Wednesday, October 23, 2013

U.S. Two-day classic championships

Last weekend was the two-day classic championships in orienteering, up at Bear Brook State Park in NH.  There are too many US Champs in orienteering, mostly because we can't agree to do what the rest of the world does and use a sprint, middle, and long distance event as the championship event.  The classic distance is what tends to get used at local meets, and I can admit there is something to having a combined time event, but it just seems silly to have so many different championships, and definitely weakens the statement that you're a national champion.  After all, I'm the national champion in the ultra-long event, and was on the winning team at the relay champs!  But how can you choose the best if there are so many random events? Agreement is difficult, and nobody has bothered to think that maybe the organizer should choose the format of the race for national championships. 

Anyway, ranting about too many championships aside, last weekend was fantastic.  New England is having a spectacular fall, hanging out in this beautiful Indian summer thing far longer than we deserve.  Up North Orienteers put on a very nice event, on a new map that was incredibly technical.  You don't get this level of difficulty very often; I certainly don't feel like I've been this navigationally challenged since the craziness of 2011 WOC in France!  Awesome!

Map from day 1, with route.

Ali had elected to run against the elite men this weekend, since that's the clear next step for her to actually improve (what can you learn when you win every split?), so that left the championships wide open.  It was a small but deep field for the elite women, and I knew I'd need to be on my toes.  I am confident in my fitness and speed, but some of these ladies are ace navigators, and I'm not quite there yet.   In this thick forest with difficult navigation, speed actually becomes a liability.  I also wanted to place well among the middle-aged men who were running our course, since they're often a good measure of how consistent you're actually being. 

I had some really good process goals for the race, that would hopefully keep me focused the whole way through.  After the Canadian champs a week ago, I'd figured out a couple strategies that would work to address some of the mistakes I'd made, and I was excited to try them in a race.  Out of the gate, I was excited but kept myself reined in, focusing hard on making a good attackpoint and keeping good direction.  Unfortunately, I got dragged further downhill than I meant to, and took nearly two minutes to relocate and find the first control.  Argh, not the start I had hoped for!  In an encouraging turn of events, I managed not to freak out, and I calmly made my plan for the next control and executed it to a T.  Phew.  As the controls continued to click off, I let myself move a little faster, though that cost me another minute at #4 when I missed that the marshes were dry, and overran the control. 

Moving into the southern section of the course, I was feeling confident, but that area got much more technical and I nearly lost myself on the way to 9.  I had lost contact, and thankfully I was still moving in the right direction, but it was a little touch and go for a while.  Thirty seconds lost there because of that hesitation, and then I let myself drift on the way to 10, losing another minute.  I was getting frustrated with myself, but managed to keep the focus, nailing the final controls in the vague area before the finish, much to my relief.  In the end, it was good enough to win for the women, barely a minute over Kseniya, and I was 5th among the men.  Not too shabby, even with five minutes of errors!  Splits.

The evening passed quickly among friends with a lot of laughter, and after a poor night of sleep in a campground (I'm getting too old and whiny for sleeping on the ground...), I was up early, shaking out the legs and trying to figure out what I would do differently on day 2 to avoid all the mistakes I made on day 1.  I knew that to stay ahead of Kseniya I would have to have a clean run, because she is just so solid in the technical stuff, but I determined not to think about her, and only think about how to orienteer.  The focus today would be direction!  Despite the thick forest, I would have to go the direction I wanted, and not the direction the trees pushed me! 

The course was very fun, and very difficult.  The southern part of this map is incredibly flat, and covered with enough detail on the map and with enough vegetation in the terrain that it is very difficult to read the flow of the land, both on the map and in the terrain.  Tough going, and very hard to simplify the land and move quickly.  I spiked #1, which feels good, and starts the race on the right foot, but then on the way to #2, I ignored the voice in my head that told me to slow down and figure out what was going on, and I got mega lost, dropping 6 minutes and change while slowly relocating.  That's a huge mistake, and I fought the urge to sit on a rock and cry about it, even as I made another mistake on 3.  But, I am proud of myself for rallying after that, and moving carefully if slowly through the boulder fields of vagueness in the southern portion of the map, staying focused and remembering what I meant to do. 

Map from day 2, with route.

Unfortunately, I was too cautious to 12, losing some time there, and then managed to completely mess up my direction on the way to 13, losing another two minutes.  At this point I was pretty angry with how I was orienteering, and I let my frustration come to the surface, bashing through the thick forest angry and screaming, but thankfully in the right direction, winning the split to 14 over all the men and by a minute over the next woman.  Where was that for the rest of the course?  Of course, it wasn't enough, and losing nine minutes over the rest of the course dropped me to third for the day behind Kseniya and Zan, and second overall.  I was bummed to not win, since I felt that I had it in me, but I did not perform well enough on day 2 to maintain the lead, and Kseniya totally deserved the title for her solid navigation.  Splits from day 2.

Now there's time for a solid training block, and the last A-meet of 2013 for me will be down near Philadelphia in mid November.  Time to retrain some skiing muscles...

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Canadian Nationals

Last weekend I headed over to Hamilton, ON with Zan and Anna for the Canadian orienteering national championships.  It was a long drive, but well worth it, as the event was incredibly well run, had two World Ranking Event races, and the weather was fantastic all weekend.  A brief stop overnight in Rochester let me see my parents and their new condo, too, and my mom made me cookies for the road.  Just like old times!

Beautiful forests on a beautiful day.

How to kill time on a nice autumn day.  No complaints here!

We swung by the model event at Canterbury Hills first, to check out the terrain and get a feel for the forest.  So lovely and open, though there were a few burrs at times.  We killed a few hours picnicking in the sunshine, and then it was time to move the party to McMaster University, for the WRE sprint.  Naturally, having three elite orienteers in the car led to us getting quite lost.  We decided that the best plan of action was definitely to find a coffee shop, so that we could both caffeinate and ask for directions.  Time was a little tight, because even though none of us started until 5:30 or so, we had to be in the embargoed area by 4:45 at the latest.  Thankfully, our coffee plan worked out great, and we swung into the embargo with 10 minutes to spare.  No problem!

The sprint was staged at this university, which probably meant there wouldn't be any tricks, but you never know.  I was pretty amped up, since I haven't done a high-level orienteering race since WOC.  My primary goal for this race was to find all the right controls, something I didn't quite manage at WOC.  My secondary goal was to do this quickly and smoothly, but that's sort of less important if you can't figure out the first part of this game.  Warming up, I knew the taper had worked; I had wings on my Inov-8s, barely touching the ground.  Today was going to be a good day.  I knew with this sort of feeling, I didn't have to think about speed, I didn't have to think about effort, that part would just happen.  Focus on the navigation.  Out of the gate it was all making sense, and I spiked my first control with a feeling of triumph.  Unfortunately, I hadn't quite read ahead enough to see that the staircase I wanted to take to the second control ended in a wall (with a door, but that's a bit irrelevant when you're sprinting), and I lost 20 seconds there, needing to backtrack.  That flustered me, but I got myself back under control and focused on spiking the third control.  Wahoo!

Sprint course for women's elite class.

Into the 4th, and all of a sudden I can't see the control.  In reality, it's hiding around a flower bed, but I couldn't find it, and there's another 20 seconds lost, and panic sets in.  The flustered and panicked feeling lasts as I head toward 5, and I make a more serious mistake, trying to run up the wrong set of stairs again.  I know that I need to drop this feeling of panic, so I take a second to collect myself, and then carry on through the course, no more rushing.  By the time I hit control 13, which is next to the arena, I'm flowing again, and I see that the last loop is relatively un-technical, just running.  Pour it on!  I won three of the last five splits, and was 2nd on the other two by a mere 2 seconds, proof that I had legs under me today.  (Splits). I ended up in third, behind a Brit and a Canadian, both of whom are much faster than me on paper, so I was happy to be so close.  That result yielded me over 1000 WRE points, a first for me in summer orienteering!

We found a tasty Thai restaurant for dinner (accommodating the gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free, and vegans in our 15-person group...), for proper preparation for Saturday's middle distance WRE. This was held at Mineral Springs, a really fun area with lots of relief in the form of eroded hillsides with beautiful open forests. I was pretty pumped for this; my speed in the woods is pretty good these days, and I feel like my navigation has been improving.  Then I blew it, not seeing one of the three trails out of the start and orienteering my map with a trail that ran east-west, rather than with a north line.  This led to a 90 degree error out of the start, and five minutes of wandering around before bailing back to the start and trying to figure out what the heck went wrong.  That's a lot of time to lose on a 35min race.  After that, I was pretty angry with myself, and flustered and feeling rushed and trying to push the pace, and naturally, that led to more mistakes, nearly another five minutes over the rest of the course.  I was pretty upset, but there were parts of the race that went quite well, so it wasn't a complete wash, and I still got decent WRE points, somehow.  I also ended up third, when it turned out that the Swede/Canadian in second had actually mispunched.  At least I found all the controls this time! Splits.

Women's elite course of the middle distance.  Check out all that contour detail!  Super fun =)

The meatball truck was on hand for some meatball poutine to soothe the hurt to my ego, and it was another gorgeous day that I got to spend outside with friends, so on the whole, Saturday was a truly fantastic day.  I just want to replay between about 11:14 and 11:20am.

It's a mix of angry, excited, game on, and just totally nuts.  Don't mess with this crazy lady!

It was raining the morning of the long distance, but I was happy about that, as I figure the tougher the condition, the better I'll do.  Alas, the rain stopped and the sun came out before we started, but I was still ready to attack this course aggressively and cleanly.  No mistakes!  This was working for me the first 35 minutes, but then I missed 5 by a bit, and did some stupid things on the way to 7.  Still in the game, but you really shouldn't handicap yourself by going inefficiently to controls.  I was really enjoying the running out there, just nice clean dirt, no rocks, no brambles, and it felt fast.  I started going to 14 after 12 accidentally, and that cost me some minutes, but in the end those minutes wouldn't have netted me 2nd place, and I was firmly in 3rd by the time I cruised into the finish, a minute clear of the Belgian runner in 4th, but six minutes behind Katarina and nine behind Louise.  Yep, there's some room for improvement... but I'm happy with my run, overall.

In the end, I can't complain about three podiums in three days. This is a big improvement, and I am relatively happy with the results. It is nice to see that there are some low-hanging fruits for me to fix with my orienteering, and that the distance running stuff seems to be paying off in the forest as well as on trails. I can't wait to test myself again in the US Classic Championships this coming weekend!

A crown of clover.

Sometimes it's cathartic to actually write out excessive notes on the course as a post review.

There were burrs.  These things stick to you and are nearly impossible to get off; they also give you terrible skin rashes from rubbing against your legs over and over.  Anna seemed proud of hers, though. The best way to remove them from your clothes is with an old credit card, just scraping them off.  Yuck.  Better than greenbriar, maybe.

The Boston crew of elite women orienteers at a scenic view stop along the way home... never seen the Canadian side of the falls before!