Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Presidential traverse

A few years ago, Anna Mcloon and I hiked the Presidential Traverse (from north to south), and hit Mt. Washington in time to watch some of the runners crawl to the top in that mt. washington race. This year, I had three junior skiers doing the race, plus head coach Rob, teammate Amy, and quite a few other folks who I know and would love to cheer for. So, I figured it was time to do another traverse.  The group consisted of myself, Ari from the orienteering section, Tom from the running section, Sydney from the junior skiing section, and Ari's friend Jess, from the huts.  I didn't pay quite close enough attention to the expected timeline, so we missed the race by like an hour, but at least we still saw some of the people in the zoo on top of Washington and I could offer them summit chocolate.  It was a fun way to spend the day, and re-filled some of that "mountain time goes here" bucket inside of me. I don't feel like wasting any more words, so here are some photos.

Duck falls, coming up Watson path. 

Blurry forest trails!

Less blurry forest.

Watson path was pretty awesome.

The big one.

Looking south on the descent to Lakes of the Clouds.

Looking back up towards Washington.

Monroe. pretty rewarding to walk up a president in 14 minutes.

Zan offered to drive my car to the southern end, then hiked up to Lakes of the Clouds to run back down the hill with us.

Someday when we're old and can't do stuff like this, I hope we have an entire album of photos of us on mountains.

And down the Crawford path.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Greylock trail race

I'm racing the long distance final at the World Championships this summer, so I knew I need to get some long, tough, hilly races on my schedule to properly prepare.  The Mt. Greylock trail race fit this ticket perfectly, involving 13 miles, 960m of climb, and a scattering of rocks and tricky footing.  The race starts on the east side of the mountain, climbs up rather steeply, and then makes a long tour around and back down, basically 9 miles of descending.

Looking at some past results, I decided that 2h would be a "reach" time, seeing some of the names who'd come close, but I would like to hit 2:11, since that was last year's winner's time.  Unfortunately, I didn't do myself any favors by fully participating in the junior skier strength workout on Friday night, and my legs and glutes were stupendously sore come Sunday morning. I figured I'd be able to run through the soreness, but it would have been nice to run on fresher legs.  Anyway, the day dawned clear and cool, and I was really excited to go for a run in the mountains!

Doesn't look that big, right?

The race starts with a continuous climb to the top of Greylock, and I wanted to push the pace a little here and see what I was capable of doing, but without blowing up completely.  Unfortunately, the heavy legs made climbing a chore, and I was suffering sooner than I would have liked.  I didn't let up, choosing among mantras to figure out the one that fit best with my breathing and pace, and soon I was spending some quality time in my pain cave, near the entrance but staying put.  I let quite a few women get past, since there's really just one pace you can go for the effort you're willing to put out, and that pace is different for everyone.  With this long a climb, genetics start to play a role, and this girl was not made for sustained climbs, no matter how good my mental toughness.  

Finally I hit the top, only 1 minute behind my expected time.  Great! Let's crush some downhills! The first part was fantastic, rocky, rooty, steep and slippery, and I danced past quite a few runners, confident in my Inov-8s.  Eventually that flattened out, and I had 3rd and 4th women ahead in my sights. This was a big relief - I had figured I was out of the race after the climb, given how far back I'd slipped, but now we were descending, and I could see my prey! The goal had been updated, now, I wanted a podium spot and I could see it. Unfortunately, that 3rd place girl looked like she was running quite comfortably, and we hit a more runnable section and she was gone. Well, once place at a time, let's hunt down Debbie first.  

Through the second aid station and then there's this really nice rolling piece of singletrack, and that was where I had my first low spot.  I was having more trouble than I'm used to negotiating the rocks and roots, and realized I'd run through the feed without eating.  I told myself that once I caught up to Debbie, I could relax and down a gel, but I could hear her chatting easily to her teammate with her, and I felt like my breath was rushing in and out like a friggin' steam engine.  Probably only 5 minutes of negativity before I turned it around, but enough to cost some time, and some energy.  Eventually I remembered to enjoy what I was doing, and wouldn't you know it, running is easier when you're smiling.  I made contact with Debbie, downed my gel, and floated down the very runnable Jones' nose, pulling just ahead before the feed.

Unfortunately, I'd read the course map wrong, and thought the feed was at 9mi, not 7.5ish.  So, when I checked my watch and saw that I'd only come 8.5ish, I knew I had another 4.5mi before the final feed, and that was depressing.  We had a long gradual uphill now, and I didn't want to let up and let Debbie catch me, so I kept pushing, falling back into my hill-loving mantras and trying to swing my arms.  My calves were no longer cramping, but had not recovered from the initial climb, so my balance was all off, feet unable to cope with the rocks and things in the trail, and I fell into another low spot, mentally.  I kept tripping and stumbling, never falling, but it was enough that I had to give myself a stern talking to out loud a few times.  Was this just muscular fatigue, or was I really not fit enough to give an honest effort for 13 miles?  The doubt comes too easily when you're mid-race and starting to flag.  

Eventually it was no longer uphill, and Debbie hadn't caught me yet, so I just had to cruise the downhill.  I tried to keep the pace up, but I was struggling physically now, and though I was in a better spot mentally, enjoying all the gravity-fed speed, it was taking entirely too much concentration to stay on my feet down the final hills.  I caught up to two guys, which helped boost the confidence, and finally I was back on some of the trail I'd previewed in my warmup.  Wahoo! nearly there!  Boy was I ready to be done running, my glutes were very unhappy with the extended runnable downhills after Friday's abuse.  In the end, I held onto 4th place, but I was disappointed to have been so mentally weak in the final four miles.  I definitely need to be able to hike sustained climbs faster, but more work on sustained downhills would also be good; I was not fully up to this challenge.  Hopefully, the final key workouts and a butt-load of rest will negate these issues in Italy!

I will probably come back to this race some day, as it really had some of everything - steep up, gradual up, technical up, easy up, all those varieties of down, and it was a nicely run affair in terms of the organization and post-run food.  Results were promptly uploaded, too, which is not always a given at a $20 trail race!  It felt good to test my body on a course that was more physical than technical, and I ended up running 2:11, which was my goal time!

Thursday, June 12, 2014


I was more tired than I thought coming home from Italy.  I expected to be tired, but the first day or two I was on such a high from the trip, the racing, the post-analysis, that I thought I had the energy to just jump back into normal training.  12 hours of training later, and it all caught up to me... I went out to do some vetting of an orienteering course that we're hosting next fall, and boy was that tough. I kept running face-first into cobwebs, and choking on pollen, and there were blackflies and mosquitoes trailing me, and I couldn't read my map or figure out the terrain.  This is just the sign of a day when you should have stayed in bed, and doesn't actually mean that orienteering sucks.  Actually, I like it.  But not that day. I did not go back to that terrain on Sunday, even though I had more vetting work to do. I took my mountain bike out for some fun, and was it ever fun!  Much nicer to be able to out-ride the bugs.

Yes, I'm leaning against a tree trying to catch my breath. this bike riding stuff is hard!

Hello, beautiful, remember me?

Thursday, June 5, 2014

3 Days of Trenches WRE

I went to Italy last weekend.  Up to the Asiago area, in the high plateaus where they make good cheese and find tasty mushrooms and apparently have some pretty wonderful orienteering maps in their craggy limestone pine forests.  I debated with myself for a long time about whether this event was worth the costs, and ultimately decided that since I had the extra vacation days, the benefits out-weighed the costs enough to justify the trip. The goals for the weekend were twofold: gain some valuable experience racing in relevant terrain against speedy Europeans, and place well enough to earn some WRE points that will bump out my crappy existing points, thus earning me a better start spot at the world champs. Oh, and eat a lot of gelato...

I arrived around noon on Friday, after an uneventful red-eye flight.  Some serious problems acquiring the rental car, but eventually I was on my way, and got to Rovereto to try and find some adventure buddies, Vanessa and Lachy from Australia and Lizzie and Greta from New Zealand.  We had enough daylight to drive up the mountainside to some of the training maps, that day it was Forte Cherle.  Still some snow in places, and much colder once you've gained 1000m in elevation!  Some easy jogging and terrain studying later, and we went back down the windy roads to find dinner in town with Katia and Giovanni. Not bad for a travel day!

Saturday was the first race, though not a World Ranking Event yet - a team sprint in the town of Pergine.  The start wasn't until 2:30pm, so we loaded up the car and took some seriously windy roads to go training at Lago di Lavarone in the morning.  I'll put a link to the headcam video that I took while running there - beautiful alpine forests!  This is adjacent to one of the areas where the world champs long distance final will be, so it was definitely relevant terrain for me to explore.  After a relaxed picnic in the grass, we went down a totally crazy road, complete with tunnels, bridges, and only enough space for one car, to get to Pergine.  Giovanni had warned us not to take this road at night, and I think I understand why not.

Here is the view down toward Pergine Valsugana from an overlook pull-off on the crazy road.  Pergine is just beyond those lakes.  Pretty awesome view, eh?

Anyway, I managed to keep the car on the road, and we made it to the sprint venue.  Four-people teams, two men and two women, and Samantha, Cristina, and Giacomo were my teammates.  They let Sam pretend to be a man. Only problem was that Giacomo's flight from the US was arriving that day, and he was not in the quarantine area when they closed quarantine entrance. Well, I guess we'll just run three legs and have a DNF.  Luckily, Giacomo arrived about four minutes before he had to run, and they let him in, so it was all good!  I was running the last leg, and there were a few teams around to catch; after a small mistake at the first control, I ran cleanly and smoothly, and we ended up 12th, of 20 teams.  Given that we weren't really putting out a huge amount of effort, and had a woman racing against the men, this was a very fine result.  Go Team USA!

From there, it was time to find out accommodation for the night, just outside of Asiago, with a brief stop to check out a castle that we'd seen from afar.  They were having a private function inside the keep, which seemed like a pretty awesome place to have a party, but at least we could still wander around the outside.  Nice to not only have a castle in your town, but be able to use it.  The winners of the sprint relay had earned a dinner up there, a pretty sweet prize!  Then back up the crazy road, which felt a lot easier going up than down (I guess you spend less time peeking over the edge of cliffs wondering if you'll die that day), and we got to our hotel just in time for dinner.  I love that pasta is pretty much always the first course in Italy.

Middle Distance WRE
Sunday was the middle distance WRE, and I had joined the Italian Trent-O team for the weekend.  Trent-O is Katia and Giovanni's club, and it was fun to have a club to hang out with, even if there was a bit of a language barrier.  The event took place on some steep wooded hillsides just behind our hotel (talk about convenience), with about a 150m climb to the start.  I may have cut it pretty close, but arrived at my start on time.  Being one of the earlier starters, I would not have the advantage of running with any other girls, and there would be no "elephant trails" in the forest for me to follow, as there are for the later starters.  With 80 women on the start list, all running the same course, it was definitely an advantage to start late!

My race was unspectacular, and actually I made enough mistakes that it was nearly a disaster.  But, there were some good parts, and I definitely learned a bunch about how to orienteer well in these terrains.  The forest is so much faster and more open than at home! You can basically run full speed the whole time, which is awesome, but takes some getting used to, so even on my not-mistake legs I was losing time.  Time for more overspeed training back home!  I ended up 63rd of 77, with some crummy WRE points, but still better than my even crummier existing 4th score. So, not a total disaster, but definitely not a race I was proud of.

Click for larger image and to turn on/off route.

Arena for the middle distance. The race took place on that wooded hillside beyond the finish arch.

On our wander into town, we found this delicious-looking shop.  All your fruits, veggies, grains... funghi!

I liked the church. Interesting that the front and back looked quite different. We were hypothesizing that perhaps one part had gotten damaged in WWI, and they only rebuilt part of it.  Or maybe they planned it this way.  Either way, there was fighting around here, as evidenced by the trenches still out in the terrain.

 After some lunch, a nap, and a trip to town for some gelato, I figured it was time for the second training of the day, so I headed back up the hill with my GPS watch and a headcam to re-run parts of the race.  There were definitely trails through the forest where everyone had been running in the same direction, reinforcing my desire to have a later start spot at the world champs.  The goal for the afternoon's training was to gain more confidence on some of the short legs, and to run the legs where I made mistakes again, this time not making a mistake.  It was embarrassing how much better things went the second time, even on the legs I took it easy. By control 14 (where I cut it short on the training), I had taken 42:50 in the race, and 37:48 the second time, which includes pretty much every other leg walking to keep the intensity down.  Quite a few lessons to be learned, there... anyway, if you want to waste 47 minutes of your life watching the headcam blair witch project-esque footage, you can see it here. Make sure you have the google earth plugin installed so that the gps follows on the actual orienteering map.

Long Distance WRE
Monday's race was the long distance, and I was excited to put into practice some of the changes I planned to make to my orienteering.  I was a little worried about residual fatigue from the past two days of double workouts, but figured that I could tough it out, referencing in my head all sorts of difficult trail races in the 2-hour range.  The goal for the day was to run cleanly and pace myself well, and given that I had a starting position slightly further back, hopefully I was catch some people and possible get a ride with faster runners!

So naturally, I immediately blow 2 minutes on the first control.  It was a similar situation as the day before - I ran straight there with full confidence, and then for whatever reason, the terrain in the circle didn't match what I expected it to look like in my head, and I circled around confusedly for a while before finally figuring it out.  This is not good!  The girl from 2 minutes back, Maria Novella Sbaraglia, caught me there, and like a rookie I allowed that to fluster me.  So, I took off up the hill to #2 like a woman possessed, determined to drop Maria ASAP, and threw myself totally into oxygen debt.  Turns out 4,700ft is high enough that my body doesn't clear lactic acid the way I want it to.  Panting now, I spiked #2 and took off to 3, determined to get out of sight.  This was just dumb. By the time I got to 3, my brain didn't work, my legs were heavy, and my calf was blowing up.  I made a 45s error in the circle again, Maria got ahead of me, and 13 minutes into the race I was trashed.  You idiot!

I had to slow down, and it took until control 6 before I found my legs again.  At this point I had just about made contact with Maria again, and we had a helluva climb up to #7, so I forced myself to keep running, lactic acid cleared but leaving a leaden dullness in my legs.  Maria must have made a mistake on 8, because I didn't see her again, and my mistake on 8 was only another 30-45s, saved by the Finn 2 minutes ahead of me climbing back up the hill towards me - oops, gone too far, better turn around and look uphill.  I started to see more people on the climb up to 10, but my Finn dropped me on that climb, and beat me overall. If only I'd been able to keep up... I mean, if I'd run faster I'd'a won the race!  Favorite excuse ever.  Anyway, by control 12, I was really ready for the race to be over, and unfortunately I was only about 2/3 done.  My thoughtless energy expenditures from earlier in the weekend and earlier in the race had caught up, and despite eating a caffeinated gel, I was unable to access the expected levels of oomph.  Darn.

At that point, I caught up to a Slovenian, and she stuck to me like glue, going so far as to come to a complete stop anytime I did.  I tried this a few times, to see if she'd take the lead and show me the control, but no go.  She followed me around through control 18, where a Hungarian and a Czech caught up as I was making a 1.5min mistake.  D'oh!  I tried to match their pace into the fields and to the finish, but I was a wheezing stumbling wreck, and I fear I lost a place in the final few minutes, because I just couldn't run any faster.  I should mention that there had also been a hail storm halfway through the race, and I got pretty cold while I was wandering around making a mistake on 18, wishing my Slovenian tail would be useful and show me the control.  But, I finished with probably one of my better international showings yet, 44th of 66, and my best WRE score of the year.  This has moved me up (yay for being the third-ranked American woman!), and should drastically help my start spot at worlds.  Hopefully, I'll have more pep in my legs thanks to a taper!

Poor Giacomo totaled his ankle in the end of the course.  He still managed to finish, but the men's course was a beast, 18km and some 800m of climb.

Nice view from the town where we found our afternoon gelato!

In the end, the trip was totally worth the costs; of time, and energy, and money, and I have some excellent ideas of how to refine my final month of training before the world championships.  Hopefully this will lead to a result I am proud of, and a spot on the American relay team!