Thursday, September 11, 2014


Last weekend I attended the almost-famous Pawtuckaway Camping weekend, hosted by the UpNorth Orienteers.  My relationship with this place has changed, over the years, mostly toward the good end of the dreading it --> drooling for it spectrum.  This probably has to do with the fact that my orienteering skill has improved to the point where I find all those boulders an enjoyable challenge rather than a recipe for hours of confused and abused lostness, but I wouldn't have gotten there without paying my due share of blood to the flies and tears to the house-sized boulders and prayers to the gods of orienteering.  

This is a fantastic weekend, because it is such an awesome laid-back atmosphere, with some pretty serious competition hidden in the corners. I started out with the red course, since I'd heard that the largest number of people were running it.  The intention was to take it at a race effort, and see what my knee would do in response to running as hard as I could through the woods on an uneven surface.  The good news is that there doesn't appear to be any lasting damage from this, so regardless of what the MRI results say, I think I should be ok for the October race weekends.  The bad news was that I completely and utterly wilted in the heat.  I was basically stumbling through the final controls, and all I could think of was watermelon.  Specifically, cold watermelon sitting on ice for even more coldness, like they had at Wapack last weekend.  I was going back and forth with Ernst Linder for most of the race, but in the end he had more stamina in the heat, and put 45 seconds into me on one control, that I just couldn't reel back in.  He ended up beating me by 15 seconds. So close!

The next activity of the afternoon was the canoe-o, which entailed my teammate Kseniya and I splashing around in the lake and occasionally actually finding a control.  A friend had painstakingly explained to us how to maximize our speed and direction in windy conditions, but we completely ignored his advice, more through lack of skill than lack of desire.  Luckily, we stayed upright.  

After a delicious and copious potluck dinner, it was time for the Wicked Haahd Night-O (WHNO).  The trouble with this event is that I'm always way too full from dinner to want to go out into the scary dark woods, but somehow I get persuaded to go out there every time.  Given the super hot conditions during the day, I knew I was pretty depleted even before I started, but thankfully I made it through without cramping or otherwise dying.  The pack was spreading out already by control 2, and I was near the back of it, resigning myself to just being slow tonight. Not much energy, and lots of sloshing noises coming from my belly, sapped my desire to run hard.  But, by control 3 I saw some people running in a variety of directions (none of them to the control), and I sensed my chance to get away.  It's tough to make a break in a night-o, because you can see the lights from so far away, but sometimes 45 seconds is enough to get out of sight, so I put a little oomph into my waddling and hit 4-5-6 alone.  

Christiane, a visiting German runner, made contact at 6, but she went way left to go around the lake to 8, and I was once again on my own.  Once you get over your fear of the dark, night orienteering is actually pretty awesome.  You know there are others out there, but you can't see them, and it's definitely fun to nail controls at night.  Cresting the hill to 8, I saw Gheorghe, a visiting Moldovan, bent over his leg nursing a cramp.  It had been a hot day, and tough to hydrate enough between the day's races and the night-o, so I wasn't surprised by this.  He was able to recover enough to trot around the rest of the course with me, but I could tell he was sort of out of it, not doing much navigating on his own anymore.  I overshot on 9, not having a clear attackpoint from the trail, but corrected with only 2 minutes lost, and still no lights, so this was good.  The humidity of the night and efforts from the day started to catch up with me near the end, unfortunately, and I made two stupid mistakes, 2min on 12, and another 2 min trying to find the finish.  D'oh!  You can't be slow AND make mistakes, you're only allowed to do one or the other.  Luckily, it was enough (barely) to hold off the other ladies, and I was 5th overall.  Results - scroll to the bottom for the night-o.

Sunday morning, the focus for me was on training.  First exercise was to blast through the shortest advanced course at full speed, and then do it again, to gain more confidence the second time 'round.  This accomplished, I set out on a longer course, with my compass in my pocket, to work on reading the map and doing a long terrain run.  It was a lovely cool morning, and I had a lot of fun trotting through the woods and enjoying the sights and sounds at a comfortable pace.  This meant the time wasn't very good, but since I wasn't racing, I was ok with that.  Some days, that's not what it's about.

All in all, a totally successful weekend. Super thanks to Up North Orienteers for putting it together, as always it was super valuable to my training and racing experience. I can't wait to tackle the October race weekends now!

Until next time, Pawtuckaway.  Thanks for having some crazy awesome boulders!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Wapack trail race

Wapack is a great little trail, accessible and yet remote-feeling, with views and rocks and blueberries and hills and things, and though in a race it's hard to appreciate any of those things, that doesn't diminish the awesomeness of the trail. Maybe there are some trails that aren't made for racing on.  Doesn't stop us from trying.

After last year's slog, I was nervous going into this race with the forecast temperature and humidity - supposed to start out at 66F (dewpoint at 64F) and climb to 80ish, and this sounded like it could make for another unpleasant slog. Between the humidity and a potential knee problem, I didn't particularly want to pin on a number and stand on a start line, but the power of early registration got me to the start line; I'd already paid, so may as well show up. Besides, Ed wanted to test himself against this course, despite my warnings about how it'll eat you alive and shit you out the other end.  Maybe that made him even keener to try it.  I set my goal for the day to just be faster than last year. Stay humble, and finish without further injuring my knee.

Kehr Davis was on the start line, and I couldn't keep up on the hills, so let her go, finding my own rhythm.  The conditions felt marginally faster than last year, since the rocks weren't so slippery, and my legs didn't feel quite so leaden as last year, though they certainly weren't fresh. I slogged up Barrett Mt at my own pace, and Erica Labella (past race winner) was on my heels at the top. She took off running fast as it flattens out, and I discover that my calves needed some slower running to recover, first, so I let her go, too, but thankfully make contact on a downhill. Maybe we can run together the whole way and I'll have a female running buddy! Not today, I dropped her for good on the descent to Binney Pond. Traversing the ridge, with its lumps and bumps and momentum-killing dips and bends and drops, I caught back a few guys who had blasted by me on the first climb, and eventually made my way up to Ted Cowles partway down to Binney. I've spent the past few races running with Ted, so this was good.  We ended up running much of the race together.

I came through the first aid station well ahead of 2013 me, with a 5min buffer. Whee! Filled my bottle and had a gu, then set to chasing Ted up the flattish climb to Watatic.  It's a long grind, but I forced myself to run, and the hill felt shorter than last year.  I hit Watatic again ahead of schedule, which was exciting, and didn't see the leaders coming back up the hill until partway down. I was still feeling sluggish and tired, but also like I was running within my capabilities for the day, so this was encouraging.  Thanks to my bum knee, I took it sort of easy on the downhills; the descent from Watatic is a real screamer when you do it right, but I wanted to escape today unscathed.  Saw Kehr near the turn-around, with a 5-10min lead, so I continued with the approach of running my own race.

Ted and I left the aid station together, and I was able to barely hang on back up Watatic. I high-fived Ed near some of the bare rock, and was pleased to see that he looked totally comfortable.  From Watatic it's a long three miles to the last aid station, and then the real suffering begins, as you go back over the ridge.  I kept the gas on down Watatic, since that's the most runnable part of the whole trail, and there were some more guys coming into view as I hit the final aid station.  I say "final" like the race is almost done - ha!  But, I was 15 minutes ahead of 2013 me, and this was an excellent place to be.  Naturally, I got greedy, and started looking at 3:10 instead of 3:15.  Just push a little harder, a little further, take that extra risk on the downhill...

But then you're hit smack in the face with the climb out of Binney, and I let myself walk the whole way, passing two guys with a steady power hike.  Once up on the ridge, it's a series of false summits, though the map only looks like three peaks.  I was in full suffer mode now, with the sun out and nearly out of water, legs tired and joints feeling the rocky descents with no flow.  I tried to remember to use my momentum, but the mental energy wasn't always there in time.  Finally, I hit the top of Barret Mt, and I had just passed two more guys, so it was a frantic tumble down the hill.  I knew it'd be close to break 3:10, and in the end I didn't quite have the legs for it, finishing in 3:11.  Damn, I know I could have found two minutes somewhere on that course!

I'm totally satisfied with my race, especially given the weather conditions. Those were not PR conditions, but I set a 20min PR, through a combination of good luck, better fitness, and a terrible day last year (sometimes, a terrible day the first time is all it takes to improve the next time!). Kehr ran 3:07, but she also got lost right near the end, so should have been faster. I was 11th overall, with the winner taking 2:33. Ed had a good run for the first 14-15 miles, and then ran out of water and discovered first-hand that the bonk is real...

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Corn maze orienteering

The corn maze orienteering shenanigans began as a training event for the gang of five, which was what we called ourselves when Ali and I lived in the valley and got up to all sorts of trouble with Phil and Gail and Peter. Peter figured we may as well do some orienteering at Mike's Maze, and Mike was down with the idea, and it turns out racing around in a corn maze is not only amazingly fun, it's also really good technical orienteering training.  That established the tradition, and every year the event has grown; this year we had some 50 odd people lost in the maze attempting to find controls, and the event is as fun as ever!

There were three events (well, four if you count dinner at Bub's bbq) on tap: A "classic" distance, a sprint, and a night-o.  The classic had a predicted winning time of 11 minutes or so, sprint should be won in 5 minutes, and the night-o was a get-as-many-as-you-can affair with a 1-hr time limit.

My parents came to join in the fun, and while I think they may have been egregiously lost at times, they appeared to have fun while being lost, and at this event, that's what counts.  I did a proper warmup, remember that this fun event is actually a lot like a series of suicide sprints, since when you do know where you are, it pays to just run as fast as you can, and then come sliding to a stop to figure out which junction you want to turn down next.  I started out well, catching up about a minute to Brendan, but then proceeded to get utterly and completely lost, and was incapable of relocating.  All this corn looks exactly the same!!  By the time I'd figured that out, I was in 17th.  I clawed my way back up to 7th, but not without two more pretty terrible mistakes.  Oof!  This corn maze orienteering stuff is HARD!

After a short break, it was time for the sprint event.  I determined to give more respect to the maze this time, and took it slow - too slow.  This time Brendan started behind me, and had made up a minute by control 2, and I hadn't even made any mistakes!  I rallied a bit, but it wasn't enough, and I ended up 5th.  Thankfully at that point it's time for the barbecue dinner, so we all headed off to Bub's, because what is better than trying to run on a belly full of barbecue at night in a corn maze? Yeah I couldn't think of anything better than that, either =).

She may not know where she's going, but gosh darn is she going to have fun while going there.

Searching for runners in the maze. Binoculars didn't help.

Good thing there's a viewing platform.

Corn maze festivities over, the next day the Jospe family headed out for a walk along the 7 Sisters ridge.  That is one beautiful piece of land, and it turns out the ridge is no easier to hike than it is to race. Oof! But it was a lovely day to be walking outside, and I couldn't think of anything else I'd rather be doing.

Looking toward Mt. Tom across the river.

Coming up the first hill's rock scramble.

Midway there's a nice pile of rock that really doesn't look like much of a trail, but a trail it is. I raced on this? What was I thinking?!?

Ed decided to run to the summit house, and just wait for us there. I found him napping in the sun, totally sunburned.

Rocks and roots!

Ed leaving signs for me pointing which way to go at junctions.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Savoy Mt Trail Race

Ed had so much fun at People's forest race he wanted to do another one, and he figured he could handle 14 miles at Savoy, so to Savoy we went, at early-o-clock with Ari. Wheee trail racing! 

 The goal for today was to break 2:30, considering that last year I did 2:48 with a cold, so really couldn't breathe too well and had been trying to take it easy. The weather was good this year, 60-ish and cloudy with a low dew point. Kelsey and Kehr were both there, and I hoped to start with them and see what would happen, but Kehr started fast, as she does, and Kelsey chased, and I wasn't ready to go into the hurt box that early in a 14mi race, so let them go to race my own race. Redlining in the first 10 minutes and then being unable to run well due to lactic buildup for the remaining 115 minutes is both stupid and not-fun. Still worth racing even if you can't necessarily win. I fell into stride with Tony Bonanno early on, he's a self-proclaimed downhill runner, so we were roughly close in speed. Past the first aid ~6min faster than last year (that's what running the uphills instead of walking will do, eh?), through the two powerline cuts, and Ted Cowles caught up on a climb. I tried to keep up with him to the next aid station, gapping Tony slightly. Dropped my bottle on a rock there, and climbed up to Spruce Knob and the awesomesauce ridge. The views south along the Hoosac range are fantastic from Spruce Knob, and just like last year, I was filled with that feeling of accomplishment you get when you've arrived somewhere via your two feet (and especially when those feet are clad in X-Talons).  Wahooo!

Apparently, I actually stopped to whoop, and Ben Kimball of NortheastRacePhoto was right there to capture the moment.  I don't remember stopping, but I do remember giggling my way down the rest of that ridge, just absolutely loving it and living in the moment.  I am so thankful that I can run the way I do in the places I go to!  I caught two guys along the ridge, then passed Ted as we started the downhill to the turn-around, passing one other kid along the way. Woo!

That downhill is uber fun, winding around, super runnable, not that steep, not that rocky, just super fun. Unfortunately that means no benefit over anyone else, since they can all run it fast too, but that's ok. I saw Kelsey and Ari and Kehr coming back up and estimated a ~6-7min deficit, and while I wasn't super happy being that far back, that was the situation, and if I could keep the pressure on there was a chance one of them might fade or bonk. I ran every step of the return uphill and the ridge, and Ted didn't catch up, which meant I was running well, since I hadn't gapped him by that much on the downhill.

I high-fived Ed near the top of the climb, which gave me some energy, but I started to get tired near the end of the ridge, and sort of picked my way down to the aid station more slowly than I'd like.  Anyway, I tried to keep pushing the downhills from there, and I was actually glad that they were runnable and grassy and squishy. The bit between the two powerline cuts was still muddy (isn't it funny how you sort of hope that the crappy parts of the course won't be so crappy when you get there again?), and that was tough, but when I hit the final aid station it was only a mile left, phew. I'd been running alone since 8 miles, and that made it tough to stay motivated and pushing. In the end I was well under 2:30, but Kelsey won in 2:13, so I lost equal amounts out and back; partly the fact that I was alone for the entire return trip worked against me, but partly I'm just not fast enough, especially at the end of a heavy volume week. Whatever. I had oodles of fun, and gave it what I had on the day. Whee!  (Results)

Some of the final bits of trail - totally runnable double track.

As Ari drove us there, we had this sky and this light. My favorite combination. I suppose it explains why at times the woods were pretty dark, but the storm never broke.

I had a chance for a quick cooldown and swim/wash in the lake before Ed came through, still running, though sort of grimacing too...

He assumed this position for a while.  I can relate.

"That kicked my ass. When can we do this again?"

Monday, August 11, 2014

Running up hills!

Just small hills, but I've been enjoying letting my feet take me up and down hills with the occasional rock thrown in, lately.  Two weekends ago, Ed and I headed down to Connecticut for the People's Forest trail race, which I did last year and very much enjoyed.  It's a short race, in the trail racing world, just 7 miles with a modest 350m of elevation gain, and Ed figured it would be a good one to try out; I was psyched he wanted to come.  Last year I won, but so much is dependent on who shows up, and this year someone showed up who is faster.  I think I may have been closing the gap on the downhill, but then I took a wrong turn right near the end, stupidly, and lost about 3-4 minutes, as well as 4 places to guys I had worked darn hard to pass.  That was a bummer, but you gotta pay attention to the course in trail races, and when I revisited the location of the tricky junction in my cooldown, it was really quite obvious that I should have gone the other way.  What in the world tempted me to go left? Darnit!  At least that was just a 3-4min error; Ed and a group of maybe 6 other people made a wrong turn that gave them an extra 100m of climb and a solid 15 minutes of extra running! oops.  I believe that turn caused problems last year, too, so it's a bummer the race director didn't sign it slightly better this year.  Oh well, no harm done, and it was a lovely day for a run over rocks and hills with friendly people.  

Here's a photo from a run (over hills) with Ed down in the Blue Hills.  We're so lucky to have a park like that pretty much right in Boston!

Back to the Blue Hills for a long run with some juniors and some orienteers and some washed up old coaches, this time on a humid day. Hey Alex, do you want to go up the ski hill too? One guess as to what I said...

So last weekend I had been instructed not to sign up for any races, because it was family reunion time for Ed's family in Vermont.  That's a great place to hang out in the summer, and it's been so dry that the bugs aren't even a problem.  We had lots of fun, including a hike with some of the family that quickly turned into a 10 mile run over 700m of climb on the AT, no complaints here!  We are so lucky to have the Green Mountains and a 2000-mile trail right out the door there.

And then driving home, I *may* have gotten side tracked and stopped to run up Mt. Monadnock, having never climbed that one before.  It's a lovely little peak, with great views and lots of rock scrambling. So much fun! I was feeling so grateful for being me as I scrambled up that hill, that I can just pull the car over and do stuff like this, spontaneous joyous bounding up and down beautiful trails.  Love it.

We're racing Savoy Mountain trail race this weekend; I did that one last year and it certainly has its share of hills and rocks! Can't wait!

The cleaned-up selfie

The sweaty selfie. I like this one better.

Descent to Griffith Lake, lovely and runnable.

Looking east from the ascent back to Mad Tom Notch.  What a day for running!

Ed and his dad rebuilding an ancient jeep in the cabin in Vermont. Someday, it may even resemble a jeep again.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Transitions, of the minor variety

I've been back in the normal world for nearly two weeks now, and vacation and the World Champs already feel like a distant memory. I guess that's how it works, you all of a sudden get busy again upon return. I think I like playing pretend at the life of a professional athlete, filled with unlimited food and limited responsibilities, but that's not for me, if only for the glaring mismatch in desire and ability. Like every other master blaster out there I keep plugging away, while balancing the rest of life, racing for the love of competition and seeing improvements and beating our nemeses and escaping the parts of life that need the balancing.

The World Champs two weeks ago had two of the more successful orienteering races of my career. Still plenty of room for improvement, but I am coming away from 2014 WOC feeling proud of my performances and excited to take the steps to the next level. This is a far cry from how I felt after 2013 WOC, where I had two of the worst races of my career, and let the negativity spiral too far. Hopefully the positive feelings will only build now! I felt like my navigation took a jump last fall, of course with some lumps and bumps, and it was great to get the confirmation that it had indeed climbed a step. I'm not a professional athlete, and I am lucky to have as much time to train as I do, so no complaints. Do what you can with what you have. Getting over to Europe for the WREs at the end of May was money and time well spent, because for me race starts are the all-important magic bullet. I came into this WOC feeling more prepared than ever before; partly that was because the terrain felt so "normal", but partly it's that I did my homework.

Now I'm bringing some skiing back into my diet, coaching my juniors and enjoying living vicariously through them.  Seems like being a skier entails being sore all. the. time.  If I'm not sore from strength, I'm sore from rollerskiing; if I'm not sore from rollerskiing, I'm sore from tripping over myself because I was too sore to pick up my feet and running headlong into a stone wall... maybe someday I'll have rebuilt some of the strength I need to do this sport; right now I'm paying for taking two years off from any upper body strength due to that elbow tendinitis. It would be pretty cool if I could race fast at World Ski-O Champs, but that is off in the future in the blurry and scary unknown.  For now, one day at a time, cramming in what I can and appreciating what I have, tumbling toward a precipice of uncertainty.

Next stop: North American Orienteering Champs, in October!

Monday, July 14, 2014

World champs relay!

It's been three years since I ran a WOC relay. This is the highest honor I can think of, because this is the one race where the sport really becomes reliant on teams. Of course you're thinking of your teammates while running an individual race, but it takes good races from all three team members to have a good relay result, and that is what shows the depth and strength of a country's team. I was quite proud to have been selected to race for my country, but definitely a little nervous - we decided that I should run second, between Sam leading off and Ali anchoring, with the hope that Sam would have a strong opening like she has done in the big Scandinavian relays this spring, and that Ali would have good luck hunting, as she likes to do, and I wouldn't goof it up too badly in the middle. No problem.

The way an orienteering relay works is that all the teams start together, and all the runners not on the first leg are held in "quarantine", so that they cannot wander around the stadium and gather information about the race as it is going on, or watch the big screen to see snippets of GPS tracking and videos from the forest. The courses have some spreading mechanisms built in, so that you can't just have a big line of folks following each other from one control to the next; most common is to fork the legs, such that you have several common controls, and between those common controls there are three variations, similar in distance and climb, and each runner from each team will do one of those variations. But, you don't know which forking the other teams are on, so often runners go in three different directions from each common control. This works passably well, keeping the race together enough to have some really exciting head-to-head action, while spreading the runners enough that it's not just a cross country race.

So the gun went off, and Sam left the stadium in the meat of the pack, observed from quarantine. I continued with my warmup, planning to be back at the point where I could see the stadium in time to watch the leaders (and hopefully Sam) run through at the rough halfway point. I got back in time, and watched the leaders go through, and the chase pack, and the chasing chase pack, and some stragglers. But no Sam. Just before I started to freak out that she may have broken her leg, Sam came blasting down the hill and through the arena. Phew! Apparently she made a terrible mistake on the third control, and just could not find the thing, losing the entire pack, and nearly five minutes. Luckily, she had a truly fantastic second half of her race, flying back towards the front of the race like the seasoned pro that she is.

I was super psyched to see Sam as soon as I did for the change-over. You could tell she was running on fire, having closed the gap to the second chase pack and tagging me off in 18th place. Her energy transferred to me, and I left the arena with a smile on my face and fire in my gut. My plan for the race was to stay out of the red zone for the first two thirds; the key thing in relays is to find all the controls safely, not to get too flustered by the other runners. Up the hill to the first loop and I quickly felt the altitude, 5000 feet is enough to take your breath away before you notice, so I had to pull back a little to stay in the safety zone. 

 By the top of the hill I had caught Portugal, and Estonia had caught me. I thought maybe I could use Estonia to increase my speed and confidence, but she took off in the wrong direction and I had to verbally remind myself to trust myself. I spiked the control, and she appeared again as I was leaving it, so clearly doing my own thing had paid off. I filed that information into the front part of my brain - run your own race!

More climbing up to the third control, and now New Zealand had caught up to me, too. I could see Estonia, Poland, and Spain taking a lower route, and I knew they'd all started before me, so I was making up time. Small mistake in the circle, but then I found a little flow, really enjoying the orienteering in that area! I had some really good controls, on my own but occasionally seeing a flash of a bright uniform through the trees. I made another mistake at #6, for maybe 30 seconds, but then came in for the arena passage just behind Estonia and before Spain, in 15th place. Big climb coming up leaving the arena, and I knew I had to hang on to the focus now. Spain got ahead of me on the climb, felt like I was sucking in air from the other side of the Atlantic I was breathing so hard up that thing, and Estonia dropped me as well. Don't think about them, run your own race! The cheering up that arena passage was deafening, really cool to run through there.
I struggled a bit on the vague hillside above the arena, bobbling my controls and ultimately using some other girls to find my #9. I suspect there was a direct relationship between my wheezing and my inability to spike controls, but there was an open field run to a road coming up, so I kept the gas on and tried to keep up with France, managing to read ahead a little for the final loop. I could see Spain and Poland taking the lower route, and I was hoping that my higher route, involving some hard footing on the road, would end up faster; I gambled right. Spain and Poland arrived at the control at the same time as I did, and the three of us trailed France up the hill. Clearly Spain was a better climber, but I was able to hang on to Poland, and trusted myself to find my next forked control on my own. From there it was mostly downhill, and I double checked my route and then let gravity take over, finally feeling fast for the first time the whole race! Minor route change along the way when a herd of cows blocked my trail, but nothing I couldn't handle, and I punched the final control just behind Austria, who had caught up from behind, but ahead of Poland and Russia, which was pretty cool.

I tagged to Ali in 17th, right in the middle of that pack, and hoped she would be able to hunt down Spain and Germany, our main rivals in the country competition for start spots next year. I was proud of my run; more bobbles than I would have liked and definitely not enough oxygen, but I did my job, got all the controls, and kept us within striking distance. Ali started out strong, pulling us into 16th by the third radio control, and catching both Spain and Germany. Keeping up with the world champions who were anchoring Russia and Austria proved difficult, but there were others to catch, like New Zealand and Canada. Unfortunately, on the penultimate control she made a mistake, and couldn't immediately relocate, and Germany and Australia snuck by. Still finishing strong, our final place was 17th, which is a totally acceptable, totally average result. We had had higher expectations, but orienteering is hard, and mistakes happen. I think it says really good things about the strength of our women's team right now that an average result is on par with our best results from the past. In the end, the relay was a win on three fronts: We beat Canada, we didn't mispunch, and we earned enough country points to retain our two start spots for next year's forest races!

Don't trip don't trip don't trip don't trip...

Leading Poland and Russia in to the finish.  Very pleased that they stayed behind me.