Tuesday, May 27, 2014

NH training weekend

I decided last winter that I wanted to have a training camp at Pawtuckaway some time before I left for Italy. And I wanted people to come to it, so we could have some good head-to-head competition and training.  I managed to actually advertise the thing in time, and we had a good crew, about 20 people each day, come play in the woods.  Super duper thanks to the folks who helped hang streamers in the woods; that makes the training so much more productive.  

Apparently my car full of people on the way up north was sleepy.  We drove through some pretty big storms, but there was barely more than a drizzle once up there.  Of course, with wet trees, you're soaked pretty quickly once you start running in the woods, but it was nice to not be overheating. I did get a little chilly after taking an un-planned shortcut through a waist-deep mucky marsh... oops.  

The map above is the control pick, an exercise where you are focused on good habits in and around the control circle, like leaving in the right direction, having a good attackpoint, and knowing what feature you're looking for. I was in need of some attitude adjustment, and I got myself straightened out near control 23, which, not too surprisingly, corresponds with higher running speeds and more accurate orienteering. Positive thinking works, apparently. Other exercises were a contour-only training, where all other information has been taken off the map, and a partner memory exercise, that two people do with one map. The first person has memorized the route to the first control, and leads the way while the second person follows behind memorizing the route to the second control. All lots of fun.

I may have been overly enthusiastic when planning courses, and we ended up with more training than any of us could feasibly do, but everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves.  Pizza for dinner and then camping out before doing the same thing all over again on Sunday! We switched state parks from Pawtuckaway to Bear Brook, which is home to a crazy-technical map that UNO used for the US champs last fall.  I was excited to try my hand at this level of difficulty again, and the terrain did not disappoint.  There were even a few strings of controls where I was really moving with confidence and fluidity, exactly what I was hoping to do this weekend!  The map to the right is from a course I ran in the morning.

Giovanni arrived with a canopy, chairs, and birthday cake for his birthday. This was a major improvement over picnicking on the ground.

After birthday cake and some relaxing in the sun, it was time for the final exercise of the weekend, a mass start practice where we all ran some loops with various complicated instructions for how to keep seeing people and maximizing the chaos.  Chaos is an important part of mass starts, after all.  We all marched out into the middle of the forest, and then took off running.  It was super fun to have the head-to-head racing going on, as you had to keep your focus and really force yourself to pay attention on tired legs and a tired brain.  Awesome!

Check out all that chaos!

Next stop: 3 Days of Trenches!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Newton 10k

Yesterday was the Newton 10k, a race with a startline that was a mere 1.6mi from my front door, which meant I could hardly miss this one.  I've run one 10k before, the Race with Grace, and that one wasn't quite as quick as I was hoping, so despite training through this latest 10k, I was expecting to be a little faster.  I didn't realize just how tired I'd be from not resting, though, and the 5k I raced on Tuesday night (don't try this at home, kids), following on the heels of the Billygoat, which was on the heels of 7 Sisters, well, there's been a lot of racing in my recent past, some of it quite long and all of it quite hard.  Combined with some travel for work and work itself, I definitely didn't feel recovered.  But I took a nap on Saturday, so that should take care of things, right?  Sorry, that was a lot of whining.  I sign up for these things because I love them!

On the start line, I saw a couple folks I knew, but there wasn't much time for chitchat before we were off.  My plan was to start conservatively, but I was having trouble opening up my stride, quads and hip flexors sluggish and unresponsive.  I chose the Road-X 233 shoes, which are cool not just because they're flame colored (and I haven't gotten them all muddy yet), but because they have this dynamic faschia band construction, which feels like it gives me a little kick of energy with each step through the stiffer platform.  I needed all the help I could get.

I came through the first mile in a depressing 6:45, and I knew it would be a long next 5.2 miles.  The road was gradually tilting upwards, and it felt like there was a headwind, though I think this was just my own body moving through still air.  The weather was perfect! Maybe 55 degrees, dry and sunny.  A guy in a yellow singlet came past me at some point after the second mile, and I was happy to draft behind him for a bit and try to find some inner calm.  The controlling part of my personality was really unhappy with the times I was seeing at each mile marker, but the more realistic side of me knew there was nothing I could do to go any faster, and my legs were sending constant messages to my brain that they didn't really feel like moving any more.  Luckily, my brain is adept at telling them that actually they feel great, and we have a fun little dialogue, all my body parts and me. Maybe it's more of a whining temper tantrum, but at least there's communication of some sort.

Finally, around mile 4, the road started to tilt downwards, and running got easier.  I started to see a lady ahead of me, and the downhill helped stretch out my legs and lengthen my stride.  The fifth mile was completed in 6:22, major improvements, and things kept going down after that, so I kept the pressure on, finally feeling like I was flowing along with all my body parts working in unison. This is what running should feel like!  A smile may have briefly flitted across my face, before being replaced by the grimace again.  I crossed the highway (who put that overpass in my way?!?), and I knew the course from here to the finish, nearly there.  Pulling even with the girl I'd been hunting down, I found the next gear, pulled away, turned the corner toward the finish and didn't let up.

I was completely surprised, and very pleased, to see a sub-42min time on the clock as I crossed the line.  Results.  I ended up in 30th overall, and the fifth woman, first in my age class.  I guess turning 30 is good for something, as the top 4 ladies were all younger than 29, which meant I won a pair of socks and a gift certificate.  I'll take it!

One more week of volume, and then I rest before heading to Italy for the WRE at the 3 Days of Trenches!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Billygoat: Baldwin Hill edition

The 2014 Billygoat is in the books, and I retained my guardianship of the ugly Billygoat doorstop.  This yours-for-a-year prize has been in rotation since 1999, according to the signatures on the back, and each year it goes to the winner of the Billygoat.  There are two of these; one for the female winner and one for the male.  I won the goat last year, with a really good race I might add, but this year US Champ Kseniya was among the registrants, and in technical low-visibility terrain like Baldwin Hill, I knew my guardianship of this ugly doorstopper was tenuous.  
JJ Cote designed this year's Billygoat, and he offered an excellent selection of skip choices.  One of the quirks of this race is that you can skip any one, but only one, of the controls.  It adds an interesting twist to the pack dynamic of the mass start race, especially when one of the obvious first skips was the first control.  What to do?!?  

Line 'em up, shout "go!", and see what happens... 

Chaos happens, and everyone runs off in different directions!  

I decided that I didn't want to waste my skip so early, and tried to decide between some of the later skips.  I was having a tough day, physically, with really tired and cramping calves from the start, which led to a bit of a mental battle on this hot day to stay in the game.  I proceeded to make a mistake on 4, and ended up behind a few people that I really would have rather been ahead of.  Luckily, I didn't do anything stupid trying to drop them; I knew I was going through a rough spot and I could come out of this if I stayed patient and waited for my legs to come around.  Toward the 6-7-8 loop, I was running with Jeff, and it was nice to share some time with him, even if we didn't talk much.  Crossing the trail to 6, I saw Greg Balter, Kseniya, and Peter all heading toward 8, and took a split.  I was not happy that they were this far ahead of me this early in the game, but all I could do was pray that they'd already skipped, and hope that my legs started to cooperate sooner rather than later.
Leaving the water stop at #9, I settled on skipping #11.  This wouldn't save me any huge distance, but I knew that I'd be able to up the speed on the trail and then the railroad tracks, and it would be nice to shut off my brain for a bit. Given how my calves were behaving off-trail, minimizing the amount of time I spent in the forest would maximize my chances of closing that gap to Kseniya and Greg and Peter.  So, once you've made the decision, you gotta go with it full bore.  The hot sun was unpleasant as I chugged along the tracks, but I was able to successfully change gears, kicking myself out of self-pity mode and into hunting-mode.  Leaving 12 and dropping to the river valley for 13, I saw Kseniya, and boy was that a relief.  All three of that group had skipped #1.  Unfortunately, I was pretty gassed by then, and though I managed to catch and drop her by 16, I didn't have any oomph left in the legs to hunt down Greg.  I didn't know it, but I had passed Peter in my mad dash along the tracks; I'd assumed he was still ahead of me.   I got to within 3.5min of Greg, but not within striking distance.  The good news was I was barely able to hold of Kseniya, so I took home the billygoat doorstop and a gooey chocolate cupcake!  Results.

Ed charging to the finish.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

7 Sisters trail race

I went and purchased a photo from Ben at Northeast Race Photo.  Thanks Ben! Despite the rockiness underfoot, I managed to sneak in a peek at the view every now and then, and it was lovely.  The stormy clouds overhead turned the Connecticut River to this shining silver pathway crawling south, winding around the low wooded hills of western mass, and despite never being any higher than 300m, you feel like you're on top of the world. 

The 7 Sisters Trail Race is an awesome run along one of the rockier ridges in the Connecticut River Valley, out and back on this crazy singletrack trail that only certifiably insane folks would think to run, much less race. We're not just talking 1380m of elevation gain (for comparison, hiking up Mt. Washington is 1426m), but an equivalent amount of downhill, over terrain as rocky, steep, technical, and brutal as anything you'd encounter on much more grandiose peaks.  Most people like to wear thick-soled hiking boots and carry a day pack for expeditions like this.  The certifiably insane 433 individuals who finished the 7 Sisters race generally wore minimalist trail shoes (and at least one guy was in those Vibram 5-fingers "shoes", and one guy was in sandals), carrying at most a liter of water and maybe 300kcal of sugar.  It takes some serious mental misalignment to consider that this may be a good idea, but luckily there's a community of like-minded other nuts who make me think I'm totally normal.  

Ready to race!  Love the X-Talons, especially when paired with pink socks.  I went for a pink-and-blue theme today.  Complete faith in your shoes is a pre-requisite of tumbling down these rocky hills with any semblance of control.  

This year's 7 Sisters race was part of the La Sportiva Mountain Cup, and that brought some new faces to the race, serious faces.  With the usual arrangement of speedy ladies from the Grand Tree races as well, I knew I'd have my work cut out for me to defend bib #1.  I liked the new wave format; this meant that I was among the top 30-40 runners as we climbed hand over foot up the first hill, and everyone was going close to the pace I wanted, as opposed to last year, where I lined up too far back and spent a lot of energy passing people.  As we started climbing, I watched the eventual top 4 ladies and one or two others pull away from me, and I discovered that I didn't quite have the legs to go with them today.  My calves were cramping up, and I could feel the lactic acid swimming in my quads as I crested every hill and tried to start running again.  I discovered that it was best to let myself have 3-4 walking strides before running, as that gave my legs a brief chance to recover before putting the throttle down again, and this change in variation allowed me to catch and pass Nina Silitch, of ski mountaineering fame, and close the gap to Amber Reece-Young, an Inov-8 teammate.  By the second water stop, I thought I might have a fighting chance to beat Amber, if I could put enough distance on her on the downhill.  Our skillsets were extremely mis-matched, as she would run by me on the uphills and I'd yo-yo back to her on the downhills.

Along the way, I thankfully managed to catch and pass the dude in the 5-fingers shoes and the dude in the Born-to-run-style flipflops, who were, understandably, quite hesitant on the downhills. Guys, shoes are useful when you're trying to run across rocks! By the time I was heading into the descent to the turn-around, I was with a group of guys who were descending well enough that I wasn't totally dropping them, and it was fun to be part of a group.  Unfortunately, I whacked my knee pretty good on a rock as I was clambering under a tree somewhere along the way, hard enough I had to stop to catch my breath and wait for the stars to clear from my vision.  This let Amber catch up, and may have ruined my plans to use my downhill dancing skills to truly build a lead.  I love the out-and-back nature of this course, as it not only lets your scope your competition, but also you can cheer for the returning runners.  Very impressive to see the leading woman, Megan Kimmel, in fourth place overall!  My turn back up the hill, I knew I had to keep pushing the pace, and hold off Amber as long as possible on the sustained climb, so that I've have a chance to catch back up on the rolling rocky stuff.  This took some serious work!  By the water stop at the summit house I was still in contact, but I was starting to hurt, and I had no more food with me.  Uh oh. With 45-50min remaining in the race, I hoped I had enough reserves to get through without a full bonk.

Fun running along with the guys over all the lumps and bumps, yo-yoing with Amber and sort of hoping that because we were pushing each other, maybe we would catch up to Kehr Davis, the woman in third.  I could feel the fatigue in my quads, and by the time we reached the last water stop, I was begging anyone I saw for some food.  Nothing doing.  I took a face-first header down a hill, and after that I throttled back the downhills a little; my feet weren't landing where I wanted them to anymore.  Amber managed to put a minute into me by the end, but the back and forth made for a super fun race.  Fifth place was totally acceptable in my book, against such strong competition.  In the end, on the "new" course that was slightly longer than last year, I took about a minute off my time and was significantly improved in terms of % back from the winning guy.  More importantly, I had the fastest time of everyone in my car driving back to Boston, and the day ended with delicious ice cream from Atkin's Farm.


Tastes so good after a run... 

Friday, May 2, 2014

Mason Dixon Classic

Last week, the Delaware Valley Orienteering Club (DVOA) held the U.S. relay championships, somewhere in the Mid-Atlantic.  I ran through a few states while racing: Saturday took me from Maryland to Pennsylvania and back, while Sunday the course took me from Delaware to to Pennsylvania and back. Not sure I've ever been in Delaware before, so that was a first!  Anyway, the way the relays work is that you have teams of three, and there are three categories (3-pt, 6-pt, 9-pt).  You figure out how many points you're worth based on how old or how female you are, and design teams from there.  CSU was sending 9 athletes, and we managed to make a team to fit each category.  Naturally, we wanted to win each category =)

I was running on the 6-pt team with Anna and Katia. Anna led us off, coming through in a pack with two other 6-pt teams three minutes back of the leader, a runner from Western Connecticut Orienteering Club (WCOC). She tagged off to me just behind Bo from New England Orienteering Club, and just ahead of Wyatt from DVOA.  Clint, from WCOC, made an error on the first control, and I hoped that he would fade enough to come back to me without needing to totally blow myself up.  I knew that my major job was to not lose too much time to Wyatt, who is on the US team, so that Katia could make up some of that time on their third leg runner, Wyatt's son AJ.  (Mom Angelica was running the first leg - pretty cool to have a family team!).  I managed to get to control 2 before the rest, sticking to trails while they tried to cut through some briars, but unfortunately the men all learned from that mistake, and I was not fast enough to keep up.  I was only 45s behind Wyatt at control 6, but this meant that I had gone out way too hard, and was quickly en route to totally blowing myself up.  I still hadn't caught Clint, though he was coming closer, and I was worried that I hadn't yet dropped Bo, and clearly I was thinking about all these things that were not relevant to making myself orienteer faster, and I ran straight into a thorny bush at full speed, which caught my right leg while the left kept moving forward, and I landed hard and awkwardly on my left foot, rolling the ankle painfully.

D'oh!  This one took a while to walk off, but I could bear weight without grimacing after a few minutes, and managed to start jogging before that.  Bo had gotten ahead of me, so I re-focused my brain on running him down and getting back in the game, running aggressively and ignoring any pain.  Luckily, Bo helped me out by making a mistake, and then I was on my own for the long leg to 10, where I unknowingly picked a trail that had all sorts of trees down across it, slowing the running speed.  On the little loop through the woods from 10-11-12, I started seeing some second-leg 3-pt runners, which was not a good sign, this meant they had made up time on me.  I tried to summon a second wind, but running across those sunny open fields was sapping my remaining energy; I was paying the price for starting out too hard.  In the end, I caught Clint, but Wyatt put eight minutes into me, and Katia was only able to make up five of those minutes on AJ, so we took home the silver medal for the day.  Still psyched!  Even better, our 9-pt relay won the race, and our 3-pt relay took another silver.  Not bad at all =)

Off the start, and Norwegian import Nils from WCOC took a commanding lead, coming in three minutes clear of the next runner.  

We'd brought the CSU tent, and some chairs, and this was a good move.  The sunshine felt so good.

2nd place 6-pt team and 1st place 9-pt team!  These are teams CSU Babes and Two geezers and a babe, for reference.

Team Two geezers and a babe running Gail in to the finish, for the win!

Day 2: Blue course

I decided to run blue today, mostly as training for WOC, where I'm running the long. It's a pity to not run against the girls I care a lot more about beating than the guys, but I wanted the distance, and I have to view these guys as competitors, not just untouchable speed demons. My legs felt surprisingly peppy today, which was awesome, especially given how much freaking road and trail running there was, but I still didn't have much oomph up the hills.  Still time to work on this, I hope...

The plan was to run conservatively out of the start; I estimated that it would take me about 90 minutes to run the course, which meant I would suffer for it if I started too fast.  I had some good mantras in my head, and was ready to crush this thing.

The first loop through the woods went pretty well; orienteering is fairly easy when the trees haven't leafed out and you have oodles of visibility.  Controls were just falling into place exactly where I expected them to.  This is the feeling for which I orienteer.  So much fun!

The other part of today's plan was to practice switching gears - i.e. speed up when I'm on a trail, and slow down to a safe navigational speed when in the forest. This went quite well, and I felt good when I cranked the pace on the navigationally easy portions of the course, still managing to turn my brain back on in time to spike the controls.  Near the end of the course, Eric passed me (from oodles of minutes behind me), and I managed to use his blinding speed to up my own pace.  Another encouraging sign!

In the end, I finished about mid-pack, 7th of 15.  And closer to the front of the pack than the back, I might add.  At 22% behind the winner, there is plenty of room for improvement, but I was happy to have felt strong the whole way through.  I have a pretty clear idea of what I want to work on in the next two months, and by the time WOC rolls around I oughta be in great shape!

It was a very nice weekend overall by DVOA, well worth the drive.  Next up is 7 Sisters trail race this coming weekend!