30 December 2011

Wrapping Up 2011

I'm going to feed two birds with one scone here and give you a 2011 wrap-up that will also serve as a get-to-know-me post, since, you know, I've been on The Blogspotter for about two weeks and change.

January - the month of no sugar. Photo from http://www.catesnutrition.com/sweet-deception/

Started the year off in style with a 1am drunken barefoot run to Qdoba in Lexington, KY with a bunch of camp friends. First Master's practice back I got promoted to Lane 6 "and promptly died" (I am still struggling in that lane today!). Turned 27 and celebrated with a long solo road ride, complete with nosh at The Wolf (best granola bars eva!). Gave up sugar for this month (except my birthday) and was really encouraged by how I felt - try it sometime!

February - Bonk Hard Chill 12hr AR. Arriving at the wrong checkpoint and realizing we have to turn around.

Celebrated my 1-year anniversary of orienteering with a women's win on the red course (and 4th overall) at SLOC's Cliff Cave meet. Reinforced that "a bad day in the woods is better than a good day on the couch" at the Bonk Hard Chill 12hr AR. Won my age group and was 7th overall female at Castlewood Cup 15k. Bought a Garmin 310XT, named it Rover, and hired my first coach. Also made friends with one of my favorite training partners - Megan!

March - Red Course as part of Gateway Grunt weekend. Big mistake at 4 and bigger one at 6.

Kicked off my first month as a coached athlete with nearly 80 hours of training! Experienced my first MAF test, first flop swim, and last indoor soccer game. Put new blingy wheels on the mountain bike with the help of Ballwin Cycles. Spent a weekend in the woods at S-F Ranch to help SLOC put on the Gateway Grunt and learned that red courses can school me.

April - swimming outside in Denver. Photo by Sonja W.
Jetted off to Denver for a weekend training with FPC. Was really getting in a groove with training when I tripped on the sidewalk, fell, and busted up my left knee. I didn't alter my training that weekend and it ended up costing me big - basically put all running on hold for 2 months.

May - Mission 18hr AR with Bill and Mike. This is prior to the world premier of Mike's muskrat song.

Despite a hurty knee, raced the Mission 18hr AR and got to swim for a CP, I was so stoked! Made some visits to SLIR and BJC to figure out what was going on with the knee, and didn't find out much. Finished 3rd female at ICCP MTB race and shared the podium with some speedy ladies. Started OWS-ing with Big Shark at New Town. Also at the end of this month I moved apartments for a cheaper and quieter place!

June - Grandma's Marathon, mile 24. Finished just under 5hrs! Photo by Mom.
Knocked out some great training rides in St. Charles and my first swim-only race at Sunnen Lake (2.0 miles in 61 minutes, no wetsuit). Flew up north to participate in Grandma's Marathon, my first attempt at 26.2mi, and stuck to my run/walk plan to save the knee. Started in the B race at Dirt Crits and tried to set a new max HR record (200).

July - STL's women's mtb scene is incredible.
Had an MRI which finally revealed a bone bruise on my patella. Evidently it's an injury that just takes time to heal and I was cleared for all exercise. To celebrate, I signed up for Ironman Couer d'Alene 2012 with AR teammate Mike and started the tater craze, now there are 20+ St. Louis triathletes racing. Rode 119 miles with some of the taters, my longest ride ever. Participated in Team Rev's Women's MTB Clinic and learned lots. Also spent my first of many hours doing repeats on Woods.

August - after Pigman I got to hang out with my cousins! They were awesome cheerers! Photo by Mom.

Spent a super training weekend in Branson with some fine chicas and got to preview a gnarly 70.3 course! Triathlon race season began late for me with Pigman HIM (S36:33, B2:50, R1:56, T5:27:58) , where I got to enjoy family and club support. It wasn't the best race ever, but no major disaster!

September - Branson 70.3, running in a huge rainstorm!

Realized huge gains in the pool and PR'd my 1000y TT by almost a minute - 15:29! Started tweeting. Raced Branson 70.3 (S35:55, B3:30, R1:51, T6:01:19), which qualified me for the 2012 70.3 World Champs...and turned the slot down. I will have other fish to fry next fall, and hopefully they will taste like adventure racing.

October - not my Halloween costume...my kit for ITU LC WC! Photo by Christy C-S.
Put in one last big month of training before my A-race, inspired by receiving my Team USA kit in the mail. Got to stalk my coach to a 10:08 Kona finish! Went to Toronto for work and enjoyed my first poutine as well as a few beautiful lakeside runs. Went back to Denver for another mini-camp, this time with my bike! Competed in the US Orienteering Relay Champs, first time on a map in awhile, and our team got third! After that, it was time to rest up before the big showdown.

November - ITU LC WC. Photo by Jason D.
Flew to Las Vegas for ITU Long Course World Champs. Executed everything to plan except...the swim was cancelled, and I experienced big IT pain on the run. So, at least the bike and the first 3/4 of the run went to plan. Came home, and slept lots. After emerging from what seemed like a 2-week nap (with a 5k thrown in there for fun), ran with Mike in SLOC's Turkey-O in prep for next month's off-road adventures.

December - putting it all together for a solid race at Castlewood 8hr AR.
Quite possibly the best month of racing I have ever experienced. Started off with a sweet 3rd-place overall finish at the Castlewood 8hr AR with Mike. Backed that up with an 11min-PR (good for 2nd AG and 8th OA female) at the Pere Marquette Endurance Trail Run. Backed that up with a women's win at Possum Trot XV. I was so pumped about these results I just had to start this blog! Then I got to return to Minnesota for Christmas and did my best to enjoy the atypical weather.

That's all for 2011 folks! It's almost a wrap! Now get outside and enjoy the last  few hours (and training opportunities) of the year!

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28 December 2011

Over The River And Through The Woods: A Christmas Urban Adventure!

If you look at my "About Me" page, you'll learn that I grew up in northern Minnesota...specifically Duluth. And despite the ridiculously cold winters this unassuming town can dish out, I love going back to visit for Christmas. This year's holiday was especially nice because my family had agreed upon "stockings only" policy for Christmas Day - no big presents, just little things for everyone's stockings. Since my brother is now out of college, we've all sort of reached the point where gift-giving is somewhat irrelevant because if there's something we want, we (luckily) have paychecks to pay for it. And more than likely it's a very specific item (me with bikes, my brother with cars) that our parents wouldn't really think of out of the blue. But Christmas isn't quite Christmas without some sort of anticipation, so we settled on the less-stressful realm of stocking stuffers. I HIGHLY suggest this to anyone, it made my Christmas shopping FUN, NON-STRESSFUL, and QUICK, giving me more time to hang out with my family and friends. Just what the holiday is about.

Photo #1: From the first part of my journey, overlooking Lake Superior (and the Aerial Lift Bridge) from Skyline Parkway.
On Christmas Eve, my mom, brother, and I went to church to rehearse for the evening service, and afterwards went out to lunch at a cafe near my house that serves the most delicious chicken chili. We didn't have plans for the afternoon so I decided to take a little urban adventure by hiking to my grandparent's house across town. I could have done this all on roads, but that wouldn't be very adventurous, so I made myself a map of a half-street, half-bushwhack route.

My very basic map for the route's second half.
The first half of my trip was simple, so I just wrote out the walking directions in the top left-hand corner of the map. The second half of my route would require some bushwhacking, and I didn't bring a compass home with me, so I tried to give myself lots of catching features (and bail routes) on the map in the form of labeled streets, and any features I could pick out from Google Maps (a few buildings, ponds, and cell phone towers). It was really tough to interpret any topography from the aerial photo but I decided to make do with what I had.
Photo #2: Just past the mid-point of my route.
Temperatures were in the 30s when I started. I brought about 1.5L of water in my CamelBak and a back-up chocolate bar. The first half of my walk was great. I stopped in a gas station to buy sunglasses because I forgot mine in St. Louis, whoops. The sidewalks were a little snowy but I was wearing my new hiking boots with Gore-Tex so it was a good chance to see how they performed. I got to the mid-point of my route with a good pace and soon it was time to strike off into the woods. To my surprise, I found a network of doubletrack trails which went exactly in my intended direction. Awesome!
Photo #3: The surprise doubletrack.
I had the woods to myself. I saw plenty of animal tracks, but no human bootprints and no residual people-noise. It was fantastic. I was continually reminding myself "I'm inside Duluth City Limits" because it felt like I was in the middle of a remote forest. In this section I crossed a frozen stream and realized I was literally traveling over the river and through the woods, to grandmother's house. Pretty cool to live out a Christmas carol on Christmas Eve!

Photo #4: Little bit of beauty in a horrible stretch of bog.
The worst part about the hike was a short section of dense, stubby trees. I don't know what species they were but if the ground wasn't frozen I'm pretty sure the ground would have been boggy or marshy. If this section was on an orienteering map, it would be dark green for sure - I was fighting to squeeze myself between branches every step of the way. I almost ran into an abandoned bird's nest because I was so busy stooping and weaving my way through the undergrowth. I looked up just in time and decided to take a picture, reminding myself that there are cool things to see even in thick woods.
My route. Red is on road, blue is through the woods. Green dashes are where I deviated from my intended route.
I went "off-course" a couple times but was able to correct both rather easily. The first time (between Photos #3 and #4) was a matter of just not going far enough north and I ran into some private property, but luckily I was able to skirt around the edge easily. The second error (after Photo #4) was bigger and was a result of not using a compass, I just traveled in the wrong direction and hit a road 90* from where I intended. It was fine because I soon came upon the marked intersection so re-routed myself easily.

Overall I spent 2 hours and 40-ish minutes traveling the 7.5 miles from my neighborhood to my grandparent's house. It was so fun, and soul-satisfying, to get into the woods in the middle of a city, and to add a little adventure to an already-beautiful day. My boots also felt great for the whole hike, which makes me happy about choosing them for Kilimanjaro. Pin It

22 December 2011

Review: Yurbuds Ironman Inspire

About 2 months ago I was browsing through a social media site (honestly, I can't remember which one) and saw a post from my favorite running store about recruiting volunteers to participate in a product study. The product was Yurbuds, and participants would be asked to submit to an interview, then real-life product testing and a follow-up conversation. In exchange, we would be offered a gift card to Big River Running. Sounded like a good deal to me and I called the number immediately and left a message. A few hours later, Ken at Fred Sparks called me back to schedule an interview. I'm in! Sweet!

I visited the Fred Sparks offices a few days later to answer some questions. They first wanted to hear about my normal athletic training habits (um yeah....where do I start...). Then they placed two boxes on the table in front of me: one Ironman Inspire and one Ironman Endure. (Then we talked about what my reactions would be if I saw these items in a store, how I would evaluate them, how I interpreted the packaging, and eventually which one I would purchase. I chose the Ironman Inspire because I have used other brands of behind-the-ear headphones like the Endure and didn't really care for them. Then, they asked me to open the Inspire package like I would if I had purchased it and brought it home. We discussed my reaction to the package contents and my first impressions of the product. The entire conversation was recorded on video and audio. It was a little intimidating since I have never been exposed to the inner workings of the marketing industry, but I did my best and tried to be honest. At the end of the interview, I was instructed to take the Ironman Inspire yurbuds home with me and use them in my workouts for the next week.
My scribbles on a promo photo taken from www.yurbuds.com

One point of clarification - I consider the yurbud itself to be the silicone funnel-shaped tip that fits ONTO earbuds. To my understanding, all of the product sold in stores includes both the yurbuds and a pair of earbud-style headphones. The yurbuds are removeable and it seems like they would fit on just about any brand of in-ear style headphone.

My Ironman Inspire yurbuds came with me on 2 runs, 3 bike rides, 1 lifting session, and a few car trips (side note: my car does not have a stereo, so on long journeys I use headphones. That might be illegal...). Overall, I really enjoyed using the yurbuds and I have continued to use them after the "trial period" finished. I think they shine the brightest in activities where you want to discourage/block outside noise. In my life, this meant I enjoyed them the most in the gym and on my mountain bike. In the gym, the silicone yurbuds do a GREAT job of cutting out extraneous noise like generic TV channels, background music, old guys' grunting, etc. This helps me focus on MY workout instead of getting distracted by the latest political rant. In the great outdoors, the yurbuds deliver music much more effectively than a regular earbud alone. I proved this to myself by doing a 40-minute run, the first 20 minutes with the yurbuds and the last 20 minutes with just the earbuds. In the last 20 minutes (without the yurbuds), I had to crank the volume up on my iPod and still couldn't really hear my music with the same clarity as WITH the yurbuds.
In my former life, I was a model. Can you tell?
I also used the yurbuds while road biking, and they worked TOO well. I felt they blocked out the background street noise to a degree that decreased my situational awareness and was dangerous. I experienced the same feeling to a lesser degree while running. Since I use headphones only when I run alone, it would be only too easy to start jamming out to my tunes instead of paying attention to other people on the street - other people that might not have my best intentions at heart. So, please, use your yurbuds in appropriate situations only!
All set for tonight's workout!
One final note, I found the yurbuds to be easy to fit and very comfortable. My inner ears never got sore (as they have with other earbud products). I lifted, biked, ran, and was generally active with the yurbuds and was never worried about them falling out. So if you are craving extremely high quality of sound and a comfortable headphone experience, look no further than your nearest yurbud store! Pin It

20 December 2011

EK Climbs Kili: Prep Work

In the future I hope to have grander tales of struggle and adventure but for now, here are some details about the not-as-fun side of climbing Kilimanjaro: paying money and getting shots.
After we decided to actually go ahead with this crazy plan and travel to Africa, there was the small matter of booking flights and finding a guide service. It is Tanzanian law that no person enter the national park that is Mount Kilimanjaro without a registered guide. There are hundreds of guide services as you can probably imagine, and the aspiring trekker has lots of questions to answer:
  • Tanzanian- or foreign-operated?
  • Expensive or affordable?
  • Minimal support or full-on luxury climb?
  • Ethical or terrible?
...and so on. I did some research (surprise...) and used resources from the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project, the International Mountain Explorers Club, and Climb Mount Kilimanjaro to help guide our guide selection. After reading trip reports and doing lots of budget calculations, we decided to hire Good Earth Tours to guide us up the mountain.
Chris did lots of research on flights and we found a reasonably-priced ($1200) round trip JFK-AMS-JRO flights on KLM and booked those first. The next week, we sent in our deposit to Good Earth. Then I posted on facebook and received more comments than I ever imagined!

Once we had decided for sure that we were going, I made an appointment at the Barnes-Jewish Travel Clinic to talk about immunizations. My doctor there was Dr. Susana Lazarte and she was so excited, encouraging, and concerned about getting my immunizations right. As is standard protocol for international travelers, we reviewed the CDC's recommendations for Tanzania and compared them to my expected itinerary and activities as well as my health history. Based on all of these factors, we decided on an medication schedule of
  • Hepatitis A vaccine (injection, 0 & 6 months)
  • Hepatitis B vaccine (injection, 0, 1, & 6 months)
  • Typhoid vaccine (oral Rx, 8 days)
  • Tetanus booster (injection, 1-time)
  • Flu booster (injection, 1-time)
  • Malaria pills (Rx, 3.5-7 weeks depending on drug selection)
  • Diarrhea pills (Rx, for use only with symptoms)
Dr. Lazarte also gave me lots of non-medication recommendations for not getting sick:
  • don't eat fresh vegetables (cooked are okay)
  • don't eat fruit with the skin on, wash and peel everything
  • even bottled water can be dangerous, make sure shops are honest
  • boil/treat non-bottled water
  • wash hands a lot and bring disinfectant 
  • don't swim in streams
  • don't have sex with anyone
Alright! Got it! For some strange reason, the vaccines are uber-expensive to get at BJC, but less expensive to get at the STL County Health Department. Yesterday I went for my first round of Hepatitis A/B, Tenatus, and Flu. The nurse was pretty great and gave me bugs bunny bandaids.
Those are Hep A/B and tetanus. Flu is on the other arm.

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18 December 2011

Castlewood 8hr AR Details

One of the reasons I started this blog was so other beginning adventure racers would have a cool resource to help them prepare for their first few races. So here is a few quick notes about our race.

I generally plan on bringing 200 calories per advertised hour of the race. So, an 8hr race gets 1600 calories and a 24hr race gets 4800 cals thrown in the pack, regardless of how fast my team hopes to finish. I include breakfast in this total. So, for Castlewood, I ate my usual breakfast of steel cut oats and coffee. I packed 2 bottles of CarboRocket Half-Evil (666 cal total) on the bike and left those at the drop-off. My pack had 1 Hammer apple-cinnamon gel (90 cal), 1 Ensure High-Protien (230 cal), 1 package Honey Stinger Chews (160 cal), and 1 package PB crackers (210 cal). I ended up not needing the HS Chews or the PB crackers

For water we knew the pace would be furious and we didn't want to stop to refill anywhere. So I took a 100oz. bladder but only filled it with about 1.5L. I didn't drink all of that because I took on so much liquid on the bike (the CarboRocket bottles were at least 45oz. total and I drained them). 

I'll write a longer post about AR nutrition someday but there is a place to start.

I basically brought everything that was on Bonk Hard's Gear List and not much else. From the bottom up, I wore wool socks, long tights (aka synthetic long underwear bottoms), tri shorts, sports bra, long sleeve synthetic shirt (aka synthetic long underwear top), and a short sleeve synthetic shirt. I used trail running shoes for the trekking sections and mountain biking shoes (that clip in with SPD cleats) for the biking and paddling. The fleece cap, rain jacket/pants, fleece top, and gloves were all in my pack. Like above, I'll do a longer post sometime about my basic AR gear but the MVP's for the 8hr were my running tow and Mike's bike tow. Here's a shot of a teammate's bike tow from my first AR:
It's a PVC contraption that fits around the seatpost and has some bungee cord threaded through it. At the end of the bungee cord is a loop. The slower rider grabs the loop and hangs on while the faster rider pulls. It's a great way to share energy in a team situation. I think it also helps the slower rider with a mental reminder to keep pedaling. Only Mike had one at Castlewood since we didn't expect the race to be long enough to tire him out (and it didn't). 

My running tow is even simpler, it's a piece of bungee with a carabiner on each end. One end clips to the pack of the faster runner, and the other end clips to the slower runners hip-belt. Here's a pic of the disconnected tow from the finish line, the orange carabiner (that's on my chest strap) is the part that clipped to Mike's pack. The black carabiner (hard to see, sorry) is on my hip belt.
Like I described in the race report, Mike and I took the maps to our usual-but-injured navigator Bill's house on Friday night to plan our strategy. Bill helped us with route choice and then we took an orange highlighter and marked EXACTLY the route we wanted to take through the woods and roads. When we received extra trekking points to plot at the end of the race, we did the same thing even though it took a bit of extra time in the TA. Here's an example of our route choice from 28 to 26:
You can see that instead of running "as the crow flies" or "following a direct bearing", we chose to ascend the reentrant to the west of 28, catch a ridgetop trail going west-ish and then turning north, and then descending down the east side of the spur to 26. This made our navigation really easy when we were out in the woods, we just looked for the big features and executed our plan. More experienced navigators can do this all in their head, but for our level it was very helpful to have it on paper. (By the way, I think our CP28 was misplotted slightly since the flag was hung in that rock outcropping a little higher up the spur...but we managed to find it anyway.)

Those are three things I think beginning racers could think about for their next adventure race. There are about a million more, of course, and I hope to have lots more posts in the future about starting off in this sport. I know before my first race I google-searched the crap out of "adventure race reports" and had a hard time finding some that would help me know what to expect. Anyone have any questions? I'd be happy to answer in the comments :) Pin It

17 December 2011

EK Climbs Kili: Why?

Before I start yammering on and on with details about my upcoming trip to Tanzania, I'd better start at the very beginning about where this cray-cray idea came about in the first place. Trouble is, I'm not sure exactly where it came from. All I know is, one day about 2 years ago, I decided I wanted to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I believe it had nothing to do with the physical challenge of the climb and everything to do with witnessing with my own eyes a very tangible sign of climate change: the shrinking snow cover on the summit.

My first tactic was that it could be a family trip. My brother and I could climb the mountain, my parents could go on safari, and we could all have a jolly time hanging out together in Africa. Since we had chosen a wildly different family vacation (a Caribbean cruise) to celebrate college/high school graduations (mine from college and my brother's from high school), somehow I thought that it would be a great idea to fly us all across the Atlantic and celebrate there this time around. So in 2009 I did a little research, I requested some brochures, but in the end no one really clamped onto the idea and I therefore dropped it.

I mentioned my aspirations to a few friends in 2010, but it seemed everyone was busy with trying to keep their jobs in the middle of the recession. No one wanted to go. Weird.
Fast forward to 10:54am, 14-Nov-2011. I get a message from my good college friend Chris:
 so do you want to go climb Kilimanjaro? 
And I replied yes, and we started researching, and we found a guide who was good and not crazy costly, and we found flights that were good and not crazy costly, and we booked both of them. 

I'm going to Kilimanjaro!
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16 December 2011

Race Report: Possum Trot XV

Now here's something you don't read everyday: a race report from an orienteering event. And even more rare, this is a long-distance, mass-start orienteering race (also known as a goat). Don't you feel lucky?

To start, yes, I raced this on a back-to-back weekend, with Saturday being Pere Marquette Endurance Trail Run (7.5 miles of elevation and high heart rates), and Sunday being my first attempt at the Possum Trot. Much like PMETR is to trail running, the Trot has turned into an institution of high-caliber orienteering, drawing talent from across the midwest (Minnesota, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Texas, and Ohio, among others), all vying to win the coveted Dead Possum. Who wouldn't throw down for the chance to win a stuffed animal? Not this girl. I drove over to Kansas City with another SLOC orienteer (and also Pere Marquette finisher) Eric B and his daughter. The company makes the drive go quickly and soon we are eating pizza with other orienteers at the PTOC Christmas Party. We crash for the night at the home of the race director and I don't sleep particularly well since my hamstrings are threatening to seize at every move.

Morning brings a pot of my favorite breakfast, steelcut oats, which I devour and start getting my gear together. My mind isn't really functioning so I just throw everything in my bag and take the whole thing as we drive to the park for the race. There, I spend more time reading my clue sheet and less time warming up than I should have, and pretty soon it's 8.45a and I don't even have my shoes on. Yikes! I half-listen to the pre-race announcements as I arrange my gaiters/gloves/hat/HR monitor/compass/hydration tube/etc and pretty soon we are in an open field with maps, face down, on the ground in front of us.

The race director yells "GO!" and 50 orienteers flip over their maps and start jogging, and then almost 90% of the field turns around and sprints the other way.
I'm #48 with the yellow CamelBak. Photo by Bill L.
My map interpretation speed isn't that fast so I just become pack fodder and follow. I'm still trying to make sense of the map when we shoot through a small woodsy patch in the middle of a large field, and my inattention causes a huge faceplant onto a fallen tree. Ugh. Of course my much-abused left knee takes the brunt of the fall and my HR strap falls down around my hips. Thankfully that's all the damage I can feel, and the pack is still in sight, so I hustle to catch up. The run to 2 I spend trying to read the map for potential skip options, and I come up with 7, 20, 21, and 23 as possibilities. I'm too inexperienced to really make a good call so I decide to skip 23 for sure (it just looks nasty) and wait on the others.
First 9 controls of PTXV.
I follow the crowd to 2 and then take the low route to 3, trading spots with Molly of WEDALI. I know she's a superb athlete and I guess that she is a good navigator as well, she might be another good person to latch on to. On the way to 4 I pass Jeff of Alpine Shop, but he's going slowly and in the wrong direction. I ask what's wrong and find out he's lost his compass. Huge bummer for him! Going into 5 I'm still with Molly and her fellow MNOC member Peter, although after punching he announces that 6 is his first skip and jettisons down the road. I think it's too early for me to skip so I contour across the spur to 6. I hit it easily enough and on my way to 7 I get distracted by another orienteer absolutely flying perpendicular to me on a trail. I assume he's ahead of me, and going to 8, and a quick peek at the map reveals 7 would make a good skip. So I change direction and follow him down the trail. After 50 meters of re-calculating my route, I realize that 7 might not be such a good skip so I TURN AROUND and head towards 7 after all. I hit the road way high and have to backtrack. Fortunately, 7 is warm-blooded and I find it quickly after getting myself close to the circle. I don't dwell on my terrible race strategy as it will only make me slower. The route to 8 is fairly simple, and by the time I make it to 9 I am in a group of about 5 other people.
Middle 7 controls of PTXV
I take the low, trail route from 9-10 and use the easy running to decide on 20 as my second skip. I feel accomplished that I have identified two decent-looking skips still in the first third of the race. I'm a real orienteer! I lead the pack into 11! I know what I'm doing! Then, inexplicably, I decide that I've had enough of pack running and that skipping 12 might send me ahead of the bunch. I abandon 12 and cruise off down the road to 13, again re-calculating my route. Again, realizing that 20 is a better skip. Again, TURNING AROUND and hustling to catch up with my former pack to on the way to 12. I vow to quit changing my mind and just stick to the original plan, however half-brained it may turn out to be. 13 is the first water control (orienteering's version of aid stations) and it reminds me to start eating my Honey Stinger chews. The caffeine in them seems to help my mental acuity and my route to 14 is slow but clean, and then I skirt semi-mapped vegetation boundaries on the way to 15, still in the company of a few other orienteers.
The next 6 controls (remember I'm skipping 20) of PTXV.
16 is another hard effort uphill but the open terrain makes for easier running. I decide to use the powerline as a handrail for 16-17-18 and it works like a charm. Bill is hidden in the brush taking of photos of 17, but I don't acknowledge him since I'm concerned about the weird-looking 18. Thankfully, I needn't have worried since there is a new/unmapped mountain bike trail that leads me the correct direction, plus this control is also warm-blooded so I punch with ease. The run to 19 puts me into a small group with 2 other women and I have no idea if they are in the full or short possum. Either way, I had better run hard to finish this thing. I am SUPER careful on my way to 21, making sure I'm on the correct part of the trail. The control is lower than I expect but I trust the map and keep going until I find it.
towards the end of PTXV.
After nabbing 21, I gut out the hike up and over the ridge to 22, descending carefully to make sure I'm in the right spot. I am, and then it's time to execute my second and final skip by running up the creek bed to 24. Now I am running in the vague company of 2 other men but I have no idea how I'm faring in the overall or women's field. 24 to 25 is a cute pond-to-pond run which makes things easy enough except my legs have started to complain that they're not supposed to race this hard 2 days in a row. I try to shut them up by eating a few more Honey Stinger chews and they seem to accept a truce for now. I almost mess up 26 by running past it on the wrong side of the creekbed, but thankfully I turned to peek at a nearby runner and spotted it over my shoulder. Whew! 27 is another uphill push but the distinct streambeds make it easy to locate. On the way to 28, my legs reject the truce and inform me that the rest of the race is going to be a battle. They're not cramping, but just extremely stiff and tender. Walking is quite tempting and napping even more so. My typical zest for running in white woods won't be an option for the rest of the race. Clean nav is now my only hope of maintaining any position.
A shot from earlier in the race at #17. Photo by Bill L.
The routes to 29 and 30 are very similar, just following my compass down and up the hills of Shawnee Mission Park. I decide 30 is my favorite control after I use a mapped rootstock to attack the faint drainage where the flag is discreetly hung. All that's left now is a quick uphill grunt then a big descent into the river flats for the final section of the course. The descent goes well although I am careful to not lose neither control or my place on the map. I find 31 with aid from the river's bend and then set out across the field to 32, which is another discreetly-hung but readable placement.
The final controls of PTXV.
 On the way to 33 I notice my route is leading me towards an uncrossable stream. I am very proud that I noticed this and correct my path to use a mapped bridge towards the western side of the field. At this time I also notice I have an orienteer on my heels, Mike from OCIN, who I know is a very good navigator. It crosses my mind to let him lead me into the final 2 controls and then try to duke it out to the finish but pride gets the better of me and I try to do it all on my own. It works for 33 and then explodes in my face for 34, where I find myself way south of the path I need and have to correct fairly drastically. As I finally make my way to 34, the final control, I spot Mike clearing the top of the dam on his way to the finish. Crap! (Or should I say...DAM!) I punch quickly and try to make up any ground I can but my mistake is too much...I finish 16th out of 35 starters.

Immediately post-race. Legs up, re-hashing route choices. Photo by Bill L.
I am pretty exhausted after finishing but the car is closer than the snack table so I take a few minutes to ditch my now-emtpy CamelBak and stumble to the pavilion. All I want to do is sit down, so I do and pretty soon another SLOC member who I was running with in the 3rd quarter of the race comes over and we discuss route choices. I eventually download my e-punch and the scorer tells me I am in first place for women...what! She quickly adds that no other women have downloaded yet so there might be a faster female out there who is just taking her time downloading. I assume that's the case and go about changing into dry clothes and snacking on some delicious chili and cornbread. I see Molly come in after me and it's then that I start to wonder...could I really have pulled this off? There's not much time to contemplate as Dick starts the awards ceremony promptly. And...
The coveted dead possum is mine! Photos by Bill L.
I end up winning the women's division of Possum Trot XV. I had no clue I was even in the running for it and it's extremely gratifying. Molly is second and another MNOC member, Erin, is third. We make a happy podium by the PTOC flag.
Erin, me, flag, Molly. Photo by Bill L.
No one really hangs around since we all have long drives homeward and it's chilly. So I grab a few delicious chocolate chip cookies and head back to the Neuberger's house with Eric to clean up and re-pack for the ride to St. Louis.

If you've made it this far, congrats! I'm almost as exhausted writing this as I was racing. I'm still a little shocked that my result was as high as it was. I tried my best to self-sabotage my race with the two fake skips and last-control brain melt-down. It's clear I need more experience running in packs and in open field terrain. I also need to come to terms with following during a goat event. Throughout the race I would see people ahead of me within easy reach, but stubbornly and pridefully stuck to my own navigational storyline. That's fine for a first goat attempt but in the future I will need to use my competitors more to my advantage. And quit second-guessing my skips already! Pin It

15 December 2011

Race Report: Pere Marquette Endurance Trail Run

It seems a little anti-climactic to write a race report for a single-sport event. Hmm, let's see...I warmed up a little, I started, I ran hard on trails, and I finished. Boom. Done. No navigation, no transitions, simple. But, since I ran faster than I ever have before, and this race is a great seasonal bench-mark, I'll offer a few comments here.

First off, the Pere Marquette Endurance Trail Run has evolved into the unofficial trail running championship for the St. Louis metro area. The race directors don't advertise this way, no one wins anything special, but everyone knows that a win or top AG placing at Pere Marquette is a big deal. The profile is challenging and the trail is technical. Any weakness in the chinks of your fitness armor will be exposed in the first climb and then you are at the mercy of the course for the rest of its 7.5 miles.

Because 98% of the race is on trails, the race directors seed everyone into start waves to reduce congestion. This year, I was privileged enough to be seeded among the top female racers in Wave 1. Talk about pressure! My warm-up was a simple jog with BTB Megan (who was racing PMETR for the first time) and some skipping around the parking lot. I gave out some good-luck hugs to other racers and soon enough we were off. The first climb was surprising in that one of my fellow St. Louis Triathlon Club members and Wave 1 starter pulled off the trail and dropped from the race. I asked if she was okay as I passed, she just shook her head and said "not my day". Bummer!
 The rest of the race was straightforward. I knew my HR was sky-high even though I had set Rover (my Garmin) to show only race time since I didn't want to attach a number to the pain. My usual tactic is to pace myself moderately up the hills and then race the downhills, grabbing any free speed when I can. The frozen solid trails made the downhills a little tougher on my legs this year, but I could tell I was at least holding my own. I was passed by another girl around mile 6 and couldn't go with her up the hill. I made a mental note to try and catch her on the final descent, but by the time we got to the top she was out of sight. With no-one to chase, it was hard to push that final drop and it cost me...another girl passed me in the final 400m. I sprinted to go with her too but my legs couldn't hold her pace for more than 10 seconds.

When I finished the race, I felt hungover. The sunlight was too bright for my mental state and I frantically searched for a shady tree to collapse under. About 3 minutes of the fetal position cured my headache and I knew I needed to get moving quickly, as my muscles were threatening to seize and I had another race the next day. I jogged over to the lodge to change clothes, grabbed Megan's jacket, and jogged back to the finish line where she had just crossed. We shared an easy cool-down and then hung around for the awards.

Thanks to Wendy for snapping this pic of me with my AG plaque!

I placed the same in my AG as last year, but a different girl beat me. Of the women, I was 8th overall (down from 6th last year) and 91st out of the entire field (up from 99th last year). I think the excellent trail conditions were to my disadvantage since I seem to do better in terrible weather. Ah well, I'll just hope for more mud in 2012! Pin It

Race Report: Castlewood 8hr AR

Mike G and I decided to race Bonk Hard's Castlewood 8-hr AR as a 2-person coed team when our regular navigator, Bill L, put himself on the DL list with a foot injury. Neither Mike nor I had navigated an AR before, but with a few orienteering meets under our belts, and a daytime race, we figured we couldn’t get ourselves into too much trouble. The weekend prior to the race we participated as a team in SLOC’s Turkey-O race, a 3hr score-o format. There, we learned a few valuable lessons about team running when I decided to wander off and Mike thought I had fell into a pit, cracked my head open, and died. Sorry! Anyway, with our egos firmly in check, we arrived at racer check-in at Alpine Shop on Friday night, collected maps, agonized on how to spend the 30% off coupon (final answer: these poles), and chatted with other racers. After all this, we made the short trip over to Bill’s house to work on the maps for tomorrow’s race. Even if our navigator wouldn’t be able to race with us, we still wanted his input and advice. Bill graciously offered up his ping pong table for plotting and highlighting, and made copies and printouts of anything we asked! Thanks Bill! We received locations for the first 22 checkpoints, which would take us in a large loop starting & finishing at the Wyman Center, where we guessed that we would receive an unknown additional amount of checkpoints to complete the race. Maps organized, routes highlighted, and about 9pm we were able to depart to our respective abodes for final packing and some sleep. Once I was at home, I decided to make my own map of the bike course since I wanted to avoid shuffling the 4 maps we were given.  

The next morning, Mike and I meet at the bike drop in Greensfelder to...drop off our bikes! We consolidate gear into one car and drive to Wyman Center for the start. We do the usual last-minute gear packing, coffee drinking, and deciding on layers, hairstyles, and hydration levels. Since this is a local race for us we know several of the other competitors so a good deal of time is also spent wishing everyone luck. Soon enough, new Bonk Hard owner Gary gives last-minute race announcements and leads everyone in singing the National Anthem. Then, a hush falls over the crowd as we cluster behind the start line...
I'm in the green sleeves. You can't see Mike but he's just behind me. Photo by Fredrik G.
TREK 1 (3k redline, CP1-4 in any order)
We’re off! I squeeze through the inflatable arch start line and we immediately climb a sizeable ridge to start our race. We have decided on attacking these points as 2-1-3-4, but really any route choice mandates that teams haul themselves over this big hill so we have lots of company. And it just...keeps...going...up. I hang onto Mike’s pack for 10m stretches at a time to force myself to keep his pace. Finally we hit the road and are able to descend into a reentrant to punch CP2. We continue descending onto a limestone doubletrack path which allows us to fly until we have to climb again to CP1. From there we turn left up the ridge and use the paved road to hustle to the woods around CP3, which requires a furious descent and almost immediate ascent up a reentrant whose contours are much steeper than indicated on the map. Hard work!
(decide amongst yourselves yourself, would a better route have been 3-2-1-4?)
TRANSITION 1 @ Mustang Shelter/Bike Drop
We arrive in third or fourth place, with enough time to catch a brief glimpse of Alpine Shop departing and hear Bushwhacker coming in behind us. Mike and I change shoes, arrange maps, don helmets, and hightail it out of the TA onto the gravel path we scouted this morning. We are nearly 50m down the path when we simultaneously hear shouts and I remember that we didn’t punch CP4. Mike rushes back to get the punch from the volunteers and then we skedaddle. 

BIKE 1A (15?mi, CP5-15 in order)

I used a printed GORC map for the singletrack and my own pre-drawn map for the rest of the bike & paddle
Our instructions now are to take these points in order so we drop onto a wide limestone path back into the a valley to grab CP5. The descent highlights my second biggest weakness on the day...switchbacks! Even these wide ones are causing me to hit the brakes and it’s abundantly clear I haven’t had to turn at speed tighter than 90 degrees for a long time. CP 6 is low, also along the easy terrain and as we punch we look UP at a faint singeltrack path (the Green Rock Trail on the GORC map in the picture) we need to take to get to CP7. We are off the bikes almost immediately and the slow pushing pace has be questioning the maps...are we on the right trail? I have a few moments of intense fear that we are off-track but we keep pushing and the road comes into view exactly how I had pictured it so fears are abated for the time being. Now we are on singletrack that is actually rideable for most competent mountain bikers, a group of which I am not a member. Mike and I unknowingly rode this section of trail a few weeks ago in preparation for the race and even the pre-ride does little to help my flow. I just can’t get in a rhythm with the technical stuff so am off the bike more than I’d like. But, in true AR style, even when not riding I am pushing and hustling and flying-mounting to keep our team moving forward.
Photo by Fredrik G's unmanned GoPro camera!
 We get passed here by Bushwhacker who are riding much better. (Side note: Mike asked me if we should let them pass, I frustratedly shout “NO!” thinking they are far away. Well, they were right on Mike’s tail. We let them go ahead. I wasn’t trying to be mean!) Around CP8 we pass a 4-person team who is fixing a broken chain, never a fun repair. We make sure they’re okay before continuing per AR law. Finally, finally, we are in sight of Allenton road which signals the end of singletrack (that we know of). We check in with the volunteer and cruise onto the pavement for the second part of the leg, the part that is shown on 4 maps but I consolidated into one to make my life easier. The nav is very straightforward and we latch onto a few lucky streetlights to blast under I-44. We are able to see Bushwhacker not far ahead so we work hard to catch up and eventually do after CP13. We draft off of them for a km or so before inviting them to hop onto our train since we are also competing against the 4-person teams who have this drafting advantage built-in! The paceline doesn’t last long however as soon we hit the secret entrance to Route 66 State Park (underneath I-44) and make our way to CP15 where we will begin the paddle...

BIKE 1B (4.5mi, CP 38-42 in any order)
We planned to go 39-38-40-41-42. We went 39-28-42-41-40. Probably the best route is 42-31-40-38-39.
..or not! As we arrive at CP15, there is a table with volunteers set up before we can even see the canoes. We are informed that the next leg is a surprise, optional, 5-point Bike-O. The official directions are to copy the 5 points onto a supplemental map we were given, but since Bushwhacker is right on our tails and my official race maps are buried in my map case, I flip over the surprise clue sheet and quickly transfer the points. We decide to go counter-clockwise and hustle out of the fake TA. The first two points (39 and 38) are easy and we pass Alpine Shop going in the opposite direction, to much cheering. The next point (CP41) marks the biggest mistake of the race for us - in my rush to “plot”, I neglected to note that CP41 = CP14 so we spend a few moments frantically searching to no avail, and decide to abandon the CP and keep moving. Midway to 42, I start re-reading the clue sheet to see where we screwed up. When I read “CP41 is same as CP14” I slam on the brakes and almost make Mike crash. Since we are closer to 42, we quickly punch that then retrace our tracks to the underpass to get CP41, then quickly grab CP40 on our way back to the fake TA. An inefficient route for sure, but it looks like it we are still among the top teams.

TRANSITION 2 @ Route 66 State Park Boat Ramp
As we pass CP15 for the second time, we are rewarded with a punch and a wave from Bonk Hard volunteer Pilar. It looks like she has her hands full with mid-pack teams arriving and we are glad for the space in the front of the pack. We ride our bikes as far as possible to the water’s edge, then ditch our packs and race back uphill to grab a canoe, PFDs, and paddles. Our bike transport system requires front wheels to be removed and we ratchet the frames upright into the boat. This goes pretty quickly for not having practiced and soon we shove out onto the water, with Bushwhacker 3-5 minutes in front of us.
A good view of our bikes in the boat (even though this is at the end of the paddle). Photo by Fredrik G.
PADDLE 1 (9.5km, CP 16-18 in order)
Less than a kilometer into the paddle and I have my first on-water navigational panic. I’m still working on my hand-drawn map and all I can remember about CP16 is it’s on the left-hand side of the river, at the first in a pair of bridges. Well, we paddle under I-44 and under an abandoned railroad trestle and no CP. We can see Bushwhacker ahead, who doesn’t appear to have punched either, so Mike offers to paddle while I dig out the real map and check. The real map calms me down as it shows we have about 2km to paddle before another bridge pair, where the CP is actually located. RELIEF! Gary, Bonk Hard’s new owner, has hung the punch actually IN the river (on an old piece of rebar shoved into the sand) which makes punching easier than it’s ever been from a boat. We keep paddling until the river starts making a right-hand turn and I have another panic..CP17 is supposed to be BEFORE the bend! Ah! Again, we watch Bushwhacker ahead and they don’t appear to be approaching the bank. Mike paddles solo again as I fish out the map (now at least closer to the top of my map case) and try to figure out what’s going on. I can’t. I hand the map over to Mike to read. He looks at it for all of two seconds and says “we’re not there yet, it’s before the SECOND right-hand bend.” Oh. Right. Roger that. We keep paddling. After punching CP17, are are close to Bushwhacker and pass them on a slightly risky line through the deadfall. About this time I realize I need to pee. Bad. REAL BAD. At first Mike tries to convince me to just pee in the boat. Not funny. Then he starts talking about deserts. Also not funny. I clamp down mentally and physically to paddle as fast as I can to the take-out, which is only about 3km away. I am tempted several times to beach the canoe, but each time we seem to get closer to the take-out and I just grit my teeth and hold it. Finally, Sherman Beach appears and I know I can make it. We beach, I sprint behind a pile of driftwood, and by the time I return back to the canoe Mike has unstrapped the bikes and removed his frame. 

TRANSITION 3 @ Sherman Beach
In addition to re-assembling bikes, we have a gear check so this TA takes more time than usual. To complicate matters, the beach is full of sticky mud so our bike shoes and tires are coated with the heavy stuff, making clipping in difficult at first. We leave alongside Bushwhacker and Dirty Guys (a 2-person male team) and they quickly outpace us. 

BIKE 2 (10km, CP 19-22 in order)
We are sad to see Bushwhacker go but we want to take this bike section a bit easier to let our legs shake out from the stillness of paddling. It’s easy to let Dirty Guys go ahead as their foul mouths are no fun to be around. We keep our own pace and catch Bushwhacker at a stoplight before crossing 109. From there, we stay on the pavement and climb Alt Road the hard way, north to south. I am on tow but Mike is already working hard to deal with the unexpected heat so I try to keep pace under my own power as much as possible. We are able to stay ahead of Bushwhacker as we cruise back into Camp Wyman. 

TRANSITION 4 @ Camp Wyman
As we roll back to the starting line, we are handed another clue sheet (as we suspected) which contains the last 8 CPs of the race, all in one trek. We ditch the bikes, swap shoes, and hustle up to the pavilion to plot away from the other teams who are plotting at picnic tables. After we plot, we take the time to highlight our exact route (choosing 28-26-23-25-24-29/3-27/2-30-F) because it worked well for the opening trek.

TREK 2 (5.8k redline, CP 23-30 in any order)
As my notes indicate, we went CCW. The top two teams went clockwise. I think the best route might be 30-29/3-27/2-25-24-23-26-28-F.
Maps and compasses in hand, we set off northbound. The first CP takes us a bit of time to find since it was hung higher than I plotted it. This make me nervous for the rest of my plotting results but, similar to the first bike leg, I decide to trust my map and push onwards. We pick up a ridge-top trail and I have to pee AGAIN before we descend to 26. This is a first for me, usually I am a camel when racing. After we punch 24 (in a really cool rocky reentrant), we see Bushwhacker on our tails and hustle up the trail. On this second trek the woods have dried out a bit and the leaf cover is making traction especially difficult. The trail provides a welcome opportunity to jog confidently, well, as confidently as we can until I realize we are on a different spur than I expected. It’s not a huge deal, however, as both seem fairly similar in climb and distance so as long as we keep going forward, we’ll be okay. Mike starts to have trouble with his hamstrings and I assume 100% nav (til this point we had been communicating on just about every route choice). We punch CP29 and CP27 flawlessly as we have visited them in the morning trek. Then we make the last, long climb up to CP30. This one throws us as the flag is hung on the bike trail, in fact it is the same control as CP9, but the clue sheet doesn’t indicate the shared coordinates and we don’t know what to do. Thinking that Bushwhacker is going to charge out of the woods at any minute, we punch 30 and decide to be extra careful descending in case we come across the real CP30. The descent is full of worry and second-guessing as we get closer to the finish line. We see the inflatable arch, hear the Bonk Hard-trademark cowbells and whistles, and cross with much cheering from the 2 other teams there. Wait a sec...two other teams? We’re third? What if we guessed wrong on CP30? Angst!! I ask the finish line volunteers to check our passport before any celebrations get started....and hold my breath. It’s a long few minutes but they announce our course complete and then we can really whoop it up...THIRD PLACE OVERALL! Only behind Alpine Shop and Downhill Bikes Branson, two insanely fast teams! ALSO FIRST PLACE 2-PERSON COED! My heart is so proud of this effort but my actions are immersed in the ritual finish-line route analysis. Maps out, fingers pointing and tracing, everyone comparing and contrasting the details of the course. I am in the company of some excellent racers, navigators, and all-around people, succeeding at one of the things I love to do so much. It is a satisfying moment.
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