Monday, December 19, 2011

Ski racing! First round of Eastern Cups

Despite the complete lack of snow everywhere in New England except Presque Isle, Craftsbury managed to pull off an impeccable 1.5km loop of manmade snow, to host 500 racers in the first round of Eastern Cup races this winter. The format was a 1km sprint qualifier-only in the morning, a 3km classic prologue (why does the prologue come second? Can someone answer that for me?) in the afternoon, and a 5km/10km skate race on Sunday. Most of the CSU juniors elected to only do one of the classic races, since none of us have been on snow since that freak Halloween snowstorm, and two classic sprint races in one day, when you haven't done it yet that year, is a recipe for injury. Luckily, yours truly doesn't abide by this silly "common sense" thing, and signed up for the entire weekend.

Did you know, if you do two classic sprint races in one day when it's your first day classic skiing, you'll be in a lot of pain the next day?? Who would have guessed it. At least I was able to provide amusement for the other coaches when my hamstring and groin cramped up completely and I was shaking and crying and clutching my leg and trying not to scream, Saturday evening. Good times.

So confused by those long slide-y things attached to my feet!

The course was pretty fun - it had three hills, of varying degrees of steepness, the worst being the wall in the field that everyone was herringboning up. I think that's where the groin cramp originated, because you sure don't practice herringboning on rollerskis. Lots of twists and turns and good transition-y stuff, I like that sort of course. With about 30 kids racing, we were ironing out some new ideas and techniques for the EC weekends, the most successful of which was the parental waxing army. Rob and Jamie and I tested wax, told the parental army what to apply, and they whipped through the kids' skis, producing some fast, sticky, rockets.

It was a bit of a pain to not be able to warm up on skis, since the only snow at Craftsbury was being used on the course, and that was closed as soon as the races started, but by Sunday I'd figured out how to manage. Saturday's first race I started almost completely cold, and my body really doesn't deal well with that. I also could have used much stickier skis, but was applying some panic wax for one of my skiers during the time I could have been panic waxing my own skis. End result were some slick skis, but at least they were fast. Sprint courses are just over so quickly, I never felt like I really found my stride, and barely remember any of the course. The post-race hack indicates I took it at race pace, luckily.

A brief break, and then it was time for the prologue. Things were pretty relaxed in the CSU waxing area, since we'd nailed the wax (that toko base green binder stuff works like magic in manmade snow), and although I wasn't much more warmed up, I was at least a bit tired out starting the second race. My upper body was tired from my four minutes of race pace double poling earlier in the day, which goes to show my dismal ski shape, but I added a bunch more wax to my skis, and this time felt way more comfortable with the whole kick and glide thing. We got to do two laps instead of one, and that helped me, I think, although herringboning the steep hill still felt awkward.

I'm pleased with the second race, and kind of just disregarding the first race completely; not much to learn from that in my case. My juniors crushed the world, taking first place in J1 girls, J2 girls, and J1 boys in the morning - I was proud of all of them, especially with how supportive they were of the kids who weren't so happy about their races. The team aspect is really what ski racing is about - results are so secondary.

Sunday morning, I was hacking up a lung and could barely walk for sore hip flexors, but I actually did enough warmup to shake things out; finally getting the hang of how this ski racing thing works. Given that skate skiing is a lot easier to transition to from rollerskis, I felt ready to hammer the race. My skis were rockets, and that just makes everything more fun. The uphills were already getting pretty chopped up, so I tried to stay light on my feet and just keep the skis moving, and this was definitely the right technique up the steep hill in the field. On the flats, I didn't feel super solid on my feet, but smooth enough to keep generating speed, and my skis continued to be really speedy.

The second lap I tried to maintain that calm feeling I'd had the first lap, and while transitions still felt a little shaky, I was definitely hitting my groove on the uphills. Coming through the lap I was starting to get fatigued, but my top J2 girl caught me just then, on her second lap, and I hopped in behind, to catch a ride. She still skis like a J2, but boy does that kid have some power. The steep hill felt a lot harder the third time 'round, but knowing that you're almost done is always motivational, and I finished pretty strong, basically not having passed or been passed the entire race.

I was happiest with the skate race - only 4% behind Sophie Caldwell is a good race, and although the points aren't out yet, I think it shows some good early ski fitness. I placed 27th, which basically just shows the depth of the New England women's field. Stacked. A few years ago, 4% behind the winner would be top-10 placing.

I'm kind of psyched about ski racing now. Not so much that I'm going to rush out and buy a USSA license to race at nationals, but enough that I've stopped doubting myself. Time to get on snow, somewhere... re-learn how to classic ski!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Prospect Hill time trial

Last Sunday, the CSU juniors did a time trial up the road at Prospect Hill park, around the flat bits for a little, and then all the way up to the top. The course length was only 4.5km, but given that there was basically no rest, and most of the course was climbing, the times were more appropriate for a 5km race. Course map. I spent a while standing still at the top talking to Jamie, and then we all hiked down to the bottom (too steep to ski down safely), and I spent a while standing around talking to various juniors, and then I took photos while they all started, and then I was like, hey, I should do this too.

At this point I was thoroughly chilled, and completely cooled down from standing around for so long. I figured I'd use the first climb as a warmup, and that actually worked relatively well; I could ski at a consistent tempo with some power application without completely blowing myself up, and by the time I hit the rollers at the top, I was ready to go. Sort of. We did two out-and-backs up top, on a relatively flat rolling road, and that felt like a lot of work, although less work than the killer uphill to the finish. A good hard time trial course, and I ended up just behind one of my J2 girls (ahem), by 3 seconds or so. I'll blame it on taking the first uphill so easy.

As the last tune-up workout before the Eastern Cup this weekend, I'm hesitantly excited. I seem to have some good fitness right now, but I really haven't been on skis, other than an hour on Weston's gerbil loop the other day, and I think that is going to make it difficult to go fast this weekend. We'll see what happens...

Jamie took photos, and he has learned to just send me photos of myself, since otherwise I'll pester him for them endlessly.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Niflheim Nordic CL700 rollerski review

Ed's company, Niflheim Nordic, started selling classic rollerskis last fall. I hadn't actually gotten around to trying them out seriously until this fall, a serious fail on my part, but most of the problem was related to the fact that I wasn't classic rollerskiing enough. Anyway, I've since put in a bunch of kilometers on the skis, and I have a favorable review for them. I've been skiing on a pair of Marwe combi skis for the last six years, so that is the standard to which I was holding the CL700.

Let's start with overall speed. Like the skate skis, the classic Niflheim Nordic rollerskis come standard with a speed reducer. Unlike the skate skis, though, striding up a hill with a speed reducer on your front wheel sucks - it feels like you're pushing your ski through deep, heavy, snow. So, you can't really use the speed reducer to modify your constant speed the way you can with the skate skis, unless you're just double poling. The skis run medium-slow, without the speed reducer, and I found it to be a comfortable-hard speed for a long ski (in company with some J1 girls who will probably be on the podium at JNs this year, so we weren't exactly dogging it), level 1 on the flats and level 2 on the uphills, for those of you who speak that language. The speed reducer is INCREDIBLY effective at slowing the ski on the downhills - when I put the speed reducer all the way on, I slowed down to a stop. Ed won't let me call it a brake, because it's not, but it sure functions in a similar way. I guess this is mostly due to the wider wheel for the speed reducer to work on, or the longer speed reducer lever-arm, or something like that.

The wheels of this ski are very flat - it is a very stable ski. This is great for striding, but it meant that when the road was deeply cambered, the skis wanted to roll off the edge when I wasn't paying attention. Usually, you only hit that much of a camber on corners, luckily, and I found that I could just adjust my ankle positioning. What was amazing about the wide wheels was how they absorbed bumps and road vibrations. I had always attributed the comfort of my Marwes to the honeycomb shaft, but the Niflheim skis are aluminum, and they are incredibly smooth on rough pavement. It makes for a really nice ride.

The skis also handle gravel well. Ed said something about the wheel having some space between it and the shaft, and that causes the gravel to not stop the skis, but whatever the cause, I could roll over stones that I wouldn't want to hit with my Marwe skis. I don't think it's good practice to aim for rocks when on rollerskis, but sometimes you find yourself with no choice but to go over a rock. These skis did not throw me down, the way I expected in that particular situation.

The Niflheim skis are also really comfortable when striding up hills. Because of the wide wheels, they're super stable, and they feel soft, if that makes any sense - very smooth.

The one downside to the skis is that the wide wheels make them a heavy ski. Being used to my narrow-wheeled combi skis, I had issues when I tried to do all-out sprints. I'm used to a narrow wheel that will let me quickly correct for a ski heading in the wrong direction, and I had trouble quickly moving these skis around. That said, very few people are doing all-out sprints on rollerskis, so I don't expect this to be a widespread problem! I didn't have too much of a problem edging off of the skis, although I suspect I'd be unhappy if I tried to skate on them for a long time. That's fine, though, because these are classic skis!

And, like the skate skis, the classic skis are anodized red, so they stay pretty and shiny. Overall, I'm a fan.

The price point is $199, without bindings, so as far as classic skis go, these are also cheaper. I guess the ratcheted front wheel bumps the cost, but it still saves a bundle of money compared to V2 or Marwe or Swenor.

Link to the Niflheim Nordic website. And here is a link to my review of the Niflheim Nordic skate skis.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Hot chocolate 5k race

I raced six times last weekend, while doing 5.5hrs of running in two days. I would never have guessed it, but that sort of weekend will leave you really sore. What's up with that?

Phil Bricker set a chase sprint race at Cemetery Hill for Saturday, and though only 29 people showed up, they were all pretty serious orienteers. The format was that you ran two separate sprints, and then your time was added, and the final sprint was a chase start, a la pursuit style, so that whoever came home first won the day. I had some issues getting my legs going, and then had an up close and personal encounter with some thick spiky stuff in the final sprint, not my finest day. Results.

Punching the finish.

After some much-needed pizza, a whole crew of us headed out to do a night-o at a park that shall not be named. This went alright for me, although I didn't feel like I had a ton of energy. Most of the boys beat me this time, but I still had a good time out there and didn't make any huge mistakes. The night-o was followed with dinner at Peter and Gail's house, and then a respectable amount of boggle.

Sunday morning dawned clear and cold, and I was very stiff, and quite sleepy. Some yoga took care of the stiffness, and coffee took care of the sleepiness, and soon I found myself in a car heading down to Northampton for the annual Hot Chocolate 5k race, trying to figure out a race strategy. I expected to be maybe 30s faster than the xc races - so somewhere between 20:30-21ish minutes. I ran the course to warm up, and quickly discovered that my legs felt really light and snappy. I had unfortunately eaten the sort of breakfast you'd eat before a ski marathon, which, strangely enough, is not ideal for running, but my stomach quieted itself before the start.

With 3200 other runners lining up for the race, this thing had some serious potential to get crowded. Everyone I'd talked to had said to line up in an area a minute faster per mile than you think you'll run, and although I hate the "I lied because everyone else was lying" approach to this, I figured if I wanted a clear run I'd have to do that. People were pretty relaxed, and Greg Balter (a middle-aged orienteer doing this with me) lined up nearby, he was hoping to break 20min by a bit, so I figured I could start near him and see how that felt. I haven't really run too many track intervals lately, so I didn't have a sense of what pace would break me.

We started out, and the course quickly climbed a steep little hill up to the center of town, and then headed out on a gradual downhill grade. The traffic wasn't bad; there were people all over, but I didn't have to change my line or move around too much, and that first mile felt pretty effortless. They had clocks at each mile, and the first read 6:25 - bang on for 20min pace! The pace may have felt pretty effortless, in terms of cardiovascular effort, but my quads could feel that I wasn't used to going this fast, and Greg had a decent lead on me already. Luckily, we turned a corner and began a gradual climb up to the 2nd mile. This is where I really discovered that my legs felt light - I swung my way up that hill, and it felt like I was just rolling along, no extra effort. Awesome!

I hit the second mile at 12:42; now just under 20min pace. I still felt very comfortable in my breathing, and I found that a little surprising. My legs were beginning to be a little tired, but there was no lactate burn, and I still felt like I was flowing across the pavement. The third mile climbs, fairly significantly, and then descends, again somewhat steeply, into town, and finishes down the little kicker we climbed up from the start. I dug deep on the hill, since I clearly didn't have the leg speed to push the flats hard enough. I began to pass some people, and could see Greg ahead of me up the hill. The positive thoughts were flowing, and nearing the top of the hill I was breathing more raggedly - how I'd expect for a hard effort.

Turning the corner to start the downhill into town, I wasn't looking at my watch anymore. This was it, all downhill to the finish, and that hill had very successfully put me into my own private lactic-acid-filled hell. One of the guys I'd passed going up the hill came back past me, and I realized that feeling of doom, knowing you've dug too deep too soon. Greg was now dangling about 10m in front of me, but I couldn't close the gap, and every step felt like it was shattering my quads. Another middle-aged guy passed me by, but he gasped out - "work with me!" Somewhat unexpected, but I knew it was time to get tough, and lengthened my stride to match his. He pulled me up to Balter, and I knew I had this race in the book. I just had to not trip over myself.

The last 200 meters were excruciating. I wouldn't - couldn't - let up, but my legs and lungs were maxed out, and the downhill was steep enough that I was actually worried I might not get my legs in front of me enough to catch myself as I rolled down the hill. Gone was the floating sensation, instead there was just burning. I staggered past one last woman, and finally crossed the finish line. Oh sweet relief, I can stop running now!

I ended up running 19:39, a new PR by almost 1.5 minutes. MINUTES! That's not supposed to happen at this point in my life, but I'm not complaining. Results, 11th woman, 89th overall, of 3209 total runners.

The sixth race of the weekend, orienteering down in Connecticut that afternoon, was not performed very quickly.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Skiing is hard.

Skiing is hard, yo. Frank convinced me to do a no-pole skate time trial, because I'd missed the one in the fall and he wanted the data from my times (to correlate to my double pole test, and add a data point in an obsessive study relating ankle compression to ski speed... or something along those lines), to add to his massive database of skiers. I was sort of like, how hard can this be? And then I really regretted it. This test is evil. Four times up a steep hill, no-pole skating, is considerably harder than four times double poling up that hill. I suppose this was the point that Frank was trying to prove to us - our skating needs a lot of work, and that weakness is exposed when you remove the poles. I'm glad there wasn't anyone taking video of me, that couldn't have been pretty.

By the time this was done, my butt was totally wrecked. My legs weren't feeling too good, but the gluteus medius was TRASHED. The good news is that my calf didn't blow up, so I was able to push through all of these. But today I can barely walk, my butt is so sore.

Anyway, the times were 3:20, 3:25, 3:29, 3:23, for a total of 13:36. Given that my first double pole test of the year was 13:18, I'm pretty pleased with the no-pole variant. Given my decent ankle compression, it fits pretty well with Frank's theory that good ankle compression --> good no-pole times relative to double pole times. Or something...

Above is the homework assignment that Frank sent to all the juniors. They had to pull out frames from a video of them skiing, and measure the ankle and knee ankles at three different stages - glide, compression, and kick. I didn't have a protractor, so I just copied my angles onto Frank's, since we were using him as a template. We have about 10 skiers who have actually gone through and done this, by now - they're the overachievers, and I approve!

Anyway, while doing time trials that are painful and exhausting, I remembered that skiing is hard. I forget this sometimes, especially as a coach. My athletes are lucky I do the workouts with them - it forces me to remember how much work they're doing, too. So I was in this tough-girl "skiing is hard!" mindset all day, and then that just faded, enough for me to remember why I love to ski. So I drew a picture. And wrote a blog post, that almost got too sappy, but ended up motivating. I think.
Skiing is hard, and I love it.

Saturday, November 26, 2011


I'm not going to go into the sappy "I'm thankful for..." blogpost that's been floating around my head, but I will say that I'm incredibly thankful to have the great friends that I do. A random assortment of us gathered around our coffee table to eat turkey sitting on the floor, and the evening was filled with laughter. Some choice photos below...

Alex's trophy shot. It was disturbing how satisfying it was to butcher that bird.

Leo in action cooking things.

It's also pretty awesome to have friends who come to your house and cook things for you. Oh, hi Ed.

Becky and Ros taking a break.

Tall guys with dark shirts.

Later in the evening, inspired by Epic Mealtime, we made experiments with bacon. In this case, attempting to candy it.
Unfortunately, most of it burned. The non-burned bits were utterly delicious, though.

I love to eat, and I love to eat with friends. Life is good.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Rochester, and other shenanigans.

It's really been too long since I posted an artsy portrait of myself. This one is from a recent training event at Pawtuckaway, and features Vadim, Giacomo, Katia, and Lori.

Last weekend Ed and I were in Rochester for the Honeoye Falls Ski Swap, selling rollerskis - while it may not be the best time to be trying to sell rollerskis, at least it wasn't actively snowing at the time, and I think we made some good contacts. Supposedly this networking stuff is important, so in the sense that we sold enough stuff to cover gas, bar tab, and sushi bill, I think we had a very successful trip.

But then Ed decided that he wanted to stay in Rochester longer, and I really didn't have that option - had to be in Amherst at 8am this morning to take my comprehensive exam. First off, who gives masters students a comprehensive exam? And secondly, well, I'm an idiot, and I thought I could take the test next semester, but it turns out I can't, because that'll be my last semester, so I had about a week to cram in everything I could possibly know about ecology and quantitative ecology and human dimensions of ecology and research concepts. Luckily, I paid attention in those classes in undergrad because I found them interesting, so I remembered most things. Haven't seen grades yet, but I'm reasonably certain I didn't just fail out of school.

So Ed is still in Rochester, and I took my car home. This only works because his parents are heading to Boston for Thanksgiving, and he can get a ride with them. But it means I'm home alone, and between the post-exam relief and the general burned-out-ness I've been feeling lately, it meant that I was contemplating eating peanut butter for dinner. But then I was like, "no! I can't do better than this! I have cereal!" And then I realized that real adults don't eat cereal for dinner, so I cooked a cabbage. And now I'm sitting on the couch in the dark, eating cabbage, listening to the dixie chicks, and feeling like maybe I'm missing something about this whole "real world" thing.

Lots of stuff has been going on and I've been wanting to write about lots of stuff, but unfortunately haven't really had the time to do it. Not like that'll be improving, since I'm heading out into the field soon to collect my temperature loggers from the West and Westfield watersheds, and once I have the data I get to spend all my waking moments frantically analyzing. Wooo!

Couple cool things - orienteering has actually been getting some press, lately. First, we were on NPR! Doug Tribou from "Only a game" showed up to the Middle distance orienteering championships, and interviewed a bunch of people, and then they ran a 7-min story on orienteering. Super exciting! You can read the text and listen to the story here. Also on the orienteering publicity side of things, the Boston Globe ran a story about the New England Orienteering Club, and I thought it was a nicely rounded article. Read it here. And it doesn't end there! Sports Illustrated interviewed Alison Crocker, in the faces in the crowd section - here. This is probably orienteering's highest profile appearance in the US since Peter Gagarin was featured on a Wheaties box. Cool stuff!

I've been slowly trying to shift from all orienteering training into doing some ski training, but honestly, it's just less fun. Coaching is a good time though, and I think I'm doing pretty well in my goal of having all my girls be faster than me this winter, and not just because I'm old, tired, and crippled. Right now I think four of my seven will kick my butt, but that's good, since I don't think I could make junior worlds right now =). Anyway, couple weekends ago I was helping Rob coach the Gaining Ground clinic in Sudbury, and that was really a good time. Good mix of masters racing for themselves and coaches looking to keep up on the latest stuff.
Yeah forward position!

Quick ski lesson:

And take it to skis. Mostly quick learners, and that makes it really fun.

The Sunday after that clinic, Ed and I headed to the Blue Hills to set streamers for the Blue Hills Traverse, that was just run last Sunday. This is only notable because I picked up a tick, the second bite of the season. Given that one guy had 18 ticks attached by the end of the traverse, we need some hard frosts, now! I hate all blood-sucking critters. More so when they carry diseases. It's actually also notable because Ali won the traverse - like, the entire thing, and kicked all the boys' butts. I was in Rochester, certainly a good move for my ego.

I think that may be enough rambling for now. Something more coherent may come after the 3k time trial I'm running on Thanksgiving morning. I leave you with happy photos from last weekend.

Mama, stop taking photos of us!

Ach, she got us.

A map! This one from the 2009 A-meet in Rochester, where I totaled my ankle. I finally went to re-run the course, actually as threshold intervals. It was a really solid workout, and a lot of fun. Speaking of workouts - I've finally gotten a chance to really test out Ed's classic skis, so a review of those will be coming shortly. Hopefully before we start skiing on snow!

Damn, the cabbage is gone and now I'm hungry again. Time to head for the peanut butter.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Double pole time trial

Thanks to some elbow tendonitis, I didn't do any double pole time trials last year. CSU has a decent set-up for this - we do four repeats of a fairly steep hill, and just add the times together to get a final time. This is a good representation of both ski specific strength, and of strength endurance, and it correlates pretty well to performance in the Eastern Cups and junior nationals, for the juniors. Using this and the 3000m run, Frank can predict with good accuracy if a kid is going to make it to JNs or not. I feel like at this point I'd have a good shot among the J2 girls...

Jamie was standing at the top taking photos of us; I do tend to go faster if I know there is a camera around the corner, but sometimes there is just nothing you can do about going faster. Looking at the photos, at the very least I have a good forward starting position - my abs were definitely sore the next day! Unfortunately, things collapsed pretty quickly after the nice forward lean. Muscles what? I did this test in September, and finished in 13:18 - not a horrendous time, but not exactly something to be proud of. I was hoping to break 13 this time 'round; that would be just 5 seconds faster per lap, I can do that!

Ali graced us with her presence, and we both did some fun orienteering training in the morning. A quick stop for lunch, and then it was on to Concord for the DPTT. I definitely still had some lunch rattling around in my stomach, but at least it stayed put! A big group of juniors out for the test, but it ended up getting pretty spread out, as everyone takes a different amount of time up and down the hill (well, the down is supposed to stay pretty constant around 5min). Ali and I stayed pretty close, but she was beating me by about five seconds each time. We started out fast - 3:00 flat, and I knew I was in for a sufferfest - when you can feel the lactic acid pooling on the first time up, that's not a good sign!

We started the second rep with Olivia and Jacob, and while Ali pulled away early, I held even with Jacob. He's been working hard on his double pole, and the technique gains were obvious, as I couldn't drop him. My upper body was definitely tiring, and while focusing on good technique had gotten me up the hill, I was in search of more oopmh. At least the burning seemed to subside a bit; maybe I just did need more of a warmup! The third one we had some of the younger juniors to hunt down, and knowing that I was more than halfway done helped with my effort, but it wasn't easy. I managed to cut off two seconds from the second rep, and my arms were shaking by the top. The whole way down I was just dreading the last one - this test hurts so much! Off we went, though, and I kept repeating to myself "Bjorn Daehlie never slips". It was a good mantra, and got me to stand up enough to get my poles into the pavement without them slipping out; but I just couldn't move any faster near the top.

Lungs and legs burning, arms shaking, slobber flying, lunch jiggling... I was kind of a wreck. But, I had just set a new PR! 12:28, 11 seconds faster than 2009, the last time I did this (3:00, 3:08, 3:06, 3:14). I've been doing far less rollerskiing, and barely any strength to speak of, so I will take this record and run with it! I think this also gets me ahead of all my J2 girls, so that is a good thing. The J1s I have no chance against.

I ran a PR for my 3000m back in September, too, so maybe I am in better shape after all this running than I thought. One more 3k test, on Thanksgiving, to try and break 11:30, and then it's time to strap on the skis and see what I can do. I can't help myself - I'm excited!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

23rd Annual CSU Rollerski race

(photo courtesy of Chris City)

Jamie Doucett has been holding a rollerski race in Andover for a really long time. 23 years. As far as I can remember, this was my third time doing it, and so far, each time has gotten faster, although this year I only nipped 2 seconds from last year's time. My body seems to remember how fast I'm supposed to go when I'm ski racing, and it just sort of goes that speed, until it can't anymore. So then I dug deep and held on for as long as I could, and it was enough to win! For the women, anyway.

It was a pleasant day, although it started out a bit chilly. There was a good group of skiers, mostly from Harvard and CSU, but a couple from further afield, as well. I love pack racing. I was kind of worried about my fitness - I really haven't been ski training as much as I know I should be, and I know that this course is relatively flat, which means a lot of double poling. But I figured it would also just be a nice reality check - how bad IS my upper body strength right now?

We took off, and the pack quickly thinned itself on the first uphill. I kick-double poled the whole way up, which isn't something I've done before, but it seemed faster. We got to the top, and I was dangling behind Bob Burnham and Ben Smeltzer, with a thicker pack ahead of them. Unlike the last time I did this race, I was not exactly killing it on the double pole sections. In fact, it may be more accurate to say I was getting dropped. Jamie passed me at some point on the long flat bits, and I thankfully jumped in his tall-person draft. I hung on his tail through the rest of the lap, passing two other fast starters, and even leading up the far hill, but as we came through the start/finish I knew that this whole drafting thing wasn't going to last much longer. He had already gapped me on the flat bit, and I couldn't make up the distance up the first big hill. I could see Bob still dangling ahead of me, but once Jamie caught up to him, it was all over. I could see them for most of the rest of the lap, trying really hard to catch up, and feeling more and more jarred by the pavement as my body just refused to cooperate with this whole "strength" thing I was asking it to do. Going through the motions, but nothing is happening.

By the time I finished, even my butt was sore. I couldn't bear the thought of one more kilometer on skis, so switched to running shoes for a cooldown - apparently, I'm not nearly as ski-fit as I'd like to be, but I can still squeeze out a result - I just suffer for it. Tomorrow should be fun.

But, I won! And, I broke my previous "record" by 2 seconds, and I'll take any improvement. I did lose 2:15 from the first to second laps, but hey, I'll keep my strategy of "start hard, then hang on" for mass starts. When it works, it's golden!


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Relay championships

(more foliage on fire photos. Afternoon light after a windy day makes for super-bright leaves!)

Team CSU!

Last weekend, CSU headed out to St. Louis, Missouri for the US Orienteering Relay championships. Unlike the five thousand other championships that OUSA thinks it's necessary to hold, the relay champs are a club event, so it took some actual coordination to get enough people from CSU to commit to a team. But then we got the ball rolling, and ended up with two teams!

The way the relays work is that people are worth a certain number of points, given their age and sex. Given however many points you have in your club, you work it out so that you're racing in the 4-point, 8-point, or 12-point categories. You need to have 4 or more points to be in the 4-point category, 8 or more for the 8-point, etc. Men under the age of 40 are basically useless in terms of points, I think so that you can't field a team of four elite men, since not every club has the numbers to do that. Elite girls are worth 2 points each, so our first team had both Ali and me, each worth 2 points, and then two zero-point guys - Ian Smith, and Mikkel Conradi. The other team had Peter (3 points), Bill (3 points), Greg (0 points), and Brendan (0 points). So we ended up fielding two 4-point teams.

To make this even more fun, my friend Sharon, from Colby, is in St Louis these days, and agreed to come hang out with us all weekend! It was awesome to see her, and she even got to go out on a beginner course, shadowed by Ali.

Most of us arrived in St Louis Friday, in time to head out to Cuivre River park for a sprint course, that I used to preview the terrain for the night-o championships race that night. This was obscure championships week, by the way - we had a corn maze classic and sprint distance championships on Tuesday, courtesy of Peter, and then the rollerski-o middle distance and sprint championships on Wednesday, also courtesy of Peter. Friday was the night-o championships, and Sunday was the relay champs. Obscure sports quarterly, I'm coming for your front page.

Anyway, the night-o was a lot of fun. I was harboring secret hopes that I would beat Ali, as I think she tends to slow down at night and I speed up, but it's just too hard to ignore that 3-min difference in 5k times when you're racing a running sport, and while I was closer than usual, I still got beaten. I felt like it was a really good race nonetheless - I managed to catch Carol by #9 from 2 minutes back, and I could push really hard, physically. It was a nice night for running, and a silver medal is nothing to scoff at.

Saturday was a regular middle distance A-meet, and Ali had decided to run up with the boys on the blue course, so the win was there for the taking. I took it, but couldn't quite beat the guys who took 1st-4th. Another good race, and very clean, from a technical point of view. I relied heavily on my compass when approaching reentrants from above, and with the wide-open forests and gentle slopes, there was a lot of fast running on that course.

Sharon came out to the start with me, and was my very own paparazzi - go me!

How to eat funnel cake.
How to puzzle over what to do with sticky fingers from eating funnel cake.

Hanging out in the sun Saturday afternoon was nice.

Saturday afternoon, we headed to the model map - a sample bit of map on a sample bit of terrain, to see what it would be like for the relay. None of us had ever done floodplain orienteering before, and it turns out there aren't many features (other than the random dumpster), and there is no climb. Anywhere. It was a strange sort of area, and I'm glad we checked it out.

The sun was starting to go down, and the light made the trees across the lake look like they were flaming. Beautiful.
Fanning out to check out the footing and the mapping of this area.

This is how I felt about the terrain and the mapping style for the floodplain relay. Very strange, very different than normal.

Sunday rolled around and we were all pretty pumped for the REAL event of the weekend. Our main rivals were Delaware Valley Orienteering Association (DVOA) - they were fielding an allstar team, and we were definitely worried about how we'd stack up. Our order went me -> Ian -> Ali -> Mikkel. We had been unsure of the order for Ali and Mikkel, since the courses are different for each leg, and the last leg was longest, and Ali is in better shape than Mikkel. But, he settled it by saying that he could run a 25s 200m, and we figured that might be necessary, so put him on the last leg. Team two went Brendan -> Peter -> Bill -> Greg. I was kind of worried they'd beat Team 1, but we were ok =).
First team for CSU: Mikkel, Ali, Ian, and me. Why do I look like I should be the mascot or something?

Starting line, under threatening skies (Dan Barker photo).
On the start line. Sharon McMonagle photo.

The start. Greg Walker's photos.

We started off, and I could immediately feel my calves tighten up. This wasn't good, but I figured I had no choice other than to push through it. Brendan was pulling the pack out front, and Zac Barker, DVOA's first runner, was close behind him. Zac is young (therefore worth points), but he is speedy, and with good visibility he'll have no issues keeping up. I just hoped to stay close to Brendan, who I know is faster than me, but could potentially pull me to a really awesome leg and a lead-off to Ian in the front of the race. As we kept running, though, I knew I was in trouble. My calves felt awful, and I was at the point where I couldn't push off my toes, so my running was more of a stumble. I just had to make it through 4km, but with the soft footing in the floodplain, I was truly floundering. It helped that Zac and Brendan were in front of me, because I could take smarter micro-routes, but you couldn't hide the fact that I just couldn't run fast enough.

By the time I got to the open field and ~500m left to go, it was a pure mental game for me. I knew I had to stay within visual contact of Zac (Brendan was by now well off the front), so that Ian could reel in Vadim on the second leg. Do it for your team, do it for you team, keep running! But I had no power in my legs, I physically could not push off of my toes - I thought maybe I would trip over myself since I couldn't pick my legs up fast enough, I was just stumbling my way into the finish.

Me finishing my leg, before tagging off to Ian. Greg's photo.

It was good enough, and I tagged to Ian in 4th place overall, third among the 4-point teams. Ian was able to overcome the gap, but he couldn't drop Vadim, DVOA's second runner, completely. He opened up about a 20s lead, but that was still visual contact, which meant that we had no chance to fully escape from them.
The tag.

Ian's graceful tag off to Ali. The next photo in this series was Ian on the ground. Greg Walker photo.

Ali went out and ran well, but Clem, DVOA's third runner, closed the gap, and they were running together through much of the leg. There were four different spectator controls, that we could see across the lake, and it was super exciting to watch the lead changes! Ali succeeded in putting a bit of time on Clem in the last open running parts, but again, Wyatt (DVOA's fourth runner) was able to close the gap to Mikkel. This actually worked in our favor, as Mikkel didn't try to drop Wyatt again - he was happy to run with him, and to make things even more exciting, they caught up the top two teams in the 8-point category, so that the last spectator control saw all four runners coming at once. As they came flying across the last fields, you could tell that Mikkel looked fresher than Wyatt, but it didn't help the nail biting. My throat is still sore from cheering Mikkel in to the line, and he successfully out-kicked Wyatt, bringing the relay gold to the realm of CSU!

Mikkel screaming to victory after out-kicking Wyatt, for one of the closest finishes ever in the US relay champs.

Wooo! We won!

DVOA put up an awesome fight, and I was proud to get to run against these perennial champions. I was prouder still of CSU, for running smart, running hard, and running together. Yeah CSU!