Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Spring racing

It's been pretty quiet around here, but training for Scotland is going well, and life is great, if a little busy. We've had a lovely spring, really no stupidly hot days yet, and this just puts me in such a good mood. The 2015 Boston Park Series (Thursday night orienteering races) is chugging along nicely; we're about two-thirds of the way done with the series already, with typical turnout and nice courses. Though, you know if you're picking up controls and watching the sunset at the same time that you'll probably come home in the dark, so there've been some late evenings. At least it was a nice sunset. Right now I'm leading the points race, but as with all series where you get points, half the battle is in showing up to race. We're also two races into the New England Regional Orienteering Challenge. This is a series of races held through the year by all four local clubs - NEOC, CSU, WCOC, and UNO, and since it's the first year nobody really knows how it's all going to work, but we do know that we're seeing a higher quality race at the Challenge races. 

NE Challenge Stage 1
The first stage of the New England Challenge was at Bear Brook State Park, hosted by the Up North Orienteers. I ran the second-longest course, which was long enough for me on the day, given the leaves just coming out and some thicker forest making the running harder than I was used to. Scrappy forest up there, and it takes some strength to move through it, even though there isn't huge amounts of topographic relief.

I ran well, spiking controls and keeping good focus through the end, though I kind of felt like I was running with more enthusiasm than brains out there. Luckily, it kept working out for me, and I was able to keep the pace high throughout, without missing any controls.  In a technical area with low visibility like Bear Brook, this is a major improvement! I ended up winning the course by a solid margin, and feeling very good about my flow. Yay!


NE Challenge Stage 2
The second race of the Challenge was at Mt. Tom, hosted by Phil Bricker of New England Orienteering Club. This was a hot day, and Mt. Tom is very rocky and hilly, which meant times were pretty slow. I love this map, but it can be brutal to your ankles. I decided that I wanted to be able to carry a high speed, or at least a high effort, for the whole course, so elected to race a shorter course, settling on the green course. I totally crushed it, if I may say so myself, solidly beating out some master runners who usually trounce me. Sweet as! This victory definitely came at a high energetic cost, but it felt really good to get out on those hills and suffer for a bit, while still maintaining map contact and spiking controls. Some days you're just on, and it's great when those days align with a race.

Click the map segment below to see the whole thing, and turn on/off my route choices.


It's nice to be able to beat up on those guys who usually trounce me, but I'm sure there will be payback. So far there's been a low turnout of speedy ladies at these Challenge races, which is too bad - hopefully I can drum up some gender-appropriate competition for the fall season! Of course, not to be outdone by the younger men, I decided that I would run the blue course as well as the green, to get in some distance and time on my feet, at a slightly lower intensity. It was a lovely day for a run in the woods, provided you were running - the mosquitoes provided good motivation to keep from walking any uphills.

Merrimack River 10 miler
I elected to hop into this race on a whim; mostly because it was close enough and cheap enough to be a very convenient excuse to do a 10 mile tempo. I haven't done this one before, but I've heard it was pretty quick, being mostly flat, then flailing about some steep hills, then doubling back and finishing with the flat bit. Sign me up! The one flaw in my plan, and one that's taken me down before, too, was that I hit the junior strength workout on Friday night pretty hard. I've been trying to get stronger for running up hills in Scotland, so this is all part of the larger grand plan for being fast in August, but it left me barely able to walk on Saturday morning. I lined up hoping that running would just loosen everything up, but that was really just wishful thinking.

It's singletrack from about four steps into the race, and luckily I'd lined up relatively near the front, maybe third or fourth row, because I imagine that behind me there was complete and utter chaos as 150 runners attempted to funnel into the trail entrance and across a singletrack wooden bridge. Yay! As promised, the next 2-3 miles were pretty much dead flat, just following the river. It was very pretty, with the leaves just unfurling and everything bathed in a green light, but my legs were very unhappy with the effort I was requesting. I had hoped to run around 1:10, based on what I knew of the course and some past results, but that would entail running about 30-45s/mi faster than I was currently doing, and the legs were sending a clear message that this was NOT happening. Well, ok then, tempo run it is, and I couldn't think of a better way to go for a long run with an intensity component!

Around 3mi in we hit some hills, and things got much more interesting. Hills always make things more interesting! There was a good one that was all eroded out with mountain laurel growing over the top, making it like a tunnel that you were crawling up. There was basically a plateau next to the river, cut through by gullies, and we just sort of ran up and down the gullies for a while, until we hit the turn-around. My watch read 37 minutes, so I knew unless I could up the pace I wouldn't be seeing sub 1:10. The leading ladies were ahead enough that I didn't think I could pick them off, because my butt was so sore from strength that I was really struggling. Going up hills, I couldn't hike because my butt was too sore, and I couldn't run because my butt was too sore. Going down hills, my butt was too sore to open my stride. It was fairly unpleasant, so I just kept reminding myself of what a nice day it was for a run with company, and that was true, so that would get me through the next mile.  Passing people on the singletrack was never too difficult, in general the slower running was happy to yield. I had some guys to chase down in the final miles, but I really couldn't run any faster than 7 minute miles, so I just sort of trotted to the end and called it a day.

I really enjoyed the atmosphere at this race, great race director and a nice mix of seriousness and playfulness. I'd like to come back, with a less-sore butt, and knock some minutes off that time!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

West Point A meet

Another year, another West Point meet come and gone. I feel like this one is usually one of the first of the season, with the leaves barely coming out and the first warm days starting to appear, with a few investigative blackflies. This year, I've already been at two national ranking events, one international ranking event, and two major regional events before West Point meet came around. This just means the calendar started too early! Anyway, super nice weekend, great weather and always fun to see my whole extended orienteering family in one spot. Ed and I "camped" with the Italians in our club, Katia and Giovanni, who have a camper van, making these weekends so much more comfortable.

Yup, there's even a mini grill.

I signed up to race against the men, mostly because it was the longest course being offered. As I'm racing the long distance final this August in Scotland, I need to be prepared to bring full focus and full effort for 10.5km of hilly terrain, and it sounded like that's exactly what was on tap for the men's courses last weekend. It's also fun to race against Ed, even though he may not agree.

Day 1
The forest for the first day was relatively open, in terms of small trees obstructing your view, but it was FILLED with blueberry bushes. The sorts of blueberry bushes that are very well established, very woody, very high, and absolutely unrelenting to push through. When the blueberry comes up to mid-thigh, there is no possible way to pull my foot out from under there - I just end up swimming, wading, tripping, cursing my way through the forest. There are no sexy glamour shots when you can't even manage to open your stride on a downhill.  By the end, even walking through the blueberry felt like more effort than I could put forth. I nearly sat on a rock to await my fate, but somehow, probably thanks to the thought of cold watermelon at the finish, I kept going.

I started about four minutes behind Ed, and four minutes ahead of a Canadian named Hans who I thought I could maybe keep up with.  The first five controls were going well; I was struggling in the blueberry but adapting my technique and aiming for trails or rockfields (those suckers can't grow in a boulder field!) wherever possible, making slow but steady forward progress. Then I made a pretty bad parallel error on control 6, getting pushed by the vegetation and never recovering, and all in all just plain old getting lost.  About four minutes later I figured it out, but I was frustrated to lose that time, because if you already know you're slower than the guys you're racing, losing time from being lost is just stupid. Anyway, I still managed to catch Ed on my way to control 8, where he said something helpful like "what took YOU so long to catch up?". Jerkface.

(Click for full-size map with route choices)

So, I ran away from Ed, and I met Hans at control 9. We proceeded to have a good battle until 12, where he took a slightly better route around the mountain and gained enough time on me that the connection was snapped, and the energy drained out of me immediately.  There hadn't been any water yet, and I was an hour into the race on a hot day - this just meant I had no reserves of energy. Control 13 was a water stop, finally, on the highest point around - I punched the control and then sat down in the shade and basically had a picnic. Ate a gel, drank about eight cups of water, and looked at my route to 15. Check it out - how would you approach this? It didn't look pleasant, lots of cliffs and laurel. But it didn't occur to me that I could end my misery and just drop out, so I slogged along to 14, having spent nearly three minutes drinking water.
Yep, I'm going to sit here and drink water until I find the courage to keep going...

I fell into a pretty dark place on the way to 15. I wasn't enjoying myself, the vegetation was just beating me up, and it had become too much work to run for more than 20 strides at a time. I was spending too much time wandering aimlessly, not focused, not wanting to be there, and I think it may have been pure luck that I wandered in to 15 when I did. It didn't occur to me to drop out; had this thought crossed my mind I probably would have immediately acted upon it and bailed to the nearest trail. I slogged off toward 16, in totally the wrong direction, just letting the vegetation push me around and feeling sorry for myself. Eventually I realized that I couldn't just stand there on the rocky promontory forever - I had to go find this control if I wanted to keep going and find the rest of the controls, and if I didn't find the rest of the controls, I'd never get to the finish. And if I didn't get to the finish, I couldn't have any watermelon. So, may as well keep moving.

This mantra - just keep moving - got me through the rest of the course, and I picked up the pace back to something remotely respectable. I was still dehydrated and grumpy, but I was no longer wandering aimlessly in the mountain laurel waiting to be bitten by a rattlesnake. I managed to avoid any other big mistakes, but definitely wasn't feeling very proud of that run. Somehow, I wasn't last.

Thanks to John Hensley Williams for the photos.

Day 2
After my despondent attitude of day 1, my goal for day 2 was to RACE. I don't care if the terrain sucks, everybody else has to go through it, too, so suck it up and go faster. This was the right attitude, and I ended up finishing much higher in the results list, ahead of two of our guys on the US team and one guy on the Canadian Junior Team. Sucking it up and going faster has its merits.

Day 2 map - click for full-size map.

The first five controls I took carefully, executing my attack plans pretty well, but hesitating more than I needed to. The forest was a little nicer today; less blueberry and more up-to-date vegetation mapping, so I was appreciating that I could actually move. On the way to 6 I actually saw a snake, probably a black rat snake? This left me thinking about how no matter how tired I am at the top of a hill, I'll always find the energy to jump in the air and yell "eee!" when there's a snake curled up on a rock I'm about to run across.  Maybe because of my snake-y contemplations, I missed control 6 by 20 seconds or so, and determined that I needed to be bringing more focus to this game.

Hans had started 2 minutes behind me again, and I saw him descending the cliffs to 7 when I looked back. Darn, that didn't last long. But now that the pressure was on, I started to run a little better, a little more confident and a little more aggressive. We had a very typical West-Point-descent to 8, followed by a typical West-Point-ascent to 9 (these involve many contour lines, at least a few cliffs, and not much navigation required).  I took a good route to 9, while Hans went around a different way, and I pulled ahead again, meeting Mark Adams, a teammate of Hans', at the control. I wasn't sure if I'd caught him or he'd caught me, but we were going head to head for quite a few controls, neither quite able to drop the other.

After another West-Point-ascent to 16, West-Point-descent to 17, and W-P-ascent to 18; those final hills were a bit gratuitous and I may have been cursing the course setter. I was definitely feeling all the fatigue, but I knew that everyone else would be tired at this point, too - must keep pushing! I managed to hold it together through the end, despite the hills and the heat and the snakes and the blueberry bushes, and took 7th place in the elite men's class, just three minutes out of 5th! Pretty pleased with that result, especially as there is still room to improve.