Friday, April 27, 2012

Northampton 5k

I love cross country races.  I feel like that's running at its realest - none of this pansy road stuff, you have lumps and bumps and mud and hills and rocks in your way, and even on a well-packed trail like the Northampton races, I still feel more alive, more man-against-nature-esque, than on a road.  Running is sport at its purest.  Racing is sport at its simplest.  I love it.  Orienteering is great and all, but it's missing the simplicity of you versus the clock and the ground beneath your feet.  Which of course is why I love orienteering - the subtleties and complexities of fast navigation and smooth woods running are yet more challenges I find exhilarating.  But pure running has its place.

Ali convinced me that running the 5k this week would be more fun than doing a track workout; not like that took a ton of convincing work on her part.  Duh.  We showed up and it's blustery and chilly, a proper April day, not like these ridiculous sunny, warm, mild days we've been having.  That beautiful tank top weather in March was warm enough to count as extreme weather.  Our world as we know it is falling to pieces.  Anyway, chilly weather makes good running weather, though a low turnout for the race meant not much of a chance to draft people when facing the wind.

The race starts with a downhill, which meant I was way too far forward in the pack; I'm good at downhills, but not much else.  It means I spend the first mile getting passed by people, and letting them go.  But it's worth that rush of flying down a hill!  Going up the first hill, a little kid, maybe 10 years old, passed me, and that was pretty depressing.  I started hoping he would fade soon.  Kelsey Allen, long time ski rival and better runner than me, passed me too.  I tried following her pace for a while, but couldn't comfortably match her stride, so backed off some more.  By the second mile, I'd passed the little kid, but I was starting to feel the pain of racing.  My breathing was still steady and controlled, but the overall tiredness was seeping in, legs were starting to hurt and my shoulders kept trying to ride up into my ears.  Relax, relax, light and quick, no tension, lean into the wind, roll off the feet.  Smooth and controlled, I rounded that corner in the field and hit The Hill.

This hill isn't even all that large, and has firmly packed dirt as a base, but when you're seeing it at two and a quarter miles in to a race, it looms in front of you like some huge unsurpassable psychological barrier, taunting you with its steepness, in your face and all too soon in your legs.  Going up it isn't even the hard part.  I let my legs flow, falling up the hill and using my arms, I'm barely breathing any harder. It's short enough that you don't feel its poison until you crest, and realize, too late, that your legs are wobbly and soaked through with lactic acid, and as the terrain continues to slope gradually upward, relentless, the race becomes a mental challenge.  By this point the breathing is harder, two steps in and one step out, and I can see Kelsey and a guy up ahead - the guy seems to be faltering, and I wonder if I can be strong enough to catch him on the flats before we head down to the finish.  It's hard to keep focused when facing the wind alone, breath after ragged breath, smooth form gone, trying to will my way to the finish line, because my legs are now fighting against me, wanting to stop.  5k races HURT.

I couldn't catch the guy, and my legs are trashed enough as I descend the hill to the finish that despite the encouragement from Phil and Ed, I can't speed up too much, worried my legs will just collapse instead of catching me and throwing me forward.  There is nothing sweeter than crossing the finish line of a race, and stopping.  Maybe that's why I do it.  For the relief of coming to a stop after pushing myself beyond any comfortable limit.  I ended up running a 20:40, which is a minute off my PR, but that PR was set on a road, back in December, and this is a 20s PR for this course.  Satisfying, and a relief to know that I do have some running form right now.  Maybe by the end of the summer I'll break 20 on this course, but that may be a stretch.


Saturday, April 21, 2012

Danehy park orienteering

Mt. Washington training is in full swing, and I hit up South Sugarloaf mountain on Wednesday, for some pain-laced hill climbing.  I decided to push my road bike on the uphills and coast down, mostly to shorten the recovery but also to reduce the overall mileage and make it easier on my knees.  I'm generally a good downhill runner, but that's when I can let it flow, and just like on a bike, you build momentum when you're running.  Unlike on a bike, the faster you get going, the harder you have to work - no coasting!  Pushing the bike was not easy, and definitely made my right arm pretty tired, but I think it was worth the effort.  The last time up I ditched the bicycle, and that made thing considerably faster, especially on the second, steeper half.  Information to file away for later.  I probably should have done a fifth hill, but I was getting hungry and it was dinnertime, and that's enough of a reason to quit for me.  Uh oh.

Thursday was the first park-orienteering race of the season, at Danehy park in Cambridge.  I managed to get there in time for a decent warmup, but I quickly noticed that my legs were feeling the effort from wednesday's hills.  My calves especially were quite knotted, and I guessed that this would play a role in my top end speed for the park-o.

I ended up having a pretty good run, from a navigation standpoint, but I just couldn't get going with the speed.  I missed one route choice, from 8-9; should have gone around on the road, but I never even saw it.  This park is not the most interesting place to orienteer, as it's wide open and there is no good way to make things tricksy.  Larry did come up with some interesting route choices, at least.  My effort was good enough for fourth, but nearly three minutes behind Ian!  Must. get. faster.

Next week I'll probably hit the track instead of the mountain, since my long run will be during the Billygoat, which has plenty of hills, that I'll be doing plenty hard.  According to Jess, who knows everything there is to know about running, threshold work is just as important as uphill work, so I'm going to believe her, and only run long hills every other week.  Hopefully this works.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

2012 Team Trials

The US team trials for the World Orienteering Championships (WOC) this summer took place last weekend in Carrollton, GA. This was also the 2012 US championships, so there was a pretty big crowd. Ed managed to get himself involved pretty early on doing radio controls (when a runner punches the control, it automagically gets radioed back to the announcer, good for intermediate splits) and electronic displays. Because all of this takes a good amount of gear, he drove down to Georgia, and miraculously, his truck made it down and back, in one piece! We won't talk about the four days of work it took to get the thing ready... Anyway, I decided that I may be crazy, but I ain't THAT crazy, so I took a plane with Ali and Becky, and off we went to explore the south.

Ed's erector set of monitor displays, and the tower for the radio.

The tech guys - Ed and Vladimir doing their part to raise the profile of orienteering. It was pretty awesome having live, exciting, announcing, a good playlist, and instant results displays. The tech guys are looking a little rough around the edges, but they did an awesome job.
One of the photographers had a deer camera at the radio control, and there is a hilarious sequence of photos of Ed showing up to fix the radio.

The only way to make the plane ticket to Atlanta affordable was to fly out of JFK and back into BOS, and this necessitated taking the megabus from Amherst to NYC, which sort of worked, aside from the minor detail of the bus showing up an hour late. Christophe is inhabiting NY these days, so he met Ali and me at the bus stop and rode with us on the subway, just so I could see him for a bit. Someday, I'll actually visit NY...

Sprint Race
The first race of the weekend was the sprint race, at West Georgia University. There was nothing too exciting about the map or the course, but it was perfectly adequate, if seriously on the long side. I started one minute behind Becky, and two minutes ahead of Ali, so I was hoping to see Becky and not see Ali. The beginning of the course I had to go a little slower, just to keep on top of my navigation, but by about halfway through the thinking was finished, and I could really open up and try to run fast. Given the temperature and the fact that it was just ski season like two weeks ago, this meant lots of wheezing on my part, but by control 16 I could see Becky, and I began to slowly close the gap. I ended up nearly catching her, but Ali nearly caught me - good enough for 2nd place! This is the best I've ever done on the national level in foot orienteering, so I was pretty pumped!

Running away from Angelica.

Lots of open, sunny, HOT fields to run across. And a fair bit of poison ivy, though I seem to have avoided it mostly.

We were pretty happy after the first race - I'd run well, and Ed's equipment had run well. Also, it's hard not to be happy on the first day of summer weather.

The main purpose of traveling to any of these meets is really just to hang out with our orienteering family. So much fun to see everyone all together!

Long Distance Race
The second day's race was at the Chattahoochee Bend state park, on the banks of the Chattahoochee river. Other than getting a pretty horrible country song about that river stuck in my head, we started to wonder if there were any alligators this far north, and spend a solid half hour looking up facts about alligators in Georgia. Supposedly, this was too far north to find any of them, but you never know. I'm glad I wasn't doing any swimming - if I used to be scared about sharks in swimming pools, I certainly wasn't getting into a river that connects to alligator waters!

I didn't see any alligators, but maybe they were hiding.

Today I started three minutes behind Becky, with others ranging about at further intervals. It was supposed to be even hotter, and I worried a little about not being ready for the heat, but luckily the elites started early. The park was relatively flat, which meant for some fast running, and some of the early route choices took you on some loooooong trail runs. By #3 I'd caught up to Becky, who had caught up to Angelica, and we were running together for a few controls, until I'd run away from them by #8. By then, I was starting to feel the heat, despite taking water (and eating gummy bears) at each opportunity.

My original plan had been to speed up about halfway through, but unfortunately, the opposite scenario played out, and I got slower and slower. I think this was mostly related to some blisters on my feet; the dry dust was doing a number on my toes, and having painful feet means you're less focused on moving quickly and efficiently. I was navigating cleanly for nearly the entire race; I made a 50-second goof at the last control, and as I was relocating, in my head, I said, "this is it, you've just lost it". It was true - I ended up in fourth, 10 seconds out of third.

Giacomo (fellow CSU member) finishing.

In the forest.

The evening was filled with much fun, more catching up among old friends. After two races for team trials, I was sitting comfortably in the third position, one point (out of ~290) behind Hannah, and about 20 points clear of Cristina. Unlike last year, the pressure was off for the last race. Doesn't mean I didn't still get nervous...

Middle distance race
I woke up to some aggressively tight calves, and nothing I did seemed to loosen them up. I told myself that speed wasn't as important in the middle distance, I just had to not mess up, but unfortunately, you still have to get to where you're going, even if you're going in the right direction. The terrain was hillier in this area, with more bare rock and big blobby rock formations, so that was cool, but again it wasn't the most inspired course I'd ever run. I started out pretty well, but made a few bobbles in the beginning, losing seconds here and there. I just couldn't go up the hills as smoothly as I'd have liked, but I felt like I was chugging along alright.

After the spectator control was the big mistake - I completely overran #17, losing two minutes just on that leg. When you're already not going fast, you can't blow that sort of time. Argh! I recovered somewhat, but this time I was 1:40 behind Hannah, in fourth again. A Canadian, Katarina, had taken 2nd place, but didn't count in the team ranking points.

This is probably the most consistent set of championship races I've ever run, so that was really encouraging. I also qualified myself for the WOC team, so I'll be heading to Lausanne, Switzerland this July! It wasn't a huge surprise to qualify for the team, but you never know how well others have been training - all you can control are your own actions. I'm excited to get another stab at international competition, this is gonna be awesome!

USA WOC Team: Eddie, Eric, Boris, [Ross, inserted by petition], Giacomo, Wyatt (1st alt.), Ken (2nd alt.), Ali, Hannah, me, [Samantha and Sandra, inserted by petition], Pavlina (1st alt.), Cristina (2nd alt.). That will be a fun team!

Other favorite photos from the weekend - the CSU log-throwing contest. The boys got really into this one.

Ken was doing pullups on the tree branch, Kat turned monkey-like, but did it with grace.

Clothing tree, drying out clothes before shoving them into bags...

Look! I found an Aligator on the podium!

Results for the entire weekend.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Early spring

It's barely the first week of April, and the sugaring season is already over - Ed headed to VT tonight to go pull his taps already. Spring came early this year, actually I guess winter just never happened. Winters like these mean a lot of driving, a lot of stressing about time on snow, or lack thereof, a lot of general moroseness about the gray nastiness of a weather that won't act seasonal. Not my favorite. The one thing this winter was remotely good for was running training - I'm heading into this spring's orienteering season with more miles under my feet than ever before, for this early in the season. I guess that's a good thing, but it probably just means that my usual overuse injuries will crop up sooner than typical. I guess this winter was also good for ticks - they're predicting much higher occurrences of lyme disease this summer; not what you want to hear when you spend a lot of time in the woods.

Christer Malm, a contact of Ali's, took some photos of the ultra-long, in Boden. Don't I look like I'm having fun? I bet this was on the fourth lap =)

I entered, and got in to, the Mt Washington road race this June. I don't know why I was quite so excited to get in, because I have a niggling feeling that it may actually suck, a lot, to run up a 12% grade for 7.6 miles. Why was I so excited? Tell ya what, though, I am SO getting a Vermonster, and attempting to finish the whole thing on my own, when that race is over!

Totally unrelated, I was cleaning and organizing some stuff on my computer and found a cache of photos from New Zealand in 2005, and that place is so beautiful, I felt I should post some of the photos up here. Enjoy!

The Takitimu mt range.

Same view, different light.

Sunset on the Coromandel peninsula.

Rainbow over the mountains by Wanaka.

Milford sound.

Lake Wanaka.

Lake Wanaka.

Looking inland at Kaikoura.

A beautiful place, but plenty of clearcuts to go along with the majestic views.

Boulders on moeraki beach.


The snow farm.

Franz Joseph glacier, or at least where it used to be 30 years ago.