Friday, July 31, 2015

WOC run-up

The last week has been spent in preparation for the mental side. I have taken time to experience the new terrains I'll be racing in, getting comfortable with ducking down narrow passageways that look like somebody's backyard, figuring out techniques for wading through the heather, but since I'm in the middle of a physical taper, none of this takes very much time. Maybe 45 minutes of training time, after driving an hour to get to a map, feels very inefficient, but it is what you have to do. This year, to fill the interstices between trainings, I joined forces with team members Samantha, Kseniya, Ethan, and Tori, and we've spent a lot of time castle hunting. Many castles to hunt in this country! It's been a lot of fun to have a small group to travel with, relaxing and taking our minds off of the looming pressure of the World Champs.

We've been staying in Lagganlia, an outdoor education center in the Cairngorns National Park, sharing it with the British junior squad who are having a national training camp. I'm still not sure how we got so lucky, some connection through Becky and her parents, who are coaches of various juniors there, but it was great to be able to have a place that felt like home at the end of each day. The Brits were super welcoming, and the coaches were very accommodating. We stayed in little glorified tents called "pods", and it has rained every day so far, sometimes quite heavily, which means everything is damp and cold. I guess that's summer in Scotland!

Now for a boatload of photos..

The trip actually started with a conference in the wrong direction - in San Diego. Zan flew down from San Francisco for the first weekend, and we had a good time running up in the mountains (Mt. Laguna was only an hour away, and beautiful orienteering!), with a brief run along the Pacific Crest Trail, too! It was a fun way to start a hectic week, but the conference was totally worthwhile, even if it didn't help with the pre-jet-lagging.

San Diego looks different than Scotland.

So, one red-eye flight to Boston, where I went to work to wrap up all sorts of loose ends, and then off to Scotland on the second red-eye, for two weeks! I arrived in Edinburgh, picked up the rental car, and miraculously we had only minor hiccups finding all five passengers. We did a fair amount of sprint training in Edinburgh, Livingston, and Stirling, and got the chance to check out Stirling Castle before heading north through the Highlands.

Alex atempts to be Rob Roy.

View from Stirling Castle.

Once in Lagganlia, we were staying in "pods" - little elf structures scattered through the woodland. They were very cute, but also very cold and damp. Luckily they warmed up nicely with two people in each.

The next castle to see was Inverness Castle, which was very well restored. I am less excited by that than the medieval castles that are half falling apart, but it was still impressive. We also spent some time trying to find wellies, which I knew as gumboots but apparently that's not what they're called here. Sam and I were being way too picky, wanting the short little ankle ones, so we still have wet feet, but Kseniya and Tori were successful in the search. Ethan, being still in college, declared that it was better to just wear sandals all the time.

Yep, it's cold and damp and rainy. Haven't really seen the sun yet.

I love grocery stores in new countries. That's probably strange. Here, we found American pancakes! That's definitely strange. Pancakes are best hot off the griddle, not wrapped in plastic.

Castle Roy. It was under construction so we couldn't get too close, but it wasn't very big. This one was from the 13th century, and apparently it was just a wall, with lean-tos inside.

Yep, I found a river- this is the River Feshie, behind our pods. Good trout habitat!

We found this awesome little road to go check out the first castle of our rest day, where we successfully hunted OODLES of castles. It was a small castle in the middle of the lake, but the views were pretty awesome.

I love these open hills. Too bad all that brown stuff is heather, which is really quite physical to run through. Deep, spongey, woody, and an uneven surface.

Baby highland coo!

Found ourselves a distillery for a tour; interesting to learn about how the stuff is made, and on such a quantity. This was the Glenlivet distillery. I would have liked to sample more, but could barely take a sip since I was driving. The Speyside area had a zillion distilleries, must be something about the water, I guess.

We found some fish and chips for lunch on our rest day - gotta do that at least once!

This was Balvenie castle - pretty cool. It was under construction, but that was good, as it meant we didn't have to pay, and we could wander around and it was all to ourselves. 

More in Balvenie castle

Cartwheels in front of a castle.

Final castle of the highlands - Loch an Eilean, near our pods. This one had a little trail around the lake, so we did a morning run there before coming down to the warmth and sunshine of Inverness.

Friday, July 24, 2015

15 Minutes of Fame

I've made it into the Boston Globe before, through no doing of my own, but now we're going even bigger- orienteering made it into the NYT! Mostly this is a story featuring Thierry Georgieu, arguably the world's best orienteer (but can he defend the title in two weeks?), but there's also a video, featuring a whole lot of yours truly, talking about orienteering.

Not a bad video - the author did a great job of editing.

Bear Brook half marathon

With just two weeks left before my departure for the World Champs, I figured I had time to squeeze in one final training weekend. Ed was off working, so I jumped into my car and managed to beat most of the Friday night rush hour traffic to land at Earl's Trails, in western MA, by 6pm. This was enough time for a relaxed shake-out run through a course from 2012, that Phil had streamered for me earlier in the day. Given how little forest orienteering I've been doing in the last month, this was a bit of a skills refresher, before the heavier work on Saturday. I was pretty psyched to get into the forest. Some wobbles, but overall a very positive outing, followed by a wonderful dinner with Phil, Margi, Peter, and Gail. I miss my days in the Valley.

Saturday had two pretty intense sessions on tap, designed by coach Boris - first up were some orienteering intervals, and the afternoon was a downhill course, designed so that you hit higher running speeds, and thus push the navigational limits rather than the physical ones.

The morning intervals went pretty well, but with temperatures in the mid 80s and a dew point to match, it wasn't easy going. The mosquitoes were out feeding as well, adding a sense of urgency to any sort of uphill where my speed dropped. Super duper thanks to Peter, for going out and hanging streamers for the interval, and to Phil for the streamers on the course.

Morning intervals

Afternoon downhill course

Sunday, the plan was for a long run, and I figured what better way to get in a long run than with a bunch of crazy other friends on a trail wearing a number? Rather spur-of-the-moment, I signed up for the Bear Brook half marathon. They were offering a full marathon as well, but I felt like that was a bit much for a simple Sunday long run. Of course, I didn't check the start time before signing up, and turns out the start time was a glorious 6am. Oops. With a 2 hour drive ahead of me from western MA, I decided the better plan would be spend the night in southern NH with Kathy, so I packed up after dinner and moved houses. I woke up twice to anxiety dreams about missing the start, but luckily it all worked out, and I had plenty of time.

This race cost about three times what the usual barebones Grand Tree races cost, and while I'm totally cool with that (I happily paid the full entry, after all), it attracted a different crowd. Many more women, and probably 80% of people were wearing bright neon colors, with tons of women in running skirts. Strange. I wasn't sure who was who, since I haven't done any of the NH trail race series, but I figured the course map looked pretty flat, so my plan was to stay pretty cruise-y in terms of pace. Hopefully that would be enough to win.

The marathon took off, and shortly thereafter the half marathoners followed suit. The two races were on nearly completely different trails, so we didn't have the problem of lapping slower runners - a really nice touch. The course started with a series of short climbs on singletrack, and I quickly discovered that my calves were pretty unhappy about the double orienteering intensity session yesterday. Two women were ahead of me, but I knew from experience I'd just have to go at a pace where my calves could recover, and hope for a full recovery once they were properly loosened. On the extended downhill back to the river I reeled in one of the women, so I figured that was good. I actually got a bit ahead of her, because the downhills weren't done yet, and then I really started to enjoy the course.
The trail wound through pine forest, mostly flat, really beautiful. Eventually it climbed up into a recently-logged area that was filled, and I mean FILLED, with blueberries. Ripe blueberries. Plump blueberries. Such delicious-looking blueberries. I wanted to stop. Just for a little while... just one handful? Somehow I made it through that section without a blueberry break, and I still don't know where that willpower came from!

Maura, the lady I'd passed on the downhill, caught up to me at the aid station, and we ran together for a bit. The trail was still flat enough that it wasn't hard to keep cruising, despite the fatigue in my legs, and my mentality shifted a bit from attack to defensive. I let that woman in first leave my thoughts, and started considering how to win the fight for second. It's not the most aggressive mindset, and it doesn't lead to winning races, but sometimes it's what you've got. I ran through the final aid station, not needing anything, and Maura stopped, and when she didn't catch me on the final climbs I knew I had it in the bag. Took it slightly more cautiously on the downhill to the finish, and then I was across, safely in second.

Of course I wish I'd won, after the fact, but that wasn't happening today. I still won a huge pile of schwag for 2nd place - coffee, home made jam, sunglasses, and, most importantly - a ribbon proclaiming that I can tie my shoes! Given my daisy-chain approach to tying my Inov-8s, I felt like that was appropriate.

After a quick dip in the lake, a cheeseburger, and a lot of cold water, I was ready to go home, but first, I had some business to finish - that blueberry patch needed a visit off the clock!

Monday, July 6, 2015

Fashionably late

They say that optimistic people are always late. I'm an optimistic person.

Anyway, I was in Vermont with Ed for the weekend, and the only things on the agenda were reading my book and watching some fireworks. This was pretty great, which is to say, I have no flippin' idea when I got out of bed on Sunday, or what time I decided that what I really wanted to do today was to run over some mountains.

I did know that I wanted to be in Concord MA at 5pm. I probably should have done the math backwards on that one, but there may have been some denial going on - better just not to know. There are signs of improvement, though - I actually told Ed where I was going. "I'm going to run down that ridge we ran last summer, you know, the one with the views and the trees and the bugs? Yeah, but I might deviate from that ridge if some other trails look inviting, and I'll probably try and make it a loop".  "ok, I'll start looking for you in a couple days".

So, I'm running along, totally loving life and loving that I can move my body like this and it just GOES where I want it to and I'm so thankful that I can do all this stuff and use my feet to carry me up to cool views, where I do cartwheels and yip and yeehaw and careen down rocky muddy trails. Sometimes it's very good to run alone. Somewhere along the way my watch dies, which is fine, it's rechargeable. But that meant I didn't really know how long I'd been running. Oh well, I still have like half a bottle's worth in this water bottle I'm carrying, so I can't have been out THAT long. I come to a junction, and I'm fairly positive I can turn it into a loop if I just keep going. The endorphins are pumping, the birds are singing, the sun is shining, life is great. My hunch pans out and it's the right trail, and eventually I come back out to the gravel road, which takes me back to the notch on a swooping, scenic, gradual downhill cruise. This is fun!

I'm still feeling good when I get to the car, and I've still got a sip or two of water left, so I can't have been out THAT long, and I've never seen the other direction of this trail, so I figure I'll go that way for a bit, just to see where it goes. Well, I tend to have a bad case of just-around-the-next-bend-itis, and I may have seen where it goes a little too long, but eventually I hit a flat area and decide that I'd better turn around while the turning around is still all downhill. Another fun little cruise-y downhill, and I'm back to the car, but I'm pretty solidly caked with mud up to the knees. Nothing to worry about, but this definitely calls for a mountain stream, nothing else will do. It's a short drive, and I try not to rub my legs too much all over my car seat, but then I'm at a stream, so I spend some time splashing around cleaning up and cooling off, and now I'm TOTALLY presentable for a party! Just 2 hours of driving left to get there! Back to the car, and I check my phone and see the time for the first time in probably quite a few hours, and there's a big oops, I'm already 15 minutes late...

So, that's how I showed up three hours late with mud between my toes. There was still cake, beer, and cheer, and I got to go for a sweet run, so on balance, I'd say this day was a win.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Mt. Greylock trail race

Last weekend, I took some junior skiers out west, to do some rollerskiing with their buddies on the Mt. Greylock team, and then to do the Mt. Greylock mountain race. It's a tough race for a teenager, but I think it's good for the kids to challenge themselves occasionally, and this was indeed a challenge. I did this one last year, and it was a pretty great test of who is the best all-around mountain runner. Sustained climbs, runnable downhills, a smattering of rocks and mud; it's a great course, even if I prefer the courses with less runnability. I think it's great to do races that don't only suit your strengths, but sometimes that can be depressing. My main goal for the day was to beat last year's time; it was supposed to rain a lot, but last year was pretty wet up top, too, so I figured conditions would be similar.  It was 20 degrees warmer this year, which was too bad, but I never felt like the heat was a true limiting factor. My secondary goal was to make sure none of my girls beat me.

We started out, up the hill, and my focus was on keeping my effort semi-comfortable. I remembered having very sore glutes and hamstrings last year, and though I hadn't gone quite as hard this year at the Friday core strength session with my juniors, I was still a little achy from my plyometrics I'd done earlier in the week. Damn. I found it was definitely easier to keep running, well, jogging, than to hike, because hiking took much more strength. One way to keep from hiking too much was to make sure I sped up any time I was hiking, and that made it enough of an extra effort that I couldn't wait to switch back to running, to recover!

I stayed closer to Debbie this year up the hill, and the effort felt less cumbersome than last year, so I was patting myself on the back for a job well done, until I saw the split at the top, two minutes slower. Oh. It was a little depressing, but I told myself that whatever happens, I still need to do a long run with a lot of hills today, and this race fit that bill.  My motivation was low, but the first rocky descent was fun enough to put a real smile on my face. The X-Talons were great, even in the rain, and I pulled back a lot of places, though no women.

On the few uphills after that descent I discovered I'd really only brought my descending legs today. Oh, well, run what you brung. I caught a glimpse of Debbie's back as I got to the second feed station, so pushed the pace a bit on the piece of singletrack before Jones Nose, and just like last year, caught up to Debbie right about there.  We zipped down the hills, which is just lovely and runnable and fun, and Ben was at the bottom taking photos, I couldn't help it, and leapt into the air giggling. Another one of those photos that I just had to buy - thanks Ben!

Then began the un-fun part, just a slog up a fire road with loose rock underfoot and tons of water on the trail, and I was very thankful to be sharing those miles with Debbie, chatting about anything. I wasn't having much fun, but the miles went by relatively quickly, and soon we were careening down the hill, much to the chagrin of my sore hamstrings. Having a buddy had put a small bandaid on my broken give-a-damn, but I couldn't bring myself to push hard, and deliberately stopped for water with a mile to go, because I just didn't want to have to sprint to the finish. I only ended up about 15 seconds back, but the rope tow was broken, and I had no energy to repair it. I lost about 4 minutes to last year on that final section of fire road, so didn't beat my time. Second year in a row for 4th place, so maybe NEXT year I'll show up rested!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

2015 Boston Sprint Camp

A while ago, Ed had this idea that we wanted to host a "sprint camp" event, basically four days of orienteering races and training and we'd make it awesome and simple to put on and people would come and enjoy themselves. I liked the "simple" part of this idea, but things are never as simple as you think they will be, when it comes to putting on events. But, this idea came to fruition, with a lot of help from Erin Schirm, the national junior team coach, and Becky Carlyle, as the course consultant. We didn't really get our advertising act together until three weeks before the event, at which point lots of people already had plans, and school was still in session thanks to all the snow days, so that cut into some of the local junior attendance, but we still managed to attract 35 runners from around the country (and a handful of Canadians), which isn't too terrible considering we were going to cap the event at 60 people.  Overall, everyone seemed to really enjoy themselves, and the weather totally cooperated, which makes it a lot easier to pull off a four-day event. 

The original plan was for "simple", but somehow that ended up meaning we included lunch for everyone, custom-printed folders, two new maps, a nationally-sanctioned qualifier-final race, a distillery tour, a trip to the zoo, home-made pies for prizes, and a huge number of controls out in the woods.  I suppose simple is in the eye of the beholder, too. We had some last-minute permit issues, because what event organizer doesn't have those issues, and we had some last-minute sanctioning issues, but everything worked out. Yay! 

The first day also coincided with the final race of the 2015 Park Series, so we had a pretty big field in that race, at Edmands Park. Lots of fun little route choices over those glacially-formed hills, and Giovanni won the thing, taking home, well, sharing, a pretty tasty apple-berry pie, if I may say so myself.  Earlier in the day, the sprint camp participants had done some training down at Newton Highlands Playground, including the map shown below with no map on it. That one was devilishly difficult.

Another fun exercise - relay training. Two people ran together, but each with slightly different versions of the map. The first person had to navigate to a point that the second person didn't have on their map, and the second person had to keep up with the navigation even though they didn't know where they were heading. Then they'd switch leads, and the second person would lead to their control, with the first person trying to keep up. Good mass-start practice!

Friday was more precision map reading, this time in Magazine Beach park, and finished up with a race at Danehy Park, all in Cambridge. We had a sponsorship from Hubway, so some people rented bicycles to get around the city. On a nice day, not a bad thing to do! 

Erin and Ed, setting up all the trainings.

Apparently the junior team was pretty whipped after all this work. It was tough getting them going for the second sprint.

Friday night, the juniors had a team dinner at Barb's house, that she very kindly organized, and the so-called grownups headed to Grand Ten Distillery, for the Friday Night Flights tour and tasting. Very interesting to learn about how they make their spirits, and I love all the Boston history they incorporate. Totally worth it to go visit!

Saturday was a full day of forest sprints at Franklin Park. We started with some intervals, in groups of 3-4 runners, and here's where we had our first casualty - Phil managed to run into a stick, and cut up his eyelid pretty badly. Luckily, it was just the eyelid, and not the eye, but I discovered firsthand that we weren't exactly prepared to deal with a medical emergency. A trip to the Brigham and Women's ER and then on to Mass Eye and Ear, where a specialist came in to do some stitches, and that specialist called in a second specialist... sometimes it pays to hold events in a city with lots of hospitals.  Phil is all fine now, but he was real bummed to miss the rest of the orienteering.

The other event, while Phil was getting stitched up, was a mass start race, with three different maps that everyone ran at least once. It was fun to see so many people in the forest, going to roughly the same places but then veering off to punch their controls.  That made for two pretty intense sessions in the morning, so the third exercise was a slower one, practicing flipping the map and cleaning nailing the first control, over and over. That was enough for the morning, so we ate Vietnamese sandwiches and smoothies, and a big group went to the zoo, before the afternoon race.

Ed felt that he identified with the goat, today.

Sunday was the final event, after I'd been up way too late baking pies for the winners. Delicious pies, so totally worth it, but I'd rather just bake pies, and skip the event-organizing part. Also made a couple loaves of chocolate banana bread, because the case of bananas that Ed picked up ripe on Tuesday were starting to get way too brown to be palatable.  Anyway, Sunday's race was a nationally-sanctioned race, a prologue race and then a final, seeded off the results of the prologue. I'd been vetting this one for a few weeks, so I had an idea of how the courses would run, but I was worried it would be too fast and flat, since we were running at Boston Common. But, everyone seemed to enjoy the courses, and I watched a lot of people making mistakes even though it's a simple park. I guess race brain DOES make everything more difficult!

Running in the center of a city definitely changes the feel of an event, and the bandstand was a perfect arena.  We got to witness one drug bust, and then the cops went to a different part of the park where someone had just pulled a gun on someone else... great, way to choose safe race venues! Luckily our race was unaffected by the drama going on around us, and it was clearly different for the runners to dash through throngs of tourists while trying to navigate.

Map from the final; it was two maps with a map exchange so that you couldn't read ahead too much.

Teammates - Izzy not wearing her CSU gear, but I liked that all three were hitting the common control (there was forking in the qualifier races) at once. Wonderful day for spectating!

Barb in her running dress.

Robbie (walking, because of an injury) and Dan approaching the finish.

Ed and Andy running the results stuff totally smoothly.

What a venue!

Bill, starting the final. With a real start gate! Super cool that Ed has built this technology and that we can use it at our events!

Teammate Kseniya leaving the final control of the final.

All in all, it was a very successful weekend. Sometimes, organizing events can be as fun as running in them, and this was one of those instances.  Watching everyone leave with smiles on their faces and lots of training in their legs made me feel really happy, and Ed and I are already scheming about next year. Super duper thanks to Erin for designing the theories behind all the trainings, to Ed for coming up with this crazy idea, and to all the CSU runners who donated their time on Sunday to make the national meet a success.

Results and other chatter about the meet can be found here, and some of the juniors have already written about this, from both the American and Canadian perspectives.