The 2015 World Championships were a mixed affair. I succeeded in making the champs both my best and worst to date. Only I could manage that! This blog is long as with no internet connection this time in Czech, I was unable to write daily updates. So, here’s everything in one.
Although I didn’t manage to take any gold or silver medals, just one bronze, I backed in up with two 4th places, despite uncontrollable external factors. In this way, WMTBOC 2015 was by far, my most consistent Worlds to date. I managed to avoid my one, everything-goes-wrong race, and succeed in completing a season entirely made of top 6 results. In addition, my bronze was just enough to secure me the World Cup overall title for the second year running, so after the sprint race, I had already won.
My bronze represents my worst best result since 2012. In 12/13/14 I took a silver medal in either sprint or middle races. I went to Czech to achieve a lot more than one medal, but throughout the week I wasn’t on my mental A game. It’s frustrating because my physical shape was really great, in the shape of my life, and since EMTBOC I made big improvements.
The question of ‘What Happened?’ is one that haunted our entire drive home to Norway. That’s 13 hours, plus a 14 hour boat trip.
We drove to southern Czech Republic a whole week early. 1) There were a couple of races that weekend. 2) Time is vital after a long drive, recovery takes a few days. The races in Zlin were a write off and, once over, they were consigned to my mental trashcan.
My preparation for WMTBOC went well. Each day, every training session, felt like I was putting the pieces together of a jigsaw puzzle. Many of the individual sessions were normal, and fairly unremarkable. But together, I started to see/feel the picture of peak performance appearing. Only, after Zlin, it sometimes felt that I had the wrong pieces. You know the kind, the ones that have the image segment you want, and almost fit, but it’s a bit tight and awkward, and you’re not convinced, but you can’t find a better piece.
During the training camp the following week (after a brief stop and pedal in Nove Mesto na Morave!) 95% was good. I found mistakes that kept slipping in, but I kept brushing them off. Things like, seeing and almost taking one (the best) route choice on the long training, but then seeing another option and without calculating it, taking that variant. Taking a junction too early in the relay and losing 10 secs. Being unable to read the slightly blurred map provided in the EC of a training area, and needing to stop all the time to chose a route/see the control location. The picture in my head not matching the terrain, and needing to pause to correct myself.
Not to mention that, during the training week, on Thursday I woke with a dry throat. I figured it was a reaction to something small. The air was hot and dry for weeks. Although that disappeared by evening, on Saturday, we sat in a smoky outdoor pub for 2 hours. Sunday was sore throat day, but by Monday I had tight lungs. I knew I hadn’t been in contact with anyone sick; of that I had been very careful for weeks. The symptoms mimicked a cold, but only at the lowest possible level. In fact, if it hadn’t been the week of the Worlds, it probably would have passed by entirely unnoticed. But such is the way before any major race, and I’m always super aware of how my body feels.
The chords of disquiet were there. I was doing my best to find the right mindset, but it was difficult to find the reassurance I needed as HJ was always engrossed in his new work. With so many small things playing on my mind, and the unmitigated disaster/temper tantrum of the intervals, I was struggling to find confidence in myself just one day before the first of the races.
By the time I stood on the start line of the middle distance, I was feeling better. I was ready to fight hard. Nothing was a surprise on the map, and everything went nicely until the way to the fourth control. In my head the two parallel tracks connected, or at least, the upper one was an indistinct junction. I followed the main singletrack that had formed from all the cyclists before, just expecting there to be a branch off for the one I wanted. It was bigger than I expected, but I took the first left. When I reached the end of the path, I knew my error so it was easy to correct. Only minus a minute of time. I kicked myself for making not one but two assumptions. After that my race was solid. Never the fastest split times but always just a few seconds behind. In the final loop I became more aggressive with my route choices, and with a strong plan, was able to claw back time to finish just 34 seconds down on the winner, Gaelle Barlet of France.
So, it was onwards to the next race; the sprint distance. I was feeling ready for this race, and prepared to fight for every second. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. While flying down a track out of the 6th control, I rounded a corner to find a guy on the wrong side of the track. It took a second to realise he was reading the map, and hadn’t looked up. I had enough time to scrub off some speed before we hit. Somehow we both stayed on the bikes, but my wrist, and ear were in agony, not to mention to dead leg I received. I pedalled off, but needed to use the whole road section to the 7th control to run a physical and technical check.
- Ear: still attached to head
- Earrings: not been ripped out (My head was in a world of pain)
- Wrist: can’t hold handlebars yet
- Leg: it’s just a bit dead.
- Bike: handlebars intact, brake lever back to position, everything seems ok.
I lost that control through needing to get my head back in the game. I wasn’t able to use the simple leg to plan ahead to the route choice controls. Since I already knew what to do for the immediate controls, I was just able to execute that plan. Although I chose a good route to the tenth control, I executed it poorly, making two micro route choice errors that cost me 30 seconds. Since I entered 10 from one direction, I also left that way too, which cost me another 20 seconds on the next leg. After that, I pulled myself together and rode well to the end. But it wasn’t enough to beat the impressively strong Martina Tichovska.
If I’m conservative with my time lost after the crash, I lost the possibility to medal. I had to make a better decision before the crash in order to fight for gold.
I spent the evening in ever increasing pain, as my body reacted to the stress of the impact. By the next morning, I couldn’t move. I was hugely fatigued, unable to walk, turn my head or use my wrist. Much of the day was spent in bed, alternating between Big Bang Theory episodes and sleep. By evening I was able to walk the 400m to shower and eat dinner, but the effort exhausted me. I wasn’t certain I would make it to the start line of the long distance, but I focussed my efforts on recovery; leaving the next day’s race until then.
After a better night’s sleep I awoke restored and back to 85%. Small knocks to my wrist didn’t hurt so much, I had more movement in my neck and I had a lot more energy. I headed into quarantine, happy to make my start. I didn’t have any expectations, a top 10 seemed outside my capabilities, even the prospect of finishing seemed a challenge.
Downing a double portion of painkillers, on top of the ones I’d taken some hours before, meant I had no concept of pain. ‘Punch me on my bruise’ I said grinning to HJ, ‘I can’t feel a thing!’. While warming up, my legs felt powerless, but that was to be expected. I tried not to think about it and just take the course control by control.
For the first 30 minutes I was a few seconds behind Tichovska, but then a mistake crept in to the fifth control. I had seen that the difficult path would probably be hard to see from the main track, but I was unable to react physically to the mental process. I had even clocked the Y junction just a few metres beyond on the map as my Catching Feature, but when it appeared I flew down the left hand branch, rather than recognising it as my CF, and turning. It took me sometime to react to this, and make the shortcut to the adjacent track.
Then, some good controls, by which time I was mixed with 2nd and 3rd. After the 9th control, but body started to give in and my times on the climbs started to slow. At the map change, just 2/3rd’s of the course, I was safety in 4th, but 1 minute behind 3rd. I felt I was struggling, and not challenging for any position. I guess this physical feeling played on my mental ability. I also noticed I was drifting mentally. Struggling to focus. For many of the next controls, I was seeing and deciding on the best route choice, but when it came to carrying it out, I always took a different and unconsidered option. I wasn’t able to stop myself and I lost a lot of time.
In the end it was =4th, once again the winner was Martina, whose performances in these championships have been nothing short of exceptional.
I’m certainly not upset over the lost possibility to be in peak shape to fight for more medals, moreover frustrated at the events that caused it. This is competition and anything can happen. It just always seems that I’m the one who never wins! As HJ says, everything in preparation can go well, and you can do everything right; but there’s only a 50% chance you will reach your goals.
This year, however, there was still one more race left…