Friday, January 20, 2017

Quarry Road Eastern Cups

The second weekend of Eastern Cup racing was at Quarry Rd, in Waterville. My alma mater's home course! They only built the venue six years too late for me to ski there in college. Those are some really nice trails, and you can tell Tracey had a hand in the design, with serious climbs and technical downhills, and very little flat recovery. Not remotely close to what we train on during the week at the Leo J golf course.

CSU Army back at it. We've got wax team and we've got the food table team, and really that's all we need. 

Saturday was a skate sprint, and Sunday a mass start 10k classic. I decided to sign up for both races, figuring I'd sit out the classic race if things started to go haywire - priority is on making sure all the kids had their skis waxed, not on me getting another race start. I was very excited for the skate sprint, as that's one of my favorite formats, and I'm usually really good in them. I love doing races where I'm good at the format!

Well yeah, then the races happened. I'd been feeling pretty flat all week, and I didn't magically feel snappier on Saturday morning. I suspect the root of my problems lay in a warmup that wasn't hard enough, but I just felt terrible for the entire 3.5 minutes that I flailed through that course. I felt terrible on the uphills, I felt out of control on the downhills, and I couldn't generate any speed on the flats. All in all, a pretty miserable qualifier. I didn't even come close to advancing. And here I'd thought I'd be qualifying in the top 10. Hubris.

My U18 boys made it into the same heat. Really fun to watch them ski so well!

One of my first-year U16 girls leading the heat! Don't underestimate the small ones.

Sunday was a new day. The venue was still icy, but we had good skis, and it was warmer than Saturday. But I wasn't really feeling the whole racing thing. Maybe it was a black cloud left over from Saturday, but my legs felt like wooden pegs, with these long awkward slidey things on the bottom, totally disconnected from any useful function. Maddy and I skied a lot that morning, testing all the various klister combinations, searching for the perfect mixture of sticky and tenacious and fast, and Rob kept dreaming up new combos, that needed testing. And there's no point testing kick on flat bits, you need to hit the hills. After an hour and a half of skiing around, we jumped back into the trenches with the wax team, frantically applying cold klister to all the women's skis. Cold klister does not go on quickly or easily. At this point, I was fairly sure I shouldn't race. I was unmotivated, cold, and exhausted. And, if I started, I was bib 314 of 317 (yay for USSA not recognizing coaching licenses as a way to get seed points), which meant starting on the last row of a mass start. I figured I'd be a lot happier if I just watched the races today. I race because I like to beat people, and that wasn't looking very likely today.

Beautiful rock-hard tracks, that actually held up through the end of the men's race! Two of my U16 boys had break-out races, which is always exciting when you're a coach. 

And then the only pair of skis left to wax were mine. I had 12 minutes before the start.

You know what? Screw it. Step aside, ego, because the only way I'm going to get warm today, and get all this klister off my hands, is if I go out there and do a 10k tempo effort. I may not have the available oomph for a proper race, but mass starts are awesome, and I love skiing, even when it's slow. Let's go ski racing!

Five minutes to go, and I had two skis with wax on them, I was wearing a bib, and I was at the start, totally cold. The gun went off, and it was a good five seconds before I moved. Nothing like watching the leaders ski out of sight before you even take a stride!

The back of the mass start. I'm the jerk poling between the tracks desperately trying to move up before we hit the u-turn. Photo from FlyingPointRoad.  

Total traffic jam at the corner that comes 200m after the start, and then a couple girls on their butts at the next corner as we entered the woods. I negotiated all of that pretty well, and kept moving forwards as we rolled down to the bottom of the course. I was using this part of the course as a warmup as much as a chance to pass people at no added effort, and by the time we hit the first gradual hill, I was striding around bibs in the 270-280s. 40 people down, that's some improvement. I even recognized some of them! But the front of the race had already crested this hill. Well, no point dwelling on what I can't control, just ski up this hill smoothly.

In some ways, it's a lot easier starting in the back - going up the hill, everyone was in a line, so there really wasn't much room to pass. I was ok with this effort, as it wasn't too hard, but I knew I should keep moving up. I managed to not take out any skiers on the winding downhill, getting past a good number of snowplowers, and then we started up the major climb of the course. I could move pretty well while striding, but as soon as people were herringboning, the trail was blocked. Again, I didn't make much effort to get past, reasoning I'd waste too much energy to no avail, so I just sort of herringbone-walked in line with everyone else. 

Then we hit the gradual bit at the top, and I jumped up a few more groups, angling to make some space for myself on the technical downhills. The first two corners were totally step-able, since you don't have much speed at that point. The third corner is a little harder, off-camber and more than doubling back on itself, so I had found that morning that skidding a little speed off at the beginning and stepping through the end yielded the most speed. It shot you into a short uphill, so carrying speed was definitely beneficial. It was amazing how many girls I passed on those three corners. Like they were standing still. Free speed, ladies! 

After the short uphill the course shot us back onto the sprint course, three more downhill corners, again the first two were easy and the third you carried more speed, and then the uphill from the sprint before a long double poling bit through the stadium. I stayed in my tuck for a long time into the stadium, catching my breath and still passing people who had stood up to double pole. This was fun! I love passing people just because I'm more efficient! 

I rode this feeling of being awesome all the way to the bottom of the course starting my second lap, and then I started uphill and all that fatigue I'd felt in the morning came crashing through my little bubble of happiness. Oh right. Ski racing is hard. Sort of simultaneous to that realization, my pole strap broke. I guess it must have been pretty worn, and my beastly double poling around the stadium was just too much. The pole was still usable, but it had suddenly gotten a lot less efficient. I was at the front of a loose pack, now, with a bit of a gap which meant I could finally ski my own pace, but I knew that the last 3km would be bad without a working pole strap. 

Starting the long climb, I saw a junior spectating the race, carrying poles, and I swapped with him. Unfortunately, that pole was 5 inches too long. I figured it was better than nothing, and was worth the 15 seconds or so that I'd lost making the swap. But double poling was difficult and awkward now, even worse than with my broken strap. Luckily near the top of the climb I saw Tracey, my coach from Colby, and she gave me her pole, much closer to the proper height. I lost another 15 seconds or so with the second swap, but now I had two poles that both worked! Unfortunately, all that swapping of poles put me behind that little pack I'd been at the front of at the bottom of the hill. Bad positioning. Naturally, I tried to make up for some of that time on the downhill, and took that third corner a little too aggressively, passing someone on the inside in the ice. As I stepped out from the ice, my klister caught the berm of sugar snow, and I went tumbling. Luckily I'm a pro at falling down, and I rolled out of it and was up without losing much time, but that killed my momentum into the short little kicker midway down the hill.

I think I did my first real work of the course on the final climb before the stadium, but I was still at the back of the pack. I made a few more passes before the end, but it was far too little far too late, and before I knew it I was across the line and done with the race. Dang, I was just getting started! 

I'm really glad I ended up racing. Even if the effort wasn't what I would have liked, I had a blast playing NASCAR in the mass start, and it is a lot of fun to ski on skis that kick well and are still faster than everyone around you. The result was so bad I won't even link to it, but that wasn't the point of today. 
Some days, you stand at the end of a double rainbow (snow-bow) and yell "I'M A LEPRECHAUN!" Glad I can teach my skiers to treat those moments with the same joy I do.

Part of me wonders about my recent attitude about ski races. I've been very lackadaisical lately, and not that interested in pushing through any sort of struggle. This is new, mildly disturbing, and makes me wonder if I've used up my lifetime of give-a-damns about race starts. I guess time will tell, considering the next two weekends are two races I should care about. It could be as simple as shifted priorities when at the Eastern Cups, focused on my skiers above all else. One thing is damn sure - I need this skiing stuff in my life to keep my head balanced and happy, regardless of what speed I'm going.

White Mountain Classic this weekend at Jackson, and then the Craftsbury Marathon next weekend. I'm excited to look for a little effort in these races. Here goes!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Craftsbury Eastern Cup

I guess I'm a couple races behind, but somehow, it's already ski season. This season is already looking better than last, with snow on the ground in at least five states around me, and more than enough man-made snow to hold the opener Eastern Cup races. Even Leo J has snow right now, meaning my skiers got to train before the races! 

Some back-up, in the athletic world of Alex - the Blue Hills Traverse was held in the Holyoke Range this year, rather than at the Blue Hills, but it made for a very enjoyable event. 
I won the women's race, but more through a lack of competitors than any great athletic prowess on my part. I was 10th among the men, but arguably could have been around 5th with some different tactics. Live and learn, and always pre-wet your shoes. 

Maps - part 1 (click to embiggen):

Part 2, with more hills:

It was a brutally hilly course, but aside from some ankle instability I felt pretty strong.

Since the Traverse, which was just pre-Thanksgiving, I've been in a training block, albeit a low one. Fitting in workouts wherever they'll go, often in the dark. I've signed up for the Craftsbury marathon, so I'm trying to bring back my double poling strength, and that's a long road.
At least I can still bounce. Inov-8 from head to toe that morning, evidently. Some weeks, your vertical quality comes in the form of cement steps. 

Textbook classic technique

Saturday 5k classic
Leading up to the Craftsbury opener Eastern Cups, I was feeling pretty good. I'd been crushing my first-years in interval workouts, actually doing some strength, and generally balancing life pretty well. Then all of a sudden I stopped being able to balance life and work, and work totally took over, and for some reason 13-hour days aren't conducive to either good-quality training or good-quality rest. I stood on the start line Saturday more tired than I've been in a long time. 

I'm used to racing with some degree of fatigue; that's what racing as a coach is all about. But this was worse than I remembered, and combined with the falling snow making it very slow conditions, I was on a serious struggle bus. Individual-start 5k, and it's a good thing it was as short as it was, because I was having serious thoughts about taking a snow nap. My legs were flooded, my arms didn't work, and my core was more interested in a second breakfast than in applying power in my double pole. I think the less said about that race, the better. I'll have better races. 

Sunday 10k pursuit
After a better night of sleep, and some bacon for breakfast (Craftsbury breakfasts are the BEST!), I had much better energy levels on Sunday. It was also a totally different feel to the course, fast and fluoro-y, great for a power skier who can generate speed. That would be me. It was a pursuit race, meaning the winner of Saturday's race went out first, and people went out after based on the number of seconds behind her they'd finished the day before. I had finished something like five minutes back on the first day, so I didn't start until midway through the pack, with about 20 people in the 15 seconds before and after me. Going to be a pack race! And on a 2.5km loop, no less. There was a lot of traffic out there. 

Kathy doing the hard work coaching 

I started out four seconds behind two SLU gals, and I caught them while still in a tuck on the downhills. Our skis were RIPPING fast. We headed into the hills, and there were just bodies in every direction, so many people. I had thought that maybe I'd count the number of people I passed, but I lost track after the two SLU girls. Snuck past one of my ex-CSUers at Bates now, and then we hit the main hill, which had been marked with two lanes, to help with congestion. I was definitely stuck behind a pack of like 8 girls, all going much slower than I wanted to, but nothing to do in that case except be patient, because flailing to get past them was only going to lose me energy. As it flattened out I snuck around them, past one of my ex-skiers now at Colby, and got some clear track for a bit.

Closed the gap to an XC Ottawa girl as we climbed the wall in the stadium, and as we turned the corner and got hit in the face with a headwind carrying plenty of freezing rain, I was thankful to just ride her draft. The second lap might have been the most crowded, because there were some of the slower girls starting now. I followed Ottawa's draft across the fields, slalomed past some girls attempting to negotiate the corner from their butts in the snow, and glided past another pack as we headed back into the hills. This time I managed to make some strategic passes on the downhill, and was ahead of a large pack climbing the hill - took it relatively easy, since I could feel the fatigue building, but I was still moving pretty well.

Ottawa came back around and took the lead up the wall, which was totally fine by me, and I hopped back into her draft to start the third lap. Another very crowded lap, and the race leaders were coming by, so I tried not to be in their way. I was still rolling past other skiers, but they were better skiers now, which meant less traffic. I was starting to really hurt, but I think that's the idea. Back behind Ottawa for the wall and the draft, and then into the fourth lap, she started to snowplow on the first downhill corners, so I took the lead and she disappeared for good in my rearview.

I was seeing the back of one of my juniors on some of the hills, but I couldn't quite close that gap. Managed to stay on my feet to the finish, for a much better result than yesterday, 35th of about 130, and having passed about 50 skiers on the course. Yay for pursuits! That was fun. Now I'm looking forward to a good training camp in Quebec, and the next ski race!
Textbook skate technique. Not me...

Friday, November 11, 2016

Stonecat 50

I signed up for a 50-mile race, back in June. I think the reason I signed up had something to do with catching the bug after running Pisgah in 2013, and wanting to check this idiotic thing off my bucket list. Unfortunately, the timing wasn’t awesome, with a late WOC and later NAOC leaving only four weekends that I could go long, before tapering off. I was definitely apprehensive heading in. Two goals:

A. Finish, no more broken than I started
B. Don’t finish, no more broken than I started

Naturally, I also wanted to run well, which for me meant around an 8-hour time, and preferably in first place. Because why not shoot for the moon? But the main focus was on goal A.

First lap
We started out in the dark, and I like that, because you feel like a badass, just flying along. Flying is an exaggeration, we were all sort of trundling off into the darkness. I made a pit stop about 20 minutes in, and that put me in no-man's land, so I spent the next 1:40 alone. That was actually kind of enjoyable; I knew I was racing people but I was appreciating the solitude. The first aid station came in about 45 minutes, and I topped off a little water, but didn’t need much else. I spent pretty much all day munching on Clif Bloks.

Between the two aid stations I felt like I was really rolling along nicely, and the trail was flat and wide, and my biggest worry was that I wouldn't be able to match this pace later in the race. Somewhere in here it started to get light, and that was so beautiful. Especially when I went through a swamp or a field, everything was covered in frost and the sun was just starting to hit it, glistening and sparkling. Wheee! And it snowed on me a little bit! More wheee!

After the second aid station was more double track and then two chunks of singletrack, both starting with a nice climb, which meant I could do some walking. The lead marathoner guy passed me somewhere in here, and scared the heck out of me, since I’d been running totally alone and in my own little sparkling world for so long. I felt good, but was worried that my hamstrings were already feeling kind of tired, especially as I pushed the pace on the flats. That thing I mentioned about only doing four long runs... yeah.

Second Lap
Ed greeted me at the lap, and I had a hardboiled egg and a salt potato to go. I also changed my shirt, which had gotten way too sweaty under my jacket while carrying a water bottle belt. Dumped the belt for a handheld here. The second place woman came in as I was leaving, so I knew I wasn't alone out there, and that helped me keep focused. The fun singletrack on the way to the first aid station was a little less fun this time, but I kept focusing on really striding out the downhills. Got to the aid in about a minute faster this time, probably because it was light out. Begged some ibuprofen off a lady spectating, for the ankle, then on to the next aid. Still munching on Clif Bloks. I like those.

Took a quarter pbj at the next aid. I had hit it in the same time as lap 1, so I guess the pace was ok, but I was sort of waiting for a hamstring cramp. On the first climb of the final section, the lead marathon woman caught up to me, followed by a 50-mile woman. She had on some sort of crappy music player blaring pop music, so I wanted to be out of earshot, either in front or behind. I tried to remind myself to run my own race, since they were jogging the uphills and I was walking, but competitive juices were upset that I’d been caught. I came through the lap in another two hours, so the pace was good, but I was starting to notice the tiredness. I told Ed that this was a stupid idea, and he promptly said “No it’s not! You love running!” Clearly he had read my instructions to him to remind me that I signed myself up for this endeavor.

Third lap
I was quicker through home base than the other woman (Suki), and left with a salt potato in my hand, walking on the gradual uphills to eat it. Different drink mix in my bottle this lap, and I think that was a mistake - it started to mess with my stomach. Previously I'd just been taking Nuun tablets, which are fizzy and not sweet and I find them both tasty and very nice to my stomach. Suki jogged past me in the first few miles of the lap, and promptly disappeared. Run your own race. Stopped to pee somewhere, and then kept on plugging. Again, focusing on proper strides, especially on the downhills, no shuffling. Shortly before the first aid I passed Suki, which is always heartening, but she came into the aid just behind me. Run your own race. I kept plugging, and we ran together for a bit, but then a woman in a green jacket caught us, and moved right past us, and Suki followed. Run your own race. They were gone, and that was when I really started to notice that my stomach was in a lot of discomfort. I was down to shuffle-pace, and that sucked.

Two pit stops later fixed whatever was going on, and soon I was able to properly stride out again. I was definitely tired, but hey, that’s a state of mind, right? I walked the two uphills on the singletrack, but I could run the downhills again, and my stride was still even, despite some aches and pains. I was going to finish this damn thing.

I was passing lots of marathon people now, most on their second lap, and it helped a bit to have rabbits ahead of me. Somewhere near the end got passed by the lead dude and his pacers, and they were MOVING. I tried to keep up for a bit, considering we were on a downhill, and even that was too tough. Dang. Hit the lap in about 2:15, big slow-down. But, now I get a pacer!

Fourth lap
Tom Dmukaskas, from the CSU running section, had agreed to pace me for my final lap. We haven’t run together a whole lot, but I’ve always enjoyed my interactions with him, so I figured it would work out. As we started out, he was questioning how I felt, getting a sense of how much I wanted to be pushed and how much I was capable of at the moment. I certainly didn’t feel like I was capable of much, and I was 10 minutes down on the lady in green and maybe 5 minutes down on Suki, so I wasn’t feeling hopeful either. But I’m a fighter, and he figured that out, and once he discovered that i was still running downhills well, we started pushing those. I had chosen to carry a water bottle belt again this lap, because my arms were getting tired of carrying the handheld, but it was giving me a stomach cramp. This hindered me for a bit, but I dumped the belt at the first aid station, while keeping the bottle, and that helped the stomach.

Along the doubletrack towards the second aid, I was finding a bit of a second wind, mostly thanks to Tom. We rolled past a guy on a downhill, and then just kept rolling. I was thinking about my form again, which helped, and now that the cramp had passed I was munching on Clif Bloks again. We hit a chunk of single track and started treating the downhill/flats as intervals - shuffle up the hill, then try and keep rolling as long as possible on the downhill. This worked, because we caught Suki at the top of one of the hills, and promptly left her in my dust. Normally I like to recover a bit first, but there weren’t too many real downhills, so I figured I should use them while they were there. Then for a few miles it was tough going, because I had to keep the pressure on, but out of sight out of mind, and she was behind me.

After the final aid station, things were getting painful. I was shuffling. Ankle, achilles, a random tendon behind my knee, and my feet soles were all clamoring for attention. Just keep swimming, just keep swimming. Tom would let me take short walking breaks on the barely-perceptible uphills, but then it was back to running. We finally hit the last two single track climbs, which meant a more sustained walking break, and I needed that. The downhills were getting painful, because I’d had to loosen my shoe because of my ankle swelling or something, causing my foot to fall asleep, so now my shoe was loose and every downhill step my foot would slide my toes into the front of my shoe. I might lose that toenail. Anyway, we finally hit the doubletrack, and I could smell the hotdogs, figuratively, so trundled in to the finish at top speed, very, very, VERY glad to be done.

So after 8.5 hours, I ended up about 15 minutes behind the green girl, and maybe 10 ahead of Suki. Pretty ok with that time, especially given the insufficient training leading up to the race. Really pleased I was able to find a second (fourth?) wind on the final lap to catch back up to Suki. Super duper thanks to Ed for all his crewing help, and to Tom for the pacing. Definitely helped keep me in a more neutral state of mind rather than just tired and grumpy.


Apparently crewing your runner makes you hungry, too. We didn't bother with plates for dinner.

The day after, we hosted an orienteering event - Forest-X - at the Fells. It actually felt really good to walk around, and I was very relieved to not appear to have any injuries from this ridiculous endeavor. Check that one off the list! It'll need a damn good reason to do that again. 50-mile race is a bit of a misnomer, since I just spent the whole time plodding along - doesn't feel like a race. Looking forward to ski season now!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Miles to go before I sleep

Fall is finally happening! It took a while, but we're finally getting frostier mornings and some leafy colors. My long runs lately have been had me thinking poetically, and lately I feel like Frost is hitting home.

    Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.   
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.   
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.   
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

I made a poor choice in June, and signed up for a 50-miler in November. Given my taper schedule for the late-August/mid-September races, I had about six weeks between North Americans and the Stonecat 50. This is maybe time for 4-5 long runs, and long runs are supposed to be the backbone of ultra training. Six weeks is not enough time to train for an ultra, but somehow this seemed like a good plan in June. So while I do feel woefully unprepared, it has been a fun journey nonetheless, collecting miles like pokemons.

My feet have taken me some cool places lately. To be totally honest, I have no need of vertical, because the Stonecat course is basically flat. I didn't realize that when I signed up, or maybe I would have thought twice. Running up mountains is a lot more fun than doing loops on a flat and marshy trail, but I wanted a local-ish 50-miler. Despite not needing vertical, I go to the mountains whenever I get a chance. One of those chances was at Ali's wedding - naturally, she joined in a running-appropriate version of a wedding dress :)

Favorite sort of selfie! Camel's Hump in the background.

For some reasons, I couldn't get any takers for a Sunday morning four-hour jaunt in chilly clouds. It was beautiful and meditative. I'd never been on that part of the Long Trail.

Back in Boston, more miles of flat pavement. At least sometimes there are nice views - from across the river, the city looks clean and modern. Can't see the rats from over here!

Ed and I did a scavenger hunt a few weekends ago, thanks to a free entry. It was as gimmicky and ridiculous as we expected, and it was also kind of awesome. 100 riddles, once solved, gave 100 different locations around the city. You could run or bike or take public transit to get to these locations, take a geotagged photo, and try to unlock points and levels and get free stuff. It ended with free beer at the Harpoon brewery, and it was a long day - 11 hours of scavenging. We spent about an hour sitting there answering riddles before we got moving, and then we only walked - we had decided that we didn't feel like being super competitive. That didn't work; we walked 22 miles and were up there with some of the longest distances traveled by foot. Two tactical mistakes - because the whole thing was phone-based, we didn't do well with managing our phone batteries. I only brought one charger for the two of us, and we did all our riddle answering with a lot of google help, which drained our batteries. So we lost a few hours charging phones during the day. But overall, pretty fun, and an interesting way to get a long day on my feet.

The next weekend I was hoping to do a Pemi loop, since Ari had me convinced that this was a good idea, but then it snowed enough to make things icy on the ridges, and that combined with 100mph winds up there kept us below treeline. We stayed on pretty flat trails in a valley, and it was still pretty windy, so I feel like we made the right choice. It was definitely a beautiful day for a long run.

Shoal Pond in the snow. About as serene as it gets.

Thoreau Falls

Snow on fall leaves!

I had the opportunity to fly down to DC, where I got to hang out with Barney and his family, and help Boris and Alli with a junior training camp. Lots of fun in some really beautiful forests. Not the ideal taper weekend, but hey, board games count as rest, right?

And getting a little quality time with a beagle is nothing to scoff at. 

Two days from now I lace up my shoes and do something stupid. I'm kind of excited, kind of anxious, and hoping I can remember to find the joy while I run.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

North American Orienteering Championships

IThe North American Orienteering Championships (NAOC) is an event that happens every two years, and the hosting country alternates between Canada and the USA. This was my third time competing for the US at NAOC, and this was the competition closest to home, taking place in Hanover NH. I'd previously skied at Storrs Pond, but I'd never been there in the summer, and likewise had never been to either Burnt Mountain or the Dartmouth Campus, except to visit as a High-school senior years ago. No home-court advantage, but I know what NH forests are like, and that familiarity with the terrain is an important factor.
Middle Distance
The first race was at Storrs Pond, a middle distance race on Friday afternoon. I timed lunch poorly, having packed it in the trunk of my car and not stopping partway up to get it out and eat it, which meant I got really hungry, and then ate too much too fast too soon to my start. Rookie! 

I knew that this would be a technical area, and with 22 controls over 4.5km, I had to have a laser-sharp focus the whole way. Maybe the sloshy stomach helped, because I didn't think about my physical state ever, except maybe once when I was wondering who was behind me breathing so heavily, and realized it was me. The race itself was fairly uneventful, and I calmly executed my plans and found controls and never really felt like I got moving all that fast, because I couldn't do that and stay in contact with the map. I made a 45s mistake on the penultimate control, but otherwise ran a very clean, safe, and controlled race, and it was enough to put me into fourth place overall, ahead of two of my long-time orienteering idols: Ali and Sam. I wished that they had had better days, but that's why we race as a team, and Hannah and I did what we could against the Canadians.

Map - You can turn on people's names and view an animation as they move through the course. I was on the Red Y course.

Results. The top six get medals, so this was technically my first IOF "Diploma." Cool!

Long Distance
Saturday was the Long Distance race. I was pretty excited for this one, although I had heard some ominous rumors about the map legibility, especially at 1:15,000 scale (the elites are assumed to have the best eyesight of all the orienteers, as well as the longest route-choice legs, so we're given a smaller scale so that the full course fits on a reasonable size of paper. This is an IOF rule, which sort of sucks in a place like Burnt Mountain, which is a suuuuuuper detailed map). I went out on the model event briefly, and discovered that in the dim lighting under a mature hemlock canopy (most of the map), I couldn't read the map very well, even with my magnifier on it. Yikes, this was going to be an interesting day. 

I showed up to the start line ready to go, operating under the assumption that course setters always save the worst terrain for the model event. The actual race was going to be fun! Alas, I had no better luck reading the map during the race. In my defense, the map was also "overmapped," meaning there were some tiny rock features on the map that didn't belong there. The printing was also not great - the contours and the rock features weren't crisp, meaning sometimes one boulder would sort of bleed into another one, especially at 1:15,000. I had hoped that the IOF event controller would catch things like this, but not so much. With all the black stuff on the map, it was hard to get a sense of what the land was actually doing with its shapes.

Anyway, everybody has to race on the same map. I could have spent way longer whining about it, but instead my mission for the day was to find those little orange flags as fast as possible. I taped my ankles better today, so felt more sure-footed, but my inability to properly interpret the map meant that I just couldn't move too fast. So frustrating! I left about 3 minutes of mistakes on the course, but mostly, I was just slow. I'm not very proud of that race, but I still snuck onto the podium in 6th place, way, way waaaaay behind Emily Kemp, the winner.

Map - select "Red Y" to see my course

Sprint Race
The final race was on the Dartmouth Campus, the sprint race! I felt like I needed some redemption, after Saturday's sad little slog, and I was feeling good, really peppy legs. I did a good warmup, and had my mantras set. Go-time! 

The course was interesting enough for a campus sprint, but relatively straightforward. It was feeling like a straight running race, almost, as it should when the navigation is flowing smoothly. By the fifth control, I had just about caught Tori Owen, the Canadian who started ahead of me by a minute, and that of course helps with the confidence. I felt strong across the Green and into the final bits, that were really hilly. Oof! Unfortunately, as I came rolling down the hill to my penultimate control, supposed to be on a tree, I spotted a different course's control, on a tree, next to the same road I was on, and I punched that one. I had checked the codes, but my race brain apparently couldn't differentiate between code 78 and code 71, and so I mis-punched. There's a big fat DSQ by my name now, so much for redemption.

Sprint Relay
The Deciders for the relay teams decided that I was still a good choice, though, so I was on the second relay team for the US, with Tori Borish, Michael Laraia, and Ross Smith. Our first relay Team was Sam Saeger, Anton Salmenkyla, Greg Ahlswede, and Ali Crocker, putting all our eggs into that basket - we were a ways behind the Canadians at this point in terms of the Bjorn Kjellstrom cup. 

Tori took us out with a very nice leg, though she says she made a mistake, and finished about 45 seconds behind Sam, who was leading the pack by a solid 15 seconds. Michael had a good run, pulling back a team or two, and Ross hung on to fourth place, coming in just over a minute behind team Canada #2 (both first teams were out in front, battling). Tori Owen was the anchor Canadian for their second team, and I'd made up a minute on her in the morning, could I do it again? 

The key in relays is to keep your head screwed on straight and to not mispunch. So in some sense, I was running very carefully, but honestly, I was in full hunting-mode. Hunting down earlier starters is my wheelhouse; I swear I have a higher VO2 when I'm hunting.

With only a 2km course, this would be over quickly. I was pushing for every second, and as I approached control 6, and in-and-out staircase situation, I saw Tori. Good. I had closed the gap by the 9th control, and then she took a slightly better route to the spectator control, and led us across the field. I chilled out behind her, catching my breath and reading ahead. Amazing what 30 seconds at a slower pace can do for your recovery. The next time we took different routes, I punched it. The thing about orienteering is that if the person behind you can see where you are, they'll be moving faster, as they don't have to navigate, they just have to follow. So, if you're trying to create a gap, you have to do it very decisively. 

I could feel Tori on my heels at the 15th control, but surged again around a building, using the corner to create more distance, and I couldn't hear her breathing anymore at the 17th. At the 18th, an in-and-out deal again, I was already out and leaving as she approached, and this let me relax a hair into the finish, knowing it wouldn't be an all-out sprint. 

My anchor leg put us into third place, but then it turned out that our first team had mis-punched, one of the runners going right past the spectator control without punching it. Darn! We could have used their points, but this moved my team into second place, and top US Team. I suppose that's racing. 

A job well done. When Ross says jump with your hands in the air, that's what you do. 

In the end, this was a very enjoyable weekend. Great weather, really nice courses, and so wonderful to see all my friends and teammates and absorb the good vibes of everyone there. This was a really nice way to wrap up my competitive international career - I'll still be at races all over, because that's what I do, but I think I'm done wearing this brightly colored stars-and-stripes uniform, at least as a senior athlete. Maybe I'll come back as a master, but I need to be done with the pressure, the intensity of training, the drive of results, my expectations pushing my body harder than it wants to go. Time to refocus on what brought me to this sport in the first place - the joy of the sport itself, and the wonderful people who do it.

See you in the forest!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

US Orienteering Championships

After returning from Sweden, I needed a little time to not think about orienteering. With the US and North American Championships coming up at the end of September, I had a few weeks to get back into the groove of working and coaching, and my plan was to simply do whatever I felt like for training, and let the mind and body recover together.

Labor Day weekend was the annual Kern camp, a ski camp that CSU hosts down on Cape Cod, and it was great. No surfing this year, because the waves weren't really steady enough, but by Monday we were getting the leading traces of a tropical storm, and the waves were big enough to cancel ferries back to Boston, which left us in a bit of a pickle with what to do with the 25 skiers who had taken the ferry to get there. It all worked out in the end, and everybody got home.

The following weekend was the Pawtuckaway Camping weekend, and we just spent Saturday up there. After a long course in the morning, and then the Wicked Hard Night-O (WHNO), I was pretty toasted by Sunday morning, but I'd agreed to meet my juniors at the Louisa May Alcott 5k. I knew I didn't have the oomph for a proper race, so just tempoed my way around the course, but it still felt like a lot of work. By the time I showed up to the afternoon rollerski practice, I could tell that I was in a bit of a hole, physically. The problem with not having a training plan is that then I just do anything that's offered, and end up overreaching. Well, four days to recover before the US Champs at Ward Pound Ridge, over in NY, and I did pretty well getting myself to a better place. Mentally and emotionally, I was excited to go running in the forest, and physically, though I didn't feel my bounciest ever, I felt a lot fresher than the weekend before!

Becky, Ed and I found a rock to stand on

Second in my age class despite not a killer run

US Championships

Saturday's race was a long distance World Ranking Event, against the usual crew plus Ali, back on the east coast for a long-ish trip involving the US champs, North American Champs (NAOC), and then her wedding. The forest at Ward Pound Ridge was gorgeous - typical older-growth deciduous Hudson Highlands terrain. There was a little bit of rock on the ground, but mostly it was just FAST. I started out aggressively, but maybe a little too aggressively, and I lost some steam after the 5th control. From there, we entered a rougher part of the forest, with more mountain laurel and rock, and I had a bit of a low point, losing confidence and moving slower. By #9 I'd kicked myself back into race mode, recovered from that dip, but I had lost too much time. Despite a very strong finishing loop, I still finished about a minute down on Hannah, and nearly six down on Ali. I was totally exhausted, having worked those final hills with everything I had in me, and I was starting to worry that maybe I wasn't as recovered as I hoped.

That evening, the Orienteering USA Annual General Meeting went on, and a group of young-ish candidates who had banded together to run for the OUSA Board of Directors with the platform of "things need to change" managed to get ourselves elected to the BOD, and the AGM plus the following board meeting was a totally restful six hours of my evening, trust me. Thankfully Barb called in a pizza near the end of the meeting, because there really wasn't much opportunity for dinner otherwise. I can tell you I definitely have my work cut out for me, now.

Sunday dawned humid and icky, but luckily I'm used to this sort of weather by now. The course was a lot shorter, and hopefully with less climb, too. My goal was to stay aggressive the entire race, but to keep smiling, because you don't get forests like these very often - such a treat! Right off the bat, I made a stupid mistake to #1, drifting too high on the slope despite my internal spidey sense yelling at me. Like that, I'd dropped a minute. D'oh! That seemed to kick me into gear, and my focus narrowed to the task at hand. Time to apply some speed. I was focusing on really nailing the downhills, especially, since yesterday I'd felt like some of them I was being a little too cautious. No reason not to treat off-trail terrain any different than a trail, just sight where you're going to first!

By #7 I could tell I was having a good run, as I was passing masters runners and West Point cadets and moving really well. On the long leg to 10, I knew these were the final hills, and I was at the point where I was bribing myself to keep running - just run for 100 strides and then you can walk for 10! I had a plan for each control, and while forests with this much visibility make it easy to nail controls, you still have to be able to keep your head on while moving as fast as possible. I distinctly remember thinking to myself at one point "soon, you'll be at an uphill, and you can read your map THEN," only to immediately counter that with the realization that NO! I have to keep reading my map while moving THIS FAST, being THIS out of breath, and being THIS exhausted. It worked, and I kept the aggressive approach to my navigation right through the end, finishing about three minutes ahead of Hannah and about a minute back of Ali. That was enough to move me in front of Hannah for the overall championships, so now I'm a silver medalist! Woo!

The weekend of fun wasn't totally finished. Ed headed home with some local friends, and I stayed out there for a final race, a team sprint relay at Mountain Lakes. Teamed with Ali (go Team Giggles!), we had nothing on the line but our egos, and both elected to go a little easier in order to start recovering for NAOC. Super fun to run a relay, though, with maybe 25 teams out there. We both made some mistakes, and combined with a lower speed, all the elite men and speedy masters beat us. But, we definitely had the best sparkly pink tiaras.

Monday night we headed up to Sunderland, for the second running of this year's Mike's Corn Maze Orienteering. Hosted by Peter Gagarin, this is pretty much the most fun orienteering event EVAR, even including those awesome forests at Ward Pound Ridge. Peter is totally in his element hosting a ridiculous event like this, and over the course of three races there was endless laughter, mud, and cutthroat competition. I managed to eke out the win in the "sprint shuffle," but Ali got me in the "classic" and Evalin got me in the "night." So much fun!

Next up is NAOC! Time to bring that aggressive orienteering to the next venue!

Monday, August 29, 2016

WOC 2016: The forest races

The forest races at the World Champs were the two I was really excited about. The Long Distance final in my mind is the true test - the winner of this race is indeed the best orienteer in the world. There is no race I respect more, and no race I would rather excel in. In a lot of ways, the Long tends to play to my strengths - I often make good route choices, I run well over long distances, and I'm tough as nails. Also, my favorite part of this sport is running through the woods, and the Long Distance offers plenty of that. So, I was psyched to run.

The second forest race I'd be running was the relay - the star of the World Championships show! The WOC relay highlights those teams with depth as well as individual talent, and to me there is no higher honor than to be chosen for your country's relay team. Our team of Sam, myself, and Hannah weren't sure who we'd be gunning for, but our main goal was to try and move up from our start position, that reflects last year's result (20th).

Long Distance Final
One of the main differences between the forested terrain in Sweden and the terrain at home is the amount of squish. At home, the ground off-trail is soft in that it has a thin layer of slowly-decaying deciduous leaves on it, and sometimes has some groundcover growing in the dirt. But really, it's pretty firm underfoot. In Sweden, especially along the west coast where it rains a LOT, everything is covered in moss, of varying thicknesses. You've got moss under blueberry bushes, moss under pine forests, moss over the rocks, moss in all the swamps. Every step, your foot sinks, taking all the potential energy that you have from the two-feet-in-the-air part of your running stride and eliminating it into a mossy pile of squish. So attempts at moving quickly almost look like slow motion, with many Scandinavian orienteers adopting a running style with a much lower cadence and longer stride. That takes strength, gained primarily through the hours you put in training through this stuff. You ever run or walk through a bog? That's essentially what we're doing here.
Final control in the long

In training, I was handling the squish relatively well. It's definitely hard work, heavy on the legs, but doable. I thought I knew what to expect when I entered the forest with a number pinned on. I wasn't expecting to win the race, but I believed in myself that with a clean run, I had the fitness and the fortitude to place relatively well.

Right off the bat, the course setter threw a long (~4km) route choice at us. I expected some long legs, and I knew that it was worth it to look wide for faster routes. I also knew, given this terrain, that straighter is not necessarily faster, so if I could connect up little fragments of trails, that would be to my advantage.

Click for larger map.

With only a 1-minute leg to the first control, I needed more time to make a decision. I stood at that first control for probably 45 seconds, clock ticking in my head, trying to figure out the best route to the second. Even spending almost a minute standing there without moving is preferable to choosing wrong and paying for your wrong choice with extra distance and energy expenditure. Ultimately, I chose wrongly, settling on a route that went wide in the wrong places and hugged the line in the wrong places, sending me through logged areas and too many marshes, and finishing with an insecure attackpoint. Even worse than choosing wrongly, I executed my route terribly, losing over 5 minutes on mistakes and hesitations and micro-routes. Before I'd even reached the second control, my legs were toasted. The Australian from 10 minutes behind me caught up as I was splashing my way through a swamp, half swimming, and I tried to match her pace once I'd extricated myself, but nothing happened when I asked my legs for more oomph.

These are the route choices selected by World of O. My route did not follow any of those logical ways. I sort of started with the blue route, then swapped to green, then headed towards red, then made my own damn path through the maximum amount of logged rough open before meeting back up with red and blue.

This is the part of the race I'm pretty upset about. Not about the race, but rather about my reaction when faced with the consequences of a bad decision. This was outside of the realm of my pre-race visualization. I simply hadn't considered that I might not have good legs on the day of the race. Or that I just wouldn't be strong enough to handle the terrain. All the signs had been so good in my lead-up, that when my oomph-bucket ran empty, I was sort of paralyzed. And I gave up. 

I don't mean that I stopped moving - the thought of dropping out briefly flitted across my consciousness, but that's even more shameful - but I let my focus drift, and I wallowed in my misery. I didn't feel like I was racing, I didn't feel like I belonged at that level, and I just didn't want to be out there suffering anymore. It wasn't a long wallow, but it was enough to lose my focus, causing nearly three minutes lost on my way to the third control, and another three minutes on the way to the 4th. My give-a-damn was well busted, and I hadn't brought any duct tape to fix it. 

It's physically painful for me to write about this. I've always prided myself on being so tough, able to handle anything that's thrown at me, that admitting to giving up like this is almost as bad as the feeling while it was happening. I managed to kick myself out of the funk by the 4th control, and ran cleanly to the next few controls, but I was so slow. Even when I took the road route choice to 6, I felt like I was barely managing a jog. I saw some other runners from 6-9, but then made another 2-minute mistake attacking 9. I was mad at myself, which was a good sign, some of the fight was coming back. But then we hit the arena passage, and I stumbled my way past all the people, and I just wanted to curl up in a corner and hide. 

Crawling up a hill out of the arena, I was telling myself that if I was going to be this slow, I HAD to hit all the controls perfectly. I was going through the motions that should spike controls, but I failed to execute properly, and dropped another 5 minutes on my way to #15. When I finally stumbled across the finish line, the most prominent feeling was that of shame. For being so slow. For losing so much unnecessary time in mistakes (17 minutes!). For being the best option the US had had available to put forward on that day, and feeling like I was a really terrible option. For letting down all my supporters and sponsors who believed in me and were waiting to see what I could do. For giving up, and not fighting tooth and nail for every second, despite the challenges. 

As a friend said to me, the beauty of sport is also in the broken dreams. 

The Relay
After a bit of a wallow, I managed to get my shit together and start focusing on the relay. The Long had been a really tough race, even if I'd been feeling good, and I had spent a really long time out there suffering. A short jog on hard surfaces Friday felt fine, but I knew I wasn't at 100% as I warmed up for the relay. To make matters worse, my stomach was mildly upset, possibly from the strange food timing since the race started at 4pm. But whatever happened physically, my plan was to ***ing NAIL the navigation. There are things you can control, and there are things you can't, and I intended to fight for every second, regardless of how my body responded to the effort. Beyond proving to myself that I was capable of doing this, the relay is a team event, and I did not want to let down my teammates.

Sam went out fast, and had a totally solid first leg, coming back in 15th position with a small pack of Estonia, Poland, and Spain. I had been hearing the announcer talking about how the men were losing gobs of time in the low-visibility areas, so my plan was to mostly run my own race, and stay very much in control so as to not make any mistakes. I left the arena with Estonia, and we converged with Spain, Poland, and Austria out in the forest. The first part of the course was really fun, technical and difficult, and though I made a small mistake on the 3rd control (in the green), I was pleased with my navigation. Then we had to go uphill to the 6th control, and I felt like I was moving backwards, I was going so slowly. I had to walk most of the hill. My legs just did not work. It wasn't even a matter of oomph, they just didn't function. 

I chose to go around to the left to get to 7, and then I made an error in execution, losing some 45 seconds. That lost me the back of the pack I'd been trailing, and I struggled physically in the final loop after the arena passage. Ukraine passed me climbing the hill to #10, and Bulgaria got me climbing the hill to #12. I just had nothing to give, even though in my head I was screaming to claw back every second. It was so depressing to be unable to move, but I tried to focus on the action items, finding each control as efficiently as possible. 
Click for full-sized map

I tagged to Hannah in 21st position, and she had a solid run, but with a big mistake on the first control. New Zealand and Canada both snuck by, but she made a pass on Bulgaria, taking us home in 22nd position. Though this is two spots worse than last year, our position last year was inflated by both Russia and Poland disqualifying. It was still not the result we'd hoped for, but it was all we were capable of on the day.
Sam, me, Hannah

The World Championships always has the potential to be a real roller-coaster of emotions. This one certainly was, for me. I am coming away from this competition disappointed, but with my head up, bruised and battered but not completely broken. Failure is the greatest teacher, and success does not build character.

The next competitions are in three weeks - the US Championships followed by the North American Championships. I will be there, head held high, ready to fight. 

Because dammit, I love this sport and where it's taken me.