Monday, July 16, 2012

A Day at WOC: Middle Distance Qual

8:00am Wake up, the sun is shining, Eddie is already up, Giacomo and Eric in deep sleep in their bunks. Get up, go down to the cafeteria for breakfast. Wait in line, chatting with the Australians and Canadians. Slice seven pieces of bread, three for now and the rest for later, since it's an afternoon race. Load up a plate with jam and pour some juice. Enjoy the breakfast banter with the rest of the team and help convince Alex to go get seen by the Norwegian physio, who is kind enough to see her after Cristina chats up the Norwegians.

9:30am Look at the old map of the middle quali area for the millionth time, mentally run the courses I've set for myself and wonder whether Sandra or I guessed the start location correctly.

10:30am Sitting in the lobby of the hostel, the only place internet is accessible, at snail's pace. Women are running first today, so a lot of them start piling into cars already. A lot of the guys are sitting around, surfing the web or just relaxing. I am getting nervous and excited, not as nervous as for the sprint, when I couldn't sleep half the night, but a more healthy, controlled level of nervous. Ross arrives and we play cards for a while, which helps take my mind off the race. It's nice to think about the race, but it's possible to overdo it too and get past excitement into fear.

11:30am Time to get my stuff ready! Shoes, pants, top, socks, underwear, SI stick, athlete badge, compass, description holder, tape, Gu, bananas, a warm-up jacket, headphones and an a iPod.

12:00pm We ride! I don't start until 3:27pm, but everyone has to be in quarantine by 1pm so that no one can access any information from the finish. We fill up a car with Eddie, Eric, and me, and Jeff and Damian from Canada. On the drive over we are pretty quiet, with the occasional nervous joke and bouts of excitement whenever I see animals. Five donkeys are the highlight, and the cows are numerous. I eat my remaining sandwiches from breakfast along the way.

12:40pm After climbing up into the Jura plateau, we reach a roadside restaurant/hotel that serves as the holding place for the athletes for today's quarantine. After checking in, we are issued bib numbers and warm-up maps. We look for a spot to drop our stuff, and eventually settle outside, under a tree and next to the Canadians and South Africans. The quarantine is an interesting place. You get to see many runners' pre-race routines. Some guys are chatting, others sleeping, others listening to music, and Gustav Bergman from the Swedish team is teaching his teammate Peter Öberg how to knit. I walk around, chatting with old friends and competitors. The atmosphere is nice. Everyone is friendly, and we all wish each other good luck. And at some point, in the middle of each chat, one of us indicates that it's time to go race, and his demeanor immediately changes. I am one of the last starters, so I wish a lot of "good lucks" and eventually sit down in a chair, taping my ankles and listening to music, reminding myself to focus on my race and not on other people. Still, it's hard not to watch Thierry, the King of the middle distance, and see how he spends the last hours before his race. He, too, has headphones and sunglasses on, and is in his own world, smiling about something. The smile is contagious somehow, and I smile too. Life is good. As Eric said on the drive up here, "Today will be a good day because we get to go orienteering." I like that. I think I need to remember this the next time I am too worried about a race.

2:40pm I finish my preparations, leave my bag at the bag drop, and get on the military shuttle bus that will take us to the pre-start. The ride is short, just a couple of minutes long, and everyone is silent. Then follows a jog to the start, where I am greeted by Ross and a herd of cows. At the team leaders' meeting yesterday, WOC officials specifically mentioned that there will be no cows in the competition area. I suppose these don't count. I do my warm-up, doing a short course on the warm-up map, and finding the woods to be even more junky and green than the model event had been. I think about where on the map we are, and realize that Sandra was right about the start location. This gives me a good idea of how the course will look, and I feel pretty good about my chances for a good race.

3:20pm I am called up to the start, and my nervousness and results-obsessed nature take over. I start thinking about what place I can come in, the WRE points I might get, and so on. I force these thoughts out of my head and tell myself instead to focus on having a plan by the time I reach the start triangle, on being precise with my direction when leaving controls (Sandra's excellent pre-race advice), and on being conscious of how much I have to climb or drop on the leg.

3:26pm I am at the start line, together with Peter Öberg from Sweden and Yury Tambasov from Belarus. We are silent. We could wish each other good luck, or smile, since we know we aren't in each other's heats, but we stay silent.

3:27pm Beep beep beep beeeeeeep. The start official takes his hand off my shoulder, and I grab my map and go off. Seemingly by the time I grab my map, Öberg has already folded his map and a planned a route to 1. I run off behind him, seeing that he is going in the direction I want to go in. After going over a hilltop, we hit a big trail that isn't on the map. I remember there being a trail here on the old map, so I am not worried. Öberg and Tambasov disappear down the slope to the left, and I have to resist the temptation to follow. The speed is high, and I come to a dead stop to make sure I know where I am. Contours are vague here, but I decide that I am just short of my hilltop. Raise my head and see the control. Nice.

On the way to 2 I cross a cow pasture, drop down into a ravine and start climbing a steep slope. Öberg catches up and passes me. I grit my teeth and climb along with him, then run behind him across the junky white woods to my control, which he punches too.

I immediately realize I am running too hard. The next leg is a long one, and I pick the northern route around on the road. It takes forever to climb out to the road, and I feel lactic acid building up already. Not good. The road run feels slow, but I am clean the rest of the way to the control, only to be passed by Francois Gonon on the slog up to the flag. By the time I punch, he is gone.

I turn in the direction I want to go and see a wall of green. Bash, bash, bash down to the trail, tripping on rootstocks and taking branches to the face. Everything on this map seems to take much longer than it should: there is junk on the ground pretty much everywhere. The white woods are junky, the green is painful, and the yellow is even worse.

On the next long leg to 5 I go around on the road and struggle to climb up the four contours to the control. Still, I know where I am the whole time and spike the flag.

Going across the slope to 6, Gonon appears behind me again and quickly disappears ahead.

By 7 I am tired and have to tell myself to focus. I attack off the trail at a bad angle and find the control guard in a clump of green past the control. I look at the guard and check the direction he is looking. Turning my head in that direction, I spot the flag. According to WinSplits, 40 seconds gone here, for overrunning the control by maybe 15 meters. Every mistake sucks up time in these woods.

The next few legs I am alone and focusing better, as there is more contour detail to read and a lot more flat and downhill running. At 13, I am surprised by the flashes of a bunch of cameras aimed me. I can also hear the distant sounds of a vuvuzela, which means that Ross isn't too far away.

When I hit the field on the way to 14, I hear a wave of cheers. The American contingent has to be the loudest at WOC so far, and it is wonderful. I run my guts out for the last leg and the uphill finish chute, pushing harder than I thought I could.

I am disappointed with my time when I see it, but am happy with the race, and even happier when I learn that the winning time was 30 minutes, and not the predicted 26. Yup, these woods are also, and there were tons of mistakes made by some of the world's best today. I am proud of my race and happy to erase the demons of my disastrous WOC middle races from years past.

I know it's easy to look at the result and say it's a failure, as there is no difference between 23rd place and 39th, since both fail to qualify. But I know that for me, on this day, it's a damn good result, and I am happy with it. And when my wonderful teammates meet me after the race, I am smiling and already talking about Finland and being motivated to take another, better, crack at the middle quali next year.

The rest of the day is a blur. Call my girlfriend. Drive home, stopping on the way to take a picture of Lac Leman with the spectacular Mont Blanc, which finally showed itself to us today, as a backdrop. Call the parents. Eat dinner with the team, discussing today's successes and failures, hearing the Austrian team applaud Gernot, who won his heat today. Draw my route, blog. Start thinking about Saturday and the relay. Go to bed as Giacomo is already passed out, Eric is typing away on his laptop, and Eddie is drawing another basemap from Lidar. Just another day at WOC gone by.

My Splits:

- Boris


Anonymous said...

Nice writing! What nation are you?

Wyatt said...

Very cool stream of consciousness of the day. Felt like I was there :) Everything from pre-start observations, to the times of talking, quiet and moods as people make their way closer to the start beforehand reminds me of that experience that's so far from what I did at work today - and part of a great experience. Especially unique among pre-race routines: "Gustav Bergman from the Swedish team is teaching his teammate Peter Öberg how to knit" - not every day...

On the big trail not on the map by #1, which you fortunately had enough pre-study to ignore, was this a mapping error, or a map reading error at the time? Seems a pretty big event to forget to map a trail?

theBlade said...

Wyatt>>Thanks for your kind words!
I think the trail just wasn't significant enough to be on the map, or at least borderline. But you could definitely tell that something trail-like had once been there...

Glen said...

Boris, Thx for the post. Great stuff. Glad you ran well. Good luck Saturday in the relay.