At first this was just meant to be a post about the World MTBO Champs in Poland. But given my lack of gold, it’s hard to write about just the one event, because the earlier season had such a big impact on what happened recently.
After HJ’s World Cup overall silver this winter in Ski-O, I was determined to equal or beat him. Unfortunately his silver only left me two options: win or come second. Last year I was in bronze until I decided to miss the World Cup Final and there, didn’t improve my worst score (10th). I was confident that in 2014 I could manage to match HJ, but in order to do this, I decided to target every major race. 8 World Cup races. Preparing for 8 races is probably the limit. I did my work well and only missed about 5 training sessions in 365 days (about 3 missed training days), and in doing so needed three taper plans and 3 periods of peak form. From the outset, I knew this would be a long shot, but I planned that a combination of factors would allow the 3rd period to be as strong as the others.
Denmark in mid-May was the first peak period. I had good form, great legs, and was able to accelerate quickly to match increases in pace in the mass start. I was able to attack out of corners and technically I was riding well. I was not, however, on peak form mentally. A couple of mistakes early on in the sprint saw me trailing 5 seconds behind the winner. A stray branch in the long at the final control saw me take 3rd. I was disappointed with the second, but happy with the 3rd place. It motivated me for Sweden in 2 months time.
Come Sweden and I only had a couple more races under my belt. Here I had amazing physical form. I won three races with a great and invincible feeling in my body. Acceleration and attacking were instant and not fatiguing. I could ride for three days at full speed and only feel a little tired, without losing speed. I was able to use the terrain to gain speed and even the physical nature of Swedish trails didn’t tire me. On the fireroads I was able to get my head down and go. I made the least mistakes of all the athletes in the middle race, and fought back to a win from 40 seconds down at control 1 in the sprint. I knew that if I could have the perfect races in Poland, and the same physical fitness I would be almost unbeatable. It all depended on having cleaner races without big mistakes. I assumed with another taper period my physical fitness would be the same or better than in Sweden.
With 3 weeks at altitude and then 2.5 weeks at sea level, I couldn’t see how I would be worse physically than in Sweden. The altitude camp was fun, but it was depressing to need to bike slowly (and still see my HR creep upwards on the climbs). I lacked and missed my hard interval sessions I have in Norway, and maybe this camp was part of the reason for me lacking in Poland.
Onto Poland. I had high dreams for the championships: 3 golds and World Cup overall title. My expectations were almost equally as high: 3 clean mistake free, strong races. After Sweden, 3 golds suddenly became a possibility, but with every athlete targeting those 3 races, I knew my best chances lay in the sprint race. Winning the sprint would have wrapped up the overall title and seen me beat HJ to the gold.
But that didn’t happen. Instead I was technically good, but some instability early on in the forest cost me. 30 seconds was a definite time loss, plus another 10 on a couple of controls. It was my best sprint race of the year, with no obvious time loss during the course, it was only on split analysis later I was able to confirm that I had indeed lost some small seconds. But they add up.
I was left with a bronze and the knowledge that gold was well within reach. I just wasn’t the best technically on the day, on a course that was probably planned for me. Of the top 4; Hara, Repina, me, and Poverina, anyone of us had the skills to win on this course and terrain, it was about limiting mistakes and knowing, with all the rain and 200 other athletes going first, the shortcuts would be bigger than the paths!
By 9pm I was feeling more positive about my result and the next race; the middle. During the race, I felt ok. Technically in firm control. Physically I was pushing hard, but I lacked responsiveness and acceleration in my legs. I struggled to accelerate quickly and found I was being bounced off the roots more than usual. According to the splits I lost 30 seconds on one control, where I didn’t shortcut, and then nearer the control, rode past a path and took a shortcut through the green. Not a mistake per se, but several sub-optimal decisions in a row. Without that time loss I should have been closer to gold, but I feel I lacked the ability to really kill myself on the bike. Another silver. Last year, I was so happy with a silver medal in the middle distance. This year, I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, my race was clean and mistake free and I was riding well. On the other, I lacked responsiveness to accelerate and aggression. I never had those thoughts of ‘keep pedalling, just keep pedalling. Whatever happens, don’t f*cking stop’. Those thoughts come when I’m already exhausted and pushing my limits, but this time, I suppose I was riding within the limit. But only just. I wasn’t far away, I just couldn’t get there.
By this point I had 1,1,1,2,2 in the World Cup scores counting (with my two third places not counting!), and Marika had 1,1,2,2,3. If she could win the long distance, the overall title was hers. I was not going to lose it on the last race of the season.
For the long I felt motivated and was ready to fight and push hard for nearly 2 hrs. I rode well, and made good aggressive route choices. I didn’t mess around looking for longer options that provided fast riding. I took the shortest logical routes. A small blip after the spectator with a line covering a path lost me about 30-45 seconds around the control both in and out of it. Then came ‘The Mistake’.
Something interesting happened during the mistake. I was always rational. I never panicked or lost the plot entirely. I just couldn’t find the control, and relocated in the wrong place. I only felt frustration at myself for having done it. I didn’t get pissed or angry either. I suppose I must have understood that this kind of mistake for me is a 1 in 1000 races type mistake. Having had nearly a week to reflect, the only reason for the mistake is that I hadn’t folded the map in an ideal way so the controls were too close to the edge. As a result I didn’t see a small path on the map. At all. It’s the only significant reason I have found. Had I seen the path, the mistake there would have been small as opposed to so big.
Two years ago a silver in the sprint and a 9th in the long were amazing results. The long was very short, about 77 mins for the winner, and I was 5 minutes behind. In the long in Poland, I was about 2 minutes behind the winner after 95 minutes of racing (until the mistake happened!). It’s my worst result all year, but yet, two years ago, I was happy with that. MTBO long races have become significantly longer recently, to bring the women’s winning time in line with the men. This year the winner time was 108 minutes. A much better long distance.
Even if I hadn’t made that mistake, I still wouldn’t have been satisfied with the performance or result.
All week I lacked what I had in Sweden, and that highlight of my year has marred what is the most important week of the year, WMTBOC. What I lacked in acceleration and responsiveness, I gained in technically clean races. My goal for the week was the be mistake free, but mistake free isn’t the same as perfect. I never felt I was fighting. A bronze and silver came far too easily. Having considered the whole season, I can only conclude that my second peak period was the highest. I had the best feeling in my legs, body and brain there. The third peak, at WOC, was more akin to a diesel engine; slow acceleration, little responsiveness and one race speed.
I knew at the start of the year that getting the third peak higher than the others would be a challenge. The altitude camp was supposed to help with that. Afterwards I had my best feelings just 2 days after leaving Livigno.
Perhaps the main reason for my lack of performance is targeting 8 races. Mentally I was off my game, and I suppose that affected my body in some way. I was, most likely, mentally tired from the earlier season with focussing on so many major races, and having success in those races.
I understand my mistakes in the build up to WOC, which is a good thing. I can see where I went wrong, and can already take steps to fix it. It’s funny though. A 2nd and 3rd in Denmark was incredible. A 2nd and 3rd at WOC was not. The performances were better, with no clear mistakes, but the result doesn’t mean as much. Not now I know I am capable of more…
(Unfortunately the curse of WOC is still present. (Year: sprint, middle, long result)
2007: 40, 35, DNS
2009: 8, 8, 30 something
2010: =11th, 21st, DNS
2011: 17, DNF, 19
2012: 2, 25, 9
2013: DSQ, 2, 4
2014: 3, 2, 9
2014 is only my second year of actually completing all three races, but even then, they are marred by a mechanical and a whopper. The other years are tainted by illness/tiredness, heatstroke and dehydration, mechanicals, and map reading mechanicals! )