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Newsletter

Blog Archives

8/1/05 Training time

A guy at work asked me recently how many miles I train. I told him I don't measure training in miles, but it comes out to 10-15 hours a week. His next question was how I find the time to do that.

Part of it is perception, I suppose. When I was racing bikes seriously, my training was more like 30 hours a week. My current training seems light by comparison. Of course, I had no other job during the season back in those days and that makes a huge difference.

My answer was that you just have to carve out the time when it's available. I train at lunchtime and then eat a sandwich or salad at my desk rather than going out to eat. On weekends, I get up early so I can do long workouts and still have the afternoon for household chores or just to spend with Kate and Baby-O. I do one evening workout a week, and I try to make sure it's a good one (usually 3-4 hours).

Most of all, it comes from having a pretty supportive crew at home. Kate has never been much for athletic endeavors, but she understands that it's important to me. I try to repay the favor by looking after Olivia on the evenings that I don't train. I also get her up in the morning and feed her breakfast so Kate can sleep a little longer.

I guess questions like this just help me realize how lucky I am.

8/2/05 Wild life

One of the great things about being out in the woods is seeing what other animals are capable of. Here are two recent examples:

At Mission on the Muscatatuck (southern IN) both Carol's Team entries were together as the sun was setting. We came over the top of a ridge and startled two wolves. I didn't know there were any wolves still in Indiana. Anyway, they weren't interested in chatting and took off at an impressive speed, but we sure got a good look at them because they were only about 10 feet away when we came up on them.

The second was just last weekend at the Extreme Heart Challenge last weekend (Sioux City, IA). We were mountain biking on a dirt road and a young deer decided to flee by running along the road. We were moving at about 18 mph at the time and this guy just kept hopping along about 20 feet in front of us. We were worried that he might turn into the road and take us out, but we were also mesmerized by watching a 200-pound animal apparently float along above the ground.

Many people go their whole lives without seeing wild animals up close. We get to see them all the time.

8/3/05 Teddy Roosevelt on failure

I came across the following quote from Teddy Roosevelt. I'm sure he had greater tasks in mind when he wrote this, but it speaks to the spirit of our sport:

It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.

I've seen this quote before and always focused on the first and last lines - basically his point that there is a wide gulf between those who dare to do and those who simply watch. Today was the first time I really noticed the part about error. Particularly the phrase, "there is no effort without error or shortcoming."

I am always trying to run the perfect race. A race where we do everything right and finish just before the effort does us in. I am increasingly becoming aware that this is a contradictory goal. If we are trying hard, mistakes will be made. In fact, they must be made. To prevent every mistake is to be so cautious that we become one of those cold and timid souls, unwilling to take the risks required to truly compete.

At a pragmatic level, I've known this for quite some time. I used to set my error threshold for orienteering at 10%. That is, if I made more than six minutes of error per hour, I felt I was running too sloppy and needed to slow down. At less than 10%, I was losing more time being careful than I was saving in mistakes. In the past five years, I've been pushing that threshold down. My best results last year were in races where my error was around 5%. Splits from big international races indicate that the top international orienteers have an optimal error rate of around 2-3%.

I think our optimal error rate in adventure racing is also around 5%. The combination of complexity of the race and lack of sleep make for larger mistakes, but that is offset by long stretches (such as paddling down a river) that are typically error free. In a long course event, that comes to about an hour of mistakes. Most of the mistakes are small (2- 3 minutes) but we always seem to have one whopper in there.

8/4/05 More Teddy

While we're on the subject, here's another Teddy Roosevelt quote that I really like:

Do not hit, if it is possible to honorably avoid hitting. But never hit soft.

This one has nothing to do with adventure racing (no matter how mad you are at the race director, you should never hit them.) It was brought to my attention by Steve McArther, a friend of mine who has won US and World Tae Kwon Do championships. Don't mess with the dude.

8/5/05 Aging

Today's my birthday (42). Frankly, I feel like I'm in my prime right now. It's true that I used to be a bit faster - a lot faster on the bike - but my endurance is better now than it's ever been and my technique continues to improve. A few random thoughts about aging:

You definitely recover and heal slower. Things that used to get better in a day or two now take a week. Taking care of yourself becomes more important.

Endurance really improves with age. I'm sure there's a point at which this stops, but I haven't hit it yet. Going for 24-hours straight was misery in my 20's (I only did two 24- hour races before age 30 and hated both of them). My favorite distance now is 18 hours, but I certainly don't mind if a race takes a full 24.

Technique can compensate for fitness. I'm sure my VO2 max is down considerably from what it was 15 years ago. My time trial results would indicate the falloff may be 15% or more. Nonetheless, I would happily race a team comprised of 27-year-olds who had the same fitness/technique level as I did back then. They'd smoke me on the open sections, but once we started navigating, climbing, paddling, etc., I'd start liking my chances a lot.

Experience counts for a lot. I can't remember which one, but one race website had the line "Experience is something you get shortly after needing it." We've done enough races now that we've learned not to panic when things are going wrong. We still make mistakes (see yesterday's entry) but they are much smaller than when we started.

8/7/05 Ya Ya

Ya Ya eatin' cake Today is Olivia's birthday. She's two. When she started talking, she had trouble saying her name (it is, after all, 4 syllables). The best she could do was "Ya Ya". It stuck and that's mostly what we call her now.

Astute readers will note that she uses her left hand to hold a fork. Too early to tell if she has inherited this from her father or if this is a passing predilection. She draws with either hand, although the left appears to yeild better results (it's not always clear which marks are intentional in a 2-year-old's drawing).

8/8/05 No motivation

I really didn't feel like training today. That doesn't happen very often, usually I wish I could train more. I went for an easy run and swim.

The first day that I feel like this, I try to get out and do something because often the effort snaps me out of it. If I don't feel like going the next day, then it's usually a sign that I need a break and I go ahead and give myself one. I'll see how I feel tomorrow.

8/9/05 Too much thinking

Sometimes I over-analyze things. At tonights race (Tuesday Night Crits at Carondolet), I saw a dangerous group forming up front. There were seven of them and they had maybe 50 meters on the field. That's an easy gap to bridge, and since I was only about fifteen riders deep in the field, I thought about going.

Then I thought that since the gap had stayed constant for a whole lap, surely the field wasn't going to let them go, so maybe I should just wait. It was a pretty hot night and any big efforts would be paid for later.

About the time I was thinking this, there was a big attack and three more riders bridged up to the break. Everybody hit the gas and the field completely blew apart. After two laps of hard chasing, I had almost got across the gap with two other riders, but we never did make it. After another two laps we were back in what was left of the field and we all got lapped by the break.

Fifteen years ago, I would have just bridged the gap and not worried about it. I think I've become a lot more cautious. Maybe I don't have the legs to cover moves like I used to, but I think I need to quit worrying about that and just go when the situation seems right.

8/11/05 Change of plans

For a number of reasons, Carol's Team will not likely be going to nationals this year. I'm not too disappointed in that - Tampa isn't really our best terrain. It does leave us with not much in the way of goals for the remainder of the year. I think we'll do some shorter races and try to break in some new team members.

8/13/05 Forest Park

Today, SLOC had a meet at Forest Park. As the mapper, I should have had an advantage, but the nav was pretty easy, so it really came down to foot speed. I ran OK, but David got me by a couple minutes. It was still a fun meet. I hope I didn't kill my legs for tomorrow's triathlon.

I'll post the map soon.

8/14/05 Rainout

Yesterday, we got hit by a pretty hard storm in the afternoon. We were outside at a park when it came. We saw a funnel cloud develop right overhead, but I don't think it touched down.

This morning I got a message the Triathlon had been cancelled because of the weather. I decided to run the Chubb trail instead. When I got to Lone Elk, I understood why the race had been cancelled. There were a lot of trees down and the road was covered with small branches and leaves. I assume the roads at Babler were just as bad.

A meet director's first priority should always be the safety of the participants. This is especially true for races like the Babler Beast where much of the field is, well, let's be kind and call them "recreational". I didn't mind that the race was cancelled and I got in a good 20-miler on the chubb.

I did think that it was a bit cheesy that our only compensation for the cancellation was a 10% discount on next year's entry. That will be all of $4.20, unless they raise their fees. I think they could have done a bit better than that. Seems like the race organization should assume some of the risk for bad weather.

8/15/05 Route choice

Rob said he tried to set courses for the Forest Park meet that emphasized route choice. Most of the choices were small differences (less than 15 seconds). Fifteen seconds matters in a park meet, but you certainly don't want to spend more than 2 or 3 seconds making your decision.

The one leg that presented a significant challenge (enough to warrant spending a little time getting it right) was the leg from 5 to 6. There are four viable route choices for this leg (see map).

  1. The route drawn on the map, following the bike path then left of the Art Museum, across the footbridge, then along the road to the control. This is objectively the best route by about 30 seconds. David and I both took this route.
  2. Similar to above, except that instead of cutting across the field between the Art Museum and the footbridge, stay left and follow the road all the way around. The extra distance is compensated for by the fact that you're running on road the whole way. If the ground was soft, this might matter, but we've had very little rain so running through the fields was almost as fast as running on pavement. I don't think anyone took this route.
  3. Head straight east from the control to the road and then run down the road to the edge of the woods. Turn left and pass on the SE side of the Art Museum and follow the first route from there. This is the shortest route, but it has more running through the woods and adds a couple contour lines. This was the most common route taken.
  4. As above, but don't make the left turn. Instead, stay on the road all the way past the big lake and then head north and pick up the path to the control. As with the second choice, this one is longer, but is almost exclusively on pavement. I don't think anybody took this. I haven't test run it, but my guess is that it's actually the second best choice.
This is an excellent example of a route choice leg. The different routes are obvious to a competent navigator (the idea is to test decision making, not trick people into going the wrong way). One route is objectively best (that is, the decision matters). The optimal route is not trivial (you shouldn't reward people who just take the easiest route without considering alternatives).

The only flaw in this leg was the setup. The first control used the same bridge, you had already looked at that part of the map. I think the second and fourth choices would have had some takers if people weren't predisposed to using that bridge. Also, the first two legs weren't very technical, so there was plenty of time to make a decision. That said, most folks still got it wrong, so it certainly wasn't a gimme.

8/16/05 Pattern Recognition

While running with David and Jeff this weekend, the subject of training for navigation came up. David was noting how many otherwise strong adventure racers don't spend much time training navigation. We get asked all the time what the "secret" is to better navigation. I suppose there are a few tips that can be passed along, but the only way I know to really improve is to spend a lot of hours in the woods with a map.

Most people know how to read a map. Given enough time, they can find just about anything. To read a map while moving, requires something more: you have to be able to process the map information at least as fast as you are moving through the terrain (preferably a lot faster, since you also need to look where you're going). The speed at which you can recognize patterns on the map and translate them to visual images limits the speed that you can run without losing contact with the map.

Depending on the input (visual, audible, etc.) different sections of the brain work on it, but all pattern recognition is handled pretty much the same way by your brain. The pattern comes in as a set of neural firings. Your brain searches its memory for similar patterns. If the input matches the stored pattern closely enough, the resulting match is used. If no close pattern is found, your brain starts looking for simpler patterns that might contained in the more complex pattern.

When you first start reading a map, you only recognize the simplest patterns - linear features such as roads, trails, and streams. With more experience, larger contour features such as spurs and reentrants can be recognized. With much experience, you can see the difference between a dot knoll, a 1-contour line knoll, and a 2-contour line hill. (By see the difference, I mean you can visualize in your head what each of these items looks like and how they are different). With vast experience, you learn the patterns for individual mappers and know that Plamen Djambazov uses the dry ditch symbol any time there is a distinct watercourse in a reentrant but Mike Minium only adds the ditch symbol if the edges of the reentrant are nearly vertical.

As your database of patterns gets larger, you take less time to recognize features on the map. You also go less distance between features you recognize because you can read more detail. The result is that you can run faster without losing contact. The only catch is that it takes a lot of time in the woods to make all this happen.

8/17/05 New Teammates

We will be shaking up the lineup for Carol's Team a bit for next year. We're going to break in some newbies this fall. The goal is to have a core group of six (4 male, 2 female) and several alternates. This will allow us to enter around 10-12 races without burning everybody out. If any of our readers are interested in racing with us next year, now would be a good time to let us know.

Breaking into adventure racing is no small thing. Hooking up with an established team makes it a lot easier. The main qualifications are general fitness, reasonable mountain biking skills, and a determination to finish what you start. Everything else can be learned in a relatively short amount of time.

8/18/05 Fitness

Yesterday I listed what I believe are the three things you must possess to get into adventure racing. That list assumes you're joining an established team that already has a navigator. If not, you certainly need to add navigation to the list. I'm going to look at these qualifications a bit more closely.

The fitness qualification is fairly obvious. Even "sprint" adventure races take several hours. If you want to win a shorter event (as opposed to just finish), you actually need more fitness than for a 24-hour event. In a 6-hour adventure race you're going very near aerobic threshold the whole way.

What qualifies as "general fitness" depends on what your goals are. For a typical newbie who wants to be able to finish a 12-18 hour event, I would say the fitness demands are greater than cycling a recreational century (100 miles on road), but less than running a marathon.

A corollary to the fitness requirement is being able to properly pace yourself. Many excellent athletes blow up in adventure races because they push too hard, especially in the early stages of the race. The danger of this is particularly great if it's your first time racing with a team. Nobody wants to be viewed as slowing the team down. The first few hours of a 24-hour race should feel so ridiculously easy that you wonder if this even qualifies as racing. Yes, it does, and the effort will catch up to you.

8/19/05 Mountain Biking

It may seem strange to single out this one discipline as a must have skill when there so are many aspects to adventure racing. In our experience, this is the killer.

People who can run on roads can learn to run on trails and through the woods. They may not be able to move fast enough to be competitive in an orienteering meet, but they can keep the pace for a trekking section.

Paddling takes a while to learn, but by putting the weakest paddler in the same boat as the strongest, the team isn't slowed down too much.

Climbing takes years to get really proficient at, but adventure races rarely hit you with anything more technical than 5.7. Most fit people can learn to climb at that level quite quickly.

There are all kinds of oddball activities that get thrown into adventure races: rollerblades, scooters, cargo nets, three-legged races, etc. Usually, these activities are short enough that if you can do them at all, you can get through the leg without loosing too much time. It's not hard to find races that avoid them altogether.

That leaves mountain biking. If the race is predominantly on fire roads, there's no problem. On singletrack, you've got to be able to ride the bumps without stopping or you bring the whole team to a crawl. Being able to ride reasonably steep hills rather than walking can also make a big difference. This isn't something that gets picked up in a day or even a few weeks. A couple years of solid experience makes a huge difference. It's best to have this going in.

8/20/05 � Not Again!

Today I did the Big Shark Ride that leaves from the shop. This isn't the team training ride, it's an open ride that gets about 25 folks of varying, but generally good ability. We hadn't been going for 15 minutes when one of the guys riding next to swerved into me and we got tangled and went down. Ten years without a road crash and then 2 in as many months! Fortunately, we weren't going too fast so no serious injuries to report.

The annoying thing is that both of these crashes were very avoidable. Riders bump all the time in packs. It's not that big a deal to stay upright, but BOTH riders have to know how to do it. So, as a public service, I'm posting instructions on how to not crash when you make contact with another rider.

Don't be in a big hurry to break contact. As long as you're both leaning on each other, you're very stable � basically a four-wheel vehicle. Take your time to get your recovery right.

DO NOT HIT THE BRAKES. You both need to keep moving at the same speed.

Push off with a healthy shove. If you simply try to steer out of it, you are moving your wheels out from under you. If you do this, you'll have to turn back to keep your balance and you'll run right into the other person again (this was the mistake made both times I got pulled down � we got through the first contact just fine, but the second contact was much harder and the other rider was already falling by that point).

Once separated, take a few really hard cranks. You've probably lost some momentum so your bike is less stable. You need to get some speed back to straighten out your line. Also, if you've slowed too much, you present a hazard to people on your wheel.

So, in short: relax, push, crank. Practice this in a grass field with some friends until you can do it without even thinking about it. Pack crashes hurt a lot. It's worth some training to avoid them.

8/21/05 Back to the Woods

With August coming to a close, it's time to start training navigation in the woods again. We have a few areas where the woods can be run year round, but I don't usually bother. It's really not much fun to do technical training in the summer here. Since we have 9 months a year of really good conditions, the break is welcome.

Today I ran a couple short courses in West Tyson park. West Tyson isn't very technical. The ridges are quite steep (which is why it doesn't get choked with undergrowth) and the features are large. On top of this, I know the park quite well. To force myself to stay in contact with the map, I set a course with short legs. This type of "control picking" course is a good way to use a familiar area because it forces you to focus on being accurate even though you know the general layout of the map.

I ran both courses at around 10:00/Km. That won't win any races, but for the first workout back in the woods, it will do.

8/22/05 J

Finishing up the thoughts on skills needed to start adventure racing...

There's a rather well know personality test named after it's creators, Meyers and Briggs, that assigns a four letter code to each personality type. (For those who are familiar with the test, I'm an INTJ). The last letter is either P or J depending on how much you value closure. J's hate unfinished tasks. For adventure racing, you need to be a J.

Organizers make it pretty easy to drop out of adventure races. This is necessary because teams get in trouble and have to have a way to bail. As a competitor, you simply have to remove that option from your thought process. In almost every race, there will be times when you feel like quitting. You have to be able to get through that without letting it affect your performance.

Of course, if you're really in trouble, you need to tell your teammates about it. Last year at Berryman, we had to take a five hour break to let a teammate recover from dehydration. He was miserable, partly because he was puking and cramping, but also because he felt he let the team down. He didn't. He got through it and we finished the race in the top 10. If he had quit, that would have been a big letdown.

It's a rather fine balance. On the one hand, you need to be very in tune with what your body is telling you because the early signs of trouble are quite subtle. On the other, you have to completely eradicate the negative thoughts that cause you to slow down or quit simply because you don't feel motivated at a particular point.

For me, the best way to handle this is to focus on my teammates. Like me, they've invested a lot in the race. Adventure races are hard work, time consuming, and expensive. If I let my feelings mess me up or, worse, if I quit outright, all their effort is wasted. By completely eliminating quitting as an option, the only question is: what's the best way to get finished? The answer to that question is to move as best I can without getting in trouble. If everybody on the team operates that way, a good finish is practically assured.

I'd say I struggle with this maybe 5% of the time when racing. The rest of the race, I'm enjoying myself; happy to be out doing what I love to do with my friends. But 5% of a 20-hour race is a full hour of struggling which is plenty long enough to get depressed if you don't deal with it properly.

8/23/05 Ridin in the burbs

Today I got out of work too late to do the Tuesday crits, so I headed over to the Marquette ride instead. Since I was cutting it close (the ride was rolling out just as I got to Marquette), I took the most direct route on a busy road.

The road is nominally bike friendly; there are "Share the Road" signs in a few places and there's usually a good shoulder. But it's also very heavily traveled during rush hour and the 35 mph speed limit is not enforced. Of course, it's busy enough that I actually do better than the cars on average - there was a noisy Civic traveling the same road and it would pass me doing 50, only to wait in a long queue at an intersection while I zipped by on the shoulder.

I felt very unsafe. I used to ride through fairly large urban areas on a fixed gear and not feel at all threatened. Maybe it's the recent crashes, or maybe I'm just getting old, but I think the real difference is the drivers.

City drivers are aggressive, but they are also pretty skilled. They are used to squeezing through narrow alleys and merging in heavy traffic so they know the dimensions of their car. They also know that you can come across just about anything in the road so they keep an eye out for the unexpected. They may not like having to slow down to get around a bike, but they're not shocked by it.

Suburban drivers are used to traveling on wider, smoother roads at higher speeds with fewer disruptions in the traffic flow. A lot more of them are talking on phones (although this habit is invading the city streets, too). If they see you, they might be more polite about your presence, but they might also run you over before they even recognize that you're there.

Of course you can get hit in the city, too, but all my life-threatening car/bike interactions (there have been three, one of which was entirely my fault) have happened on suburban roads. This is true for most of my friends as well even though many of us have done a lot of city riding.

8/24/05 I'm number 1!

Under the heading of meaningless accolades, I've hit the top of the charts on the Attackpoint training rankings. I seem to have a habit of picking up these sorts of things - awards earned over time that most people pay no attention to. Probably the most bogus was my St. Louis Solo II "championship" in 2001 when there was only one other Street Touring car entered in enough races to qualify. I lost interest in auto racing after that.

One thing the Attackpoint rankings show is the difference between training for running versus other activities. Even at the elite level, runners don't put in that much training time. A world-class marathoner probably does around 100-120 miles a week. That sounds like a lot until you realize that at their training pace, that's less than 12 hours.

Top cyclists ride 20-30 hours a week. Even mid-level amateurs are in the 10-15 hour range (which would put them at the top of the Attackpoint list). Swimmers have very seasonal training habits, but their heavy weeks go well beyond 30 hours and even their light weeks are close to 10.

Adventure racing would appear to reward a heavy training schedule, but I'm not sure it does. Unlike individual disciplines, there's not really much merit to honing one's skills beyond the 80/20 rule. Our motto has always been "don't suck at anything." As long as everybody on the team can keep moving at a decent pace, a good result awaits. Tripling one's training to gain the edge that would be the difference between winning and losing in an individual sport doesn't pay the same dividends in Adventure Racing.

I suppose if you have the time and don't get injured, more training is probably better. It seems that the best adventure racers manage to get by with less training than athletes other in sports (but more than runners).

8/25/05 MDA Run

I just found out yesterday that the Flatlander Runs put on by the SLUG's will benefit the Muscular Distrophy Association. These folks were helpful to Carol as the disease has some similarities with ALS. I think I'll enter the run and try to raise some money for them. I'm certainly not trained for a competition-level performance on pavement, but I'll enjoy running for a good cause.

8/26/05 Ultra

Although I've covered ultra-distances in orienteering and adventure races, I've never run a bona-fide ultra-marathon. That will change next weekend when I run the Flatlander 12- hour. As this is my first attempt at this sort of thing (not to mention the fact that I haven't trained for it), I'll be pretty conservative. Here's my plan:

Alternate running and walking. Many ultra-runners have told me that alternating running a bit faster with walking is less tiring than running at a steady pace. I think that may be why I don't have a problem in adventure races when we have to trek for 30 miles or so. Adventure races tend to have a lot of start and stop rather than constant pace.

Run on the grass. It's slower, but it's the only way I'll be able to run for that long. I haven't done a run of over 20 miles on pavement since my last marathon (1996). Each lap is 1.4 miles. I figure I'll walk a couple hundred meters on pavement while passing through the feed area, run about half a mile on grass, and do the rest of each lap on pavement.

Start slow. I'll do the first few loops in 17-18 minutes (roughly 12-minute miles). If after three or four hours I'm feeling like the pace is ridiculously slow, I'll pick it up, but not before then. I've found that about a third of the way through a race I can tell if my pace is going to work. If I try to force things sooner than that, I get in trouble.

Don't stop. This is the lesson from adventure racing. Stopping is lethal. You don't really recover any better when you're stopped than when you are just moving slowly. Real recovery requires you to completely shut down and sleep. There will be brief moments where I'm not making progress because I'm changing shoes or something, but I don't plan to take any breaks.

Change shoes and socks often. Speaking of shoe changes, I will doing that every couple hours. Maybe even more if it's hot. I've never had problems with blisters when I do this. If I try to get by without shoe changes, I get in trouble.

If all goes well, I'll get in somewhere around 60 miles. That will be well off the lead pace, but will still be a "real" ultra. I'd rather be conservative and enjoy my first outing than try too hard and blow up. I'll let y'all know how it goes.

8/27/05 Keep looking

Today I ran an old course at West Tyson. Each year I run this course just as I'm starting my fall training. It gives me something of a baseline to work from. Since I originally ran this course in 1998, I've run it many times. I can't run it from memory, but I'm certainly not struggling with decisions. At least, not usually. Today, I found a leg that I've been running wrong all this time.

Old route New route

The first route is what I've been running up to today. It looks like a reasonable choice. You do give up a couple contour lines early on, but after that it's pretty fast running with a grunt at the end.

Tyson has an interesting geological feature we refer to as "The Highway." It can produce some very strange looking optimal routes. Basically, the highway is a layer of very hard rock that hasn't eroded as fast as the rest of the ridge. You can see the contours are spaced a bit wider. This is actually an exaggeration, since the actual flat section is only a few meters wide. It is pretty flat, though and you can run on it almost as fast as you would a trail.

Today, it occurred to me that since the highway goes right to the control, it might be faster to climb up to it right away and follow it around the ridge. A lot of extra distance, but less climb and much faster running. Furthermore, when I got to the control, I was reasonably fresh as opposed to out of breath from pushing up the hill right at the end of the leg. This meant that I had a much clearer head entering the next leg.

I estimate the new route is around 30 seconds faster. I wouldn't feel bad about missing that in a meet; especially if I had never run on the map before (you wouldn't know the highway was a good route from just the map). I just though it was interesting that long after you think you've figured a leg out, there might still be a better way.

8/28/05 Night-O is not a crime

I understand that park rangers might want some reasonable restrictions on park access. From both a safety and crime prevention standpoint, closing parks at night makes some sense. What doesn't make sense to me is an absolute restriction on night access.

Most of the parks near St. Louis close at sunset. Some of the public lands allow access until 10PM. That still doesn't leave a lot of room for night training this time of year. Of course, such restrictions are fairly easy to circumvent. Just park outside the area and run in. Most of our parks are large enough that as long as you stay clear of the roads your chance of getting spotted at night are pretty near zero. Seems a little silly sneaking into an area as a 42-year-old, but one does what one must.

The unfortunate side effect of this is that if you really were to run into a problem, you might be screwed. I always let someone know where I'm training, when I expect to be back, and keep my mobile phone with me. When feasible, I get someone to train with me. It would be so much simpler if the parks had a sign-in policy that allowed responsible users night access (maybe after demonstrating some basic navigation and/or survival skills).

The alternative to all this sneaking around is to head off to the national forests where you are pretty much on your own. Mark Twain NF is about 90 minutes from St. Louis and Shawnee NF is a bit over 2 hours. It's worth the trip if you're going to do a long night session, but not too practical for a quick weeknight workout.

8/29/05 Flatlander

Here's my sponsorship letter for the Flatlander run. Use the "Contact Us" link if you want to contribute:

As most of you know, my sister, Carol, passed away a few months ago after a year-long struggle with ALS. One of the organizations that helped her during this time was the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA). I'm grateful for the assistance they provided and would like to repay them in a small way by participating in a run this coming weekend.

I'm sure you know the drill: get people to pledge a certain amount per mile and run as far as possible in the time allotted. In this case, the run is called the Flatlander and is put on by a great group of folks known as the SLUG's (St. Louis Ultrarunners Group). As these are the sort of nuts who like running 100 miles through the mountains, the time limit is a generous 12 hours.

Although I've done quite a few adventure races and orienteering events of this duration, I've never tried to run 12 hours straight. I'm not really sure how far I can go in that amount of time. I'm guessing that I'll cover between 50 and 60 miles. If you're worried I might break the world record and bankrupt you, there is always the fixed amount option. Personally, I'd like to get as many per mile donors as possible so I have some extra motivation to keep going around hour 10.

I hope you'll support me in this by making a small pledge to the MDA.

8/30/05 Sylamore

David, Jeff, and Carrie were the Carol's Team entry for the Sylamore Hardcore Adventure Race. I don't have many details yet, but I do know that they won it. It's the first nationals qualifier that we've won this year. Congrats!

8/31/05 Top 10

Better check quick because I don't think it will last long (there are a bunch of results from the west coast coming in this week), but right now we have busted into the top 10 of the USARA Rankings.

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