Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Craftsbury marathon

I haven't back to the Craftsbury marathon since 2010, and I had actually had fun then, so figured I'd better just quit while I was ahead. No idea why I decided to do it again this year, maybe seven years was enough to learn how to wax my skis and succeed in long races, but my main goal was to enjoy the day.

They start all the distances together, but luckily the bibs are color-coded so you know who is doing what. The fast Canadian master who comes to the EC races and crushes us all took off with Kaitlynn Miller, but they were doing two and one lap, respectively, so I had no need to speed up, and settled in to a comfortable but snappy pace. Out into Murphy's field the first time and Emily Stitt, Middlebury grad and last year's top American at the Norwegian Birkie in 59th, took the lead with Amy Caldwell. Amy was only doing two laps, but I liked her rhythm, so rolled along with them. I noted that both were kicking much better than me, but my skis were faster. Even that early, if your competitors have the kick that you don't, the writing is on the wall. Should have gone with that extra layer of the multigrade.

 Photo from NENSA

 Photo from NENSA

We were well into the back of the men's wave by the feed at 2k, and it became a game of human slalom. Kind of fun, kind of frustrating. All the fresh snow meant that skiing out of the tracks was painfully slow, and skiing in the tracks was glazing and fast. But, most of the guys we were passing had no idea that there were faster people coming through, and so to pass someone you had to hop out of the track, do a little sprint, and then hop back in. I was not a fan of burning matches like this. But, no real other way to do it. Maybe next year we can have an elite wave?

The human slalom got even more entertaining coming down the s-turns in the fields by Eleanor's, but then we got a nice long stretch of double poling with three tracks. The middle track was definitely fastest, but at least you could use the other tracks to pass the guys without wasting too much energy. Emily, Amy and I were still skiing together, and I was just loving the scenery - winter wonderland! I mentioned that out loud, just to be able to remember how beautiful I was finding it on later laps when I might not be as inclined to look around. Entering Ruthie's Run, around 6k, Amy called out "you girls know you have another 44 kilometers to ski, right?" I could only laugh - skiing fast is so much more fun than skiing slow, that I'd rather start fast and flare out than trudge along monitoring my heart rate.

My lack of kick became apparent climbing Ruthie's Run. It's not a big hill, but it does go on for 2km, and I didn't want to use my arms to force it, because I needed those muscles for later. I finessed my way along in time with Amy, but just as it got steep I got stuck behind more guys, and the trail had narrowed to cross a bridge and I was boxed out. Emily and Amy put a small gap on me, and once I got around and found my own rhythm again I didn't feel like accelerating to catch up. Now it was going to get lonely.

But, my slick skis made up the difference on the downhill, and I made contact again. It was still really heavy traffic, looking at the finish times of the 2- and 4-lap men, I may have already passed ~120 guys by that point. We started climbing back to the stadium and I had to do a lot of switching tracks, any time I wanted to get around someone. Emily pulled ahead, and Amy dangled behind her. I was finding that out of the tracks, my skis were icing, because there was just too much fresh snow out there, but I really couldn't kick too well in the tracks. Tried not to stress about it, because the name of the game is energy conservation, but I was frustrated.

The second lap was a little calmer in terms of passing the guys. The ones I was catching were moving a little faster, skiing a little better, and I could see Amy dangling ahead of me on the hills. I focused on my hips coming up Ruthie's, and it worked well enough, not a very powerful stride but at least I got up the hill. I was pretty close to Amy after the flat bits at the bottom of the descent, but she pulled ahead again on the climb to the stadium, and I came through the lap maybe 30 seconds after she finished. Emily long gone, so now it would be a lonely race of hoping nobody would come from behind. The only guys I would be passing now were 50k skiers, with the occasional lapped skier.

Murphy's field allows a look behind, as it's 1-2 minutes to go around the field, and I could see Jane McClelland not that far behind me. I also could see Robert Faltus and Jamie Doucett, masters from CSU, about 2 minutes ahead of me, and made it my goal to hunt them down. It had stopped snowing, and my skis were kicking a lot better now. This also meant it was less slow to ski out of the track, which is what I would do on the steeper uphills to get some stick to my shuffle. I still had really good energy, so let myself flare off some fitness cresting the hills. I was seeing Jamie's back on the Race Loop climb, but he double poles like a canoe racer, so I didn't actually make contact until Ruthie's Run. The outside tracks, which were less glazed, gave me slightly better kick, and I allowed myself to use some arm wax to make sure I stayed in the track. Being able to ski in the same track for longer than 20 seconds was a new thing this lap, now that most of the slow guys had finished, and it was nice to finally settle in to a rhythm.

Coming down from Ruthie's, I was chasing a guy in Craftsbury Green, Peter Harris. I couldn't get by him on the climbs, as he had really good skis, but we both reeled in Robert together. I finally got ahead of Peter and Robert as we started the fourth lap, and I was looking for a new rabbit. Into Murphy's field and I could see Bob Burnham just entering the woods, so target acquired. I took a look back as I finished the loop, and Jane was still there, maybe 20 seconds further back than the last lap. But I was still feeling good, really strong and plenty fit, so started trying to push the pace again. My arms were getting tired, but they weren't cramping.

I was finding my skis were wanting to ice here and there, so I had to be careful if getting out of the tracks. As I came through the Ruthie's feed station, I first saw Sara Mae having a chat with the volunteers, and then caught sight of Bob heading up the next little climb. Still out of reach, but getting closer. Through the flat bits after the descent I started some positive self-talk, that definitely included a line about how I'm such a beast I'm going to catch Bob. It worked, and I caught him and another two guys on the climbs back to the stadium. Again forcing myself to stay in the track, because it was just so much faster, just took a little more arm strength to make the kick happen.

I couldn't drop Bob until the final hill to the cabins, but at least he wasn't telling stories. I was happy to be done, no cramping, no bonking, and good energy throughout, but I really would have liked slightly stickier skis. Probably just more layers of the Rode, maybe on a stiffer pair of skis. But overall, this was fantastic. I enjoyed myself and really enjoyed skiing in those beautiful woods, and I ended up in 2nd place, ahead of names like Meghan Killigrew and Jane McLelland and Elissa Bradley, so I'll take it! Emily got me by 10 minutes, which is kind of embarrassing, but hey, if I could have gone faster I would have, so no real shame there.

Ed and I headed down to Middlebury for the Eastern Cup after the race. I had abandoned my team on a classic sprint day, but they were totally fine, mostly because Rob had acquired some food-grade french fry warmers to keep the klister warm. If you're going to do something that stupidly awesome, you better own it. Rikert is so beautiful in the morning when you get there for a ski race, and the far ridge of mountains was covered with a dusting of fresh snow. The course was in great shape, making me wish I'd signed up for the race, but by my second lap around testing skis, I was happy enough to remain a spectator!

With clouds like this, you hold off on rilling all the skis for transformed manmade snow until just before the races start. 

Monday, January 30, 2017

White Mountain Classic

The White Mountain Classic is a supposed 30k "marathon" at Jackson, the one-day club championships. It was beautiful klister conditions up there, loose granular that actually stayed put thanks to a short dip below freezing on Friday night, some gray ice in the tracks but mostly just sugar. 

I've done this race a few times, and the course is a lot of fun, though with lots of double poling on golf courses between the fun bits. The start was a little more chaotic than I remembered, but after two laps around the golf course people got themselves straightened out. I was tailing a group of masters men being led by Rob, and as we headed up Yodel it was great - they were peeling off right and left to start herringboning, and I just stayed in the track, eyes in front, trying to keep the effort reasonable on the steeper pitches but definitely just STAY IN THE TRACK. That got me past most of those guys, but making up no time on Rob, since he was also kicking up the track. I should mention that beating Rob is always a goal of mine. I could feel some effort as I crested Yodel, but my energy levels were really good today, so the lactic cleared quickly and there was no lingering fatigue from the long hill. My goal for the day was to remember to really ski - no shuffling or shuffle-running.

Brief double pole recovery in the fields, where Rob and I bridged up to the next pack. Then we started the climb to the wave, which is tricky because you think you get recovery on some of those transition-y little downhills, but really it's all climbing. I was skiing at this point in a group with Steve Moreau, Peter Harris, Rob leading the way, and two Sr skiers flailing around near me. They were only near me and not ahead because of the flail - boys that age should be a lot faster than me. I kept focusing on really kicking and gliding, and staying in the tracks around all those corners, which quickly led me to discover that my skis were really fast in the tracks. 

Again I could feel the work by the top of the Wave, and was very happy to be done with it, but the fatigue dissipated quickly, and I caught up to Andy Milne's group on the downhill. This was going well. Zipped out to the front, and then a small group of maybe four or five of us started the double poling around the flats. I managed to keep up with the boys ok, and then the guys started slowing down too much as we came through the feed the second time, content with their pack placing. I looked back and could see the purple/green Ford Sayre suit of Elissa, chasing in 2nd place. Uh oh. I moved to the front and upped the tempo, and only Rob kept pace. 

We entered the hills and I was working, doing a little herringboning this time, but driving and striding where I could. I had one of those awesome revelations near the top of the climb to the Airport - I am so fit. That is such a nice feeling! Rob and I really pulled away on the transitional climb to the top of the Wave - being a good skier really pays when you have lots of transitions. He was a little in front, so I was mostly using him to pace myself. Trying to put more time into Elissa, without blowing up. 

More tourers this time 'round, but nobody in my way down the hill, and this time on the flats I kept the tempo high the whole time. Rob wasn't letting himself get dropped, though I'm sure I don't offer much draft to somebody a foot taller. The final time up the hill to Eagle Mountain House, I was starting to slip a little, not because of wax but just because I was getting tired, so my form was crumbling. My klister caught at the turn at the top of that hill, in the powder, and I nearly face planted, and Rob got a small gap. I couldn't close it down on the double poling back to Yodel, and then I just couldn't keep pace up that last hill - couldn't get the kick in the tracks, but icing up out of the tracks. Final double pole sprint after the ripping descent, and I just couldn't close the gap. Finished 6 seconds behind him, and first woman, about a minute ahead of Elissa. That was super fun. I love it when my skis just WORK, and the conditions are great and it's a beautiful day and I have people to ski with the whole time. Also, I love winning. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

Quarry Road Eastern Cups

The second weekend of Eastern Cup racing was at Quarry Rd, in Waterville. My alma mater's home course! They only built the venue six years too late for me to ski there in college. Those are some really nice trails, and you can tell Tracey had a hand in the design, with serious climbs and technical downhills, and very little flat recovery. Not remotely close to what we train on during the week at the Leo J golf course.

CSU Army back at it. We've got wax team and we've got the food table team, and really that's all we need. 

Saturday was a skate sprint, and Sunday a mass start 10k classic. I decided to sign up for both races, figuring I'd sit out the classic race if things started to go haywire - priority is on making sure all the kids had their skis waxed, not on me getting another race start. I was very excited for the skate sprint, as that's one of my favorite formats, and I'm usually really good in them. I love doing races where I'm good at the format!

Well yeah, then the races happened. I'd been feeling pretty flat all week, and I didn't magically feel snappier on Saturday morning. I suspect the root of my problems lay in a warmup that wasn't hard enough, but I just felt terrible for the entire 3.5 minutes that I flailed through that course. I felt terrible on the uphills, I felt out of control on the downhills, and I couldn't generate any speed on the flats. All in all, a pretty miserable qualifier. I didn't even come close to advancing. And here I'd thought I'd be qualifying in the top 10. Hubris.

My U18 boys made it into the same heat. Really fun to watch them ski so well!

One of my first-year U16 girls leading the heat! Don't underestimate the small ones.

Sunday was a new day. The venue was still icy, but we had good skis, and it was warmer than Saturday. But I wasn't really feeling the whole racing thing. Maybe it was a black cloud left over from Saturday, but my legs felt like wooden pegs, with these long awkward slidey things on the bottom, totally disconnected from any useful function. Maddy and I skied a lot that morning, testing all the various klister combinations, searching for the perfect mixture of sticky and tenacious and fast, and Rob kept dreaming up new combos, that needed testing. And there's no point testing kick on flat bits, you need to hit the hills. After an hour and a half of skiing around, we jumped back into the trenches with the wax team, frantically applying cold klister to all the women's skis. Cold klister does not go on quickly or easily. At this point, I was fairly sure I shouldn't race. I was unmotivated, cold, and exhausted. And, if I started, I was bib 314 of 317 (yay for USSA not recognizing coaching licenses as a way to get seed points), which meant starting on the last row of a mass start. I figured I'd be a lot happier if I just watched the races today. I race because I like to beat people, and that wasn't looking very likely today.

Beautiful rock-hard tracks, that actually held up through the end of the men's race! Two of my U16 boys had break-out races, which is always exciting when you're a coach. 

And then the only pair of skis left to wax were mine. I had 12 minutes before the start.

You know what? Screw it. Step aside, ego, because the only way I'm going to get warm today, and get all this klister off my hands, is if I go out there and do a 10k tempo effort. I may not have the available oomph for a proper race, but mass starts are awesome, and I love skiing, even when it's slow. Let's go ski racing!

Five minutes to go, and I had two skis with wax on them, I was wearing a bib, and I was at the start, totally cold. The gun went off, and it was a good five seconds before I moved. Nothing like watching the leaders ski out of sight before you even take a stride!

The back of the mass start. I'm the jerk poling between the tracks desperately trying to move up before we hit the u-turn. Photo from FlyingPointRoad.  

Total traffic jam at the corner that comes 200m after the start, and then a couple girls on their butts at the next corner as we entered the woods. I negotiated all of that pretty well, and kept moving forwards as we rolled down to the bottom of the course. I was using this part of the course as a warmup as much as a chance to pass people at no added effort, and by the time we hit the first gradual hill, I was striding around bibs in the 270-280s. 40 people down, that's some improvement. I even recognized some of them! But the front of the race had already crested this hill. Well, no point dwelling on what I can't control, just ski up this hill smoothly.

In some ways, it's a lot easier starting in the back - going up the hill, everyone was in a line, so there really wasn't much room to pass. I was ok with this effort, as it wasn't too hard, but I knew I should keep moving up. I managed to not take out any skiers on the winding downhill, getting past a good number of snowplowers, and then we started up the major climb of the course. I could move pretty well while striding, but as soon as people were herringboning, the trail was blocked. Again, I didn't make much effort to get past, reasoning I'd waste too much energy to no avail, so I just sort of herringbone-walked in line with everyone else. 

Then we hit the gradual bit at the top, and I jumped up a few more groups, angling to make some space for myself on the technical downhills. The first two corners were totally step-able, since you don't have much speed at that point. The third corner is a little harder, off-camber and more than doubling back on itself, so I had found that morning that skidding a little speed off at the beginning and stepping through the end yielded the most speed. It shot you into a short uphill, so carrying speed was definitely beneficial. It was amazing how many girls I passed on those three corners. Like they were standing still. Free speed, ladies! 

After the short uphill the course shot us back onto the sprint course, three more downhill corners, again the first two were easy and the third you carried more speed, and then the uphill from the sprint before a long double poling bit through the stadium. I stayed in my tuck for a long time into the stadium, catching my breath and still passing people who had stood up to double pole. This was fun! I love passing people just because I'm more efficient! 

I rode this feeling of being awesome all the way to the bottom of the course starting my second lap, and then I started uphill and all that fatigue I'd felt in the morning came crashing through my little bubble of happiness. Oh right. Ski racing is hard. Sort of simultaneous to that realization, my pole strap broke. I guess it must have been pretty worn, and my beastly double poling around the stadium was just too much. The pole was still usable, but it had suddenly gotten a lot less efficient. I was at the front of a loose pack, now, with a bit of a gap which meant I could finally ski my own pace, but I knew that the last 3km would be bad without a working pole strap. 

Starting the long climb, I saw a junior spectating the race, carrying poles, and I swapped with him. Unfortunately, that pole was 5 inches too long. I figured it was better than nothing, and was worth the 15 seconds or so that I'd lost making the swap. But double poling was difficult and awkward now, even worse than with my broken strap. Luckily near the top of the climb I saw Tracey, my coach from Colby, and she gave me her pole, much closer to the proper height. I lost another 15 seconds or so with the second swap, but now I had two poles that both worked! Unfortunately, all that swapping of poles put me behind that little pack I'd been at the front of at the bottom of the hill. Bad positioning. Naturally, I tried to make up for some of that time on the downhill, and took that third corner a little too aggressively, passing someone on the inside in the ice. As I stepped out from the ice, my klister caught the berm of sugar snow, and I went tumbling. Luckily I'm a pro at falling down, and I rolled out of it and was up without losing much time, but that killed my momentum into the short little kicker midway down the hill.

I think I did my first real work of the course on the final climb before the stadium, but I was still at the back of the pack. I made a few more passes before the end, but it was far too little far too late, and before I knew it I was across the line and done with the race. Dang, I was just getting started! 

I'm really glad I ended up racing. Even if the effort wasn't what I would have liked, I had a blast playing NASCAR in the mass start, and it is a lot of fun to ski on skis that kick well and are still faster than everyone around you. The result was so bad I won't even link to it, but that wasn't the point of today. 
Some days, you stand at the end of a double rainbow (snow-bow) and yell "I'M A LEPRECHAUN!" Glad I can teach my skiers to treat those moments with the same joy I do.

Part of me wonders about my recent attitude about ski races. I've been very lackadaisical lately, and not that interested in pushing through any sort of struggle. This is new, mildly disturbing, and makes me wonder if I've used up my lifetime of give-a-damns about race starts. I guess time will tell, considering the next two weekends are two races I should care about. It could be as simple as shifted priorities when at the Eastern Cups, focused on my skiers above all else. One thing is damn sure - I need this skiing stuff in my life to keep my head balanced and happy, regardless of what speed I'm going.

White Mountain Classic this weekend at Jackson, and then the Craftsbury Marathon next weekend. I'm excited to look for a little effort in these races. Here goes!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Craftsbury Eastern Cup

I guess I'm a couple races behind, but somehow, it's already ski season. This season is already looking better than last, with snow on the ground in at least five states around me, and more than enough man-made snow to hold the opener Eastern Cup races. Even Leo J has snow right now, meaning my skiers got to train before the races! 

Some back-up, in the athletic world of Alex - the Blue Hills Traverse was held in the Holyoke Range this year, rather than at the Blue Hills, but it made for a very enjoyable event. 
I won the women's race, but more through a lack of competitors than any great athletic prowess on my part. I was 10th among the men, but arguably could have been around 5th with some different tactics. Live and learn, and always pre-wet your shoes. 

Maps - part 1 (click to embiggen):

Part 2, with more hills:

It was a brutally hilly course, but aside from some ankle instability I felt pretty strong.

Since the Traverse, which was just pre-Thanksgiving, I've been in a training block, albeit a low one. Fitting in workouts wherever they'll go, often in the dark. I've signed up for the Craftsbury marathon, so I'm trying to bring back my double poling strength, and that's a long road.
At least I can still bounce. Inov-8 from head to toe that morning, evidently. Some weeks, your vertical quality comes in the form of cement steps. 

Textbook classic technique

Saturday 5k classic
Leading up to the Craftsbury opener Eastern Cups, I was feeling pretty good. I'd been crushing my first-years in interval workouts, actually doing some strength, and generally balancing life pretty well. Then all of a sudden I stopped being able to balance life and work, and work totally took over, and for some reason 13-hour days aren't conducive to either good-quality training or good-quality rest. I stood on the start line Saturday more tired than I've been in a long time. 

I'm used to racing with some degree of fatigue; that's what racing as a coach is all about. But this was worse than I remembered, and combined with the falling snow making it very slow conditions, I was on a serious struggle bus. Individual-start 5k, and it's a good thing it was as short as it was, because I was having serious thoughts about taking a snow nap. My legs were flooded, my arms didn't work, and my core was more interested in a second breakfast than in applying power in my double pole. I think the less said about that race, the better. I'll have better races. 

Sunday 10k pursuit
After a better night of sleep, and some bacon for breakfast (Craftsbury breakfasts are the BEST!), I had much better energy levels on Sunday. It was also a totally different feel to the course, fast and fluoro-y, great for a power skier who can generate speed. That would be me. It was a pursuit race, meaning the winner of Saturday's race went out first, and people went out after based on the number of seconds behind her they'd finished the day before. I had finished something like five minutes back on the first day, so I didn't start until midway through the pack, with about 20 people in the 15 seconds before and after me. Going to be a pack race! And on a 2.5km loop, no less. There was a lot of traffic out there. 

Kathy doing the hard work coaching 

I started out four seconds behind two SLU gals, and I caught them while still in a tuck on the downhills. Our skis were RIPPING fast. We headed into the hills, and there were just bodies in every direction, so many people. I had thought that maybe I'd count the number of people I passed, but I lost track after the two SLU girls. Snuck past one of my ex-CSUers at Bates now, and then we hit the main hill, which had been marked with two lanes, to help with congestion. I was definitely stuck behind a pack of like 8 girls, all going much slower than I wanted to, but nothing to do in that case except be patient, because flailing to get past them was only going to lose me energy. As it flattened out I snuck around them, past one of my ex-skiers now at Colby, and got some clear track for a bit.

Closed the gap to an XC Ottawa girl as we climbed the wall in the stadium, and as we turned the corner and got hit in the face with a headwind carrying plenty of freezing rain, I was thankful to just ride her draft. The second lap might have been the most crowded, because there were some of the slower girls starting now. I followed Ottawa's draft across the fields, slalomed past some girls attempting to negotiate the corner from their butts in the snow, and glided past another pack as we headed back into the hills. This time I managed to make some strategic passes on the downhill, and was ahead of a large pack climbing the hill - took it relatively easy, since I could feel the fatigue building, but I was still moving pretty well.

Ottawa came back around and took the lead up the wall, which was totally fine by me, and I hopped back into her draft to start the third lap. Another very crowded lap, and the race leaders were coming by, so I tried not to be in their way. I was still rolling past other skiers, but they were better skiers now, which meant less traffic. I was starting to really hurt, but I think that's the idea. Back behind Ottawa for the wall and the draft, and then into the fourth lap, she started to snowplow on the first downhill corners, so I took the lead and she disappeared for good in my rearview.

I was seeing the back of one of my juniors on some of the hills, but I couldn't quite close that gap. Managed to stay on my feet to the finish, for a much better result than yesterday, 35th of about 130, and having passed about 50 skiers on the course. Yay for pursuits! That was fun. Now I'm looking forward to a good training camp in Quebec, and the next ski race!
Textbook skate technique. Not me...

Friday, November 11, 2016

Stonecat 50

I signed up for a 50-mile race, back in June. I think the reason I signed up had something to do with catching the bug after running Pisgah in 2013, and wanting to check this idiotic thing off my bucket list. Unfortunately, the timing wasn’t awesome, with a late WOC and later NAOC leaving only four weekends that I could go long, before tapering off. I was definitely apprehensive heading in. Two goals:

A. Finish, no more broken than I started
B. Don’t finish, no more broken than I started

Naturally, I also wanted to run well, which for me meant around an 8-hour time, and preferably in first place. Because why not shoot for the moon? But the main focus was on goal A.

First lap
We started out in the dark, and I like that, because you feel like a badass, just flying along. Flying is an exaggeration, we were all sort of trundling off into the darkness. I made a pit stop about 20 minutes in, and that put me in no-man's land, so I spent the next 1:40 alone. That was actually kind of enjoyable; I knew I was racing people but I was appreciating the solitude. The first aid station came in about 45 minutes, and I topped off a little water, but didn’t need much else. I spent pretty much all day munching on Clif Bloks.

Between the two aid stations I felt like I was really rolling along nicely, and the trail was flat and wide, and my biggest worry was that I wouldn't be able to match this pace later in the race. Somewhere in here it started to get light, and that was so beautiful. Especially when I went through a swamp or a field, everything was covered in frost and the sun was just starting to hit it, glistening and sparkling. Wheee! And it snowed on me a little bit! More wheee!

After the second aid station was more double track and then two chunks of singletrack, both starting with a nice climb, which meant I could do some walking. The lead marathoner guy passed me somewhere in here, and scared the heck out of me, since I’d been running totally alone and in my own little sparkling world for so long. I felt good, but was worried that my hamstrings were already feeling kind of tired, especially as I pushed the pace on the flats. That thing I mentioned about only doing four long runs... yeah.

Second Lap
Ed greeted me at the lap, and I had a hardboiled egg and a salt potato to go. I also changed my shirt, which had gotten way too sweaty under my jacket while carrying a water bottle belt. Dumped the belt for a handheld here. The second place woman came in as I was leaving, so I knew I wasn't alone out there, and that helped me keep focused. The fun singletrack on the way to the first aid station was a little less fun this time, but I kept focusing on really striding out the downhills. Got to the aid in about a minute faster this time, probably because it was light out. Begged some ibuprofen off a lady spectating, for the ankle, then on to the next aid. Still munching on Clif Bloks. I like those.

Took a quarter pbj at the next aid. I had hit it in the same time as lap 1, so I guess the pace was ok, but I was sort of waiting for a hamstring cramp. On the first climb of the final section, the lead marathon woman caught up to me, followed by a 50-mile woman. She had on some sort of crappy music player blaring pop music, so I wanted to be out of earshot, either in front or behind. I tried to remind myself to run my own race, since they were jogging the uphills and I was walking, but competitive juices were upset that I’d been caught. I came through the lap in another two hours, so the pace was good, but I was starting to notice the tiredness. I told Ed that this was a stupid idea, and he promptly said “No it’s not! You love running!” Clearly he had read my instructions to him to remind me that I signed myself up for this endeavor.

Third lap
I was quicker through home base than the other woman (Suki), and left with a salt potato in my hand, walking on the gradual uphills to eat it. Different drink mix in my bottle this lap, and I think that was a mistake - it started to mess with my stomach. Previously I'd just been taking Nuun tablets, which are fizzy and not sweet and I find them both tasty and very nice to my stomach. Suki jogged past me in the first few miles of the lap, and promptly disappeared. Run your own race. Stopped to pee somewhere, and then kept on plugging. Again, focusing on proper strides, especially on the downhills, no shuffling. Shortly before the first aid I passed Suki, which is always heartening, but she came into the aid just behind me. Run your own race. I kept plugging, and we ran together for a bit, but then a woman in a green jacket caught us, and moved right past us, and Suki followed. Run your own race. They were gone, and that was when I really started to notice that my stomach was in a lot of discomfort. I was down to shuffle-pace, and that sucked.

Two pit stops later fixed whatever was going on, and soon I was able to properly stride out again. I was definitely tired, but hey, that’s a state of mind, right? I walked the two uphills on the singletrack, but I could run the downhills again, and my stride was still even, despite some aches and pains. I was going to finish this damn thing.

I was passing lots of marathon people now, most on their second lap, and it helped a bit to have rabbits ahead of me. Somewhere near the end got passed by the lead dude and his pacers, and they were MOVING. I tried to keep up for a bit, considering we were on a downhill, and even that was too tough. Dang. Hit the lap in about 2:15, big slow-down. But, now I get a pacer!

Fourth lap
Tom Dmukaskas, from the CSU running section, had agreed to pace me for my final lap. We haven’t run together a whole lot, but I’ve always enjoyed my interactions with him, so I figured it would work out. As we started out, he was questioning how I felt, getting a sense of how much I wanted to be pushed and how much I was capable of at the moment. I certainly didn’t feel like I was capable of much, and I was 10 minutes down on the lady in green and maybe 5 minutes down on Suki, so I wasn’t feeling hopeful either. But I’m a fighter, and he figured that out, and once he discovered that i was still running downhills well, we started pushing those. I had chosen to carry a water bottle belt again this lap, because my arms were getting tired of carrying the handheld, but it was giving me a stomach cramp. This hindered me for a bit, but I dumped the belt at the first aid station, while keeping the bottle, and that helped the stomach.

Along the doubletrack towards the second aid, I was finding a bit of a second wind, mostly thanks to Tom. We rolled past a guy on a downhill, and then just kept rolling. I was thinking about my form again, which helped, and now that the cramp had passed I was munching on Clif Bloks again. We hit a chunk of single track and started treating the downhill/flats as intervals - shuffle up the hill, then try and keep rolling as long as possible on the downhill. This worked, because we caught Suki at the top of one of the hills, and promptly left her in my dust. Normally I like to recover a bit first, but there weren’t too many real downhills, so I figured I should use them while they were there. Then for a few miles it was tough going, because I had to keep the pressure on, but out of sight out of mind, and she was behind me.

After the final aid station, things were getting painful. I was shuffling. Ankle, achilles, a random tendon behind my knee, and my feet soles were all clamoring for attention. Just keep swimming, just keep swimming. Tom would let me take short walking breaks on the barely-perceptible uphills, but then it was back to running. We finally hit the last two single track climbs, which meant a more sustained walking break, and I needed that. The downhills were getting painful, because I’d had to loosen my shoe because of my ankle swelling or something, causing my foot to fall asleep, so now my shoe was loose and every downhill step my foot would slide my toes into the front of my shoe. I might lose that toenail. Anyway, we finally hit the doubletrack, and I could smell the hotdogs, figuratively, so trundled in to the finish at top speed, very, very, VERY glad to be done.

So after 8.5 hours, I ended up about 15 minutes behind the green girl, and maybe 10 ahead of Suki. Pretty ok with that time, especially given the insufficient training leading up to the race. Really pleased I was able to find a second (fourth?) wind on the final lap to catch back up to Suki. Super duper thanks to Ed for all his crewing help, and to Tom for the pacing. Definitely helped keep me in a more neutral state of mind rather than just tired and grumpy.


Apparently crewing your runner makes you hungry, too. We didn't bother with plates for dinner.

The day after, we hosted an orienteering event - Forest-X - at the Fells. It actually felt really good to walk around, and I was very relieved to not appear to have any injuries from this ridiculous endeavor. Check that one off the list! It'll need a damn good reason to do that again. 50-mile race is a bit of a misnomer, since I just spent the whole time plodding along - doesn't feel like a race. Looking forward to ski season now!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Miles to go before I sleep

Fall is finally happening! It took a while, but we're finally getting frostier mornings and some leafy colors. My long runs lately have been had me thinking poetically, and lately I feel like Frost is hitting home.

    Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.   
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.   
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.   
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

I made a poor choice in June, and signed up for a 50-miler in November. Given my taper schedule for the late-August/mid-September races, I had about six weeks between North Americans and the Stonecat 50. This is maybe time for 4-5 long runs, and long runs are supposed to be the backbone of ultra training. Six weeks is not enough time to train for an ultra, but somehow this seemed like a good plan in June. So while I do feel woefully unprepared, it has been a fun journey nonetheless, collecting miles like pokemons.

My feet have taken me some cool places lately. To be totally honest, I have no need of vertical, because the Stonecat course is basically flat. I didn't realize that when I signed up, or maybe I would have thought twice. Running up mountains is a lot more fun than doing loops on a flat and marshy trail, but I wanted a local-ish 50-miler. Despite not needing vertical, I go to the mountains whenever I get a chance. One of those chances was at Ali's wedding - naturally, she joined in a running-appropriate version of a wedding dress :)

Favorite sort of selfie! Camel's Hump in the background.

For some reasons, I couldn't get any takers for a Sunday morning four-hour jaunt in chilly clouds. It was beautiful and meditative. I'd never been on that part of the Long Trail.

Back in Boston, more miles of flat pavement. At least sometimes there are nice views - from across the river, the city looks clean and modern. Can't see the rats from over here!

Ed and I did a scavenger hunt a few weekends ago, thanks to a free entry. It was as gimmicky and ridiculous as we expected, and it was also kind of awesome. 100 riddles, once solved, gave 100 different locations around the city. You could run or bike or take public transit to get to these locations, take a geotagged photo, and try to unlock points and levels and get free stuff. It ended with free beer at the Harpoon brewery, and it was a long day - 11 hours of scavenging. We spent about an hour sitting there answering riddles before we got moving, and then we only walked - we had decided that we didn't feel like being super competitive. That didn't work; we walked 22 miles and were up there with some of the longest distances traveled by foot. Two tactical mistakes - because the whole thing was phone-based, we didn't do well with managing our phone batteries. I only brought one charger for the two of us, and we did all our riddle answering with a lot of google help, which drained our batteries. So we lost a few hours charging phones during the day. But overall, pretty fun, and an interesting way to get a long day on my feet.

The next weekend I was hoping to do a Pemi loop, since Ari had me convinced that this was a good idea, but then it snowed enough to make things icy on the ridges, and that combined with 100mph winds up there kept us below treeline. We stayed on pretty flat trails in a valley, and it was still pretty windy, so I feel like we made the right choice. It was definitely a beautiful day for a long run.

Shoal Pond in the snow. About as serene as it gets.

Thoreau Falls

Snow on fall leaves!

I had the opportunity to fly down to DC, where I got to hang out with Barney and his family, and help Boris and Alli with a junior training camp. Lots of fun in some really beautiful forests. Not the ideal taper weekend, but hey, board games count as rest, right?

And getting a little quality time with a beagle is nothing to scoff at. 

Two days from now I lace up my shoes and do something stupid. I'm kind of excited, kind of anxious, and hoping I can remember to find the joy while I run.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

North American Orienteering Championships

IThe North American Orienteering Championships (NAOC) is an event that happens every two years, and the hosting country alternates between Canada and the USA. This was my third time competing for the US at NAOC, and this was the competition closest to home, taking place in Hanover NH. I'd previously skied at Storrs Pond, but I'd never been there in the summer, and likewise had never been to either Burnt Mountain or the Dartmouth Campus, except to visit as a High-school senior years ago. No home-court advantage, but I know what NH forests are like, and that familiarity with the terrain is an important factor.
Middle Distance
The first race was at Storrs Pond, a middle distance race on Friday afternoon. I timed lunch poorly, having packed it in the trunk of my car and not stopping partway up to get it out and eat it, which meant I got really hungry, and then ate too much too fast too soon to my start. Rookie! 

I knew that this would be a technical area, and with 22 controls over 4.5km, I had to have a laser-sharp focus the whole way. Maybe the sloshy stomach helped, because I didn't think about my physical state ever, except maybe once when I was wondering who was behind me breathing so heavily, and realized it was me. The race itself was fairly uneventful, and I calmly executed my plans and found controls and never really felt like I got moving all that fast, because I couldn't do that and stay in contact with the map. I made a 45s mistake on the penultimate control, but otherwise ran a very clean, safe, and controlled race, and it was enough to put me into fourth place overall, ahead of two of my long-time orienteering idols: Ali and Sam. I wished that they had had better days, but that's why we race as a team, and Hannah and I did what we could against the Canadians.

Map - You can turn on people's names and view an animation as they move through the course. I was on the Red Y course.

Results. The top six get medals, so this was technically my first IOF "Diploma." Cool!

Long Distance
Saturday was the Long Distance race. I was pretty excited for this one, although I had heard some ominous rumors about the map legibility, especially at 1:15,000 scale (the elites are assumed to have the best eyesight of all the orienteers, as well as the longest route-choice legs, so we're given a smaller scale so that the full course fits on a reasonable size of paper. This is an IOF rule, which sort of sucks in a place like Burnt Mountain, which is a suuuuuuper detailed map). I went out on the model event briefly, and discovered that in the dim lighting under a mature hemlock canopy (most of the map), I couldn't read the map very well, even with my magnifier on it. Yikes, this was going to be an interesting day. 

I showed up to the start line ready to go, operating under the assumption that course setters always save the worst terrain for the model event. The actual race was going to be fun! Alas, I had no better luck reading the map during the race. In my defense, the map was also "overmapped," meaning there were some tiny rock features on the map that didn't belong there. The printing was also not great - the contours and the rock features weren't crisp, meaning sometimes one boulder would sort of bleed into another one, especially at 1:15,000. I had hoped that the IOF event controller would catch things like this, but not so much. With all the black stuff on the map, it was hard to get a sense of what the land was actually doing with its shapes.

Anyway, everybody has to race on the same map. I could have spent way longer whining about it, but instead my mission for the day was to find those little orange flags as fast as possible. I taped my ankles better today, so felt more sure-footed, but my inability to properly interpret the map meant that I just couldn't move too fast. So frustrating! I left about 3 minutes of mistakes on the course, but mostly, I was just slow. I'm not very proud of that race, but I still snuck onto the podium in 6th place, way, way waaaaay behind Emily Kemp, the winner.

Map - select "Red Y" to see my course

Sprint Race
The final race was on the Dartmouth Campus, the sprint race! I felt like I needed some redemption, after Saturday's sad little slog, and I was feeling good, really peppy legs. I did a good warmup, and had my mantras set. Go-time! 

The course was interesting enough for a campus sprint, but relatively straightforward. It was feeling like a straight running race, almost, as it should when the navigation is flowing smoothly. By the fifth control, I had just about caught Tori Owen, the Canadian who started ahead of me by a minute, and that of course helps with the confidence. I felt strong across the Green and into the final bits, that were really hilly. Oof! Unfortunately, as I came rolling down the hill to my penultimate control, supposed to be on a tree, I spotted a different course's control, on a tree, next to the same road I was on, and I punched that one. I had checked the codes, but my race brain apparently couldn't differentiate between code 78 and code 71, and so I mis-punched. There's a big fat DSQ by my name now, so much for redemption.

Sprint Relay
The Deciders for the relay teams decided that I was still a good choice, though, so I was on the second relay team for the US, with Tori Borish, Michael Laraia, and Ross Smith. Our first relay Team was Sam Saeger, Anton Salmenkyla, Greg Ahlswede, and Ali Crocker, putting all our eggs into that basket - we were a ways behind the Canadians at this point in terms of the Bjorn Kjellstrom cup. 

Tori took us out with a very nice leg, though she says she made a mistake, and finished about 45 seconds behind Sam, who was leading the pack by a solid 15 seconds. Michael had a good run, pulling back a team or two, and Ross hung on to fourth place, coming in just over a minute behind team Canada #2 (both first teams were out in front, battling). Tori Owen was the anchor Canadian for their second team, and I'd made up a minute on her in the morning, could I do it again? 

The key in relays is to keep your head screwed on straight and to not mispunch. So in some sense, I was running very carefully, but honestly, I was in full hunting-mode. Hunting down earlier starters is my wheelhouse; I swear I have a higher VO2 when I'm hunting.

With only a 2km course, this would be over quickly. I was pushing for every second, and as I approached control 6, and in-and-out staircase situation, I saw Tori. Good. I had closed the gap by the 9th control, and then she took a slightly better route to the spectator control, and led us across the field. I chilled out behind her, catching my breath and reading ahead. Amazing what 30 seconds at a slower pace can do for your recovery. The next time we took different routes, I punched it. The thing about orienteering is that if the person behind you can see where you are, they'll be moving faster, as they don't have to navigate, they just have to follow. So, if you're trying to create a gap, you have to do it very decisively. 

I could feel Tori on my heels at the 15th control, but surged again around a building, using the corner to create more distance, and I couldn't hear her breathing anymore at the 17th. At the 18th, an in-and-out deal again, I was already out and leaving as she approached, and this let me relax a hair into the finish, knowing it wouldn't be an all-out sprint. 

My anchor leg put us into third place, but then it turned out that our first team had mis-punched, one of the runners going right past the spectator control without punching it. Darn! We could have used their points, but this moved my team into second place, and top US Team. I suppose that's racing. 

A job well done. When Ross says jump with your hands in the air, that's what you do. 

In the end, this was a very enjoyable weekend. Great weather, really nice courses, and so wonderful to see all my friends and teammates and absorb the good vibes of everyone there. This was a really nice way to wrap up my competitive international career - I'll still be at races all over, because that's what I do, but I think I'm done wearing this brightly colored stars-and-stripes uniform, at least as a senior athlete. Maybe I'll come back as a master, but I need to be done with the pressure, the intensity of training, the drive of results, my expectations pushing my body harder than it wants to go. Time to refocus on what brought me to this sport in the first place - the joy of the sport itself, and the wonderful people who do it.

See you in the forest!