Thursday, October 30, 2014

Love the Lakes meet

Last weekend was the final national-level orienteering event on my calendar for the fall, down in the middle of nowhere in the Hudson Valley, at the Mountain Lakes state park.  Hudson Valley Orienteers had a brand new map, and set courses through some truly spectacular terrain.  I love orienteering pretty much anywhere, but when the forests are wide open and firm underfoot, and you can run full tilt between the trees with no branches in your way, that's pretty much the best thing ever.  When I talk about sweet terrain, this is what I'm thinking about.  Compared to our scrubby North-Atlantic-Coast ecosystem vegetation we have in eastern MA, the Hudson Valley is a dream. Have I raved enough for you to get the impression that I really enjoyed orienteering in this terrain? Combined with beautiful October weather and nearly peak foliage, it was quite the weekend.

I didn't have super high hopes for my fitness coming into this event. I signed up at the last minute, almost on a whim, when my friend and teammate Kseniya, who set the courses on day 2, told me that I didn't want to miss the terrain.  Well, ok then, let's go orienteering this weekend!  I hadn't done any sort of quality training since North Americans, and with the start of a new job I've been working long hours and not really doing any training at all.  I'm not at all complaining, I wanted this job and understood that my available training time would be whittled to nothing, but I wasn't expecting that bike commuting would provide me the fitness I needed to run well on big hills, especially after the taper from NAOC had fully worn off.  

Ed and I drove over on Saturday morning, swooping through New Haven to collect Becky.  I was having some trouble shifting into race-mode, so settled upon some process goals of choosing good attackpoints and navigating safely.  This was a successful method to get me around the course, but I never felt like I fully kicked into gear, despite lots of heavy breathing on the uphills, and I wasn't surprised that Hannah Culberg, another US Team runner, got me by a minute.  Disappointed, yes, surprised, no.

As the evening wore on, despite having a good time with friends, I was getting more and more antsy about my orienteering. I NEEDED to be able to run better tomorrow! Where could I find those precious seconds? How much faster could I convince my body to go? Then I remembered that one doesn't convince a body to go faster, you just announce that you will and do it. Racing is supposed to hurt! Funny how two weeks of no intensity makes me soft in the head. So, I changed my process goal from "safe" to "aggressive". Embrace the pain, and push harder, run faster, keep my head up. In this sort of terrain you're punished for reading too much of the map; better to simplify and then look around to see what you can see, since the visibility is so good.

This worked. I had one of my best orienteering races yet, at least in terms of trying to run with more confidence and more aggression. There was the one small blip where I was reading ahead while cruising down a road, and missed my turn for a 1.5min mistake... and another small blip where I was running along a hillside one contour too low, thus missed the control by 30 seconds when I ran too far... but it was otherwise a very clean race, where I was fully in control, and attacking every leg with full oomph. THIS was the feeling I was looking for at the North American middle distance! THIS was the feeling I was trying to identify while racing in Italy last May! THIS is the feeling for which I race through the woods. Yes, my breathing was ragged and my legs were burning, but I was spiking controls and doing it at the highest speed I could possibly maintain. The pressure of being in second place, and really wanting that first place, I used that pressure the right way, and I think I hit another phase change in my development as an orienteering athlete. Wahoo!

Despite my two minutes of mistakes, I beat Hannah by 3 minutes on day 2, and we were miles ahead of the next runner in F-elite.  It felt good to win, but I was more excited about having found that feeling of flow, that I'd been missing in Ottawa. Maybe I'm not as fit or as fast as I want, but I know how to suffer, and I just proved to myself that I can navigate while in the pain cave, too.  It's like finding the keys to unlock a door you didn't know existed.  Look out, Scotland!


Valerie entertained us by crawling around on top of her car to get her results equipment strapped down properly.  Ed is clearly learning from the best in this business.

Bonus pictures from Ross and Sam's wedding two weekends ago when we went for a hike in Savoy state forest with Zan and Jonas! Big rocks are cool.

Friday, October 24, 2014

North American Orienteering Championships

The North American Orienteering Championships (NAOC) is an event that happens every two years, alternating between Canada and the United States. Occasionally we get competitors from Barbados, but they've yet to host the NAOC =).  This year Ottawa Orienteering Club hosted the event, in the town of Arnprior, along the Madawasak River. There were four events: the middle distance, long distance, sprint, and sprint relay, held over three days.  This event has been the focus of Team USA since 2012, with the aim to win the Bjorn Kjellstrom cup by beating Canada.  

Ed and I drove up from Rochester, after the US Champs and a whirlwind week spent visiting friends and family.  Thankfully it was a taper week, so I didn't have to fit training in there too, and by Thursday or Friday I was finally feeling like I had recovered from the head cold that had been plaguing me during the US Champs.  I didn't feel like I'd done a fantastic job preparing for North Americans in terms of map study, but physically I felt ready, and emotionally I felt confident.  The weather was gorgeous, and the Ottawa Orienteering Club put on a fantastic event, really raising the bar in terms of North American events closer to what felt like a true European event atmosphere.  Very good vibes, from within the team and among all of our friends in the orienteering community.  

Middle Distance
The first race was the middle distance, and after my disastrous two controls last weekend I was looking forward to redemption.  My goal was to keep the effort under wraps, and really focus on the navigation, as I have orienteered in this area before and definitely found it challenging.  The terrain has little relief, with many small undulating hills and not much to catch you if you mess up and lose contact with the map.  This, paired with all the leaves still on the trees in brilliant colors, meant that visibility was low and the navigation was tricky.  I started out on the wrong foot, unfortunately, when I made nearly two minutes of error on the way to the first control, arriving at the same time as Sam Saeger, who had started 2min behind me.  Damn, that didn't take long.  I did a quick attitude readjustment, and determined to keep up with Sam as long as I could keep thinking straight.  Things went great for the next five controls, and it was totally enlightening to take an orienteering lesson from Sam - she is so confident! So controlled! 

Unfortunately, as we neared control 6, I started to notice that I was getting a little too oxygen-deprived, and determined that I would stop for 5 seconds at the control to let Sam go and run my own race. This would have been a good plan, except that I got to the control I saw Hannah, and I didn't want her to get a free ride from Sam without me!  So, against better judgement, I kept going at a pace that was just a smidge too fast, and within a minute or so, I'd lost contact with the map and wasn't really sure where I was. The second mistake was that I kept going, hoping that soon things would start making sense again, rather than to stop, look around, and then relocate on something big. Oh, hindsight, how easy you make everything look!  In my defense, this was a very tricky area, that we all agree is a bit of a Bermuda triangle of navigation, and in the vicinity of control 7 there were probably upwards of 10 women wandering around with no idea where we were. Embarrassing. Eventually I relocated successfully, after three botched attempts, and after 13 minutes on what should have been a 5 minute leg, I punched the control. Sigh. That wasn't part of the plan, but time to put that behind me and get on with racing!

I recovered well, keeping my head in the game, and had some really good legs after that, re-finding the quick pace I'd had while running with Sam and spiking controls with full confidence. If not for an eight-minute error, that was a really excellent race, and I still ended up 4th US, 6th North American, and 8th overall (results, map).  Time to channel that feeling of confidence and control for tomorrow.

Long Distance
The day dawned chilly and clear, and after a short morning jog I knew my legs had shown up to do a good job. Alas, the flat terrain with difficult navigation meant that the course wasn't much of a physical challenge, which is often what I rely on in long distance races to get an edge over my competitors.  My plan for the day was to be even more cautious than the day before; don't move from a control until I have a plan.  This went well for the first control, but then I sort of botched following my plan while coming toward #2, and I spent a while going very slowly trying to match up where I was with the map. After eventually finding 2, things didn't get any better, and I blew a minute on 3, and nearly 10 minutes on 4. I continually tried to get my head screwed on straight, but kept failing, with the worst mistake coming in the arena at the spectator control.  I was pretty upset with myself at this point, and considered dropping out just because I was so disgusted with my orienteering. The photo to the left of Ed is from Adrian Zissos, and a great representation of how I viewed the terrain - thick, impossible to navigate through, and with occasional beaver dams in the way.

But, I'm not an athlete who drops out of races, so I took a deep breath, and attacked the second half of the course with full gusto and focus. This went well, and I had a very good second half of my race, but it was too little, too late.  I ended up 11th, which was certainly an improvement from the 32nd place I'd been in after the spectator control debacle.  Results. Not how I'd envisioned my long distance race to go, but time to move on, I've got two sprints to run tomorrow. Map 1, map 2.

Sprint race
Monday rolled around and I expected to be tired, but when you spend so much time lost turns out your legs are still pretty fresh. Woo! The sprint race was an urban sprint, and the organizers had worked with the town to get many streets closed off, so we could run on empty streets. What a treat! I had a solid run, staying within myself enough to not blow it, though I nearly did when I brainfarted after reading ahead on the way to 6 - I lost nearly 40s there, and relinquished my lead on the race. I clawed my way back up to 3rd place by the end, through a tricky little control-pick-y area by the finish with lots of spectators.  That was a very fun sprint, much more interesting than I'd expected, and taking the bronze medal in the North American Champs was icing on the cake. Yay! (Results, map)

Sprint Relay
Shortly after the sprint finished, it was time for the sprint relay. The set-up for this race is that it's a four-person relay, consisting of two men and two women, and it's a mass start race. Each leg was somewhere between 2-3km, with winning times between 11-20 minutes.  When I give distances of orienteering races, it's the straight-line distance, and you often run a good bit further.  

I was running first leg, on team 1 for the US.  This was very exciting, because it's a huge honor to me to be named to the top relay.  The sprint relay went through a park called Gillies Grove as well as the typical grassland and urban terrain, but the course setter made a very interesting course with good forking, so I kept seeing other people. Eventually it became clear that myself and Emma Waddington, a top Canadian junior, were running clear of the pack, and we came through the spectator loop with a good lead.  I managed to put six seconds on her through the final loop, tagging off to Eric Bone in first!  

Eric did a good job, against some very good Canadian sprinters, keeping us within 10 seconds of the lead team, and then tagged off to Ross Smith. Ross had another good run, but it was hard to keep up with world-class Will from Canada, and we had a minute deficit when Ross tagged to Samantha Saeger for the final leg. Sam had her work cut out for her, but performed like that athlete she is and blasted past the Canadian teams to secure us the win with a comfortable margin. So exciting!  Our second team, anchored by Alison Campbell, also had a strong finish, giving us first and second place. Go Team!

It felt very good to end the weekend on a high point, especially after two frustrating forest races. This was the last big hurrah before winter training starts, so I was psyched to meet some of my season goals.  There were such good vibes in the arena during and after the relay, there was really nowhere else I'd want to be. I can't wait til 2016!

Running with Sam to the finish after her stellar anchor run!

Group hug =)

Team USA won the BK cup, defeating Canada, but we're ready for the counter-attack in two years.  Friendly rivalries are definitely fun.

Caught in the moment, wrapping up a great weekend.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

US Orienteering Nationals

Last weekend, the Rochester Orienteering Club hosted nationals for orienteering, with a sprint at Genessee Valley Park, and a long and a middle distance race down at Letchworth.  This was great, because it not only let me compete on my old stomping grounds, but also let me see my parents and let them come spectate the races.  Even with all the technological advances, the spectating is pretty poor at orienteering races, but hey, we're trying.  
Sprint Race
The first race was the sprint, on Friday.  I had just started getting used to the feeling of a body all full of energy from a proper taper, but that morning something didn't quite feel right, with a high heart rate and sluggish feelings in my legs.  I decided to try and ignore the physical side of the race, and just run clean, spiking all the controls and keeping my head up and scanning the terrain.  This worked well, so even when I didn't have the top gear I was hoping for, I navigated very well in the easy parkland terrain, and I was fast enough to take the win. My first ever national title in orienteering!  (ski-o notwithstanding).  This was cool. I was psyched.  Unfortunately, by that evening the weird feelings I'd noticed had developed into a full-blown head cold, sapping all that extra energy that I should have had available from my taper. Not fair!

Hehe, psyched.  I'm pretty sure this photo is just after Alison finished, and I knew I was the champ.

I was anxious, trying to fall asleep on Friday night.  I know you're not supposed to race with a cold, because your body is already trying really hard to fight off the virus, it's not very nice to pile on more stress from a hard race in potentially cold and rainy conditions.  I decided that if I woke up and my morning heart rate was below 60, I would race, and this gave me the peace of mind to finally fall asleep.  Morning heart rates tend to be decent indicators of overall exhaustion, so I didn't just pull that decision rule from you-know-where.  

Long Distance
I woke up with my resting heart rate down at 50 bpm, but a super sore throat.  Yuck.  This changed my approach to the race, since I knew that no matter what, I'd be setting myself back in terms of recovery, but I had decided that I was "allowed" to race, so may as well make the best of it.  By the time I'd finished my coffee and Kseniya and her mom had driven us down to Letchworth, I was thinking I'd probably survive the course.  My git-up-and-go definitely got-up-and-went last night without me, but again, I decided to ignore the physical side, and just try to navigate cleanly.  I wasn't quite as successful as I'd been in the sprint, leaving four minutes or more out on the course in errors, but it was good enough, again.  I caught up to Alison, one of my US Team teammates, at control 5 from three minutes back, and despite two ill-fated attempts to drop her, we were together for nearly the rest of the course. I was a little distracted by this, but it was still a lovely day to be running through the woods, and I really enjoyed myself.  In the end I was fastest again, by seven minutes! Body was definitely a bit worse for the wear, but I had managed to keep myself reined in enough to not do *too* much damage.

Middle Distance
One more race to go, the middle distance, and this race has been my Achilles heel the past few years. It's tough, it's technical, it's short, so there's no time to make up for your big errors.  I wanted to do two things going in to the champs - run a clean race by focusing on the process, and bring a little more rawr to the party and race with some aggression.  I really felt like poo when I woke up, stuffed up like a cannoli and coughing, but the resting heart rate was just below 60 (59) so that meant go time.  I did a slow warm up to try and convince my body that it wanted to race today, this is going to be fun!  oof.

I started well, spiking the first two controls, but then I made a rookie error and lost 4 minutes on the way to number 3. Came up for air, found #4, and then I was drowning again searching for 5 with no idea where I was or where I should be or what the heck I was doing. When I finally came back up and found that control, I was pretty pissed at myself.  I knew I'd probably just lost the race, and both of those errors were unacceptable in how they happened.  Well, errors are part of the fine-scale navigation in orienteering, time to put them behind me and get on with the rest of the race, so I did that, and pretty well too, winning most of the final 12 splits.  I had clawed my way back up to third place, fueled by anger and frustration and thankfully channeling it the right way, but naturally I was disappointed with those two controls in the beginning.  That said, it felt really good to run with such aggression, and despite the huge blowup, I feel best about this race.  Next weekend, I'll be more disciplined in my methods, while maintaining the feistiness, and that'll be a good combo!

Ed on his way out to the final loop in the Middle.

Leaving the spectator control in the Middle.

In to the finish, wishing I had a bit more lung capacity at my disposal!

After the Middle Distance finish, with US Champ Kseniya!

CSU medal winners from the Long Distance (missing Peter and Gail, who both won some gold medals in their age classes as well).  Go CSU! 

In the end, it was a great weekend. I've never won a national title in summer orienteering before, so I'm really pumped to have just won two of the races and taken bronze in the third!  It was a lot of fun to have some competition in the women's field, even though we were missing Ali, and the Rochester Orienteering Club put on a really nice weekend of racing.  Best of all, I was able to take two national titles on home turf, with my parents there to cheer me on.  That was pretty cool.  

Now, I'm gonna kick this cold and bring my A-game to Canada for the North American Champs!