Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Relay championships

(more foliage on fire photos. Afternoon light after a windy day makes for super-bright leaves!)

Team CSU!

Last weekend, CSU headed out to St. Louis, Missouri for the US Orienteering Relay championships. Unlike the five thousand other championships that OUSA thinks it's necessary to hold, the relay champs are a club event, so it took some actual coordination to get enough people from CSU to commit to a team. But then we got the ball rolling, and ended up with two teams!

The way the relays work is that people are worth a certain number of points, given their age and sex. Given however many points you have in your club, you work it out so that you're racing in the 4-point, 8-point, or 12-point categories. You need to have 4 or more points to be in the 4-point category, 8 or more for the 8-point, etc. Men under the age of 40 are basically useless in terms of points, I think so that you can't field a team of four elite men, since not every club has the numbers to do that. Elite girls are worth 2 points each, so our first team had both Ali and me, each worth 2 points, and then two zero-point guys - Ian Smith, and Mikkel Conradi. The other team had Peter (3 points), Bill (3 points), Greg (0 points), and Brendan (0 points). So we ended up fielding two 4-point teams.

To make this even more fun, my friend Sharon, from Colby, is in St Louis these days, and agreed to come hang out with us all weekend! It was awesome to see her, and she even got to go out on a beginner course, shadowed by Ali.

Most of us arrived in St Louis Friday, in time to head out to Cuivre River park for a sprint course, that I used to preview the terrain for the night-o championships race that night. This was obscure championships week, by the way - we had a corn maze classic and sprint distance championships on Tuesday, courtesy of Peter, and then the rollerski-o middle distance and sprint championships on Wednesday, also courtesy of Peter. Friday was the night-o championships, and Sunday was the relay champs. Obscure sports quarterly, I'm coming for your front page.

Anyway, the night-o was a lot of fun. I was harboring secret hopes that I would beat Ali, as I think she tends to slow down at night and I speed up, but it's just too hard to ignore that 3-min difference in 5k times when you're racing a running sport, and while I was closer than usual, I still got beaten. I felt like it was a really good race nonetheless - I managed to catch Carol by #9 from 2 minutes back, and I could push really hard, physically. It was a nice night for running, and a silver medal is nothing to scoff at.

Saturday was a regular middle distance A-meet, and Ali had decided to run up with the boys on the blue course, so the win was there for the taking. I took it, but couldn't quite beat the guys who took 1st-4th. Another good race, and very clean, from a technical point of view. I relied heavily on my compass when approaching reentrants from above, and with the wide-open forests and gentle slopes, there was a lot of fast running on that course.

Sharon came out to the start with me, and was my very own paparazzi - go me!

How to eat funnel cake.
How to puzzle over what to do with sticky fingers from eating funnel cake.

Hanging out in the sun Saturday afternoon was nice.

Saturday afternoon, we headed to the model map - a sample bit of map on a sample bit of terrain, to see what it would be like for the relay. None of us had ever done floodplain orienteering before, and it turns out there aren't many features (other than the random dumpster), and there is no climb. Anywhere. It was a strange sort of area, and I'm glad we checked it out.

The sun was starting to go down, and the light made the trees across the lake look like they were flaming. Beautiful.
Fanning out to check out the footing and the mapping of this area.

This is how I felt about the terrain and the mapping style for the floodplain relay. Very strange, very different than normal.

Sunday rolled around and we were all pretty pumped for the REAL event of the weekend. Our main rivals were Delaware Valley Orienteering Association (DVOA) - they were fielding an allstar team, and we were definitely worried about how we'd stack up. Our order went me -> Ian -> Ali -> Mikkel. We had been unsure of the order for Ali and Mikkel, since the courses are different for each leg, and the last leg was longest, and Ali is in better shape than Mikkel. But, he settled it by saying that he could run a 25s 200m, and we figured that might be necessary, so put him on the last leg. Team two went Brendan -> Peter -> Bill -> Greg. I was kind of worried they'd beat Team 1, but we were ok =).
First team for CSU: Mikkel, Ali, Ian, and me. Why do I look like I should be the mascot or something?

Starting line, under threatening skies (Dan Barker photo).
On the start line. Sharon McMonagle photo.

The start. Greg Walker's photos.

We started off, and I could immediately feel my calves tighten up. This wasn't good, but I figured I had no choice other than to push through it. Brendan was pulling the pack out front, and Zac Barker, DVOA's first runner, was close behind him. Zac is young (therefore worth points), but he is speedy, and with good visibility he'll have no issues keeping up. I just hoped to stay close to Brendan, who I know is faster than me, but could potentially pull me to a really awesome leg and a lead-off to Ian in the front of the race. As we kept running, though, I knew I was in trouble. My calves felt awful, and I was at the point where I couldn't push off my toes, so my running was more of a stumble. I just had to make it through 4km, but with the soft footing in the floodplain, I was truly floundering. It helped that Zac and Brendan were in front of me, because I could take smarter micro-routes, but you couldn't hide the fact that I just couldn't run fast enough.

By the time I got to the open field and ~500m left to go, it was a pure mental game for me. I knew I had to stay within visual contact of Zac (Brendan was by now well off the front), so that Ian could reel in Vadim on the second leg. Do it for your team, do it for you team, keep running! But I had no power in my legs, I physically could not push off of my toes - I thought maybe I would trip over myself since I couldn't pick my legs up fast enough, I was just stumbling my way into the finish.

Me finishing my leg, before tagging off to Ian. Greg's photo.

It was good enough, and I tagged to Ian in 4th place overall, third among the 4-point teams. Ian was able to overcome the gap, but he couldn't drop Vadim, DVOA's second runner, completely. He opened up about a 20s lead, but that was still visual contact, which meant that we had no chance to fully escape from them.
The tag.

Ian's graceful tag off to Ali. The next photo in this series was Ian on the ground. Greg Walker photo.

Ali went out and ran well, but Clem, DVOA's third runner, closed the gap, and they were running together through much of the leg. There were four different spectator controls, that we could see across the lake, and it was super exciting to watch the lead changes! Ali succeeded in putting a bit of time on Clem in the last open running parts, but again, Wyatt (DVOA's fourth runner) was able to close the gap to Mikkel. This actually worked in our favor, as Mikkel didn't try to drop Wyatt again - he was happy to run with him, and to make things even more exciting, they caught up the top two teams in the 8-point category, so that the last spectator control saw all four runners coming at once. As they came flying across the last fields, you could tell that Mikkel looked fresher than Wyatt, but it didn't help the nail biting. My throat is still sore from cheering Mikkel in to the line, and he successfully out-kicked Wyatt, bringing the relay gold to the realm of CSU!

Mikkel screaming to victory after out-kicking Wyatt, for one of the closest finishes ever in the US relay champs.

Wooo! We won!

DVOA put up an awesome fight, and I was proud to get to run against these perennial champions. I was prouder still of CSU, for running smart, running hard, and running together. Yeah CSU!

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