5 days, 5 races and 5 wins = Pilsen 2015!

My experience in Czech terrain had gone downhill over the years. In 2007 for the Worlds I was new to the sport, but what I lacked physically I made up for with my orienteering. In 2009 after a disaster at JWOC I struggled in the elite class for 3 days but managed a couple of top ten results. The bad races were mostly weak physically, and flakey mentally. After this experience, in the 2013 edition of Plzen, I was hoping to gain valuable insight into the route choice decision making Czech terrain required. I had a cold. Things went badly. I made poor decisions that ultimately led me to fear Czech terrain and so the vicious circle of negativity began.

Negativity isn’t something that can be afforded, especially for a top level athlete preparing for the World Champs. My whole winter season was about changing that mental aspect, doing my homework and building my confidence from the bottom up.

As we drove down to Plzen 2015, I was excited and nervous, but most off all I had clear goals to achieve during the week, that weren’t result related. Winning or losing didn’t matter. The 5 days were about not doing anything stupid or trying to be clever with my orienteering. Interestingly, being stupid and being clever often end up in the same situation; time loss. Big time loss. I was only supposed to race the Friday, Saturday and Sunday races, with Thursday and Monday taken at a moderate intensity. I got a bit excited on the first day, so the plan had to change!

Thursday: Stage 1, middle distance

I started well, I finished well, with only a couple of route choices errors in the middle. Both route choices were calculated and decided upon. Neither was an instant decision made in the heat of the moment. To control 7, I felt the road would be faster. If the path on the other variant was at the more difficult end of slow riding, my choice would have been better. As it was it was nearer ‘medium’ in speed so I lost 30 secs. To the 11th control, I struggled to see a clear, nice route through the forest. There were too many junctions and it didn’t appear to have any smooth lines, just lots of corners. I lost 49 seconds, and looking at the map now, I can see it was a lot shorter.

This was my first win of the week by 90 seconds, after which a challenge was laid down by a team mate … can I win all 5 days? After deciding on the finer points (does winning the overall on day 5 count as the 5th victory? no, must win all the individual days!) I agreed to accept the challenge. I failed in my first goal; DON’T DO ANYTHING STUPID!

Stage 1: middle distance.

Friday: Stage 2, sprint distance

This was my first experience in MTBO of getting the map 15 secs prior to starting. It worked really well, immediately creating huge stress for the athlete. With only time to put the map in and check the route and direction to the first control, the stress was high throughout the race with no time to get ahead more than one control with planning ahead. Every decision was made under pressure with little time to make a decision. This race was about reacting on instinct. See a route, take it. Aside from a miss to the 6th control, (I was 3rd starter so struggled to find a small path in the long grass which cost me 30 seconds) I had a clean race. To the 9th control, I should have gone around the road, but I made my choice based on clear and logical reasoning. To the 11th control, I thought I could pass under the railway earlier, but realised my error soon after starting the route choice. With little option but to carry on, I spent a few seconds concerned this would cost me. I pedalled harder. As it turned out, this was the fastest option anyway.

I ended my race in a crash to the 21st control. Hot headed and nearing the end, I tried to squeeze between a rapidly decreasing gap between one competitor’s back wheel and another’s front wheel. They were slowing for an earlier control, and despite me shouting a few seconds before, I didn’t have space to skid to halt to avoid them. I could only try for the gap. I just clipped a pedal on the back wheel and was catapulted over the bars onto the gravel. Luckily no injuries.

Another win, with a nice 27 sec gap to 2nd. I also got to be crowned Czech champion of the sprint distance, bringing me three national champ crowns in three nations: Britain 2011, Sweden 2013 and Czech 2015.

Stage 2: sprint distance

Saturday: Stage 3, WRE, middle distance

Another day, another win. This time just 24 seconds to 2nd place. My legs felt so heavy in the morning and right up until the starting moment. I was unsure if I had the energy in them to race. Once the start beeps went, all was forgotten and my race legs sort of appeared! This was a fast race, full of many 50/50 route choices. I was strong in my decision making, and well controlled in the technical orienteering sections. Just a felled tree section to the 16th control cost me 50 seconds, and this subsequently effected my decision on route choice to the final control, which lost me another 30 seconds.

By this point the pressure was really starting to mount from the challenge I had accepted. Three wins in as many days, and I was feeling hugely motivated (and tired) to keep winning and performing strongly.

Stage 3: middle race

Sunday: Stage 4, WRE, long distance

This has got to be THE BEST LONG DISTANCE EVER PLANNED! 1) the terrain was excellent, technical orienteering, technical riding in places, fast riding, and naturally the need to always be in control of the nav. 2) the course was brilliantly planned, always keeping athlete’s on their toes, with few moments to rest to legs or mind. 3) The trails varied from fast to energy sapping. 4) the route choices were challenging with at least 4 options for each longer leg.

The race began with my legs feeling light, but my brain saying ‘errrrr’ when I was trying to decide my route to the first control. Eventually I settled on something that was straight with fast riding, and went for it. I was offensive in my route choice making, taking routes that I calculated to be faster, even if they were a bit tougher for my legs. To the 6th control, I played it safe at the end in order to get the control cleanly, which was a strategy that paid off.

By the time I reached the road crossing, I was fatiguing. Quickly. The climb to 12 nearly had me on my knees, and wasn’t even that steep or long. I was overheating and didn’t realise. To 13 I managed the climb without suffering, and just lost 30 seconds with a small route choice problem/map reading fail to the 15th. 17 was real suffer leg for me, no clear, nice route choice and no faster trails. It was a leg that saw me become indecisive. To the 19th, I once more suffered on the climb but was able to muster my last energy/mental reserves once at the top to get home as soon as I could. I drank the last of my drink, and pedalled as hard as I could downhill, not wanting to lose time due to fatigue and suffering. I dug really deep.  The climbs to 12 and 19 really took their toll, and I felt I was riding really slowly. In the finish I hugged a tree as I was fed squash drinks and water. After 7 mins I staggered to the lake, and was able to bring my temperature down. 12 mins after finishing I felt human, the lake cooling having done it’s job. Then I had an anxious 50 mins to wait for my main competitors to finish. I was so sure I wouldn’t win today. My suffering for the last 40% was extreme enough I was certain I wouldn’t make the top 10.

When I found I had won, and by a huge 6.5mins I was chuffed to bits! I gave this race my all, and I was really happy.

Stage 4: long distance

Monday: Stage 5, chasing start

By now the challenge was starting to look like I might succeed. I had an 11 minute gap to second place in the chasing start, but even so, I could hardly take the race easy. All week I had been playing with different wheel sizes and fork setups, so I settled on my fully rigid Nakamura 27.5. Just for the fun factor!

I was close to getting the free order right, only I failed to get 31 first, and then 39 before carrying on with my order. Had I done so I could have saved 2mins 20. Other than that, I had a mistake free race, nicely controlled. I found a good speed, but struggled to ‘race’ this one. My legs were just too fatigued to give it full speed, so instead I found a sustainable power output in HR zone 4. With that in mind, I wasn’t sure I could win this individual race. I was certain Martina, Maja and Gaelle would get the free order right and take advantage of the 2.5 mins I had given away to anyone who took it.

In the end, I won by a mere 5 seconds over joint second place! It rounded off an unbelievable week, in terms of results and achieving my performance related goals. The circle of negativity is over. I’m feeling positive about my physical and mental ability. But there’s still work to do over the coming weeks 🙂

Stage 5: chasing start

A huge thanks to everyone involved in putting on this amazing competition: organisers, mappers, course planners and marshals. The only downside to the week was my Tigger towel going missing on the final night. Although it’s 10 years old, it’s been on every trip with me, and I didn’t realise how much I loved liked it until it went missing. If you find it, please return it! Unless it’s vomit stained. In which case, wash it twice, and then return it 😉

A special mention has to go to my brilliant new team mates; Adel and Natalie. Both ride from MuleBarGirl-SigmaSport, a UK based team that ride anything that can be pedalled. Time trial, MTB, CX, DH, Enduro, Road, Crit, Pedal cars, and now MTBO! Pilsen was their first experience into the world of maps, and both jumped in head first. 49 mins behind the winner on day, they made huge improvements and were able to finish 30-43mins behind me in the long distance race (the 43 mins should have been nearer to 35 without several mechanicals). I’m stoked to be racing with these two at the World Champs and form a relay team! They’ve got 6 weeks to practise their orienteering skills, and I know they will turn up to WOC even better and ready to race. (I actually think they have potential to be challenging for top 10 results!). Watch out World …

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