Thursday, July 24, 2014

Transitions, of the minor variety

I've been back in the normal world for nearly two weeks now, and vacation and the World Champs already feel like a distant memory. I guess that's how it works, you all of a sudden get busy again upon return. I think I like playing pretend at the life of a professional athlete, filled with unlimited food and limited responsibilities, but that's not for me, if only for the glaring mismatch in desire and ability. Like every other master blaster out there I keep plugging away, while balancing the rest of life, racing for the love of competition and seeing improvements and beating our nemeses and escaping the parts of life that need the balancing.

The World Champs two weeks ago had two of the more successful orienteering races of my career. Still plenty of room for improvement, but I am coming away from 2014 WOC feeling proud of my performances and excited to take the steps to the next level. This is a far cry from how I felt after 2013 WOC, where I had two of the worst races of my career, and let the negativity spiral too far. Hopefully the positive feelings will only build now! I felt like my navigation took a jump last fall, of course with some lumps and bumps, and it was great to get the confirmation that it had indeed climbed a step. I'm not a professional athlete, and I am lucky to have as much time to train as I do, so no complaints. Do what you can with what you have. Getting over to Europe for the WREs at the end of May was money and time well spent, because for me race starts are the all-important magic bullet. I came into this WOC feeling more prepared than ever before; partly that was because the terrain felt so "normal", but partly it's that I did my homework.

Now I'm bringing some skiing back into my diet, coaching my juniors and enjoying living vicariously through them.  Seems like being a skier entails being sore all. the. time.  If I'm not sore from strength, I'm sore from rollerskiing; if I'm not sore from rollerskiing, I'm sore from tripping over myself because I was too sore to pick up my feet and running headlong into a stone wall... maybe someday I'll have rebuilt some of the strength I need to do this sport; right now I'm paying for taking two years off from any upper body strength due to that elbow tendinitis. It would be pretty cool if I could race fast at World Ski-O Champs, but that is off in the future in the blurry and scary unknown.  For now, one day at a time, cramming in what I can and appreciating what I have, tumbling toward a precipice of uncertainty.

Next stop: North American Orienteering Champs, in October!

Monday, July 14, 2014

World champs relay!

It's been three years since I ran a WOC relay. This is the highest honor I can think of, because this is the one race where the sport really becomes reliant on teams. Of course you're thinking of your teammates while running an individual race, but it takes good races from all three team members to have a good relay result, and that is what shows the depth and strength of a country's team. I was quite proud to have been selected to race for my country, but definitely a little nervous - we decided that I should run second, between Sam leading off and Ali anchoring, with the hope that Sam would have a strong opening like she has done in the big Scandinavian relays this spring, and that Ali would have good luck hunting, as she likes to do, and I wouldn't goof it up too badly in the middle. No problem.

The way an orienteering relay works is that all the teams start together, and all the runners not on the first leg are held in "quarantine", so that they cannot wander around the stadium and gather information about the race as it is going on, or watch the big screen to see snippets of GPS tracking and videos from the forest. The courses have some spreading mechanisms built in, so that you can't just have a big line of folks following each other from one control to the next; most common is to fork the legs, such that you have several common controls, and between those common controls there are three variations, similar in distance and climb, and each runner from each team will do one of those variations. But, you don't know which forking the other teams are on, so often runners go in three different directions from each common control. This works passably well, keeping the race together enough to have some really exciting head-to-head action, while spreading the runners enough that it's not just a cross country race.

So the gun went off, and Sam left the stadium in the meat of the pack, observed from quarantine. I continued with my warmup, planning to be back at the point where I could see the stadium in time to watch the leaders (and hopefully Sam) run through at the rough halfway point. I got back in time, and watched the leaders go through, and the chase pack, and the chasing chase pack, and some stragglers. But no Sam. Just before I started to freak out that she may have broken her leg, Sam came blasting down the hill and through the arena. Phew! Apparently she made a terrible mistake on the third control, and just could not find the thing, losing the entire pack, and nearly five minutes. Luckily, she had a truly fantastic second half of her race, flying back towards the front of the race like the seasoned pro that she is.

I was super psyched to see Sam as soon as I did for the change-over. You could tell she was running on fire, having closed the gap to the second chase pack and tagging me off in 18th place. Her energy transferred to me, and I left the arena with a smile on my face and fire in my gut. My plan for the race was to stay out of the red zone for the first two thirds; the key thing in relays is to find all the controls safely, not to get too flustered by the other runners. Up the hill to the first loop and I quickly felt the altitude, 5000 feet is enough to take your breath away before you notice, so I had to pull back a little to stay in the safety zone. 

 By the top of the hill I had caught Portugal, and Estonia had caught me. I thought maybe I could use Estonia to increase my speed and confidence, but she took off in the wrong direction and I had to verbally remind myself to trust myself. I spiked the control, and she appeared again as I was leaving it, so clearly doing my own thing had paid off. I filed that information into the front part of my brain - run your own race!

More climbing up to the third control, and now New Zealand had caught up to me, too. I could see Estonia, Poland, and Spain taking a lower route, and I knew they'd all started before me, so I was making up time. Small mistake in the circle, but then I found a little flow, really enjoying the orienteering in that area! I had some really good controls, on my own but occasionally seeing a flash of a bright uniform through the trees. I made another mistake at #6, for maybe 30 seconds, but then came in for the arena passage just behind Estonia and before Spain, in 15th place. Big climb coming up leaving the arena, and I knew I had to hang on to the focus now. Spain got ahead of me on the climb, felt like I was sucking in air from the other side of the Atlantic I was breathing so hard up that thing, and Estonia dropped me as well. Don't think about them, run your own race! The cheering up that arena passage was deafening, really cool to run through there.
I struggled a bit on the vague hillside above the arena, bobbling my controls and ultimately using some other girls to find my #9. I suspect there was a direct relationship between my wheezing and my inability to spike controls, but there was an open field run to a road coming up, so I kept the gas on and tried to keep up with France, managing to read ahead a little for the final loop. I could see Spain and Poland taking the lower route, and I was hoping that my higher route, involving some hard footing on the road, would end up faster; I gambled right. Spain and Poland arrived at the control at the same time as I did, and the three of us trailed France up the hill. Clearly Spain was a better climber, but I was able to hang on to Poland, and trusted myself to find my next forked control on my own. From there it was mostly downhill, and I double checked my route and then let gravity take over, finally feeling fast for the first time the whole race! Minor route change along the way when a herd of cows blocked my trail, but nothing I couldn't handle, and I punched the final control just behind Austria, who had caught up from behind, but ahead of Poland and Russia, which was pretty cool.

I tagged to Ali in 17th, right in the middle of that pack, and hoped she would be able to hunt down Spain and Germany, our main rivals in the country competition for start spots next year. I was proud of my run; more bobbles than I would have liked and definitely not enough oxygen, but I did my job, got all the controls, and kept us within striking distance. Ali started out strong, pulling us into 16th by the third radio control, and catching both Spain and Germany. Keeping up with the world champions who were anchoring Russia and Austria proved difficult, but there were others to catch, like New Zealand and Canada. Unfortunately, on the penultimate control she made a mistake, and couldn't immediately relocate, and Germany and Australia snuck by. Still finishing strong, our final place was 17th, which is a totally acceptable, totally average result. We had had higher expectations, but orienteering is hard, and mistakes happen. I think it says really good things about the strength of our women's team right now that an average result is on par with our best results from the past. In the end, the relay was a win on three fronts: We beat Canada, we didn't mispunch, and we earned enough country points to retain our two start spots for next year's forest races!

Don't trip don't trip don't trip don't trip...

Leading Poland and Russia in to the finish.  Very pleased that they stayed behind me.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

World Orienteering Champs: Long Distance

I ran in the Long Distance final of the World Championships on Wednesday.  It was a solid race, but nothing spectacular.  Of course, sometimes when you're trying too hard for spectacular, you end up with catastrophic, so I was totally satisfied with my result.  It's a good sign when your average days yield a top 60 in the world!  I struggled with the altitude much more than I expected, really huffing and puffing on the uphills, of which there were many.  I love long races, but I was suffering pretty much from the start on Wednesday, and I was quite ready for the finish when I got there! 

I felt calm going in to this race; the terrain feels like New England, with hills and rocks and things, and I had done my homework ahead of time learning the map.  It was a long run up to the start, and I was barely making the call-up lines in time; definitely still breathing heavily as the beeper counted down and I took my map. That was the theme for the day - very hard to get enough oxygen in my lungs.

GPS tracking, and the static map is below (apologies for the image quality...)

Click to enlarge.

The race started off well, as I spiked the first two controls, not moving super fast yet but not stressing about that, just chilling and making sure I fell into a groove for the navigation. I probably should have gone straighter to 3, and I lost contact and confidence right at the end, for nearly a minute mistake. Then there was the first long leg to 5, where I think I chose the right route, but I discovered that I didn't have the climbing legs I had hoped for, and was just crawling up the hill at the end.  This was compounded with another mistake in the circle, as I started hunting for the control a few contours too low.  More time lost, probably 45 seconds just like that.

Racing against a Latvian dude to get to a control first. Let's pretend I got there first. (we're on different courses, but men and women are out in the forest at the same time).

We had some short fun legs after that, then a couple slightly longer legs, which I really enjoyed, before the second long route choice leg to 12.  I chose the right hand route, on the road, finishing it off with the small trail that descended nicely. An enjoyable leg, and I was happy to spike the control at the end of it.  I caught the Israeli woman at 14, and picked up a running buddy at 15 from Slovenia; she had started two minutes ahead of me and I had caught her.  This was encouraging to catch up to runners, but I was getting dangerously tired as I slogged through the mudpit of an arena.  The rain had stopped, and the sun was starting to feel hot!

I felt like I was barely moving up the hill to 18 through the green; hindsight again points out that climbing through the ski slope would have been a better choice. I didn't give quite enough respect to my fatigue after that, and did some headless chickening around 19, that was probably due to oxygen debt. So frustrating! You work so hard for those minutes, it's tragic to lose them just because of a lapse in your focus.  The final bit I pushed with everything I had left, which wasn't much, but apparently was enough to hold off the Chinese runner by one second, for 52nd place. Results.

So, that's a top 60, and only 33% back from the winner, a totally solid race, but so close to that top 50. I am satisfied. I did what I could with what I had on the day. It was a super fun course, and truly lovely terrain. And, how can you argue with the Lego movie themesong I had in my head all day …

Everything is AWESOME!

(but, hard races still hurt, even when everything is awesome).

Here are some bonus photos (thanks to Ken Walker and Ethan Childs for the racing photos!):

Team US all dressed up.  Nice uniforms this year!

Latest favorite gelato place.  Black thumbnail has finally fallen off and doesn't look so gross when holding ice cream cones!

Went out for a jog the day after the long, took all sorts of silly photos.

This is what the forest looks like on Lavarone map - so beautiful and open! with cliffs.

Doin' mah homework.

Look, my X-Talon found a control!

Another view from my "recovery" jog.  I wish I had had time to run up that peak, seemed totally doable, but probably not wise when you are still trying to remain rested for your most important races of the year. Darn.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Spectating sprint races

I was not selected to run the sprint race at the World Championships this year, and that gave me an excellent opportunity to spectate and cheer for my teammates! The individual sprint was held in Venice, with a qualification round on the island of Burano, and the final on the actual Venice island.  There are three heats, and the top 15 from each heat advance to the final.  For the Americans, Samantha was the only runner to advance, but we were all there to watch her run in the final, and she ran quite well, finishing 32nd. In the world! that's pretty awesome.  

Hannah and I had been staying in the mountains up north, so we made the day trip to spectate, and to unofficially run in the spectator race that was being put on for all the runners taking part in the Italy 5 Days event.  It was really fun to run around through Venice, dodging the tourists and trying to keep straight which bridges you were crossing.  Quite an experience, and not like anything I'd done before.  I was very glad we made the trip, even though it made for a very long day, which is not advisable when you are trying to manage your energy levels prior to an important race! Luckily, with a few days to recover, energy levels are good and the trip was totally worth it.

The grand canal. This place is as cool as anyone has said it is.  I recommend visiting before the whole things sinks under the ocean.

More awesome canals.

And colorful boats! Notice how the buildings really aren't that straight... 

I found a control!

Sam running in the World Championships sprint final!

Hannah and Gail spectating.  Shade was a hot commodity (hardee har har) in the bright sun and warm temperatures.

The day after the sprint, Hannah, Tori and I raced in the spectator race at Turcio to see how we would fare on the rocky ground under the tall pine forests.  This was to solidify the relay team for the women, though not the only factor.  Right now it looks like I will be the third runner, with Sam and Ali, but we will wait to see how I recover from the Long Distance final on Wednesday.  Any good day has at least one gelato stop, so we tried our third gelateria of Asiago, the one with the giant ice cream cone trash can, and so far this one is the best - better cones, and the flavors feel brighter.

Important scientific testing going on.

Monday was the sprint relay, in Trento. This is the first year that the World Championships has held a mixed gender sprint relay, and it was an interesting and fun format.  The order was woman-man-man-woman, and our team was Sam, Ross, Ethan, and Ali.  The rest of us headed down the hills to spectate, and it was a good format for spectating, but unfortunately a thunderstorm rolled through right at the end, and we all got thoroughly soaked.  Not before trying out a gelato in Trento, though, and I think the shop we found there might have the best mango I've ever tasted.  Must find a reason to return!  Anyway, back to the racing, Sam led off with a world class leg, 10th place at the hand-off. Ross ran admirably, not quite as speedy as say Norway or Sweden, who both had to pass us.  After a solid run he passed off to Ethan, in his first World Champs, and unfortunately Ethan got a little flustered and started going to the wrong control right off the bat, losing us a minute or two.  In a 15min race, that's it, but he kept fighting, which was admirable. Unfortunately, he skipped a control, and that disqualified the team.  Ali didn't know this, so he tagged off to Ali and she ran fantastically, passing oodles of teams and bringing us up to 24th, which was an excellent result. Except that we were disqualified.  It's always a bummer to DQ, but definitely worse in a sprint.  Huge bummer, but it happens.  I'm sure everyone in the forest relays will be extra vigilant about checking control codes!

Beautiful city center in Trento.

Women's start. They seeded the teams alphabetically, since this was the first year of the sprint relay, so USA was in the back row.  Sam made up a lot of ground!

Ross coming through!  This is the end of my photos, because then it really started to rain for real, so I put away my phone.

Today I did some light openers in the terrain at the model event for the long distance, and tomorrow is my race.  I am excited, a little nervous, hopefully rested enough, and confident in my abilities.  Here goes!

Monday, July 7, 2014

De-jet-lagging in Europe

I arrived in London last weekend, to spend a few days with my grandfather and that side of the family, and it was nice to decompress in a place where there is no stress about orienteering or racing.  Beautiful weather and a great visit!  

The flower stall by the church.

Love this sunroom.

Look out, or I'll bop you with a breadstick.

Trafalgar square.

From there, I EasyJetted my way down to Milan, where I picked up Hannah and we drove up to Lavarone, on the high plateau near Trento.  Mountains! and cliffs! and trees! 

Hannah found a cliff!

Breakfast here is delicious.  Cappucino e brioche (they call croissants brioche here)

Lavarone, in the village of Gionchi.

Lago di Lavarone.

The plateau of Asiago - we've been making a lot of trips to Asiago and back, since the middle distance races are over there, so all the training is over there for the middle. The long distance stuff is in Lavarone, so less of a drive, but I've been training at both areas, in case I am selected to run the relay as well.

One of my favorite views on the way back to Lavarone - we've now stopped here about four times to take photos of the view!

A view of Il Cornetto - this mountain is just begging to be run up!

Same view, this time with cows!