18 March 2013

Race Report: 2013 IS/IC Champs Day 1

We've already established that orienteering is near and dear to my heart, and with that out of the way, let's talk about some racing! Well first let's talk about this meet. It's the Interscholastic/Intercollegiate National Championships, so that means the emphasis was on the kids' races. There were adult races too, but not nearly as many adult runners as a normal A-meet (A-meet is orienteering slang for "national meet").
Should I be worried about driving with this guy?
I started out the weekend by carpooling to Kansas City with my Alpine Shop teammate, David. We would be travel buddies for the trip and I couldn't have picked a better one: David is one of the best navigators in the business and has participated in multiple A-meets. I wasn't too nervous, but I did feel a little added pressure because most of my previous orienteering races were local meets put on by SLOC. On the drive west, we talked about what to expect at an A-meet, with the main difference being the staggered starting tents. Once in Kansas City, we met up with some friends from MNOC and CAOC at a local pizza place for some pre-race calories and chat. It was so great to see my friends from far away lands, including my teammate for so many of last year's adventure races, the one and only Andrei!
Day 1 Red course map.
Saturday morning brings a mercifully reasonable wake-up call since my start time isn't until 10:05. We eat a delicious breakfast (coffee and chocolate quinoa  for me) and head over to Shawnee Mission Park for the day's races. I spend my warm-up time shuttling between the van and the registration tent, getting my packet and buying an extra shirt. Pretty soon it's time to run up to the starting area! I use the warm-up map to get myself in the navigating mindset and when the starter releases my group, I'm ready to go.

The first few meters of the route to CP1 go well, but once I turn into the woods I just assume I will see the flag from the large reentrant I'm descending. It doesn't appear, and I have to backtrack a little uphill to finally spot it. OK, maybe a minute lost, no big deal, onwards! CPs 2, 3, and 4 are back on track and I'm feeling comfortable with the map.

The route to CP5 is pretty direct and the fields no longer freak me out like they did at Possum Trot last year. My initial route to CP6 is kind of wonky, but I recover on a power cut south of the out-of-bounds area, and stay on a cleared trail into CP6, avoiding a lot of crappy boulder piles. I remember this area from Possum Trot and remember that it was difficult for me to stay connected to the map, so after punching CP6 I just try to get out of there as fast as I can. I'm relieved when I hit the field and can cruise into CP7. CP8 is a little tricky since I interpret the map as it being close to the stream, when really it's on the vegetation boundary. There are also a ton of people in this area, all on different courses, which distracts me. I spot a nearby control, but after checking the code, I know it's not mine, so reattack CP8 from the east and finally spot it. Then it's time to play route choice!

The leg to CP9 could be taken directly over the hilltop, or around on the rock berm + trail. I decide to go direct because, well, I'm feeling confident. Turns out I drift a little too far east and hit my attackpoint trail about 50m too fa leftr. Luckily, there is a big junction there, so I can relocate easily and backtrack to the control. I get back on the trail to avoid the rock faces en route to CP10, and then contour up the subtle reentrant to find the control in a shallow ditch. CPs 11 and 12 are very manageable, and my route to CP13 is flawless (to me). This makes me a little over-confident (a classic Emily error) and I decide to include a little contouring in my route to CP14. However, I don't pay enough attention to my compass and get sucked into an early reentrant. It takes me a little bit to figure things out, but eventually I'm back on the trail to CP14 and punch it. CP15 goes well and then it's a horse race to CPs 16 and 17 (the go control). I finish up pleased with my run, not overjoyed but not crestfallen, and start to check out the results.
A-meets are also fun because usually they feature Valerie and her amazing tech skills. Here in KC, we are treated to live results projected on several different screens. I can see the times of other women who are finished, as well as the elapsed times of those who are still out on course. It's amazing! I end up finishing 4th in my class (women over 21 on the Red course). While it clearly wasn't my best day navigationally, I'm still in the hunt for a good weekend result because 2nd through 4th are all within a few minutes of each other.

After hanging out at the HQ for a while and hearing stories from my friends' days in the woods, it's time to head back to the hotel to clean up. To kill some time between now and the SLOC dinner, David and I decided to talk through our respective route choices because we ran the same course. I can't even tell you how helpful this session was to me. I was struck by how many times David said "here I just took the safe route" and "I just went redline to that control". It's a huge revelation to me that one of the fastest orienteers isn't taking fancy routes. He's just executing without any mistakes, and then using his exceptional running fitness and agility in the woods to gain time on his competitors. In the past I've been focused on finding "clever" routes to controls and then trying to run really fast when I'm on a trail or road. This usually leads me to outrunning my navigational competence, which leads to mistakes. What if I tried to just take the safe route every time, and didn't make any mistakes? Would that be faster? Lucky for me, I'll be running another red course tomorrow (Sunday) so I'll have a chance to test out this strategy. Stay tuned for the results!! Pin It

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