Tuesday, March 31, 2015

2015 US Orienteering Championships

The US Orienteering Championships for sprint, middle, and long distance races happened last weekend down in Morehead, Kentucky. The good part here is that I've never been to Kentucky, so I got a chance to explore a new state a little bit. The less-good part is that the 2015 US Champs were a mere 5 months after the 2014 US Champs, and still during ski season for those of us who have ski seasons. But, timing aside, this was a great event by Orienteering Cincinnati; with all new maps, friendly people, and interesting courses.  The terrain was cool, lots of cliffs and caves and stone arches; unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, the courses didn't really make much use of the rock formations. There was also plenty of greenbriar, which was definitely a good reason to be running this early, since it's the only green thing around, letting you more easily avoid it.

The US Orienteering Team Executive Steering Committee (ESC) also decided to use this weekend as the selection races for the 2015 World Championships, in Inverness, Scotland this August.  I happen to very badly want to run the long distance race at the world champs, so I knew I had to perform reasonably well this weekend to win that spot. Given the lack of access to dry forest all winter, I'd be relying on deliberate and consistent navigation, and hope that my legs could take the abuse of three days of off-trail running. Every step of every run this winter has been on pavement, which doesn't do much to train your calf stabilizer muscles. At least I had CSU indoor track program to get the legs moving quickly!

This is one of the awesome natural bridges, that we ran right over during the middle distance race! I didn't notice it at the time, or at least I didn't notice that it was a bridge, but I'm glad I went back there after the race to look around.

More cool slot-canyon-esque rocks I found on the model event.

Sprint race
The weekend started on Friday, with the sprint race. I flew in to Cincinnati, which gave me a chance to briefly visit with Virginia and Kristen, catch a quick breakfast and a big hug, and then it was on to Kentucky, through some beautiful ruggedly remote country.  It was chilly, in fact, it started to snow, more proof that the snow has just been following me around the country, but after my warmup I was feeling warm enough that I decided to race in a singlet, with gloves. Turns out, this was a really terrible idea.

Between my sports bra being tight around my ribs (yay for my lats appearing, a month too late!), my heart rate strap under the sports bra strap, and the lack of an extra layer, I got one of the worst breathing cramps I have ever experienced. It was really a shame, because my legs felt great; light and loose and eating up the hills, but once that breathing cramp hit, I could barely stagger along. This being the US Champs, I wasn't willing to stop and walk it off, though I did manage to pull the heart rate strap down around my belly, which helped a bit. So, I sort of staggered through the final 3/4 of the race, struggling to breathe, struggling to open my stride, and just really feeling miserable. It hurt! A day later, I had a bruise over my ribs and the muscles over my ribs were incredibly sore. I apparently did Bad Things.

Anyway, I got a little lucky, and some other people made some mistakes, and my stagger-jog was fast enough to still snag the bronze. I wasn't expecting that! Given that my legs had felt good and springy, I was psyched to overcome the chest cramp and have a better race on day 2.

Map, with route.

Long distance
I was a little worried that I couldn't shake the feeling of the diaphragm cramp on my morning jog, especially when I tried to pick up the pace, but I figured a little ibuprofen and a lot of concentration on the map would take care of that niggle, and I'd be good to go. I got in a good warmup, checking out the model event area and trying to get a feel for the mapper's style, and then it was go-time!

Alas, another day of making preventable mistakes, and not because of the orienteering - I picked up the wrong map at the start. The courses were rather overly complicatedly named, so I'd been super careful to always look for "F21" rather than "red", but evidently I wasn't careful enough. I held my map up for the guy to check, as is standard, asking "F21?", and he said "yup, red". This being the typical course that the elite women run, I didn't think to ask for clarification. The control code lined up for 1, and when they didn't match at 2, I checked on the map where the descriptions were printed, and saw that 3 was the same code again, so figured it was a misprint on the separate descriptions I was wearing on my wrist. At 3, I realized that no, it's not a misprint, I'm running the wrong course.

I sort of panicked then. The implications of running the wrong course, at the US Champs and US Team selection race, in the race that you want to run at WOC, are that you're not racing against the people you need to race against to be named to the team or to win any medals, and even if they let you start again, you can be disqualified for having already been in the embargoed terrain. This is Bad. This is why you hold up your map for someone to check that it's the right one before you run off with it.

I decided that I may as well go back to the start and see if I could start again on the right map. I sobbed the whole way back - this was the race that I had wanted to go out and crush, and leave no doubt in the selectors' minds that I was the right pick for the race, and now I might not even get the chance. I haven't been this upset in many years, maybe not since team selection in 2011. I got back, and the starter let me take my correct map and start over, asking me not to tell anyone because some people might be upset. Ya don't say.  My tear-stained face and screaming might have given that one away?!?

I set off (again), determined to prove that this sort of setback wasn't going to affect my result.  God I was just ripshit livid. I know it's my fault, and I know I should probably have been disqualified, but it just seemed so unfair, like the whole world was trying to conspire against me. Unfortunately, the anger faded on the way to the second control, and what was left was a giant well of self-pity and sniveling. Instead of finding the extra gear to fight, I was exhausted and empty, struggling to stay focused, and I made about ten minutes of error over the 95 minute race, finishing completely and utterly physically and emotionally drained.  Well, not completely - I threw a fit that I'm not very proud of on the finish line, so clearly I hadn't used enough energy out on course.

Despite all that, I'd run decently well, finishing 6th, and not that far behind the girls I was vying for the team with.  Still in it. Kseniya helped emphasize that point by walking over, punching me in the shoulder (hard!), and emphatically telling me to NOT GIVE UP. I don't give up, as a matter of principle, but that helped.

Middle distance
Well, two down, one to go, and in the team scoring list, I was tied for third with Kseniya and Tori.  They will definitely take three from the ranking list, maybe four, but to guarantee your spot, you really want to be in third.  No pressure.

Middle distance courses tend to be technical in the navigation - often many controls, with many direction changes and complicated terrain. OCIN did a wonderful job setting a course that met those requirements, but the hills were brutal. Despite a leg massage the night before, my calves were in a bad state, reeling from the abuse of the first day of off-trail running. I couldn't really move my feet independently, and my calves locked up pretty early in the race, feeling like they were exploding. It was frustrating to feel so physically limited, feeling like I had a lot more capacity that I just couldn't access, but I did what you should do in that situation and tried to have laser-sharp focus on the navigation. If I'm going to lose two minutes over 4.2km because I can't run up hills, I darn well don't want to lose any more time because I was stupid, too.

Things probably went as well as you can expect for your first technical training of the season. I was not 100% clean like I'd hoped, losing 30 seconds twice, and three minutes once.  D'oh! I worked hard for those minutes, just to throw them away - therein lies the challenge, frustration, and reward of orienteering.  My time ended up good enough for the bronze medal again, and, importantly, third on the ranking list!


My races, despite feeling like I was bouncing around with no idea what I was doing, were enough to earn me a start spot in the sprint and the long distance races at WOC. I am so psyched. This was not an easy weekend for me, either physically or emotionally, and I am super relieved that it worked out with a happy ending!


I like this series of photos from OCIN, the organizers: 1. Huff and puff your way up the hill, using the excuse of "reading the map" to walk instead of run. 2. Look a little desperate; is this hill ever going to end? 3. Lie on the ground and attempt to suck some oxygen back down. 4. Make it onto the US WOC team!

Myself, Kseniya, and Alison upon being called up for the US WOC Team. The first time Kseniya will have represented the US at Worlds, and the "home" terrain for Alison, who is studying in Edinburgh.  

The rest of the team!  Back row, left to right: Wyatt Riley (2nd alternate), Will Enger (1st alternate), Giacomo Barbone, Eric Bone, Ken Jr Walker, Greg Ahlswede, Ethan Childs. Front row, left to right: Ali Crocker, Kseniya Popova, Tori Borish, Alex Jospe, Alison Campbell. Not pictured - Sam Saeger (inserted by petition and earned an individual spot by winning the North American Champs long) and Sandra Lauenstein (inserted by petition, and earned an individual spot by winning the North American Champs middle).

Friday, March 27, 2015

Fox Chaser orienteering race

It may still be ski season, (as evidenced by my ski team racing at the Eastern Highschool Championships last weekend), but I forsook the fun thing to do in the snow and chose to go orienteering instead, down in Philadelphia, at the DVOA Fox Chaser event.  The snow followed me down, with six inches waiting for me at the Philly airport by the time I got there, but luckily travel wasn't too badly affected, and I found the people I needed to and got myself ready to go run... in the snow. The Delaware Valley Orienteering Association did a fantastic job with the meet, as I expected, though I would have preferred if they could have had slightly closer communication with their local weather gods.  I'd hoped to go south and run on some soft ground, for the first time all winter. Well, it was soft, anyway.

The first day was somewhat unremarkable.  Having not been on an orienteering map since November, my goal was to just read the map a lot, and see which processes still came naturally versus those that needed more thought.  The snow was nice in that it simplified the navigation, both in terms of slowing down my running and in providing a low-pass filter over all the noise that's normally obscuring the shape of the land.  The vegetation in Ridley Creek State Park appeared to be mostly thorny, which meant that much of the route choices would be about ways to avoid bashing through the thicker parts of the forest.

Out of the start I found myself flowing nicely, and the map made sense to me. Sweet! I was having a little trouble believing what my compass was telling me, but luckily reading the terrain kept me heading in the right direction.  Controls kept popping up ahead of me where I expected them, and this was pretty fun.  The snow made for tough running, though, and I felt like I was totally gassed. For the amount of effort I was putting out, I really wasn't making very good forward progress, and I knew this was largely due to all of my winter training miles being on pavement or ice.  Damn.

We had a couple legs traversing the northern section of the map where I kept popping out to the same wide trail of slippery death, and every time I hit the trail I was reminded how freakin' tired I was. Not how you want to feel the weekend before a race that actually matters. By the time I'd finally heaved my wheezing carcass up the slope to the finish field, I couldn't even manage to up the pace for the finish. Looking at splits, attackpoint thinks I made a 6-second error running to the finish! That's not good... Luckily, this was because I had run so hard everywhere else in the course, and not just that I'm in terrible shape, because I ended up besting my teammate Kseniya by nearly two minutes, and was fourth among the men, beating some who I haven't before.  At least all that effort paid off, but I was worried about the fatigue I'd carry into day 2. 

Sweet sunglasses. Thanks to the meet sponsor Brandywine something-or-other for my new look.

I was hanging out with Boris and his new dog, Barney, for most of the weekend. I miss having a beagle in my life, and this was a good dose of beagle for me!

At least we had some sunshine! Otherwise, I'm not sure I would have survived the cold. Funny how expecting to be warm ruins your ability to survive being cold. This winter has not done good things to my metabolism.  Anyway, Sunday was more of the same - another "classic" event, still in the snow, still with the thorny terrain.  And another interesting and fun course, though it would have been even more fun at full non-snowy speed.

As soon as I started running, I could tell that I didn't have the oomph I wanted.  I tried to find the steady hard pace I'd tapped into yesterday, but my navigation was shakier, and I was letting other people on other courses mess with my concentration.  I dropped over two minutes in mistakes, and despite having a pretty good final 10 minutes, compared to Kseniya, in the end it didn't matter, because I went to the men's control 2, not my control 2.  This is a pretty crucial part of this game - go to all the controls, in order, and the fastest person to do that trick wins the race.  I had checked the control code, but clearly I then forgot it, because I thought that the code I saw at the men's control 2 was my code.  I was pretty frustrated by this, because it's one thing to lose a race because your competitors were faster; it's a totally different situation to take yourself out of the race.  Kseniya would have beaten me fair and square on day 2, but in the woulda-shoulda-coulda world, I would have taken the overall title by something like 30 seconds. Except, we don't live in the woulda-shoulda-coulda world. 

I'm trying not to let the mispunch rattle me too much - get the mistakes out of the way this weekend, because next weekend is the US Champs (yes, a mere five months after the 2014 US Champs), and the US Team selection races for the 2015 World Orienteering Championships.  I'm not feeling very ready, but not much I can do other than keep my attitude positive, and come into the weekend nice and rested.  

I spent most of the winter running on surfaces like this. Not uneven forest floor! Thanks to Julie's husband for showing up to the track and taking photos of the CSU runners.  It's the second winter in a row I've run these workouts, and the second winter in a row where I'm so incredibly grateful that I did run track, because with all the snow it's pretty much the only way to get going fast.  

I found a beagle! Can I keep him? 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

J2 championships

Last weekend I was the head coach for the Massachusetts Team at the J2 Championships. This is a race for kids in the under-16 age group, that they have to qualify for. Each state can bring up to 22 boys and 22 girls, and while traditionally the New England states are the participants (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Mass), the past couple years we've also had New York, "Midwest" (WI and MN), and occasional overseas visitors.  This competition is an important one in developing the pipeline of successful young ski racers, and I think it's one of the best things out there in terms of getting a kid to fall in love with the sport.  

This year, the champs were up in Fort Kent, Maine. That's about as far north as you can go before you hit eastern Canada, so we rented a coach bus, and all piled aboard.  I'm pretty sure that hanging out on the bus is what cements those kids' friendships for life, and there was a lot of positive energy for our long drive.  My coaching staff was pretty awesome, and I felt like we worked really well as a team, keeping everything organized and taking good care of the athletes' needs.  For many, this was the first big trip away from home, and as it also was a season wrap-up, there were some nerves.  That's sort of the gist of racing - the idea is to beat people, all of them if you can.

Smiling young faces. The team hailed from all over Massachusetts, with the largest contingents coming from Mt. Greylock and CSU.  We also managed to qualify every CSU skier to either the J2 Champs or the Eastern Highschool Champs trip (EHS is this weekend), so that's pretty darn awesome.  

The one photo of racing that I took - my skier James coming up a hill in wave 2. The race is started in waves, one skier from each state in each wave, so you always have a group of 4 or 5 to race with. You still have to have the fastest time to win the race, but your position relative to the rest of your wave gives you an idea of how you're doing, and also makes things more interesting as you race.

Proper sunny winter day! Great weather for spectating.

I didn't realize rooms could GET this messy. Put four J2 girls in a room and that's what you get, I guess...

Ed and Ken chose this weekend to come up north and scout out ski orienteering venues. They've settled on Presque Isle (much closer to civilization), but came to visit Fort Kent on relay day.

Team Mass! If you want to read more about the races, you can check out the CSU blog.

Leaving the County, it was snowing, a decent amount. Our bus wasn't quite equipped to deal with those conditions, and it repeatedly got stuck, ultimately taking four hours to get to Presque Isle (still in the County).  At that point we got stuck in a mall parking lot, and spent a few hours entertaining ourselves (or, in the coaches' case, frantically trying to figure out what our options were and what to do), before the snow thankfully stopped and the plows got out to clear the roads.  We got back on the road and had a verrrry slow trip back to Massachusetts, reaching Boxboro at 4:15am. I managed to get work done on my computer until about midnight, then watched the road slide by, unable to sleep, and I rolled in the door at 5:30, tried and failed to take a half hour nap, and figured I may as well just head to work. It's been years since my last all-nighter, and I'm definitely too old for this shit now.  Three days later I'm starting to feel normal again.

But the trip was well worth the travel, and I was super proud of all my skiers, CSU and non-CSU alike. It's always fun to get to know a new team, and I was really impressed with all of them for their professional attitude toward the racing. Not a given with a group this age.

Now on to the next three weeks of crazy...

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Tuesday Night Fights

The Tuesday Night race series just wrapped up with the final "real" race last night. There will be a fun race before our party next week, and then I'm sure we'll keep racing until the snow runs out. So, maybe mid-June. But the points races are done, and I had my work cut out for me last night to fend off Maddy from taking the overall win.  If I'd properly studied the points ahead of time I might have discovered that I still could have won with a 2nd place last night, but I didn't know that at the time, so we were fighting tooth and nail. Usually my approach is to just win from the front, but I had pretty low energy and low motivation, so ended up in a game of cat and mouse with a pack of skiers.  The conditions were a little rough around the edges, with 25mph wind and blowing snow, but luckily we're used to winter at this point. The wind meant that drafting would definitely play a role, tonight, so my plan going in was to do the least amount of work possible, and then win the sprint. Just like Northug.

We started out slower this week, but Terry and Greg skied away from me on the flats - they're my usual group this year, but I couldn't summon enough give-a-damns to put out the effort required to keep up. I figured I'd fade back to the next pack, but unfortunately the next person to go by was Maddy, and she was chasing Terry and Greg. This presented a dilemma, but thankfully Morgan solved it by coming around and chasing down Maddy, and I was able to hang in his draft. The blowing snow made it really hard to see where people were planting their poles, and for whatever reason I was having a lot of trouble matching my rhythm to that of the bigger guys. I'll blame my slow skis - they were still waxed for the week before, when it was 25 degrees colder.  Thankfully things slowed down a bit coming off the flats, and Mark jumped into the lead to attack the hills on the zigzags, pulling us back up to Maddy by the top of the second hill. Ok, race back on. I was not-so-secretly very glad that she hadn't been able to close the gap up to Terry and Greg.

Into the second lap, Mark kept pulling, and I was starting to warm up enough to feel like this was quite sustainable, for a race. I made an investigatory attack on the hills, and determined that the third hill was definitely where this fight was going down next lap. Then I faded backward, ceding the lead to Bob, biding my time. Maddy threw in a small attack on the flats, but Mark covered, and coming back into the hills, she tried again. Mark covered again, and I moved in closer behind Maddy, since the worst thing that could happen now would be to let one of the guys between us and then have to pass two people in the finish.  She attacked again on the second hill, but I was able to cover, saving energy. I could hear her breathing, which was a good sign, since my legs had finally woken up - these high volume weeks it takes me a while to really tap into my high-end aerobic capacity, but it's there, and I was finally ready.  So when Maddy attacked again on the last hill, this was it. Mark was covering, pulling even on the left, and I was boxed out behind, nowhere to go. Luckily, I read it correctly that Mark was moving up as Maddy was fading, and I jumped in behind Mark, just as the hill started to crest. A good short sprint and I was clear of the pack, and I knew I had to keep the gas on now, because if they got too close they'd be able to slingshot around on the downhill. The slow snow helped, and I finished still clear of the pack, and most importantly, ahead of Maddy.

Our snow pile has been growing. Currently taller than I am. I say "snow pile" like there's just one.. ha!

The skiing on the Charles River has been fantastic. The photo above is taken from Western Ave bridge on my run-commute; those are Ed's tracks from the night before. Once-in-a-lifetime conditions, not just for ice thickness, but also for skiability of the wind crust. Wonderful skating!