Tuesday, October 23, 2012

North American Orienteering Championships

This post may become way too long, but I felt like I just had two weeks of fun packed into one weekend.  As Ken put it, I have an awesomeness hangover right now.  

The North American Orienteering Championships (NAOC)  happens every two years, and it's a Big Deal.  I missed the last one, but I was definitely going to make it to this event.  Not only is it the biggest orienteering event on North American soil, it would be a chance to see all of my friends who are scattered across the globe, since pretty much everybody made this event a priority.  The champs were hosted by the Delaware Valley Orienteering Club (DVOA), and they did a fantastic job, raising the bar in every way imaginable.  Ed had gotten himself involved early on, since he's been doing some pretty innovative stuff himself on the technology front, and he and Eddie were the guys in charge of internet for the arenas.  This is a massively important task, because if you want to bring orienteering out of the forest, you need some way to get all the exciting bits onto the web, and asap.  So, this involved three separate trips to PA for Ed and Eddie to play around with getting various repeater towers on various hilltops, including across the river in New Jersey for one of the day's arenas, the one that was miles off into the woods.  I think Ed had a good time doing that, and the best part was he still got to race.

The way NAOC works is that there are three individual races, and a relay.  Canada and the United States compete for the Björn Kjellström cup.  Runners are given points based on their finish in the individual races (25, 22, 19, 16, 13, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1), and more points are better.  The points are only awarded to "eligible" runners, i.e. passport holders from the U.S. or Canada.  This year, they also introduced the Future Champions cup, which was a separate competition for juniors.  Being able to compete for your country with the lofty goal of beating Canada raises the level of competition to a whole new fury.  Awesome!  To set things in perspective, in the last 32 years that we've been racing for the BK cup, Canada has won 14 times, the U.S. just twice.  Pressure is ON.  Of course, because these races were also World Ranking Events, there was a healthy contingent of runners from other countries than North America, and that also helped to raise the level of competition.  

I drove down to PA with Ross, Sam, and Karen, three of four CSU members currently living in Sweden these days.  They were all really excited by the whole "fall season" thing that the northeastern US does so well, with apples, apple pies, beautiful weather, beautiful trees - apparently, Swedes just don't get it, because in Sweden, fall is just like a rainier winter.  *shudder*

So, after we arrived at the Pocono Environmental Education Center (PEEC), which was the site of all the cabins where people were staying, we went off in search of touristy things to look at.  The above photo is the actual Delaware Water Gap.  It was pretty cool.

Clem wanted a billboard, so purchased a billboard.  Although it might not bring people to the race, it was pretty damn cool to see orienteering alongside the highway!

As I mentioned, we all stayed in these camp-like cabins at PEEC.  It was really the only option for lodging, since PEEC is in the middle of freakn' nowhere, and it was really fun to have all of my bestest friends staying in one place.  I don't think any of us slept near enough, since we were all busy catching up.  And playing boggle.  And bananagrams.  And seven wonders.  And cabin orienteering.  I think the CSU cabin may have had all of CSU; it came pretty close if not, with 30 of us all spreading our dirty laundry out front.  Wait, you're not supposed to do that?

Bunkhouse style accommodation, and I'm glad I brought earplugs, since there are certainly some snorers in the group.

Games, endlessly!

Ross made a rough map of the cabin, and put out "controls", which were just little pieces of tape with a number of them.  Then people got to run the race, which took between 2-3 minutes.  Of course, this was happening at the same time that Sara Mae was attempting to hand out birthday cake for Larry, whose 78th birthday was the next day.  Nothing better than some barely-controlled chaos!  

Here's Giacomo, exiting the ladies' bathroom, in search of controls.

I totally would have won if Sara Mae hadn't been handing out cake.

Ross finally got his cast off his broken elbow, and his left arm is significantly smaller than the right.  And yet he still challenged Ed to arm wrestling.  He lost, very quickly.

Oh yeah, and we ran some races!  The first race of the weekend was a middle distance, in some very technical, tricky terrain with low visibility.  It was also raining torrentially, enough that people with glasses were at a severe disadvantage.  As I stood on the start line, the very last starter among the elite women, the rain started to come down even harder.  Apparently the DE water gap got 3" of rain on Friday.  Thankfully, it wasn't cold.  

I think these photos of Katia and Ian, taken by Julie Keim, capture the moment pretty well.

My race was pretty terrible.  I missed #1 by a lot, and just couldn't relocate to find the damn thing; ~4min lost on that leg alone.  Not how you want to start your race!  I then proceeded to lose another 4 minutes on the next five controls, and it wasn't until #7 that I finally got my head screwed on straight.  I tried to keep the focus and keep attacking, but that's always a challenge when you've messed up so disastrously in the beginning of the race.  Near the end, I caught up to Carol Ross, one of my favorite Canadians, and we had a good fight to the finish, but I was pretty upset with how I'd raced this race.  Splits, and IOF results.  The U.S. ended up clobbering Canada in both the men's and women's races, taking 1-2-5 for the women (Ali, Sam, and Alison), and 1-3-4 for the men (Eric, Ken, and Boris).

Cooldown in the rain with Boris, who also was disappointed with his race.

Gail fighting through the rain like a champ.


I love this photo - Nevin just looks so annoyed, as Balter goes on Baltering about something.  They did a damn good job announcing with the amount of information they'd been given.



The men's team discussing routes and splits afterward.


Sergei and Karen racing to the finish.


So, after that disaster of a race, I refocused.  I knew that I wanted to pick good routes for the long distance, execute them cleanly, and run as fast as I could anytime I got the chance.  I was the very last starter again for the elite women, but I had Cristina 3 minutes ahead of me, and Carol 6 minutes up.  I was hoping to see both of them.  I ended up catching Cristina at #7, and Carol between 9-10, the first long leg, though she did catch me back when I made a small mistake at 11.  I thought it was another great course design, and I felt up to the challenge of the race, this time, racing aggressively and cleanly.  Unfortunately, I'm just not fast enough yet, and I think a lot of that is related to map reading and woods speed, since my average HR was one beat below my zone 3.  Clearly, I can push harder, I just need my brain to be able to keep up.  I ended up as the fourth North American, and though I was well ahead of 5th, I was way out of 3rd.  Splits, and IOF results.  This ended up being one of my best WRE point races, and also, very importantly, I beat two Swedes.  And for the second day in a row, we beat Canada!  1-2-4 for the women (Ali, Sam, me), and 1-6-7 for the men (Ross, Eric, Boris).

Check out those two long legs.  How would you approach #10?  I went to the right, on the trail, and then straight-ish.

The arena at the long distance was all on this broken shale stuff, but it worked pretty well for giving people an area to hang out and watch the races.  It also helped that it was sunnier that day.

Ed, doing what he does, making things work and fixing problems.

The business end of Ed's truck!

Next to a small tower. They had much bigger towers out in the woods.

One of my better photos - pizza!!

The ski-o team needed to get a photo, since we'd failed on getting one last season for sponsors and thank-yous.  Also, now we have a sweet headwear deal with Sauce.  Yipee!

Boris finishing the long.  Given that he's going to defend his PhD in Sweden on Friday, I was impressed with how well he ran.

Sunday was the sprint race, and then the relay race in the afternoon.  The sprint started early, and after a clear night, it was a very cold morning.  It was a forest sprint, a lot out in the woods, and while it was an interesting course, I never felt that I was moving at top speed.  Luckily, I kept it pretty clean, and the only thing I would have done differently was to read ahead on that last loop a little better, since I never knew what was coming next, and my orienteering became very reactionary.  It's a bummer that I did that last loop so poorly, because I think if I'd been confident, I could have held onto third place.  As it was, Louise bumped me down to fourth, by 17 seconds.   At #14, I'd been 3s ahead of her, but she just ran that last loop better than me, and pulled ahead.  Yarr!  But you can't dwell on that, the shoulda-woulda-coulda game gets you nowhere.  Splits, and IOF results.  In another display of dominance, we once again beat Canada: 1-2-4 for the women (Sam, Ali, me), and 1-2-4 for the men (Ross, Andrew, Boris).  

Ed sprinting in to the finish.  I would not want to be in his way.

I'm done!

SGB loping in to the finish.  Presto didn't run the sprint course, but usually, Presto wins the finish split, because Lori is standing at the other end when Stephen and Presto finish their race.

Ross and Sam were crowned sprint champions.  

The last race of the weekend was the relay between the U.S. and Canada.  At this point, we had a healthy lead, but there were several scenarios in which Canada could take back the lead and win the cup, so we definitely still had a race on our hands.  I'd been selected to run on the first team, and I was definitely feeling proud about that.  The relay consisted of two teams from the U.S., and two teams from Canada, for both seniors and juniors.  Everyone else stuck around to watch, and they were handing out relay guides, with maps of the relay, information about the racers, and all sorts of other useful stuff.  I thought the announcers did a great job keeping the excitement levels high, and the chaos to a minimum.  

My race went well - it was unremarkable, but I wanted to run very cleanly, and possibly sacrifice some speed in order to nail all my controls.  I succeeded in doing just that, except for ~20s miss on #8, which allowed Karen, our first leg runner for team two, to take the lead into the exchange zone.  It was really thrilling to run down the chute and tag off to Sam, representing my country at the highest level.  The first team ended up winning the race, and though Louise anchored Canada to second place, our second women's team still ended up third.  Unfortunately for the men, Ross, on the first leg, missed the last control - he just ran right by it, without punching, and so our first team was disqualified.  Thankfully our second team held on tough, and ended up in second place.  This was enough for us to win the BK cup, and we were all pretty pumped about that!  

So, Alex, how are you feeling about running first leg for the first US team?

Team cheer, with all the juniors and seniors together.

US Team 1, being announced before the race.

On the start line.  The Canadians look nervous.

Running away from a Canadian.

Into the finish!

And done.

The before shot, and the after shot, of team 1.

At the awards, team USA was presented with the Björn Kjellström cup.  That's Peter Goodwin, OUSA president, holding the cup.  


We may have beaten the Canadians, but we'll accept this little Canadian, we like her.

Overall, the weekend was awesome.  Winning the cup was just icing on the cake.  I got to hear the technical report from Ed, and all the details that need to work for things to run smoothly, worked.  He really enjoyed working with DVOA to make this event as amazing as it was.  I can't wait for the next episode, in 2014!