The A-Team

That feeling when the clock starts counting the last seconds before the start and a beep signal appears… That excitement, adrenaline. You know that you will immediately have to leave the comfort zone and challenge yourself not only physically but also mentally in order to beat your opponents. And that’s when you seem to understand so clearly that now everything is in your hands. Dream...

I see a lot of people who think that orienteering is an individual sport, because you have to find controls yourself, without the help of others. But more often than I would like to, I notice people forget that the race is just the final stop, the result of all the preparation. Preparation that takes months or even years. And then, unlike during competitions, not everything has to be in your hands only. We have the opportunity to ask others for help. Therefore, one of the first things I planned after the decision to prepare for the World Championship (WOC 2023) was to put together a team to help me do that. Today, I will talk about the importance of looking for the missing competencies that we can find with the help of other people. I will introduce my team and briefly explain how each member is important. Thus, the A-team:

I will start with my first and only coach, my mother - Aušra Bartkevičienė. To avoid any questions, I will be brief, this is the most important member of the team. She is responsible for most of my accomplishments and although we have had more family contact lately, due to the long distance, she still continues to play the role of head coach. Having a coach versus coaching yourself is a very interesting topic that probably requires a separate post. I know a lot of orienteers who don’t have a coach at all or at least have coached themselves at some point in their careers. And this is normal. If one of the reasons is the desire to have all the responsibility in your own hands, then please. But after I trying it myself, I can say: I personally didn’t like it. Everything is simple as long as everything goes well. The real test begins in difficult periods. On those dark November evenings, when it’s cold and raining outside and you still have one set of intervals left. Then you want to know that someone believes in this training and is waiting for you to upload it on Strava to be able to talk about how you did today…

The second very important member of the team is Anders Kleist. This is the man who invited me to OK Denseln and later helped me prepare physically for the Junior World Championship (JWOC) and for the final year in the M20 group. That year I trained more than any Swede at my age. I gathered hours, circle at the indoor track, ran threshold intervals in the forest, and did uphill intervals at 7:00 in the dark winter months, pressing the cold so that by 9:00 I could already sit in lectures.  

When the season came, I could just run away from my rivals. That I managed to prove in the Swedish championship at the ultra long distance, when after an hour and a half of running I left the group just running through the arena and gained a 2-minute advantage during the remaining 15 minutes of the race. In the most prestigious Swedish league competition, I started a few minutes behind in the final, but was able to catch up with the leaders and leave them again just running down the road at the spectator control. I also threw this card in sprint and long distance championships, where I won two more gold medals. At the time, even newspapers wrote that no one is faster than me. Of course, all was about the junior group.

Anders himself has always been a very talented runner, but in fact no great orienteer. Since I was lost after JWOC, and Anders had a growing family and wanted to pursue a career in long distance running, we decided to split up. However, we did not sever ties. Instead of being my coach, he became my boss at the heat pump and systems company Nibe and was one of the first to hear about the desire to prepare for WOC 2023. Since then, he has been both my boss and my physical fitness coach.

I have also started working with Idrottslabbet Linköping and its manager Dan Davis. A person engaged in various sports tests (VO2max, lactate, running economics, etc.). He turns out to also lead PT (personal trainer) courses, so he has a lot of experience in human anatomy and so on. From 2020, he helps me with an individual program of joint strength exercises to strengthen exactly those muscles that I need to train for me personally and improve my posture. Which hopefully would increase my running efficiency itself. Together we plan to work with physical fitness tests and other experiments too.

Like I said I was damn fast, in fact too fast. The secret of orienteering is in the balance between speed and orienteering technique. I and Anders put all the weights on the running side and the scales got unbalanced. If you believe you will make fewer mistakes when you train and run faster, then I have to disappoint you. The only thing you will do better is run a longer distance during a mistake. The same distance which you will later have to run back. Since my vision now is to run the race as well as possible, I knew that the left branch shown in the diagram alone - responsible for physical preparation - would no longer be enough. I have also created the right one, which is now responsible for technical preparation. Here the first member, the coach of the OK Denseln men's team - Jan Berggren. I have had a close relationship with him since the first days in Sweden and since he has a son of my age, we have spent a lot of time training together. Jan is very diplomatic and has a huge talent for persuading people. He mentors me now on all matters in life, and it is in this endeavour that he help to structure everything and look at it all as a project that has its own purpose, budget, challenges, and time limit.

Jan also helped me to find a sports psychologist. We had the idea to create a virtual room, a psychological state, in which I would put orienteering actions in forest and later use it during competitions as a state that athletes often describe as “flow”. I had a very interesting cycle of discussions with Per Hagegård which I will write about in the future. All because as far as I know, it is not very popular in Lithuania with sports psychologist while Sweden is one of the first countries to bring one to the Olympics.

No less important member of the team - Erik Andersson, one of the most technical orienteers in the club, who himself won the JWOC, helps with orienteering technique. Together, we analyse some of my sessions and competitions, look for mistakes, and discuss possible solutions and what specific workouts I should do to change one or another behaviour in the forest. I also correspond with Thierry Gueorgiou, the multiple World Champion, on that subject. Interestingly, Thierry won his first World Championship title in the Trin region of Switzerland. Right there, just on the other side of the road where WOC 2023 will take place. Maybe in future he will become another member of the team? ..

Yes, it’s really a good team and it keeps growing along with my perception as I understand that I lack one or another competency. All I want to say is that we should not be afraid to seek knowledge through communication. None of us know everything, but everyone knows something. Share ideas in camps, interact with older people, they may even have been in similar situations before. Gather a team around you to help you improve and achieve your goals. It is not for nothing that Oscar Wilde has said: that our best ideas come from others. So let's learn to share that.