Saturday, December 13, 2014

Early season skiing

The early-season skiing's been really good this year, at least for everywhere other than Boston. Weston didn't quite have their act together enough to blow a big enough snow pile to weather the rainstorm last week, so just didn't bother.  Well, three more weeks of dryland training is actually probably a good thing for CSU, since we have more hills when we're on foot than on our golf course. On weekends, though, we've been heading north, and it's been awesome!  Amazing how much better skiing is than rollerskiing.  You mean you can wiggle your way up a hill using finesse rather than brute strength? Crazy!



The weekend after Thanksgiving found us up at Craftsbury.  The skiing was great, and so was the bacon.



CSUers doing no-pole double-pole. It's as ridiculous as it looks.


My J2 ladies posing while out on a ski on one of the many sunny days of our mini-camp.  Such good skiing, on all the trails!


There was an impromptu race on Sunday morning. I went into it fueled with the breakfast pictured above. Because you really can't say no to the Craftsbury Outdoor Center's very own bacon (they could probably tell you the name of the pig it came from) and home made waffles with local yogurt and maple syrup... maybe we'll just blame this breakfast for my somewhat middling results in the race =).


The following weekend was up to Waterville Valley, where we were greeted with surprisingly good conditions, considering the mid-week weather.  We started out by skiing up Snows, which tops out at the top of a small ski run. Chair wasn't running today, but was a nice break.



So today I decided that I didn't want to go back to Waterville Valley if it was going to be icy, since they didn't get the snow dump like western New England, so I joined a car full of folks going to Prospect Mt, in southern VT.  That was definitely the right choice!  Conditions were absolutely superb, mid-winter powder on a firm base.  I was in heaven, and could have skied for ever.

We were also up in a cloud, which made for some surreal views.


My Madshus powder skis love the soft stuff. Classic skiing in good conditions like this probably my favorite thing to do. Like, in the world.  

Hi, me!



The view on the way up. Climb a few hundred feet, and welcome to the winter wonderland!

Now back to roller skiing until the Eastern Cup opener races next weekend.  I'm woefully unprepared to race, but hey, the skiing is going to be great at Rikert!




Saturday, November 29, 2014

Blue Hills Traverse

I won the Blue Hills Traverse last Sunday.  I won it last year, too, but this year was considerably more fun. Probably some combination of warmer weather, better course setting, and I was more rested coming into the race, but either way, it was a great day to be running through the woods! Not only was I the first woman, I was also third overall, which kind of just speaks to the lack of depth in the field, but, you gotta show up to win =).  

This year, Jeff Sager, the course setter, designed to "butterfly loops", which is a technique to spread out runners so that there is less blatant following.  Everyone runs the same distance, but does certain loops at different times, from a common control.  It was a neat way to spread the race, and I still saw a ton of people out there, without feeling like I was leading a train of followers from one control to the next.  


We started out on the eastern side of the park, ready to traverse our way over to the west and Judy's hot chicken soup.  It was a bit of a long trail run to begin, and some of the boys took off ahead of me.  I wasn't feeling super up to chasing them down this early, so just let them go, and settled into a loose pack with Giovanni, Katia, Ernst, and Will.  We were together until 2, which was where the first butterfly loops started, and it seemed that everybody went off in a different direction than me, so I figured I'd be on my own loop.  Off the trail towards 3, but then Will appeared as I punched, so evidently I wasn't totally alone. We took different routes to 4, and I got there a little ahead of him, but I was slow and sucking wind on the climb back up to 2, and he got ahead again. There were many more people in the vicinity of 2 when I got there this time, so I just focused on my own race, not wanting to get confused.

Ari appeared as I headed towards control 6, as Will disappeared in my rearview mirror, clearly faster on the trails than in terrain.  Ari was faster than me on the uphills, but I would close the gap on the downhills and when we went through the woods on anything *not* up, so we were together for most of that loop.  I was really enjoying the forest in that area, nice and open and not too rocky underfoot, it was really fun to run through!

Then back up to the common control, and it was uphill, so Ari dropped me.  I saw one of two stragglers just coming in, but nobody that I recognized from earlier in the race, so just put my head down and tried to coax some speed into my legs as I trundled off to 10, and the second map.  Approaching 10, I saw Ari again, evidently he'd made a bit of a mistake, and we were together down to the road for a long waddle towards the western part of the map.  When I got to the water stop, Jeff and Hillary were manning it, and they told me that I was in 4th. This was exciting, and I started to get visions of grandeur and of podiuming in the overall race; all I had to do was beat Ari!  Who was now well out of sight after the road run.



The western portion of this park has a much more up-to-date map, which is nice because you can rely on it a little better.  I kept seeing Ari as we'd take different routes to controls and arrive at the same time; his default seemed to be "climb ALL the hills!" while I tried to go as straight as possible while avoiding hills.  I didn't have much pop in my legs, but it felt good to carry on with a fast aerobic pace, and I was happy at that speed.  Unfortunately, leaving the common control for the butterfly on this map, I made a stupid rookie mistake, and Ernst and Giovanni and some guy I didn't know caught up.  Shoot! There goes 4th, 5th, and 6th places!  I pushed hard through the rest of that loop, closing down the distance to Ernst, who'd created a bit of a gap, but we never saw the other guy.  I ran down the hill with Ernst and Giovanni, and then up the other side was a bit of a climb on a trail, and it was definitely a mental game trying to keep myself running.  Would have been so much easier to just walk!  Just keep running, just keep running, just keep running...

Eventually we reached the top of the hill, and I was still with these guys. We hit some thicker underbrush, and I had to walk, but I wasn't losing too much time.  We'd just run into Tim and Katia, who were on their first butterfly loop, and the group of Tim, Katia, Giovanni, and Ernst were all drifting uphill from the little cairn, which was a nice solid point feature showing me exactly where I was. The map didn't look like I had to go uphill from there to spike 19, so I let them drift, pushing on along the contour, and though I bounced off the trail before punching the control, I had created a gap.  Quick! Escape before visual contact can be made!

I careened down the hill to 20, totally spiking the control, and I knew that now, with no more major climbs in my near future, I had this game in the bag, if I could just hold it together for the navigation.  At 21, I saw Ari again, and I suspected that this was still his first butterfly loop, but I wasn't entirely positive. He took off when we hit the road and the climb back to the common control, but I didn't have the legs to keep up. Well... there goes a place if I was wrong about the loop order.  I tried to keep the gas on through to the finish, but my oomph-o-meter was definitely keeping me from pushing to true race pace, so I suspect it looked like I was just sort of cruising in to the finish. But! This was good enough for third place!  Ethan and Ian had taken first and second miles ahead of me, but I had managed to outsmart or outrun everyone else!  I was pretty pumped about this fact, and I won a giant gingerbread man.  Score! Results.



Third place: me. First place: Ethan Childs. Second place: Ian Smith.

Ed finished strong for 12th place, and felt pretty good about his race. Yay!

Some other photos from past fun things that didn't make it to the blog - 

We had a reporter show up to the Troll Cup for the NYT; we'll see what he comes up with for a story on the local orienteering scene!

I rollerskied up a mountain with my juniors (Mt. Kearsarge, in NH).  It was a pretty chilly day, but we saw some great performances.  I can attest that if you don't rollerski all fall, and your first hard workout is a 35 minute continuous uphill race, you will be SORE the next few days.  





View from mt. Kearsarge. Love November in the NE... 

Friday, November 14, 2014

NEOC Troll cup


Last week was the New England Orienteering Club's resurrection of the Troll Cup, a meet with a name steeped in some sort of mostly-forgotten history unless you're among the right crowd.  We did a two-day chasing start race, meaning that the start times on the second day were dependent upon the results of the first day, and the first person across the line on Sunday was the overall winner.  I didn't race; sometimes you have to give back a little to your sports, so I was one of the course vetters, meaning I'd been out in the woods all summer and fall making sure that the courses were reasonable and fun.  Sometimes, in thick and gnarled terrain like this, the fun can be a reach, but the forest was thinner in November than in August, so people seemed to be enjoying themselves for the most part.  Ed was in charge of his usual awesome Ed-tech, bringing the race out of the forest and into the arena, and infusing as much coolness as the sport is willing to allow.  We were lucky with the weather - it was chilly, but dry and sunny, which was great for the runners.  The organizers, well, we bundled up in a lot of layers.

I was happy to see the event go off well, and we had a new meet director apprenticing with the experienced meet director, so I'm hoping that she gained all the confidence and experience necessary to host one of these on her own in the future - the idea was to make the meet something sustainable and relatively easy to host, and I think we succeeded in that.  Yay for the troll cup!
CSU teammates Gail and Izzy conquering the finish chute of doom, below:




I found Becky, prancing down the trail. I may have told her to prance, to which she responded, do I have to? 




The high-stakes competitions over, it's time for some fun low-key events as we kick off winter.  This weekend there's a rollerski race up Kearsarge mountain, provided we don't get snowed out, and next weekend is the Blue Hills Traverse!  I never have fun at this race, but I keep coming back... stupid me.  Maybe this year it'll go better.

And when your morning bike commute looks like this, you know winter is nearly here!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Love the Lakes meet

Last weekend was the final national-level orienteering event on my calendar for the fall, down in the middle of nowhere in the Hudson Valley, at the Mountain Lakes state park.  Hudson Valley Orienteers had a brand new map, and set courses through some truly spectacular terrain.  I love orienteering pretty much anywhere, but when the forests are wide open and firm underfoot, and you can run full tilt between the trees with no branches in your way, that's pretty much the best thing ever.  When I talk about sweet terrain, this is what I'm thinking about.  Compared to our scrubby North-Atlantic-Coast ecosystem vegetation we have in eastern MA, the Hudson Valley is a dream. Have I raved enough for you to get the impression that I really enjoyed orienteering in this terrain? Combined with beautiful October weather and nearly peak foliage, it was quite the weekend.


I didn't have super high hopes for my fitness coming into this event. I signed up at the last minute, almost on a whim, when my friend and teammate Kseniya, who set the courses on day 2, told me that I didn't want to miss the terrain.  Well, ok then, let's go orienteering this weekend!  I hadn't done any sort of quality training since North Americans, and with the start of a new job I've been working long hours and not really doing any training at all.  I'm not at all complaining, I wanted this job and understood that my available training time would be whittled to nothing, but I wasn't expecting that bike commuting would provide me the fitness I needed to run well on big hills, especially after the taper from NAOC had fully worn off.  

Ed and I drove over on Saturday morning, swooping through New Haven to collect Becky.  I was having some trouble shifting into race-mode, so settled upon some process goals of choosing good attackpoints and navigating safely.  This was a successful method to get me around the course, but I never felt like I fully kicked into gear, despite lots of heavy breathing on the uphills, and I wasn't surprised that Hannah Culberg, another US Team runner, got me by a minute.  Disappointed, yes, surprised, no.


As the evening wore on, despite having a good time with friends, I was getting more and more antsy about my orienteering. I NEEDED to be able to run better tomorrow! Where could I find those precious seconds? How much faster could I convince my body to go? Then I remembered that one doesn't convince a body to go faster, you just announce that you will and do it. Racing is supposed to hurt! Funny how two weeks of no intensity makes me soft in the head. So, I changed my process goal from "safe" to "aggressive". Embrace the pain, and push harder, run faster, keep my head up. In this sort of terrain you're punished for reading too much of the map; better to simplify and then look around to see what you can see, since the visibility is so good.

This worked. I had one of my best orienteering races yet, at least in terms of trying to run with more confidence and more aggression. There was the one small blip where I was reading ahead while cruising down a road, and missed my turn for a 1.5min mistake... and another small blip where I was running along a hillside one contour too low, thus missed the control by 30 seconds when I ran too far... but it was otherwise a very clean race, where I was fully in control, and attacking every leg with full oomph. THIS was the feeling I was looking for at the North American middle distance! THIS was the feeling I was trying to identify while racing in Italy last May! THIS is the feeling for which I race through the woods. Yes, my breathing was ragged and my legs were burning, but I was spiking controls and doing it at the highest speed I could possibly maintain. The pressure of being in second place, and really wanting that first place, I used that pressure the right way, and I think I hit another phase change in my development as an orienteering athlete. Wahoo!

Despite my two minutes of mistakes, I beat Hannah by 3 minutes on day 2, and we were miles ahead of the next runner in F-elite.  It felt good to win, but I was more excited about having found that feeling of flow, that I'd been missing in Ottawa. Maybe I'm not as fit or as fast as I want, but I know how to suffer, and I just proved to myself that I can navigate while in the pain cave, too.  It's like finding the keys to unlock a door you didn't know existed.  Look out, Scotland!

Results


Valerie entertained us by crawling around on top of her car to get her results equipment strapped down properly.  Ed is clearly learning from the best in this business.


Bonus pictures from Ross and Sam's wedding two weekends ago when we went for a hike in Savoy state forest with Zan and Jonas! Big rocks are cool.




Friday, October 24, 2014

North American Orienteering Championships

The North American Orienteering Championships (NAOC) is an event that happens every two years, alternating between Canada and the United States. Occasionally we get competitors from Barbados, but they've yet to host the NAOC =).  This year Ottawa Orienteering Club hosted the event, in the town of Arnprior, along the Madawasak River. There were four events: the middle distance, long distance, sprint, and sprint relay, held over three days.  This event has been the focus of Team USA since 2012, with the aim to win the Bjorn Kjellstrom cup by beating Canada.  

Ed and I drove up from Rochester, after the US Champs and a whirlwind week spent visiting friends and family.  Thankfully it was a taper week, so I didn't have to fit training in there too, and by Thursday or Friday I was finally feeling like I had recovered from the head cold that had been plaguing me during the US Champs.  I didn't feel like I'd done a fantastic job preparing for North Americans in terms of map study, but physically I felt ready, and emotionally I felt confident.  The weather was gorgeous, and the Ottawa Orienteering Club put on a fantastic event, really raising the bar in terms of North American events closer to what felt like a true European event atmosphere.  Very good vibes, from within the team and among all of our friends in the orienteering community.  

Middle Distance
The first race was the middle distance, and after my disastrous two controls last weekend I was looking forward to redemption.  My goal was to keep the effort under wraps, and really focus on the navigation, as I have orienteered in this area before and definitely found it challenging.  The terrain has little relief, with many small undulating hills and not much to catch you if you mess up and lose contact with the map.  This, paired with all the leaves still on the trees in brilliant colors, meant that visibility was low and the navigation was tricky.  I started out on the wrong foot, unfortunately, when I made nearly two minutes of error on the way to the first control, arriving at the same time as Sam Saeger, who had started 2min behind me.  Damn, that didn't take long.  I did a quick attitude readjustment, and determined to keep up with Sam as long as I could keep thinking straight.  Things went great for the next five controls, and it was totally enlightening to take an orienteering lesson from Sam - she is so confident! So controlled! 

Unfortunately, as we neared control 6, I started to notice that I was getting a little too oxygen-deprived, and determined that I would stop for 5 seconds at the control to let Sam go and run my own race. This would have been a good plan, except that I got to the control I saw Hannah, and I didn't want her to get a free ride from Sam without me!  So, against better judgement, I kept going at a pace that was just a smidge too fast, and within a minute or so, I'd lost contact with the map and wasn't really sure where I was. The second mistake was that I kept going, hoping that soon things would start making sense again, rather than to stop, look around, and then relocate on something big. Oh, hindsight, how easy you make everything look!  In my defense, this was a very tricky area, that we all agree is a bit of a Bermuda triangle of navigation, and in the vicinity of control 7 there were probably upwards of 10 women wandering around with no idea where we were. Embarrassing. Eventually I relocated successfully, after three botched attempts, and after 13 minutes on what should have been a 5 minute leg, I punched the control. Sigh. That wasn't part of the plan, but time to put that behind me and get on with racing!

I recovered well, keeping my head in the game, and had some really good legs after that, re-finding the quick pace I'd had while running with Sam and spiking controls with full confidence. If not for an eight-minute error, that was a really excellent race, and I still ended up 4th US, 6th North American, and 8th overall (results, map).  Time to channel that feeling of confidence and control for tomorrow.

Long Distance
The day dawned chilly and clear, and after a short morning jog I knew my legs had shown up to do a good job. Alas, the flat terrain with difficult navigation meant that the course wasn't much of a physical challenge, which is often what I rely on in long distance races to get an edge over my competitors.  My plan for the day was to be even more cautious than the day before; don't move from a control until I have a plan.  This went well for the first control, but then I sort of botched following my plan while coming toward #2, and I spent a while going very slowly trying to match up where I was with the map. After eventually finding 2, things didn't get any better, and I blew a minute on 3, and nearly 10 minutes on 4. I continually tried to get my head screwed on straight, but kept failing, with the worst mistake coming in the arena at the spectator control.  I was pretty upset with myself at this point, and considered dropping out just because I was so disgusted with my orienteering. The photo to the left of Ed is from Adrian Zissos, and a great representation of how I viewed the terrain - thick, impossible to navigate through, and with occasional beaver dams in the way.

But, I'm not an athlete who drops out of races, so I took a deep breath, and attacked the second half of the course with full gusto and focus. This went well, and I had a very good second half of my race, but it was too little, too late.  I ended up 11th, which was certainly an improvement from the 32nd place I'd been in after the spectator control debacle.  Results. Not how I'd envisioned my long distance race to go, but time to move on, I've got two sprints to run tomorrow. Map 1, map 2.

Sprint race
Monday rolled around and I expected to be tired, but when you spend so much time lost turns out your legs are still pretty fresh. Woo! The sprint race was an urban sprint, and the organizers had worked with the town to get many streets closed off, so we could run on empty streets. What a treat! I had a solid run, staying within myself enough to not blow it, though I nearly did when I brainfarted after reading ahead on the way to 6 - I lost nearly 40s there, and relinquished my lead on the race. I clawed my way back up to 3rd place by the end, through a tricky little control-pick-y area by the finish with lots of spectators.  That was a very fun sprint, much more interesting than I'd expected, and taking the bronze medal in the North American Champs was icing on the cake. Yay! (Results, map)

Sprint Relay
Shortly after the sprint finished, it was time for the sprint relay. The set-up for this race is that it's a four-person relay, consisting of two men and two women, and it's a mass start race. Each leg was somewhere between 2-3km, with winning times between 11-20 minutes.  When I give distances of orienteering races, it's the straight-line distance, and you often run a good bit further.  

I was running first leg, on team 1 for the US.  This was very exciting, because it's a huge honor to me to be named to the top relay.  The sprint relay went through a park called Gillies Grove as well as the typical grassland and urban terrain, but the course setter made a very interesting course with good forking, so I kept seeing other people. Eventually it became clear that myself and Emma Waddington, a top Canadian junior, were running clear of the pack, and we came through the spectator loop with a good lead.  I managed to put six seconds on her through the final loop, tagging off to Eric Bone in first!  

Eric did a good job, against some very good Canadian sprinters, keeping us within 10 seconds of the lead team, and then tagged off to Ross Smith. Ross had another good run, but it was hard to keep up with world-class Will from Canada, and we had a minute deficit when Ross tagged to Samantha Saeger for the final leg. Sam had her work cut out for her, but performed like that athlete she is and blasted past the Canadian teams to secure us the win with a comfortable margin. So exciting!  Our second team, anchored by Alison Campbell, also had a strong finish, giving us first and second place. Go Team!

It felt very good to end the weekend on a high point, especially after two frustrating forest races. This was the last big hurrah before winter training starts, so I was psyched to meet some of my season goals.  There were such good vibes in the arena during and after the relay, there was really nowhere else I'd want to be. I can't wait til 2016!


Running with Sam to the finish after her stellar anchor run!



Group hug =)

Team USA won the BK cup, defeating Canada, but we're ready for the counter-attack in two years.  Friendly rivalries are definitely fun.

Caught in the moment, wrapping up a great weekend.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

US Orienteering Nationals

Last weekend, the Rochester Orienteering Club hosted nationals for orienteering, with a sprint at Genessee Valley Park, and a long and a middle distance race down at Letchworth.  This was great, because it not only let me compete on my old stomping grounds, but also let me see my parents and let them come spectate the races.  Even with all the technological advances, the spectating is pretty poor at orienteering races, but hey, we're trying.  
Sprint Race
The first race was the sprint, on Friday.  I had just started getting used to the feeling of a body all full of energy from a proper taper, but that morning something didn't quite feel right, with a high heart rate and sluggish feelings in my legs.  I decided to try and ignore the physical side of the race, and just run clean, spiking all the controls and keeping my head up and scanning the terrain.  This worked well, so even when I didn't have the top gear I was hoping for, I navigated very well in the easy parkland terrain, and I was fast enough to take the win. My first ever national title in orienteering!  (ski-o notwithstanding).  This was cool. I was psyched.  Unfortunately, by that evening the weird feelings I'd noticed had developed into a full-blown head cold, sapping all that extra energy that I should have had available from my taper. Not fair!


Hehe, psyched.  I'm pretty sure this photo is just after Alison finished, and I knew I was the champ.

I was anxious, trying to fall asleep on Friday night.  I know you're not supposed to race with a cold, because your body is already trying really hard to fight off the virus, it's not very nice to pile on more stress from a hard race in potentially cold and rainy conditions.  I decided that if I woke up and my morning heart rate was below 60, I would race, and this gave me the peace of mind to finally fall asleep.  Morning heart rates tend to be decent indicators of overall exhaustion, so I didn't just pull that decision rule from you-know-where.  

Long Distance
I woke up with my resting heart rate down at 50 bpm, but a super sore throat.  Yuck.  This changed my approach to the race, since I knew that no matter what, I'd be setting myself back in terms of recovery, but I had decided that I was "allowed" to race, so may as well make the best of it.  By the time I'd finished my coffee and Kseniya and her mom had driven us down to Letchworth, I was thinking I'd probably survive the course.  My git-up-and-go definitely got-up-and-went last night without me, but again, I decided to ignore the physical side, and just try to navigate cleanly.  I wasn't quite as successful as I'd been in the sprint, leaving four minutes or more out on the course in errors, but it was good enough, again.  I caught up to Alison, one of my US Team teammates, at control 5 from three minutes back, and despite two ill-fated attempts to drop her, we were together for nearly the rest of the course. I was a little distracted by this, but it was still a lovely day to be running through the woods, and I really enjoyed myself.  In the end I was fastest again, by seven minutes! Body was definitely a bit worse for the wear, but I had managed to keep myself reined in enough to not do *too* much damage.



Middle Distance
One more race to go, the middle distance, and this race has been my Achilles heel the past few years. It's tough, it's technical, it's short, so there's no time to make up for your big errors.  I wanted to do two things going in to the champs - run a clean race by focusing on the process, and bring a little more rawr to the party and race with some aggression.  I really felt like poo when I woke up, stuffed up like a cannoli and coughing, but the resting heart rate was just below 60 (59) so that meant go time.  I did a slow warm up to try and convince my body that it wanted to race today, this is going to be fun!  oof.

I started well, spiking the first two controls, but then I made a rookie error and lost 4 minutes on the way to number 3. Came up for air, found #4, and then I was drowning again searching for 5 with no idea where I was or where I should be or what the heck I was doing. When I finally came back up and found that control, I was pretty pissed at myself.  I knew I'd probably just lost the race, and both of those errors were unacceptable in how they happened.  Well, errors are part of the fine-scale navigation in orienteering, time to put them behind me and get on with the rest of the race, so I did that, and pretty well too, winning most of the final 12 splits.  I had clawed my way back up to third place, fueled by anger and frustration and thankfully channeling it the right way, but naturally I was disappointed with those two controls in the beginning.  That said, it felt really good to run with such aggression, and despite the huge blowup, I feel best about this race.  Next weekend, I'll be more disciplined in my methods, while maintaining the feistiness, and that'll be a good combo!



Ed on his way out to the final loop in the Middle.

Leaving the spectator control in the Middle.

In to the finish, wishing I had a bit more lung capacity at my disposal!

After the Middle Distance finish, with US Champ Kseniya!

CSU medal winners from the Long Distance (missing Peter and Gail, who both won some gold medals in their age classes as well).  Go CSU! 

In the end, it was a great weekend. I've never won a national title in summer orienteering before, so I'm really pumped to have just won two of the races and taken bronze in the third!  It was a lot of fun to have some competition in the women's field, even though we were missing Ali, and the Rochester Orienteering Club put on a really nice weekend of racing.  Best of all, I was able to take two national titles on home turf, with my parents there to cheer me on.  That was pretty cool.  

Now, I'm gonna kick this cold and bring my A-game to Canada for the North American Champs!