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!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Unofficial Official Mixed Sprint Relay—Monday, August 25

Only one thing really needs to be said about Monday's race: it was a great way to get the crazies, jitters, mistakes, errors, and assorted other first day glitches out, when it didn't really count. :)

The Mixed Sprint Relay was described, by the officials, as "a party, a get-together, a fun way to start off the races." We raced as teams of two: one male and one female. The woman had maps one and three; the male maps 2 and 4. It was a LeMans start, with racers standing about 10 feet from the bikes. At "Go" we turned over our maps as we started running for our bikes. It was chaos along the dirt entry road as everyone mounted bikes and put maps on boards, all while trying to figure out where the first control was.

Sue: it was great to be in the mix... in a train of all these elite mtbo'ers.

After completing the 12 control map (all of them REALLY close together and obviously not each one was punched each time, very confusing), the first rider came through the finish area and tagged off. Repeat 3 times.

We had some glitches, but we got them all out of the way on the unofficial day :).

Opening Day—Sunday, August 24

After a long week of Training Camp, we were excited for the first real day of the World Championships.

On the schedule for Opening Day were two Model Events: a long/middle/start and finish model in the morning and a Sprint model in the afternoon. Opening ceremonies, including a parade of teams through the streets of Bialystok, speeches from the organizers, and two bands, were to be held late in the afternoon.

 A Model Event is like a practice session for those racers who didn’t spend the week at training camp; it looks like a real event but it doesn’t count…racers can do as many or as few of the controls as they like. The start gate was set up as it would be at the races: two lines, separated by tapes, one for men and one for women. There are three “stops” leading up to the start tent. Racers progress by a minute each stop through Clear, then Check, then one minute before the start each picks up a map from the center table (labeled by race class), folds it if necessary, places it on the map board, and then hopefully has 20-30 seconds to figure out where the first control is.

 The finish was also set up as it will be at the race, sort of. The last control on the course is called the Go Control, after punching it the rider can go all out to the Finish control. At the championships, we are using a timing chip attached to the handlebars, so the finish is actually a line like at regular mtb races; we still punch the Finish control but the time has already stopped.

 It started to rain during the event and didn’t stop for the rest of the day.

 The team decided to walk the Sprint event, rather than ride, because of the rain and the fact that we would be going straight to the Opening Ceremonies. That was a good decision, as the model area was TINY and took about 20 minutes total to walk.

Despite a cold rain, the team made the most of the Parade of Teams, proudly carrying the flag and our sign.


The speeches were thankfully short, as we were all standing outside in the cold rain. Then the officials left and a fantastic Polish rock bank took the stage. The music was rather traditional, and the instruments were very traditional (clarinet, violin, electric string base, accordion, and drums), but the beat, and the way the musicians played, was anything but traditional. The Americans were, naturally, rocking it out in the front row ☺.

Monday, August 18, 2014

And The Cat's In The Cradle...

...And The Silver Spoon.  Little Boy Blue and the Man on the Moon!!!  

I hope you are all now singing this little diddy, at least the first line and then mumbling the rest of the song like some of us USA MTBO team members (me)! I wonder what song will stick in our heads after tomorrow's breakfast Muzak!

It's TRAINING CAMP TIME in Suprasl, Poland and Team USA is taking in as much information as possible to prepare for the World Champs next week.  I have to say it's pretty awesome to be able to mountain bike and especially to be able to mountain bike orienteer everyday for 2 weeks, what an experience!
8 out of 9 of us are here in Suprasl, Poland and Joe will be arriving on the 20th to complete the team.  We all arrived in Warsaw on Saturday and rallied to Suprasl, a 3 hour drive, making it a long 24 hours-awake-kind-of-a-day. The reward for the long day of travelling was a relaxing Sunday morning, assembling our bikes in the morning sunshine, and then a little rest before we all geared up to head out to our first day of training camp.
Sunday and Monday's Training Maps got us on similar terrain of what we will be competing on next week - quite a bit of sand to keep you on your toes and plenty of stinging nettles to remind you later that you mountain biked in Poland.  Both days were older maps so there were definitely more trails due to logging and some of the marked trails were more overgrown than what the map stated.  I used these days to work on my weaknesses - reading contours and attention to the scale.
Day 1 Training - Middle Distance 1:10,000

Day 2 Training - Long Distance 1:15,000

After today's training and a little bit (lots) of stretching, I checked out some of the local attractions, below is the Suprasl Orthodox Monastery,
USA! Church of Annunciation!

Thanks to everyone back home who are supporting us, I hope you're enjoying our updates.  You can also follow us on our Facebook page,, where we are all posting random pics and copies of our maps.

And a special thanks to our 8 week-and-under Super Fan, Willa, for cheering for us back in Portland, OR.  I'm looking forward to following your blog in a few years as you travel the world MTBOing!

Now that it's 10:30pm, Suprasl time, I think it's bed time.  
Looking forward to Day 3 of Training Camp. 
Sweet dreams Little Kittens!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Finding the best way to find north

The compass clip being printed
Orienteering is unfortunately also a fairly obscure sport in the USA, and mountain bike orienteering even more so. Coming from an adventure racing background, the gear requirements are much less demanding for mtbo (a bike, map board, compass is about all one needs) but I still found that I was lacking that certain something, namely, a convenient method for attaching my Moscow Compass to my fancy new AutoPilot map board.

Coming from an adventure racing background, I'm fairly familiar with modifying or making new gear to fit my needs as it's rare to find a piece of gear that does everything one wants. In the past I've made sails for canoes, extra pouches for packs, tow straps for kayaks, and numerous other crafty things. With all that experience, I figured the engineer in me could find a way to solve my problem.

The finished product attached to my Autopilot map board
Enter the world of 3D printing. One of my co-workers recently got a Cube 3D printer and I figured I could use it to make what I need. I popped the compass I had out of the thumb baseplate, took a few measurements, and came up with a 3D model using the free Sketchup Make software package. That design was exported to the Cube printer, and 4 hours later I had my part. 3d printing isn't perfect yet, so I did do some cleanup with a dremel, but overall it came out great! I've done a few test rides with it so far, and am excited to try it out in training and competition during the next two weeks. If it works out really well maybe I can make them for the team.

-Peter Jolles

Surprise! What did I get myself into?!

How I hope not to end up. ;)
Hello from Texas!

Sarah here, and while I've spent plenty of time on 2 wheels, I've never participated in an MTBO event. The world championships will be my first experience and boy do I have a lot of random ideas of what mountain bike orienteering will be like.

I imagine MTBO is somewhat like texting while driving - you should keep your eyes on the trail, but you're too busy looking at the map. How could anything possibly go wrong?
Ok, so maybe it won't be that bad! I hope.
This year's WMTBOC takes us to Poland. The northeast side of the country in BiaƂystok to be exact. How cool is that?! I'll be racing in a city I can't even pronounce! Let's take a gander at the country of Poland.
We'll be neighboring with Belarus.

Boom! So we land in Warsaw this Saturday and Nathan and I get to meet our teammates. All of us finding each other sounds like a challenge already. Maybe some guy will be standing there with a sign?
We currently have 2 very sweet rental vans. One for the people and one for our 9 bikes. Rumor has it, these may be manual transmissions. I hope our international DL holders brushed up on their driving skills.
The drive from Warsaw to our hotel will be a couple hours. Then the fun starts! We have a week of training camp to get us in gear. Both physically and mentally. This will be my first real exposure to an MTBO map and the actual terrain the map covers. I have my fingers crossed and my breath held for a very exponential learning curve.
All of our team will be at the training camp. It will cover (I think) all possible scenarios. What could these be? I don't know. I'm assuming getting lost, keeping direction, missing a punch, etc. I wonder what happens when you crash so hard you break a map board. Does that even happen? How much finess and skill do these racers have?
*Please don't let me be this guy*
See, my mind is already running off on a tangent. I'm hoping to find what works most efficiently for me as far as riding and reading the map. I know being able to practice will be the biggest help and having others around me to exchange tips will be icing on the cake. Either way, I'm PRing.
All in all, mountain bike orienteering sounds like a recipe for fun. The use of maps require the cyclist to be quick thinking in route choice - helping muddle the strict competition of who's the strongest. Brains AND brawn! I must admit, this leaves me at a disadvantage compared to my experienced teammates and competition. I have been practicing reading a map while on my bike, but I know it's not the real deal. Training camp will give me a chance to thoroughly practice with a MTBO specific map and to see what I am up against. Being a competitive cyclist, I feel my fitness should be comparable. However, my lack of map-on-bike and MTBO map time will leave me a bit slower than the average racer if I'm not careful.

Training with pain.

"Training" for this event has been interesting. Nathan and I have spent many hours on the bike, but we do not have MTBO specific maps of our home state. We've taken road and AR maps for the area and have set out with random check points - using only the roads/trails on the map. I've learned to use key features that the map gives me as landmark points. These help notify if I am close or have maybe passed my point. I've grown very familiar with using elevation as an indicator on the map as well. While the MTBO courses are said to be relatively flat, I'm sure it will be significant enough for this flat lander to use as course indicators. We've also practiced exercises for spending more time looking at the map. We can thank our fellow Team USA members for those drills!
Training with maps.

Another new feature for me is the SI card. An electronic punch. What an upgrade from a paper passport! I think this will allow us to roll through the check points quickly. I am very excited to experience these new concepts at training camp and to apply them in the World Championships! Everything I learn will help make me a more skilled and competitive MTBO racer for the upcoming years.

SI Cards for quick checkpoint punches!

Be sure to check back after WMTBOC week. I will be posting another blog comparing and contrasting what I think the race will be with what the race really was! Wish us luck!!!

Sarah Ginsbach

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Noob Nathan Winkelmann here, giving my perspective of what MTBO will be like.  WARNING: reading this will likely make you smarter-or at least feel smarter, which is basically the same thing.

Have you ever seen these types of pictures:

That's what I'm up against going into the MTBO race in Poland!  I have an array of thoughts of what to expect, and what I will look like executing the sport!
I know it involves a mountain bike, which I know how to use.  I know it involves a map, which I know how to use.  SO, MTBO should be easy!  But I'm afraid, I'll feel like I'm back in the swim pool, getting lapped by 80 year old ladies while doing my 'hard' sets.

MTBO will be using different types of maps, such as:

Trying to find points in a particular order, using the fastest paths to get to each point.  The maps are quite a bit BIGGER than I'm used to, with a 1:5000, 1:10000, 1:15000 compared to a 1:24000, so there are a lot more details, and I believe the travel to be a lot faster than I'm used to.  However, coming from the Adventure Race side of things, I try to be different and think different than the 'navigator', relying on trails and direction to get me where I'm going-not necessarily the terrain features(this gets me in trouble when the trail is NOT on the map), but I've had great success when the trail IS on the map!  The other half of the equation is the short time frame, compared to a 24hr race, I'll be navigating to a few points within a few minutes, with other competitors riding all around me(talk about second guessing yourself!)  I wonder if finding one of the top 20 competitors, the ones with GPS tracking on their arm, and just following would be a bad idea? :) Then again, I don't know every rule-and definitely need to know all the rules in order to bend them in my favor!

So, just hope Team USA puts me in a Holiday Inn Express the night before the races, at least in "MY" mind, I'll be doing awesome!  I'll report on how it ACTUALLY is, much to the dismay of "what I think I do", I'll post about "what I really do"!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Preparation notes from Tom Puzak and Dave Swanson

What is on your mind this summer Tom (Puzak)?

Making the US MTBO team is a brilliant opportunity to immerse in a sport in which we don't often get to compete. As there are only a handful of events in each region of the US, all of the athletes on the US MTBO are challenged to find enough map time to progress.

This year, the team is taking a bit of a different approach to training for the world champs.  The biggest change is putting a greater focus on the map. Last year we learned that the more riding that can be done with a map board on, the better. We ride local MTB trails with a map on, following along as we ride. We print maps of the city, and choose virtual checkpoints to visit. We also do very specific race training set up to simulate the decision making that will happen at race pace. 
But nothing can prepare us better for the champs then the week of training camp in Poland. We are really excited to get there and focus on improvement. Regardless of the results, I know that I will continue to enjoy our unique sport, and make new friends along the way.

With regard to equipment, I am not making any large changes.  A fast XC race bike is important, and my preferred setup is a sub-22 lbs hard tail. Last year a Diamondback Evolve Carbon Pro served me well. This year a Niner AIR9RDO has been my weapon of choice. I specifically wanted to upgrade the wheels to help with all of the stops and starts. Otherwise I will be wearing polarized lenses to help cut down on the glare off of the otherwise awesome Autopilot map holders that we use.  The plastic covering keeps the maps in the place and protects from moisture and abrasion, but also reflects the sun making map reading difficult.  I would like to use a taller map board to get the map closer to my face while riding, but I'm not sure if I'll be able to get my hands on one prior to the world champs.

How has training been going for you Dave (Swanson)?

Making the US Mountain Bike Orienteering Team (MTBO) team this year has been very exciting. MTBO is different than endurance adventure racing, as decisions need to be made more quickly and efficiently than your typical adventure race or foot orienteering event.

MNOC Long Course part A

MNOC Long Course part B

Training for MTBO involves short hard efforts, technical riding skills, and the ability to ride while looking down at the mapboard. Getting onto the start lines to mountain bike races has helped with the fast paced, stop & go fitness needed for the sport. Minnesota has a series called Minnesota Mountain Bike Series that has 10 races across the state.  Locally, the ski hill hosts Thursday night races as well.  But of most benefit to MTBO training are the MNOC (Minnesota Orienteering Club) events.  It is my hope that we can find more terrain, and athletes, to participate in MTBO.  The 30 athletes that raced at the most recent MTBO event were all smiles at the finish line. At home, it is easy to train with multiple single track MTB parks nearby.
The next step will be training camp in Poland…a great opportunity to dig into MTBO.  Training camp promises to be an exciting opportunity to meet new people, get settled into the pattern and flow of the sport, and strengthen my navigation abilities.

Autopilot map board
The Giant XTC 29er hard tail is my bike of choice this year, with a carbon wheel set. Equipment changes were somewhat minimal but important, changing out to TruVativ carbon cranks and Shimano XT brakes. The brakes were a nice upgrade for me because the brake lever is very short, and easily operated by one finger. This means the rest of your hand can be on the handlebar grips, better controlling the bike through rough terrain. Changing out to tubeless tires (Maxxis Ardent) was a bit strange but has been beneficial with no issues so far, and it has been nice to be able to run low tire pressure if needed. The Autopilot map board has been great, easy to attach and very lightweight. I am hoping this setup is ultra lightweight but have not officially placed it on the scale. I have my bag of spare parts and tools to bring to Poland but hoping it won't be needed.

Now I have to pack the bike into a bike box, and find a compass somewhere around here...

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Final Countdown!

Today marks the two week countdown until Team USA jets off to Bialystok, Poland and the 2014 MTBO World Champs! Preparations have included team conference calls, jerseys shipped cross-country to see about sizing, and tips shared back and forth on our group Facebook page. Our team spans from Minnesota to Texas, and from Oregon to D.C., with a few more states making up the middle. We can't train together so we've been working on our own to make sure we're ready by the end of August. Sue and I wanted to share a little of what we've been doing here on the west coast (best coast) to get ready for Poland.
Thanks to friend Michelle for the sweet pic of Sue!

First of all, we've been racing. Portland has a great 8-week short track mountain bike series running from June to late July at Portland International Raceway. We both compete in the awesome Elite/Cat 1 Women's field in twisty, bumpy and fast 40-minute races. This style of riding is great for the short, powerful bursts of speed necessary in MTBO.

On top of racing, we've also been interval training on the bike and focusing on core strength both at the gym and at home. Without a ton of time to get on the trail for intervals, I've been spending many of my early mornings on the back porch with a very professional set-up: lawn mower displaying my workout, heart rate monitor watch wrapped around the handlebars, AND sweet vintage Descente jersey. You can check out all the bling in the photo below.

Any chance we can get to look at maps is obviously helpful, with the gentle reminder that everything looks quite different at race pace! We try to do any Foot-O events close by, and will go on longer mountain bike rides with old maps in our map holders just to practice reading on the go. Trail riding with map boards has definitely been a great opportunity to spread the word of MTBO. Riders heading in the opposite direction generally stop and inquire as to what that contraption might be on our handlebars.
Cue the "Rocky" theme song!

Our bikes also needed a little love in preparation for our week-long training camp and week's worth of racing. We grabbed new Kratos tires from Rubena, especially after finding some "Stanimals" hiding out inside the old tires from the Stan's No Tubes sealant of yore. One of my tires was also losing air out the sidewall -- it was time for a refresh! Add in an upgrade of some Avid XO hydraulic disc brakes and I'm starting to feel pretty set.
Are those sea monkeys...? No! They're Stanimals! 

And last but not least, we've also been recruiting. Sue and our club, CROC, hosted a local MTBO race at Stub Stewart State Park in June, and another short training exercise at Mt. Tabor Park in SE Portland this past week. Participants from both events left asking when the next race would be, which we considered a good sign. In order to get the US Junior MTBO movement rolling, we've decided it's absolutely fine to start recruiting youth at a very young age. On that note, I'd like to introduce you to our new friend, Willa Miriam -- she should be taking the junior MTBO circuit by storm in say, year 2030? Her parents say she's trying to decide between orienteering or bike racing -- why not both?