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Blog Archives

4/3/05 Close picks

I didn't quite get it right, but I was pretty close in my picks for M40+ at US Short Course champs. I had the top three right, but I expected Nadim to beat me as well. He did get me on Friday and Sunday, but for on the champs course he was off a bit and slid down the standings.

4/4/05 Sloppy Pig

The Flying Pig was sloppy. The woods were sloppy after 2 straight days of rain. Mikell Platt gives a particularly good description of the conditions on Attack Point.

My form was sloppy. I haven't been doing enough running in the terrain. Rather than moving smoothly through the woods, I was uneven. I'd get moving quickly and then have to suddenly stop to jump over something or change direction. I felt slow through the thick stuff.

My focus was sloppy. I found myself wandering between being distracted or being so focused on what was right in front of me that I wasn't taking in cues I needed. My low point was arriving at the start line for Sunday without first clearing my epunch card. This was no big deal as I was simply given another start time, but it showed that I wasn't properly going through my pre-race steps.

Finally, as a result of the above sloppiness, my navigation was sloppy. I had big errors on Friday and Sunday. Saturday's run was reasonably clean and was my best result of the weekend. It still had its share of rough edges.

None of this comes as a surprise. It's a simple consequence of not doing enough intense technical training. I still enjoyed the weekend - if nothing else, it was good training. I won't be doing another A-meet until summer at the earliest, so I've got time to get my game back.

I'll have a full meet report with maps in a few days.

4/5/05 Recovery and taper

This week is a combination recovery/taper week. Recovery and taper aren't really the same thing. True recovery means eliminating all hard workouts. Taper is a reduction in the quantity of training, specifically those sessions that tax the skeletal muscles, but still includes quality cardiovascular workouts.

I ran fairly hard last weekend, so I took a day off Monday and an easy day today. A quality workout tomorrow would be a good thing, but I'll see how my legs feel.

4/6/05 Equipment Failure

I never blame a bad result on equipment, because it's the competitor's responsibility to make sure equipment is in good working order. On Sunday, I neglected that responsibility and paid for it.

On my way to the first control, I started on the trail and then crossed the reentrant to the right of the trail. From there I took a rough bearing and stated heading southwest. I was surprised when I hit the reentrant system that #6 was in since that meant I had really been heading west. I took another rough bearing but still hit the next reentrant to the west. I checked the compass once more and tried heading straight south, but ended up descending to the N/S stream.

This didn't look at all right, so I stopped completely and checked the direction of the stream against my compass. The compass said the stream was running E/W. After a little more poking around I convinced myself that my compass had gone haywire and I was on the N/S stream. Once I accepted that, relocating and finding the control wasn't too hard. I didn't look at my compass again for the rest of the course.

I've heard of it happening, but I've never had a compass demagnetize like that. I have felt for the past couple meets that I've had some bad readings on my compass, but attributed them to not reading it carefully. The needle still will point north if you hold the compass completely still and level. But if it's at all tipped, it seems to settle just about anywhere. My compass is fairly old for a competition compass (6 years). I should have checked it more carefully the first time I noticed a strange reading.

4/7/05 Season Opener

Technically, the Pig last weekend was my first "big" race of the year. However, since I hadn't adequately prepared for it and trained through it, I look at the Ozark Challenge this weekend's race as my opener.

It's also the first race where we'll have the "A" team for Carol's Team together. I'm very excited about racing with this crew. It's certainly the best 4-person team I've raced with (although I think last year's Big Shark team at Berryman had comparable potential if we trained together more).

I'm trying to temper my expectations since the first time racing with a team can reveal some rough edges. I'm still pretty psyched. Look for a race report early next week.

4/11/05 Successful debut

Last weekend, Jeff, Carrie, David, and I did our first race together as Carol's Team. While there were some rough edges, we worked together well and had no major mishaps. We finished second to qualify for nationals.

I had no doubt that we would make a good team. After the race, we were talking with some of the volunteers about what makes a good team. It was suggested that having one really strong area where you can make up for mistakes is a big asset. While true, I think David really hit the key to success when he said, "don't suck at anything." With the exception of technical orienteering (where we did post the fastest time by about half an hour), we don't have any skills that would place us nationally in an individual discipline. However, it's pretty rare that we give away a big chunk of time.

Also important is the fact that we really didn't have any trouble asking for or giving assistance. Sometimes, it didn't even need to be spoken. We kept an eye on each other and whenever someone seemed a little off, we'd do something to lighten their load. At one point or another, each of us received assistance from the rest of the group. Some people have a problem with that - they don't ever want to be seen as the weak link. The irony is that refusing assistance when you need makes it painfully obvious that the team has a weak link. Everybody has to get off the gas while they wait for the struggling teammate to keep up. By taking assistance, the whole team keeps working hard and covering ground. At the end of the race nobody really cares who did the most work. The important thing is that everyone was able to contribute as much as they could.

4/13/05 Bingo

In orienteering, a control is called a "bingo" control if the map doesn't give you enough information to navigate to the control. You might come right to it, or you might lose some time, but it will have little to do with your nav skills. An example would be a control hidden in tiny pits in thick vegetation (you could miss by as little as 10 meters and not see it).

Last weekends race (an otherwise excellent event) had a bingo route. The course notes indicated that there were additional trails that weren't on the map and that we could get to the control without bikewhacking. The only problem was that there were actually a couple trails that would get you there. There was no way to know which one to take or even if they both got there. We started down one only to give up when it looked like we'd get stuck underneath a cliff. Then, when we got to the top of the other, it wasn't clear which direction to turn, so we wasted some more time figuring that out.

Given the finishing margins, this was merely frustrating, but in a closer race, it could have affected the outcome. Such course setting errors are relatively easy to avoid. The correct trail could have been streamered, or a supplemental map with the correct trail roughly mapped would have sufficed.

The Ozark Challenge was an otherwise great race and that leg was an unnecessary black eye.

4/14/05 Pretty maps

I got the maps for our A-meet back from the printer a couple days ago. They look great. I particularly like Rockwoods Range at 1:10,000. All the little knolls and pits on the hillsides are really easy to read.

In the last few years, a fairly disturbing trend has developed in orienteering maps. Ten years ago, all maps at A-meets were offset printed on quality stock using 5 plates. There really wasn't much choice as that was the only way to print color sheets.

With the advent of cheap color printers, it's now possible to produce a map directly from a PC quite economically. I figure it costs about 35 cents to print an 8.5x11 map on quality paper using my printer. Newer printers are even cheaper.

This is great for putting on local meets with a seldom used map. Rather than getting 1000 copies offset printed, we just fire off what we need on the inkjet. Unfortunately, this practice has leaked into A-meets. I think if you are spending $25 to enter an event, you should expect the organizers to pony up an additional 75 cents for offset-printed maps.

Our low-volume offset run for the A-meet came to about a dollar a map. We used digital offset printing with process colors (4 plates rather than 5). These machines have advanced to where they are nearly indistinguishable from true 5-color offset without a pretty powerful magnifier. Last year, we got a particularly good deal from a color copy shop that made high-quality 11x17 toner-based maps for our A-meet. They were well received, but to do that at normal market prices would actually cost more than digital offset.

4/16/05 Second guessing

Second guessing yourself on a navigation leg is generally a bad habit. This is different from recognizing that something is wrong and you need to relocate. Second guessing is questioning your decisions because you don't have confidence in them to begin with.

It turns out that second guessing yourself on mapping is also a bad idea. Cliff Cave is the most technical area that I've ever mapped. Although I tried to be careful, I knew that mapping it to A-meet standards was pretty much at the limit of my abilities. The course setter for Cliff Cave (Rick Armstrong) didn't like my interpretation of a particular gully. Since I wasn't confident, I changed the mapping to Rick's suggestion, even though I thought mine was correct.

Today, the map got protested on that gully. This wasn't a case of one person being right and another being wrong. The jury saw it that way too, and ruled the protest invalid, but I was still saddened to have the map even called into question. The problem was that Rick's mapping standards are much different than mine. He puts much more detail on the map. Therefore, he saw the gully as being longer and extending further down towards the attack point. I had originally mapped the gully as ending further up the hillside and slightly further over which would signal to a competitor that they could not follow directly from the attack point to the start of the gully.

I don't think that my original mapping of the gully would have been protested. I don't think Rick's would have if he had done the whole map. I think the inconsistency was the problem. In the future, I think I'll tell course setters that they should just avoid sections of the map they don't like it. Considering feedback and correcting mistakes is good. Second guessing is bad.

4/17/05 "Easy" navigation

Many orienteers and adventure racers don't train in park settings because they think the navigation is too easy. Yesterday, a lot of good navigators found out that they were wrong.

The relay in Forest Park was "easy" in the sense that the visibility was high and the controls were all near linear features. As a normal woods meet, the course would be considered somewhere between Yellow (beginner) and Orange (intermediate). Certainly, no competent navigator would make a mistake at walking speed.

But, relays aren't done at walking speed. They are high-speed, quick-decision events. In this context, many mistakes were made. Some of the errors made by normal Blue course (elite) runners were over five minutes. That would be a big mistake for them to make even on a very technical course. Quite a few teams mispunched because they were running too fast to verify they were at the right control.

I train a fair bit in park settings, particularly in the summer when the woods in St. Louis are pretty nasty. I'm usually pretty clean in park events and do well in comparison to people who I normally run even with. I think Park Orienteering is starting to get some respect as a specific skill that needs to be trained. Certainly, the Park World Tour competitors are taking it pretty seriously.

I like these events because they are very spectator friendly. I hope more competitors recognize them as legitimate tests of navigation so we can put on more of these events.

4/18/05 The wrong way to use a bike computer

I posted this on AttackPoint today in response to a somewhat related thread. I figured I'd drop it here as well.

I always measure training in time - I'm one of the few serious cyclists I know who doesn't have a bike computer. It's just not useful information and it can be dangerous.

Back in my misspent youth, I was given a bike computer for my birthday by my Father who clearly was sick of paying my tuition bills and wanted to bump me off. He couldn't have picked a better weapon.

I decided to ride from college to home (88 miles) in under 4 hours. No problem - start the computer and just keep your average speed above 22. Well, since I had to ride through the city for the first dozen miles, my average speed dipped to a pathetic 17 mph. I charged hard for the next hour and a half and by two hours I was back on schedule.

About an hour later, I started to feel a bit strange. It was a warm day (a bank clock showed 105, but I was sure that wasn't right) and I only had two water bottles for the trip. This was back when water bottles only came in half liter size.

I continued to feel strange and watched with dismay as my average speed slowly crept down. At four hours I was still over 10 miles from home and my current speed was reading in single digits. At this point the cycling gods decided I had had enough and gave me a flat tire.

As I got off the bike I noticed that my arms were completely white with salt, but not the least bit moist. Rather than feeling hot, I was quite cold. I tried to step over the top tube to dismount but collapsed instead. A car was passing at the moment and the driver decided that this strange behavior warranted further investigation.

An ambulance ride and 2 IV's later I was more or less conscious of my surroundings. The ER doctor made me stand on a scale so he could estimate how much water I had lost. I was nearly 10 pounds lighter than when the ride started so, accounting for the IV's and the half gallon of electrolyte drink I put down, I had lost something like 12% of my body weight. The doctor told me to never do that again.

I threw the bike computer away the following day.

4/19/05 Gear list

I'm going to write a series of posts on equipment. Someday, I might get around to organizing them into a coherent article. Today I'll just do a general overview and then cover specific items over the next few weeks.

You can easily drop 10 grand on equipment if you have the money to burn. The good news is that you don't have to. The big ticket items are your bike(s) and boat(s). Most people who get into adventure racing already have a mountain bike and the boat is typically provided by the race organizer. If you can find someone with a canoe to train with, you're down to a much more manageable shopping list.

Having your own paddle is definitely a good thing. A paddle is a very personal item as things such as shaft length, blade size, etc. vary quite a bit from one person to the next. You should also have your own PFD (life jacket) since the race-supplied ones are often really bad.

You will also want your own pack. Size will depend on the length of races you plan to do. Beginners generally overestimate how big the pack needs to be. You can cram a surprising amount into a fairly small pack. A small pack will help reduce the temptation to take extra stuff that you don't really need. One way to keep pack size down is to use bottles rather than a bladder hydration system. That said, I really like the bladder in the pack.

After that, it's mostly clothing. A LOT of clothing. Fortunately, most of the stuff is pretty functional and you can use it in training as well.

4/20/05 Paddles

Technically, this is optional equipment since most races supply paddles. The difference between a race-supplied, single-blade paddle and a nice double-bladed paddle that fits you is sufficient that every moderately serious adventure racer has their own.

Factors driving the decision are length, weight, blade shape, shaft construction, and price. If money is no object, get yourself to a good paddling store and have yourself fitted for a carbon fiber paddle with a 4-piece shaft. Even if money is an object, this is probably the best way to go. On a long paddle, the benefits are pretty significant.

I use a Werner 4-piece carbon Shuna paddle. The blade is a bit smaller than what I would use for an outright boat race, but in a long adventure race it's just right. The smaller blade is also slightly lighter. David uses the big-bladed Ikelos which is really fast but admits that on long races it gets pretty tiring. Jeff and Carrie both use fiberglass paddles. Yvonne also uses fiberglass, but hers is a low-angle model.

Most good paddles come with 1-, 2-, or 4-piece shafts. Although slightly heavier, I like the 4-piece because it fits in your pack so easily. I put the middle shafts inside the pack and the blades in the outer mesh along with my helmet. David's paddle is 1-piece, which means he has to borrow someone else's if we have to carry paddles on the bikes. He is able to carry it on foot and makes surprisingly good time through the forest with it.

4/21/05 PFD

A Personal Floatation Device (PFD) is required for most adventure races. Often, the race organizers provide some, but they are usually not very comfortable. Also, you really should have your own for training, even if you don't wear it all that often.

Whatever you buy, it should be a certified Type III PFD. This is the minimum standard accepted for adventure racing. This is an item you can go cheap on if you want to. Discount stores like Wal-Mart have cheap ones designed for fishing and the like that will get you past the gear check. Spending a little more will get you a better fitting model that is designed specifically for paddling.

Type III PFD's come in three flavors: inflatable, inherently buoyant, and hybrid. Inherently buoyant are most appropriate for paddling and easier to use since you don't have to blow them up.

4/24/05 Pack size

Picking a pack is one of the more important gear decisions. The difference between a pack that suits you and one that is merely adequate can be substantial both in your enjoyment of the race and actual performance. There are many factors that influence the decision. Today, I'll talk about size (and, yes, it does matter).

Size depends on how far you are racing. In general, go small. You don't need as much stuff as you think you do. If you can barely fit your required gear into the pack, you won't be tempted to take a bunch of extra crap.

For a 24-hour race, you probably want something in the 1200 cubic inch range (around 20 liters for the metric-enlightened crowd). If you are the pack mule for the team (as I am) you will want something a bit bigger. If you are the light member on a team that has a pack mule, you can get by with as little as 15 liters.

An easy way to be sure is to print out the gear list for a race you're interested in, take it to the outdoor store, and see if you can fit all the stuff in the pack. Remember that you're going to want to put some food in there, too. BTW, any store that gets pissy when you pull a bunch of stuff off the shelves to do this doesn't deserve your business. However, if they do accommodate you, return the favor and actually buy the pack from them rather than walking out the door and mail-ordering it.

A built-in hydration system (typically a bladder and hose) is nice on the run, but slower to fill than bottles, especially if filling from a stream. I use a bladder when I know that we'll have a transition area every 6-8 hours. Otherwise, I use bottles. Either way, figure out how you plan to carry water when choosing the pack. A typical requirement is for 70- ounce capacity.

4/25/05 Pack fit

Although it seems obvious to say that a pack should fit you, many people (and pack companies) neglect this. One size definitely does not fit all.

The best way to know is to load it up and run around with it a bit. Does it sit well on your hips, or is there a lot of pulling on the shoulder straps? Bouncing on the shoulders is not good. Also try more awkward maneuvers with the pack on such as bending over to pick something up or climbing over a something.

An often overlooked factor is accessibility on the run. Little pockets on the waistband are big timesavers. If you choose to use a small pack that has no access without taking it off, consider running with a fanny pack as well. If you have to stop to take e-caps or eat, you're likely to go longer than you should before doing so. That catches up to you in a bad way later in the race.

4/26/05 Tampa

I went to Tampa on a business trip today (I'm posting this in the Tampa Airport thanks to the miracle of WiFi). I wish I had some time to scope out the area a bit to prepare for nationals. As it was, this was a fly in, make a presentation, and hustle back to the airport trip. Still, I learned a few things, some of which might help next fall:

David is screwed. Tampa is crazy flat. His contour-line navigation skills are going to be useless here.

We'd better practice self-rescue. Driving across the causeway to Clearwater, the wind was up and the waves on Tampa Bay looked really big. Paddling across the bay is certainly something I'd consider putting in the race, so we'd better be ready for it. Coming back, the wind had died down and the bay was flat as glass.

Saturn of Clearwater has a really big American flag.

Thunderstorms can come up quickly. We're used to this, of course, but if you're out in the middle of Tampa Bay when it happens, it could be kinda scary.

The Pontiac Grand Prix is a decent effort by GM. Better than what I've come to expect from the General. But what's with the torque steer? Pulling out of the gas station on the gas to merge with traffic, I could barely keep the thing on the road. Note to Pontiac: every other manufacturer fixed this problem by moving the steering axis outward several years ago. C'mon guys, you own Saab and have a stake in Subaru. The Cadillac Seville is arguably the best front-drive car in the world. Call your partners and have them teach you how to attach the engine to the front wheels.

4/27/05 Pack Weight

Weight is important in all equipment. Pack weight is a bit problematic to evaluate because it is relative to what is in the pack. For example, a hydration system adds weight to the pack, but removes the need to carry a bottle.

A waterproof pack is heavier when dry, but might be lighter in the rain. Then again, it might be heavier after being in the bottom of a boat because the water won't drain out as easily.

We use lightweight nylon packs with a sleeve for a hydration system (not a separate compartment as that's considerably heavier). The packs are water resistant, but certainly get plenty wet inside during the paddle sections. To keep items from getting waterlogged, we put everything in either ziplok bags or a dry bag.

I use the dry bag to put all the clothing that I don't change frequently (generally cold gear that I'll only wear at night if at all). Although the dry bag does add a few ounces, it is much more reliable than ziploks at keeping water out. I've been through numerous river "incidents" and never had one leak. The main drawback of the dry bag is that it does require a larger pack. As I'm the pack mule for the team and take a taller pack anyway due to my height, that's not really an issue for me.

A final consideration with weight is how the weight is distributed. Some of this goes back to fit, but it also has to do with how the pack is laid out. A pack that sits lower on your back will generally be more comfortable than a lighter one that puts more weight on the shoulders.

4/28/05 Kayak

While you can train your paddling in a borrowed canoe, sooner or later you're going to want your own boat. The most logical choice for a personal boat is a touring kayak. A touring kayak handles a bit more nimbly than a canoe, especially if it has a rudder, but develops the same basic boat handling skills you need to paddle the front of a canoe. (If you want to take the back seat, you're going to have to practice in a canoe).

My boat is a Perception Carolina, which is now discontinued, but there are plenty of similar boats out there. It has a plastic hull of 14.5 feet which makes it light, stable, and cheap. It is significantly slower in a straight line than David's 16-foot Dagger (a discrepancy made worse by the fact that David's a better paddler than me).

Plastic touring kayaks run between $700 and $1200 and get the job done for training. Boats with fiberglass or composite hulls are lighter, faster, and considerably more expensive.

Whitewater kayaks are much shorter and more maneuverable than touring kayaks. While a lot of fun, they aren't the best choice for your only boat. Because they turn so quickly, it is difficult (though not impossible) to employ the powerful paddle stroke that you use in adventure racing without turning the boat halfway around every time the paddle hits the water. Unless you are entering a fairly extreme race, you won't see rapids above class II. These are within the capabilities of a touring kayak.

4/30/05 Carol's Concert

A benefit concert was held for Carol today. It was standing room only at the church that my family attends (except me, since I'm the prodigal son who's run off to St. Louis). If I recall correctly, that church holds several hundred people, so that's pretty nice turnout for an event like that.

Of course, I'm not the least surprised. Carol certainly packed 'em in when she was performing, so it makes sense that a lot of those same people would want to come support her. The article in the Ithaca Journal yesterday probably didn't hurt either.

I wish I'd been there to see it, but by going back next weekend, I'll get to spend more quality time with Carol. I'm sure she is completely wiped out from having to make a public appearance. I know she was really tired for several days after her birthday party and her condition is considerably worse in just the two months since then.

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