Friday, August 29, 2008

MTBO Poland

Chris and I arrived in Warsaw airport having spent an energetic weekend frolicking the hills of Switzerland during the Swiss mountain bike orienteering champs near Bern. I had really enjoyed the courses there - lots of good big hills to grind up and then racing down easy tracks through green paddocks. Heaps of time to look at the map for where to go next but tricky enough to still be a challenge. Unfortunately I knew that in Poland I faced extremely tricky track networks on flat sandy terrain, not so much my cup of tea. We met Cath (fellow Kiwi team mate) at the airport and hung around till Georgia and Rob and Marquita turned up.

We loaded all our gear into the van and headed off on the 3 hour drive to Nowa Kaletka for a week of training on similar maps. We met Michael Woods at the cabin, he had arrived a few hours earlier. In the morning it was out into the forest and for me things immediately felt hard; tricky track networks, hard to see tracks and lots of difficult 'off roading' to save time. Luckily the lake right outside our cabin cheered me up, as well as some great company in the other Kiwi's.

Rob Garden about to start his race...

The next few days we settled into a bit of a routine, training in the morning then blobbing in the afternoon. Georgia, Chris and I undertook an 'eating' regime all afternoon and into the evening. By Friday we had had a good chance to get familiar with the terrain, but due to some big blunders in the forest the training really only knocked my confidence. By Saturday we headed to the accomodation for the WOC competitions and due to the pricey nature of the accomodation elected to stay in our tents rather than at the big Hotel Anders.

We pitched outside Viv, Bruce, Gordon and Dave's cabin... so it was quite the merry little camp out. By Monday the first event had come round: the sprint and the biggest chance for Georgia and Chris to do well. Frustratingly Georgia's fantastic 5th place ride was disqualified due to a sport ident failing to register. I rode ok, but very cautiously. Chris had a real chance at success but ended up running into the stadium for the map change having got a puncture on the 2nd control! He ran over half the course before the map change where we snuck him a new wheel to put on. He still did remarkably well, but lost any chance of a placing. Marquita had a great ride and came 4th overall. So for the team it was a bit of a mixed bag.

Tuesday was the middle event and I was super determined to have a clean run and consequently freaked out entirely when I made a small mistake and then proceeded to lose heaps of time on a pile of really stupid mistakes. I was very disappointed. Kath, Georgia and Chris all had pretty good races and placed well respectively. Marquita pulled off a brilliant 5th placing. The middle terrain was a dense track network through sandy forest with lots of indistinguishable tracks.

The other Kiwi's had also been having variable experiences, some coming back furious while others were happy and others were despondent....orienteering really is a silly sport how it effects your whole psychology and it is so hard to be philosophical because you always feel you did such a dumb thing when you made a mistake! Chris always looks at what he did and how he can not do it again rather than dwelling on stupidity and I think that's some part of how well he does.

On Wednesday we had to qualify for our long final races. Luckily for the womens race all we had to do was finish because they took the first 60 people and there were only 59 riders. Chris swept into an easy qualification in 3rd place for his heat after a great ride through some very technical terrain. We couldn't understand why it hadn't been the middle distance race. I had another disappointing race after a strong start due to distraction and panicking when I made a small error. The course was a bit hillier and forced some difficult route choice decisions through indistinct track networks.

In the evening the whole crowd of Kiwis (about 15 in total) headed out for dinner which proved a fun evening. Thursday was a rest day so we drove into Olstyn to do the washing, then spent the rest of the afternoon in the delicious swimming pool at the hotel. Which brings me to today, the Long Final. My plan for the race was to learn from the 3 big mistakes I had made in the previous 3 races:

a. Watch out for indistinct tracks
b. Don't get distracted by other riders
c. Keep calm if I do a big whoopsie

At about 4 am it started raining and continued to rain steadily until my 9.50 am start. I set off with my goals in mind and proceeded to head straight over the handlebars on my way to control 1 as my front wheel dug into a huge mud wallow. My map board snapped and I smacked my leg hard on the crossbar...poos not off to a good start! I got back on and slunk round the course without any big mistakes, but the mud was not my friend at all and I had a very slow time )-: Still, I avoided those three mistakes, so I guess I learned something?

Georgia came back furious after several errors cost her a really good placing and likewise the same occurred for Chris (although he still got 19th place so it wasn't that bad). Marquita placed well in 10th and Cath was understandably peeved with her mis punch. So I am now sitting in the cozy cabin clean and dry and fed after a very muddy ride. Tomorrow I have managed to qualify myself onto the mens relay team! I think it will be a memorable experience riding on the mens relay team with Chris....but I guess I can't deny I'm disappointed to not have ridden well enough to be on the girls' team.

On Monday we are off to Sweden for Aaron and Sara's wedding which will be great fun, I'm really looking forward to it. I'll post a collection of photos from the MTBO and give you have a recount of the relay in the next day or two. So that's a lot of puff about the MTBO races....heaps of fun but kind of tormenting at the same time. I've heard about all the rain and cold at home so I hope you are all keeping warm!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Schwarzwald and a little trip to Lithuania

I write this time from the comfortable home of Julian and Jana in Freiburg. We arrived here two weeks ago and have spent our time enjoying a few good beer gardens, weaving our way through lots of the dark singletrack forests of the Schwarzwald and enjoying the sights of picturesque Freiburg.

Within about 5 minutes here you can be out in the forest and away from the city. There are two bigs hills on either side which make good climbs: the Schwarzkopf or the Rosskopf. Both are over 500 m high and are covered in a network of rideable tracks. The first weekend here Julian and Jana headed off to a wedding in Manheim while Chris and I had a lazy weekend biking and watching movies on their projector.

We headed out with Julian for some interesting orienteering training on Tuesday evening. (Some controls were stray and the planner seemed to have decided to avoid the forest?) We wandered into town one weekday to the market around the majestic Muenster cathedrale and sampled some delicious cheeses, breads and fresh berries.

On Thursday morning we caught the train to Frankfurt early in the morning and flew to Vilnius in Lithuania for a 3 day mountain bike orienteering event. With the world MTBO champs looming ever closer we thought it would be good to get an event under our belt. Rob and Marquita picked us up at Vilnius airport and we headed off through rolling green countryside to the event area.

We ended up spending the first night on Àpple Island: a tiny island made into a campground in the middle of one of the hundreds of lakes dotting the countryside. The island had heaps of apple trees and some little bungalows to stay in. We headed to the event centre in the morning after some exciting mini golf.

Each race started from more or less the same place in the middle of the forest where the accommodation also was, an area of attractive pine forest, rolly hills and loads of lakes everywhere. The track network was also vast and it was extremly easy to entirely whisk past a track without even noticing so you really had to have your wits about you.

The first race Chris and I both cam back buzzing with how fun it was, but also how easy it was to make mistakes if you go a bit fast or lose focus. That night we slept quietly in Rob and Marquita´s van while they had a room in the accommodation because we were feeling a bit stingy. The next day was a long distance (about 1.5 hours). Chris had a much better ride and was only an amazing 5 minutes down on the top guys. I improved and managed to definitely not come last, despite a head over the handle bars crash which swiveled my seat backwards and left me feeling a little dazed.

That night we had an authentic sauna and then rushed into the cold lake with all the other competitors before a bonfire and beer.

The final event was another middle distance and I took off a bit too fast and did a couple of very good legs and a couple of very not good legs...I think the lesson for me unfortunately was slow down and read the map a bit more. I did manage a good finish split though (Chris and I had spent some time practicing ride through punching that morning) so we had the finish shoot fully sussed.

(Chris tried to take this photo before I finished the race, but I was sooo fast he missed me and had to settle for an aftershot (-;)

Chris finished up with a really good 5th place overall, which considering his vast MTBO experience - about 3 events!) is pretty good I`d say. We spent another night on the lovely apple island, before Rob and Marquita dropped us home and we flew back to Julian and Jana´s. Julian had baked us a delicious apple crumble....what a yummy coincidence!

Just to get your taste buds wet these are the exciting line up of events you can expect for upcoming blogs entries over the next month:

1. A weekend spent frolicking around the hills of Switzerland at a MTBO there this weekend.
2. Two weeks spent in Poland, training hard and seriously (?) for the dramatic and exciting event of the World MTBO champs!
3. A week and a bit spent in Sweden attending the wonderful wedding of Aaron and Sara and generally catching up with our Kiwi friends, as well as maybe a wee sea kayaking trip around Stockholm tucked in on the side.
4. Chris challenging retention of his title along with Dennis of ´World Rogaine Champions`in Estonia, while I stomp around for 24 hours with Julian and Jana stomps around with Sylvia and many other Kiwi´s also come to stomp around in Estonian swamps....

Hope you are all eating plenty of apple crumble!