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!

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