Monday, October 26, 2015

Fruitlands Cup of CX

Photo credit: Geoff Martin

Saturday mornings, my juniors can be found rollerskiing around the back roads of some towns with plenty of hills and low traffic. One of our loops goes past the Fruitlands museum, which has a lovely view, even though they just repaved with that terrible tar and gravel stuff. Anyway, I was enjoying a leisurely cup of coffee on Saturday morning, getting ready to head out to Littleton, when I saw on social media a photo from a friend of mine of a frosty field with miles of yellow tape, and a caption saying something about a cyclocross race at Fruitlands. Wait, today? Maybe we can ski past and watch the race!

Fast-forward five minutes and I'm digging through piles of spandex trying to find some race kit. Of COURSE it's a good idea to do a race in a sport I haven't done for five years after doing a two-hour rollerski! I've never been that good at figuring out which are the dumb ideas and which are the awesome ideas.

Fast forward a few hours, and I'm staged in the back row of the cat. 4 women's field, having forked over enough cash for a late fee, a one-day license, and a number. I'm behind someone with flat pedals, next to someone on a hybrid, and everyone appears to have pinned their numbers through the holes. I love that this category exists, and that there are newbies coming out and trying these races just to see what it's like. I made a pact with myself to not be an asshole as I try to pass people. The last thing I want to do is ruin someone else's day, when they should be falling in love with a new sport.

One my single loop touring the course, I discovered that the skills came back intuitively, still second nature. I suppose that's good, considering it's not THAT hard to deal with the obstacles in a 'cross race. The pedaling power, on the other hand, was never my forte when I actually trained for this sport, and doesn't appear to have magically come back. It started to dawn on me how painful this race might be.

Definitely better off the bike than on. 

Off we go, about a minute behind the open race. Being in the last row means it's a passing game, and I do my best to do this nicely, until I find myself among some women who've clearly pedaled a bicycle before. I had some silly plan that I'd pace myself, considering my complete lack of any bike-fitness, but then I realized that was a dumb idea, because this is a 'cross race! You can't pace yourself! Much wheezing and leg-burning followed, and good god, who put that hill in my way? I started to pray that the elite women would lap me and shorten my misery by a lap, but that wasn't to be.

I was going back and forth with someone whose kids were cheering for her (go mama go!), and someone named Karen, and they were both much stronger than me on the false flat power sections. I was much stronger in the technical bits, so there was quite a bit of yo-yoing going on. Quite a bit of mental yo-yoing as well - on the uphills, oh god, so much pain, I can't keep pedaling. On the turns, downhills, and dismounts - whee, this is fun!! Then we'd hit a power section again and oh god, my legs! my legs! they're falling off! I finally mustered the strength to ride one of the punchy little climbs before the finish, and managed to keep the gap, landing in 6th place.

The dangerous thing is that we humans are terrible at remembering physical pain, so all that's left is a memory of how much fun it is to be breathing hard and struggling to beat your competitor, just guts and glory and mayhem. Must not get sucked back down into this cycling rabbit hole...

I've been busy - this also happened. One of those days where putting one foot in front of the other is so good for your soul. 

This happened on Sunday. Ed and I put on a local/regional meet at Lynn Woods, and had relatively happy competitors, except when they were lost. Note to self: don't make the courses so devilishly hard next time. 

These little girls went out on a course, and came sprinting in to try and win the last split. I was tickled to watch them animatedly comparing splits. Gotta start 'em young!

We went for a walk, and I treed an Ed-monster!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Hudson Highlander

The Hudson Highlander is a fantastic race. 26.2km of orienteering, in a beautiful park with fantastic terrain that still feels like wilderness, on a beautiful day. Harriman state park is rugged, raw, physical, and utterly gorgeous. I love it. I think Harriman was where I first really got bitten with the competitive orienteering bug, back in 2009 when I was invited to join a US Team camp, and Thierry Gueorgieu and some of his French Team buddies were along for the vacation. I watched them float through the forest, and I wanted to be able to do that, too.

A kilometer in the forest has about the same metabolic costs as a mile on the trail, so for a 26km orienteering race, you're pretty much facing a trail marathon. Cool, that sounds like fun on completely inadequate training, let's do it! The race is a mass start, which means it will become immediately apparent how much you have or haven't been training, and there are some special segments - a trail run, where you just follow streamers, and a King of the Mountain leg, which, surprisingly, goes to the top of a mountain. These primes get special prizes, and even though the women's field wasn't super deep this year, with one of my competitors setting the course and another walking the Lowlander with a broken wrist, I wanted to win those primes as much as I wanted the overall! And of course, I wouldn't mind taking some scalps from the men's side. Too competitive for my own good, they say...

I knew I didn't have any extra matches to burn, so the name of the game today was energy efficiency. No thrashing about trying to brute force it, because I'm just not strong enough for that right now. But this sort of distance with this low control density meant I got lots of the part I love best in orienteering - running through the woods!

King of the Mountain turned out to be the first leg. Oof! This meant I only had to go fast enough to stay ahead of the other women, so I tried to keep the effort under wraps, and managed to get to the top first, but well behind a bunch of the men I'd like to beat. My legs were already exploding, not a good sign. This led to a very slow execution to #2, with lots and lots of walking. By then, I'd fallen into a group with two guys I've run with before, and we were loosely together until I dropped them by taking a better route to 5.

At #5, I picked up two West Point cadets, who were standing around looking a little lost. The Highlander is in the backyard for these guys, so there's always a good turnout, but they're definitely stronger physically than navigationally, so tend to do a bunch of following. That's ok, I was planning to take it easy for the remainder of this first loop of orienteering, and then dump all my energy on the trail run, which looked to be awesome technical singletrack along the Appalachian Trail. I led the cadets smoothly through controls 6-7-8-9, and then it was time for the trail run!

I like to hunt when I race, and it was a good day of hunting, as I swallowed up runner after runner, stretching out on the runnable parts and tumbling down the steep and rocky descents. Unfortunately I could tell that my already-sore butt and hamstrings were going to pay for this turn of speed, possibly dearly. What matches I'd had, I burned on the run. Worth it.

I finished up the trail run in good spirits, now in 16th place overall, but fully aware of how much energy I'd just used. Two guys I'd run past caught up to me after we left the water stop, and I was doing much more walking than on the previous map. Maybe I should call it slogging. Rockhouse Mountain has a lot of very high blueberry bushes, mid-thigh on me, and this stuff is quite physical to move through. Occasionally I'd get lucky and find a game trail that went roughly in the right direction, but mostly it was just pushing through the blueberry, hoping that my foot wouldn't catch on anything and cause a full-on hamstring cramp.

On the way to 16 there were a few kilometers on a trail, and I discovered I could still run pretty good if I didn't have to pick up my feet, so I dropped Kevin and the cadet. Then it started to snow, which was pretty cool, and upped my spirits enough that I could add some oopmh to my step coming into the final map exchange, where I caught a college kid who should be faster than that, and crammed some cookies in my mouth, hoping to hold off the hamstring cramps for the last 5-6km loop.

Lots of trail running on this map, though even that was getting pretty difficult. I really enjoyed the little loop at the southern end of that map, lovely forest and I was still navigating very nicely. I managed to pass two more cadets on this loop without them seeing me, and I managed to up the pace to hold my place to the finish. Not my fastest Highlander ever, but it was a really enjoyable race, and I was psyched to end up 11th overall. Turns out you can mostly replace training with toughness, who knew?

Super duper thanks to HVO for setting up such a nice race. The course was great, and I appreciated all the work that goes into setting up a long adventure-style race like this.

Maps from legs 1-2 and leg 3. Haven't uploaded leg 4 yet.

Award for KOM leg was a photo from that control. Fitting prize, considering I didn't spend as much time admiring the view as I may have liked.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Seattle Adventure Running Tournament

Patrick, one of the thinkers/acters/doers in the orienteering community out in Seattle, was hosting a race tournament made up of elimination heats of orienteering sprints. This sounded awesome, so I signed up. Unfortunately, I have since been nursing an overuse injury that just won't go away, so I found myself facing six races over two days from less than 10 miles a week of training. What could possibly go wrong?

The format was elimination heats: everyone started with a time trial, to rank the entire field of 80 runners. Then we were divided into 16 heats of 5, and the top two from each heat moved up, the bottom two moved down, and the middle runner from each heat battled the middle running from the neighboring heat, with the winner moving up and loser moving down. So, you end up with a constantly moving bracket of runners, and ultimately get a single winner. No allowances were made for oldness or femaleness, everyone was in a single race. Of course, this meant that there were many unofficial sub-races going on all weekend!

The time trial went well, and I landed in 19th place. I was not feeling particularly fit or fast, but didn't feel like the first effort had taken too much out of my legs. A good start! We had about two hours before the next race, in a wooded park maybe 10 minutes away from the first spot. In this one, I was ranked #2 in my heat, behind Ali. I took the race at a very controlled pace, since all I had to do was finish in second, and this proved to be well within my ability. 

Team Giggles heading out for heat #2.

The third race was about a half hour away, at North Seattle College. This was a cool area, with a three-layer campus, always difficult to both map and understand on an orienteering map. I knew that this third race needed to be fast - I was up against Ali from my previous heat, and Will and Cameron, winners from our neighboring heat. I seriously doubted that I could beat Ali or Will, but the name of the game would be to make sure I was ahead of Cameron, and running fast enough to beat out the third-place runner from the neighboring heat. As expected, the heat started fast, but I felt comfortable and in control of my navigation, my legs having finally awoken to the fact that we're racing. Alas, I made a bad mistake on the 2nd control in the multi-level area, running a level too high because I didn't realize that we weren't using the third level, only the first two. D'oh! Combined with another 40-second error taking a very bad route to control 7, and I knew I was in trouble. I pushed the remainder of the course as hard as I could, but it wasn't enough. Third in my head, and 22nd overall, but about 20 seconds too slow compared to Nikolay, third place runner in the neighboring heat. Out! Now the best I could do was somewhere from 20th - 40th place. 

Well, nothing to do but gather myself and run well in the fourth and final race of the day. At this point, I was starting to notice that I really hadn't done any training of note in the last two months, but thankfully energy was still relatively high, even if my legs were getting sore from all the high-speed running. Through a twist of fate, I was in a heat with Ed, so my sub-race was definitely to beat him. Maybe I was too cocky, but a heat that should have been mine to win went downhill fast, when I lost two minutes trying and failing to figure out levels on the way to the 2nd control. This multi-level orienteering is so different from anything I've ever trained or raced in before, that I couldn't get my mind to accept that the tunnel symbol actually meant building on the first level. I clawed my way back through most of the field, but it wasn't enough. I could see Ed around the 19th control, but unfortunately he knew he was ahead, and it turns out a man will suffer like he hasn't suffered in YEARS to stay ahead of his lady in a race. Cameron (from the previous heat) was just ahead of Ed, so I was racing for 3rd. I could only close the gap to about 10 seconds before the race ended. D'oh! Now relegated to 30-40th place.

The final two races were at Shoreview Community College, on Sunday. I woke feeling rested, and despite being a little (a lot?) grumpy about making such huge mistakes the day before, I determined all I could do was move on, and perform as best as possible in these last two races. I crushed the first race, despite learning first-hand that you really can't take a shortcut through dense vegetation in Seattle - apparently those Himalayan blackberries are for real. Lost a minute tangled in vines, but thankfully emerged from the other side without losing too much blood. 

The final race was forked, which meant we didn't all have the same order of controls, but we all went to them all eventually. It was a lot of fun, and I had a great battle withe Celia, a New Zealand runner who is living in Seattle for now. I found a little more in my legs to give on the finish chute of death, and held her off for the heat win, and 13th overall, but... 31st in the tournament.

While this was definitely not my best showing at an orienteering race, it was an immensely fun format, and a fabulous weekend. I had been needing a bit of a kick to get going with some training again, and getting my butt kicked was exactly what the doctor ordered. Doing that much running was not great for my injury, but, the fun outweighed any pain.

We spent Sunday evening exploring Seattle a bit, before it was back home on a red-eye. Totally worth the trip, and hopefully we can recreate that environment at Boston Sprint Camp next June!