new, they are more likely to appreciate the pros and cons. Just discussing points in a room somewhere and hearing 'the athletes don't want this' isn't helping the development of our sport. I think that athletes become comfortable with what they know, so they think they don't want change. Maybe they do want change and they just haven't tried the alternatives yet.

But I do think, EOC and WOC are not the places to try new ideas for the first time. Start with a major WRE, or World Cup early on in the season (look at Hungary 2010, World Cup, and the introduction of the new MTBO 4x2 track system - athletes didn't realise that distinguishing further between difficult and medium riding was needed. The new 'slow' fills the gap perfectly, and the chances are a 5th category of indistinct might be useful too).

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

European Ski-O Champs

With a week or so to go to the European Ski-O Champs, I decided to get a late entry for the sprint and middle races.

W21E middle distance
I immediately regretted the decision when I realised the terrain was far hillier than I first thought. But Ski-O seems to be excellent training for MTBO so it was worth going. I was also one of the team leaders for Norway again so ended up helping for the Sprint Relay, Long and Relay races. In addition I had a boyfriend to support (who later won two gold's, one silver and two bronze).

First was the middle race, around the highest 'mountain' in Latvia, Gaizinkalns, which stands 61.6m higher than the hills surrounding it, although it's actual height is over 300m.

The course was long for a middle (in comparison to those I've done this season), 7.4km with 250m of climb. Essentially the more climb on a course equals higher chance of crashing/falling/penguin steps!
So needless to say, I was nervous about the challenges the course the would bring.

The first controls were ok. I took a longer route to 5 by going left, but to avoid the best route which had a steep climb on it. Being an early starter meant the step hills would be narrow making life much harder for me, so I opted to go up the hill with the gentlest incline. Control 8 was possibly one of the worst on the course, I took a wrong path for 30 secs, and also couldn't stop at the junction with the control so ended up disappearing off down the hill for a minute or so!

On the 13th control, mixing in with my 32-36th place splits was a little gem! 19th fastest on that leg, mainly due to being able to navigate in the technical sections! The next controls were ok again, so more crashes and falls, and surviving some of the icy descents. The end of the course had a sting in the tail with a small loop around which included several steep steep hill climbs, just to finish off my arms in case the planners didn't think I'd be tired enough by that time!

A few days later was the sprint distance with the start and finish immediately in front of our cabins. I was looking forward to this race, as there was due to be 70% wide pisted tracks which means I can maintain speed and move a bit quicker!

W21E sprint (solid line = race route, arrows = re-race route)
After some hassle at the start, I messed up the first control losing 40 seconds but missing the junction. I then opted for the wider track route to number 2 but was met with a steep climb right at the end. I made some further mistakes to 6 and 7 but didn't lose a great deal of time here. I also finished 45% behind the leader, a vast improvement over the middle distance's 80%.

The following day after the relay I headed back out on the sprint course to test route choices. It's not very often in Orienteering that one gets the chance to re-race the course in the same conditions. I leapt at the chance and decided to take alternative route choices to the actual race and was pleased to finish in 18.44, nearly two mins quicker than the actual race and 35% behind the leader. The main areas where I saved time were controls 1 and 2, 6 and 7, 11 and 13. It was fascinating to see the difference between route choices when my skiing speed was the same. I also found I was more confident going round the course again as I knew there was nothing out there I couldn't ski. I got to spend a bit more time getting to grips with skidding out of narrow tracks onto wide ones and vice versa.

The next day I also re-re-raced the course, but new snow overnight slowed the conditions so I was 20 seconds slower than the re-race. Interestingly the first few controls I was 30 seconds up, but thereafter I was making the tracks again as no-one else had been around those tracks, so I lost a few seconds on each control. I would think, if the conditions had been the same, that I would have skied faster still.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Ski-O improvements (?)

Mainly for my own curiosity but maybe some readers are also interested to see my ski-o improvement so far.

First XC Classic session: 27th December 2010
First Ski-O race: 2nd January 2011
First XC Skate session: 4th January 2011

List of Ski-O races and % behind winner
02/01/2011 NOR Sprint 100%
(one week of XC skiing)

06/01/2012 FIN Middle 95%
07/01/2012 FIN Sprint 34.20 (18.19 winner) 90%
(2 weeks of XC skiing)

01/12/2012 FIN Middle DSQ
02/12/2012 FIN Long 57%
(6 weeks of XC skiing)

08/12/2012 NOR Sprint 43.42 (24.39 winner) 80%
09/12/2012 NOR Middle 51.38 (29.02 winner) 80%

14/12/2012 SWE Middle 49.31 (28.51 winner) 75%
15/12/2012 SWE Middle 77.53 (48.18 winner) 60%
15/12/2012 SWE Sprint 16.54 (11.08 winner) 50%
16/12/2012 SWE Long 169.51 (85 winner) 100%

30/12/2012 NOR Sprint 30.09 (15.56 winner) 90%  ... Icy conditions

26/01/2013 SWE Sprint 14.58 (10.36 winner) 40%
27/01/2013 SWE Middle 36.16 (25.09 winner) 45%

02/02/2013 NOR Long 93.58 (60.11 winner) 55%
03/02/2013 NOR Middle 45.30 (28.08 winner) 60%

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Norwegian Ski-O Championships

Long Part 1
Following my personal success at last weekends Swedish Ski-O Chasing Start champs, and following a good technical ski session in the week, I was looking forward to the Norwegian Champs (Long and Middle) at Skei.

The technical ski session focussed on developing my 'kick' when skating and uphill technique. Sadly I couldn't put it all into practice at the Ski-O races due to narrow tracks and steep hills!

The long race was first on the agenda, with 10km up and down the mountain. Sections are steep and covered in those brown squiggly lines called contours, which in Ski-O I hate! Others parts of the map were flat marshes with a technical path network, but to get to the interesting bits involved going up or down the mountain.

The long not be my strength in Ski-O I was really pleased to be 55% behind the winners time. The winner took 60 mins while I took 93mins. So it was a definite improvement over the long in Vemdalen where I suffered and died. Painfully! While this race was painful, the hills were at least manageable for the most part, and the snow fresh and soft making descending controlled (sort of) and not so scary! My only falls in the race were going uphill and catching ski tips in the harder snow, or going downhill and not landing small jumps properly due to getting a little too confident!

Long Part 2
I didn't make any mistakes and and was pleased to be consistently getting closer to the winner across the disciplines.

Sunday was the middle distance race, and a mere 4.5km compared to yesterday. I was expecting the courses to take us around the technical navigation sections, made all the more challenging by required map memory on the descents so I could focus on the skiing (and not falling). I also expected the course to take up briefly up to the top again, but hoped this wouldn't be the case.

I made a small mistake to 2 by taking a wrong junction and then not turning immediately when I realised. Instead I carried on and took a slightly longer route adding 30 seconds to my time for the leg. The technical sections went well. I survived the descents and succeeded on the climbs I had struggled with yesterday (thanks to a little grip wax under both ski's).

Annoyingly I messed up the route choice legs which cost me dearly. I wanted to take the best route choices on both occasions (to 8 and 10), but decided against it for various reasons.

Control 8: Saw the best RC going to the right of the line, but I knew from discussions on Saturday evening that the hill was steep and narrow at the bottom. Despite the wider track starting halfway up this climb, and the route being shorter and more direct, I opted for the left RC which took most of teh climb on the wide ski track before a gentler climb up to the control. It was too long and I lost a bit of time here despite getting up the hill quickly (for me). I also messed up my route out of the control.
Lesson learned: listen to advice of others but make own decision on RC.

Middle Race
Control 10: After having learned my lesson from control 8, I decided to go straighter to 10, back down the track I had avoided on the way to 8 because it was 'maybe too steep to go up'. It went closer to the line than the eastern route choice and I knew I could always run down carrying ski's if it did get too much. Unfortunately the route to get there was wiggly and slow going. Again I should have kept to my original RC heading NE out of 10 and then descending on the wide ski track before going straight into the control. My speed on the descent would have been much higher as the track was straighter and familiar.

Part of the problem at the moment with my Ski-O navigation is I'm not confident enough with my skiing to take certain (often the best) route choices. For example, I was put off my choice to 8 by the steepness of the hill knowing it would take me a loooong time to ascend. But likewise I was put off my choice to 10 because of a steep downhill (just north out of 9) and a fear of falling. I felt calmer attempting the descent I knew would be a challenge, rather than face something entirely unknown.

I think with more skiing confidence and practice on the descents I can start taking the RC's I want to take rather than fitting my RC to my skill level.

It could have been 2 higher results. Saturday possibly not so much time to save apart from the falls (inparticular a face plant that resulted in a ski-pole knot and snow up my nose and in my face). Sunday should definitely have been better. I certainly had the potential to get 2 or 3 places higher but circumstances (stupidity and RC's) dictated otherwise.