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Blog Archives

10/2/05 Summer fever

Well, it didn't stay "fall" for long. Yesterday warmed up considerably and today was downright hot. That made the training and meet at Cuivre River much more physically demanding. It was still a lot of fun.

Today's course for the meet was definitely designed with cooler temps in mind. At 9K, it was quite long for a Red course. I'm sure Yvonne was anticipating faster conditions when she set the length. Rick Armstrong also had a hand in the course design, but claimed that he didn't change the length from what Yvonne had.

The map is here. I've scanned the map without my course so you can take an unbiased look at some of the route choice legs (2, 3, and 6 in particular). I'll go into those in some detail this week.

10/3/05 Longer is better

Oh, don't even go there, I'm talking about the leg 2 routes from yesterday's meet. Kind of a strange twist, the route times were in the reverse order of the distances traveled. Since the four runners in question are all about the same speed and none made any significant navigation errors, the route times are pretty reflective of the merits of each route. I've got plenty more to say on this leg, but don't have time today.

10/4/05 Leg 2

The outcome from Leg 2 from Sunday's meet is pretty much a course setter's dream. A complex leg with four viable routes. The top four runners each take one of the routes. Everybody executes their route cleanly. The resulting splits have a huge impact on the outcome. Nice.

Let's take them from north to south. (You might want to pop up the map in a new window).

Michael (Spike) Eglinski generally favors around routes on trail so it's no surprise that he took one of the long routes. The route drawn is more what he intended than what he actually did. He met some horses on the trail and had to cut up the ridge to the control early. He think this costed him around a minute. If so, this was probably the best route. Might have been the best route anyway, as I was running mighty hard on the road and only took 25 seconds out of him.

Rob Wagnon's route is essentially redline. I generally like redline routes on short legs, but on long legs it pays to look a ways off. The big problem with this route is the extra climb. That effectively lengthens it to at least as long as David's route. I would have approached the control differently, too (staying on redline for the last 200m instead of running around and then through the green), but I don't know that he lost any time there.

David Frei took the shortest trail route, which is also consistent with his style. Note that the trail on the west side of the stream has been marked out. David said the flood plain between the stream and where he picked up the trail was a bit slow, but not too bad. I saw this route and didn't think it was as good as mine, but I was surprised by how much worse it was. Even if the flood plain section was terrible, you could get through it in under four minutes so where did all the time come from? To the stream, we've both had to run down a steep hill, so it's 500m open woods and 200m trail versus 700m road. Probably 2 minutes there. Then it's 200m of flood plain and 500m trail versus 1K of road and 300m trail. That should be pretty close. Climb is the same, so where's the extra 2 minutes? Strange.

I actually didn't spend much time looking at this leg. I saw the southern route when I was marking my map and it looked like it would be at least as good as anything near the redline. I resisted the urge to look at it more closely before the start since you never get that chance in an A-meet. Running the road to #1, I had a chance to look at the trail network a bit closer and I convinced myself that the road was good. I never saw the northern route, but I wouldn't have taken it anyway. It's good, maybe even best, but the potential for it to be bad (muddy trail, thick woods near the stream, etc.) is high. I wouldn't take that risk when there was a nearly equal route that avoided it.

10/5/05 Interpretation and route choice

An important skill in orienteering is to be able to quickly understand how the mapper has represented things. This is referred to as "getting into the map." The faster you can do this, the more information you get from the map. Usually this skill is seen as something that helps you navigate, that is, you form better mental pictures of what is coming so you have an easier time staying in contact with the map.

Getting into the map is also important for making good route choice decisions. Since I train at Cuivre River fairly often, I'm very into that map. My routes last Sunday reflected that. Even though much of the course was on a section of the map I rarely use, I knew what to expect and was able to make good choices about the fastest route.

The most striking example of this was leg 6. There are two obvious routes, straight or take the trail. To properly make this choice you need to know three things: the running speed through the woods, the difficulty of the climbs, and the speed of the trail. At this point in the course, any competent orienteer would have figured out that the woods were generally fast, but still had some residual summer undergrowth. We had also gone up and down enough hills to know that at the steepness indicated, there was no difficulty. You still had to put out the effort to climb, but the slopes were runnable.

The unknown is the trail. Ordinarily, large trails are very fast - almost as good as roads. Cuivre River is a big exception to that. The large trails at Cuivre River are actually quite slow. They are either horse trails (muddy) or abandoned jeep tracks (overgrown). The small trails are considerably faster. This last piece of information might have been discerned from some of the earlier legs, but really it falls under the heading of "local knowledge." In an A-meet, this sort of information would be put in the course notes.

Micheal Eglinski can be forgiven taking the trail route since he runs at Cuivre River about once every five years. I'm not sure what David was thinking taking the trail route - he should know better. I went straight and picked up about a minute.

10/6/05 Canadian ALS walk

I'm taking a break from normal programming today to bring you a note from my cousin Sheila.

Hello everyone,

This e-mail is several weeks overdue and I must send out my apologies for the delay. If memory serves, Anne and Al will be returning soon from their holidays and Uncle Ted and Aunt Janet are still in Halifax. I hope this message finds everyone well and enjoying the changing of the colours.

On Saturday, September 10th, the Hollidge, Addison, Lackie clans gathered in Barrie, Ontario for the ALS Walk. The weather (not unlike the weather we have been recently experiencing) was beautiful and the turnout for the walk was quite impressive with easily over 300 in attendance. After summing up the funds from the individual pledges, sales from ALS bands and coffee sales at the Creemore Farmers Market, we raised $3100.00.

I know that I am speaking on behalf of us all when I tell you that the day was a special one. For the last lap we held hands and sang some songs that would make Carol smile. After the potluck lunch at the end of the walk, dad...otherwise known as Uncle Ken...suggested that we make our way back to Springwater Park in Midhurst to see how the park was doing. This was a great suggestion and reminded us all of the fun times we spent in the park when y'all would come up for a visit.

I have attached a couple of photos of the walkers at rest during our visit to Springwater Park. The one thing that struck me just as I was scanning the photos was that in the group shot I noticed that Nathan is wearing both the American and Canadian ALS bands and holding the hand of his sister Kirsten. It is amazing how at times a photo can express more than words... I think that about sums it up how we all felt that day.

Lots of love from all of us to all of you.
Sheila

10/9/05 Peter Gagarin

Peter Gagarin is one of the legends of US Orienteering. He's the only orienteer ever to be on a Wheaties box. He's won lots of medals in international competition, including some age-graded world championships. If I'm even close to his speed when I'm in my late 50's, I'll be pretty happy (I can take him in a straight running event, but we're pretty close in orienteering even though he's 15 years older than me).

If I am as quick as him in 15 years, I hope I control the speed a little better than he did today. Conditions were apparently quite horrible for the Monroe Dunbar Brook trail race and he did a face plant coming down the big descent to the finish. Check out the damage if you're not squeamish. 40 stitches total.

10/12/05 More support

Been mighty busy this week and haven't had time to write anything. I did get a letter yesterday that was the kind of morale booster that really helps when you are feeling a bit overwhelmed. Here's the public part of it:

Hello Carol's Team,

My name is Sylvia Fitchen, I live in New Mexico, and I'm a high school classmate Carol's. I am sending you the money I recently raised in Carol's memory.

Although I didn't see Carol during her illness, I was shocked to hear of its rapid progression, first in her own emails, and later in conversations with other classmates. I'd last seen Carol at our 20th high school reunion in 2003, when she was - as I remembered her from our school years together - so vibrant, so kind-hearted, so full of joy and laughter. From all that I've heard, she retained this spirit even as she suffered from ALS.

When I got the sad news that Carol had died, I happened to be in Rome, Italy. The next day, (which was a Catholic holiday), I went to the Vatican, attended a special mass, and afterward lit a candle for Carol. I think she would've liked that; I know her own visit to the Vatican meant so much to her.

In August, I got an email from another I.H.S. classmate (Lois Darlington) saying she was going to do a 5 mile swim in the Hudson River, and had decided to do it not only as a personal challenge, but also as a way to raise money to help people with ALS, in Carol's memory. (She chose the organizations listed in Carol's obituary.)

Well, that got me thinking. Long story short, I decided to take on the personal challenge of completing an endurance run - and to do it as an ALS fundraiser. Specifically, I chose the Imogene Pass Run in Colorado, (17 miles from Ouray to Telluride over a 13,000 foot pass). I know that's not much compared to your races / events, but I had never run anything like it; hadn't run a race since high school - and those were only 3 miles! But once I got the idea to do it, this run just seemed like the right thing to do - especially since it was on my 40th birthday.

So, I asked friends, family and co-workers to sponsor me, and on September 10th I completed the run. It was an exhilarating way to spend my birthday, and it felt like a good way to honor Carol's spirit: putting all I've got into what I was doing; appreciating the beauty around me; not giving up; and living as fully as I could at that moment, knowing that, even at 40, lie could be cut short anytime.

Through the generosity of friends and family, I was able to raise $2,000 to benefit people with ALS. I asked people to donate either to Carol's Team or to the New Mexico ALS Association (since I live in Albuquerque). By chance, the donations I received were split 50-50, so I am sending you checks totaling $1002!

So - I hope these contributions help at least a little. I know the money may not go very far, but it's a tribute to how many lives Carol has touched and how much she has inspired me and many others. Thanks to all of you at Carol's Team for all of your efforts!

Sincerely,

Sylvia Fitchen

Well, all I have to say about that is that Sylvia is dead wrong on two counts: 17 miles over a mountain pass stacks up pretty well against most adventure races, and $1002 goes a real long way at a tiny operation like this. I'm moved.

10/13/05 Raid

Tomorrow, we'll be heading to Little Rock to defend our win at Raid the Rock. We're sending two teams: David, Jeff, and Carrie will be tuning up for nationals while Doug, Vicki, and I will form the second squad. I think our entries are fairly evenly matched, although experience is definitely on the side of David's squad. There are several other good teams registered - this will be the toughest field we've faced since Ozark Challenge. I'm looking forward to it.

10/16/05 Successful Raid

As expected, it was a tough field at Raid the Rock. After the first leg, I thought both our teams might be out of it. We battled back with David, Jeff, and Carrie taking the win while Doug, Vicki, and I wound up third. The full race report will have to wait a few days as I've got some catching up to do in other areas.

One thing that was real nice was that at the awards ceremony, I was given an opportunity to say a few words about the mission of our team and ALS in general. I think we did a fair job of raising awareness this year, but we can certainly do better. I really appreciate it when race directors give us a chance to tell everybody what we're about.

10/17/05 AR Nav

I spent the time that I would ordinarily use to write a blog entry getting wrapped up in a discussion on AttackPoint about Adventure Racing navigation. So I'll just point you there if you want to read something by me today.

10/18/05 Vague controls

Cristina Luis, a fellow competitor at Raid the Rock writes:

What did you think about this second orienteering section? I agree that the controls were in the right place, but I'm curious as to whether the problems I had were due to a wrong approach/strategy on my part, or strange placement on their part. I really wanted to be able to do it like an orienteering course, but that didn't seem to work so well on those blank hillsides. Does your team use a really different approach for AR?

Lest you get the wrong idea from her question, Cristina is not a clueless novice. She is a competent navigator and her team's time for the section was among the better results.

I thought the second section was fine. It's true that the controls were generally not on mapped features, but that sort of vague placement is pretty standard for Adventure Races. The map itself was not bad (1:7500 with reasonably accurate 10 foot contours - I'll scan it when I get some free time). The strategy that I find works best is to run it like a true intermediate would do an Orange course (as opposed to how an advanced orienteer would approach said course). Look for big feature attack points, even if they are on the opposite side of the control, and then use compass and pacing for the last 100-200m.

I actually had much more trouble with the first section because we got stuck in some dark green and there was no way to know how long it would go on. We literally crawled for about 300 meters only to find that there was a trail that went almost all the way to the control we were after.

10/20/05 Pro Bono

Lawyers get a bad rap. Sure, some of them are slimy, but that can be said of any group of people. I've actually done a lot of work with lawyers. During my semi-pro cycling years, I used to make winter rent payments by setting up law offices with computer systems. I found most of my clients to be quite reasonable folks to deal with (although I did learn a thing or two about how difficult it is to collect a late payment from someone who actually knows collection law).

Contrary to the image the media presents, most big law firms feel a social obligation to give services to causes or individuals deemed deserving. It appears that Carol's Team may be the recipient of such benevolence. Not that we're in legal trouble or anything, but between the non-profit status and the ever evolving body of intellectual property law, it will certainly be helpful to get some expert advice on how to produce Carol's Song before we make a decision that messes us up.

I'll hold back on the details for the moment since it's not a done deal. Frankly, given the stature of the firm we're dealing with, I'm honored they would even consider us.

10/21/05 Giant vacation

Actually, it's a rather mini-vacation. Just a three day weekend at Giant City State Park in southern Illinois. It will be nice to relax for a weekend. Both work and racing have been pretty intense lately. I won't update this page until Tuesday.

10/25/05 Tree hugger

As you can see, Olivia is, literally, a tree hugger. She enjoyed our visit to Giant City State Park quite a bit. On the day we left she kept running towards the woods shouting "Trail! Trail!" Not a bad sign at all.

The park is really nice. It's the first time I'd been there. The weather was a bit on the cold and wet side, which limited our activities a bit, but not much. I would have liked to have done some climbing as they have a couple good areas for that. Maybe next time. I did run a few pretty nice trails.

10/27/05 Interesting tips

Sandy Hott Johansen is one of the top female orienteers from North America. She lives in Sweden now, but still runs for the Canadian Orienteering Team. On her web site she has a couple of interesting things to say about how she got better. One was to get rid of her baseplate compass. This seems like a small things compared to the skills of map reading and general fitness, but at the elite level, small things can matter. Since I use a baseplate, I decided to think a bit more about this and see if it is slowing me down.

The year I took up orienteering, Kate gave me a thumb compass for my birthday. Kate's not one to go cheap, so it was a top of the line Nexus - arguably the best competition compass in the world. I still have it and take it with me as a backup in case I break my baseplate (which has happened to me in races). I used it for a year and then decided to go back to the baseplate. I went back because at the time I still liked to rotate the compass bezel to the bearing I was trying to run. I don't do that anymore. I move the bezel so rarely that it requires two-handed effort to turn.

The argument for using a thumb compass is that you should always make sure your map is properly oriented when reading it. Agreed, but I didn't find a thumb compass helped that much. I like to hold the map at about a 45-degree angle when reading it. The compass doesn't work at that angle. To get the benefit of the compass, I would have to either learn to read the map when holding in level or get in the habit of holding it level prior to reading it and then check the compass just before moving it to my reading position.

I've become pretty adept at holding my right hand completely still while running. Whenever I want to check the compass (which is pretty often - I've learned that I drift a lot if I don't), I run a few strides with the compass held level and then quickly check it. It's completely second nature now - I don't even think about it. I don't have any trouble reading the map and compass at the same time, even though they are in different hands.

That said, I am considering going to a thumb compass. The reason is that there has been some good progress with integrating a magnifier into a thumb compass. Several vendors now have a magnifier mounted on a post that can be swung over the area near the thumb when needed. When not needed, it can be moved out of the way. I used a thumb compass with a non-movable magnifier at 24-hour world championships last year (1:40,000 map) and liked it, but would have liked it more if I could swing it out of the way on the legs I didn't need it (which was most of them).

10/28/05 Folding

Continuing the thread of standard advice that I don't take: the conventional wisdom is that you should fold your map along the direction of travel. I believe the justification of this is that you can then move your hand along the edge of the map easily to follow your route with your thumb. Fair enough, but I don't do it that way.

Instead, I fold my map at 90-degree angles. David jokes that he can always find my map quickly in the pile of maps turned in at the end of an A-meet because it's the one with the rectangular creases.

I do this for two reasons. First, by folding like this, the edge of the map acts as a compass star. The corners point NE, NW, SE, SW, while the edges point N, E, S, W. When I'm running rough bearing, I don't have to look at the north lines on the map, I can just look at the general orientation of the star. Note that you do have to keep track of which way is north. When I started doing this I made several 90 and 180 degree errors, but that hasn't happened in a long time.

This is particularly useful in adventure racing where the maps typically don't have magnetic north lines on them. By making the initial fold along magnetic north, I can use the map edge as a declination adjustment. A small item in the Midwest where true and magnetic north are only a degree apart, but a bigger deal on either coast. Of course, in areas where accurate compass work may be required, I take the extra few seconds to draw in at least one magnetic north line.

The second reason I use the 90-degree folds is that I find it faster to fold and unfold the map if I'm disciplined about this. This is only an issue in O-meets where a second here and there can matter. I rarely have to stop to mess with the map. I can pretty much refold it at close to a full run without losing my place.

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