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.