Monday, August 24, 2015

Looking Back On The Czech World Champs

The MTBO World Champs were bigger this year. The Czech Republic is arguably the home of world Mountain Bike Orienteering, and they did a great job of trying to raise the bar.

Our team was bigger.

The courses were harder.

The weather was more extreme. The terrain was uncompromising on both equipment and our legs.

The media attention was brighter. 

And the closing banquet was epic!

Watching all of the TV coverage and GPS tracks this year taught showed that the best riders are not always pedaling hard. Especially in the sprint we all noticed how slowly the top riders were riding in and out of CP's. Route choice is so more important, and more so when the terrain is so steep and challenging. In Estonia and Poland fitness was king.  If you could ride fast, your route was not highly predictive of success if you could execute it.

This year we had a lot of fast riders, more than half of the team can race a bike near the top of the sport at home. Yet that ability was not of much help in the Czech terrain. The ability to navigate was exalted above all else here.

Reviewing the routes that the impressive Anton Foliforov rode during training, we noticed that he was seeing route choices that we did not take. Not only did we not take them, they never even occurred to us. When there are hills, it is not enough to see the trails, but also the contour lines. Not just the contour lines, but the terrain between trails where it may be faster to run your bike instead of ride around.

The challenge was overwhelming, especially for those of us who arrived for the first time with expectations of success. Success for a team like ours looks different than what it does for a different team. It also looks different than what success looks like for ourselves at home. We are used to being good bike racers, adventure racers and navigators at home. Although MTBO blends these skills, it is a unique skill of its own that must be practiced to find success. Especially at this level!

With that said, there were a lot of successes out there amongst our difficulty this year. Lots of learning, and even a lot of good splits too.

We are lucky to be racing amongst a community that does not judge us for what might appear to be a lack of success. The world's best MTBO athletes welcome us. They understand that we don't have the opportunity to practice as much as they do. It's a great community of which I really enjoy being a small part of.

Thank you to Orienteering USA for the opportunity to compete on the world stage, and thanks to all of my teammates for another great experience. It was a pleasure working with you out there.

Until next year!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

It's On Like Donkey Kong! Opening Ceremonies and Middle Distance

It has officially begun! All the teams are here (29 countries), the heatwave has broken, and the rain has officially saturated Team USA.


Yesterday, August 17th, was the Opening Ceremonies held at the Arena here in Liberec, home of the White Tigers Hockey Team.  A little different from previous years, we as the team got to sit down and enjoy the show.  Two team members, Rachel Furman and Justin Bakken were our chosen representatives to be the flag and country name carrier as they joined the other countries flag carriers to walk on stage as they announced the teams to competition.  The presentation of a clock countdown got me a little nervous since it felt like the beginning of a race - it was nice to not have to pedal away as the clock reached :00 seconds, but instead listen to some amazing drumming and watch the light show and a short video of Mountain Bike Orienteering.


This short video pretty much sums up what the weather was like today for the Middle Distance Event, probably don't need to dwell too much more on that topic.  But... it was a lot more pleasant than what I was expecting, not that cold and the trails weren't as slippery as I thought they would be.  FUN!!!

COMPETITION - I was really happy how today played out.  I feel like I haven't had a solid Middle Course Race for the past 4 years I've attended the World Championships. Today's course was filled with multiple route choice options and many, many hills.  I played this game conservatively today making sure I was on the right path before making any big descents - did I mention it was hilly?  It's a bummer I had to try two different trails before choosing the third (the correct trail) on my way to the first control.  But on the positive side, I did recover from this error and  carried on with my race.  No major errors, just a bunch of tiny ones.  Yes, I do know tiny errors add up to quite a bit of time but honestly, with the limited MTBO we have in the states, I'll take my solid 43rd place!  I've learned quite a bit this past year from the help of fellow MTBO friends and it feels great to be able to apply all that I've learned to today's race, thanks!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Learnings from a MTBO Champs Beginner

Whew!  As a new teammate for the U.S. MTBO team, I wasn't sure what to expect of the 2015 MTBO Champs.  Well I've made it to the end of our first week here in the Czech Republic, but not without making some of the classic MTBO errors in each of my training camp courses.  The good news is that it was training camp, and I get to learn from them before it gets real for us in a few days!

The first day of training camp was the sprint course.  I lost a few minutes on my third control just through a little confusion, but otherwise was doing fairly well and felt good.  However, I was having trouble following the pink lines between the controls and making sure I was going to the right control, and ultimately punched a control that I'd already been too (thought "8" was "18" even though I should have been going to "17," whoops!).  After I mis-punched, I thought I would be disqualified, so I went on and finished the course without going back to get 17.  So, lesson number 1: you won't get disqualified for an extra punch, so go back and get all of your controls in order and your finish will count!

The second day was the long course.  I made a route choice that turned out to be uphill for 300 ft, instead of the downhill that I thought it would be.  Lesson number 2: make sure you read the contours correctly while planning your route!  I also realized after talking to others about route choices that I have a tendency to look for straight line routes, which causes me to overlook some shorter routes that consist of a few stair-step type turns.  For example, on my long course map I've highlighted my route.  Between controls one and two, my brain immediately read the straight angled route I took, completely missing the faster one with the paved and gravel roads to the north and west of my route.  Lesson number 3: learn to look for all the possible route choices before making your decision.  Your first gut instinct may not be the fastest route.

Long Course map with my route highlighted in pink.  Check out the hill I chose to hike my bike up from 2 to 3 (not on purpose..).  Yes, that is, in fact, 20 countour lines.  Also see if you can find the more optimal route from 1 to 2.

And (my) last day was the middle course.  I was dreading the middle course because it was my worst course a few weeks ago at O-Ringen in Sweden, where I dropped from 4th overall to 6th due to some poor map reading and lack of quick route choices.  This time, I did okay for the most part, but still made some of the same errors.  I took the wrong trail at times, took a slower route choice from 16 to 17, and crashed into a branch on the way to 18 that almost took me out of the game for good, but more on that later.  But, after looking at the map afterwards, the learning from the day was bushwhacking. Now, I actually had done some bushwhacking, unintentionally.  I'm talking short bushwhacks to get to the control from a faster trail than the one it is on.  It would have worked for me at control 9 and 17.  So, lesson number 4: Don't discount the bushwhack option!

Middle Course map with my route highlighted.  I tried to put red X's where I know I messed up (missed a turn, turned around, stopped to read the map other than at a control, hit a branch, etc.). 

I know I'm missing many more of the lessons I've learned throughout this past week, but that will do it for now.  I know I will still be learning even more as I try to put this all together on Tuesday, along with over 1500 feet of climbing..yowza!

Until next time!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Training Camp Musings From The Czech Hills

Life at training camp is like being at scout camp. Despite its discomforts, its the best of times. Each day we are responsible for little more than training, eating and sleeping -- it is an ideal life. 

The ten of us (yes, ten this year!) are piled into a strange lakeside resort area that has communal showers, rooms so uncomfortably hot they cannot be entered from noon to 7PM, countless cigarette smokers, bees and a stray cat. But we are all in it together, getting to know each other through training, teaching and learning from each other.

Traveling is something we all enjoy, but being here to train and race at the World Champs gives our visit here a purpose outside of being a tourist. It allows time to slow down a bit, as we don't feel compelled to use too much of our energy outside of training. 

We live in small cottages.  They melt our chocolate when we leave

But Justin brought us fans to help us get better sleep

They are on the shore of a lake with a brilliant wake board cable system.  Here is a picture of Sue (or perhaps Abra, I don't recall) getting some air.

Nate is also good.  Unfortunately for him today the cat came out of the bag: he has a cycling tan tattoo, the photo clearly shows.

The woods present us with many choices. If you are like us, and make the right choice 90% of the time, you are... in huge trouble. Going the wrong direction 10% of the time is a bit too much. Sound navigation is very important, especially in the sprint and middle distance events.

Our van chose a scenic place to get a flat tire!

The Czech countywide is gorgeous.  This is the view from the Jested Hotel.

The dogs of the Czech Republic are happy and photogenic.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Welcome to Prague!

The 2015 World Champs trip started off on two wheels this year, with Sue trying her hand on a Segway in Prague's Old Town Square. Jeff, Sue and Abra arrived a day early and got to check out a bit of the city along with the rest of the multitude of travelers.
Except for Rachel's plane delay in which she sat on the tarmac at JFK for four hours, she, Tom and Dave arrived the next day without a hitch and have joined us at an Airbnb apartment on the outskirts of Prague. We're all adjusting to the stagnant heat and lack of air conditioning. Cold showers are the current preferred cool down method. All bikes arrived safely and Jeff already took a short spin last night along a lovely river path. 
Just like prior years, it's already been a fun "cross contamination" of adventure racing, mountain bike and orienteering stories. Jeff and Rachel raced together earlier this year with David Ashley, who competed for Team USA in Estonia two years ago, and know of Peter, Joe Brautigam and Tom , Justin and Dave's WEDALI racing team as well. The Adventure Racing/MTBO ties run deep.
After a morning team spin we'll be picking up Nathan (who just earned his 5th degree black belt earlier this week -- by lying on a bed of nails and having someone break a cement block on his abdomen!?), Sarah and Peter and heading off to training camp to get some solid practice in before the following week's races begin. A game of van packing Tetris is in store.
Here are a few pictures of Jeff, Abra and Sue's Prague adventures from yesterday, including a tandem penny farthing bike found in the Jewish Quarter.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Wednesday: World Championships Middle Distance

The best part of Training Camp being so difficult, with unmarked trails and miles of nettles, is that the recently updated maps and clear trails of the actual races were EASY. At least it seemed like that for me J.

Wednesday dawned slightly less cold and rainy than the day before, but chilly enough that we brought plenty of layers. There was rain expected during some of our race times, which made choosing a kit a little challenging.

The Middle Distance format is generally in a larger, less urban area than the Sprint, with more controls and longer distances between controls. The Elite Men had 26 controls, with a 21km optimal route; the elite women had 20 controls with a 16km optimal route; the men 50 (Joe) had 21 controls with 15.5km optimal route, and the women 40 (me) had 20 controls with a 12km optimal route (too short, in my opinion J; next year masters women’s course will be longer). The estimated winning times were 55-60 minutes depending on the class.

Transportation was complicated by start and finish areas separated by 6 kilometers of road. And the time difference between the first team member to race (Peter) and the last member to race (me) was about 6 hours. Lots of waiting for some of us. Happily, there was no universal quarantine for the duration; riders were allowed to stay in the parking area before they raced. Because we had late start times, Joe and I shuttled the vans between the start and finish, hung out at the finish for a while, then Peter drove us back to the start to wait.

The course was fantastic, with well-mapped trails and a bikewack that didn’t sting. There were two distinct parts of the course: a flatter, more open section at the beginning and a hillier, slightly wilder section, separated by a 1-2 meter deep trench (which I never actually saw).

Tom did quite well and qualified for a slot in the long distance race on Friday, where he’ll be racing with the top 60 riders in the competition.

Joe scooting to the finish.

Joe’s derailleur exploded, taking part of his frame with it. He ran/scooted the final 10K of the course.

Today, Thursday, is a rest day. We did a little bit of sightseeing, took some pictures, and got Joe an entirely new drivetrain.

Tuesday: World Championship Sprint Distance (the first official race of the competition)

After getting our nerves, jitters, and crazies out in the official unofficial race on Monday, the team was primed and ready for our first real race: the Sprint (expected winning times 20 to 25 minutes). The weather was cold and rainy, woo hoo! The setting was an urban park in the center of Bialystok, half an open plaza with paved paths radiating from a central square and half a wooded park with many criss-crossing trails. The connector between the two parts was an elevated pedestrian walkway. Both areas were clear and flat, so there were ample opportunities to straight-line through the woods.

Quarantine started at 9:30 for all elite athletes; “quarantine” means all athletes are in a secure location with no access to electronic communication, so that no one is able to talk about the maps prior to the race. This quarantine location was a large arena (a hocky rink with no ice) attached to an outdoor track we were allowed to warm up on.

Indoor warm up area
Thoughts from the athletes on the competition:

Peter didn’t get dirty because he was the first to leave (of the entire competition, not just the our team).

Joe, scheduled toward the end of the day, was not so lucky!

Dave was almost run over a getting to a control.

Nate got to ride with the Fast Boys, since he was toward the end of the line up.

Sarah NAILED her first point!

Sue felt more confident compared to last year and was able to recover from small errors. She was very pleased with her time 9 minutes back from the leader.

Abra was happy with her ability to recover from small mistakes. She learned stopping for 5 seconds to check the map is better than heading off in the wrong direction.

Liz learned that when someone in your class makes a turn you don't expect, it's a good idea to look at the map!