Always a permanent fixture in my diary, I was excited for months to start the new MTBO season. A new year, new races, new athletes. So I was disappointed to become ill just 2 days before the Danish MTBO camp started. Suddenly my plans of racing for four days became a salvage-what-I-can plan. Although just a cold, it also made the central part of my lungs sore. And I was coughing a bit. After my recent bout of bronchitis, I was wary to do anything too rash.
Instead of my plans to test nutrition strategies and race routines, I was left trying to manage my HR and ride as well as I could. Nice to take a relaxed approach for once!
I felt the cold was clearing up quickly; already on Wednesday I felt ok, so decided to ride the night race in zone three, but allow myself to mid zone four by my heart rate. I set my watch to beep at me if I went over this upper limit.
The night race went as expected for my first faster training with a map this season. OK until it wasn’t. Most of the courses had the same opening loop through the urban, and the effect of competitors stopping at every junction to read the map, snowballed. By control 8, I was feeling increasingly pressured and out of control with the map reading. I missed a path out of the control and did an extra loop. Instead of adjusting my plan to get to the control with just 30 seconds time loss, I opted to get back to my original route. I then took a wrong turn (going from urban dusk to forest night in a few minutes didn’t help either!), and did an extra loop back to enter the control from the direction I should have had I adjusted my route earlier. I ended up riding 2-3 times the distance needed and lost a good couple of minutes.
This is why I like the pre-season camp. It’s a chance to make these stupid mistakes. I was feeling rusty and out of sync with my pedalling and map reading. A couple more smaller errors and I finished 3rd, but 6 mins behind Marika Hara! Some of this can be put down to my own idiocy. But even so, 3 mins is still some big time loss. Then I remembered I wasn’t riding full speed, and ill. I was able to forgive myself, forget the result and move on. To a warm shower and and a warm bed.
The next was the long race. The bulletin was elusive and didn’t really hint at the slow riding that would meet us in the terrain! A lot of recent forestry work meant bumpy, slow, physical tracks. My lungs didn’t feel improved over the day before, so I started off steadily and wound up the pace as I went along. The second control after the map change was problematic for me. I got a big stick wedged in my derailleur and back wheel, which flung me over the bars (soft landing). As I started biking, my gears weren’t sitting nicely and were hopping up and down the cassette. I stopped and saw the hanger was really twisted, so gently twisted it back into a better position. There was then an extra track in the terrain that I took before realising and doubling back. By the time I made it to the control, I had semi-working gears, but had lost all motivation to continue. It was close to the car, so just pedalled gently back, and put on a new hanger and perfected the gear shifting before waiting in the sun.
By Friday I was feeling much better. I played it safe and kept my same HR zones during the race. But already, even on day 5 of my illness, my strength on the bike was returning and I finished 2nd just 2.5mins behind Marika. The first 10 controls were not smooth. I mis read the map to control 3, viewing the small building as the end of the path and thus the indistinct junction. I then lost the small path and spent some time in the woods before finding my way back to it. A couple of slower splits times on the singletrack (I was riding my 26’er which makes it necessary to attack the singletrack rather than roll over the roots. Not in race zone, I rolled over everything and felt every little bump!). But after the map change, my life came together. I found the flow. I found speed. For the final 35 mins of the course, I was 2 minutes faster than anyone else. Just a pity about the first half! Even though I was keeping the HR low, I felt strong. The first time in a few days. My power was returning. This is the kind of MTBO I love. A mix of tracks and singletracks, with plenty of navigation and route choice considerations.
In the afternoon we had a moment course. Corridors and control picks are familiar to me on a bike. But a window exercise?? I found this remarkably uncomfortable. With no map to plan or look at, it was only needed to focus on direction and other features, such as vegetation boundaries and contours. Even so, deliberately losing map contact didn’t feel natural. I am not sure of the benefit of this type of mental training. I need to spend some more time considering the implications of this way to orienteer in training.
Finally. Saturday. Race day. At last a chance to test my pre race nutrition. I felt really focussed and excited to be allowed off the leash. A final opportunity to gain some race confidence before Hungary. From the start, I nailed it. Just my third crash in three days marred one control. This time, head first into a) the world’s smallest deepest puddle, and b) world’s muddiest and smelliest puddle. I was coated in slimy mud, which made holding the handlebars difficult! I think I rode faster just to get away from the smell … But, it was a great race. I had full control. Losing only 36 seconds in total on the whole 44 minute course. I was able to win by 2.5 minutes. I felt strong. On only day 6 after getting ill, I know in a week I should be back to full strength and full speed.
It was nice to end the camp on a high, but I learnt a lot over the few days. Most importantly, I got to see how my body reacts to just a simple illness and how this affected my power and speed. I now know I should never race in the first 4-5 days of a cold. Not because of the potential prolonged illness, but simply because having a bad result and finishing minutes behind would be far worse for my confidence than not starting. I didn’t know how much a cold would effect my legs, but clearly, going from 6 minutes behind to 2. minutes in front shows the power output is reduced.