Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Monday night training

Ali and I headed over to Mt. Tom after work yesterday, to go do some orienteering training. We ran two courses; the first was a re-run of a red middle distance course from 2004, mostly downhill. Ali started a minute in front of me, and my goal was to move fluidly, and carry momentum through the woods, something I've been struggling with. I felt like I was mostly accomplishing that goal, and by #3 I could hear Ali crashing through the woods ahead of me. I got off my line a bit on #5, basically came out to the trail, not in very good contact. Looking at the garmin track, this is most likely because I was not actually at #4, but at a spur just above it. I can see how I made that parallel error, and I'm not going to worry about it too much since with flags in the woods I wouldn't have made that mistake.

Long leg to 6, I decided to go semi-straight, while Ali took the more handrail-y route, I think her way was better (as well as faster, but that is tough to judge when the person you're comparing yourself to is also a faster runner). I passed her (tying her shoe) on my way to 7, and thought maybe I could hold her off on the little control-pick 7-9, except I got all confused on my way to 10. Again, with controls in the forest I likely would have been fine, but its probably best not to rely on the luck of running into a flag when you get to more or less the right area.

I decided to take the river down to 11, and that was slow, and rocky, and the forest was really trashy. And then I came to the wrong reentrant, but caught myself. Another mistake on 12, although that really was a case of needing a flag, because the area was just so damn featureless.

After that one, we switched scales and ran the Billygoat Gruff Sprint, from last spring, but backwards, and as a chase start, with Ali chasing. I had trouble switching from the 1:10k scale to 1:5k, stuff was just coming up so fast! I still managed to beat Ali on the first two controls, but she caught me up on the way to 5, and I was feeling the heat and feeling achy in various places - couldn't hang with her. I also decided to take the marsh route to 4, rather than going around on the bridge, and that was NOT faster. Look out for the swamp monsters.

Sort of falling apart the last couple controls, and Ali ended up putting two minutes on me overall, although I got her on a couple more splits. Overall, a super fun way to spend the evening, and I felt more comfortable in the woods than I've felt since last spring. Hopefully this bodes well for the US champs coming up in October!

Friday, August 27, 2010

COC Long analysis

If you aren't an orienteering nerd, this post will be pointless and long and boring. I went through the long course and analyzed my route, mostly because it was some of the most unique terrain I've ever run on, but also hoping to learn something from my multiple mistakes. Consider that your warning, read on at your own risk.

Start - 1: When I flipped my map, I immediately saw the trail run to 1, and decided that would give me a nice chance to read ahead and feel speedy. Unfortunately, the trail was basically an overgrown snowmobile trail, so it was neither speedy nor good enough footing to really read ahead, and to complicate matters, I didn't really have a good attackpoint for leaving the trail. This was also the point where I discovered that the map was 1:10,000 scale (this information had not been in the course notes). Luckily I saw the finger of lake that came next to the trail, and attacked from there, and although I was hesitant I was clean. Alex = 7:04; winner = 5:02.

1-2: Its a little tough to tell on this bit of map, because my route from 9-10 goes through here too, but there is a lot of wandering about in the control circle. I was pretty speedy getting to the edge of the circle, but then for whatever reason I couldn't find the middle, and checked out a couple extra cliffs before I found the one I was looking for. That was frustrating. Alex = 4:10; winner = 2:10.

2-3: This one actually went pretty smoothly, I had discovered how awesome the open rocks (yellow parts of the map) were for running, and so I bopped from one hill to the next, but then walked the last bit in to the control just to be safe. Alex = 4:39; winner = 3:47.

3-4: This wasn't very pretty, I started out to the right of the line and then realized that was very thick, so wiggled back over to the right of the line, and then went slowly through the green to the control. Alex = 3:41; winner = 2:27.
4-5: Finally a clean leg. Busted north to the road, which meant I didn't need to pay much attention to the map, then tried to use the good footing on the road as time to read ahead, and got as far as #8 in planning routes. Hit my attackpoint and followed the open rocks to spike 5. Alex = 4:27; winner = 4:11.

5-6: Leaving 5, I had my nose buried in my map, and ran headlong into a branch. It knocked me backwards and hurt my right eye, which was then blurry for about ten minutes. I also couldn't keep my balance after this, so even though I was mostly clean and in contact from 5-6, I was walking a lot, and fell off the stupid beaver dam a couple times because my balance was just shot. I debated dropping out but by the time I found 6, my vision had cleared, now my eye was just watering a lot, so I figured I was good to keep going. Dropping out is for wusses. Alex = 12:18; winner = 7:35.

6-7: First major mistake, and actually I was a little panicked from it. Started out nice and clean, actually running again, following the hilltops. I skirted around the lake/marsh thing and then headed north next to the attackpoint marsh, but for whatever reason, I got really confused, and thought I was somewhere else, didn't check my compass, and shortly thereafter found myself off the map and hoping and guessing that features I was seeing were actually on the map. Eventually I re-found myself, and wandered over to get the control, but that just really sucked. In this terrain I didn't even know what to relocate on, or how to re-attack, since all the marshes sort of looked the same to me. Ugh. Alex = 18:19; winner = 4:15.

7-8: At this point I knew out I was totally out of the picture, but I was still running hard on the hilltops. Went past the marsh I'd already visited in my wanderings, then skirted the big one and crossed through some nasty thick vegetation, falling off more beaver dams in the process. I was a little off at the end, but in contact, so found the flag no problems. Alex = 10:08; winner = 6:44.

8-9: This was a long leg, and I hadn't checked out the route ahead of time. I ended up heading for the road, then running the long way down between some marshes, actually a nice clean leg. But then I got to the control circle and I think my brain was completely turned off, I couldn't find the right reentrant to save my life. I think I probably spent 6 minutes wandering in circles in the right vicinity. Just didn't read my clue sheet well enough, I guess. Alex = 18:18; winner = 11:04.

9-10: At this point I was done racing. It had turned into a survival contest. I was at almost 1.5hrs at this point, with nothing to eat, and barely past halfway. I stumbled along to 10, luckily there wasn't much route choice involved, and I fell off another beaver dam next to a pond I shouldn't have even been near, then got sopping wet again crossing a "crossable" stream that was actually quite deep and mucky. At least the control presented no problems, but I was physically pretty done by now. Alex = 14:20; winner = 9:51.

10-11: I chose to go up around on the road for this one, I just didn't think I had either the mental fortitude or the physical power to push through thick vegetation anymore (all that light green stuff from 10-11). It probably would have been faster to go straight, but bailing to the road was pretty quick since I could just follow hilltops going in generally the right direction, loosely in contact. Spiking the control was easy from that approach, too. Alex = 7:24; winner = 6:00.
11-12: At this point the map and terrain were more traditional forest, and I know how to do that sort of orienteering. I went back out to the road to get to 12, used the cliff as an attackpoint, and spiked the control. Alex = 3:35; winner = 3:03.

12-13: On the road-run to 12, my blister ripped completely open, and was now even more painful. I did a lot of walking on the way to 13, just because it was easier to control how I put down my foot so as to not make the stupid blister hurt anymore. The nav was clean though. Alex = 3:02; winner = 2:10.
13-14: I tried to run a little more, almost done, how bad is a blister anyway? I walked a lot anyway. Sigh. Slight overshoot to the west of the flag, but otherwise clean. Alex = 7:01; winner = 5:00
14-15: This was a disaster. I was truly hovering on the edge of a bonk, and the brain power goes first, I think. I attacked from the wrong marsh, and got to a little depression that I thought could be my reentrant, with a flag, but not my flag. I checked out a couple things in the area, nope, this is not right. Went back to the trail, and went further along it, attacked from a ridge this time. Ended up at the same stupid depression. I punched the control this time, just in case the numbers were mixed up, and then headed towards #16, just too wasted to care anymore. Along the way, I stumbled into a little open marsh, which had been my original attackpoint for my control. So, ended up at the right control in the end, but it took fucking forever. Alex = 14:51; winner = 2:41.
15-16: I messed this up too. I was basically just tripping over myself, couldn't move very well at this point, and I ended up to the north of my line, near the parking lot. That would have been embarassing, so I sort of backtracked and eventually got to my control. At which point I could hear them announcing that I was finishing, and had taken 2:16 to run the course, which is also fairly embarassing. But I stumbled down the chute, punched the finish, and headed straight for the food. Alex = 2:54; winner = 1:35.

So I obviously lost a lot of time on every leg to whoever won the split for that leg. I think part of it is hesitation, even when I was moving quickly over the open rocks, I would pause a lot to try and get my bearings, just very unsure of myself. And for many legs, I was making boneheaded mistakes - I think a lot of that was related to low blood sugar near the end, but in the beginning? lack of focus? Not sure. After control 5 its tough to compare anything anyway, since I was just hurting so much, physically. Definitely should have brought a gel or two with me (what was I thinking??), that course ended up beating the pants off of me, and I was not nearly tough enough to fight back.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Northampton 5k XC

Peter Gagarin gave me a free entry coupon to the Northampton 5k race that is run every week, so I figured I'd go check it out and see how my 5k times were looking. I haven't run a cross country race since highschool, although I've run a handful of road races since then. To the best of my knowledge, I only broke 22 minutes on the 3-mile courses, never on a 5k (3.12mi) course, and given my 22:15 in July, I was expecting to run somewhere around 22-ish. This course had hills, but the weather was a lot nicer, 65 and damp. I was also wearing my new Innov8 shoes, which are super light, at least compared to sneakers. Warming up, my legs felt all bouncy - always a good sign!

I lined up sort of mid-pack, as it turns out, I should have started much further forward. After they said go, it took 3 seconds to get to the line, and then I suddenly found myself behind a middle-aged woman who was trotting along at 9-minute pace. Ma'am, might I suggest that you start a little further back in the pack next time? Anyway, the course headed downhill and then flat along the Mill river, and I tried to hold back to a comfortable pace. My goal was to start at a reasonable pace for the first mile, then speed up and stay speeded up.

We turned up a fairly long, gradual hill at half a mile, and I kept things controlled, I was running with a couple guys, one with an ipod, and one or two girls who didn't look very serious. We hit the first mile in 6:50, and I opened my stride a bit coming back into the field and turning to start lap 2. I think I let loose a bit too much on the second mile, it was downhill and then flat for a while, so it should be fast but I hit it in 6:24, at this point I'd dropped ipod-man and the girls, and I could see another girl in pink up ahead. An old dude in a singlet was pacing with me, nice and steady, but I could tell I was starting to work.

Shortly after the two-mile mark, we headed into the woods and up a steep hill. The singlet dude took off, and I slowed down to something that felt a little more sustainable, just hoping to hold off pink-girl now that I'd passed her. We got to the top and the course flattened out, I was in a world of hurt by now, full-on fat-kid-with-asthma breathing. At ~2.6mi, the course went up a little hill, and that little speed bump damn near killed me. The earth finally tilted downhill, but I couldn't speed up much, when I eventually passed the 3mi mark in the field, I'd done a 7:07 mile, and suffered for every step. Just 200m of paved finish chute left, and I didn't have much to give. How did I used to have such a good kick back in highschool?

Anyway, my finish time was 21:02, a new PR for any sort of 5k (track, road, xc), by a long shot. Results, I was the third woman and 30th overall. Most of my cooldown was spent trying to figure out how I just went 1:14 faster than in July, especially when I feel that I have more reasons to be slow these days than fast. I think the cooler temperatures and lighter shoes is what clinched it, I'm not sure it has anything to do with training, and after driving to Canada and back while racing three times, I know I'm not rested. I guess I'll just have to run another one of these later in the fall and see how it goes!

The post-race refreshments were quite a production - they've been running this race forever, so they have a good system down, but they had apricots and strawberries and cookies and popsicles, and flowers in vases on the tables! Every last detail, I was quite impressed. Of course then the fun bit started, I had ridden my bike to Northampton, and had to ride 12 miles back to Amherst, and the sun had basically set by the time I left. I have emergency lights on my bike, but those don't do jack for seeing where you are going, just making you barely visible to the cars. It was a harrowing experience, and I was very glad to have made it home in one piece.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

COC long

Oh man, I've never felt so slaughtered after a 7.8k course before. Or so relieved to be finished. The map was wicked awesome, super detailed, as you can see below - Lots of beautiful rocky ridges you could just flow along, interspersed with disgusting green bits and beaver dams. The area was truly amazing, but I was truly wrecked by the end.

The blister on my fourth toe ripped deeper at some point near the sixth control, and was getting progressively more painful, so that by the end of the race, that stupid blister was most of what I was thinking of, I just couldn't get it out of my mind. Worse, though, was when I ran smack into a branch leaving 5, it knocked me backwards and scraped my right eye, which was blurry and quite painful for the next ten or twenty minutes. After this branch-head collision incident, my balance was really shaky - crossing the beaver dam on my way to 6, I fell off four times, and I slipped off many beaver dams thereafter - having a lot of trouble with my balance. But I didn't want to drop out, so I just kept staggering along.

The first real mistake, as in I fell off the map, was on my way to 7 - I lost contact, didn't check my compass, and I still feel quite lucky that I actually found my way back to the control. I had already made an ~2min error in the circle at 2, but other than that things had been going somewhat smoothly. Then I lost probably 6 minutes, maybe 7 looking at the splits, in the circle at 9, just blundering around and being idiotic. That was where the course finished crushing my soul, and crossing more dark green beaver dams to 10, I switched from race mode to survival, so that by the time I had reattacked 15 twice and still found a control on a similar feature on a different course, I was ready to quit. In retrospect, a gel or two would have been an excellent decision. I was hovering at the edge of bonk-land - 2:10 is too long to race with no fuel. I barely even made it to the go control, just too wasted, and every step just hurt so much with that damn blister.

The lowest point was probably on my way to 8, fighting through some dense vegetation, on a beaver dam, and I slipped off the beaver dam (again) and fell in the deep end. Standing there in bellybutton-deep, mucky, warm water, with my head aching and my eyesight blurry, I said out loud, "This is not fun. I am NOT enjoying myself right now". Luckily, there was some nice open rock to run on afterwards, but there were definitely some negative thoughts going on in my head yesterday. That was tough, and I wasn't up to the challenge.

Take a minute and check out these maps - super tricky orienteering! All the bright yellow stuff is open rock, it was usually mossy and soft and quick running, so that you'd totally overshoot your attackpoint because you didn't realize you'd run that far already.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

COC Sprint

I spent all weekend with the Teutsch family (thanks guys! You were awesome!), which almost felt like meet headquarters - Anne was doing registration, Erik was in charge of results and e-punching, Jeff had set a bunch of the courses during the week, Alex was manning the radio control, and Laura, other than winning everything in her age category, was doing a bunch of the registration volunteering during the day. Committed family! Then throw in a couple extra vagrants, and life got interesting. Meghan Rance, from Vancouver, Ali Crocker, her boyfriend Dan, and I were all staying there, and Igor from the Ukraine had been there during the week. Craziness, if I ever have a house, I want to provide housing for just as many broke 20-somethings!

Anyway, Saturday was the COC sprint, which was also billed as a World Ranking Event (WRE), so attracted a couple big names. Unfortunately, we needed three women with good enough WRE points for the race to count, and we only had two, since Emily wasn't racing and I don't have jack for points. Ah well, at least the guys had a WRE race.

I made the mistake of eating entirely too much for breakfast, way too close to the race, so I was a little worried I'd have some GI problems, but that didn't slow me down too much. I felt like I couldn't find either fourth or fifth gear, almost like I was cruising through the course instead of attacking it, and that left me enough oomph to win the finish split (we all know that is the most important split, anyway). The whole race was very controlled, for me, both physically and mentally.

The only three things I'd change were my 30s mistake at 8 (I didn't see the flag tucked into the corner behind the shrubbery), a slightly different route to 13, and in retrospect, it would have been much better to run along the fence between the fence and the hedge to 14, instead of around the hedge like I did. Other than that, it was just a general lack of speediness that held me back. I did have snazzy new shoes, those helped with the mental approach!


In the afternoon, Ali and I decided to go train on the Carleton sprint maps, from the chase sprint earlier in the week. We had some time to kill, so we ran both the prologue and the chase, as a "level 1 race" - you aren't allowed to go faster than your zone 1 speed. Ali gave me a minute head start, and on the prologue map, which was pretty straightforward, I beat her. But then on the chase sprint map, which was much trickier, I made a large mistake early on, and then two more ~30s mistakes, so she trounced me by a solid 1.5min on that one. But it was a super fun course, very technical and tricky, with some overpasses and tunnels and stuff. A good way to spend an afternoon!

Prologue map (my scanner's colors are all messed up, way too blue)

Chase sprint map.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Canadian Orienteering Championships (COCs) Middle Distance

A couple weeks ago, a few CSU members were batting around the idea of heading to Ottawa for the COCs. Things ended up getting convoluted quickly, and then Ian broke his leg, so I ended up driving north alone. I spent Thursday night chez Paul Stone in Burlington, and left at the ass crack of dawn to get to Ottawa early enough to run on the model event map, to get my head around the terrain. Of course things couldn't go smoothly - As I pulled off the highway into the city, my car started to overheat. Naturally, I started cursing out Ed, why else would my car be having problems? Anyway, I managed to get to Carleton University, the site of registration, without red-lining the heating gage, and left my car there for the day. The family registering behind me in line were going to all the right places and had a spot for me in their car, so they took me under their wing and got me all the places I had to be. Thanks so much, Wil and Katarina!

Anyway, I eventually made it to the race site, for a 2:15pm start. It was at some guy's horse farm, which meant that all the trails were super rutted/pot-holed from horse hooves, but the terrain was super interesting, all these little rocky hills and thicker marshes in between - you had to be completely on your game to not lose contact with the map, because if you got lost, there would be no chance of recovery. Below is the map.

I started off on the wrong foot, by not realizing that the start triangle was right where they started us - usually there is a short run to the triangle so you can figure out where you are and where you're going as you run. Anyway, I had managed to get myself lost already, so I decided that I couldn't have gone that far, I'd just keep running in the right direction. That worked, more or less, and I eventually found features that made sense and hit the control. Just a 2-minute mistake, the bright side is that could have been much worse. Anyway, my orienteering never really got any better, I was very bobbly out there, and my ankles felt really weak and wobbly too - every time I went to run on a trail, I couldn't read the map because I had to pay such close attention to where I was putting my feet.

I ended up winning the split to the spectator control, but other than that, there wasn't much worth bragging about this race. Results, the W21 class (elites) are near the end of the other female age categories. There weren't that many runners, because a lot of the Canadian team has just gotten back from the World Champs, and is taking a break - poor timing, but at least the lack of depth meant that I got 5th.

Comparing splits with Emily and Carol. Mostly to see how much time I was losing on each leg...

After a race that felt that hesitant and un-confident, I was looking forward to the sprint on Saturday to actually do some fast running.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A good thrashing

Ali Crocker is fast. I knew this, but I chose to run with her yesterday anyway. We'd planned to do 7 miles, but then she didn't recognize the loop anymore, and I kept suggesting going the wrong way, and we ended up with 11 miles. I'd had mostly brownies for lunch, which tasted delicious at the time, but combined with not nearly enough water, I was hurting pretty quickly from dehydration, not to mention a pace that was fairly unsustainable.

After one of our slightly wrong turns, we ran into some mountain bikers who had technology, and they were able to show us where we were (approximately) on their phone, and it was quite obvious that the quickest way back was to go back down the hill. But I don't like going backwards. So, we kept going, and as Ali so aptly put it, at least I was the one who kept making this run longer, since I was also the one who was dying.

At this point I was dehydrated enough that I was getting shivers and my stomach was getting upset, but as we finally approached civilization again, and we came out through a farm where I pillaged a house for its hose. That gave me the liquid I needed to get back to campus, but I was a hurtin' puppy.

Of course, by now everyone in the office had gone home, and my bag (with, most importantly, the key to my bike lock) is in the office, and I don't have keys to the office yet. Its locked. My bike is locked. With no real choice but to hoof it home, I know that would be a long 2.5 miles. Running is faster than walking, so I started stagger-waddle-plod-stumbling, and eventually got home, bribing myself to get to points along the way (if you can make it to the stoplight, you can walk for 3 minutes!). As I started to make dinner, I felt myself getting weaker and woozier by the minute, eventually I couldn't keep standing to chop things or even dump the pasta in the water. I sat down on the floor, but, so hungry, and dinner isn't making itself. Feeling quite faint, I remembered that I had gatorade powder, and after three glasses of that I felt a whole lot better, but I'm wondering if that was a brush with hyponatremia, given how much water I'd guzzled at the hose and then at school before running home, all the while on a empty stomach. Anyway, dinner has never tasted so good... its been a while since I've been thrashed that badly!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


One of the fun bits about moving someplace new is that you get to explore the new runs and bikes and hikes and maps. Also exciting is that this place has hills, if you want 'em. There was one ride, a couple weeks ago, where I thought I was going to die - steep fast downhill, that you don't know, straight into a stopsign with a state road. Fun!

There is a trail around here called the Robert Frost Trail, that happens to run basically past my front door, and I have 47 miles of that to explore. Yesterday was just a short bit heading southward (although I was going east, that is the southbound direction of the trail), and its beautiful. Mostly singletrack, stringing together different conservation areas and hills and stuff, and despite humidity so thick I was swimming, it was a good way to spend my day. Most of the trail seems to allow mt bikes, at least only one part directly prohibits them, so maybe I'll head out on the bike and see if I can get a little further than on foot.

There isn't much for maps around here, Peter Gagarin lent me some maps of Northfield Mt and part of the Quabbin reservoir, but the maps haven't been updated in a while. Last weekend on my way up to VT, I stopped by the Northfield Mt Hermon School, to see what the terrain had to offer, and for the most part, I was having a good time. I was focuing on keeping some momentum as I ran, trying to use that momentum to carry me through the rough bits, and that thought worked pretty well for me. Again it was super humid, but either I'm getting used to humidity or its just not as bad as I think, because I was able to have a good time.

The Sugarloaf Athletic Club holds a 5k every Tuesday, so I was thinking of heading out tonight, but 90 degrees doesn't sound like a good time to race, so I might wait until next week. So many fun things to do here! So little time!

This weekend is the Canadian Orienteering Championships, so hopefully I'll get on a map, or at least do some armchair orienteering practice, before then. My carpool buddy, Ian, just broke his leg, cracking a stress fracture that has been bothering him for a while in a freak rollerblading accident, so I'd better take out some books on tape, its a long drive to Ottawa alone. But I'm excited to race, its been a while since I've done any of that! (adventure racing does not count as racing, too slow).

Friday, August 13, 2010

De-busifying my life

In the past couple days, I've been in Newton, Amherst, Craftsbury, Stowe, Weston, Amherst, Newton, and Amherst. I'm starting to think that this tiredness in my legs might not just be from the adventure race. I sat down with a calendar this morning, and looked at the fall, and realized, I have every single weekend until December filled with some sort of event. I suppose this is what you get when you want to compete in several sports, but, this is not healthy. It is time to make my life less busy, and instead of feeling rushed trying to fit school!/thesis!/work!/coaching!/Ed!/training!/race directing!/cyclocross!/family!/orienteering!/running races!/mapping! into every day, it might be time to actually set some priorities, make some choices, and not get involved in EVERYTHING that comes my way. These aren't easy choices though. I know I should prioritize Ed and family over everything else, but all too often, those top priorities get squashed because there is just so much fun stuff going on that if I slow down for a minute, I'll miss something.

Logically, my focus should be on orienteering this fall, both because of my goals in the ski orienteering champs this spring and because that is what I am physically preparing for. The US classic championships are coming up in mid-October, and if I look at my training over the past couple months, its been almost all running and orienteering, as opposed to the last two years where it was rollerskiing and cycling. But, I don't think I can go through an entire autumn in the northeast without racing 'cross, even though I'm not prepared to race a bike of any sort. Again, tough decisions. Maybe racing bikes will help my running. I should really just re-enforce the travel diet, and actually stick to it, except for the part where I'll still be driving to Newton on weekends. This is just ridiculous, but I can't stop...

I need to just pick 4-6 cross races and accept that I will not be blazing fast. Then I should prioritize the weekends where I will STAY HOME, no matter how much fun stuff is going on in other states... damn it, world, could you please get less interesting for a little bit?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Bitter Pill AR photos

The GMARA Bitter Pill race organizers took 2000 photos, and since I am now a grad student (and therefore my time is worth basically nothing, if you go by the salary), I went through them and found some of our team, the Snot Rocketeers. All photos are from GMARA, taken with permission.

Gear check, the night before.

The "before" picture. Actually doesn't look all that different from the "after" photos...

Beautiful mist on the water that morning. Because I'm not usually up early enough to appreciate that...

Approaching the portage.

Coming in to the portage. Chris, one of the organizers, greeted us with a "why am I NOT surprised that you guys are the first ones out of the water?" Apparently Adrian and Jon have a reputation to live up to...

Awkward position on the second thwart not only bruised my seat bones, it cramped my hip flexors in a not-so-pleasant way. Better than kneeling though, comfort-wise.

Snot Rocketeers heading into the misty yonder.

Heading out on the trek, all full of energy after our three-hour paddle and 1000ft climb on the bike. Yea, orienteering!

In the TA.

At the TA going from trek to hike-a-bike, with the race organizer marking the extra time bonus control (thanks for that extra 1000ft climb, we needed that) on our maps.

This gives you a good idea of the grossness of the swim. Check out all the floating mats of vegetation...

At the finish. Adrian, naturally, has a blue plastic frog stuck into his nostril. We take ourselves very seriously around here.

What, someone pointed a camera at me? Better make a funny face...

Snot Rocketeers won the race. Here we're all presentable and stuff, since they let us take showers at the hotel.

In our regional adventure race champions jackets. Since its over my fleece jacket, it almost fits!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Bitter Pill AR

We woke up to a chilly 45F outside, at 2:30 in the morning. By 3am we were in the car and headed to Stowe, where we had to be by 3:45 to load the buses that would take us to our undisclosed starting location. The buses headed south through Waterbury VT, and just after crossing I-89 and the Winooski river, they pulled into a parking lot. I made a mad dash for the paddles - as a short female, there aren't too many canoe paddles that are short enough for me, and the long ones would tire out my weak shoulders (did I mention I have elbow tendonitis and haven't rollerskied or done any arm strength all summer?), so I really wanted to find a paddle that fit me. I successfully found a paddle, and then there was the race briefing. Basically he went over the rules we'd already read, and Jon and Adrian were trying to guess which way we'd start out running.

At 5:00AM, we flipped the maps, and started running towards the river, along the paved road. Other teams were running through the grass, but we were hoping to keep our feet dry by taking the slightly longer route. After about 10 minutes of jogging we got to TA1, where the canoes were waiting, and although we were the second team on the water, we quickly pulled into the lead. I wasn't paddling yet, I had the maps open and was reading through what we'd expect today, trying to be as clear as possible what was coming up. Adrian is a phenomenal paddler, mostly because he is a natural at reading the river, so we were always in the right spot at the right time. Jon provided a lot of power, and I just tried not to be a deadweight in the middle of the boat, paddling weakly. It was a pretty long paddle, with a short portage in the middle around a dam, but we spiked all three controls along the river, and by TA2 we'd put 12 minutes on the next team.

We switched to bikes there, and at this point it was almost 8am, so things were warming up nicely. Throw a 1000ft climb into the mix and we were sweating pretty heavily, stripping layers and gulping water, although I left the legwarmers on, in anticipation of the promised fields of nettles during the trek. It was a short bike, just upriver on the flats for a bit and then we turned south, and climbed to the base of Camels Hump Mt, on Honey Hollow Rd. At the top of the ridge was TA3/4, where we'd be starting and finishing the trek. We moved really well through the woods, two experienced adventure racers and an orienteer, running down the hills and using a quick hike to get up them. There was another 2000ft of vertical achieved during this leg, but with Jon manning the altimeter watch (not only legal, but recommended), Adrian with the map, and myself with a compass bearing to back him up, we were the definition of a smooth-running navigational machine, because redundancy is awesome.

We spiked all the controls and made it back to the TA after 1:50, which is considerably faster than any of the other teams. But now our two strongest disciplines as a team were done, and we were on to the mandatory hike-a-bike. The race organizer had gotten permission to use part of the Catamount trail, but there are no bikes allowed on that trail, so we had to push them. It was pretty hard to be pushing my bike along some sweet singletrack that clearly the locals were riding, but rules are rules, and bending them would mean a disqualification. After about 4km of uphill slogging, we got to the saddle, near where we'd hit a junction and be able to ride our bikes, but first we headed off to pick up two time bonus checkpoints. Each was worth 30min, so if we could complete the little loop in under an hour, we'd come out ahead. Alas, we took 1:10, thanks to some elbows-and-knees scrambling up a cliff under those high-altitude-scrubby pines. We found the trail on the south side of the knob as we headed down, but that was a pretty intense climb. Then I made a navigational error on the way back to the bikes, and managed to convince Adrian that I was right, so we lost more time. I think we could have finished that loop in :45, but it just wasn't to be.

Finally back on the bikes, we knew we were almost done. A short bike leg, then the swim, then a downhill bike leg and we'd be done. We bombed down the south side of that ridge, and then faced another 1000ft climb to get another time bonus checkpoint - this one worth an hour. It took 20min to climb up to it, and I was starting to have doubts as to whether I could turn the pedals one more rotation when we finally crested the hill. Had there been one more climb like that I would have needed towing, but from here on out it was downhill. Coming down that beast was a bit terrifying, but all three of us made it down and to the swim TA intact.

I'll admit I dragged my feet a bit in the swim TA. We had to swim across a lake and back, and the lake was super mucky, with aquatic vegetation all the way up to the surface, and that slimy green stuff with bubbles in it floating around in matts. Gross! We had to swim with our packs, so we put them in garbage bags and pushed them in front of us as we swam. I was thoroughly grossed out by the slimy bubbly farts, and made it quite clear how grossed out I was, but I swam through it anyway. Adrian was the fastest swimmer, so he had the punchcard (they call them passports in this sport), and Jon and I just sort of paddled along trying to stay within 100ft of Adrian. It only took 9 minutes, but the swim felt like forever. I pulled on most of my dry-ish warm clothes afterwards, and we headed down the hill to the finish, in a comfortable 20min lead - we'd seen the second place team starting up the road to the time bonus control as we came down, which meant it wasn't likely they'd catch us.

We held our lead, coming in a couple minutes before the first all-male 3-person team, and about half an hour ahead of the second 3-person coed team. Results. It looks like we had pretty slow transitions, which makes sense given how relaxed they felt, but with a race that plays to our strengths, i.e. a long paddle and somewhat hard nav, we didn't have to worry about that. Had there been more biking, I think we would have been hurting. As a prize, we got a free entry to AR nationals, and a free entry to the Frigid Infliction, neither of which any of us want to attend. Would have been better to be second place, they at least got cool merchandise prizes. But it was a fun day, and the clean navigation, lack of hypothermia, and relaxed attitude of Adrian and Jon really made it a good way to spend a day outside. Given that we never had to really push to stay ahead of any teams, it was all fairly low intensity, which means I feel good right now, definitely more tired from having to get up at 2:30am than from the physical stuff. Its a nice feeling! I can see why they call it the bitter pill... 12 hours is just an entry drug to those longer races. Uh oh.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Bitter Pill Adventure Race: the prep

A couple months ago, Adrian and Jonathan Owens had emailed me, asking if I was interested in racing the Bitter Pill as their teammate. Adrian is on the US Ski-orienteering team with me, and I did a short little practice race with him last summer. His twin brother Jonathan is also an adventure racer, he's on some big team out in California, and used to be a pro mt biker, and he skis, so I know him well enough too. I know they've done this race before, a couple times, but often they do it as the two-person team, and all the glory is in the three-person coed category. I figured it couldn't be that bad, although I was pretty leery about the swim part. Anyway, Jonathan convinced me I'd be fine, and Adrian convinced me that I wouldn't be slowing them down too much, so I signed myself up.

Although I've done a 12-hour adventure race before, with Ken and Greg, I had an inkling of a suspicion that this one would be a little harder. Faster-paced, a little more competitive. We corresponded a lot via email before the race, mostly it went along the lines of me reading the mandatory gear list, and then emailing Adrian and Jon to see if they had extra things that I didn't have. I was able to pull everything together in time for the race, and I drove up to Craftsbury on Friday to do some paddling with the guys and practice getting towed on a bike, since I was pretty sure I didn't have enough power in my legs to keep up. I made a minor detour to Kingdom Trails on the way, and the place was as awesome as always. I needed to do that, you see, because ARs don't have any technical mt biking, and my bike gets cranky when I only ride her on roads. Bike abuse.

So, I got to Adrian's house, and we fiddled around with bikes and canoes and paddles and eventually went off to Stowe to register and go through the mandatory gear checks. They mandate the gear checks because a lot of it is safety stuff, I guess, like the mirror, the lighter, and the first-aid kit. I had checked the weather before I left and I was a little worried about how cold it was supposed to get overnight - it would only be 42F by the time we started the race at 4am. If they made us do the swim first, I would be one unhappy camper for a while afterwards. We didn't know the order of the events, but we knew there would be biking, paddling, trekking, and swimming, in some order, throughout the day. Its all done with a navigational component, you have to find your way from checkpoint to checkpoint, like in orienteering, except that the race directors don't necessarily put the checkpoints in the right spot, and the maps are not necessarily up to date - there will be trails and roads in reality that are not on the map. As Ken said, adventure race maps are mere suggestions of reality. This frustrates the orienteer in me.

Anyway, we got out of the gear checking room by 8pm, which was good, because we had a 2:30am wakeup the next morning. Cruel and unusual punishment.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Left hanging

Last time I was out in Amherst, I met with Keith (my advisor for grad school), we brainstormed all sorts of ideas, I got all charged up about stuff, and then he mentioned that I wouldn't be able to start stuff until August. Ok, this is fine, and I get various formal-looking emails and letters from the Forest Service about how I am an "emergency hire", with a start date of August 4th. Woot. Keith sends me an email saying that I am starting on 8/4, he won't be in the office, but there is plenty for me to do. Ok, this is fine, so, I show up. It takes almost four hours to fill out all the necessary paperwork (remind me not to work for the feds again), and then I'm stumped. His office manager and I check with various other people in the lab, to see if Keith had said anything about me helping them out, nope. Well, I guess I'll go home. Not going to sit around twiddling my thumbs, but I don't particularly like being left hanging...

Anyway, today when I went in he was there, so we were able to set some things straight and now I have a huge pile o' papers to plow through. Its a good thing I find this stuff interesting, or I might be less happy at having to read all these pages. But since Keith will be out early next week, I'm basically on a literature-review-vacation (you know, one of those vacations where you have to do some work, but, not really that much) until next wednesday. Woot!

In all my free time, I've been working on the Boston College Law School map. Its basically at the point where I'd say its done, now, it still has a bit of a cartoon-ish feel, but it is functional. I sent out some orienteering peeps on it the other day, and nobody complained too much about things being wrong. More importantly, my GPS track lined up properly with all the important bits and pieces. Yay! The one hitch is that I mapped it using ISOM (International standards of orienteering mapping) instead of ISSOM (for sprints, that's the other S), which means its fairly useless except as a park-o map or a training map. That said, its too small to really use it for anything other than a park-o or training anyway. So I'll remain proud of this little map of my backyard.

Monday, August 2, 2010

August, already?

Time moves differently when you're not working. You're lacking that eight-hour block in the middle of your day where you have to be in a certain place, doing a certain thing, draining you in a certain way. Maybe its that I keep myself too busy as it is, but I'm wondering how I'm going to fit that sort of time commitment towards school into my life. Will probably have to cut back on some fun... but there are things that do have to get done, like work for the CSU A-meet this fall, and setting up the ski-o event this winter. Those are the things that have not been getting done.

I finished the basemap of Boston College yesterday and went out to do some field checking. It is an interesting little area and I can't wait to set some courses there. I get the nagging feeling that its sloppier than would be perfect, plus I was using ISOM (international standards of orienteering mapping) rather than ISSOM (for sprints), so Amherst will definitely be ISSOM, because there are definitely drawbacks to using ISOM on a 1:5k sprint map. Also in the orienteering vein of things, I set up a scavenger hunt/orienteering course for the junior skiers yesterday, many people got lost but they all seemed to have fun. I'll do that again some time, for sure.

I've been attempting to ride my bike a little more than before, mostly to prepare my butt for the adventure race this weekend. Hopefully the other teams are also not strong riders, although at least on the bike leg its easier to tow someone. I'd be the towee. I headed over to Prospect Hill park last week to see what happened when I rode up hills, and I was able to ride negative splits and stay seated, both of which surprised me. More surprising though was that my times were faster than when I did this last summer. The only thing I can think is that I was on race wheels - I left my road bike, with the heavy commuting wheels, in Amherst, so I was riding my cx bike, and put the race road wheels on just so that I wouldn't have to use knobby tires. I really doubt that my legs are putting out more power than in the past. Especially on eggbeater pedals that wiggle with every pedal stroke... I should probably tighten those up.

Speaking of bikes, its time to go do some maintenance... better to ride slowly and have a bike that doesn't fall apart than to ride fast and have mechanicals.