Friday, 31 May 2013

Race 1 - Denmark Sprint

Assembly in the sun!
Part of the preparation for EOC involves races in Denmark and Sweden.

Today's race was a sprint in Fredriksvaerk forest, 20 mins north of Hillerød. On departing the boat in the morning, we were greeted by 21°C and sunshine. We drove straight to the event, via the food shop and mobile phone shop for internet, so we arrived 6 hours before the other competitors. Lunch in the sun and a short run, before a nap. HJ spent all afternoon topless and now has sunburnt shoulders and chest! Massive LOL!

Part 1
At about 4pm we saw dark clouds looming on the horizon. We knew thunder was due so decided we should get out at 6pm at first start and hopefully be back before the rain. The plan worked like a charm, as, after our cool down, the rain started and the thunder rolled. Fortunately, we were safe and cozy in the bobil.

Onto the race. We chose to come to the weekend of events in Denmark as the standard of competition here is high. A good gauge of our pre-EOC form is to compete against these athletes.

Denmark is currently issuing the map in the 'starting moment'. We used the format a month ago at the Denmark TC, and since it was training, I didn't really notice the difference. However, in today's race, the 'starting moment' map suddenly made things a little harder. Trying to punch the start, take the map, put in the map board, orientate it and plan a route in the space of 2m to the start kite was tricky. Not only that, but the immediate 90° angle to no.1 had me confused for a few seconds. I got over it, and rode the corner before doubt set in and I paused for a couple more seconds to check.

Part 2

Not the best of starts made worse by a small mistake to the first control. With no time to look at the map, I dived off on the first right hand junction I came too, before taking left again. I lost about 20 secs here with the wrong gearing on the small climb after the left turn and then tried to jump on just as I was passing some perpendicular ruts, which meant I had to jump straight off the other side!

But, with control one in the bag, I could focus on the coming controls. However, the route to control 2 didn't really fit with the map - a cool down later showed the path to no.2 actually came up to the hill to the east and met the main path corner. Leaving the slow path, I actually had to ride straight ahead, rather than left then right to the control. I was starting to settle in on the way to 3, but had to run a hill to the control from the nearest junction when two older competitors were having problems negotiating some roots. On controls 2 and 3 I was only 7 secs or so behind HJ who had the same legs on H21.

A bit blurred but heading to the final control
After this everything went a lot smoother. I was riding well, navigating well and knowing always where my next junction was and which way I should go. I even successfully handled standing punches, and turning the map while riding. Simple skills individually but under pressure in a race, they become a little more challenging.

When we left the event I was two and a half minutes clear of 2nd, so a good lead for a 23.37 min/sec course. We won't know until later this evening the final results.
Split times

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Three weeks and counting

This time in 3 weeks, I'll be in Poland, with a mere one day left until the biggest race of my year so far. The European Champs sprint in Zamosc. A day after that it's the middle distance race, also my focus for the championships.

EOC consists of 5 competitions, but I will only be competing in the 3 individual days, due to a large failure of interest by other GB team riders. Thus, I am the only GB competitior making the trip to Poland, and therefore unable to compete in the Relay or Mixed Sprint Relay competition.

Technical training
The MSR is a race I have really been looking forward to after having watched a few Ski-O races at their EOC in the winter. The format is also being introduced to Foot-O, which is a change I welcome as I think GBR would have strong chances to get top 6 places there. It's also an exciting format and with GPS tracking and (hopefully) short gaffles, it will be a fight to the line. Competitions like this become interesting and exciting to watch when going into the last leg, there are several teams in contention for medals. It's great to see who can hold out under such intense pressure the longest.

Anyway, I had been looking forward to my first chance to compete in the MSR, having missed EOC 2011 in Russia. But sadly I won't get the opportunity, but it does mean I get three recovery days between the middle and long races. I would say 'rest' days but I will be using the spare days to recover and get in a couple of easy hours each day - no sense resting completely and dropping off my speed/fitness.

It's going to be a busy 3 weeks. On Thursday we are leaving to go back to Denmark. Originally we had planned on the WR events in Turkey, but in the end the flight times were just too inconvenient to do the trip cheaply. With arrival times at 1am, and a very late departure back to Norway, I felt the impact on sleep, recovery and training/racing was just too great to potentially not higher my WR score.

Image from WOC last year
So, instead I will be pitting myself against the Danes, 3 of whom appeared to be strong in the early season. Lisbygd is making something of a comeback after a few years away, while Hoffmann appears to be riding well after her WOC bronze last year. Soegaard, a few years my junior and multi-sport athlete, was in very good shape in Denmark to win the ultralong over Hara and Laurila of FIN. It will be a good chance to see how my fitness, speed and strength compare, 2 weeks out from EOC.

We then travel back to Sweden for the Swedish Champs in Borlange. My first chance this year to compete against Cecilia Thomasson, and hopefully bag a SM title. I have forfeited my chances of British title this year, due to a) not being able to attend the races and b) having more competition in Sweden with Ingrid and Cecilia.

After Sweden we head back south again to Zamosc for EOC and a small organised training camp before. Not a hard training camp. Just some time with a map in relevant terrain for a few hours per day.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Wanted: Superhuman navigation skills.

Team Hadeland OL!
Wanted: superhuman navigation skills.
Must have excellent direction sense and be able to read map in technical terrain. Should not need to stop to read map, or mispunch!

With the European Champs approaching fast (those counting will know its a little over 5 weeks away), HJ and I decided to make the most of the excellent MTBO terrain Mora and Rattvik have to offer.

For those who went to the World Cup in 2011, the terrain hasn't changed. It's still rooty, steep, confusing, wet, and fun. Some of the tracks have changed rideability, but mostly, everything out in the forest is medium or slow.

My memories of the World Cup were all the women racing off up the ski track at the start, and then getting into the woods and suddenly thinking 'Sugar honey ice tea, where the fudge am I?' Of course, the next 5 minutes consisted of one rider hesitantly making their way in a direction, being followed by 30 or so women, before realising the map still didn't fit. Amusing in hindsight, a little like watching junior relay events when all the competitors stop at the start kite! I'm ashamed to say that I was part of the mayhem out there.
Rocks and roots, it's bumpier than it looks!

I went into the training knowing the pitfalls and traps of terrain like this. I knew to be careful. To always plan ahead. But thinking about how to MTBO, and imaging oneself doing it successfully, is far easier than actually being out there, as the map board shakes and rotates, as one clatters their way over the countless roots and uneven ground. Suddenly, just reading the map became hard, let alone trying to pick out a path to take.

And it is here that my job description comes in. Superhuman navigation skills, would be very useful here. But not just navigation. A superhuman sense of direction is what is needed most. Because, if you can ride in the right direction, actually getting to the control becomes a little easier. The map is one of those where, you look at it and think 'ok, there's a lot of paths, going NW-SE, and SW-NE, plus a number at 45° angles to these'. But, when the map gets rotated, all of a sudden, the tracks look exactly the same again! So when the mapboard is shaking, and the bike is bouncing, just trying to pick out a good route becomes nearly impossible. Just riding in the general direction for the approximate amount of time becomes the best plan of attack.

One of our courses

Not only did we decide to challenge ourselves mentally, but we opted for a physical session too, with several sprint courses with a few novel twists. We even made life harder and had no controls out. Meaning, I couldn't just ride blindly in the right direction and hope to see my control. I actually had to navigate. But, it wasn't as bad as it could have been. In fact, apart from a mispunch at 7, it was pretty good out there. There were no headless chicken moments, no 'I'm lost' moments, and actually, no 'this doesn't feel right' moments. I simply eased off the gas a little when I needed to get things right (which was most of the time), and pedalled harder when I knew it was possible (not very often).

Overall, it was a good little training session we did, and I'm already looking forward to the next one :-)

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Denmark Training Camp

It's a funny feeling to start training in November and there always seem to be too many months until the major competitions - but with 7 weeks to go until EOC, looking back there suddenly don't seem to be nearly enough! Each month has been progressively harder than the last but after March/April's epic months of training, the winter suddenly appears to have been relatively 'easy'.

Hans Jørgen and I decided last year we would go to Denmark and travel with the housecar, kindly borrowed from his parents. We could have made life easy and got a boat from Oslo to Fredrikshavn on the north island, and then just spent the training camp in Denmark. Instead we wanted to extend the camp and returned to Hillerød to re-race and train on the EOC 2009 maps. I was kindly sent the PDF's of the maps which we then had printed by BML printers (which arrived about 60 mins before we were due to leave, after HJ chased the Postie around Brandbu on his bike).

Day 1 - Sunday

Easy training on the relay maps at Hareskov, using the 'all gaffles' map on the M21. I had to get the nearest/smoothest control at each of the gaffles while HJ had to get all three. Some fun singletrack and a gorgeous day. Shorts were worn, pasty legs and no tan lines!

The afternoon consisted of a ride to Aldershvile for the Sprint distance, which we were both racing. The map had changed a bit in 4 years as there are high numbers of pedestrians in the dog forest.

The courses themselves were fairly even between 2009 and 2013 for us to race them - we had no controls to guide us or to stop and punch, but the additional paths and disappearance of others probably meant we lost the same amount of time (stopping to punch, compared to stopping to relocate). I made some big boo-boo's, usually due to paths not being there, but on some occasions due to getting too excited and riding down the wrong track! Still, it was enough for our times to be equivalent to 2nd and 3rd places.

W21 Long Part 1 - route choice
Day 2 - Monday

Long distance training on Gribskov. The singletrack has developed in 4 years so now some sections are really rather cool and neat to ride! The morning was spent on a relocation exercise - one rider in front with map, drops second rider off at random point, second rider then must navigate to control.

The afternoon was then a harder session than planned with route choice around the W21 course, which often ended up being a race between us!

Day 3 - Tuesday

Got lost - 180° error just to get to the start (my fault, distracted by singletrack).

W21 Middle
We finally made it to the middle distance area, but things really didn't go to plan. I began to feel unable to reach max HR zone, and had bottle cage issues, plus numerous felling issues covering paths. Our times were well down on the winners, for me about 10 mins behind. Trying to compare a training race to a real race is ok, but in this case there was so much felling and tracks disappearing, most of the time we were just making stuff up to get to where we needed.

The afternoon was a great 'recovery' session on Geel Skov - a small forest that packs a punch with 10km of singletrack, short sharp hills and technical climbs and descents. It's a fun course which progressively gets harder as you go around. We stopped on a few occasions to practice certain sections, as our skills were rusty after a winter of disuse. Getting gearing right is crucial, but brushing up my skills helped no end for later in the week.

Day 4 - Wednesday

Event website and results:

Already tired, so 'easy' technical training in the morning. A quick google search revealed 4 MTB forests around Aalborg, so we headed to the steepest and most technical looking. After going around the course once I was fairly knackered, but pleased to have ridden everything. Some of the hills were steep to go down so it was good practice. We rode around the roads for another hour before calling it a day and getting lunch.

CAMP CUP 1 - After a nice afternoon sleeping and catching up with Charlie and John at the Denmark TC, it was time for the night race. I started well beating HJ to control 1, but then things went downhill just after 2 when I took a singletrack that looped around so much and then spat me back 100m from where I started. 2 minutes binned there. After that life picked up again, and was mostly ok. I lost about 3 minutes in total on the course and was about 3.5 mins behind the leader and 5th place.

Day 5 - Thursday

CAMP CUP 2 - This was a long race - so after starting early last night (10pm when it was actually dark, unlike the hundred people who started in the daylight!) we got up early in the morning to avoid the queue at the start. I was one of the first starters on the elite course, but nevertheless rode well. Still unable to attain max HR, I rode consistently and finished 3rd, about 20 seconds behind the winner. Only one route choice mistake on the long leg where I lost 30 seconds changing my plan, but a minute down on the fastest split.

We then rested, slept and recovered before training at 1630 for some easy training. Used the last of our Falupølse supplies :-(

Day 6 - Friday

CAMP CUP 3 - A middle distance, lots of controls packed into a small area. I felt I had a really good strong race, making only one minute mistake near the 3/4 mark, but also losing 30 secs at the beginning on an unmarked ride which was quickly realised. I finished 4th but nearly 5 minutes down on the winner.

Afternoon sprint training, doing multiple laps of the WE, ME, and WL courses.

Day 7 - Saturday

CAMP CUP 4 - Unable to get anywhere near either HR z4 or z5 today. No surprise considering how tough this week has been - many races, and lots of training. Not too concerned as I have an easy week after this, so I will be recovered by EOC.  Made a MASSIVE error to the first control losing a whopping 3 minutes! Oops. By control 3 Susanna Laurila had caught me up, and we ended up riding together a little bit, which was rather amusing at times! Laurila was riding much faster than I, but making some mistakes. It was entertaining because, at each control she was riding away from me and out of sight, but by the next control I would be back ahead before 'whoosh' she comes flying past me again! At 13 I then made an entertaining error by going the wrong way and crashing into a thorn bush (sand+high speed=bad idea), so she got away. But for the half the course we rode together (ish), I think we both learned something. This area was a challenge to ride on, as there were many small paths which were bumpy and wiggly, making map reading while riding hard. Instant decisions were being taken by most athletes at the controls.

Easy (read physical) afternoon training again.

Day 8 - Sunday

The ultralong. Fortunately not a camp cup. I cruised around taking my time, enjoying the nature and getting frustrated with the older guy who followed me everywhere. He rode into several small mistakes with me, until I rode faster at the end to get away. Anyway, I was left riding on my own for 60% of the course until John caught me and we rode together for a bit. We parts ways when we took different routes, mine proving to be 20 seconds faster, and I then finished a couple of minutes ahead.

Hans Jørgen on the other hand had a more eventful time than I - with a 1hr 15min split time due to a puncture, failed spare tube, walk back to housecar, change bike, realise back wheel is very bent, walk back to housecar, change bike back and get new inner tube.

This is a fairly extensive account of our camp, but it was an unusual week with high training hours and lots of map work. We had a great time in Denmark, and many thanks go to the organisers for putting on the camp. I also won the camp overall, but mainly thanks to two of the faster athletes over the week mispunching/DSQ'ing.

Event website and results: