Monday, November 18, 2013

DVOA Fall orienteering festival

After a lot of travel weekends lately, I wasn't too psyched about another long drive, this time down to French Creek State Park, west of Philly.  But, the Delaware Valley Orienteering Association held a top-notch meet, that was well worth the drive (which was great in its own right, carpooling with Katia, Giovanni, Anne, and Zan).  My experience running down there is limited, and there are many fewer features than I'm used to on the map, leading to a much higher dependence on direction and distance to get to your control - the boy scout approach.  I was very happy to find most of the leaves on the ground rather than on the trees, as it meant visibility was quite good, making the orienteering considerably easier.

Standing in line for the start.

The format of the weekend was two classic-distance races, and a combined time for the overall winner.  I didn't bother to really taper, and just hoped to hold it together for both races, despite still feeling some fatigue from the 25k Raid the Hammer race last Sunday.  Saturday's race was at a southern portion of French Creek, with some hills, but in a flat, vague sort of way.  I treated the navigation quite cautiously, and never got moving very fast during the race, though I was certainly working hard up the hills.  The footing was rough - loose stones and thick vegetation - and I didn't feel particularly stable on my feet. I also took a stick to the eye somewhere around control 4, which didn't do much for my confidence moving through terrain.  But the cautious approach worked out, and although I dropped about 2 minutes on the course because of mistakes, I came out on top of the pile of elite women, with a scant 3min lead over Kseniya.  There were quite a few M45 and M20 runners who beat me, though (we're on the same course), indicating I should probably move a bit faster the next day. Splits (includes all the men on the red course, too).

Off we go!

Map from day 1 - click to make bigger.  The red line is the route I thought I took, the green/red line is the route my gps claims I took.  A miss on #2 and #7, but otherwise quite a clean run and nailing all of my process goals. 

DVOA had set up a wine tasting event at a local winery, so many of us took advantage of that opportunity, which was a very nice touch to the event.  The official dinner was in downtown Pottstown, and after dinner, the Senior Standing Team members ran a public course review, going through some of the courses offered today and discussing the various best ways to approach different legs.  For the most part, I thought this was a really good idea, and folks seemed to get something out of it. 

Day 2
My goal for day 2 was to carry over the good navigational habits from day 1, but run a little more aggressively, especially where the vegetation was thick and rocky.  Everybody has to deal with tough terrain, I just gotta move through it faster.  Unfortunately, warming up I twisted my ankle kind of badly.  This ankle has been twisted enough that the ligaments are already all stretched out and the pain stops quickly, but it did leave me feeling very unstable on my feet for the race.  As is often the case, the footing is much better off trail than on the trails when there are loose rocks under leaves. 

I tried to start aggressively, but somehow was still losing some serious time to both Tereza (member of the Czech Republic team who is here studying at Elon University) and to the M45s.  I started to take the time back by #4, and the flat trail cruise to #5 felt good, and I was moving well.  I could tell I was running too fast, because I really wanted to stop running and sit down, but the trouble with orienteering is that the race plays itself out one control at a time, so it can be very difficult to pace yourself well.  By the time I was climbing up the hill to 7, I knew I was in trouble, physically, and had to back off the pace a little. I made contact with Kseniya at control 10, having made up a few minutes on her, and while this was a relief, I knew I had to keep pushing the pace.  I was deathly slow up the hills to 13 and 14, just unable to move any faster, and lost two minutes to Tereza between control 11 and 15.  Darn!  Splits from day 2. Luckily, the overall time was enough to net me the win!  I was pretty psyched about this.

Map from day 2.  More hills, and more green!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Raid the Hammer

Last year, Ali and Amy Rusiecki and I did this adventure race in Canada as Team Giggles.  We won the women's division, and were close on the heels of the men's teams, just five minutes out of the lead in 5th.  We planned to do the race again this year, to see if we could get any closer to the lead.  Unfortunately, Team Giggles lost Amy when she tweaked her hamstring pretty badly the weekend before in a 50 miler (that she still won. beast!). Though she could still sorta run, she didn't think she could run fast, and neither Ali nor I wanted to push a bum hamstring in a long race. So, we started casting around for teammates, needing someone faster than Alex, somewhat able to orienteer, and crazy enough to be willing to drop everything and drive to Hamilton on a four-day notice. Enter Ari Ofsevit.

Bonus fact: Ari was willing to wear a pink tiara. Woo! 

Team Giggles with their awesome glittery home-made shirts.

After a lovely evening at the Waddington household, it was go-time. The course was really physical, lots of running and lots of flat running. I started suffering pretty early on from an unhappy digestive track and very sore ankles; I guess I was rolling them around more than I thought in the first off-trail section. Not my finest day physically, but it's a team event, and you're only as fast as your weakest link, so Ali was a rockstar and towed me along for all the urban or big-trail stuff with a bungee cord. Can I hire her for my road races? There was also a wicked headwind, so it was fantastic to have Ali breaking the wind (as opposed to breaking wind; that was my job) for me.

Map 1:

We took the road around to 1, and that didn't seem any slower than cutting through the fields. Other teams were faster, but I tried to find a pace that felt comfortable yet fast.  My feet felt like in their X-Talon190s, which were the best compromise between road and hard-trail running and super slippery mud, that made up the themes of the day.  My ankles were a little floppy cutting through the woods on the way to 1, which was a bit of foreshadowing for the rest of the race. From 1, we had "the matrix", where we were allowed to split up to get three controls, and then meet back up at 2. I had the shorter, marginally technical control, Ali had the far away brambly control, and Ari had the far away trail + climb control.

The trail run to 2 was gorgeous, and knowing I'd been on the shortest leg I slowed down to a jog to try and recover. Ali arrived at the control within seconds of me, and Ari was 3:18 behind her, so we'd picked a good strategy, and we left control 2 with the top teams.  Amazing how requiring all three members to navigate breaks up the race!

Map 2:

We got stuck at a traffic light trying to get onto map 2, with the matrix-code-checker people on the other side of the intersection, so lost the top 2-3 teams there, who'd snuck ahead as the light was going yellow. Boo. I was struggling a little with the pace, and my stomach was not being happy with me, but we were holding even with the teams around us through the southern portion of the map.

From 5 we exited the orienteering bit and had some road/wide-trail running. The organizers had blanked out parts of the map, and they didn't say we were forbidden to use the roads that went through those areas, but they did say that the roads wouldn't be a huge help.  So, we stayed on the mapped areas.  The trails were a hard-packed gravel/dirt mixture, typical suburban running.  Ari had brought bungee cords, so I bungeed myself to Ali's waterbottle belt, and this lent us a smidge more speed, while bringing my heartrate back below threshold. This was where I noticed that my right ankle was really hurting. Ankles are small things, but apparently I'd tied my shoe too tight, and that was pushing on things badly at the front of my ankle, a known problem area for me. We got stopped at another light, where another coed team was stopped with us, so I loosened my shoe there, but the damage was done, and that foot felt really tender the rest of the race.  Rookie mistake!

Map 3:

We took a better route to 8, not losing as many contours, and got ahead of some teams there. But then to 9, first I needed another pit stop, then Ari's nipples started chafing, so I was digging out the tape from our med kit as we were running, and then none of us were paying any attention to the map and overshot a reentrant by a bit and had to correct by running through some tall burr things. Oops. But, I saw a decaying bicycle in the streambed, which was kind of cool. Just half the rear tire and the derailleur sticking out from the mud and rocks. We also jumped over a dead and decaying deer. ewww.

Up the hill and through the neighborhood to 10, munching on some food, and we did better with making sure that somebody was actually navigating at all points. I suppose that's an actual drawback of having more than one navigator on your team - you always assume somebody else is navigating. We were ahead of the other coed team down to 10, and dropped them on the climb up to 11, especially after I bungeed back to Ali on the flat part into the feed. In the sideways freezing rain. Both ankles were really killing me now on the flat hardpack stuff, but I was hoping that the next section of orienteering would be better, since it was softer footing. I was definitely not going to let ankle pain slow us down; they're just ankles.

The climb from 12 was a doozy, a real map-in-teeth-use-fingernails-as-tread sort of climb (see Ari's tiara photo up top). I was having a lot of trouble running fast along the trail to 13, sort of in a bad little world of hurt and pain and ow and tired and poop. Ali did a spectacular job of trail finding on the indistinct guy to 13, and then we were in the "void", a vague area with low visibility, where I just ran compass checks on Ali as she spiked controls, with Ari acting as cheerleader.  We put some time on the other teams in that section, as we nailed all the controls and were moving decently, considering Alex's sorry state of being.

17-18-19-20 were all trail running, with Ari nearly killing himself tumbling down one of the steep slopes and me trying not to whimper too much about my ankles, the right one in particular now was giving me sharp pain with every step. One of the teams that beat us saved 4 minutes and 8 contours by crossing the uncrossable river; I guess since it's AR and they didn't specifically say "you'll be dqed if you cross that river" it's ok. Probably better not to go that hypothermic for me and Ali, but frustrating to lose that much time. Anyway, a long climb on road to 21, where Ali was just pushing me from behind, then a cruise along the river to 22, a final muddy climb back to suburbia, and then bungee all the way in, managing to stay on my feet and mostly ignore the ankle.

We ended up 6 minutes back, but first coed, which was our category. All the flat running was tough, but so were the steep muddy hills, and overall it was pretty fun. Team dynamics were good, and there were no tears. woo!  Sounds like next year is the 15th anniversary of this race, and the race director promises to put together some of the best parts of the last 15 years, so it's probably worth the drive, though going that way twice in three weeks was rough.  Team Giggles for the win!  hehe.

Friday, November 8, 2013

New England autumn

This has been a glorious fall in New England. It's finally getting cold enough at night that it truly feels like fall, and the trees got that memo, breaking out into these brilliant flaming colors, coating the ground with their leaves so that you are running through a kaleidoscopic tunnel. If ever I'm having a down day, all it takes is a run through the forest, crunching through the leaves and taking in the views and earthy smells to make me happy again. It's worth appreciating the beauty around me. 

Of course, four days later, November happened for real, my glorious CSU-colored tree lost its leaves, and the sky rained on me: 

Sneaking out for a lunchtime run the other day, I renewed the conscious decision I made years ago to view the upside of situations. Life is beautiful, and when I let the busy-ness of it all overwhelm me, it's easy to get wrapped up in the daily grind, ignoring the brilliant forest that surrounds me and focusing on one step at a time, driven by the end goal. That can work, but it's the process of everything that I do that really brings me joy, not just achieving the goal, and that's worth remembering from time to time. 

Of course, that's not to say there aren't scary and overwhelming decisions and deadlines that need to be made or dealt with all the time.  Those need respect, but I refuse to give them any more of my time and energy than necessary, and I will not dwell on the negatives. I'm not ignoring these things, but I refuse to let them overshadow the beauty of life.  That choice is mine to make.

I think it's time for a run!