Friday, July 31, 2015

WOC run-up

The last week has been spent in preparation for the mental side. I have taken time to experience the new terrains I'll be racing in, getting comfortable with ducking down narrow passageways that look like somebody's backyard, figuring out techniques for wading through the heather, but since I'm in the middle of a physical taper, none of this takes very much time. Maybe 45 minutes of training time, after driving an hour to get to a map, feels very inefficient, but it is what you have to do. This year, to fill the interstices between trainings, I joined forces with team members Samantha, Kseniya, Ethan, and Tori, and we've spent a lot of time castle hunting. Many castles to hunt in this country! It's been a lot of fun to have a small group to travel with, relaxing and taking our minds off of the looming pressure of the World Champs.

We've been staying in Lagganlia, an outdoor education center in the Cairngorns National Park, sharing it with the British junior squad who are having a national training camp. I'm still not sure how we got so lucky, some connection through Becky and her parents, who are coaches of various juniors there, but it was great to be able to have a place that felt like home at the end of each day. The Brits were super welcoming, and the coaches were very accommodating. We stayed in little glorified tents called "pods", and it has rained every day so far, sometimes quite heavily, which means everything is damp and cold. I guess that's summer in Scotland!

Now for a boatload of photos..

The trip actually started with a conference in the wrong direction - in San Diego. Zan flew down from San Francisco for the first weekend, and we had a good time running up in the mountains (Mt. Laguna was only an hour away, and beautiful orienteering!), with a brief run along the Pacific Crest Trail, too! It was a fun way to start a hectic week, but the conference was totally worthwhile, even if it didn't help with the pre-jet-lagging.

San Diego looks different than Scotland.

So, one red-eye flight to Boston, where I went to work to wrap up all sorts of loose ends, and then off to Scotland on the second red-eye, for two weeks! I arrived in Edinburgh, picked up the rental car, and miraculously we had only minor hiccups finding all five passengers. We did a fair amount of sprint training in Edinburgh, Livingston, and Stirling, and got the chance to check out Stirling Castle before heading north through the Highlands.

Alex atempts to be Rob Roy.

View from Stirling Castle.

Once in Lagganlia, we were staying in "pods" - little elf structures scattered through the woodland. They were very cute, but also very cold and damp. Luckily they warmed up nicely with two people in each.

The next castle to see was Inverness Castle, which was very well restored. I am less excited by that than the medieval castles that are half falling apart, but it was still impressive. We also spent some time trying to find wellies, which I knew as gumboots but apparently that's not what they're called here. Sam and I were being way too picky, wanting the short little ankle ones, so we still have wet feet, but Kseniya and Tori were successful in the search. Ethan, being still in college, declared that it was better to just wear sandals all the time.

Yep, it's cold and damp and rainy. Haven't really seen the sun yet.

I love grocery stores in new countries. That's probably strange. Here, we found American pancakes! That's definitely strange. Pancakes are best hot off the griddle, not wrapped in plastic.

Castle Roy. It was under construction so we couldn't get too close, but it wasn't very big. This one was from the 13th century, and apparently it was just a wall, with lean-tos inside.

Yep, I found a river- this is the River Feshie, behind our pods. Good trout habitat!

We found this awesome little road to go check out the first castle of our rest day, where we successfully hunted OODLES of castles. It was a small castle in the middle of the lake, but the views were pretty awesome.

I love these open hills. Too bad all that brown stuff is heather, which is really quite physical to run through. Deep, spongey, woody, and an uneven surface.

Baby highland coo!

Found ourselves a distillery for a tour; interesting to learn about how the stuff is made, and on such a quantity. This was the Glenlivet distillery. I would have liked to sample more, but could barely take a sip since I was driving. The Speyside area had a zillion distilleries, must be something about the water, I guess.

We found some fish and chips for lunch on our rest day - gotta do that at least once!

This was Balvenie castle - pretty cool. It was under construction, but that was good, as it meant we didn't have to pay, and we could wander around and it was all to ourselves. 

More in Balvenie castle

Cartwheels in front of a castle.

Final castle of the highlands - Loch an Eilean, near our pods. This one had a little trail around the lake, so we did a morning run there before coming down to the warmth and sunshine of Inverness.

Friday, July 24, 2015

15 Minutes of Fame

I've made it into the Boston Globe before, through no doing of my own, but now we're going even bigger- orienteering made it into the NYT! Mostly this is a story featuring Thierry Gueorgieu, arguably the world's best orienteer (but can he defend the title in two weeks?), but there's also a video, featuring a whole lot of yours truly, talking about orienteering.

Not a bad video - the author did a great job of editing.

Bear Brook half marathon

With just two weeks left before my departure for the World Champs, I figured I had time to squeeze in one final training weekend. Ed was off working, so I jumped into my car and managed to beat most of the Friday night rush hour traffic to land at Earl's Trails, in western MA, by 6pm. This was enough time for a relaxed shake-out run through a course from 2012, that Phil had streamered for me earlier in the day. Given how little forest orienteering I've been doing in the last month, this was a bit of a skills refresher, before the heavier work on Saturday. I was pretty psyched to get into the forest. Some wobbles, but overall a very positive outing, followed by a wonderful dinner with Phil, Margi, Peter, and Gail. I miss my days in the Valley.

Saturday had two pretty intense sessions on tap, designed by coach Boris - first up were some orienteering intervals, and the afternoon was a downhill course, designed so that you hit higher running speeds, and thus push the navigational limits rather than the physical ones.

The morning intervals went pretty well, but with temperatures in the mid 80s and a dew point to match, it wasn't easy going. The mosquitoes were out feeding as well, adding a sense of urgency to any sort of uphill where my speed dropped. Super duper thanks to Peter, for going out and hanging streamers for the interval, and to Phil for the streamers on the course.

Morning intervals

Afternoon downhill course

Sunday, the plan was for a long run, and I figured what better way to get in a long run than with a bunch of crazy other friends on a trail wearing a number? Rather spur-of-the-moment, I signed up for the Bear Brook half marathon. They were offering a full marathon as well, but I felt like that was a bit much for a simple Sunday long run. Of course, I didn't check the start time before signing up, and turns out the start time was a glorious 6am. Oops. With a 2 hour drive ahead of me from western MA, I decided the better plan would be spend the night in southern NH with Kathy, so I packed up after dinner and moved houses. I woke up twice to anxiety dreams about missing the start, but luckily it all worked out, and I had plenty of time.

This race cost about three times what the usual barebones Grand Tree races cost, and while I'm totally cool with that (I happily paid the full entry, after all), it attracted a different crowd. Many more women, and probably 80% of people were wearing bright neon colors, with tons of women in running skirts. Strange. I wasn't sure who was who, since I haven't done any of the NH trail race series, but I figured the course map looked pretty flat, so my plan was to stay pretty cruise-y in terms of pace. Hopefully that would be enough to win.

The marathon took off, and shortly thereafter the half marathoners followed suit. The two races were on nearly completely different trails, so we didn't have the problem of lapping slower runners - a really nice touch. The course started with a series of short climbs on singletrack, and I quickly discovered that my calves were pretty unhappy about the double orienteering intensity session yesterday. Two women were ahead of me, but I knew from experience I'd just have to go at a pace where my calves could recover, and hope for a full recovery once they were properly loosened. On the extended downhill back to the river I reeled in one of the women, so I figured that was good. I actually got a bit ahead of her, because the downhills weren't done yet, and then I really started to enjoy the course.
The trail wound through pine forest, mostly flat, really beautiful. Eventually it climbed up into a recently-logged area that was filled, and I mean FILLED, with blueberries. Ripe blueberries. Plump blueberries. Such delicious-looking blueberries. I wanted to stop. Just for a little while... just one handful? Somehow I made it through that section without a blueberry break, and I still don't know where that willpower came from!

Maura, the lady I'd passed on the downhill, caught up to me at the aid station, and we ran together for a bit. The trail was still flat enough that it wasn't hard to keep cruising, despite the fatigue in my legs, and my mentality shifted a bit from attack to defensive. I let that woman in first leave my thoughts, and started considering how to win the fight for second. It's not the most aggressive mindset, and it doesn't lead to winning races, but sometimes it's what you've got. I ran through the final aid station, not needing anything, and Maura stopped, and when she didn't catch me on the final climbs I knew I had it in the bag. Took it slightly more cautiously on the downhill to the finish, and then I was across, safely in second.

Of course I wish I'd won, after the fact, but that wasn't happening today. I still won a huge pile of schwag for 2nd place - coffee, home made jam, sunglasses, and, most importantly - a ribbon proclaiming that I can tie my shoes! Given my daisy-chain approach to tying my Inov-8s, I felt like that was appropriate.

After a quick dip in the lake, a cheeseburger, and a lot of cold water, I was ready to go home, but first, I had some business to finish - that blueberry patch needed a visit off the clock!

Monday, July 6, 2015

Fashionably late

They say that optimistic people are always late. I'm an optimistic person.

Anyway, I was in Vermont with Ed for the weekend, and the only things on the agenda were reading my book and watching some fireworks. This was pretty great, which is to say, I have no flippin' idea when I got out of bed on Sunday, or what time I decided that what I really wanted to do today was to run over some mountains.

I did know that I wanted to be in Concord MA at 5pm. I probably should have done the math backwards on that one, but there may have been some denial going on - better just not to know. There are signs of improvement, though - I actually told Ed where I was going. "I'm going to run down that ridge we ran last summer, you know, the one with the views and the trees and the bugs? Yeah, but I might deviate from that ridge if some other trails look inviting, and I'll probably try and make it a loop".  "ok, I'll start looking for you in a couple days".

So, I'm running along, totally loving life and loving that I can move my body like this and it just GOES where I want it to and I'm so thankful that I can do all this stuff and use my feet to carry me up to cool views, where I do cartwheels and yip and yeehaw and careen down rocky muddy trails. Sometimes it's very good to run alone. Somewhere along the way my watch dies, which is fine, it's rechargeable. But that meant I didn't really know how long I'd been running. Oh well, I still have like half a bottle's worth in this water bottle I'm carrying, so I can't have been out THAT long. I come to a junction, and I'm fairly positive I can turn it into a loop if I just keep going. The endorphins are pumping, the birds are singing, the sun is shining, life is great. My hunch pans out and it's the right trail, and eventually I come back out to the gravel road, which takes me back to the notch on a swooping, scenic, gradual downhill cruise. This is fun!

I'm still feeling good when I get to the car, and I've still got a sip or two of water left, so I can't have been out THAT long, and I've never seen the other direction of this trail, so I figure I'll go that way for a bit, just to see where it goes. Well, I tend to have a bad case of just-around-the-next-bend-itis, and I may have seen where it goes a little too long, but eventually I hit a flat area and decide that I'd better turn around while the turning around is still all downhill. Another fun little cruise-y downhill, and I'm back to the car, but I'm pretty solidly caked with mud up to the knees. Nothing to worry about, but this definitely calls for a mountain stream, nothing else will do. It's a short drive, and I try not to rub my legs too much all over my car seat, but then I'm at a stream, so I spend some time splashing around cleaning up and cooling off, and now I'm TOTALLY presentable for a party! Just 2 hours of driving left to get there! Back to the car, and I check my phone and see the time for the first time in probably quite a few hours, and there's a big oops, I'm already 15 minutes late...

So, that's how I showed up three hours late with mud between my toes. There was still cake, beer, and cheer, and I got to go for a sweet run, so on balance, I'd say this day was a win.