Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Blue Hills Traverse and Thanksgiving Camp

This year's Blue Hills Traverse went to new parts of the Blue Hills, starting on Ponkapoag and transitioning to BH West. It was a nice course, with legit features (though 17 was annoying), friendly running with not too much green or pointy stuff or steep hills.

My plan for the race was to start reasonably fast, cruising on some of my marathon fitness when on trails and roads. I knew I hadn't been in the woods much, but was hoping the residual strength would carry me through, as long as I didn't do anything too stupid. That was all going swimming well for the first five minutes, and I was near some faster guys and feeling relatively comfortable. Five minutes isn't very long. Leaving #1, I was still debating a left/right route choice as I cruised down the hill, tripped over something crossing the trail, and rolled my ankle pretty bad. Youch. Had to stand there for a while, trying not to say bad words, to let the pain fade and determine if I could run. Eventually I decided I may as well start walking down the trail, and soon I could run again, if gingerly. The rest of the race, off-trail and and wobbly rocks were bad news.

By #2, I'd caught to the tail end of a group containing Aaron, Bo, Neil, and importantly, Rachel. I don't care about the boys, but I really want to beat any women, and Rachel has some serious orienteering chops. She also has two young children, which can put a dent in your training volume and quality, so I thought that given the mass start nature of the course, I could probably out-kick her. But you never know, and now that my ankle was iffy, my confidence was shaken.

We were basically together the rest of that side of I-93, with occasional placement changes as we all took different micro-routes. I had fallen a bit off the end as we emerged from the woods and onto the overpass to cross the highway, and used the stretch of pavement to catch back up and move to the front of the group. Gotta play to your strengths, so I also used that time to scout some other paved or trail running routes for later in the course.

After the butterfly loop, I chose the right-hand road route to 15, dropping Rachel, and was behind Jimmy and Ernst climbing the hill toward the trail to 16, where they solidly dropped me, despite lots of huffing and puffing on my part. I wasn't alone for long, as Aaron caught up around there, and helped me blow less time on 17 than I would have done alone, wandering on the hillside trying to find a little boulder.

We went left to 18, but the trail was rocky, and my ankle was bad, and then I got confused by the cliffs in the circle, going to the unmapped one first. D'oh. From there, Aaron went up to the road, and I went straight, and stopped early, not quite making sense of things. By the time I actually got to 19 I could see Rachel approaching. Dang! She caught me at 20, and we ran together for a bit before hitting a road, where I knew I had one more shot. I was clearly faster on roads, so I just had to make the break stick this time. Took trails up toward 21, and I was thinking about running fast, more than my navigation, which is never a good plan. My brain, deprived of both oxygen and common sense, thought I was on a different trail than I was, and I ended up running all the way to the junction south of the control before realizing it, and had to hook way back to get the control. Luckily didn't waste time on it once I realized my mistake, but I knew Rachel wouldn't be far behind.

I had to be cautious running through the woods toward 22, and as I crossed the trail and started climbing, I saw Rachel pop out of the woods just south of me. I had maybe a 10-second lead, and I wanted to push that to 20-30 seconds so that I was out of sight. Ok, this really is your last shot now. I pushed HARD up the climb to 22, catching and dropping Aaron and Jimmy, then blasted away before anyone could latch on, following the index contour (it's the big obvious one on the ground) toward 23, gasping and stumbling and yelping the whole way. Basically running scared. I chanced a glance behind me at 23, didn't see Rachel, but didn't let up down the hill. The effort paid off, and I ended up with a nice 1.5min lead, and the winner's gingerbread man! To be fair, I don't think Rachel was going quite as all-out as I was, but a win is a win, and it was a lot of fun to have to fight so hard to defend my title at this race.

A blue-lipped smile

Thanksgiving Camp
After a nice Thanksgiving celebration at Ed's aunt and uncle's place (only 27 folks at dinner, a small gathering this year for them), I left Ed at home and headed up to Craftsbury for our three-day mini camp with the juniors. Craftsbury had gotten a couple sweet dumps of snow over the last week, so we had some really excellent early-season conditions. Race skis all weekend! We got in some excellent distance skiing, and then topped it off with either a time trial or some hard uphill skate intervals on the new 5k south course. Good times.
Forced family fun includes Thanksgiving walks at 15 degrees F

It wasn't all just blissful skiing, though. One afternoon, we had nearly the entire group together, doing a speed workout as we made our way around the 5k course. This is a thing we do all the time, all teams do it, it's great practice to race down the hills with your buddies and learn how to ski aggressively.

I don't think anyone was doing anything wrong; the boys were sort of jostling coming down a hill,  and probably somebody miscalculated or misjudged or misstepped or something, but really I think it was just bad luck. One of my boys hit a tree at full speed, and things got real pretty quick. He was out cold, and it really freaked out all of his teammates. Luckily, CSU has a lot of doctors, level-headed kids, and wilderness response experience, and we were all there. So, Maile took most of the kids off on a race to get the medics on site, the doctors stabilized him, checking vitals and clearing the scene, someone else blocked the trail with some skis, and we got some jackets on him. Within about 20min the snowmobiles had arrived and gotten him to an ambulance, with at least one CSU doctor in tow.

While he's going to be fine, and is making a speedy comeback already, it was a really scary situation. Things could have been really different. The kids were understandably really freaked out, but I was really impressed with how well they acted in the moment. Thanks to the juniors reacting maturely, having half our coaching staff be medical professionals, and having the accident at one of the most on-top-of-it ski areas meant that this sort of situation couldn't have gone better. But I hope it never happens again on my watch.

Now we're solidly into the shoulder season, hunting for snow and stoically weathering the cold rain. T-12 days to the first race!

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Loco Marathon

I got the idea in my head a few years back that I wanted to run the Boston Marathon. I mean, I'm a runner, I live in Boston, it only makes sense that I should do this race. But you've gotta qualify for the thing, and that means running a fast-enough road marathon before you can even sign up. And of course, I wanted to run reasonably fast, so that when people ask the inevitable "oh, you're a runner? have you run a marathon?" you can be like "yeah, and a fast one too."

I'm known for my humility.

After watching the 2017 race, there were so many people in it that I knew and they were all inspiring and I was all like "omg I wanna run this race!" But, it takes a while to get ready for a marathon, you have to do lots of long runs and do them on pavement and pay attention to pace, and all this stuff that is actually kind of new to me, because I run for time rather than distance, seeking hills and forest and rocks and things, and while I do regular track workouts, I have no idea how fast to run when it's just on a boring old road. So, I downloaded a training plan from the internet, tweaked it to fit all my other various athletic obligations, and signed up for the Quebec City marathon, pretty much the latest race I could run and still sign up for Boston to run the 2018 race. Enter the Great Smashed Kneecap of Summer 2017, an ill-advised 24-hour couch-to-marathon plan after 9 weeks off, and definitely no BQ.

That's ok, we all have setbacks. My kneecap recovered just fine, and I signed up for a spring race, convincing my friend Sharon to join me at Sugarloaf. Enter the 2018 World Cup course setting and subsequent knee injury (of the other knee) brought on through too much skiing, too little sleep, and far too much stress. That one took two months of patiently waiting for my body to fix itself, again without really being able to bend my knee during the recovery time. A little gun shy that mere stress could trigger actual physical ailments, I was careful returning to training, and hesitant to drop yet another $100 on a race entry if I didn't think I could race it. Thanks to time and the tireless work by the folks at Beantown Physio, I finally declared myself healed and ready to rock this July, and started to put in some miles again.

But I still didn't sign up for a race. When you're coming back from zero, it takes a long time to get to the point where you're putting in adequate mileage to start to contemplate long races, and I wasn't willing to let myself latch onto a race, yet. Mentally and emotionally, I couldn't handle it if something happened and I wouldn't be able to run. And yet the miles ticked by, one at a time, until I was finally reaching that strange point in marathon training where 10 miles no longer feels like a big deal. And, with a little prodding from Sharon, I signed up for a race on October 28th - the Loco Marathon.

The race
B goal: BQ (3:35, though technically 3:30 because the race fills up)
A goal: Faster than that

Sharon was running the half marathon, while I got to do a second lap, but we could start together. I really had no idea how fast I'd be running - you're supposed to know these things, but I didn't have much to go on in terms of half marathons or 10ks. I figured I'd do what I do best, run by feel, and listen to my body. I have something like 700 race starts over the last decade to draw experience from, so even though the race course surface may be different, I'm still piloting the same beat up body.

Pre-race vibe
 The first ten miles were a total breeze. The weather was cool and misty, I had dressed perfectly for it, I had a happy song in my head, and there were plenty of people around me. I started out behind the 7:35 pace group, knowing that I just had to tick off every 5-mi lap in 40 minutes or less to hit my Boston Qualification (BQ) time. I figured that I should slowly let the 7:35 guy get out of sight, but I'd rather fall into a pace early and hang on to it as things got rough, than try to summon the extreme mental oomph required to negative split anything. Never been my forte, negative splitting. So, I cruised through those first five miles quite happily, chatting a little first with Sharon and then with another two ladies that I was near. The course was gorgeous, rural and pretty flat, through farms and fields on quiet roads. I think most of the traffic was from spectators who were trying to get to good cheering locations.

The second five miles were equally fun. I was relaxing up the hills, rolling down them, remembering to eat my special running gummies (gotta love a sport where you're not only allowed, but SUPPOSED TO eat gummy bears as you do it!), and smiling about how much fun it is to run. Each of the first two five-mile laps I'd earned about 2 minutes of cushion against my BQ, which I was sure I'd dig into later. The last three miles of each Loco loop were on a dirt rail trail, and I was expecting something a little more finished, maybe cinder. It was a bit of a surprise to thus find myself splashing through mud puddles on an uneven trail - hey, this is the good stuff! I wasn't expecting to actually have fun!

The course got much quieter after lapping through the half - seemed most people were just doing one lap. I started to pick off runners, seemed like a lot of people were starting to fade on lap 2. At the 15mi mark, I reminded myself that at Pisgah, I was only halfway done. This seemed to help with the almost-there syndrome that you otherwise get in long races. Stay focused, you've got a lot of running left to do.

We call this the staring-at-your-feet-face

The next five miles got tough. Some of it was being on a second loop of what you've already done, and some of it was just the accumulated repetitive motion starting to wear on me. I may be able to do 50ks and Pemi loops and whatever else, but those have so many different motions for your legs - this marathon business was the same damn thing, over and over and over. By my calculations, that's 18,180 strides that I took on Sunday, each one almost identical to the last. And, I was doing them considerably faster than all those training strides (maybe 720,000 strides, give or take a few thousand), because I didn't really know how fast I was supposed to be going in training. This wasn't nearly as easy as the first time through this loop.

Running was taking much more concentration, now, and I was more focused now, a little less smiley. My quads were doing their best to shit the bed, sharp pain with each step, and there's nothing to do about that except put it out of your mind and keep ticking off miles. I was very slowly reeling in a guy ahead of me when two guys that I'd dropped on the rail trail caught back up to me. This was excellent timing, because I was entering a pretty low point, wondering if I'd still hit a BQ if I walked the rest of the course. I got into their draft, back up to speed at 7:35 miles, and it was a lot of work, but I could keep my legs going through strength of will. Our little group of four continued to pick off miles, not much chatter now, and we finally got to the little hill before the rail trail and I knew I'd make it. I can force myself through three miles of anything!

Laughing at Sharon's sign. Chuck Norris never ran a marathon. It was really funny at the time. 

Sharon was at the top of the hill with some funny signs, and that totally bolstered my spirits. I was looking forward to the mud, too, if only because I wanted to use different muscles, and as I churned my way up the rail trail I caught a glimpse of a woman way ahead of me. Target: acquired. I started pace counting, just to stay focused and take my mind off my quads and keep moving, and though it felt like it took forever, I eventually caught up to her. Two miles left. You can count to 1440, just keep counting paces. The last 5-mi lap dinged, and I was still banking time against the BQ. Go me! One more mile. Half a mile. Two tenths. Started to see more spectators. Into the final muddy field. Oh man I can see the finish! Crossed that line, and I have never been so happy to stop running.

Still running, not jogging. splish splash!

HR and pace both slowly dropping as my legs crashed

Overall, I'm quite pleased with how the race went. I hit my goal, and even though I was exploring the pain cave for much of the last eight miles, I was able to push through without losing too much time. For having no idea how fast I ought to have been training, I discovered that the answer was "much faster than I did." It would have been nice to maintain my 1:39 half split, but I think without the faster road training, it just wasn't going to happen. A part of me wants to tackle this challenge again, because I'm fairly sure sub-3:20 is within reach, maybe even sub-3:15. But a much larger part of me is very happy to just sign up for and run the 2020 Boston Marathon and call it good (we all know a fast Boston Marathon is out of the question because of ski season).

The best part? Both knee injuries are just history. For the meantime, I have put that injury-demon to rest.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Orienteering USA Nationals

Orienteering USA Nationals were hosted by the Southern Michigan Orienteering Club and Orienteering Cincinnati, two weekends back. The joint effort meant that the venues were spread pretty far apart, but it enabled the event to happen, which was a good thing. Middle and Sprint distance races were in South Bend, Indiana, and the long distance was up near Bishop Lake, Michigan. Two states I hadn't orienteered in before!

Drive from Detroit to South Bend featured a lot of this

Middle Distance
I'd had a pretty hectic week at work leading into the weekend, and combined with a very short night of sleep to catch the early flight to Detroit, I was feeling somewhat zombie-ish for Friday's middle distance race. The map, such as we'd seen before the race, looked to be a flat course, with a lot of trail route choices. I knew it would feel like a cross country race, so I tried to psych myself up, but couldn't quite tap into the right mindset. The cold soaking rain wasn't helping matters, and I would much rather have been back in the warm hotel room wrapped in a blanket.

I also badly miscalculated how much time I had before my start - I had thought I had 40 minutes, but it turned out I had 7 minutes. Whoopsie. I tried to keep the effort steady at first, to let my legs warm up, but then found myself lacking enough give-a-damns to either push hard or to push through any forest. I fell into the trap of reading one control at a time, and thus got totally caught by the trap with the uncrossable fence (that, yes, we had driven past to get into the park. D'oh).

Not seeing said uncrossable fence on my map, because I was being a little lazy with the map reading, I chose to go straight-ish out of 11, and crossed the muddy slough. That part looked so innocent on the map! I was chest-deep, with a foot stuck under branches, and wondering if that was how I was going to die. Spoiler: I got out. Shortly thereafter, I emerged from the woods and hit the fence, and had I read the whole leg, I would have just run around to the north, stayed dry, and saved a few minutes and a lot of annoyance. Ah well, orienteering. You think you're soaked through when you orienteer in the rain, but you're not *really* soaked until you've gone swimming.
The red line is my GPS track. If you look at the beautiful piece between controls 11 and 12, you'll first see a zigzag on the trail, where I'm searching for a way through some thick multiflora rose. You can't quite tell how much time I spent wallowing in that thing blue line of muck, but that was a while, and then I had to run around the fence anyway. The thick dark blue line is the route I *should* have taken, thus saving myself a few minutes... d'oh. 

The few controls in the woods after the stream-fence debacle were too few to get me back into a good mood. Mostly, I was upset that I had skimped when packing, and would thus have to wear this wet and muddy kit tomorrow, too. Anyway, I finished the race not feeling great about it, and like I'd left some 3-4 minutes out there in terms of effort and sharp navigation, but it was good enough for a silver medal behind Ali, who had blazed around the course in lightning time.

Sprint Championship
Saturday was colder than I'd expected, but in good news, my kit, that I had painstakingly rinsed out in the shower, was dry enough to wear. There were two sprints today, and the combined time would be used to crown the national champion. Ali could only race the Friday race, so given the depth of the women's field, this race was mine to lose. My recent marathon training has been a lot of slow miles, so I was somewhat worried that I wouldn't have enough get-up-and-go for sprint racing, and I was correct in my worries.

Speaking of marathon training, I was also trying to get in my last hard-ish workout on the plan. My compromise involved doing two mile repeats in the warmup for my first sprint, and while the mile repeats felt great, I could tell as I was running that my sprinting was suffering. Not surprising.

The first sprint sent us across a knee-deep ford of a cold river on the way to the second control. This wasn't cool, because my feet were now wet and frozen, and shortly thereafter I felt my lower legs lock up because of the cold. The course was relatively straightforward, and I had good sprint-flow, always knowing my exit direction and anticipating well, but I didn't have much speed to give it. That was enough to take the women's win by 35 seconds over second place, who wasn't actually US-Championship-eligible, and third place among the men, just 43 seconds behind Wyatt.

We had a short break, and then it was time for the second sprint, which promised to be more woodsy. Alena, the second place woman from the morning's sprint, was starting just 1 minute behind me, so I was worried that she'd get to hunt me down. Indeed, after a few micro-route decisions that were the wrong decisions, and one long hesitation in the floodplain near #11, she had made contact. Darn! I tried to keep up, and slowly narrowed the gap, but the race was over too quickly. At this point I was totally exhausted, the heavy warmup, two races, and all of last week's stress crashing into me all at once. And we still had a 3h drive to get to the banquet location and our hotel for the night.

Handing out the medals after the sprint

Long distance championship
It felt like morning came too soon, especially considering how far west in the time zone we were. Pitch black at 8am! Today's race, up near Bishop Lake, promised to be some interesting glaciated terrain, again with relatively thick undergrowth, but at least some good navigational challenges to keep things interesting. It also promised to be even colder than Saturday, with the front that had blown through and brought a little ice and snow the night before. Exciting!

My plan for this race was to keep the effort pretty low, and treat it as a long training run. See the above thing about the marathon. I knew that my nearest F21 competitors would likely be running even slower, and I didn't want to totally trash my taper by building on the fatigue I was already feeling. So, the intention was to have perfectly clean navigation, looking for good micro-routes, sending it down the hills, and taking it easy on the uphills. This plan in general went pretty well, and the slower pace definitely helped me have clean navigation.

Fun glacial stuff!

This was interesting terrain and a fun course, not quite as nasty vegetation as I'd anticipated, despite plenty of green, which was well-used as a navigational challenge. I started out carefully, not sure how I'd deal with the glacial terrain, and made a couple hesitation-errors, but got into my flow moved steadily. I found myself choosing straight-ish routes, and reading the topography well enough. While this certainly wasn't a super fast time for me, it was good enough to beat all the women, even Alena, the speedy non-US-eligible runner! I was very pleased with that, as it was a little unexpected. Woo!

This is my last year racing in the elite category as per age classes. I can always choose to keep running against the elites, and may well do that for a while, but I also have permission to race the "old ladies' next year. Looking forward to it, but it was nice to go out with two gold medals and a silver!

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Pemi loop

This hike has been on my bucket list for a while, so when Ari mentioned that he wanted to run the Pemi loop this fall, I thought it might fit perfectly in with my marathon training. Kind of. At least if you look at it all squinty or something. I mean, hiking over 10,000ft of climb is totally good prep for rolling out 8-minute miles endlessly, right? Well, at the very least, this promised to fill my soul with mountain views and rocks and leaves and things, and I was all in.

Unfortunately my body didn't totally agree with this all-in attitude. My right foot hadn't quite recovered from Pisgah, and throwing another 50k at it, this time with hills, was not kind. But I started the day hoping for the best, because that's what I do.

We went debated the merits of clockwise vs counterclockwise in the car, and ultimately settled on clockwise, mostly because that was how Ari has always done it in the past, and it means you reach Galehead Hut after having already done the bulk of the climbing and rough trail. Gabriel and I were up for whatever, having never done this loop before and happy to rely on someone else's expertise.

We jogged off toward the Osseo trail with high spirits. Up the trail to Flume Ari and Gabriel quickly dropped me, and I discovered that my legs were definitely feeling the heavy training load from last week. I made the conscious decision to back off a little, because life is a lot more fun when you're not suffering, and gosh was it a beautiful day for putting one foot in front of the other! The boys didn't have to wait for *too* long at the top, and the ridge between Flume and Liberty was great. We jogged along happily, but once we hit Little Haystack, we started running into the crowds on the Franconia Ridge. I don't blame them, because that is the most amazing accessible trail that I can think of, but we passed maybe 100-150 people between Little Haystack and Lafayette, in both directions. The whole ridge was in a cloud, which took away any sense of distance, but it was nice to not get totally fried by the sun.
Looking east from Flume. One of those days!

South from Flume.

Hey we're going to go into that cloud! 

I had to do handstands on top of Lafayette, because tradition, and then we left the crowds behind as we traipsed off toward Garfield. I had been feeling pretty good along the ridge, but various injuries were starting to niggle as we descended from the ridge, and I knew I'd be in for a long day. Normally I can dance down the hills, but not this day. I tried to put the pain out of my mind, because with some overuse injuries you have the luxury of knowing that you're probably not doing longterm damage, and you can just push through. But, I was certainly feeling pretty battered by the time we'd gone up and down Garfield and the following lumpy bits of trail. Galehead was a welcome site!

One of my old skiers, Hannah, is working at Galehead this season, but unfortunately was out packing food for the hut last Saturday, so our paths didn't cross. But, she left me a plate full of bread and cookies, and a cardboard Pemi Loop Queen crown, which I tried to wear for the rest of the loop. Unfortunately, cardboard isn't a great material for durability when you're wearing it on your sweaty head, but I loved the thought of it!

Looking down into the Pemigewasset wilderness from Garfield

A bowl of soup at the hut, and then we headed off for our last real climb of the day, up South Twin. It's tough to get moving again after sitting down, but you don't really have a choice. Unfortunately by the top of this one, my plantar fascia foot was starting to really hurt, and the subsequent ridge, which should have been awesome running, was just sort of a painful slog, trying to match pace with the boys, and not being too successful at it. I'd never been up to Mt. Bond before, and it was gorgeous. Beautiful views of the Franconia ridge to one side and the Presidentials to the other, nothing steep or difficult to traverse, just lots of nice trail. Bondcliff was as cool as everyone has always said it is; I'd like to go do that again and have a picnic up there.

My Pemi Loop Queen crown on top of South Twin

Ari and Gabriel heading up Mt. Bond

The boys on top of Bondcliff

Thus some 22-something miles into the day, we finally started downhill, and my foot was pretty upset at being asked to bear weight. We still made it down reasonably quickly, but then those final five miles of flat old railroad by the river... those were rough. I couldn't put power through either foot, and resorted to sort of hillbounding with my poles, at a struggle shuffle 13-minute mile. Oof. Takes a long time to cover flat ground when you're going that slowly, but Ari was a good friend and hung back to tell me stories. Gabriel couldn't stand the idea of that final piece of trail taking so long, and ran ahead. I can't blame him, and wished I'd been able to manage a more respectable pace, but sometimes you just gotta run what you brung.

The eponymous river

So after a very long slog, we were back to the car, some 10.5 hours after starting. 30 miles and 10,000ft of climb is a big day, no matter who you are. What a crazy awesome day. Of course I wished I could have gone faster, because that's who I am, but for now I am very satisfied having just made it around. While that may qualify as a bucket list item, I'm not writing off doing it again, on fresher legs!

Monday, September 24, 2018

Pisgah 50k

Laramie kicked off a few weekends of racing, which is the good stuff as far as I'm concerned. Upon coming home, we had the Louisa May Alcott 5k with my junior skiers, and I jumped into the 10k, in light of my upcoming marathon. I had some diaphragm cramping problems, and sort of had to cruise my way through it, but it was definitely still fun to pin on a bib!

Managed to win my age class, by virtue of having not too many other people racing the 10k in my age class. But that meant I got to pose with Uta Pippig! 

That afternoon I headed up to Pawtuckaway, for UNO's famed camping weekend. I skipped all the daytime orienteering, but arrived in time for the potluck dinner and the Wicked Hahd Night-O. I was going back and forth with Ernst and Neil for most of it, but didn't really have the energy or ability to run away from them, and ended up in 2nd place behind Neil. Super fun!

Because two races in one day wasn't enough, I was set to run the blue course the next morning (the longest hardest one). But, enough other people around me at breakfast were running the next one down that I decided to follow the herd. The fatigue from a pretty heavy training load in Laramie, combined with the altitude and a tough week at work, meant that I was hardly upset about this decision! I had a relatively clean run, with the one exception being that I lost a trail I was trying to follow on my way to control #11. I didn't notice this for too long, and corrected poorly, dropping about two minutes. But my slow and plodding pace still netted me third overall, and ahead of all the ladies (though not by much). I'll take it! Results.

So fun to see so many kids getting ready for the vampire-o after dinner! 

The WHNO course with my track on top. Click for larger. You can see where I totally decked myself on the way to 15, because the track goes to that bright red you-were-stopped-here color. 

Sundays' course with my route. Pretty proud of how straight I went from 7-8! 

After Sunday's course, Ed had managed to show up with his new vehicle, and we went for a nice trail run on the windy singletrack. That is a much more fun trail when you aren't trying to use it to navigate! We'd offered to pick up a couple controls, since we were out there late, and as I collected controls, Ed collected a much better treasure - fresh chanterelles!

How he spends most of his time when it comes to the bus

Actually driving places now! 

Pisgah Mountain 50k
Anyway, you came here to read about the Pisgah 50k, not my wanderings around Pawtuckaway. I'd sort of been targeting this race, partly as a lead-up to a marathon in a few weeks, but partly because I haven't run it since 2013, and I wanted to run it again and successfully. The really difficult thing is that I knew I had to let go of 2013-version-Alex, because I know I am not that fast anymore. I wish I were; from the numbers you'd think I could match past efforts, but I think a large part of this is that my mindset has changed, and I'm less willing to lay it all out there in pursuit of a result. I had re-read my report from 2013, and the memory of how hard I'd been pushing, to keep up with Kelsey and then to hold her off, was pretty fresh. I didn't know that I wanted to do that again.

So, my goal for the day was to enjoy it - I usually run well when I'm smiling. I had 50 kilometers ahead of me, of this beautiful, piney, forested trails, and I had no obligations today besides putting one foot in front of the other to cover distance. So much fun! I really was looking forward to this. Unfortunately, the weather looked to be pretty awful - humid, and warming up to the mid-eighties by midday. With an 8:45am start, I knew I'd have quite a few hours of running in uncomfortable temperatures. Ugh. As I feared, the hot weather dictated much of the race for me.

Starting in a cloud. 97% humidity.

We started in a cloud, and I noticed that my heart rate wanted to climb too easily. I tried to take it easy and just chat with people in the beginning, and it was a really enjoyable first eight miles. Somewhere along the way I came to Emily and Tom, NENSA folks, and they were stopped, Tom having smashed his knee crossing a slippery brook. He insisted he could walk just fine, so I kept going, pretty sure Emily would come flying by soon. I got to the aid station about a minute faster than my last time, which was worrisome because of the humidity (was I working too hard?!), but encouraging that the marathon training of raising my baseline speed has been working.

I walked up the road climb from there with a group of three guys, and then things started to get tough as we kept going up on the trails. Emily passed me by, and I didn't even try to match her pace, feeling gassed and too out-of-breath. I ran the downhill well, catching back up to my three guys, and ran through the aid station at the bottom, passing Emily in the process, though she soon passed me right back.

I topped up on water at the water stop around 12mi, and then forced myself to do a bunch of jogging over the next few miles to the third aid station, on the lookout for bees the whole time. Didn't want to get stung again! I was still pushing the downhills pretty hard, but taking it easier on the uphills. Somewhere in here I had my first heat shivers, not a good sign. I arrived at the third aid station and got more heat shivers, so decided to back way off and just walk all the way up Pisgah mountain.

Of the three guys I'd been running with miles 8-16ish, the gray-shirt guy ran off strongly from the aid, and I never saw him again. Black-shirt guy passed me early up the climb, but blue-shirt guy, named Joe, caught me more slowly and we chatted a bit. I kept walking, trying to bring my HR down. My right foot, which has a touch of plantar fasciitis, was really starting to hurt in here. Coming down the hill, I had to focus on running, full stride and whatnot, because I just wanted to go slowly and limp on my foot. It's hard to change gears to a higher one, but it has to be done! I caught both black-shirt and Joe coming down the hill, but I wasn't feeling awesome. It was hot, I ran out of water near the top of Pisgah mountain and thus had a mile or two of dry running, and my stomach was starting to complain about this effort in this heat.

The fourth aid station is the start and the finish of the Kilburn loop. As I topped up water, guzzling quite a bit of it, the leading woman came in, having just finished the loop. She was also leading the race. Impressive! I waddled off toward the loop as she loped off down the trail and toward the finish, and I was feeling kind of negative. My foot was really unhappy with the gravel part of the trail, my quads and hamstrings were feeling the strain of running the downhills hard, and my stomach didn't like all the water I'd just guzzled. I made a concerted effort to keep sending it down the hills but I was definitely entering survival mode, and I did a bunch more walking than I should have back up the hill.

I finally got back to the aid station, and now the shortest way back to the finish was to just follow the course. Phew. I tried hard not to limp on my foot, because I didn't want to cause some other injury from running funny, and I passed a dude who was walking, which made me realize I wasn't actually that badly off. Into the climbs up Davis hill I did some pace counting to motivate myself to keep running, and near the top I heard footsteps behind me - Joe! We shared a few miles, walking the uphills and trying not to limp the downhills, and then when we hit the gravel road I told him he better run ahead - I was going to do some walking and my stomach was really unhappy.

About 0.7mi from the end, I passed the tailgating crew, and they told me I was third woman. I chuckled, and asked if they had any cold beer. I was promptly delivered an ice cold, delicious, bubbly, IPA, and it was heavenly. Finally something that I wanted to ingest! I drank about 3/4 of it before dropping it off at the next driveway (as suggested by the tailgaters), turning and giving them a thumbs up, to a rousing cheer. Started jogging again and managed to get across the line about a minute before 4th place, so it's good I didn't take the time to finish that beer.

So, while the race wasn't everything I'd hoped, I did manage to enjoy myself out there. I know I don't run particularly well in humidity and heat, so I sort of expected my stomach to turn at some point, but that was a tough one to finish. I don't like that it was 41 minutes slower than last time, so I guess I'll have to come back next year!

Super thanks to the race director and all the volunteers - the course was lovely, very well marked, and the aid stations were friendly and stocked with all sorts of good food. Great event!

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Rocky Mountain Orienteering Festival

The Orienteering USA Annual General Meeting was out in Laramie this year at the Rocky Mountain Orienteering Festival, and that seemed like as good an excuse as any to do some orienteering and dust off my map-reading skills before a busy fall. Laramie has some great orienteering, a mix of fast open short-grass prairie, rocky granite stuff, and a little bit of pine forest, that's rapidly dying due to pine beetle infestations. Between the great visibility and the firm ground underfoot, the orienteering there is super fast and confidence-inspiring - basically, orienteering in Laramie makes you feel like a real badass.

The altitude, though - that takes some getting used to. 8500+ feet is a lot of elevation, and on the first day stairs were a real struggle. I was out here two years ago, and pushed hard straight from the get-go, which led to some mild altitude sickness. This year, I had six days instead of three, so I determined to take the first two days a little easier.

The first day was a mass start run, on a wide-open plain. I walked every uphill, but let my legs go a little on the downhills, keeping a small pack in sight. We had a few controls in the woods in the middle of the run, and I was able to drop my pack, which always feels good, and then the course finished with some nice downhill legs, again, things to make you feel like a badass. Very enjoyable start to the week!

I was sharing accommodation with Tyra, a friend on the US Team, and the next day as we headed up toward the races, there was a sign that I-80 eastbound was closed due to an accident up on the plateau. Well, shoot. We tried one option to get around, but there just aren't that many roads in Wyoming, and this one ended in a padlocked gate with no trespassing signs, so that was that. We decided that the best possible thing was to make lemonade out of those lemons, and headed west into the Snowy Mountains, to do a longer hike. Such a good decision!

Big sky country

Bigger sky country

We started at Lake Marie, and immediately started climbing, up to about 12000 feet and Medicine Bow Peak. It was gorgeous, open alpine tundra with a smattering of rocks, and of course Tyra and I felt the need to run back and forth on the trail taking way too many photos.

Tyra in the zone

Gallumphing along, ponytail flying

The top of the peak was really cool. It's really the highest thing around, and nothing makes you feel more on top of the world than actually being on top of the world. Quick lunch, and then we headed out along a ridge rock-hopping the top, aiming for the end of the ridge and the next batch of alpine lakes.

Lake Marie behind me and the ridge we went up to get there

Looking down toward the shelf lakes and Brown's Peak

Descended to South Gap Lake, and eventually back up and over Brown's peak, but without a trail. There was a trail marked on the 1980 USGS map, but that was long since disused and disappeared. No problem in this terrain to just bushwhack, though, since everything is so open and accessible. But that did make for some slower miles.

Medicine Bow Peak from the other side, as we trotted down a gorgeous gently-graded footpath back to where we started. A very nice way to finish a long day! 

Lake Marie

So, while we completely missed the One Cowboy Relay race, our little excursion into the mountains was well worth it.

The next day was the first National Ranking Event race, of which there were four. It was a middle distance course, which meant technical orienteering that would keep us on our toes. I haven't been on a map much this summer, but had a good pre-race plan that kept me finding the controls one after the other. The only thing I regret is that I had none of that elusive flow, where you always know where you're going next and how you'll get there - it was more of a stop, look at map, go, stop kind of race. But, it was good enough for the win! 

This is a really cool rock up on the plateau. Naturally, Tyra and I went to the top. It's what we do. 

Super fun map, technical without just being a jumble of rocks. Those rocks in the northern bit were really awesome - some big slabs and boulders and all sorts of other rock configurations, that really challenged the orienteer to look beyond the rock to the landforms supporting it all. When done successfully, you could fly, but if you just looked for the right rock in a pile of rocks, that was slow. 

Handstands overlooking the orienteering terrain

After my success in the middle distance course, I didn't want to get complacent for the following three longer races. The scoring worked such that they'd count your best two of three races, so I figured I may as well start hard and see if I could hold the pace. Day 4, the first longer race, was in a surprisingly technical area. I had been expecting more of the short-grass prairie and fast running from the day before, since we were literally across the street, but there was much more sage and pine forest to contend with.

I managed to keep my head screwed on, though, and really pushed the downhills when the opportunity was there, while fighting juuuuust enough on the uphills to keep moving. I was feeling pretty good, considering that we were racing at 8600', but definitely not my normal self up the hills. The sage also made for difficult running - the stalks are really woody, and you have to sort of pick your way between the plants, otherwise you kind of just crash into a bush and get stuck. Overall, I was pleased with both my navigation and my effort, and I ended up winning the women's class by a big margin, and third among the men.

The next day Tyra and I were pre-runners, so that we could go out adventuring later in the day. Unfortunately, I don't think I'd had enough coffee at that point in the morning, or maybe I'd just lost too much energy in the day before, but I put together a really terrible, unfocused, lazy race.

I had good speed on some of the long legs, but I was incredibly unfocused in the circle, and was losing huge gobs of time on each control. In hindsight, I was focusing too much on the pace, and what was happening was that I was taking 2-3 minutes for my heart rate to drop enough for the oxygen to actually be used by my brain for me to find the control. In the end, I made about 10 minutes of errors, and finished about 5 minutes behind Sydney, a newcomer to the US Team, and well back among the men. Even though I know I'm retired from this sport, and thus not allowed to beat myself up, I was upset to have navigated so poorly, especially on such a fun course.

But we went on a small hike after, and that made everything better. This place is just so beautiful.

Dave Yee photo from the Middle Distance race

The final race I was determined to be clean, and aggressive with my navigation - always know what's coming! I started 2min behind Tyra, which is of course the preferred position. I watched her off towards 1, which meant I didn't have to read my map for a while, and took a solid 15 seconds out of her right there. I immediately paid for running too fast by crossing the wrong marsh. I thought I'd corrected for that reasonably quickly, but still lost a minute to Tyra in the execution of that leg. Whoops.

Good execution of a straight-ish route to 3, did a bunch of walking to 4, and then apparently my stick didn't register at 4. Huge bummer, because it beeped for me. Down to the lower trail, and then I made my own crossing of the marsh to 5, which involved waist-deep water with muck underfoot. I was hanging onto trees to keep from sinking into the muck, and then one of them broke off in my hand and luckily I still had momentum to lunge for the next tree. I emerged from the marsh relatively unscathed, and the dry air meant that I didn't stay wet for long.

I re-entered race-mode around control 5. I knew things had been a little wobbly up to that point, and it was time to lay down some faster km. Although I didn't know it at the time, I was in third for the women at control 5, about 20 seconds behind Sydney. But I was in fight mode, and comparing splits after the race, I was taking little bites of time out of each leg, which adds up to a lot if you do it right.

Exiting the technical rock stuff and into the fast stuff, I knew it was time to really get my suffer on. I kept my head up looking for micro-routes through the sage, and up the gradual hill to 15 I could see Tyra's back, but couldn't tell quite what the gap was, or if it was enough. I was pushing pretty much to my limit down the hill to 16-17, and nearly cracked coming over the hill to 18 and the finish, but it was enough - I had the fastest time.

I ended up taking about a minute out of Tyra, but of course it doesn't count, because I don't have a punch for #4. Luckily, I beat Sydney by enough on the first longer race to outweigh how much she beat me by yesterday, so I took the overall win. Winning is fun!

This trip was a ton of fun. Good company, good vibes, good orienteering, good adventuring, good training. Super thanks to RMOC/LROC for all the work that goes in to putting on this event!

Prairie portraits: me and a goldfish cracker.

The swag! 

It was a great little vacation out there, and I am so thankful to all the volunteers who made it work. Can't wait for my next chance to orienteer in the Laramie Range!