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!