Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Mt. Greylock trail race

Last weekend, I took some junior skiers out west, to do some rollerskiing with their buddies on the Mt. Greylock team, and then to do the Mt. Greylock mountain race. It's a tough race for a teenager, but I think it's good for the kids to challenge themselves occasionally, and this was indeed a challenge. I did this one last year, and it was a pretty great test of who is the best all-around mountain runner. Sustained climbs, runnable downhills, a smattering of rocks and mud; it's a great course, even if I prefer the courses with less runnability. I think it's great to do races that don't only suit your strengths, but sometimes that can be depressing. My main goal for the day was to beat last year's time; it was supposed to rain a lot, but last year was pretty wet up top, too, so I figured conditions would be similar.  It was 20 degrees warmer this year, which was too bad, but I never felt like the heat was a true limiting factor. My secondary goal was to make sure none of my girls beat me.

We started out, up the hill, and my focus was on keeping my effort semi-comfortable. I remembered having very sore glutes and hamstrings last year, and though I hadn't gone quite as hard this year at the Friday core strength session with my juniors, I was still a little achy from my plyometrics I'd done earlier in the week. Damn. I found it was definitely easier to keep running, well, jogging, than to hike, because hiking took much more strength. One way to keep from hiking too much was to make sure I sped up any time I was hiking, and that made it enough of an extra effort that I couldn't wait to switch back to running, to recover!

I stayed closer to Debbie this year up the hill, and the effort felt less cumbersome than last year, so I was patting myself on the back for a job well done, until I saw the split at the top, two minutes slower. Oh. It was a little depressing, but I told myself that whatever happens, I still need to do a long run with a lot of hills today, and this race fit that bill.  My motivation was low, but the first rocky descent was fun enough to put a real smile on my face. The X-Talons were great, even in the rain, and I pulled back a lot of places, though no women.

On the few uphills after that descent I discovered I'd really only brought my descending legs today. Oh, well, run what you brung. I caught a glimpse of Debbie's back as I got to the second feed station, so pushed the pace a bit on the piece of singletrack before Jones Nose, and just like last year, caught up to Debbie right about there.  We zipped down the hills, which is just lovely and runnable and fun, and Ben was at the bottom taking photos, I couldn't help it, and leapt into the air giggling. Another one of those photos that I just had to buy - thanks Ben!

Then began the un-fun part, just a slog up a fire road with loose rock underfoot and tons of water on the trail, and I was very thankful to be sharing those miles with Debbie, chatting about anything. I wasn't having much fun, but the miles went by relatively quickly, and soon we were careening down the hill, much to the chagrin of my sore hamstrings. Having a buddy had put a small bandaid on my broken give-a-damn, but I couldn't bring myself to push hard, and deliberately stopped for water with a mile to go, because I just didn't want to have to sprint to the finish. I only ended up about 15 seconds back, but the rope tow was broken, and I had no energy to repair it. I lost about 4 minutes to last year on that final section of fire road, so didn't beat my time. Second year in a row for 4th place, so maybe NEXT year I'll show up rested!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

2015 Boston Sprint Camp

A while ago, Ed had this idea that we wanted to host a "sprint camp" event, basically four days of orienteering races and training and we'd make it awesome and simple to put on and people would come and enjoy themselves. I liked the "simple" part of this idea, but things are never as simple as you think they will be, when it comes to putting on events. But, this idea came to fruition, with a lot of help from Erin Schirm, the national junior team coach, and Becky Carlyle, as the course consultant. We didn't really get our advertising act together until three weeks before the event, at which point lots of people already had plans, and school was still in session thanks to all the snow days, so that cut into some of the local junior attendance, but we still managed to attract 35 runners from around the country (and a handful of Canadians), which isn't too terrible considering we were going to cap the event at 60 people.  Overall, everyone seemed to really enjoy themselves, and the weather totally cooperated, which makes it a lot easier to pull off a four-day event. 

The original plan was for "simple", but somehow that ended up meaning we included lunch for everyone, custom-printed folders, two new maps, a nationally-sanctioned qualifier-final race, a distillery tour, a trip to the zoo, home-made pies for prizes, and a huge number of controls out in the woods.  I suppose simple is in the eye of the beholder, too. We had some last-minute permit issues, because what event organizer doesn't have those issues, and we had some last-minute sanctioning issues, but everything worked out. Yay! 

The first day also coincided with the final race of the 2015 Park Series, so we had a pretty big field in that race, at Edmands Park. Lots of fun little route choices over those glacially-formed hills, and Giovanni won the thing, taking home, well, sharing, a pretty tasty apple-berry pie, if I may say so myself.  Earlier in the day, the sprint camp participants had done some training down at Newton Highlands Playground, including the map shown below with no map on it. That one was devilishly difficult.

Another fun exercise - relay training. Two people ran together, but each with slightly different versions of the map. The first person had to navigate to a point that the second person didn't have on their map, and the second person had to keep up with the navigation even though they didn't know where they were heading. Then they'd switch leads, and the second person would lead to their control, with the first person trying to keep up. Good mass-start practice!

Friday was more precision map reading, this time in Magazine Beach park, and finished up with a race at Danehy Park, all in Cambridge. We had a sponsorship from Hubway, so some people rented bicycles to get around the city. On a nice day, not a bad thing to do! 

Erin and Ed, setting up all the trainings.

Apparently the junior team was pretty whipped after all this work. It was tough getting them going for the second sprint.

Friday night, the juniors had a team dinner at Barb's house, that she very kindly organized, and the so-called grownups headed to Grand Ten Distillery, for the Friday Night Flights tour and tasting. Very interesting to learn about how they make their spirits, and I love all the Boston history they incorporate. Totally worth it to go visit!

Saturday was a full day of forest sprints at Franklin Park. We started with some intervals, in groups of 3-4 runners, and here's where we had our first casualty - Phil managed to run into a stick, and cut up his eyelid pretty badly. Luckily, it was just the eyelid, and not the eye, but I discovered firsthand that we weren't exactly prepared to deal with a medical emergency. A trip to the Brigham and Women's ER and then on to Mass Eye and Ear, where a specialist came in to do some stitches, and that specialist called in a second specialist... sometimes it pays to hold events in a city with lots of hospitals.  Phil is all fine now, but he was real bummed to miss the rest of the orienteering.

The other event, while Phil was getting stitched up, was a mass start race, with three different maps that everyone ran at least once. It was fun to see so many people in the forest, going to roughly the same places but then veering off to punch their controls.  That made for two pretty intense sessions in the morning, so the third exercise was a slower one, practicing flipping the map and cleaning nailing the first control, over and over. That was enough for the morning, so we ate Vietnamese sandwiches and smoothies, and a big group went to the zoo, before the afternoon race.

Ed felt that he identified with the goat, today.

Sunday was the final event, after I'd been up way too late baking pies for the winners. Delicious pies, so totally worth it, but I'd rather just bake pies, and skip the event-organizing part. Also made a couple loaves of chocolate banana bread, because the case of bananas that Ed picked up ripe on Tuesday were starting to get way too brown to be palatable.  Anyway, Sunday's race was a nationally-sanctioned race, a prologue race and then a final, seeded off the results of the prologue. I'd been vetting this one for a few weeks, so I had an idea of how the courses would run, but I was worried it would be too fast and flat, since we were running at Boston Common. But, everyone seemed to enjoy the courses, and I watched a lot of people making mistakes even though it's a simple park. I guess race brain DOES make everything more difficult!

Running in the center of a city definitely changes the feel of an event, and the bandstand was a perfect arena.  We got to witness one drug bust, and then the cops went to a different part of the park where someone had just pulled a gun on someone else... great, way to choose safe race venues! Luckily our race was unaffected by the drama going on around us, and it was clearly different for the runners to dash through throngs of tourists while trying to navigate.

Map from the final; it was two maps with a map exchange so that you couldn't read ahead too much.

Teammates - Izzy not wearing her CSU gear, but I liked that all three were hitting the common control (there was forking in the qualifier races) at once. Wonderful day for spectating!

Barb in her running dress.

Robbie (walking, because of an injury) and Dan approaching the finish.

Ed and Andy running the results stuff totally smoothly.

What a venue!

Bill, starting the final. With a real start gate! Super cool that Ed has built this technology and that we can use it at our events!

Teammate Kseniya leaving the final control of the final.

All in all, it was a very successful weekend. Sometimes, organizing events can be as fun as running in them, and this was one of those instances.  Watching everyone leave with smiles on their faces and lots of training in their legs made me feel really happy, and Ed and I are already scheming about next year. Super duper thanks to Erin for designing the theories behind all the trainings, to Ed for coming up with this crazy idea, and to all the CSU runners who donated their time on Sunday to make the national meet a success.

Results and other chatter about the meet can be found here, and some of the juniors have already written about this, from both the American and Canadian perspectives.

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