In the fourth edition of WOC2019's GPS Analysis Column World of O's Jan Kocbach takes a look at the GPS-tracking from the 2018 pre WOC and World Cup long distance - a race dominated by the Swedish runners, with Gustav Bergman and Tove Alexandersson on top. How did Bergman and Alexandersson attack the Norwegian forest? Another must-read for those interested in WOC 2019 terrain.
The main takeaway-point from the first edition, the Euromeeting Long distance, was that "straight is king" - the fastest route was never more than 75 meters from the direct line except for a single leg. In the second edition from the Norwegian Champs Long distance in the pre WOC neighbour terrain, the answer was very similar: If you are Olav Lundanes, you can mostly get away with fighting straight as a bulldozer through the tough Østfold terrain. But you definitely needs the skills to do it - running straight in this terrain is not for everybody. Finally in the third edition a long leg from Småleneløpet was considered. This time the course setter had put a lake on the straight line and found some hills to put there as well, and finally going around was found to be a bit faster than the straightest possible variant.
Norway vs Sweden
In the pre WOC long distance the battle was between Norway and Sweden. Norway's reigning World Champion Olav Lundanes against Swedish Gustav Bergman running for his first ever World Cup victory. Sweden's reigning World Champion Tove Alexandersson against local star Kamilla Olaussen battling for her first World Cup podium. We start off with the men's class were Bergman took a somewhat surprising victory on Lundanes' "playground" - 35 seconds ahead of Lundanes and with a big margin down to the other chasers. Looking at the split times, Bergman and Lundanes were equal on most of the course, except for the two long legs to control 6 and 8 were Bergman crushed the competition - Bergman winning the two most demanding long legs in the competition with 33 and 42 seconds, respectively. That's impressive! We will take a look at both legs here.
For the leg to control 6 (see leg without routes at the top of the page), the course setter had used the old trick from Småleneløpet with a lake in the middle of the leg, forcing the runners to choose left or right around the lake. Bergman chose left. Lundanes chose right. Left was definitely faster as the below illustration shows. Here green is faster (the dark green line of Bergman and 7 other light green lines go to the left of tha lake), and red is slower. There is one light green line going to the right of the lake, and that is Lundanes'.
So we have established that left is faster - but why is that? Let's look at Gustav Bergman vs Olav Lundanes in detail - the two only runners in the competition who have the winning speed. Here the color on the route is proportional with the pace of the runner, and points along the route where the runners are at the same time are connected using thin lines. Bergman actually runs 100 meter longer than Lundanes, but Lundanes runs 5:43 min/km against Bergman's impressive 4:42 min/km. 4:42 min/km is fast in this terrain! Lundanes would also be capable of this speed on Bergman's route, though - instead Lundanes' problem is that (1) it is very slow to run along the lake - around 6 min/km even if it is flat. Lundanes must have known from the map that this could have been a risk, though. (2) The extra uphill on Lundanes' route before the lake costs extra time - and the hills after the lake are steeper and slower than on Bergman's choice. (3) The steep downhill towards the lake is not fast either.
So Lundanes lost time here because he took the wrong route - but what about the other 40-50 runners who ran to the left of the lake? Why is Bergman still 33 seconds faster than the second fastest runner on this leg? The answer is all about good execution on a straight line from A to B - an essential skill in this kind of terrain like we have seen in the previous editions of the GPS Analysis Column. Bergman has shown many times before that he is one of the very best compass-runners in Nordic terrain - and here he proves it again (and even more on the leg to control 8 which we look at below). Below we compare Bergman to two other runners, Frederic Tranchand and William Lind, who both were among the fastest to the left of the lake (click for bigger).
It is not easy to see what Bergman does differently - and in reality doesn't do much differently most of the time. The main difference is that Bergman is consistent. What the other runners can do for a few hundred meters until they make a small micro-routechoice mistake or get a small uncertainty, Bergman or Lundanes can do for kilometer after kilometer. But this time Lundanes took the wrong routechoice.
Leg 8: Great show by Bergman
The next leg we take a look at is the long leg to control 8 - a dream leg for a man with Gustav Bergman's skillset in top shape.
Looking at the routes run here, it is clear that straight is the fastest - and also the most popular among the top runners. But look at that light green route out to the left - guess who that is? Again this is Olav Lundanes with a wrong route choice.
By running the road for part of the leg Lundanes manages to push his pace down below 3:30 min/km on the road - and down to 4:28 min/km on the leg in total, but that is not much faster than Bergman's 4:45(!) min/km straight. But Lundanes is 42 seconds slower - what an impressive speed by Bergman!
And this is a comparison between Bergman and the third fastest on the leg - Magne Dæhli. Why is Dæhli slower here? His line is nearly as good and straigt as Bergman's, but Dæhli does some small misses from time to time - enough for Bergman to beat him with nearly a minute on this leg.
Two long legs, two wrong routes by Lundanes. But still a lot of time left until next year's World Orienteering Championships in the same area, probably with similar routechoice challenges.
The women: Alexandersson for the win!
Alexandersson won the women's class with nearly 4 minutes - but others were close to the fantastic Swede on all legs except for two of the longer legs - the leg to control 5 and the leg to control 12. Here we take a look at the 5th leg, which is actually just a shorter version of the men's 8th leg.
The choice is the same - straight or around on the road to the left. And the correct choice is again the same - going straight. Alexandersson wins the leg with 39 seconds ahead of Kamilla Olaussen, who also finishes second.
Comparing Alexandersson and Olaussen, you can see that Olaussen is actually on Alexandersson's level for most of the leg - this is not about much higher speed by the World's best woman orienteer, but again about consistency. Olaussen loses time on the first part of the leg where she chooses to run up on a hill (were runnability arguably is better) instead of saving climb like Alexandersson does, running at the edge of the hill instead.
Wrap-up: Straight is still king
So the wrap-up for today? Straight is still your best option in this terrain type, unless the course setter makes a real effort by crossing a lake or a big hill. And the main job as a runner is still to manage to run consistently as straight as possible in this tough Østfold terrain, picking the fastest microroutechoices, kilometer after kilometer and just keep going. This is something Gustav Bergman, Olav Lundanes, Tove Alexandersson and Kamilla Olaussen have trained for for years - and will continue to prepare for the next 11 months. But who knows, maybe the course setters has some nice cards up his&her sleeves to challenge the runners in a different way?