Monday, June 8, 2015

Memorial Day training camp

A few weeks ago, several US Team members, friends and coaches met up in western CT/eastern NY for an orienteering training camp, since we all had a holiday on Monday. Becky kindly hosted us all, and Kseniya and Greg designed exercises for day 1, I did day 2 (after a local meet courtesy of Western CT Orienteering Club) and Becky designed the sprint day for Monday. Overall, this felt like a huge success, and I came away from the camp feeling fit and ready to take on the world. That's a great way to end a camp, rather than feeling run down and exhausted! 

The ladies after the first exercise. 

First up were some orienteering intervals at Mountain Lakes State Park, courtesy of Kseniya and Greg. We ran these almost as a mass start, intervals of 15-30s between everyone, and it was a big group - Kseniya, Hannah, Evalin, Becky, Ethan, Misha, and Peter.  Super fun to be racing head to head, practicing catching people and getting caught, strategies for avoiding distraction while allowing faster runners to pull you with them.  We don't get many opportunities to do head-to-head relay races like they do in Scandiland, so trainings like this are super valuable to us. 

I struggled with the navigation, consistently out-running myself. In some ways, this is good, because I'm dealing with a much greater speed than I've ever had available before. In most ways, this is not good, because the crux of this sport is finding the controls quickly, and you can't do that when you're dashing off in the wrong direction with nothing in your head except "WHEEEEEEEE!" as you gallumph down a hill. By the last interval I'd found a better balance between pushing the pace and finding the controls, so it was nice to end well, but the beginning first few legs were frustrating. 

Click for the full map, and then click the full map to turn on/off route choices.

The second exercise of the day, after a nice picnic in the sun, was a middle-distance course, set by Balter, where the idea was to really "flow" through the controls. He'd set the course in such a way as to encourage that, following the contours and the lay of the land rather than fighting it. I enjoyed this, happy with being able to move comfortably, but I rolled my ankle just after the third control, and though I could walk it off, I was moving pretty gingerly on the rocks after that. 

Click for the full map, and then click the full map to turn on/off route choices.

After an excellent evening of delicious food and conversation, it was time to rinse and repeat, another day of running in the forest in excellent weather. First up was a local meet at Pond Mountain, courtesy of course setter Charlie DeWeese, from the Western Connecticut Orienteering Club. The idea for the camp participants was to treat this as a true race, practicing some of what we'd talked about the day before and flowing through controls with full confidence. For me, this was mostly successful, though I wasn't very true to my direction, which cost me some seconds in these open forests. I caught up to Joe Brautigam around control 5, and this was great since we started really pushing each other, testing different routes and learning from our micro-routes.  I didn't feel very fresh slogging up the Appalachian Trail to the top of the hill, but it was a very pretty trail to run, and in that sense I appreciated the opportunity to run it. I finished feeling like that had been a low-effort tempo, just no more oopmh to give from fatigued legs, but in 5th overall, behind some speedy guys.

Click for the full map, and then click the full map to turn on/off route choices.
After lunch in the quaint little town of Kent, it was time to head back up to Pond Mountain for the afternoon's exercises. I'd set up a "look-wide" course, with the idea that you have to look beyond the whited-out area I'd drawn between the controls, and get your swivel-head on. This was a very useful exercise, since it's so easy to just get wrapped up in what's directly ahead of you.

Immediately after that was a memory-o. The way this worked is that you ran without a map, and at each control, I had taped a segment of map to the streamer, showing you the next leg. You had to memorize the leg, and then run to the next control, where you'd be rewarded with the next chunk of map. The punishment for mistakes was high, since you had to run all the way back to the previous control to look at the map, but I found this super rewarding and a lot of fun.

That was a long day, but nothing that a little ice cream couldn't fix. Then tacos back at Becky's place, and time to rest up for a final day of training camp, sprinting at the Fairfield campus!

Izzy and Dave joined us just for Sunday and Monday, and we know it was all for the ice cream. 

I think everyone's legs were a little flat by Monday morning. We still managed to get the group motivated and out of the house on time, and I think we were all psyched to hear what Becky had set up for us at Fairfield University. A few years back, Norwegian Anne Magrethe Hausken became one of the first women to really consistently excel in sprint orienteering, and she wrote up her four "laws" of sprint orienteering. After talking with the Americans, Becky discovered that what she had assumed everyone knew, really wasn't very common knowledge here, and this day of sprint training learning the four laws was probably one of my most productive days of orienteering training I've ever had.

For each law, Becky set a different course, so that we could practice that law for the full thing. After practicing the laws, we ran a prologue/chase sprint final, on some pretty tired legs, which was great simulation for how sprinting is never quite in perfect circumstances. Here are the maps:

Law 1: Read everything on the way to the first control. This is essentially a one-leg model event, so that as you start running, you don't go too fast; instead you are paying attention to how the mapper has depicted all the various things on the map, and it lets you ease into it. True emphasis on running at the speed you can orienteer, which, in a simple area, could be very fast.

Law 2: Smooth your route. Because every time you change direction, turn around, zig or zag, or swoopily zigzag you lose a second. Sprint races are determined by seconds, so you've got to practice gaining them back. Becky set up the course and declared that everything not on pavement was lava, which meant you had to stay on the sidewalks and roads. This made edges much more sharp, almost like running in an old European city, where instead of quads of grass, you have buildings to run around. It helped with the emphasis on choosing smooth routes.

Law 3: Raise your vision. Becky turned off the lava for this one. Often, if you look up, you can see several steps ahead along your route. This isn't so different from trail running or mountain biking - if you're just looking at your feet or your front tire, you'll be constantly reacting to the terrain instead of anticipating it and moving more fluidly. Especially in sprinting, if you raise your vision and see the corner of a building you're aiming for, you have suddenly gained a few "free" seconds in which you can read the next leg, check your control description, or just concentrate on running faster with both arms swinging.

Law 4: Read the entire leg. Sprints have the potential to "trap" the runner, if you run into a courtyard with no exit or a passageway between buildings that is blocked at one end by an impassible fence.  All these traps are shown very nicely on the map, but often we don't see them until it's too late, and then lose valuable seconds backtracking, because of not reading the whole route.

After these four courses, I was feeling like suddenly I had the keys to the kingdom. There IS a method to this madness that is sprint orienteering! Now I know what to focus on, and I know that if I can just master these laws, it'll all go smoothly. That is such an exciting revelation! But time to practice this, in the sprint Prologue. Becky started us out three at a time, on three forked courses, and I struggled a bit on my prologue because I couldn't find two of the streamers. They'd just blown off, but it still messed with my flow a bit, and I actually ran around control 8 to check the other side of the wall just in case. All in all this was about a minute lost, so I was not starting in a good position for the final.

The final was super fun, though. I felt like I executed the sprint laws really well, and was in full control and at full speed the whole time, though by this point my full speed was not moving as fast as I'd like. This was the fifth hard effort in three days!

I was chasing Misha and Greg, and I caught both before the end, usually because I was moving more smoothly into and out of the controls.  There were definitely some potential traps, but following the laws allowed me to avoid them, and it was a really good feeling to end the camp on a good race. I finished up just a minute behind Ethan, who is on the men's senior team, and about two minutes ahead of the next ladies, which speaks more to the fact that their oomph canisters were emptier than mine than to me crushing the course. Fresh, I think we all would have been 1-2 minutes faster.  
Super thanks to everyone who made this weekend possible. Informal training camps like this are the foundation upon which I have built myself into an orienteer, and without the support group of friends and teammates I would not be on the US Team and headed to Scotland. These camps are not just fun, but absolutely crucial, if I'm going to make my goals this August. The psychological state is as important as the physical parameters, and having a positive camp like this just enforces that cycle of feeling good about the fact that you're feeling good. 

Misha, Greg, Dave, Izzy
Kseniya, me, Becky, Hannah, Ethan

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