Thursday, June 5, 2014

3 Days of Trenches WRE

I went to Italy last weekend.  Up to the Asiago area, in the high plateaus where they make good cheese and find tasty mushrooms and apparently have some pretty wonderful orienteering maps in their craggy limestone pine forests.  I debated with myself for a long time about whether this event was worth the costs, and ultimately decided that since I had the extra vacation days, the benefits out-weighed the costs enough to justify the trip. The goals for the weekend were twofold: gain some valuable experience racing in relevant terrain against speedy Europeans, and place well enough to earn some WRE points that will bump out my crappy existing points, thus earning me a better start spot at the world champs. Oh, and eat a lot of gelato...

I arrived around noon on Friday, after an uneventful red-eye flight.  Some serious problems acquiring the rental car, but eventually I was on my way, and got to Rovereto to try and find some adventure buddies, Vanessa and Lachy from Australia and Lizzie and Greta from New Zealand.  We had enough daylight to drive up the mountainside to some of the training maps, that day it was Forte Cherle.  Still some snow in places, and much colder once you've gained 1000m in elevation!  Some easy jogging and terrain studying later, and we went back down the windy roads to find dinner in town with Katia and Giovanni. Not bad for a travel day!

Saturday was the first race, though not a World Ranking Event yet - a team sprint in the town of Pergine.  The start wasn't until 2:30pm, so we loaded up the car and took some seriously windy roads to go training at Lago di Lavarone in the morning.  I'll put a link to the headcam video that I took while running there - beautiful alpine forests!  This is adjacent to one of the areas where the world champs long distance final will be, so it was definitely relevant terrain for me to explore.  After a relaxed picnic in the grass, we went down a totally crazy road, complete with tunnels, bridges, and only enough space for one car, to get to Pergine.  Giovanni had warned us not to take this road at night, and I think I understand why not.

Here is the view down toward Pergine Valsugana from an overlook pull-off on the crazy road.  Pergine is just beyond those lakes.  Pretty awesome view, eh?

Anyway, I managed to keep the car on the road, and we made it to the sprint venue.  Four-people teams, two men and two women, and Samantha, Cristina, and Giacomo were my teammates.  They let Sam pretend to be a man. Only problem was that Giacomo's flight from the US was arriving that day, and he was not in the quarantine area when they closed quarantine entrance. Well, I guess we'll just run three legs and have a DNF.  Luckily, Giacomo arrived about four minutes before he had to run, and they let him in, so it was all good!  I was running the last leg, and there were a few teams around to catch; after a small mistake at the first control, I ran cleanly and smoothly, and we ended up 12th, of 20 teams.  Given that we weren't really putting out a huge amount of effort, and had a woman racing against the men, this was a very fine result.  Go Team USA!

From there, it was time to find out accommodation for the night, just outside of Asiago, with a brief stop to check out a castle that we'd seen from afar.  They were having a private function inside the keep, which seemed like a pretty awesome place to have a party, but at least we could still wander around the outside.  Nice to not only have a castle in your town, but be able to use it.  The winners of the sprint relay had earned a dinner up there, a pretty sweet prize!  Then back up the crazy road, which felt a lot easier going up than down (I guess you spend less time peeking over the edge of cliffs wondering if you'll die that day), and we got to our hotel just in time for dinner.  I love that pasta is pretty much always the first course in Italy.

Middle Distance WRE
Sunday was the middle distance WRE, and I had joined the Italian Trent-O team for the weekend.  Trent-O is Katia and Giovanni's club, and it was fun to have a club to hang out with, even if there was a bit of a language barrier.  The event took place on some steep wooded hillsides just behind our hotel (talk about convenience), with about a 150m climb to the start.  I may have cut it pretty close, but arrived at my start on time.  Being one of the earlier starters, I would not have the advantage of running with any other girls, and there would be no "elephant trails" in the forest for me to follow, as there are for the later starters.  With 80 women on the start list, all running the same course, it was definitely an advantage to start late!

My race was unspectacular, and actually I made enough mistakes that it was nearly a disaster.  But, there were some good parts, and I definitely learned a bunch about how to orienteer well in these terrains.  The forest is so much faster and more open than at home! You can basically run full speed the whole time, which is awesome, but takes some getting used to, so even on my not-mistake legs I was losing time.  Time for more overspeed training back home!  I ended up 63rd of 77, with some crummy WRE points, but still better than my even crummier existing 4th score. So, not a total disaster, but definitely not a race I was proud of.

Click for larger image and to turn on/off route.

Arena for the middle distance. The race took place on that wooded hillside beyond the finish arch.

On our wander into town, we found this delicious-looking shop.  All your fruits, veggies, grains... funghi!

I liked the church. Interesting that the front and back looked quite different. We were hypothesizing that perhaps one part had gotten damaged in WWI, and they only rebuilt part of it.  Or maybe they planned it this way.  Either way, there was fighting around here, as evidenced by the trenches still out in the terrain.

 After some lunch, a nap, and a trip to town for some gelato, I figured it was time for the second training of the day, so I headed back up the hill with my GPS watch and a headcam to re-run parts of the race.  There were definitely trails through the forest where everyone had been running in the same direction, reinforcing my desire to have a later start spot at the world champs.  The goal for the afternoon's training was to gain more confidence on some of the short legs, and to run the legs where I made mistakes again, this time not making a mistake.  It was embarrassing how much better things went the second time, even on the legs I took it easy. By control 14 (where I cut it short on the training), I had taken 42:50 in the race, and 37:48 the second time, which includes pretty much every other leg walking to keep the intensity down.  Quite a few lessons to be learned, there... anyway, if you want to waste 47 minutes of your life watching the headcam blair witch project-esque footage, you can see it here. Make sure you have the google earth plugin installed so that the gps follows on the actual orienteering map.

Long Distance WRE
Monday's race was the long distance, and I was excited to put into practice some of the changes I planned to make to my orienteering.  I was a little worried about residual fatigue from the past two days of double workouts, but figured that I could tough it out, referencing in my head all sorts of difficult trail races in the 2-hour range.  The goal for the day was to run cleanly and pace myself well, and given that I had a starting position slightly further back, hopefully I was catch some people and possible get a ride with faster runners!

So naturally, I immediately blow 2 minutes on the first control.  It was a similar situation as the day before - I ran straight there with full confidence, and then for whatever reason, the terrain in the circle didn't match what I expected it to look like in my head, and I circled around confusedly for a while before finally figuring it out.  This is not good!  The girl from 2 minutes back, Maria Novella Sbaraglia, caught me there, and like a rookie I allowed that to fluster me.  So, I took off up the hill to #2 like a woman possessed, determined to drop Maria ASAP, and threw myself totally into oxygen debt.  Turns out 4,700ft is high enough that my body doesn't clear lactic acid the way I want it to.  Panting now, I spiked #2 and took off to 3, determined to get out of sight.  This was just dumb. By the time I got to 3, my brain didn't work, my legs were heavy, and my calf was blowing up.  I made a 45s error in the circle again, Maria got ahead of me, and 13 minutes into the race I was trashed.  You idiot!

I had to slow down, and it took until control 6 before I found my legs again.  At this point I had just about made contact with Maria again, and we had a helluva climb up to #7, so I forced myself to keep running, lactic acid cleared but leaving a leaden dullness in my legs.  Maria must have made a mistake on 8, because I didn't see her again, and my mistake on 8 was only another 30-45s, saved by the Finn 2 minutes ahead of me climbing back up the hill towards me - oops, gone too far, better turn around and look uphill.  I started to see more people on the climb up to 10, but my Finn dropped me on that climb, and beat me overall. If only I'd been able to keep up... I mean, if I'd run faster I'd'a won the race!  Favorite excuse ever.  Anyway, by control 12, I was really ready for the race to be over, and unfortunately I was only about 2/3 done.  My thoughtless energy expenditures from earlier in the weekend and earlier in the race had caught up, and despite eating a caffeinated gel, I was unable to access the expected levels of oomph.  Darn.

At that point, I caught up to a Slovenian, and she stuck to me like glue, going so far as to come to a complete stop anytime I did.  I tried this a few times, to see if she'd take the lead and show me the control, but no go.  She followed me around through control 18, where a Hungarian and a Czech caught up as I was making a 1.5min mistake.  D'oh!  I tried to match their pace into the fields and to the finish, but I was a wheezing stumbling wreck, and I fear I lost a place in the final few minutes, because I just couldn't run any faster.  I should mention that there had also been a hail storm halfway through the race, and I got pretty cold while I was wandering around making a mistake on 18, wishing my Slovenian tail would be useful and show me the control.  But, I finished with probably one of my better international showings yet, 44th of 66, and my best WRE score of the year.  This has moved me up (yay for being the third-ranked American woman!), and should drastically help my start spot at worlds.  Hopefully, I'll have more pep in my legs thanks to a taper!

Poor Giacomo totaled his ankle in the end of the course.  He still managed to finish, but the men's course was a beast, 18km and some 800m of climb.

Nice view from the town where we found our afternoon gelato!

In the end, the trip was totally worth the costs; of time, and energy, and money, and I have some excellent ideas of how to refine my final month of training before the world championships.  Hopefully this will lead to a result I am proud of, and a spot on the American relay team!

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