Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Blue Hills Traverse

The third race of the unofficial orienteering triple crown, the Blue Hills Traverse is traditionally the last Sunday before Thanksgiving. I was in a position to win the overall triple crown, given my victories in the Billygoat and the Highlander, if I could just hold it together for this final race. The Billygoat had been a hard win, barely eked out ahead of my US Teammate Hannah, but the Highlander was more of a survival game, with Kseniya setting the course (and thus not running it) and Hannah out with a broken wrist. Right now, we are the three US Team members in the northeast, and it's been great to challenge each other at races. For the Traverse, Hannah didn't make the trip, but for the first time I would be battling Kseniya in a long race.

The weather cooperated with my desires on Sunday morning, chilly but not truly cold, somewhere in the 40s, with no rain yet. I noticed during my warmup that I had a spring in my step, and adjusted my mantra into an aggressive one, out to win it or collapse trying, and take some scalps among the men. I'd had a good month of training, finally, and was feeling confident and ready.

First map: click for full map

We took off speedily, and I quickly found a comfortably hard pace, behind the speedier-starting boys. The first map consisted of a lot of trail running, but luckily that wasn't aggravating any niggling injuries that I've been trying to kick. I spent most of the first four controls chasing Bo Nielson, a very fit master runner who I've battled with before. Knowing that I probably had the advantage of trail speed over Kseniya, I was pushing this part of the race very hard, wanting to put as much distance as possible between the two of us on the non-technical controls. She is a master in the forest, so I knew she'd be closing that gap as soon as we had to actually navigate.

The race had been pretty flat for the first four controls, but leaving #4 things angled upwards. I continued to make a conscious effort to go faster, and finally passed Bo, and started to catch glimpses of a CSU jersey ahead - Ari! I caught him and 3-4 other guys that I didn't know at control #5, but then we had some more fast trail running, and they pulled ahead. I was starting to notice the pace, and the fact that I haven't done any hard straight running in a while. My shoulders were cramping from the effort of breathing, and my hamstrings were starting to protest the speedy strides. Uh oh.

Second map: click for full map

I finished the second map trailing behind a pack of 5-6 guys, that included Ari and Ian, from CSU. Naturally, I wanted to beat them all, but there's desire and then there's ability. I slowed down a bit on the two butterfly loops out of the drinks control, in part because I'd nearly choked to death on some gatorade - air in one tube, liquid in the other, dummy, you've been doing this your whole life! Luckily, my brain took back over, and in a good mind-over-matter moment, I wound back up to race pace, back into the aggressive mindset. I'd seen Jordan, the men's leader, just one butterfly loop ahead of me, so I realized that this pack of Ari and the other two guys were probably the chase pack. As I was finishing my second loop, I saw Kseniya starting what I hoped was her first loop, which spurred me on. I didn't have much buffer, but it was enough for now.
Meeting with Kseniya while choking on gatorade

Unfortunately, I lost two of those buffer minutes on the way to 17 - I'd pulled to the front of the chase pack, but momentarily lost focus and lost contact with the map, leading to much confusion and wandering about in a low-visibility area. I think this is where Neil Martin got ahead of us, as three others of us wandered. Mad at myself for that lapse, I pulled it back together, only to lose another 45 seconds at 19. What is this, it's almost like I'm tired and making mistakes! Even with that mistake, I'd managed to pull away from two of the guys in the pack, because of more woods-running (yay!), and I caught back up to Ari at 21. He was walking, having just twisted his ankle badly. It was a reminder to me to keep moving carefully - we were traversing the side of a mountain covered in loose pointy rocks under loose leaves - I did not want to injure myself now, so close to the finish. I finished traversing the slope, and popped out at the bottom of the ski slope, in the clear, as far as I could tell, from any other runners. Sweet. Two more controls, and I kept the gas on, worried about a late-race charge from one of the men behind me, and then I was at the finish, in third place!

Kseniya finished close behind, having matched or beaten nearly all my forest splits. It was a good thing I'd pushed the trails as much as I had, and I was lucky we'd had so much trail running. I was really pleased to have finished a long race feeling strong and aggressive the whole way through. And I won a giant gingerbread cookie!

This marks the second year I've swept the orienteering triple crown. These long races are a blast!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Fruitlands Cup of CX

Photo credit: Geoff Martin

Saturday mornings, my juniors can be found rollerskiing around the back roads of some towns with plenty of hills and low traffic. One of our loops goes past the Fruitlands museum, which has a lovely view, even though they just repaved with that terrible tar and gravel stuff. Anyway, I was enjoying a leisurely cup of coffee on Saturday morning, getting ready to head out to Littleton, when I saw on social media a photo from a friend of mine of a frosty field with miles of yellow tape, and a caption saying something about a cyclocross race at Fruitlands. Wait, today? Maybe we can ski past and watch the race!

Fast-forward five minutes and I'm digging through piles of spandex trying to find some race kit. Of COURSE it's a good idea to do a race in a sport I haven't done for five years after doing a two-hour rollerski! I've never been that good at figuring out which are the dumb ideas and which are the awesome ideas.

Fast forward a few hours, and I'm staged in the back row of the cat. 4 women's field, having forked over enough cash for a late fee, a one-day license, and a number. I'm behind someone with flat pedals, next to someone on a hybrid, and everyone appears to have pinned their numbers through the holes. I love that this category exists, and that there are newbies coming out and trying these races just to see what it's like. I made a pact with myself to not be an asshole as I try to pass people. The last thing I want to do is ruin someone else's day, when they should be falling in love with a new sport.

One my single loop touring the course, I discovered that the skills came back intuitively, still second nature. I suppose that's good, considering it's not THAT hard to deal with the obstacles in a 'cross race. The pedaling power, on the other hand, was never my forte when I actually trained for this sport, and doesn't appear to have magically come back. It started to dawn on me how painful this race might be.

Definitely better off the bike than on. 

Off we go, about a minute behind the open race. Being in the last row means it's a passing game, and I do my best to do this nicely, until I find myself among some women who've clearly pedaled a bicycle before. I had some silly plan that I'd pace myself, considering my complete lack of any bike-fitness, but then I realized that was a dumb idea, because this is a 'cross race! You can't pace yourself! Much wheezing and leg-burning followed, and good god, who put that hill in my way? I started to pray that the elite women would lap me and shorten my misery by a lap, but that wasn't to be.

I was going back and forth with someone whose kids were cheering for her (go mama go!), and someone named Karen, and they were both much stronger than me on the false flat power sections. I was much stronger in the technical bits, so there was quite a bit of yo-yoing going on. Quite a bit of mental yo-yoing as well - on the uphills, oh god, so much pain, I can't keep pedaling. On the turns, downhills, and dismounts - whee, this is fun!! Then we'd hit a power section again and oh god, my legs! my legs! they're falling off! I finally mustered the strength to ride one of the punchy little climbs before the finish, and managed to keep the gap, landing in 6th place.

The dangerous thing is that we humans are terrible at remembering physical pain, so all that's left is a memory of how much fun it is to be breathing hard and struggling to beat your competitor, just guts and glory and mayhem. Must not get sucked back down into this cycling rabbit hole...

I've been busy - this also happened. One of those days where putting one foot in front of the other is so good for your soul. 

This happened on Sunday. Ed and I put on a local/regional meet at Lynn Woods, and had relatively happy competitors, except when they were lost. Note to self: don't make the courses so devilishly hard next time. 

These little girls went out on a course, and came sprinting in to try and win the last split. I was tickled to watch them animatedly comparing splits. Gotta start 'em young!

We went for a walk, and I treed an Ed-monster!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Hudson Highlander

The Hudson Highlander is a fantastic race. 26.2km of orienteering, in a beautiful park with fantastic terrain that still feels like wilderness, on a beautiful day. Harriman state park is rugged, raw, physical, and utterly gorgeous. I love it. I think Harriman was where I first really got bitten with the competitive orienteering bug, back in 2009 when I was invited to join a US Team camp, and Thierry Gueorgieu and some of his French Team buddies were along for the vacation. I watched them float through the forest, and I wanted to be able to do that, too.

A kilometer in the forest has about the same metabolic costs as a mile on the trail, so for a 26km orienteering race, you're pretty much facing a trail marathon. Cool, that sounds like fun on completely inadequate training, let's do it! The race is a mass start, which means it will become immediately apparent how much you have or haven't been training, and there are some special segments - a trail run, where you just follow streamers, and a King of the Mountain leg, which, surprisingly, goes to the top of a mountain. These primes get special prizes, and even though the women's field wasn't super deep this year, with one of my competitors setting the course and another walking the Lowlander with a broken wrist, I wanted to win those primes as much as I wanted the overall! And of course, I wouldn't mind taking some scalps from the men's side. Too competitive for my own good, they say...

I knew I didn't have any extra matches to burn, so the name of the game today was energy efficiency. No thrashing about trying to brute force it, because I'm just not strong enough for that right now. But this sort of distance with this low control density meant I got lots of the part I love best in orienteering - running through the woods!

King of the Mountain turned out to be the first leg. Oof! This meant I only had to go fast enough to stay ahead of the other women, so I tried to keep the effort under wraps, and managed to get to the top first, but well behind a bunch of the men I'd like to beat. My legs were already exploding, not a good sign. This led to a very slow execution to #2, with lots and lots of walking. By then, I'd fallen into a group with two guys I've run with before, and we were loosely together until I dropped them by taking a better route to 5.

At #5, I picked up two West Point cadets, who were standing around looking a little lost. The Highlander is in the backyard for these guys, so there's always a good turnout, but they're definitely stronger physically than navigationally, so tend to do a bunch of following. That's ok, I was planning to take it easy for the remainder of this first loop of orienteering, and then dump all my energy on the trail run, which looked to be awesome technical singletrack along the Appalachian Trail. I led the cadets smoothly through controls 6-7-8-9, and then it was time for the trail run!

I like to hunt when I race, and it was a good day of hunting, as I swallowed up runner after runner, stretching out on the runnable parts and tumbling down the steep and rocky descents. Unfortunately I could tell that my already-sore butt and hamstrings were going to pay for this turn of speed, possibly dearly. What matches I'd had, I burned on the run. Worth it.

I finished up the trail run in good spirits, now in 16th place overall, but fully aware of how much energy I'd just used. Two guys I'd run past caught up to me after we left the water stop, and I was doing much more walking than on the previous map. Maybe I should call it slogging. Rockhouse Mountain has a lot of very high blueberry bushes, mid-thigh on me, and this stuff is quite physical to move through. Occasionally I'd get lucky and find a game trail that went roughly in the right direction, but mostly it was just pushing through the blueberry, hoping that my foot wouldn't catch on anything and cause a full-on hamstring cramp.

On the way to 16 there were a few kilometers on a trail, and I discovered I could still run pretty good if I didn't have to pick up my feet, so I dropped Kevin and the cadet. Then it started to snow, which was pretty cool, and upped my spirits enough that I could add some oopmh to my step coming into the final map exchange, where I caught a college kid who should be faster than that, and crammed some cookies in my mouth, hoping to hold off the hamstring cramps for the last 5-6km loop.

Lots of trail running on this map, though even that was getting pretty difficult. I really enjoyed the little loop at the southern end of that map, lovely forest and I was still navigating very nicely. I managed to pass two more cadets on this loop without them seeing me, and I managed to up the pace to hold my place to the finish. Not my fastest Highlander ever, but it was a really enjoyable race, and I was psyched to end up 11th overall. Turns out you can mostly replace training with toughness, who knew?

Super duper thanks to HVO for setting up such a nice race. The course was great, and I appreciated all the work that goes into setting up a long adventure-style race like this.

Maps from legs 1-2 and leg 3. Haven't uploaded leg 4 yet.

Award for KOM leg was a photo from that control. Fitting prize, considering I didn't spend as much time admiring the view as I may have liked.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Seattle Adventure Running Tournament

Patrick, one of the thinkers/acters/doers in the orienteering community out in Seattle, was hosting a race tournament made up of elimination heats of orienteering sprints. This sounded awesome, so I signed up. Unfortunately, I have since been nursing an overuse injury that just won't go away, so I found myself facing six races over two days from less than 10 miles a week of training. What could possibly go wrong?

The format was elimination heats: everyone started with a time trial, to rank the entire field of 80 runners. Then we were divided into 16 heats of 5, and the top two from each heat moved up, the bottom two moved down, and the middle runner from each heat battled the middle running from the neighboring heat, with the winner moving up and loser moving down. So, you end up with a constantly moving bracket of runners, and ultimately get a single winner. No allowances were made for oldness or femaleness, everyone was in a single race. Of course, this meant that there were many unofficial sub-races going on all weekend!

The time trial went well, and I landed in 19th place. I was not feeling particularly fit or fast, but didn't feel like the first effort had taken too much out of my legs. A good start! We had about two hours before the next race, in a wooded park maybe 10 minutes away from the first spot. In this one, I was ranked #2 in my heat, behind Ali. I took the race at a very controlled pace, since all I had to do was finish in second, and this proved to be well within my ability. 

Team Giggles heading out for heat #2.

The third race was about a half hour away, at North Seattle College. This was a cool area, with a three-layer campus, always difficult to both map and understand on an orienteering map. I knew that this third race needed to be fast - I was up against Ali from my previous heat, and Will and Cameron, winners from our neighboring heat. I seriously doubted that I could beat Ali or Will, but the name of the game would be to make sure I was ahead of Cameron, and running fast enough to beat out the third-place runner from the neighboring heat. As expected, the heat started fast, but I felt comfortable and in control of my navigation, my legs having finally awoken to the fact that we're racing. Alas, I made a bad mistake on the 2nd control in the multi-level area, running a level too high because I didn't realize that we weren't using the third level, only the first two. D'oh! Combined with another 40-second error taking a very bad route to control 7, and I knew I was in trouble. I pushed the remainder of the course as hard as I could, but it wasn't enough. Third in my head, and 22nd overall, but about 20 seconds too slow compared to Nikolay, third place runner in the neighboring heat. Out! Now the best I could do was somewhere from 20th - 40th place. 

Well, nothing to do but gather myself and run well in the fourth and final race of the day. At this point, I was starting to notice that I really hadn't done any training of note in the last two months, but thankfully energy was still relatively high, even if my legs were getting sore from all the high-speed running. Through a twist of fate, I was in a heat with Ed, so my sub-race was definitely to beat him. Maybe I was too cocky, but a heat that should have been mine to win went downhill fast, when I lost two minutes trying and failing to figure out levels on the way to the 2nd control. This multi-level orienteering is so different from anything I've ever trained or raced in before, that I couldn't get my mind to accept that the tunnel symbol actually meant building on the first level. I clawed my way back through most of the field, but it wasn't enough. I could see Ed around the 19th control, but unfortunately he knew he was ahead, and it turns out a man will suffer like he hasn't suffered in YEARS to stay ahead of his lady in a race. Cameron (from the previous heat) was just ahead of Ed, so I was racing for 3rd. I could only close the gap to about 10 seconds before the race ended. D'oh! Now relegated to 30-40th place.

The final two races were at Shoreview Community College, on Sunday. I woke feeling rested, and despite being a little (a lot?) grumpy about making such huge mistakes the day before, I determined all I could do was move on, and perform as best as possible in these last two races. I crushed the first race, despite learning first-hand that you really can't take a shortcut through dense vegetation in Seattle - apparently those Himalayan blackberries are for real. Lost a minute tangled in vines, but thankfully emerged from the other side without losing too much blood. 

The final race was forked, which meant we didn't all have the same order of controls, but we all went to them all eventually. It was a lot of fun, and I had a great battle withe Celia, a New Zealand runner who is living in Seattle for now. I found a little more in my legs to give on the finish chute of death, and held her off for the heat win, and 13th overall, but... 31st in the tournament.

While this was definitely not my best showing at an orienteering race, it was an immensely fun format, and a fabulous weekend. I had been needing a bit of a kick to get going with some training again, and getting my butt kicked was exactly what the doctor ordered. Doing that much running was not great for my injury, but, the fun outweighed any pain.

We spent Sunday evening exploring Seattle a bit, before it was back home on a red-eye. Totally worth the trip, and hopefully we can recreate that environment at Boston Sprint Camp next June!

Thursday, September 24, 2015


It had been 44 days without looking at a map when I showed up to the Great Brook Farm local meet last weekend. That's almost long enough to forget what I'm doing, but luckily the conscious ability was still there, so if I stayed focused, I could find the controls in a reasonably efficient manner. That long a break is telling. I was pretty battered - mentally, physically, emotionally - after the World Champs. It took two or three weeks for the sickness to fade, and while I found it easy to pick up the habits of daily exercise, the motivation was gone. 

I made a conscious decision to stay in that state. I don't have any important races on the horizon, and clearly my mind and body need a break from the intensity. Sure, I have smaller races I'd signed up for in some fit of motivation, but nothing worth altering the rhythm of my daily life. It's a little like when you hit cruise control on the highway - you're still getting to your destination, but all the worry about speeding is negated, because hopefully you hit cruise control at a reasonable speed. Just don't hit any puddles. It's a nice change of pace.

So, the emphasis has been on fun. Waking up, and wondering, what do I want to do today? Reflecting, what made me happy yesterday? Those answers often involves using my two feet to climb up something where I can see the world.

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to head to Lake Placid for some coaching development seminars, learning about different coaching strategies and new ideas that are filtering down and across and up. More importantly, the weekend started and ended with a quick jaunt up an accessible high peak - Cascade on the way there, and Hurricane on the way back. Can't complain about that life!

Our future as coaches... even in a sport like nordic skiing.

Extreme tubing - think twice when someone first hands you a beer, then hands you a waiver...

My spirit animal showing how it's done in ski racing.

Jogged up Hurricane Mt with Rob, on a day with good views.

This guy had a birthday, so naturally we drank good beer and ate good food. Ed has been traveling a bunch, for work mostly, and I've been adjusting to living alone by falling asleep around 9pm, or staying up way too late watching stupid romantic comedies. Neither are fantastic coping strategies, but better than some alternatives I can think of!

Tomorrow, I head out to Seattle for the weekend. I signed up for the Seattle Adventure Running Tournament (SART) in a fit of motivation some time last spring, and now it's time to pay the price, doing six sprint races over two days. Here's hoping a little experience and a lot of base will make up for my lack of sharp-end fitness and rusty navigation skills!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Kern Camp

Two of CSU's coaches, Doro and Gunther Kern, are actually beach bums in disguise. The past few years, they've run a ski camp down on Cape Cod, with a couple goals in mind - have fun, relax, learn how to make fitness happen anywhere, and build some much-needed agility into our endurance-based training program. I've never had the opportunity to go to that camp, but this year, we put it on labor day, which meant I could come! And after a weekend with a fabulous group of skiers and an even better group of coaches, I don't think I'll ever miss this camp again. It was pretty sweet, and a nice way to recover from the accident earlier in the week, at least if you think endless activity in the sun is a good way to recover!

Day 1 started with a run on some beautiful wooded trails through the sand dunes, down to the beach for some yoga. Amazing how the beach was completely empty at 8am, but totally crowded by 10. Immediately post-yoga, we all sprinted for the waves, just SO EXCITED to go play. That energy stayed high all weekend.

The Kerns cooked for thirty people every morning and every night like it was no big deal. I tried to help, but mostly I think I just got in the way. Food was good, but thank god for Costco, with that many hungry skiers!

Pretty much all day Saturday was spent at the beach. First Doro organized a relay, with four teams of five athletes each, involving all sorts of silly activities were were actually really hard. Sprinting up and down from the water to fill a bucket with a dixie cup, potato sack races, paddling on a surfboard, swimming, wheelbarrow races, and running while balancing a pinecone in a spoon (drop it and you owe 5 pushups) - the relays were pretty exhausting. As soon as the relays were done, the volleyball net went up, and there went the next few hours. 

Naturally, the coaches had a relay when the kids were done. I was Doro's partner, and we were doing great up til the swimming part. I suck at swimming, and turns out swallowing seawater doesn't help you go fast. There may have been some roughhousing, and I may have dropped the pinecone because I was trying to tackle Gunther at the same time.

Whoops. Lots of pushups on the beach.

I'll coach with this crew any day. You can tell who spends every weekend at the beach, and who works a desk job.

After the beach, we geared up for an evening rollerski, straight from the campground. It ended in a parking lot for a sweet agility course, which naturally turned into another relay race.

Sunday, we had an early roll on the schedule, up in the Province sand dunes. There was this awesome bike path that rolled and twisted just like a ski trail, and the kids had an awesome time up there. Thanks to a little snafu involving my keys locked in the car, I ended up on Sue's bike to ride with the kids. What a beautiful area up there, I totally get why it was worth shuttling all the athletes to ski those dunes.

Riding with some speedy boys.

The food was awesome. Though everything tastes good when you spend all day outside. 

Naturally after the roll, and a very brief siesta, it was back to the beach, where we got a good few hours of free time (and great surfing!), before we gathered for a little beach core and more relays. Strength on the beach sure beats flopping around in Jody's backyard getting eaten by mosquitoes.

We got a beach fire permit for Sunday night, so that activity took up most of the evening, with Doro making us "knuppelkuchen", which is essentially cake on a stick, that you roast in the embers and fill with applesauce. Good stuff. 

The final day we did an early roll from the campsite, and then back to the beach for a few more hours of volleyball, surfing, and boogeyboarding, before it was time to shuttle kids to the ferry and have others get picked up. I may have sent three kids onto a bus going in the wrong direction, but they were smart enough to figure it out, and everyone ended up getting home successfully.

Friday, September 4, 2015

It's not about the bike

I got into an accident the other day. Riding my bike, a car cut me off, and with no time to react I went into her windshield and rolled over the hood. Luckily for me I'm fine, a little bruised and a little pissed off, but things could have been so much worse. 

I filed a police report and the driver is 100% culpable and I'm working out the details of getting her insurance to buy me a new bicycle, but the thing that driving are nuts is people's reactions. The general sense of "you're brave to be riding in this city", because everyone just assumes that the roads belong to cars. That because I was on a bicycle, I was "asking for it". I'm a driver too. I drive a car far more miles than I'll ever ride a bicycle. It's not like this is some black and white issue, with all cyclists raving anti-car lunatics, and all drivers aggressive massholes out to kill the cyclists. Nobody wants to get in an accident. But sometimes, shit happens, and hopefully you'll end up on top, no matter what form of transportation you're using. It's my choice to ride a bike to work, because that's faster, easier, cheaper, and is good for the environment, my physical health, and my emotional state. I ride according to the law, I wear a helmet and appropriate reflective clothing and lights, I ride defensively and I actively look out for idiots. That wasn't enough. 

This accident - it had nothing to do with the fact that I was on a bicycle. Had I been in my car, my airbags would have gone off. I understand that those airbags would have made me less bruised than I am right now, but that's irrelevant. It should NOT be "brave" to ride in Boston. It's my right. 

So as soon as I have that new bicycle, I'll be back out there, actively looking for idiots, and hopefully avoiding them better. 

Sorry 'bout your windshield.

More sorry 'bout my bike.