Monday, August 29, 2011

Back in the US of A

I made it home without any hangups, only to discover that a week of limited internet, even when you claim it's for vacation, leaves you pretty backed up. I managed to get my life under control by the weekend, and even managed to have some good fun, hanging out with the western mass renegade O' club. (We don't have an official name, but this seems about right to me. We should look into some OUSA sanctioning). We figured that with Hurricane Irene heading up the coast, we should head into the woods for one last orienteering session, before all the trees got blown down and it became impossible to run fast. So Saturday morning found Peter, Phil, Ali and I on top of Mt. Tom, ready to tackle an old red course from an A meet in 2008.

Peter went out first to hang some streamers, and a couple minutes later, I went chasing after him. I hadn't been planning to run hard, but advice I'd overheard was in my head - don't run faster than you can orienteer. Conversely, run as fast as you can orienteer. I quickly found myself pushing, trying to go fast enough to keep the navigation on the edge. It was really fun; Mt. Tom is open and fast, where it isn't too rocky, and compared to the crap we were running through in France, it was pure heaven. Better footing than any of the French trails, even.

Anyway, it was a really fun way to get outside, but I soon found myself tiring on the uphills, and losing a lot of time there. Come on, body, I thought you were in shape?!? I managed to catch Peter, a major life goal of mine, but Ali put a ton of time on me in the last, hilly, section of the course, and Peter dropped out because he felt crappy. Good to train with faster people, but sometimes a little disheartening, too. I finished the course, and ran up to my friends screaming "I LIKE orienteering! It's fun!" I guess I'd been missing some of that in France, where it was all slow and technical with rough footing.

Then along came a hurricane, and although the Berkshires were getting hammered, Amherst seemed to do ok. A monday morning rollerski along the Connecticut River showed some sweet flooding, though - aren't floodplains beautiful when they're working properly? Makes me happy. Of course, Hartford used to be a floodplain, and now it's filled with impervious surfaces... bet there're some wet basements down there.

I don't talk about work much on here, because this isn't a work blog, this is a fun-other-random-crap-I-do-with-my-life blog, but there is definitely a knot of anxiety in my stomach that every temperature logger I have in both the Westfield and the West River watershed has been ripped off it's cabling, or the tree to which it was cabled is now gone. Unfortunately, that investigation will have to wait until after I return from West Virginia, where I get to go for the next two weeks to play in rivers shocking fish. I should wait and see how many loggers are actually gone before I make dire predictions about how I lost 8 months worth of data, but let's just say I'm a little worried.

Not much hope when the mainstem looks like this. Photo credit Jeff Brown.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

WOC Relay

There was a rest day after the Long Distance finals, thankfully for Ali, who had also made the Middle final, and her legs were apparently a little on the tired side. The rest of us ran more spectator races, and I swear, this terrain isn't getting any easier. And I haven't gotten any smarter. We did make good use of the rest day, and acquired some outfits for the banquet.
Ross and Sergei combining the men's and women's teams banquet outfits.

My route from one of the more disastrous days out on the terrain. Gotta love that massive error to #1... and lots of other small errors as well.
More example of some poor orienteering - I had major issues (like, 40 minutes of major issues) on this control. This whole area just didn't make sense to me, the map didn't seem to reflect reality one bit. Not so good for building confidence.

Ross has a feed bag.

Saturday morning rolled around, and I was definitely nervous, because we'd decided to put me as the anchor for the relay. This was so that Sam and Ali could both run with fast people, and get the boost from that, instead of putting me out there and losing the pack. I was also not feeling so great, physically - my achilles tendon had been getting worse and worse all week, and since it's impossible to get ice in this stupid country, both kneecaps were starting to hurt pretty bad, clearly I haven't kicked the runner's knee I'd been dealing with earlier in the summer and it was coming back. I took some ibuprofen for the kneecaps, but I think I may have taken it without enough food, or something, or maybe it had nothing to do with the ibuprofen, but my stomach was not happy as we got to the arena. Probably nerves. In the end, I think I probably didn't have enough lunch; given that the relay was so late in the day, timing your food was trickier than a usual morning race. Anyway, long story short, I didn't feel awesome.

The warmup helped, and Sam went out on an awesome first leg, tagging off to Ali in 12th. Unfortunately, things didn't go awesomely for Ali, and she blew about 15 minutes on one control. The rest were good, but it didn't help my nerves to be waiting longer than expected. Of course, in a way, this was good, because there was no longer pressure to hold on to teams that were way faster than me. When Ali came through, I was ready to fight - we were maybe 40 seconds behind Poland, and I thought maybe I could catch their third runner. I just couldn't find the flow, though. I was finding controls, which is ultimately the goal, but I felt very choppy, very stop and go. This was somewhat effective in getting me through the course, but not as quickly as I'd like.
Anxiously waiting.

Heading up out of the stadium to get to where the map exchange was.

Things went alright to about #10, and then I came out of the woods and into the fields, and through the water stop/spectator arena, and that was when I noticed how woozy I felt. I also noticed that it was increasingly difficult to run fast, and I felt like I was working way harder than I should be for the speed I was going. Ugh. Shortly thereafter, my natural stupidity was greatly amplified, and I basically lost 9 minutes to Ireland (who caught and passed me) in the last loop. You can read details on my training log, but I really went from dumb to dumber. This was probably related to the heat, and some tiredness. By the end, I felt really awful, because there is nothing worse than having a bad race when it's a relay, and your team is waiting on you. It's depressing to suck when you're at the World Champs.

So I left WOC with a slightly sour feeling, but overall, I am really glad that I went. It was absolutely eye-opening and humbling to be out there competing with (ok, more just like trailing behind, but still) the best in the world. I need to decide what I want out of this sport before I commit to much else, but that was a really, really cool experience.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Superfan spectating

Since we have four women on the team, and three can run in each race, I wasn't running the sprint - that was Hannah, Sam, and Ali's job. It was a long day of spectating, as they ran the qualification in the morning, and then the final was in the afternoon, in the town a couple klicks south of here - Chambéry. The qualifier was pretty exciting, mostly because I knew more people, but both Sam and Ali qualified for the finals! The men didn't have a great day, but we were all psyched to play superfans down in Chambéry.

The scene down there was truly impressive. Most of the fans were gathered in the large central square, which was also the start and the finish. There were two spectator controls, a grandstand, and a massive screen showing shots from like four different cameras. The square was PACKED, and apparently all the little alleys were crowded, as well, with runners sometimes having to duck and weave between spectators and innocent bystanders. This race was a BIG DEAL, and it was really cool to see it from the spectating side, so that if I ever make the final on the racing side, I'd know what to expect. I'm now deaf from all the screaming and air horns and vuvzelas, and I've lost my voice from screaming my own cheers at our runners. It was pretty intense. I left that arena feeling super jazzed up.

Emily Kemp, one of our Canadian friends, running into the finish of the qualifier for the sprint.
Pretty fountain with le Dent du Chat in the background.
Finding a shady spot to hang out and scream at runners was easier said than done.
Spectators lining the course in Chambéry for the sprint final. This does make me want to run the sprint and make a final someday...

The central square of Chambéry was completely packed. For a little while, Ed let me sit on his shoulders, and that was cool because I could see everything, but then he got tired. boo.
Ali starting out from the top of the ramp.
Sam on the big screen.

The day after the sprint was the Long Distance finals. Ali was our only runner who had qualified for the long, so after doing some spectator races in the morning, we gathered in a sweet arena to watch the best orienteers in the world duke it out on a fairly epically brutal course. Ali didn't have an awesome race, but it was still really exciting to watch her on the big screen and follow the GPS tracking. On the men's side, Thierry Gueorgiou from France crushed his competition, and won the race with a big margin. This was cool, because he's won the middle distance race like eight times, but he'd never won a long distance race at WOC, and people tend to hold the long with the highest regard. So, to win in his home country, in front of a home crowd, that was pretty cool to watch. Sandra's husband, Marc Lauenstein, ended up in the top 10, too, so it was pretty cool to cheer him along too.

Boris and Patrick found some god-awful shorts that were on sale for two euros, and tried to convince the rest of the US and Canadian teams to buy them so we'd match. For some reason, nobody took them up on their offer.

Carol Ross, Greg's girlfriend, up on the big screen. Too bad she decided to face the wrong direction while taking a drink. Also, too bad they decided to put a tv camera at the water stop. Really guys? People drinking gatorade and pouring water on their heads is the most exciting place you could put a camera?
Ali on the big screen, heading away from the start.

Eddie attempting to get the post into the ground for
the Orienteering USA flag that we'd brought.
Looking down on the tent city of all the vendors and stuff in the arena. The finish is next to the jumbotron, and the grassy slopes made for a really nice natural stadium.
Carol coming down to the finish. If she looks tired, it's because she is...
Ed with his vuvuzela. That stupid thing is so annoying...
This is what happens when you give a bunch of orienteers a map. They huddle. In this case, Ali was showing us her routes.
Marc coming through the spectator/drink stop. Those top guys run so darn smoothly. I guess it helps when you've won the world mountain running champs...
The crowd went absolutely WILD when Thierry came through in the lead. You can sort of see him running across the bridge, carrying a French flag - he was pretty pumped, you could tell that.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

WOC Middle Distance Quali

The Middle distance qualification was was the second one I was slated to run, and after seeing the model area terrain, I was worried it would be so technical I wouldn't know where to start. It wasn't actually that bad, which was kind of disappointing, since I know I don't really have the speed to run with these girls, but I was hoping I'd have the technical oomph. It went really well, though, and that left me in a great mood.

I decided to focus on the "safe" part of my mantra today - I wanted really solid attackpoints, after yesterday's little 10-minute detour. Spiked the first control, and then got very lucky on the 2nd one. I wasn't quite where I expected to be, but it turns out I was where I should be, and there happened to be a control with my number on it, so I just punched and moved on.

I took the trail to 3, all the way to the little trail, but this lost me a lot of elevation, and probably a minute, maybe more. Spiked the control, but I'm not fast going uphill. Pretty good to 4, and then a long leg to 5 - I actually lost the least amount of time to Ali on my long trail legs, which is sort of backwards compared to what you'd expect given our perceived strengths and weaknesses… Anyway, took the middle little trail, and that worked out.

Comparing splits with the girls, I managed to lose about 20 seconds to the camera control; I think I just have an aversion to climbing hills fast. But #7 was good, and then I took the trail out to the road to get to 8, so that went pretty well. A couple moments of doubt as I pounded down the trail, but I just kept reminding me to trust me, and although I probably lost time because I had to climb up 7 contours at the end, I think the simpler route was faster for me. But then I lost another 20 seconds going to 9; hesitating and trying to go straight, instead of blasting back north to the trail and in to 9, where I'd seen it on my way up. Silly. And then I lost nearly 30 seconds to Hannah on the bashing-out-to-the-road control, I should have just bashed straight down instead of trying to cut it shorter.

And some more photos...
Greg and his posse of Canadians (+ Ali) before one of our training days.
Sam chilling on our nice balcony with a yogurt drink.
Little girl with a huge sandwich!
Mark with a tiny espresso (Sandra's hubby and one of the world's best orienteers and mountain runners).
Ali getting all set for a training run.
Ed brought a vuvuzela to the races, and here Sergei is practicing making noise on it. We would usually send Clem to the edge of the forest to summon in our runners... sometimes, that worked! We did get yelled at by a photographer who couldn't hear his shutter clicking with all the vuvzela-ing, so had to take our act somewhere else. Enthusiastic cheering!
Hannah manages to demurely sit and read her book, while we carry on general shenanigans around her. No wonder she is good at orienteering! Focused!
Driving back down to Aix, Beatrice and I found Eddie standing on a guardrail taking photos of the view. Eddie is a real superfan, and also takes some really nice photos. it's been great having as many superfans here as we do - Peter and Gail, Eddie, Clem, Sandy, Barb and Dave and Izzy, Greg, Boris, Cristina, Ed, Wyatt's whole family, and probably more that I'm missing now. So much support!
Yes, our laundry hangs over our balcony... isn't that what balconies are for?
The crowd at the opening ceremony. Orienteering is actually a big deal here. As evidenced by the 4000 spectators running in the O' Festival, I suppose.
Ross leaping away from his last control on the long qualifier.

WOC Long Distance Quali

I think everyone assumed I'd be nervous for my first WOC race, and pretty much everyone I saw yesterday and this morning tried to offer me advice. I figured it was easiest to just ignore them all and do my own thing - I know how to play this game; other people may be better at it, but I know what to do. So I wasn't that nervous starting out. It's nice having low to no expectations. I just wanted to beat at least one person. "Simplify, be safe, be steady".

I spiked the first control, so that put me in a good mood. The 2nd started well, but then I suffered a minor brain fart, and did a 180, thinking I must have gone too far. That probably lasted 15 seconds or so before it occurred to me that I was running in exactly the wrong direction, so I turned around and found my control. Goofmuppet! One more quick leg, and then the first of two long legs. I took another safe route, gaining 9 extra contours, but spiking the control. For the next long leg, to 5, I'm not sure my route was ideal, but it was functional. I channeled my inner French cow (you know - they have one long leg and one short leg, to better stand on hills) as I contoured across a steep grassy slope, and then nearly made a mistake in the circle when I couldn't find my large depression, and found a large hill instead - luckily realized what was going on pretty quickly!

5 was the water stop, in a small depression, manned by two french people. I took a cup of sports drink, and the guy said "Allez! Allez! Vite, vite!" But I stood there looking at my map, and took another glass. And then another, at which point, the woman sort of sighed. "Courage!" they called after me. Whatever, I like my sugar drinks.

Then I spent 17:35 going about 400m. I couldn't find a simple, safe route, so chose to just go straight and pick stuff off. That never works well for me, and it didn't magically work this time, either, although I got close. But I had a poor attackpoint - mistook a dot knoll for a hill on a nose, and so when I attacked my control from two contours too low, it wasn't there. Relocating takes a long time, and I actually found the woman manning the control before I found the control. Very frustrated by that; I know I'm slower than everyone else here, but I'd like to not also be stupider. I could have at least relocated a little faster!

Three more controls in the knobbly stuff, that went pretty well (some hesitations, but no mistakes), and then the finish. After catching my breath and all that, I asked Ed if I was last. "No, you're not last! Oh, wait. Yes, you are last". I was kind of bummed, but then some more stragglers came in, and I finished 20th of 28 in my heat. Not last! I'm pissed about that huge mistake, but what's done is done.

The top 15 from each heat go on to the finals, and Ali finished 11th (I think) in her heat, enough to move on to the finals, on Wednesday. Samantha had a rough day, making a 19 minute mistake, and ended up just a minute or two out of qualification. The men have a tougher field, so none of them moved on. We think we're good, but then everyone else is so much better! This is also just such difficult terrain, that there were many people who made huge mistakes, and there was a huuuuuge spread between the first and last runner.

This map shows the winner's route; there are three separate courses for the three qualification heats, and I was in heat "B". This is the winner's route from course B.

I'm glad to have my first WOC race out of the way. I do wish I hadn't blown that one control, but I knew I wasn't fast enough to move on even if I'd had a clean race - qualifying for the finals wasn't one of my goals this year. Those girls are so speedy! Anyway, first race over, and with the middle distance quali the following day, the focus immediately moved to the next race.


World Orienteering Championships

Last Tuesday, I flew over to France, for the World Orienteering Championships (WOC). I'm joining Samantha, Ali, and Hannah on the women's team, and Ross, Jordan, Ken, Sergei, and Wyatt are on the men's team. We spent the next three days getting used to the maps, testing out the terrain. The forest is pretty gross, honestly, good thing we're in France where there is delicious cheese and bread and wine and fruit to make up for it. The whole area is this limestone karst stuff, with scrubby little trees and low-lying dead trees everywhere. The karst is awesome, from a spectator/geologist point of view, but it makes it really difficult to run fast. They have these rocky pits out there, some of which are so deep I couldn't see the bottom. So cool! Luckily, some of the courses went over steep cow pastures, which make for faster running, but contain cows. Some of the cows have horns.

Below is a pretty random assortment of photos from the last few days. I've been taking a lot of photos, but the internet has been sketchy enough that I haven't put them anyway. I'll write about the long and middle qualifier races next... but pictures are more interesting =).

Model map from the long distance test area. The yellow is all the steep cow pastures.
It's this sort of terrain...

Ed arrived in style. He actually biked from Geneva down to almost Aix-les-Bains, because then his bike rack broke. He'd been carrying about 50lb of gear, lots of it extra stuff he isn't planning to tour with later, and that was just too much for his rack. So, Boris, Greg, and Patrick went to rescue him. Unfortunately the only way the bike would fit was when it was crammed into the car in an unusual way. With a vuvzela strapped to the top tube!

At the finish chute on day 1, I noticed that Francois Gonon had a fan club. I expressed interest in having a fan club of my own, so Boris wrote up a fan club sign for "Axel Josp". Close enough...

Looking down on Aix-les-Bains from the plateau where we've been racing.

Me finishing the middle distance qualifier (photo credit Greg Walker).

Explaining routes to my #1 fan post race. (photo credit Greg).

The crew of Americans at the finish of the long qualifier (photo credit Greg).
Hanging out in the shade waiting for the men. (photo credit Greg).

Cows! You can never tell when there will be a traffic jam on the road.

Looking down the hill from le centre ville d'Aix, across the lake at the misty hills.

Hannah, somewhat dazed, after her sprint race. The sprint
was cool to spectate (I wasn't running it - just running the long distance and middle distance qualifiers, but I didn't make it to the finals, so that's it, although I may also run the relay on Saturday - Hannah and I will duke it out in a spectator race tomorrow to decide).
Looking towards our plateau past our hotel. Pretty place!