Thursday, January 11, 2018

2017 Racing Review

After my races at the 2016 North American Championships, where I landed on the podium three times, I retired from international orienteering. I expected to be racing less often, and took on a position on the Board of Directors for Orienteering USA. But after a break, I found myself yearning for the thrill of a start line and the suffering of a finish line. I needed some new challenges.

The first was an obvious one - having never run a 50-miler, it was time to give that a try. The Stonecat 50 was close enough to be local, and the course was 4 loops, perfect for your first “real” ultra. My training for this thing was a bit on the light side, having just completed my orienteering season, and tapering doesn’t yield many long runs, but I managed to squeak a second-place finish off a month of distance training. Of course the competitor in me was disappointed to have not won the race, and plans for 2017 were hatched…

The ski season was sort of unremarkable. I have finally managed to get my elbow tendinitis to a place where I can ski, but didn't do much by way of upper body strength, worried about re-triggering the injury. I raced three of the four Eastern Cups, with fairly mediocre results, until the final set of races at Craftsbury and Holderness, where I notched my first and only EC point (top 15). My goal for the season was to race well at the Craftsbury marathon, and I set up well for that winning the Jackson 30k the week before. Craftsbury went pretty well, and despite not getting the wax perfect, I skied strongly to a second-place finish. No cramps and no bonks, which isn't a given over that distance, so I was pleased. March was consumed with coaching, and a slow build-up to the running season.

First up, 7 Sisters Trail Race. I love this race, but it unfortunately often conflicts with orienteering races. This year, it was the day before the fabled Billygoat, a long orienteering race in western Connecticut. How bad can it be to do two long hard races back to back? Well, when you’ve had to take some time away from running over the winter to let injuries heal, it’s harder than after a good winter of training. My fitness wasn’t where I wanted it to be, and I also made some stupid mistakes in 7 Sisters, tying my shoes too tight and causing severe bruising on my heels. You can read about it here, but suffice to say, for a race I’d been targeting, it was a disappointment. I still ended up in 4th place, but I was pretty upset with my time out there. 

I couldn’t actually put weight on my heels the morning of the Billygoat, but no way was I going to miss this race. Thank goodness for ibuprofen and a little adrenalin, and I managed to hobble up to the start line. I won’t say that running felt good, but in a test of mind over matter, I managed to make up a lot of places, and win the women’s race. That was a hard fight!

The next goal was to win the Grand Tree series. To do this, I needed at least 6 trail races in the series, and I needed to be faster than everyone else. Sort of the definition of winning, I suppose. With 7 Sisters as my first race in the series, my points weren’t great, but you can’t change the past (or your shoe choice - should have stuck with the X-Talons!). The next race was Soapstone Mountain, a beautiful course in Connecticut that I’d never run before. I ended up running past a junction, and then rolling my ankle, before starting to suffer heat cramps. Not a great race, 4th again, but not terrible points. You’d think that as an orienteer, I’d manage not to get lost at a trail race!

As the summer wore on, my mileage increased, preparing for the Quebec City Marathon. I’d watched the Boston Marathon in April, living just two miles away from the course, and gotten all inspired to run it. That means a qualifying race. 3:35 sounds pretty cushy, how hard can that be? Training was going well, and I was feeling pretty fit. I hit two more Grand Tree races, the Greylock half marathon (over a mountain), where I took fourth, AGAIN, and the Skyline trail race where I finally redeemed myself with a win, on a very hot day.

Then of course, it all came crashing down. Or rather, I came crashing down, tripping over a cobblestone while jogging to work, and slamming my kneecap into the pavement. The resulting minor fracture had me resting for the following six weeks, at which point I was supposed to race a marathon. Because the kneecap injury prevented pretty much any activity that bent my knee, most cross training was out. I was woefully out of shape. My partner and I decided to go up to Quebec anyway, as a mini vacation, and I’d start the race, dropping out when I couldn’t hold the pace anymore. Of course, my race brain is a complete idiot, so even though I should have dropped out around 14 miles in to the race, I kept going, for an embarrassingly slow not-BQ. Well, I guess I have to try that again, this time preferably WITHOUT breaking my kneecap six weeks prior.

A few more weeks to let the kneecap fully heal, and it was time to try and rebuild my fitness and find two more Grand Tree races. I was also eyeing the US Classic Distance Orienteering Championships - I may be retired, but it would be nice to win there, wouldn’t it? It took about a month to get back to the point where I felt I could reasonably don a race bib, which was just enough to eke out a third place finish at the Groton Trail Race and a second place at Mt. Toby Trail race, which, considering it went up and down a mountain, I was pretty proud of.

These two final races were just enough to put me into the lead for the 2017 Grand Tree series! Finally, a goal realized, despite the summer’s setback. Results:

On the orienteering front, I had a good fall of racing. My first race back after the knee injury was at Letchworth State Park, where I had a hard re-awakening to what racing feels like. I had found my edge again by the Boulder Dash, a two-day event in NH. It was highly technical terrain, which served me well with my lack of fitness at the time, and I ended up with two very clean runs and the overall win!

As the final test of whether my fitness had truly returned, I raced the Hudson Highlander, a 26.2km race in the Hudson Highlands of Harriman State Park. This is another of those storied orienteering races, that sends you through waist-deep blueberry, up and over mountains, and faces you with some serious route choices. I ran strong and steady, but I wasn’t fast enough to take the overall win - a friend of my visiting from the Spanish National Team won both the Queen of the Mountain stages and the overall race. I was still pleased to discover that my body was holding up, and had a great day out there!

The final orienteering challenge was the 2017 Classic Championships, down in Virginia at the Quantico Marine Corps Base. I was finally feeling fit, and ready to attack the race instead of just survive it. The terrain was gorgeous, and with just a hint of winter in the air the weather was perfect. I had two good hard clean races, but just wasn’t fast enough to overtake Violeta, my Spanish Team friend. It was fast enough for top American, though, which won me a shiny medal! 

Since then, I’ve been back in training mode, coaching my skiers and prepping for the Skiing World Masters races. Looking ahead to next year, I’ll be aiming for Boston again, this time with the Sugarloaf marathon as a qualifier and a slightly longer training plan, then going for a repeat win in the Grand Tree series, and trying to sweep the Triple Crown of orienteering - the Billygoat, Hudson Highlander, and Blue Hills Traverse. I’d also like to put a fall ultra on my calendar, but haven’t quite narrowed it down yet which I’d like to do. Here’s to a happy and healthy 2018! 

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