Monday, December 18, 2017

Fort Kent Eastern Cups

The last time I was in Fort Kent, it was for the U16 Championships in 2015, and the Massachusetts Team was on a coach bus that couldn't quite handle the snowstorm that hit Sunday afternoon. It took us 16 hours with a brief (4-hour) stint in the Aroostook County Mall in Presque Isle, but we eventually made it back to Massaschusetts around 5:30am, just in time for me to head to work on Monday. Maddy, Kathy, Peter and I were the coaches on that bus, and I don't think we've ever fully recovered from the trauma, but the kids who were U16s at the time developed a bond that has carried them through highschool in a very tight-knit group.

In good weather, Fort Kent is only 6.5h of driving time (a mere 430 miles) north. It's on the northern border of Maine, across the St. John River from New Brunswick. I annotated a map of northern Maine for my readers:
I think most people sort of forget that Maine exists north of Katahdin. There's lots more of it, and it's beautiful! It's also remote, rugged, and quite often frigid, but the people are friendly and the potatoes are top notch.  

Us soft southerners may complain about the drive, but it does make sense to occasionally have a race up there, considering that for every other race, the northern Maine skiers have to make the drive down to the southern venues. There is also reliable snow in the early and late season, an important quality for race venues! 

I drove up with Rob and Kathy, and we got there in time to test some skis on Friday. I'd forgotten what it was like to be in truly cold weather. It just about broke me, in the little one-hour ski we did. With the sun going down and the wind picking up, zero degrees has never felt so terrible. I didn't actually break down and cry (because frozen tears really hurt), but it was close. Somehow, the cold really just knocked me back on my heels. Time to toughen up! My goal for Saturday's race was now two-fold: 1) qualify for the open sprint heats, and 2) don't let the cold get to me; stay positive and focused.

Saturday Skate Sprint
My early-season preparation has been better than some recent years, but definitely not particularly ski-specific. The main thing that's been missing are high-intensity efforts, so I knew I'd probably struggle with trying to find any extra gears and using them. It was a fun sprint course, though, playing out with some work in the beginning and some fun rollers in the end. If I could stay focused in the moment, maybe I'd produce some speed. 

I started out 15s behind Meg, one of my ex-CSU skiers who is now at Colby. I picked up good speed out of the stadium, and then there is this winding flat stuff leading up to the wax-cabin hill. I probably did a little too much V2-alternate there, not accelerating the whole time, lulled into complacency by the fact that I could tell I was gaining on Meg. Into the hill I was hop skating, but not at full sprint speed, and that was a mistake. I was winded at the top, but definitely hadn't emptied the tank as much as I knew I should have, which led to a bit of a sinking sensation. You screwed that up. Oh well, fight for those seconds in the fun part! Over the rollers, whooshing down the whoop-de-doo, and again I probably shouldn't have been tucking around the corner into the stadium, but that felt like the right thing at the time. 

I ended up qualifying in 16th, and still feeling pretty fresh, leaving what I felt was a good 5-7 seconds out there through sheer lack of oomph. With the lucky loser positions going through to the semifinals based on bib number, I had probably ruined my chances of luckily losing by not qualifying better. Can't change that! Now it's top two or bust. 

Photo credit Brian Burt. So many layers I couldn't actually velcro my boots shut under the boot covers...

I was in the third heat, with bib numbers 5, 6, 15, 25, and 26. Bib 5, Silje from UNH, has some crazy sprint points, and is built like a sprinter. As I expected, she started out fast, and I slotted in behind after a sort of slow start. Coming up through the gradual rollers, we were moving a lot faster than I had in my qualifier. Oh. It didn't feel like too much work yet, but I could definitely tell that I was starting to near that point of no return, and as we started to climb I backed off a smidge. The Canadian with bib #6 squeezed by, and as I was jump-skating behind her up the hill, I knew that this was it - this is the point where I have to make a move, pull up even with her, and punch it over the first camels hump. I had more gears available, I could physically do it, all it would take was a little mental toughness to tolerate the pain. But the race voice couldn't seem to override the voice in my head telling me this was fast enough, third place is fine, maybe you'll catch her later in the course. Do you really want to do another two heats after this? And I didn't make a move. 

We crested the first camels hump, Silje solidly in the lead and me on the tails of #6, but not close enough to really catch the draft and slingshot on the little dip. The next camels hump was the only other option to make a move, take the right-hand lane and try to carry more speed through the corner, and I didn't do it. I could hear the cheering for the SMS girl in 4th, and I'd shifted into defensive mode. Tucked around the corner again, and wasn't even close to fighting for 2nd. 

Mostly what was missing there was the confidence that I can totally put myself under and come back up for air while still racing, that confidence built on the back of hard intervals, race starts, and a burning desire for results. I wasn't surprised to end up 3rd; after all I had qualified eight seconds behind the Canadian gal, so on paper that was an unlikely scalp. I also wasn't all that upset by it; what upset me was the lack of will to make those moves. It's possible that it'll come back - the first races of the season are always a little tentative. By the end of last season I was totally capable of pushing myself into the pain cave, so I'd say there's hope before World Masters at the end of January. 

My final placement was 15th, which earns me one NENSA point. I'll take it! Also of note: My qualifier time beat Rob's qualifier time. I only ever beat Rob when he waxes my skis... 

It was fun to watch all my skiers race the heats, once I was out. With Fort Kent being so far away, the fields were a little thinner than usual, which meant most of my skiers qualified for either the open or the junior heats. Three of my big boys got into the open heats, and I think everyone got to learn from racing with people in tight quarters. Good stuff. 

Sunday classic mass start
This was probably one of the easiest races I've ever had to wax for. The combination of frigid temperatures on perfect snow and an indoor waxing facility meant that picking a kick wax was a quick and easy process, and the fact that the temperatures weren't changing meant we had every ski waxed for all the classes before the U16 boys had started. So simple!

The 5k course was a fun one. The first kilometer was uphill, cresting at 45m above the stadium, before bouncing around the high point for another 2km and then it was pretty much downhill with a couple kickers for the final 2km. With a mass start 5k, I knew it would start pretty hot, and the main goal was for everyone to avoid getting tangled in any trouble, and hang on through that first hill. 

I was seeded (USSA fixed the coaching license non-seeding issues, yay!) 25th, and had a clean start, narrowly avoiding the inevitable crash on the first gentle downhill out of the start. After cresting the first little steep pitch, I left myself look around, and realized I was hanging out at the back of the lead pack, with a separation behind me. My first thought was "Ooh! Kathy is back there, so hold her off as long as possible!" My second thought was "Dang, that sucks for everyone who was in or behind that crash." Mass start 5k races are chaos, and there's no avoiding that. 

Photo credit Brian Burt. Still got that forward lean.

I slowly worked my way to the top of the first hill, not losing too much ground to the rear guard of the pack but we were all losing ground to the leaders. Classic skiing up hills is hard, yo. I could see one of my U18s ahead of me, and she had clearly started too hard, and was fading backwards a bit. 

I felt like I was recovering nicely on the gradual downhill after the first hill, but as we started climbing again towards 2k the you-started-too-hard feeling hit me. I was starting to pack slide myself, and right around the 2k mark Kathy stormed by. I didn't have the energy to keep contact, and was at the back of a loose pack heading into the downhills. Definitely struggled a bit to relax my feet as we negotiated the corners, and I was too tired to make up places down the hill. One more climb approaching the top of the alpine mountain again, and Laura came striding by, looking nice and composed. I tried to increase the pace, while maintaining actual technique and not just running, and hit the downhill with palpable relief.

Photo credit Brian Burt. 

From there, there are mostly flats with one gradual striding/kick-double pole hill. Up that gradual track I was starting to hit the second wind, and was closing down to Madeline. I had just about made contact as we hit the final kickers into the stadium, and closed the gap to Madeline and a UNH girl over the camels humps. A half-hearted double pole sprint, and I was done, in 23rd place. Improved my seed! 

I was pretty pleased with the race. For an early-season classic race, that was one of my better ones. I could use better top-end fitness, and a lot more intensity work to give some oomph where it matters, but I felt like I was skiing well for the whole race, with pretty good strength. I ended up about 7% behind Leah, the day's winner, which is quite reasonable. 

More great results from my team in the classic race, which always leaves a warm fuzzy, especially when it's kids who've worked really hard all year and are surprising themselves. Super work by the wax team and the food table chefs, too. 

Now it's time to pack up my life for the annual two-week odyssey to Rochester and then Mont Sainte Anne. Wheeee ski season!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Ice Weasels

A few weeks ago, we were hanging out with Jess and Graham, and I'd clearly had one beer too many, because somehow the topic of Ice Weasels came up, and I agreed to do the race if Graham got into the Killer B field when registration opened that night. There was a text message from Graham in the morning with a confirmation number, so time to sign up for a bike race.

I last pedaled my bike with any oomph in 2015. And before that, 2010. But, I still ride bikes to get to work, and sometimes I even ride my mountain bike, so how bad could this be? 

Ice Weasels is a race that started ten years ago, brainchild of friends and former teammates Colin and Thom. I raced it the first two years, I think, and then life happened and I stopped racing bikes to focus on grad school and orienteering and here we are, ten years later, standing on a start line wearing an embarassingly yellow jacket and Frozen's Olaf tights in a snowstorm. Funny how when you're years removed from a sport you lose some of the obsession with looking like you know what you're doing. 

From what I remember of Colin and his 'cross preferences, the more like a mountain bike course we can get, the more fun we'll have. So, the Ice Weasels course was pretty wicked. A couple good descents towards a river, on loose sand with some large rocks, one sandy run-up, one "ride"-up which was totally a run-up for me, some stairs (also a run-up for me), and a log jump, which was in the "danger zone," code for slightly drunken spectators and a firepit and lots of heckling. Like most sports, I do well in this one when skill and finesse outweigh power, but there's still suffering involved. The more it snowed, the sloppier things were going to get, and I was stoked.

 I had a poor start, seeded in the last row, and then unwilling to be too aggressive in the corners. We got to the first drop into the danger zone, and all the girls were kind of track standing waiting in a line to descend this thing one at a time. Screw that. I hopped off, and dove down the hill carrying my bike, passing what felt like the entire pack. Not many places to pass, so take them where you can! 

We hit the run-up and I punched it to gain three places. Whee! By the end of the first lap, I was in a loose pack of 3-4 girls, and I was clearly pedaling better than most of them except the gal on the mountain bike, who had skillz. 

Second lap, I got around one girl in some corners before the pump track, passed another on the first run-up, and then got the third when she bobbled the corner before the log. MTB girl biffed it trying to ride the log, so I pulled ahead again, looking for new rabbits. Entering the third lap I was closing on what looked like a bigger group, but they had a good 20-30 seconds on me already. I caught a straggler on the first run-up, and then one more on the stairs run-up, and was left dangling behind a girl who was maybe 14. I couldn't quite close the gap, and knowing I just had two laps left I was shifting into defensive mode. 

The ground was getting increasingly muddy and greasy, thanks to the snow, and that made the bike handling super fun, but unfortunately also gummed up your cleats pretty badly. Every remount also involved trying to kick off mud before trying to clip in. Anyway, I thought I might be closing on the teenager, but then at the ride-up, I got fancy and did a step-through on my dismount and my left foot never unclipped. So I fumbled, fell down, turtled, and slid backwards down the hill under my bike. D'oh! Took me what felt like forever to get that foot unclipped, but eventually it did and I got myself and my bike up the lip at the top, not having lost any places, but having lost a good 30 seconds. 

Fourth lap was basically a game of trying not to get caught by MTB girl. She was riding technically well, but suffered a bit on the power sections. I stayed upright, nailed all the technical parts, and really, really, really freakin' enjoyed myself! 

I was pleasantly surprised with the result - 14th of 30 starters in the Jedi field (I believe that correlates to something like cat 1-3? maybe? it doesn't really matter). It was a good hard effort, and a ton of fun to ride my bike in that slop. 

Graham enjoyed his ride, too, stopping for a couple drink breaks in the danger zone. Can't complain about a party disguised as a race! 

Will I do more cross races? Doubtful, but if it looks like snow during Ice Weasels next year, I won't rule it out. That was pretty awesomely fun. 
We spent a large part of the weekend hanging out at the Saegers' house, meeting various babies and playing games.

And the skiing! It was fabulous. I found some Smiths

Monday, November 27, 2017

US Classic Champs

As the Orienteering USA VP of Competition, one of the things I've done is to work with a group to streamline our extensive list of orienteering championship competitions, starting next year. So, the US Classic Championships will cease to exist in the future, and I felt a little like I had single-handedly stabbed it in the heart as I competed in the last running of the classic champs last weekend. Some people are upset, but overall, it will be good for competition. 

The final running of the Classic Champs was a very nice event, hosted by the Quantico Orienteering Club, with some interesting courses and super fast terrain on the Quantico Marine Base. Ed and I headed down on Thursday night, to attend and present at the 2017 Orienteering USA Convention on Friday. Good convention, lots of interesting stuff going on and ideas being shared. We were staying with Boris and Alli and their almost-toddler and beagle, and six other itinerant guests, which made for some fun evenings. The whole point of these orienteering weekends is just to hang out with friends, ultimately. 

Saturday rolled around and it was chilly, almost like winter had followed us down from Boston. My goal for the race was to be aggressive in my navigation, always knowing what was happening next, and moving decisively and with confidence. The forest was super open, fast and runnable with really good footing. I had some trouble with running too fast for my brain, but overall it was a really clean run. I caught up to an M45 near my control #2, and I couldn't shake him until control 12. It was good, kept me focused on pushing and running aggressively. Unfortunately, I wasn't fast enough to beat our Spanish visitor, Violeta, trailing about two minutes behind her, but I finished well clear of any American competitors. 

We had a board meeting on Saturday night, which wasn't the ideal recovery activity, especially considering that I've trained Ed to bring me a beer whenever I'm on OUSA board calls, so he brought beer for the whole board. Oh well, I'll be relaxed if not perfectly recovered!

Sunday's course was a little hillier and a little more physical in terms of the vegetation thickness. I expected a slightly more devious course than Saturday, knowing the course setter and his tendencies, so I needed to be tighter in my navigation today. No pointing it in the right direction and blasting away with lazy navigation.

This worked pretty well, but I just wasn't fast enough, and Violeta put some more time on me, cementing her win in the overall. Luckily, I had well outpaced the rest of the Americans, which put me solidly into the championship gold medal spot. It felt good to win!

No more orienteering planned for a long while, so it's on to ski season. Mini high-altitude camp in California that conveniently aligns with a wedding, and then the race season begins.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Mt. Toby Trail Race

The final Grand Tree race that would fit into my schedule was the Mt. Toby Trail Race. I've never done this one, and despite spending two years staying with Peter and Gail at the edge of the forest, I've only run on those trails twice. From what I'd heard about the race, I wasn't that excited, because it sounded like a hillclimb on wide trails with good footing, and the hillclimb wasn't quite steep enough to warrant hiking. My strengths are short and steep ups and downs with very technical footing, sort of like 7 Sisters. But a race is a race, and the weather looked gorgeous, so I was excited to pin on a bib.

I ran into a couple people I knew beforehand, but didn't know how we'd all stack up. My time goal was to be around 2 hours, maybe under, just based on looking at Kelsey's time from previous years. I could probably be 15 minutes behind Kelsey on a hillclimb, right? More importantly, that's where my typical Grand Tree points would place me if I had a typical race. I had no intention of any heroics today, I was tired, and despite getting in some decent cross training in the last month or two, I haven't done much running to support going fast. This might just be a sufferfest.

The course started with about a half mile of pavement, then into the woods on a jeep road to climb very gradually uphill for 4 miles. Short downhill, then more flat before the final climb to the top of Mt. Toby, also on a jeep road. The footing was generally good, with no leaves down. I found myself jogging along with quite a few other people, and I let myself just settle in. I was maybe fourth woman, with a few others in site, who all looked skinny and fast. I, on the other hand, felt jiggly and slow. I realized that this would be one of those mental-battle sort of days, where you try to get the positive supportive voice in your head to drown out the mean negative voice. Because that nasty negative voice never makes you run faster.

After about a mile I started to turn the screws, just a little, and I reeled in one of the women ahead of me and made contact with the other two. I moved in front on the short downhill at mile 4, but on the flats thereafter they had no problem catching back up. The fact that I haven't been on a track since July was increasingly obvious to me - this race course was a fast one, and my legs haven't moved this fast in months! We finally started climbing, and it was clear that the lady in the pink shirt, Beth, was the better climber. She slowly pulled away, and I turned my positive self-talk up to 11.

Hill climbing is so silly, everyone is just crawling up this hill, barely making any moves on each other, oblivious to most of the world as you just try to get the oxygen into the legs and keep the forward movement. Part way up, I realized that my left foot was falling asleep - I'd done it again and tied my shoe to tight (I should mention that I keep doing this because I HATE loose shoes). This time, I decided that I would learn from past mistakes (see 2017 7 Sisters...), and I stopped to untie and loosen it. That took maybe 30 seconds, but seemed worth it. Eventually the top guys came flying down, and I knew I was nearing the top. I took a split on Beth as she came down, then up to the fire tower, touch the pole, scarf a gel, and the good part starts!

Thanks to Ben Kimball at Northeast Race Photo for the shot of me doing two things I'm good at - eating and running downhill! I went with the Roclite305 Inov-8s, today, for a little more cushion on the downhills and not needing the traction, and they were a good choice. 

Beth was about 4 minutes up on me at the top. With such good footing on the descent, I knew I'd be hard-pressed to catch her, especially as it seemed she wasn't a terrible descender. By the bottom of the big hill, I could see her back, but it was still a minute or two difference between us. I was in hunt mode, but I was also really starting to hurt. 14 miles of fast running is something I could have eaten up in July, but now, I'm more ready for rollerskiing than anything fast. Oof. My hamstrings and butt were starting to complain, and my breath was getting more ragged as I pushed up the short hills before the final flats.

I was nearly ready to give up. All the streamers marking the course were pink, so every time I'd look up I'd see a pink movement, thinking it was Beth's shirt, only to realize it was survey tape. My brain couldn't take the continuous bashing of hope, and the positive voice trailed off. I knew that it was a case of beer on the line, and I really wanted to win that beer, but the nasty little negative voice started to pipe up. Maybe if you drank less beer, you would have gone faster up the hill. You're not a good runner, you're not fit, why are you even out here? The negative gremlins in my head were winning, and my desire to suffer was waning.

Luckily, the positive voices noticed the attack, and took back over. I kicked it back into gear, and kept hunting. Some of the guys who'd been ahead of me on the climb were coming into view. My hamstrings were distinctly unhappy with the pace, but I couldn't let up. Beth's shirt popped into view on an uphill, and I knew I was still in it. If I could make contact while still in the woods, I may be able to get enough of a gap to hold her off on the final climb to the finish. I kept striving, and then I made contact - just as we hit the pavement. Worst nightmare, because now it's just going to hurt the whole way in.

I tumbled down the hill a little faster, but I was completely gassed, barely keeping my feet under me on the downhill. We started back up the hill and I stayed focused on the process, just drive the elbows, strong feet. At least make her work for it! Beth easily closed the gap, and pulled ahead. We turned the corner, and I could see the finish, and I tried to kick, but there was no response. Swimming in lactic acid, my brain had been willing me along for too long, and was as out of oomph as my legs.

Second place is fine, and I cruised under 2 hours with 1:56. But, I can't help but feel disappointed, and that I lost the race. It was a lot of fun to battle and chase, though! Next time, let's do it on a course with some rocks :)

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

UNO Boulder Dash

Up North Orienteering Club hosted a National Event last weekend: The Boulder Dash. It was on the Burnt Mountain map that we used last year for the North American Orienteering Championships, and this year I got to run on a 1:10,000 scale map instead of 1:15. That made a big difference, because suddenly I could ready the map! Turns out, reading maps is an important part of this sport. 

Ed and I arrived Friday afternoon, for the US Team fundraiser sprint. This was a low-key affair, just a chance to go out into the woods and find some controls, and I struggled with map interpretation. Not good. I went back out for a walk, just reading every feature, trying to make some sense of the contours. There are a lot of little wiggles and wobbles in the contours, so the trick was definitely to take in the bigger picture, to have an idea of what you were looking at. So much rock on the map, that you sort of just had to look beyond it. 
Can't beat the excitement of finding a control in the woods where you expect it! 

Saturday rolled around and I had a nice morning with Sharon, who lives at the edge of the map and graciously hosted us. Then it was off to the races. I knew that this map demands respect, so my plan was to start slowly, and always have a good plan. My main competition was Violeta, the Spanish Team runner living with Barb right now, but I was confident that I could take her on if I could run cleanly. I was in the huntress position today, starting 6 minutes back. 

The race felt unremarkable. I was trundling about slowly, never feeling like I could push the pace, because then I wouldn't be able to read the map and simplify away all the detail. but I was finding controls, one after the other, exactly where I expected them. This feeling is such a rush! I love this sport on days like that! 

Approaching control 7, I saw a flash of yellow up the hill from me - Violeta's jersey! She was clearly still in search-mode, so I snuck up to the control and then blasted away down the hill to 8, hoping she hadn't seen me. Definitely a confidence boost to know you've picked up six minutes on a competitor! She caught me on the hill up to #9, where I was sucking wind and she was blithely bounding away. I tried to maintain contact up the next hill to 10, but simply didn't have the legs. Luckily, this was followed with a trail descent, so I had nearly made contact by 11. We stayed separated by maybe 20 seconds for the rest of the course, neither able to make up ground or out-navigate the other, but in my chase I managed to have the second-fastest finish split among everyone on that course (including the M-20s, a tough group to beat in finish splits), and nearly won the course outright - my companion from the Highlander, Joe, bested me by 10 seconds. So close!
En route to crushing a finish split. I guess that means I could have tried harder during the rest of the race...

The second day of racing is always difficult. The overall winner is the one who is fastest with a combined time from two days, so could I hold off Violeta by 5:30 minutes? I was feeling fairly confident, but given her hill-climbing prowess, I knew that if the course were faster, or if she avoided making a 7-minute error, I'd be in trouble. Pressure!

I was starting first this time. My approach was the same as yesterday: Calm, smooth, and steady. But approaching #2, on the trails, I made a big mistake, overrunning a trail junction for a minute and a half before spidey sense tingled. Arrrrgh. I tried to put the mistake out of my mind, and carried on with the course. I was starting to get into the flow of things, and then there was another long leg to #5, which I again elected to do on trails. Things were going great, until right at the end, when I made a parallel error, thinking I was at the correct little reentrant with a cliff next to an open nose right off the trail, when I was at an identical feature nearby. Five minutes gone, like that.  Now I really was running scared, pressure totally on. I thought I was better than eight minutes of mistakes! 
Following a beagle to the end will always make me happy.

I got back into the game after that, but I wasn't feeling very good about the run. I couldn't stick around to see how Violeta (or Izzy, who hadn't been very far behind on the first day) were going to run. In my infinite wisdom, I was running two races in one day, heading down to Groton for my fifth Grand Tree race. I want to run six this year, and after missing most of the summer thanks to knee-bashing-marathon-not-training, I need two more. So, I abandoned Ed at the event, and got to the start of the trail race with about 20 minutes to spare. Perfect! 

Probably the less said about that race the better. The course was very pretty, a single 9-mi loop through golden leaves and winding trails, with minimal elevation gain. What elevation there was to gain came in the form of short, steep, glacial hills, which were perfect for my tired legs, because I could justify hiking. I found myself in third place after a few miles, and managed to stay there, trailing the woman in 2nd for most of the remaining miles, but never able to close the gap. Not much spark, but a beautiful day for an up-tempo run in the woods, and I won a bottle of home-made wine for my efforts! (it's the thought that counts... I've had better)

Upon getting back to my car, I checked my phone for results, and found that not only had I hung on to first overall, I beat Violeta on day 2, too! She had had a rough time out there, unused to the map or the terrain, but I was mostly just happy to win the overall weekend! I haven't won a National Event in a very long time, so this was pretty exciting for me. Nice confidence boost before the classic distance championships in November! 

I won a box of rocks! Chocolate rocks

Some photos below from the weekend before, at a training camp in VT with my juniors. We had a mix of weather, but some very nice workouts, and Ed was cooking for us, so we had some good food too. Hashtag happy place?

Can't beat days like that for a long rollerski

Secret training

Gorgeous view from the Jericho biathlon range, where the kids raced on rollerskis

Definitely the most important part of any camp is eating.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Hudson Highlander

The Hudson Valley Orienteering Club hosts this great event every few years, a metric marathon (26.2km) of orienteering through Harriman State Park. Harriman is a magical place for orienteering, this totally rugged wilderness with interesting terrain and great visibility and maps that date 30 years back to the 1993 World Orienteering Championships, to date the only WOC ever hosted by the USA. These maps are remarkably still accurate, because the mountain laurel grows slowly, and the blueberries don't change. Running on these maps is a challenge and a pleasure, and doing it for 26km takes some serious oomph. 

Ari and I drove down Saturday night, for a brief refresher on orienteering at Harriman, and to stay at the new AMC Harriman Center. It was pretty swanky. As for orienteering at Harriman, first you read the terrain, then you go "wheeeeee!" while dashing through it.


Breakfast at the AMC. Smoked salmon, no less.

Morning was clear and cold, but warmed up quickly.

This is one of my favorite sections of Harriman. Forest lawn, giant oak trees, and all those rocks! And some blueberry, of course. I really appreciated that the course sent us over there.

I still don't have the fitness at my disposal that I wanted. It's coming back, but I'm not trained for a 4.5-hour race right now. I suppose not many people are. I had done a double-header weekend two weeks prior at the Rochester Orienteering Club's National Event, and I was definitely disappointed with how I felt physically. My navigation wasn't great either, but that's a quicker fix. Time to moderate my expectations, and hopefully not injure my knee any more. I should mention that it's certainly not 100% healed. But it's the Highlander! I'm not missing the Highlander for some pesky kneecap swelling that isn't doing structural damage.

Anyway, setting a goal to just enjoy the day and the navigation and the camaraderie is not easy for me. I'm an inveterate racerhead, and I really like to win. Even if I can't win, my MO is to fight tooth and nail for every second. My attitude is generally that I may not be more talented than you, but I can suffer harder than you. I don't do mellow very well.

So here we are, start line of a race, and I'm determined not to race, but just to run. The first control was a real test of willpower, as it was just around a lake, maybe a mile of flat running. It's hard to watch people run away from you when you're wearing a bib. But I did it, and settled into a group with Joe, Stefan, and Keegan, loosely together as we navigated the first few controls. The first QOM leg was a short little bump, and I opened it up just enough to open a gap to the girls on the Lowlander who had caught up, but then pulled the effort back under wraps. Then we had another long leg back around the lake, and I was trailing behind Ari and Joe, unwilling to put out more effort but wondering if it was worth it just to have some company.

With the first map done, it was off to the second loop. I made contact with Joe, and we reeled in another group with some better navigating. I was enjoying myself immensely, just running within myself and letting the terrain dictate where I was going. No fighting the blueberry bushes today, I was looking for the microroutes and the deer trails. The deeper blueberry, I just walked. It made things so much easier! And slower. Walking is not fast.

As I neared the penultimate control on the second loop, Joe made a comment like "I think you're leading." What? How is that possible? But it was true, Violeta, our visiting friend on the Spanish National Team, had made some big mistakes, and was approaching the control from behind me. As I jogged toward the map exchange, we chatted for a bit, and I was sorely tempted to throw down, and challenge for the lead. I managed to stay true to my goals, knowing that a faster run would aggravate my knee, and that I didn't have the fitness to sustain more effort. That was hard. It felt like failure, like giving up before the race was over. It felt like a lie to who am I am what I do. At the same time, that was a success. The beginning of my recreational racing career, which I need to embrace if I intend to keep doing this sport my whole life. 
As I started the trail run, old injuries started to bother me. My achilles on one leg and my ankle on the other were starting to make themselves known, in a painful manner. The trail was undulating, sometimes rocky, sometimes clear and sometimes mostly just through the woods. It was beautiful, but I wasn't moving fast. I emerged from the trail run and into the final map, feeling a little down on myself. The "old" Alex would have crushed that leg, and instead, it crushed me. I rolled into the feed station and picked up the fourth map, and upon seeing that the first few controls would visit my favorite part of Hoegencamp Mountain, my spirits were lifted. This is going to be fun! 
I did much more walking on the fourth map. Pretty much anything with blueberries, anything rocky, anything uphill. Violeta put 15 minutes on me. I made a stupid error on control 22, in front of a family picknicking on a knoll. "Have you found the thing yet?" After hitting the water stop again, it felt like a long slog to get back to the finish, but I just kept moving. No emotion, no effort, just one foot in front of the other. I was done with admiring this beautiful day and these beautiful woods, I was just tired now and wanted to be done. I eventually jogged in to the finish, and less than a minute later Joe came in. Amazing how close a finish can be when you haven't seen someone for two hours! 

In the end, I was the second woman, and way back among the men. It was a very successful outing as a long run, and I achieved the goal of finishing no more broken than I'd started. Getting to spend that much time moving through Harriman terrain is a real treat, and I enjoyed sharing miles with Joe. I'm looking forward to coming back next year, fully healthy and fit enough to race. Huge thanks to HVO for the race!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Rediscovering the edge

It's been a while since I've really pushed a race effort. There were the weeks of marathon training, the weeks of not-training, a week or two of a chest cold, then the marathon itself, which, while a hard effort for sure, was not the sort of hard effort that makes you bleed from your eyeballs and scrabble in the dirt as the lactic acid demons drag you down. Those sorts of efforts need to be consumed in moderation, of course, but if you don't taste them from time to time, you lose the ability to savor that racing edge.

With my knee on the mend, it looks like I'll actually be able to do the races on my horizon. Three weekends of orienteering National Events, and a couple cross country races with my junior skiers. The skills that need refreshing right now are some basic navigation, and some re-familiarization with the pain cave.

The first stop was Pawtuckaway State Park, for UNO's famed Camping Weekend. I love this weekend, mostly for its infamous Wicked Hahd Night O. But, I actually decided to try and keep my knee on the healing track, as opposed to the more-broken track, and chose to just do one race at Pawtuckaway, instead of the usual three races. Bummer, being smart isn't nearly as much fun as making bad decisions!

My goal for the run was to stay focused on good technique the entire time. Exit direction, and make a plan. I wanted to try and do these things under a little bit of stress, because anybody can orienteer well at slow speed if you think about it enough. So, time to apply some oomph. Click below for the full map:

In general, things went well. I was forcing myself to look at my compass, and sometimes it told me to go directions that I didn't want to go, but if I listened to it, I would arrive in the right place. Useful little tool, that. I had a lot of hesitations along the way, some of them because I hadn't fully visualized my plan yet, and some of them just because I couldn't read the map while running. Never my strongest suit, it was definitely the first skill to go. Below is a zoomed-in version of some of the map, with a bit of annotation from the brain of Alex -

Prime example of how quickly orienteering skills go rusty. The green is where I'm running with some degree of oomph, yellow is sort of a slow confused jog, and red is... not fast. Also, beautiful map layout, with the label for control 12 overlapping the control 1 circle and its line... you just can't unsee this sort of shit.

Leaving the start, I had had a moment of panic - omg, I'm alone in the woods, and I don't know where I am! It didn't take more than 15-20 seconds to remember that it doesn't matter where I am, just where I'm going and how to get there, and then things were a little smoother. It was so much fun to run through the woods again, and I was pleased to find some bounce in my legs and that I hadn't lost all my ability to duck and weave and bash and jump. There's hope for next weekend if I can listen to my compass and make a plan for each leg. I was winning the course by about nine minutes when I left, but results aren't online yet, so I don't know how I fared in the end.

Next step was a little exploration of the pain cave. The CSU juniors were running an uphill test at Wachusett Mountain on Sunday, so it was time to join them. After a pretty solid warmup, my knee was complaining a little with all the bending. I decided that it was probably going to be fine; this wasn't pain, just some swelling interfering with normal movement, and uphills aren't fast enough to really hurt things. We had a good crowd there, with a number of hardcore parents joining their hardcore kids, and the weather was perfect. 

The time trial goes up the road, which is actually pretty flat except for two pitches. We started out, and like any uphill time trial, there isn't much strategy. I started near the back, and slowly moved up toward midpack by the time we got to the junction. After you turn the corner it's steep for a little while, and I did not feel efficient. Unused to this much suffering, my brain was asking perfectly reasonable questions, like "can we stop now?" and "what if we just slow down a little?" So, I went a little faster, because clearly if my brain can think reasonably, I'm allowing it too much oxygen. As we neared the top, I was definitely anaerobic, and it was sort of sad how little speed was garnered for so much effort. But, you have to start somewhere, and spending 19 minutes peering around the pain cave and dusting some of the cobwebs near the entrance isn't bad for a day's work. 
The "bonus trip up the hill" kids on top of Wachusett.

After another trip up, this time on trails and more of a threshold effort, I was good and done. My knee felt a little complain-y, but with no pain, I'm feeling positive about being able to compete successfully next weekend at Letchworth. I don't have a huge amount of fitness to back me up, but this weekend assured me that I can still muster a little speed if I need to.
My orienteering skills are about as unused as this pitchfork in our garden. 

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Quebec City Marathon

After injuring my knee, I didn't think I'd be running the marathon I'd signed up for. Even if my knee were recovered by race day, I had done exactly 14 miles of running over those 33 days, none of it pain-free, and was feeling the effects of being completely out of shape. I had been on a bit of an accelerated marathon plan, transitioning from my usual mountain running fun to road miles for 12 weeks, and to miss five of those weeks meant I would find no success in this race. To put it simply, I was completely unready to run a marathon.

I knew this. My marathon-running friends knew this. My coaching buddies knew this. And yet, Ed and I went to Quebec, because I wanted to give it a shot anyway.

My intention was mostly to have a nice tourist-y weekend in a city that I'd never visited in summer. We nailed that, and had a truly lovely weekend, filled with walking, eating, drinking, and enjoying each other's company. I'd rented an Airbnb in Lévis, the city across the river from Quebec, within walking distance of the ferry over to Quebec City, which costs less than an MBTA bus. It was perfect, and we had a really nice Friday night wandering the old city. Saturday was more of the same, with a vague goal of finding the race expo to pick up my number, and then finding a poutine place I'd read about on a blog where the blogger was searching for the best poutine in Quebec City. We were not disappointed! The other very important find of the weekend was a chocolate shop in Lévis that made the best chocolate-dipped ice cream I have ever eaten in my life. This shop featured prominently in my motivation during the race on Sunday.

View from the Lévis side of the river.

The big one was for Ed, the little one for me. Very enjoyable hibiscus blond ale! 

Funicular! Had to take it to save my legs, and also because a certain engineer needed to see how it worked from the inside.

Hotel Frontenac, lit up by night

This city has such great walkable streets

Elm trees!! I don't think I've ever seen a live elm before. 

View from across the river. Apparently many hundreds of cannonballs were shot from this position at various points of history.

Poutine, from the Snack Shack. 

One of several poor decisions to finish something this weekend.

That chocolate shell was like 1/4" thick, no joke. This was the hazelnut version.

After a quiet night in, it was time to start thinking about this long run I was doing on Sunday. I'd been sort of ignoring it, trying not to think about how unprepared I was. At some level, I knew it was a bad idea to start the race, but I also knew that I'd kick myself if I didn't try. My Physical Therapist hadn't thought that I'd be doing any structural damage if I ran, but advised to let pain be my guide. My race plan, such as it was, was to head out at the slowest pace that would still qualify me for Boston. I had 5k splits written on my arm, to keep me honest. If I started to drop below those splits, I was to drop from the race.

4:30 rolled around and I had no trouble getting down oatmeal and coffee. The lack of nerves almost scared me, but I realized that meant I had the right attitude - it was just going to be a waiting game, and see what my legs do. Ed dropped me off at the start, and it was downright chilly, but I knew I'd warm up. The race had people wearing rabbit ears, who were the pace bunnies, and after an easy warmup, I lined up a couple rows behind the 3:30 bunny. Off we went, and it felt similar to the ultras that I've done, just chilling with a bunch of other people, some chitchat, the pattering of feet. The 3:30 bunny was running closer to 7:40 than 8-minute pace, so I dropped back, monitoring my own pace and heartrate. My knee had no feels, happy to jog along.

The course started up on top of the plateau, and after an ever-so-slight rise, it cruised downhill for the next couple miles. This part was great, the game was all about not running too fast, and the cool weather and lack of any fatigue in my legs (see, there are *some* upsides to not doing any training, whatsoever, before your marathon!) made me feel pretty awesome. Ed was cheering for me at around 7mi, and seeing him gave me a warm fuzzy.

At that point, though, the course flattened out along the river. There was a bit of a headwind, and without the downhill to carry me along, I started to notice my lack of fitness. My heart rate started to climb, even though I was still holding the pace fine. I knew that if my heart rate got much above my anaerobic threshold, I would be cooked, but I also knew that slowing down wasn't an option in this race plan. Go at that pace until you can't hold it anymore. I did have a bit of a time buffer thanks to the easy early miles, but as the work started to accumulate, I knew I was in trouble. The halfway point was still on pace, but I was working way too hard.

Shortly after the halfway point, the course started to climb, gradually, back up the embankment to cross the route 173 bridge. This is where my fitness ran out. I could fake it for 14 miles, but that was where it ended. I did some walking up the hills, willing my heartrate back down to a sustainable level, but I knew that this was probably the end of my Boston shot. Coming across the bridge, the blister under my toe started to become unbearable, and my hips started to tighten up. Curse this lack of running training! At this point, according to my plan, I was supposed to drop out. I had just dropped a 28-min 5k, and there was no reason to believe that it would get any better. But my race brain managed to convince my legs that maybe they'd pick up the pace again coming off the bridge. You're right! Downhills are awesome!

So then I was down from the bridge, and both hip abductors cramped up, violently. Oof. There was some point, coming down from that bridge, where I had decided that I wanted to finish this thing. I knew at that point that I was done - I could not speed up, not without my legs cramping up. But, what is eight miles in the grand scheme of things? I should be able to tough this out. I want to finish this marathon. I'm an idiot. So, I kept moving, and the abductor cramps faded, to be replaced with adductor cramps, off and on. I had been walking through all the aid stations the whole race, to drink down the entirety of my cup of water or gatorade or whatever it was I was needing at that moment, but now I was starting to walk for longer periods through the aids. Again, should have just dropped. The next muscles to go was the right calf, exhausted from trying to protect my gimpy right ankle. My hamstrings were threatening, but since I wasn't really striding anymore, just sorta shuffling, those were holding out. I started to walk more. Soon forced myself into a rhythm - run 180 strides, walk 45. I did more pace counting in that last 10k than I've done in my entire orienteering career.

The last 10k were terrible. I mean, I should have expected this. There is no reason to believe that I should be able to run a marathon after five weeks of not training, and on a pretty minimal plan before that. It was just my head pushing me to the end. I just wanted to say I had done it. Why?!? Every time I tried to move faster, some muscle in my leg would protest by cramping violently, so even the running parts were barely moving. But I couldn't let myself stop. Eventually I crossed the line, and my pride was utterly shattered. I was nearly an hour slower than I had wanted or needed to be. I did not belong there remotely. Why do I have these ridiculous ideas about finishing races? Why can't I do the reasonable thing and drop out when it makes sense? I guess nothing hurt badly enough to actually do that.

Ed was waiting for me at the finish, and managed not to laugh too badly at my distress as I tried to put on sandals with every leg muscle cramping. We very slowly made our way back 2km to the ferry, and I think that slow waddle was very good for my recovery, considering the next activity would be to sit in a car for 7 hours. Ed is the real hero, for doing all the driving!

The chocolate dipping options at the chocolate ice cream shop.

But before the car ride home, chocolate-dipped ice cream! Boy was that ever tasty.