I believe in race starts. I believe that collecting race starts is the only way to truly prepare yourself for the big show, whatever your big show may be. And the more specific the race start, the better. So, when I looked at the calendar and saw that the only races between Team Trials and the 2016 World Champs were in Laramie, up on the Medecine Bow National Forest plateau, I figured I finally had a good excuse to head to the Rocky Mountain Orienteering Festival. It just so happened that we'd have a good crowd of elite runners there - Ali, Hannah, Tori, Cristina, Sanna, Sarah Jane, and quite a few more. Wow, actually competition at a National Event beyond one or two runners! So despite this trip falling on the heels of a trip to California for Zan's wedding, I was pretty psyched. Not too burned from traveling yet!
But, let's back up. California was awesome, and Zan picked a spot that was so typically Zan - deep in the redwoods as you go north up the coast from San Francisco, with beautiful trails for running. We had a really great time playing on the other coast, but it was hardly a restful weekend. Sometimes fun is worth the energy price!
Our view driving back south on Sunday. There were all these seals hanging out on the beach down there, and as the waves came in they'd flop their way toward the inland water, in the most ungainly fashion.
Mendocino headlands. Gorgeous and misty and sunny at the same time.
Zan may have left some details to the last minute. Like a bar tender. Who needs a bar tender at a wedding? She had plans for all sorts of delicious cocktails, so luckily Ed and Blaine were willing to sacrifice their afternoon to mixing up the cocktails, and their evening to serving the thirsty guests. Ed was in his element, but I don't think he'll be picking this up as an evening job.
We went on some really nice runs from the camp. Sometimes just us, sometimes just me, sometimes with lots of friends. The redwoods were so awesome. And make such cool bridges!
The wedding venue, at high noon. The camp was in this valley with very steep sides, and light only filtered down during the middle of the day. It made for some dark mornings, but also incredibly peaceful and relaxing.
If I'd planned things better, I would have stayed in California for the week, working from our Oakland office, and traveled home via Wyoming. But, I didn't think about that until it was too late. And, to make it worse, I bought myself a ticket to Denver for the first weekend in August instead of the first weekend of July. So, when I got to the airport with about an hour before my flight, I couldn't figure out why I couldn't check in yet. D'oh!
Luckily, this fell into the solvable category of problems. Friday was a late night, but I met up with Hannah and Kevin at the airport, and we made it up to Fort Collins, chez Anna and Sasha and Ada, by 12:30 in the morning. Six hours of sleep, and now it's time to race!
The Medicine Bow NF is at 8,000' elevation. I start to notice the effects of elevation around 5,000' when I'm racing, and let's just say that every additional thousand feet is like an additional 10 pounds of bricks on my shoulders and lungs. Thankfully the area is pretty flat, but every contour felt like 10. Just so much wheezing, for so little speed. Not my favorite experience.
The landscape out here is so majestic. With a sky threatening to totally overwhelm you, it's best to keep your focus on the immediate vicinity, just one foot after another, avoid tripping over the sage brush. The terrain is wide open, occasional ponderosa pine but mostly grassland and sage, dotted with cattle and giant granite rock piles. It sort of looked like a giant had pooped all over the low hills, and left the piles there to calcify. But with such a wide viewpoint, the navigation is much easier than in my familiar eastern forests. The race was about how fast could you get from point A to B.
The first race was at Twin Boulders. I did run past the eponymous rocks, and while they were impressive, I'm not sure I would have named an entire map after them. But it did seem fitting that there was a control nestled between the big boulders. My race was fine - nothing special, nothing terrible. I was working very, very, hard, and felt like I was trying to run through molasses, so much effort for so little speed. The navigation came easily to me, and I made very few mistakes, but I didn't have the legs to perform how I'd hoped. I ended up in third, well behind Ali and about two minutes behind Hannah, with two M-40s who'd snuck ahead of me.
The red course on day 1. Click for larger. The route choices were not terribly inspiring, leading to the "straight is great!" philosophy of orienteering. I did take the trail from 5-6, figuring it would be faster for me.
Spectators at the go control.
The second race was at Remarkable Flats, an area of wide open grassland with lots of those rock-poop-piles scattered around. There were also even more cattle, many of whom were hanging out in between the final control and the finish. Luckily, I never had to contend with any cows who'd been separated from their babies, but it did give me pause to see them eyeing me. Eep.
Like the first day, the navigation was relatively easy, and the course was straightforward without much trickery. I wheezed my way around, feeling so much like the asthmatic fat kid. About halfway through, Ali caught up to me, and she is both acclimated and faster than me at sea level, and there was just no hanging on, though god knows I tried. So much effort! This time I fell back a spot, to fourth place, as Tori jumped ahead of both Hannah and myself by about a minute. I was one second behind Hannah, so definitely kicking myself that I didn't have one more second's worth of oomph out there, but hey, that's racing.
The final day was adjacent to Remarkable Flats, but with considerably more ponderosa forest and less open grassland. I was hoping for more of a navigational challenge, but the course was again pretty straightforward, with similar-length legs making a general loop around the map. I woke up to discover that my body was just done with racing. I couldn't kick the altitude headache, and was feeling sick to my stomach for most of the run. I couldn't even push myself into wheeze-mode, body just wouldn't let my brain handle the override codes.
That was disappointing, but it was still a pretty awesome place to be orienteering. I lumbered along even slower than the first two days, trying to enjoy the day even though I would have loved the challenge that comes with higher speed. Lots of rock and nobbly little hills, and I have to admit that at least the downhill portions were enjoyable. I struggled mightily on the long gradual uphill to #12, slogging along in the sun and just wishing the course could be over. Eventually it was, and I had ended up in third place again, behind Ali and Hannah, but this time with many more men in front of me. Overall, this was good enough to hang onto third place, and I got a sweet refrigerator magnet.
Upon dropped a few thousand feet, I felt much better. Enough pep to go for a short hike with Hannah and Kevin and Will, and then, thanks to my new plane ticket configuration, I got to spend the evening and much of the next day with Anna and Sasha. By the time I arrived in Boston at 3am on Wednesday, though, I was pretty done. Can I please just sleep forever?
The old X-Talons taking me for a spin. We swung by Arthur's Rock on our way back to Fort Collins, and it provided us with a very nice little leg stretcher.
Most of the plateau looks like this.
Anna and Ada came up for a walk at Happy Jack! Ada is dangerously mobile, but very cute.