Some weeks have passed since the last race of the season and I’m slowly trying to find the motivation to write down some thoughts. So far I’ve always only written my blog in Estonian because I feel that I can express myself much more freely this way. However, this time I decided to write the post in English as well with the hope that some foreign friends/athletes find some inspiration from the text I write. And hey, it would be cool if you would let me know in case you like it and if writing in English is something I should continue doing!
Anyway. This season was definitely the highlight of my whole carrier in terms of results. Over the years, I have got some good results from here and there but a victory in a World cup stage and two medals from European championships exceeded all the expectations I had for this season. I know I had trained and prepared very hard and passionately. And I probably even knew that these results should be possible. But by no means did I expect them! Because the thing with orienteering and sport in general is: you can put in all the effort you have, train and prepare from all your heart, maybe even get into really good shape if you do things right… but still… in terms of results, it guarantees nothing! In the end, it’s all about the race itself and the hundreds of decisions you do during the race. There will always be some things you can’t control, like how other people race, or extra track on the terrain, or an unexpected crash with another competitor. And there are very many things you CAN control… but you sometimes simply don’t or just do it in the wrong way. I believe most of us have experienced moments when we feel in a good shape and ready to race but simply mess it up for being over motivated, for overthinking and creating some „genius“ ideas which eventually end up not being that genius at all, or for simply having a wrong race strategy. Or even worse: preparing for the season with all your heart, training better and more than ever before but ending up completely tired and burned out once it’s time to race. It all can happen and believe me, it has happened to me several times.
That’s why I think: just keep on working. Work hard, work smart and know why you do it. When it comes to the races and results: expect nothing. Dream big, go for it and believe: if you always keep giving your best effort, there will be a race when all the pieces you have worked on fall into their perfect place. But… are you sure? No, I’m not sure – but I do believe.
My journey to the World cup in Sweden started with a group of teammates on February 16th, 6 days before the first race. Our first destination was Älvsbyn – a beautiful city in Northern Sweden that offers excellent conditions for ski-orienteering. Big thanks to the ski-o coach Sture Noren who welcomed us warmly and prepared the ski-o network for us after a big snowfall. While the journey itself was by no means a pleasure (ca 13h of driving in the worst conditions ever), the days in Älvsbyn were for sure worth the drive! The conditions were just perfect and three challenging ski-orienteering trainings were exactly enough to remind the art of ski-orienteering after one month with no map trainings. It was difficult to keep trainings short and easy as the conditions were so amazing but it’s always important to leave in some hunger too. After four days for the soul, it was time to go!
- The last map training in Älvsbyn. Thanks to Sture Noren.
- Amazing conditions in Älvsbyn
My preparation season was better than ever before and I knew I had a really good shape. But as often with the first really important race of the season – I was so nervous! I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the terrain and instead of being confident that I have good enough skills for whatever terrain and course, I became way too over motivated. well, exactly what I wrote back there: You can have a really good shape but in the end, it’s all about the race itself and the hundreds of decisions you do during the race.
The sprint course was fast, tricky, and really cool. It was a race where all you needed to do was to stay calm and find the flow. Exactly what I didn’t do! It was probably the worst race of my season with many small mistakes and no flow. And it sucks to have a bad race, there is no question about that!
I was really, really surprised to find out that I finished in 6th position as many other athletes made mistakes and, apparently, I was in a good shape. Yeah, great, did I really just fulfill my result goal?!?
The thing is, results are great but it’s not what I am aiming for. I aim for a race where I feel like a superwoman moving through the challenges that the race has to offer and coming to the finish feeling like a winner before even knowing which place I got. Today was definitely not one of these days. 6th place is amazing but I know I can race smarter than this!
- World cup sprint map with my GPS route. No big mistakes but some wrong route choices and many hesitations
To be honest, long distance has never been my favorite distance. I think I am never just patient enough for having a good long distance. I like it short and fast and I feel like I can keep my concentration up for a rather short period. That’s why I usually always mess it up somewhere in the middle of the race – I become mentally lazy and start doing mistakes.
Ironically, up to that day, long distance was the only individual discipline where I had any international elite podiums: the first and very unexpected World cup 3rd place in 2013. And now again in 2020: maybe even more unexpected World cup victory in a long distance. So obviously, it is not about the missing skills, it’s more about the will. Do I want to have a good long distance or not? Because the thing is: long distance is looooooong. And toooooough. And in case you happen to have a physically bad day, it can feel like an endless, slow, painful death out in the woods instead of a distance that some people claim to be ’the most epic fun ever’. So it’s embarrassing to say but in the middle of an intensive competition week as we usually have in ski-orienteering, I probably often give already a little bit up before the race itself. But here comes the question again: do I want to have a good long distance or not? (Side note to myself: Daisy, please read it before every long distance in the future! =D)
Back to Umeå: I could have not been more excited for the long distance in the morning of the race! I don’t even know where it came from but sincerely, honestly, not kidding: I was really, really excited! I felt like I had a good mindset and a race strategy I truly believed in. I would like to point out two important factors which played a big role:
- After the sprint, I kind of realized I need to relax a bit. Like… chill! Enjoy and don’t worry so much. But what really helped me to realize it was a short physio session in the evening before the long distance. Thanks to Epp, Estonian Ski-O Team could use services of a world-class physio from New York (well, that’s a long story!) for some days, which was quite a funny experience for all of us. In addition to helping my muscles relax, what he basically did was telling me to relax. And I felt it. And really needed it. That was also my main point of the whole long distance race strategy: Daisy, just relax! So in case you happen to read it, Peter, thank you again for that!
- Back in December, during a Swiss Ski-O team training camp in Val Müstair, I was fortunate to take part in a long distance race analysis meeting led by Gion. That’s where I learned one point which has helped me very, very much this season, especially in longer races. That is ’refocus’. That it’s very difficult to keep one focus during the whole race and actually there is no need for that. One just needs to refocus. During the meeting, Gion rephrased the idea in a way that really hit me. Thank you for that. It worked like magic in this long distance.
I think the long distance was a really cool and challenging course (link to GPS tracking). The conditions were icy but they fit me quite well. I did a few wrong route choices but otherwise, it was as perfect as one race could be. And by perfect I don’t by mean that I was super focused, super confident, super relaxed, and super fast all the time. There were here and there moments when my focus shifted, I got somehow nervous or unconfident about my route choice – and that’s so normal! The magic happens when you realize these moments and refocus back on your task!
Did I feel like a superwoman moving through the challenges that the race has to offer and coming to the finish feeling like a winner before even knowing which place I got? Yes, absolutely! When I heard that I’m actually going to win? WTF! =D Really, me?!? I have never won anything else than local races and national championships and although I have already a bunch of silver and bronze medals from various international races, I have never, ever actually WON something. That came very, very unexpected and I mean it! It was the first ski-o world cup victory ever for Estonia, which is insane as well!
- Photo: Henrik Asklöf
But honestly, after the flower ceremony, the prize-giving ceremony, all these sincere and wonderful congratulations… it is still the superwoman feeling itself why I do the sport and why I am proud of my race. I will probably once lose the diploma, I will forget the memory that the flower ceremony took place. But I will NOT forget the feeling of how I skied and I will not stop being proud of how I raced that day. I really don’t wanna sound high on myself, but one can be proud! The pieces will not fall into their perfect place on their own… but if you keep on working smart and if you believe they will – then they will! If they did for me, there is absolutely no reason why they should not for you!
Okay, I try to be short with this one! I was once again excited to compete and I am very proud of how I raced the first half of the course. I was leading my (shorter) forking for a while but lost a chance to race for medals already in the first loop as I did not even think about doing some big shortcuts as many others did. However, my race was still really solid until the last common part. Then it was time for another lesson. After many attempts, I realized I am unable to pass another athlete who skied slower than me, and it made me a bit pissed in my head. Well, it is not smart to lose focus like this in a mass start race. It obviously ended with a stupid mistake and a lesson: I can not control how other people act on the course, but I can control how I react to this in my head. And still have a good race. However, with a strong end part, I was able to catch up many positions again so the day ended quite well in an 8th place. All in all, it was a cool race.
- Middle distance. Photo: Christian Aebersold
Relay is always a very special day and it’s soooooo nice that already for the fourth year in a row we have the same team to get nervous with: Epp, Doris, me. Well, I for sure got nervous before my third leg because Epp and Doris had both done really impressively good races. I had a solid race too, although it was the first day during the week when I felt myself like a cow on the ice. Ähm, was it always so icy? Were also yesterday all the downhills so steep? Why do I recognize it only now??? For real, I don’t know if it had something to do with my ski choice but it felt really difficult to stay on skis and I left from the relay with many blue marks all over my body. In the finish, we were only a minute behind a third nation which is for sure the best relay race for our team ever! It was a super fun day and big thanks to Epp and Doris for fighting so hard! I hope there will be many, many years of racing together!
And with a relay, World Cup Umeå came to an end.
I talked a lot about my results but I now really need to emphasize how good week was it for the whole Estonian ski-o team. I mean… in a season with absolutely no snow and 0 ski-orienteering competitions in Estonia, really what the team did seems almost a miracle. Olle deserves his M17 silver medal more than anyone else and it was super fun to podium on the same day with him. Mattis impresses every time with his mass-start race skills and a 5th place in the middle is for sure an inspiration. Also, a big highlight was Sander’s 12th place in M20 sprint as it’s one of the best results for Estonian juniors in recent years… and he totally smashed me on the same course! And of course, it is not only about the results-results. I am sure that each athlete had their individual successes they can be proud of. Our team might have been smaller than in many previous years but to have 6 athletes in M17 and 3 athletes in W17 is definitely a success because exactly they are the most affected by having no snow to train on. Thank you to each and every teammate who came to Umea – it was so much fun with you, you are all amazing and I’m already looking forward to train and compete with you again.
Also, a HUGE thanks to Estonian Ski-O team coaches Raul and Kaisa and ski service men Kuno and Erti. Without you, this week would have looked very different. Thank you for your hard and passionate work and always a top-class ski service. We athletes are very privileged to have that big and professional support team around us and I hope you enjoyed the week with us too.
Big thanks to the Estonian Ski-O team and my personal sponsors: Sportland (Madshus skis), Nordenmark Adventure, Värska Originaal, Nevene (Rex ski wax), Exel poles. I am very proud to call you my sponsors and very glad to have world-class equipment I can 100% rely on.
Also, a big applause and huge thanks to the organizers for a cool event! It was definitely a challenge to organize a World cup with so short notice but you did really well. I enjoyed all the courses and my time in Umeå.
And last but not least, big thanks to everyone who sent your congratulations and to the whole ski-o family for greeting Estonian team success so warmly. Special thanks to the Swiss Ski-O team and Gion for being such a fun and supportive team who creates always so cool atmosphere wherever you go. I’ve been super lucky to have the chance to train with you over the years and I’m already excitedly looking forward to having more Swiss girls in the elite class – if you will continue working as now, you will be hard to beat by anyone!