Thursday, January 11, 2018

2017 Racing Review

After my races at the 2016 North American Championships, where I landed on the podium three times, I retired from international orienteering. I expected to be racing less often, and took on a position on the Board of Directors for Orienteering USA. But after a break, I found myself yearning for the thrill of a start line and the suffering of a finish line. I needed some new challenges.

The first was an obvious one - having never run a 50-miler, it was time to give that a try. The Stonecat 50 was close enough to be local, and the course was 4 loops, perfect for your first “real” ultra. My training for this thing was a bit on the light side, having just completed my orienteering season, and tapering doesn’t yield many long runs, but I managed to squeak a second-place finish off a month of distance training. Of course the competitor in me was disappointed to have not won the race, and plans for 2017 were hatched…

The ski season was sort of unremarkable. I have finally managed to get my elbow tendinitis to a place where I can ski, but didn't do much by way of upper body strength, worried about re-triggering the injury. I raced three of the four Eastern Cups, with fairly mediocre results, until the final set of races at Craftsbury and Holderness, where I notched my first and only EC point (top 15). My goal for the season was to race well at the Craftsbury marathon, and I set up well for that winning the Jackson 30k the week before. Craftsbury went pretty well, and despite not getting the wax perfect, I skied strongly to a second-place finish. No cramps and no bonks, which isn't a given over that distance, so I was pleased. March was consumed with coaching, and a slow build-up to the running season.

First up, 7 Sisters Trail Race. I love this race, but it unfortunately often conflicts with orienteering races. This year, it was the day before the fabled Billygoat, a long orienteering race in western Connecticut. How bad can it be to do two long hard races back to back? Well, when you’ve had to take some time away from running over the winter to let injuries heal, it’s harder than after a good winter of training. My fitness wasn’t where I wanted it to be, and I also made some stupid mistakes in 7 Sisters, tying my shoes too tight and causing severe bruising on my heels. You can read about it here, but suffice to say, for a race I’d been targeting, it was a disappointment. I still ended up in 4th place, but I was pretty upset with my time out there. 

I couldn’t actually put weight on my heels the morning of the Billygoat, but no way was I going to miss this race. Thank goodness for ibuprofen and a little adrenalin, and I managed to hobble up to the start line. I won’t say that running felt good, but in a test of mind over matter, I managed to make up a lot of places, and win the women’s race. That was a hard fight!

The next goal was to win the Grand Tree series. To do this, I needed at least 6 trail races in the series, and I needed to be faster than everyone else. Sort of the definition of winning, I suppose. With 7 Sisters as my first race in the series, my points weren’t great, but you can’t change the past (or your shoe choice - should have stuck with the X-Talons!). The next race was Soapstone Mountain, a beautiful course in Connecticut that I’d never run before. I ended up running past a junction, and then rolling my ankle, before starting to suffer heat cramps. Not a great race, 4th again, but not terrible points. You’d think that as an orienteer, I’d manage not to get lost at a trail race!

As the summer wore on, my mileage increased, preparing for the Quebec City Marathon. I’d watched the Boston Marathon in April, living just two miles away from the course, and gotten all inspired to run it. That means a qualifying race. 3:35 sounds pretty cushy, how hard can that be? Training was going well, and I was feeling pretty fit. I hit two more Grand Tree races, the Greylock half marathon (over a mountain), where I took fourth, AGAIN, and the Skyline trail race where I finally redeemed myself with a win, on a very hot day.

Then of course, it all came crashing down. Or rather, I came crashing down, tripping over a cobblestone while jogging to work, and slamming my kneecap into the pavement. The resulting minor fracture had me resting for the following six weeks, at which point I was supposed to race a marathon. Because the kneecap injury prevented pretty much any activity that bent my knee, most cross training was out. I was woefully out of shape. My partner and I decided to go up to Quebec anyway, as a mini vacation, and I’d start the race, dropping out when I couldn’t hold the pace anymore. Of course, my race brain is a complete idiot, so even though I should have dropped out around 14 miles in to the race, I kept going, for an embarrassingly slow not-BQ. Well, I guess I have to try that again, this time preferably WITHOUT breaking my kneecap six weeks prior.

A few more weeks to let the kneecap fully heal, and it was time to try and rebuild my fitness and find two more Grand Tree races. I was also eyeing the US Classic Distance Orienteering Championships - I may be retired, but it would be nice to win there, wouldn’t it? It took about a month to get back to the point where I felt I could reasonably don a race bib, which was just enough to eke out a third place finish at the Groton Trail Race and a second place at Mt. Toby Trail race, which, considering it went up and down a mountain, I was pretty proud of.

These two final races were just enough to put me into the lead for the 2017 Grand Tree series! Finally, a goal realized, despite the summer’s setback. Results:

On the orienteering front, I had a good fall of racing. My first race back after the knee injury was at Letchworth State Park, where I had a hard re-awakening to what racing feels like. I had found my edge again by the Boulder Dash, a two-day event in NH. It was highly technical terrain, which served me well with my lack of fitness at the time, and I ended up with two very clean runs and the overall win!

As the final test of whether my fitness had truly returned, I raced the Hudson Highlander, a 26.2km race in the Hudson Highlands of Harriman State Park. This is another of those storied orienteering races, that sends you through waist-deep blueberry, up and over mountains, and faces you with some serious route choices. I ran strong and steady, but I wasn’t fast enough to take the overall win - a friend of my visiting from the Spanish National Team won both the Queen of the Mountain stages and the overall race. I was still pleased to discover that my body was holding up, and had a great day out there!

The final orienteering challenge was the 2017 Classic Championships, down in Virginia at the Quantico Marine Corps Base. I was finally feeling fit, and ready to attack the race instead of just survive it. The terrain was gorgeous, and with just a hint of winter in the air the weather was perfect. I had two good hard clean races, but just wasn’t fast enough to overtake Violeta, my Spanish Team friend. It was fast enough for top American, though, which won me a shiny medal! 

Since then, I’ve been back in training mode, coaching my skiers and prepping for the Skiing World Masters races. Looking ahead to next year, I’ll be aiming for Boston again, this time with the Sugarloaf marathon as a qualifier and a slightly longer training plan, then going for a repeat win in the Grand Tree series, and trying to sweep the Triple Crown of orienteering - the Billygoat, Hudson Highlander, and Blue Hills Traverse. I’d also like to put a fall ultra on my calendar, but haven’t quite narrowed it down yet which I’d like to do. Here’s to a happy and healthy 2018! 

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Mont Sainte Anne training camp

The usual whirlwind around the holidays took us to Rochester, where we spent some days with my family, and then off to Canada. Only not quite so fast, because I'd left my passport in Boston. Luckily that fell into the category of problems that can be solved with money, and I managed to spend Christmas day with my family and still make it back to Boston in time to be rescued by Carina, who had broken in to my house to get the passport and then picked me up from the airport. Ok, NOW we can go to Canada!

But first, got a chance to meet Sylvia, Ali and Tom's new human, and we took many snowy walks. So great to have such good snow before Christmas in Rochester! I got to ski at both Harriet Hollister and Mendon Ponds, places I haven't been in years. I had forgotten how large the hills are at Mendon - not your homologated race course! 

Family walk at Lucian Morin Park. Gorgeous little glacial park at the south side of Irondequoit Bay, with snow-covered trees and lots of gallumphing to be done on the trails.

So after the passport thing, Carina drove me up into Canada, and we stopped for a nice little jaunt around the trails at Mt. Orford. I've never been there before, so that was fun to explore a new area. We got to the team condos at Mont Sainte Anne just in time to oversee some dinner, and as the temperatures plummeted, the training camp began. The first day was the warmest of the week, hitting a balmy +3F for the afternoon ski, before the mercury dropped into the negatives and didn't reappear until I'd driven 400 miles south. 

Despite the sub-zero temperatures, we had a great camp. Cold weather is part of the sport, and all the kids learned how to dress warmly and keep moving, and as far as I know there was no frostbite. That's a win! Mont Sainte Anne also has these convenient warming cabins along the trails, which are fantastic except for the fact that eventually, you have to leave them and keep skiing. Better to just never succumb to the temptation.

I also got the chance to test out a new pair of skis from Madshus, klister skis but you can kind of fake it with enough wax. These skis felt so good during the week, I really love how Madshus is making their classic skis. We did a 30/30 workout, which is basically just sprinting forever, and I loved being able to just kick and glide and outrun everyone in my group. To be fair, I was beating up on the U16 girls, but they're fast U16s!

Very serious crew. I have no idea what is going on here.

Frosty selfies and a tour of Trail 38, this little trail that winds through the lowland spruce marshes and some of the upper maple forests. It's gorgeous and friendly, and the single-track aspect just makes it even better. Funny how now everybody loves that old-school feeling when you're surrounded by endless kilometers of wide perfect trails, but at home, it's all grumbling when we take people to old trails like this. Can't win. 

By the end of the week, I'm feeling relatively good. I got in some good volume, without pushing the pace too much, and two good quality sessions with the kids. Hopefully, this positive feeling can carry me through the next round of Eastern Cups, and into World Masters with good fitness and a happy head. Yay for a good start to the ski season!

Monday, December 18, 2017

Fort Kent Eastern Cups

The last time I was in Fort Kent, it was for the U16 Championships in 2015, and the Massachusetts Team was on a coach bus that couldn't quite handle the snowstorm that hit Sunday afternoon. It took us 16 hours with a brief (4-hour) stint in the Aroostook County Mall in Presque Isle, but we eventually made it back to Massaschusetts around 5:30am, just in time for me to head to work on Monday. Maddy, Kathy, Peter and I were the coaches on that bus, and I don't think we've ever fully recovered from the trauma, but the kids who were U16s at the time developed a bond that has carried them through highschool in a very tight-knit group.

In good weather, Fort Kent is only 6.5h of driving time (a mere 430 miles) north. It's on the northern border of Maine, across the St. John River from New Brunswick. I annotated a map of northern Maine for my readers:
I think most people sort of forget that Maine exists north of Katahdin. There's lots more of it, and it's beautiful! It's also remote, rugged, and quite often frigid, but the people are friendly and the potatoes are top notch.  

Us soft southerners may complain about the drive, but it does make sense to occasionally have a race up there, considering that for every other race, the northern Maine skiers have to make the drive down to the southern venues. There is also reliable snow in the early and late season, an important quality for race venues! 

I drove up with Rob and Kathy, and we got there in time to test some skis on Friday. I'd forgotten what it was like to be in truly cold weather. It just about broke me, in the little one-hour ski we did. With the sun going down and the wind picking up, zero degrees has never felt so terrible. I didn't actually break down and cry (because frozen tears really hurt), but it was close. Somehow, the cold really just knocked me back on my heels. Time to toughen up! My goal for Saturday's race was now two-fold: 1) qualify for the open sprint heats, and 2) don't let the cold get to me; stay positive and focused.

Saturday Skate Sprint
My early-season preparation has been better than some recent years, but definitely not particularly ski-specific. The main thing that's been missing are high-intensity efforts, so I knew I'd probably struggle with trying to find any extra gears and using them. It was a fun sprint course, though, playing out with some work in the beginning and some fun rollers in the end. If I could stay focused in the moment, maybe I'd produce some speed. 

I started out 15s behind Meg, one of my ex-CSU skiers who is now at Colby. I picked up good speed out of the stadium, and then there is this winding flat stuff leading up to the wax-cabin hill. I probably did a little too much V2-alternate there, not accelerating the whole time, lulled into complacency by the fact that I could tell I was gaining on Meg. Into the hill I was hop skating, but not at full sprint speed, and that was a mistake. I was winded at the top, but definitely hadn't emptied the tank as much as I knew I should have, which led to a bit of a sinking sensation. You screwed that up. Oh well, fight for those seconds in the fun part! Over the rollers, whooshing down the whoop-de-doo, and again I probably shouldn't have been tucking around the corner into the stadium, but that felt like the right thing at the time. 

I ended up qualifying in 16th, and still feeling pretty fresh, leaving what I felt was a good 5-7 seconds out there through sheer lack of oomph. With the lucky loser positions going through to the semifinals based on bib number, I had probably ruined my chances of luckily losing by not qualifying better. Can't change that! Now it's top two or bust. 

Photo credit Brian Burt. So many layers I couldn't actually velcro my boots shut under the boot covers...

I was in the third heat, with bib numbers 5, 6, 15, 25, and 26. Bib 5, Silje from UNH, has some crazy sprint points, and is built like a sprinter. As I expected, she started out fast, and I slotted in behind after a sort of slow start. Coming up through the gradual rollers, we were moving a lot faster than I had in my qualifier. Oh. It didn't feel like too much work yet, but I could definitely tell that I was starting to near that point of no return, and as we started to climb I backed off a smidge. The Canadian with bib #6 squeezed by, and as I was jump-skating behind her up the hill, I knew that this was it - this is the point where I have to make a move, pull up even with her, and punch it over the first camels hump. I had more gears available, I could physically do it, all it would take was a little mental toughness to tolerate the pain. But the race voice couldn't seem to override the voice in my head telling me this was fast enough, third place is fine, maybe you'll catch her later in the course. Do you really want to do another two heats after this? And I didn't make a move. 

We crested the first camels hump, Silje solidly in the lead and me on the tails of #6, but not close enough to really catch the draft and slingshot on the little dip. The next camels hump was the only other option to make a move, take the right-hand lane and try to carry more speed through the corner, and I didn't do it. I could hear the cheering for the SMS girl in 4th, and I'd shifted into defensive mode. Tucked around the corner again, and wasn't even close to fighting for 2nd. 

Mostly what was missing there was the confidence that I can totally put myself under and come back up for air while still racing, that confidence built on the back of hard intervals, race starts, and a burning desire for results. I wasn't surprised to end up 3rd; after all I had qualified eight seconds behind the Canadian gal, so on paper that was an unlikely scalp. I also wasn't all that upset by it; what upset me was the lack of will to make those moves. It's possible that it'll come back - the first races of the season are always a little tentative. By the end of last season I was totally capable of pushing myself into the pain cave, so I'd say there's hope before World Masters at the end of January. 

My final placement was 15th, which earns me one NENSA point. I'll take it! Also of note: My qualifier time beat Rob's qualifier time. I only ever beat Rob when he waxes my skis... 

It was fun to watch all my skiers race the heats, once I was out. With Fort Kent being so far away, the fields were a little thinner than usual, which meant most of my skiers qualified for either the open or the junior heats. Three of my big boys got into the open heats, and I think everyone got to learn from racing with people in tight quarters. Good stuff. 

Sunday classic mass start
This was probably one of the easiest races I've ever had to wax for. The combination of frigid temperatures on perfect snow and an indoor waxing facility meant that picking a kick wax was a quick and easy process, and the fact that the temperatures weren't changing meant we had every ski waxed for all the classes before the U16 boys had started. So simple!

The 5k course was a fun one. The first kilometer was uphill, cresting at 45m above the stadium, before bouncing around the high point for another 2km and then it was pretty much downhill with a couple kickers for the final 2km. With a mass start 5k, I knew it would start pretty hot, and the main goal was for everyone to avoid getting tangled in any trouble, and hang on through that first hill. 

I was seeded (USSA fixed the coaching license non-seeding issues, yay!) 25th, and had a clean start, narrowly avoiding the inevitable crash on the first gentle downhill out of the start. After cresting the first little steep pitch, I left myself look around, and realized I was hanging out at the back of the lead pack, with a separation behind me. My first thought was "Ooh! Kathy is back there, so hold her off as long as possible!" My second thought was "Dang, that sucks for everyone who was in or behind that crash." Mass start 5k races are chaos, and there's no avoiding that. 

Photo credit Brian Burt. Still got that forward lean.

I slowly worked my way to the top of the first hill, not losing too much ground to the rear guard of the pack but we were all losing ground to the leaders. Classic skiing up hills is hard, yo. I could see one of my U18s ahead of me, and she had clearly started too hard, and was fading backwards a bit. 

I felt like I was recovering nicely on the gradual downhill after the first hill, but as we started climbing again towards 2k the you-started-too-hard feeling hit me. I was starting to pack slide myself, and right around the 2k mark Kathy stormed by. I didn't have the energy to keep contact, and was at the back of a loose pack heading into the downhills. Definitely struggled a bit to relax my feet as we negotiated the corners, and I was too tired to make up places down the hill. One more climb approaching the top of the alpine mountain again, and Laura came striding by, looking nice and composed. I tried to increase the pace, while maintaining actual technique and not just running, and hit the downhill with palpable relief.

Photo credit Brian Burt. 

From there, there are mostly flats with one gradual striding/kick-double pole hill. Up that gradual track I was starting to hit the second wind, and was closing down to Madeline. I had just about made contact as we hit the final kickers into the stadium, and closed the gap to Madeline and a UNH girl over the camels humps. A half-hearted double pole sprint, and I was done, in 23rd place. Improved my seed! 

I was pretty pleased with the race. For an early-season classic race, that was one of my better ones. I could use better top-end fitness, and a lot more intensity work to give some oomph where it matters, but I felt like I was skiing well for the whole race, with pretty good strength. I ended up about 7% behind Leah, the day's winner, which is quite reasonable. 

More great results from my team in the classic race, which always leaves a warm fuzzy, especially when it's kids who've worked really hard all year and are surprising themselves. Super work by the wax team and the food table chefs, too. 

Now it's time to pack up my life for the annual two-week odyssey to Rochester and then Mont Sainte Anne. Wheeee ski season!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Ice Weasels

A few weeks ago, we were hanging out with Jess and Graham, and I'd clearly had one beer too many, because somehow the topic of Ice Weasels came up, and I agreed to do the race if Graham got into the Killer B field when registration opened that night. There was a text message from Graham in the morning with a confirmation number, so time to sign up for a bike race.

I last pedaled my bike with any oomph in 2015. And before that, 2010. But, I still ride bikes to get to work, and sometimes I even ride my mountain bike, so how bad could this be? 

Ice Weasels is a race that started ten years ago, brainchild of friends and former teammates Colin and Thom. I raced it the first two years, I think, and then life happened and I stopped racing bikes to focus on grad school and orienteering and here we are, ten years later, standing on a start line wearing an embarassingly yellow jacket and Frozen's Olaf tights in a snowstorm. Funny how when you're years removed from a sport you lose some of the obsession with looking like you know what you're doing. 

From what I remember of Colin and his 'cross preferences, the more like a mountain bike course we can get, the more fun we'll have. So, the Ice Weasels course was pretty wicked. A couple good descents towards a river, on loose sand with some large rocks, one sandy run-up, one "ride"-up which was totally a run-up for me, some stairs (also a run-up for me), and a log jump, which was in the "danger zone," code for slightly drunken spectators and a firepit and lots of heckling. Like most sports, I do well in this one when skill and finesse outweigh power, but there's still suffering involved. The more it snowed, the sloppier things were going to get, and I was stoked.

 I had a poor start, seeded in the last row, and then unwilling to be too aggressive in the corners. We got to the first drop into the danger zone, and all the girls were kind of track standing waiting in a line to descend this thing one at a time. Screw that. I hopped off, and dove down the hill carrying my bike, passing what felt like the entire pack. Not many places to pass, so take them where you can! 

We hit the run-up and I punched it to gain three places. Whee! By the end of the first lap, I was in a loose pack of 3-4 girls, and I was clearly pedaling better than most of them except the gal on the mountain bike, who had skillz. 

Second lap, I got around one girl in some corners before the pump track, passed another on the first run-up, and then got the third when she bobbled the corner before the log. MTB girl biffed it trying to ride the log, so I pulled ahead again, looking for new rabbits. Entering the third lap I was closing on what looked like a bigger group, but they had a good 20-30 seconds on me already. I caught a straggler on the first run-up, and then one more on the stairs run-up, and was left dangling behind a girl who was maybe 14. I couldn't quite close the gap, and knowing I just had two laps left I was shifting into defensive mode. 

The ground was getting increasingly muddy and greasy, thanks to the snow, and that made the bike handling super fun, but unfortunately also gummed up your cleats pretty badly. Every remount also involved trying to kick off mud before trying to clip in. Anyway, I thought I might be closing on the teenager, but then at the ride-up, I got fancy and did a step-through on my dismount and my left foot never unclipped. So I fumbled, fell down, turtled, and slid backwards down the hill under my bike. D'oh! Took me what felt like forever to get that foot unclipped, but eventually it did and I got myself and my bike up the lip at the top, not having lost any places, but having lost a good 30 seconds. 

Fourth lap was basically a game of trying not to get caught by MTB girl. She was riding technically well, but suffered a bit on the power sections. I stayed upright, nailed all the technical parts, and really, really, really freakin' enjoyed myself! 

I was pleasantly surprised with the result - 14th of 30 starters in the Jedi field (I believe that correlates to something like cat 1-3? maybe? it doesn't really matter). It was a good hard effort, and a ton of fun to ride my bike in that slop. 

Graham enjoyed his ride, too, stopping for a couple drink breaks in the danger zone. Can't complain about a party disguised as a race! 

Will I do more cross races? Doubtful, but if it looks like snow during Ice Weasels next year, I won't rule it out. That was pretty awesomely fun. 
We spent a large part of the weekend hanging out at the Saegers' house, meeting various babies and playing games.

And the skiing! It was fabulous. I found some Smiths

Monday, November 27, 2017

US Classic Champs

As the Orienteering USA VP of Competition, one of the things I've done is to work with a group to streamline our extensive list of orienteering championship competitions, starting next year. So, the US Classic Championships will cease to exist in the future, and I felt a little like I had single-handedly stabbed it in the heart as I competed in the last running of the classic champs last weekend. Some people are upset, but overall, it will be good for competition. 

The final running of the Classic Champs was a very nice event, hosted by the Quantico Orienteering Club, with some interesting courses and super fast terrain on the Quantico Marine Base. Ed and I headed down on Thursday night, to attend and present at the 2017 Orienteering USA Convention on Friday. Good convention, lots of interesting stuff going on and ideas being shared. We were staying with Boris and Alli and their almost-toddler and beagle, and six other itinerant guests, which made for some fun evenings. The whole point of these orienteering weekends is just to hang out with friends, ultimately. 

Saturday rolled around and it was chilly, almost like winter had followed us down from Boston. My goal for the race was to be aggressive in my navigation, always knowing what was happening next, and moving decisively and with confidence. The forest was super open, fast and runnable with really good footing. I had some trouble with running too fast for my brain, but overall it was a really clean run. I caught up to an M45 near my control #2, and I couldn't shake him until control 12. It was good, kept me focused on pushing and running aggressively. Unfortunately, I wasn't fast enough to beat our Spanish visitor, Violeta, trailing about two minutes behind her, but I finished well clear of any American competitors. 

We had a board meeting on Saturday night, which wasn't the ideal recovery activity, especially considering that I've trained Ed to bring me a beer whenever I'm on OUSA board calls, so he brought beer for the whole board. Oh well, I'll be relaxed if not perfectly recovered!

Sunday's course was a little hillier and a little more physical in terms of the vegetation thickness. I expected a slightly more devious course than Saturday, knowing the course setter and his tendencies, so I needed to be tighter in my navigation today. No pointing it in the right direction and blasting away with lazy navigation.

This worked pretty well, but I just wasn't fast enough, and Violeta put some more time on me, cementing her win in the overall. Luckily, I had well outpaced the rest of the Americans, which put me solidly into the championship gold medal spot. It felt good to win!

No more orienteering planned for a long while, so it's on to ski season. Mini high-altitude camp in California that conveniently aligns with a wedding, and then the race season begins.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Mt. Toby Trail Race

The final Grand Tree race that would fit into my schedule was the Mt. Toby Trail Race. I've never done this one, and despite spending two years staying with Peter and Gail at the edge of the forest, I've only run on those trails twice. From what I'd heard about the race, I wasn't that excited, because it sounded like a hillclimb on wide trails with good footing, and the hillclimb wasn't quite steep enough to warrant hiking. My strengths are short and steep ups and downs with very technical footing, sort of like 7 Sisters. But a race is a race, and the weather looked gorgeous, so I was excited to pin on a bib.

I ran into a couple people I knew beforehand, but didn't know how we'd all stack up. My time goal was to be around 2 hours, maybe under, just based on looking at Kelsey's time from previous years. I could probably be 15 minutes behind Kelsey on a hillclimb, right? More importantly, that's where my typical Grand Tree points would place me if I had a typical race. I had no intention of any heroics today, I was tired, and despite getting in some decent cross training in the last month or two, I haven't done much running to support going fast. This might just be a sufferfest.

The course started with about a half mile of pavement, then into the woods on a jeep road to climb very gradually uphill for 4 miles. Short downhill, then more flat before the final climb to the top of Mt. Toby, also on a jeep road. The footing was generally good, with no leaves down. I found myself jogging along with quite a few other people, and I let myself just settle in. I was maybe fourth woman, with a few others in site, who all looked skinny and fast. I, on the other hand, felt jiggly and slow. I realized that this would be one of those mental-battle sort of days, where you try to get the positive supportive voice in your head to drown out the mean negative voice. Because that nasty negative voice never makes you run faster.

After about a mile I started to turn the screws, just a little, and I reeled in one of the women ahead of me and made contact with the other two. I moved in front on the short downhill at mile 4, but on the flats thereafter they had no problem catching back up. The fact that I haven't been on a track since July was increasingly obvious to me - this race course was a fast one, and my legs haven't moved this fast in months! We finally started climbing, and it was clear that the lady in the pink shirt, Beth, was the better climber. She slowly pulled away, and I turned my positive self-talk up to 11.

Hill climbing is so silly, everyone is just crawling up this hill, barely making any moves on each other, oblivious to most of the world as you just try to get the oxygen into the legs and keep the forward movement. Part way up, I realized that my left foot was falling asleep - I'd done it again and tied my shoe to tight (I should mention that I keep doing this because I HATE loose shoes). This time, I decided that I would learn from past mistakes (see 2017 7 Sisters...), and I stopped to untie and loosen it. That took maybe 30 seconds, but seemed worth it. Eventually the top guys came flying down, and I knew I was nearing the top. I took a split on Beth as she came down, then up to the fire tower, touch the pole, scarf a gel, and the good part starts!

Thanks to Ben Kimball at Northeast Race Photo for the shot of me doing two things I'm good at - eating and running downhill! I went with the Roclite305 Inov-8s, today, for a little more cushion on the downhills and not needing the traction, and they were a good choice. 

Beth was about 4 minutes up on me at the top. With such good footing on the descent, I knew I'd be hard-pressed to catch her, especially as it seemed she wasn't a terrible descender. By the bottom of the big hill, I could see her back, but it was still a minute or two difference between us. I was in hunt mode, but I was also really starting to hurt. 14 miles of fast running is something I could have eaten up in July, but now, I'm more ready for rollerskiing than anything fast. Oof. My hamstrings and butt were starting to complain, and my breath was getting more ragged as I pushed up the short hills before the final flats.

I was nearly ready to give up. All the streamers marking the course were pink, so every time I'd look up I'd see a pink movement, thinking it was Beth's shirt, only to realize it was survey tape. My brain couldn't take the continuous bashing of hope, and the positive voice trailed off. I knew that it was a case of beer on the line, and I really wanted to win that beer, but the nasty little negative voice started to pipe up. Maybe if you drank less beer, you would have gone faster up the hill. You're not a good runner, you're not fit, why are you even out here? The negative gremlins in my head were winning, and my desire to suffer was waning.

Luckily, the positive voices noticed the attack, and took back over. I kicked it back into gear, and kept hunting. Some of the guys who'd been ahead of me on the climb were coming into view. My hamstrings were distinctly unhappy with the pace, but I couldn't let up. Beth's shirt popped into view on an uphill, and I knew I was still in it. If I could make contact while still in the woods, I may be able to get enough of a gap to hold her off on the final climb to the finish. I kept striving, and then I made contact - just as we hit the pavement. Worst nightmare, because now it's just going to hurt the whole way in.

I tumbled down the hill a little faster, but I was completely gassed, barely keeping my feet under me on the downhill. We started back up the hill and I stayed focused on the process, just drive the elbows, strong feet. At least make her work for it! Beth easily closed the gap, and pulled ahead. We turned the corner, and I could see the finish, and I tried to kick, but there was no response. Swimming in lactic acid, my brain had been willing me along for too long, and was as out of oomph as my legs.

Second place is fine, and I cruised under 2 hours with 1:56. But, I can't help but feel disappointed, and that I lost the race. It was a lot of fun to battle and chase, though! Next time, let's do it on a course with some rocks :)

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

UNO Boulder Dash

Up North Orienteering Club hosted a National Event last weekend: The Boulder Dash. It was on the Burnt Mountain map that we used last year for the North American Orienteering Championships, and this year I got to run on a 1:10,000 scale map instead of 1:15. That made a big difference, because suddenly I could ready the map! Turns out, reading maps is an important part of this sport. 

Ed and I arrived Friday afternoon, for the US Team fundraiser sprint. This was a low-key affair, just a chance to go out into the woods and find some controls, and I struggled with map interpretation. Not good. I went back out for a walk, just reading every feature, trying to make some sense of the contours. There are a lot of little wiggles and wobbles in the contours, so the trick was definitely to take in the bigger picture, to have an idea of what you were looking at. So much rock on the map, that you sort of just had to look beyond it. 
Can't beat the excitement of finding a control in the woods where you expect it! 

Saturday rolled around and I had a nice morning with Sharon, who lives at the edge of the map and graciously hosted us. Then it was off to the races. I knew that this map demands respect, so my plan was to start slowly, and always have a good plan. My main competition was Violeta, the Spanish Team runner living with Barb right now, but I was confident that I could take her on if I could run cleanly. I was in the huntress position today, starting 6 minutes back. 

The race felt unremarkable. I was trundling about slowly, never feeling like I could push the pace, because then I wouldn't be able to read the map and simplify away all the detail. but I was finding controls, one after the other, exactly where I expected them. This feeling is such a rush! I love this sport on days like that! 

Approaching control 7, I saw a flash of yellow up the hill from me - Violeta's jersey! She was clearly still in search-mode, so I snuck up to the control and then blasted away down the hill to 8, hoping she hadn't seen me. Definitely a confidence boost to know you've picked up six minutes on a competitor! She caught me on the hill up to #9, where I was sucking wind and she was blithely bounding away. I tried to maintain contact up the next hill to 10, but simply didn't have the legs. Luckily, this was followed with a trail descent, so I had nearly made contact by 11. We stayed separated by maybe 20 seconds for the rest of the course, neither able to make up ground or out-navigate the other, but in my chase I managed to have the second-fastest finish split among everyone on that course (including the M-20s, a tough group to beat in finish splits), and nearly won the course outright - my companion from the Highlander, Joe, bested me by 10 seconds. So close!
En route to crushing a finish split. I guess that means I could have tried harder during the rest of the race...

The second day of racing is always difficult. The overall winner is the one who is fastest with a combined time from two days, so could I hold off Violeta by 5:30 minutes? I was feeling fairly confident, but given her hill-climbing prowess, I knew that if the course were faster, or if she avoided making a 7-minute error, I'd be in trouble. Pressure!

I was starting first this time. My approach was the same as yesterday: Calm, smooth, and steady. But approaching #2, on the trails, I made a big mistake, overrunning a trail junction for a minute and a half before spidey sense tingled. Arrrrgh. I tried to put the mistake out of my mind, and carried on with the course. I was starting to get into the flow of things, and then there was another long leg to #5, which I again elected to do on trails. Things were going great, until right at the end, when I made a parallel error, thinking I was at the correct little reentrant with a cliff next to an open nose right off the trail, when I was at an identical feature nearby. Five minutes gone, like that.  Now I really was running scared, pressure totally on. I thought I was better than eight minutes of mistakes! 
Following a beagle to the end will always make me happy.

I got back into the game after that, but I wasn't feeling very good about the run. I couldn't stick around to see how Violeta (or Izzy, who hadn't been very far behind on the first day) were going to run. In my infinite wisdom, I was running two races in one day, heading down to Groton for my fifth Grand Tree race. I want to run six this year, and after missing most of the summer thanks to knee-bashing-marathon-not-training, I need two more. So, I abandoned Ed at the event, and got to the start of the trail race with about 20 minutes to spare. Perfect! 

Probably the less said about that race the better. The course was very pretty, a single 9-mi loop through golden leaves and winding trails, with minimal elevation gain. What elevation there was to gain came in the form of short, steep, glacial hills, which were perfect for my tired legs, because I could justify hiking. I found myself in third place after a few miles, and managed to stay there, trailing the woman in 2nd for most of the remaining miles, but never able to close the gap. Not much spark, but a beautiful day for an up-tempo run in the woods, and I won a bottle of home-made wine for my efforts! (it's the thought that counts... I've had better)

Upon getting back to my car, I checked my phone for results, and found that not only had I hung on to first overall, I beat Violeta on day 2, too! She had had a rough time out there, unused to the map or the terrain, but I was mostly just happy to win the overall weekend! I haven't won a National Event in a very long time, so this was pretty exciting for me. Nice confidence boost before the classic distance championships in November! 

I won a box of rocks! Chocolate rocks

Some photos below from the weekend before, at a training camp in VT with my juniors. We had a mix of weather, but some very nice workouts, and Ed was cooking for us, so we had some good food too. Hashtag happy place?

Can't beat days like that for a long rollerski

Secret training

Gorgeous view from the Jericho biathlon range, where the kids raced on rollerskis

Definitely the most important part of any camp is eating.