Bike-on-the-brain fever

Help! I’m sick! I can’t stop thinking about bikes!

A few years ago when I was junior foot-orienteer on summer tour, a coach told us about a recent ‘research’ article involving the traits and personality characteristics of World Champions and WOC medalists. The articles may have been published in Orienteering Today or The Scientific Journal of Orienteering, but at any rate one of the things that was said has always stuck in my mind. I mis-interpreted it at the time, but now. I get it.

The point that stuck, firmly glued into my brain, was that top orienteers were obsessive. Obsessive about orienteering.


Emily foot-orienteering in 2011, while coaching on summer tour. Photo by Wendy Carlyle.

I believed at the time that this meant they went orienteering all the time, every weekend. Little did I know that it actually means ‘everything they do is about performing’. It wasn’t about going orienteering every weekend at all. Sure, it helps, but it doesn’t mean squat if there isn’t a goal or a reason behind it. Going out for 10km orienteering every Sunday, is almost useless without a goal for the session or a skill to rigidly practise. I believed being obsessed meant I had to race hard all the time, and that I had to win everything. Not just every race, but every junior squad training. Of course, I rarely did win! I believed being obsessed meant the only thing that mattered was foot-orienteering, and that all other sports and alternative forms of training sucked. How wrong I was.

But now. I have bike-on-the-brain fever. It’s come and gone in various forms over the last few years, but never anything like this. Normally, it’s the occasional sleepless nights thinking about an upcoming race, racing in my head and winning. But the last 4 months, it’s been so much more. Constantly thinking about bikes, bike weight, bike parts, training, getting faster, orienteering, technical skills, GPS tracking. The organisers of the Estonian WOC have probably been wondering about the almost daily website hits from Norway, looking through split times and the GPS tracking. I have watched it countless times. I even went back and spent several weeks working with the Hungarian GPS tracking from 2011 and 2012. I learnt more about my mistakes and my strengths though. Watching again and again. Learning and memorising every section of that race, remembering what my thoughts were and why I missed what I did. But the funny thing is, that all this looking back, is really about looking forward. What can I do to be even better in 2014? What can I improve on, and learn from the last two years? How can I bridge the gap from 4th in the World to 1st?

I’m onto something. But I’m nurturing and feeding the obsession. I’m controlling it and letting it develop, rather than push it all at once. I’ve always had an obsessive personality. When I was younger I went through 6-12 months ‘phases’ of having an obsession: from Ancient Egypt to toy horses (very young), from only eating tuna fish and prawn cocktail to geography. Since the age of 11 though, only one thing has really caught and held my attention: maps. Not an obsession, but a love of them. Old maps, new maps, making maps, looking at maps. I can remember every course on every area I have ever been too – developed through years of studying my map collection regularly. Even now, my bedtime reading consists of ‘reading’ one of my many map folders.

But you see, I’ve always had obsessions. But bike-on-the-brain is so much more. It’s passion. And that’s where the coach was wrong all those years ago. It’s not obsession that drives the best, but passion. A love for the sport, for the forests. A love of biking and being challenged. A passion to succeed. But passion and obsession have a fine dividing line. It would be all to easy to overdo it now. But that’s what training is for! To make me too tired to think.


Emily racing at the Off Camber XC series. Photo from Off Camber on Facebook

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