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!