MTBO (mountainbike orienteering) World Championship took place in Poland on 25-30 august. We had only one woman who took the title of world champion twice (in 2008) – it’s Ksenia Chernykh. On 29 of August I took first place in a Long distance MTBO race – first time in history of Russian orienteering on this distance. How it happened and what is orienteering from my perspective.
… on the day 6 of MTBO World Championships in Bjalystok, Poland finally I realized my real competitive level when I took 6th place. I realized that I still had a chance. Until that day I through that I was really slow. When I thought that I was riding fast enough I lost a lot of time, falling down from my bike, or choosing wrong variant, or I had mistake in realization. I couldn’t imagine that I can do all the distance in the most efficient way. At the same time I took the flower podium 5 times in previous years on European and World Championships. I was 4-6-4-6-4 places
Only few of the best riders of the MTBO world could become the world champions in the individual race. For example:
Ingrid Stengard from Suomi (Finland) is one of the best riders in the world of MTBO. She was many time in TOP 3. She was twice gold medalist of European Championships 2008. But she has never been first at World Championships.
Another leader of MTBO Emily Benham from England. Last year she took first place in European Championships! This year she won most of the World Cup races. She took 2-3-1-1-1-3-2-9! Amazing stability! This year at World Championships she was silver and bronze medalist! But she also has never been first at World Championships (photo of overall World Cup winer)
...At the beginning of this session my coach Viacheslav Kostylev had set the task for me: develop my orienteering system and to prepare "step by step". Not thinking about current results. We agreed with my coach that the main goal for me in this session is to show my best at the World Championship. All other races are only the steps of preparation for the Worlds.
Day one. Sprint. The win in the sprint distance was taking by Marika Harra from Finland. She is also one of the strongest MTBO racers. 4th times she took first place at this year's world championsips in MTB orienteering!!!
The funny moment happened In the MIX relay.On one of control points Marika shouted at me because of my inadequate behavior. I just stopped near my CP. I did so because I just hadn’t chosen my variant yet (usually I never do so). I heard Marika, but I decided keep my concentration. And continue my works (o-system) without emotions. The main psychological task of orienteering sportsmen is to abstract from insignificant details and its emotional influence. I train this quality everywhere I can.
The middle distance where I was 6th was won by Cecilia Thomasson! She is brilliant girl, bright personality and one of the best sportsmen. She wrote in her blog that it was the best distance she had ever completed in her life. And I’m happy that she became number 1!
After finishing the Middle distance my uncertainty disappeared. Questions like: “am I doing right? What would be if I lose? What if I make mistake?” - vanished away. I felt freedom. I accepted my real level and stopped thinking that I didn’t have time to do something or that I have to be better. I stopped to hope for good luck. There was last chance left for me this year to win Worlds on a last distance of nearly 40 kilometers.
In the morning I felt inner relaxedness. I wanted to call my Sister.
She writes me a text message: “Do orienteering as you like!” I smile because this phrase resounds with my mood.
Then I read a letter from my coach.
Life is wonderful. There is no place for pessimism. And it is not wise to be afraid that life can go wrong. Life is complicated but this makes it interesting and exciting. But to live a life it is not about waiting for success in the end or being afraid of failure. These are criteria of consumers. Real life is creation, it is difficult and complicated. You need mobilization and effort. And in these efforts you find fascination and pleasure. The consumer finds sense in just riding in THAT direction and getting to the right spot. A lot of people urge you to such type of orienteering. But the real meaning is that in every moment you try hard to run through each part of a hard route in a right way. We call it systematic orienteering. This approach doesn’t come right away. Anditdoesn’thaveto. Nothingimportantcomesrightaway. A long way to it is not a problem or disadvantage. What kind of way it shouldbe? Everyone has got his ownway. Prepare, warm up. Make up your mind – concentration, intention, self-control and efficient realization. And then GO! (V.V. hy which you)
… 5 kilometers left till quarantine zone. I have to be there 50 minutes before my start. Me and Anton head out of the house. I’m trying to figure out my condition. I felt my best conditions at middle distance. How it can be after two days? My legs don’t feel “light”. It is good because it means that there is reserve of energy. In the morning I drank 2 cups of black tea with milk and sugar. On the last Long distance at World Cup I hardly could slake my thirst on three refreshment points of 35 km distance. But this time only a half of my flask was enough because this morning I filled up my body with water and I didn’t eat any “heavy food” in the evenings so I was ready to start. I checked the bike, equipment, clothes, mapboard – everything was good except my sunglasses, I lost them after cold rainy sprint race two days ago. But I had already got used to riding and reading map without them. Though during the Middle distance a tree branch lashed me in the eyes, fortunately bridge of nose saved the most valuable – my eyes.
I couldn’t figure out my start time correctly so I approached start zone 4 times. Felt a little bit nervous.
There is a nervous condition when you wind up yourself, like when you extensively develop the thoughts about future, estimate yourself by categories – better or worse, thinking about the result and its consequences. I felt this too many times in my life. And I was really tired of it. Now I try not to think about it and stop this inner dialogue. At the same time I haven’t felt adrenaline rush to defeat everyone. Now I am for replacing the thoughts about my place in the race for the racing process itself or the thoughts like “where should I go now”.
There is also a state of waiting for your start, like yips and anxiety before start. I work with this in another way. You can’t escape from reaction of your body to stress by saying yourself “be calm”. This simply doesn’t work. I try to redirect my attention from the cause of my anxiety to what I feel at present moment. The interpretation depends on us. I try to think not like “my knees shiver, I’m scared” but “my knees shiver? – oh, what an interesting feeling!” I’m trying to get pleasure from everything I feel at present moment. Even if it’s my nerves. Let the jimjams run over your body or your heart sunk. These are your feelings! Why can’t we rejoice at them at start or at the exams? I compete nearly 50 times a year! So why should I be scared of it or be nervous?
Before the start of Long distance I felt the adrenaline shaking my body, I tried to escape from my thoughts through turning my attention to the present moment, through observing my organism. And the warm up passed very quickly. I came to a start of the race.
Clarity and confidence comes at the moment when I take the map. Those nervous feelings disappear. I explain it in the way that my consciousness is in action and doesn’t allow any outside thoughts. It doesn’t notice any feelings useless for this moment. The inner dialogue about the rightness or incorrectness of my actions doesn’t develop in my mind. There is no estimation or striving for result. It means YOU are in ACTION!
While drinking tea in the morning before Long distance race I watched a short video which my Portuguese friend had sent me. A man performed stunts with the ball for 6 minutes without stopping. This video explains the feeling of being engaged by action in the best way. While doing the tricks – I’m in action. If I make a mistake, the ball falls down. It means that I have fallen out of the present moment. It’s not always, but usually when any action had turned into attainment - the cause of failure is not lack of skill. You just fall out from the current moment, drop out of action. In orienteering it’s the same.
One minute before start I get the map. An old phrase in my head: “and now the most interesting begins!”. I put a map into mapholder by usual move. The next task is to see in map all the routes to first control point as fast as possible. Seen them and chosen one. Then 15 second before my start I’m realizing the global forms of space (the terrain and road curves). It is beyond visible area. The race starts as I hear the signal. I decided to ride on maximum right away. It means that I actualize the chosen route at maximum speed. I forecast with the help of map each centimeter of oncoming terrain in globally understood space (trying to catch with my sight the horizon of visible area and forecast with the help of map what I should see next). Only when you know where exactly you should ride at this moment you get a rapidity of movement in orienteering. Holding this state of concentration on forecasting your way (at the same time riding on maximum of your physiological abilities) is the main task of orienteering sportsmen.
I didn’t know how long could I ride that fast. The women’s long distance race was extended to 2 hours. I haven’t done a lot of two hour trainings and during the season I had only 90 minute long trainings.
The first minutes are the hardest. In the beginning I do my systematic orienteering consciously, controlling every action. The same as vehicles mechanical transmission. First speed, second, third.. and then you cruise. And here you ride just out to the forest and there’s no one around you. There is no comparison like faster or slower. There is only 100% of your speed or going as fast as you can.
Of course I could go faster than I really could do. But according to my logic I had to make some kind of reserve for myself in the beginning of race because I wasn’t self-confident in the end of distance. And in the end I gave all I’ve got. On the last stage in the finish passage which was only 50 seconds long I lost 5 second comparing to the best time.
Globally I can divide the distance into three parts. The beginning – where I could realize my technique and physical abilities for 100%. According to GPS split times I was doing well among the leaders. But coming to the first spectators control point I felt that something is going wrong with me. I decided not to cut the corner through the forest because I doubted in my abilities after unsuccessful cutting during Middle distance. So I lost about 15 seconds going around and then hurried up. Two times I stopped – one time doubting about the right way and one time riding too fast through the tight corner. Then I tried to sprint fast to “win back those seconds”. Then by a fiat of will I returned my thoughts from regaining seconds to the racing process – reading the map, choosing variant and mind expansion of terrain panorama oncoming while I’m in motion.
Three more times I dropped out of race process for just a couple of seconds but lost dozens because of it.
But what is this process of which I drop out? It is the distance itself. Working out each centimeter of map, while actualizing all my physical abilities. At the same time I don’t always look at the map, I’m working at the limit of visibility of constantly oncoming real terrain. This is my system. Many times different people who really wish me only good told that “I would never become world champion if I will stuff my head with all this nonsense and my system only complicates my life”.
In the middle of distance I caught up Austrian racer Mickey Gigon. Same as on the last race – middle distance I started to fall down immediately after meeting her. After overtaking her I slipped on wet fallen trees. Then I fell down missing the turn and felt that slickness and confidence of my riding brakes down. I checked on the next control point clipping out of my pedals (usually I check control points without putting my feet out). At that time I was in front of Michaela for 5-6 seconds. I allowed myself to stop and to breathe in through my nose and breathe out through mouth (I know that such breathing calms down nerves). Just for three seconds. Mickey had passed me and I got on my bike again and rode forward. We chosen different variants but met at the next control point again.
Theending. I should note that we start every three minutes. So all distance I was riding along. I met Michaela for couple of minutes. 20 minutes after that I met Ingrid and we rode together for just one minute. On contrary meeting Ingrid made me ride faster and concentrate at the distance even more. Psychological reaction on other sportsmen was a big problem for me during this season. I tried to work on it. Finally I have neither any doubts nor problems. I can control emotions through concentration on my actions.
15 minutes before the end of race GPS screens showed that I was second. Ahead of me was Sveta Poverina our new star who won all gold medals of Russian championships riding first year in elite category.
But she made mistake and lost about 50 seconds on one of control points. Before this control point she was ahead of me for 10 seconds. 10 seconds gap after 35 kilometers of race. But our starting times were 12 minutes away from each other and we didn’t know about it. And there was no one around us in the forest to let us know the current standings. Near control point 28 there was a little error in the map – just for one millimeter. Both of us made a mistake but I realized it faster and got an advantage which I managed to keep on the last kilometers of race.
On the finish uphill I was totally exhausted. I brought myself to a similar condition only once in this season. It happened on the training intervals which I made riding uphill in the mountains nearly one month before the Worlds.
I recovered quite fast but continued riding for 25 minutes trying to draw aside my attention from the giant screen with GPS broadcasting. For 20 minutes after I have finished there were still the best sportsmen from the Red group remaining on distance and my final standing depended on their result.
According to my feelings I could get to TOP 5. I hoped that I could be second. The leaders were riding very fast and won’t forgive my mistakes. But what if they do? Emily, Cecilia, Marika, Susan, Sveta, Eva-Elisa, what if? 3 minutes till the end of race when no one could beat my time. And I don’t believe. Marika and Emily should finish together right now and I’m making another recovery lap. And suddenly I hear shouting and loud noise from the other side. Me? First??! First!!!
I saw Ksenia Chernykh running towards me! She was the only Russian woman who became world champion in personal sprint and middle distances. And now I have won the gold medal in long distance – the last personal medal never won before by Russian women.
This day was first time when I got to World Championship podium. And it was first place straight off. But I think it not a fortuity because in my training diary one can find thousands kilometers of trainings, hundreds of races 4th and 6th places at World championship and 1st place at World Cup start. And as Ksenia usually says: “best luck is only for fastest”.
And my favorite sport saying is “Only the first can go faster”. Now I can write how I stumbled, fell down, what I thought about and where could I ride faster. But today is a new day. Everything starts from the beginning again. There is no past, the past now is only here on these pages. In my memory and photos. To continue being engaged in sport I have to start training for a new season. But it will be tomorrow and all year round. And now we are driving home somewhere in expanse of Whiterussia. The battery of my notebook is going low and the loud music from the car speakers shouts shut up just shut up shut up…