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12/01/05 Schedule!

Thanks to alert reader Mike Eilers for pointing me to a decent schedule of Midwestern adventure races. His team (SOAR Adventure) has one on their website. I've added this to the racing links page of this site. If you're interested in a race, it's always a good idea to go to the actual race site and confirm the dates because they do tend to change.

12/2/05 Possum Trot

The Possum Trot is this weekend. It's a "goat" event put on by the Possum Trot club of Kansas City. Goat events are mass start races with optional skips and/or forks and winning times on the long side for orienteering (2-5 hours). Crazy as it may sound, this is my big race for the year. Even with the ankle injury, I'm psyched.

In objective terms, the race doesn't deserve such vaunted status on my competition calendar. The terrain around Kansas City is not that great and there's always been at least one misplaced control. But, the courses make the most of the terrain and the misplacements have always been pretty minor (I don't recall ever loosing more than a minute on a misplaced control).

I think my love for the Trot comes from two factors. First and foremost, the people there are great. People who go to the Trot really love it and it shows. Everybody there seems to be in a good mood just about all the time. The field is very good and the racing is tough, but there's also a lack of pretense that is refreshing. Little things like Mikell Platt not skipping any controls in PT6 because the course setter promised him a cheeseburger if he got them all (PT6 was the only year I finished ahead of Platt and he never got the burger).

The second reason is that the Possum Trot has been around about as long as I've been orienteering (unless you count the Ski-O I did in college). PT1 was one of my first foot orienteering races. I really suffered through that one as it was much too difficult for me, but managed to finish. That's turned out to be significant as most of the regulars didn't arrive until PT2.

Michael Eglinski is the number 1 Trotter, having trounced me in the years when 15-minute mistakes were a regular feature of my runs. Since PT4, we've been very close, with him on top 3 of 5 times. Fritz Menninger will wear #3 as the only other runner with finishes in all 8 races. Here are the complete Lifetime Trot Standings.

12/5/05 Curse of the Odd Trot

Lots to write about from this last weekend. For now, I'll just say that the Curse of the Odd Trot has been broken. I had a good run and matched my previous best placing of third. I'll have maps and meet reports over the coming days.

Best of all, I didn't mess up the ankle again. No new swelling. It actually feels better today than it has since the injury. Hopefully, I've turned a corner on that.

12/6/05 Possum Trot meet report

... is posted here. Happy reading.

12/7/05 Micro-O

This year's Kansas Champs had a Micro-O section. In Micro-O, there are multiple control flags in the vicinity of the control. You have to figure out which one is right from the map detail and the control description. You're not given the control code. If you get one wrong, you get a time penalty.

This map shows both the real controls (in purple) and the dummy controls (in blue). There are some other purple controls that were used for different courses. The actual competition map just showed the controls connected by the purple lines. Note the 1:5000 scale. This is necessary so you can read the detail around the control.

I was one of only 4 people to get all the controls right. The fact that I was not running all out (to protect my ankle for the next day) might have had something to do with that. I think my mapping experience helped a lot, too. Winner Mikell Platt also got them all right and he does a fair bit of mapping. Mapping forces you to look at subtle details that you might otherwise not care about. I think it helps your map reading a lot.

My strategy was to not look for control flags at all, but instead run to the feature and then punch whatever flag was there. This is really the way you should always orienteer, but in a normal meet I'll keep an eye out for the flag as well. I took routes that were a bit safer than usual because I figured course setter Fritz Menniger would be exploiting parallel features (remember that the competition map doesn't tell you anything about where the dummy controls are located, so you have to be confident you are on the right feature).

GO - AF: This one was easy. Just run to the corner of the field and take the trail around.

AF - B3: This was the most common miss and I'm not surprised. The clue was top of 0.5m earth bank. There are little earth banks all along the stream, but only one is indicated on the map. I figured the stream bend was a much safer feature to shoot at. I followed the little ditch down to the stream and then ran along the stream to where it turns sharply north. From there, it was obvious that the bank on the outside of the bend was the correct one.

B3 - AN: I figured that there would be controls in the parallel ditch to the south. To make sure I kept them straight, I took the trail all the way to the sharp bend. Approaching the bend I saw that there were indeed controls in the southern ditch. From the bend, I left the trail but stayed high. I could see all three controls in the ditch, but was pretty sure it was the top one. I ran there and confirmed that the small ditch did peter out there.

AN - AR: This was another easy one if you read the whole clue: 0.2m rock face. If you were looking for something substantial you would run right by it. Since the clue specified that the rock face was very small, I instead followed the stream looking for the sharp bend just past the control. I spotted that from about 30m away and, sure enough, there was a tiny little waterfall right in front of me.

I really enjoyed the event. I think Fritz did a nice job of finding good locations and setting dummy controls. I think that the best strategy for an event like this would be to run it at normal speed and take a hit every now and then. Slowing down to make sure you get every one right is probably not worth it unless the penalty is really big. I think a competent orienteer should be able to get 80-90% right at full speed unless the course setter is doing something unfair like using a poorly mapped area or hiding a control.

12/8/05 No PR at PM

I might be giving up prematurely, but it certainly doesn't look like this will be the year I finally break an hour at Pere Marquette. Aside from my difficulties with the ankle (which have largely subsided, but I'll wear the Active Ankle just to be sure) we're getting a modest snowfall today. The forecast is for less than 4 inches; 2 have already fallen. That's not much, but it's enough to slow down the trail 10-20 seconds per mile. That probably puts the hour out of reach for me. My best time to date is 60:15 in 2001 and that was in pretty ideal conditions (frozen, but no snow).

My time that year is still the course record for the Clydesdale class (over 200 pounds). I won't be eligible for that this year as I've done a good job of keeping my weight down. That's one of the reasons I was optimistic about breaking the hour. Typically I'm around 200 pounds this time of year. The lightest I've ever run Pere Marquette is 195. I'm currently 188.

Breaking an hour at Pere Marquette is a pretty big deal as local bragging rights go. Only about 20 of the 600 runners do it each year. The trail is listed as 7.5 miles, although subsequent measurements have shown it to be closer to 8. It's the hills, not the distance that get you.

Although the conditions will hurt my time, they will probably improve my placing. Orienteering shoes work much better than anything else on a snowy trail (when it doesn't snow I wear cross country spikes). Not many runners have them. I'm also more accustomed than most to running hard on uneven terrain. Even if I can't get a PR, I'm really looking forward to the race. . Tomorrow, I'll talk about my strategy for the race

12/9/05 How to run Pere Marquette

I've seen lots of descriptions of the Pere Marquette course and read quite a few race reports. I don't ever recall seeing anybody explain race strategy. So, as a public service, I thought I'd share mine. Of course, strategy is a personal thing and what works for me may not work for others. Nonetheless, I regularly finish in the top 5% at this race and that sure doesn't happen often on the road, so I must be doing somehting right.

Running the hills well is crucial to a good race. Note that I said "well" and not "fast". Overcooking the hills is the easiest way to screw up your run. Aside from the first hill, the climbs are all less than five minutes long (assuming a finish time in the low 60's). That means running a hill at 110% of aerobic threshold gains you less than 30 seconds. Not worth it, except for the last one (and you'll have no choice but to go anearobic there). You need to stay within yourself so you can keep a good pace on the rest of the course.

The first hill is the longest and starts after just a quarter mile. It's not very steep, so you have to run it fast. Being properly warmed up is imperative. It's also an advantage to start in one of the first waves because there's a choke point on the trail halfway up the hill. I've lost as much as 20 seconds there starting in the third or fourth wave. I'll be starting in the second wave this year, so it shouldn't be a problem (each wave has 25 runners and they start at 30 second intervals). You need to push a bit on the first part of the hill so you are near the front of your wave when you hit the bottleneck. There are still five minutes of climb to the summit after that, so don't go too deep.

The descent off the first hill is fast and tricky in spots. I usually move up here as my off-trail experience helps a lot. It's fine to open up your stride, but you need to recover here because the second climb starts almost immediately at the bottom. This is the most important climb of the race. It's steep, but runnable. What makes it so important is that it's followed by about 2 miles of pretty mild terrain. If you get over this one in good shape, you can fly.

The third climb is the easiest unless you've blown your pacing. Again, you want to get over this one without hurting yourself because the next mile is critical - you have to recover for the massive effort coming up. The descent is technical, especially the bottom section where you're running down steps. These are really tough if your legs are going away. Of course, if you've lost your legs already, you're toast because the real race is about to start.

From here, you can see the finish line, but you sure aren't done. The final test is a tortuous climb that gains as much as the first, but in half the distance. It's brutally steep. Almost everybody walks this one, but if you can run it, do so. On the really steep parts running isn't much faster (if at all), but you want to keep your stride going.

The trail is also very narrow here and you'd do well to heed the sign posted at the bottom: "Trample the weak; hurdle the dead." Don't let yourself be seduced into sitting behind someone slower than you. Look up the trail for passing lanes and use them. If you back off here it's hard to get going again at the top.

And you absolutely have to get going again - the finish is well over a mile away so jogging it in will ruin your time. This is where some head games come into play. You may look around you and think that you're racing those you can see. Yes, but you're also racing runners you can't see. Some who started before or after you may be very close to your time. You have to keep telling yourself that every second counts. If you let up here and miss a place by 5 seconds, it will haunt you for a very long time.

From the top of the last climb, you run the first climb backwards down to the finish. This descent is really fast if you run it right, but your legs are getting pretty wobbly and the trail is uneven in spots. Even at the front of the field it's not uncommon to see someone go to pieces on this section. Further back, it's chaos as the trail gets jammed with runners who have either blown up or simply don't have the confidence to run down a trail at speeds usually reserved for repeats on the track. I usually hold back just a bit for safety and then blast the last quarter mile of flat to the finish.

The tag line for the race, "The Toughest Race in the Midwest" might be overstating things. But, I think it is true that this is one of the toughest races anywhere to get right. Even minor errors in allocating effort make big differences by the finish. It truly is a game of brinksmanship with your mind pushing your body right to the edge and your body threatening to jump off at any moment. Happy trails!

12/10/05 Godzilla

Pere Marquette (aka the Godzilla race), was slow as expected. I was 2 minutes of my PR. Last years winner repeated, but with a time four minutes slower. Therefore, I feel pretty good about my effort. I finished 20th overall (of 600) and 2nd in my age group.

I didn't really feel like the snow was slowing me down much, but I guess it was. My orienteering shoes had excellent grip on the descents - I passed a lot of people going downhill. I ran the uphills pretty well, too, particularly the last one. I didn't feel that I ran the gently rolling middle section as well as I could have. That's where I lost most of my time versus my target splits.

All in all, it was a great way to finish up the season.

12/12/05 That's a wrap

Yesterday, Doug Nishimura and I hung the controls for the last local orienteering meet of the year. David won it with an impressive run. That wraps up the year for competition.

I didn't set formal goals for this year. In the back of my mind, I was thinking it would be nice to make some noise nationally, but I didn't want to burden a new team with that. We had some good results and wound up with a good ranking (6th), so that aspiration was largely realized.

Personally, my goals were even less well-defined. I just couldn't see setting a bunch of personal priorities in a year when I was going to lose my closest family member. I suppose one of the very small mercies of ALS is that it was a slow enough death that I was able to reprioritize my life and spend some quality time with Carol.

Most importantly, I think we did do a fair job of getting the word out with respect to ALS. This site is gaining a regular readership and we've had opportunities to promote awareness at both races and in the media. Fund raising is going well enough that completing Carol's Song is looking much more like an achievable aim.

In many respects, this has been the toughest year of my life. But it's also been one of the best. I've learned a lot about what matters to me and who my real friends are. Rather than feeling jaded, I see the world with a lot less cynicism than I did a year ago.

12/13/05 Recovery

With the 2005 season complete, it's time to heal up. Aside from the ankle (which is better, but will be prone to re-injury for a few more weeks) I don't have any real injuries to tend to. Racing does wear you down, though, and a few weeks rest helps get everything back to 100%.

I probably need the rest a bit less than usual this year since healing the ankle has mandated scaling back training for the last few weeks. I usually take the time between Pere Marquette and New Years off except for a few easy maintenance workouts. I'll pick things up a bit sooner than that this year.

I think I'll stay out of the woods until we go to Chicago around Christmas. By then, the ankle should be completely healed. I like to get in a run in the woods when I go there because Chicago has some flat terrain that is much different from what we have around St. Louis. After Christmas, I'll resume normal training so I'm ready for my first national orienteering meets in February.

I haven't decided when I want to peak next year. I usually pick out a few weeks in the spring and then try for another peak in late November (picking up the 3-hour, Possum Trot, and Pere Marquette). I don't really see anything on the schedule yet next spring that I'm super serious about, so I might wait until summer and try to be at peak for the 1000-day.

12/14/05 No healing yet

So, in keeping with yesterday's post, I head out last evening for an easy maintenance workout. Just an easy jog over to the Y for some upper body lifting. When I go to cross the only major street between my house and the gym, the pavement is wet so I can't see the crosswalk lines very well. I actually cross just outside the crosswalk which means that at the other side is a curb rather than the little ramp. I trip on it and scrape my knee up a bit.

Embarrassing, but no big deal. I finish my workout. Then around midnight my elbow starts swelling up like nothing I've ever seen before. Within an hour it looks like somebody jammed a baseball in there. I looked around for Kate's camera, but couldn't find it and didn't want to wake her up just to take a picture of my freakish elbow.

An hour of ice, compression, and elevation gets things under control, but it's still pretty swollen today. I don't know if I hit it falling or if it got jammed. It doesn't hurt much and I have full range of motion. Just mighty weird.

My recovery period is off to an ominous start.

12/15/05 It's the most wonderful time...

A couple weeks ago, I wrote how taking three days off was driving me nuts. That's because there was still racing to do. During my recovery period, I enjoy the time off. I still workout a few times each week, but if I miss a few days, I don't stress over it at all. I like to think of this little break as my reward for being diligent in my training throughout the year.

Unfortunately, this year's break will be a bit less relaxing than usual. I have a deadline at work that will have me putting in a fair bit of OT between now and the end of the year. Training is one of the ways I manage the stress of working long hours, so I'll probably run more than I usually do during the next few weeks.

12/16/05 Blazeman

A couple weeks ago I caught some of the Hawaii Ironman coverage. I've never done a full length Ironman, but from teammate stories and my own experiences with shorter tri's, I've developed a healthy respect for the event. Of course, the race in Hawaii is a particularly big deal because it's the original and it's very hard to qualify.

One of the competitors this year was Jonathan Blais, AKA Blazeman. A typical accomplished amateur, he's got the sort of record that garners respect among peers, but generally goes unnoticed by the rest of the world. So, why did the NBC crew think his race was so important that they dedicated a camera crew to following him? Blazeman has ALS.

Unless you've spent some time with an ALS patient, it's hard to comprehend how difficult this is. As the fine motor control deteriorates, the body becomes much less efficient. This, coupled with the fact that ALS also chews into your stamina makes Blazeman's finish one of the few athletic achievements that actually warrants the term "heroic".

I was thinking I should try to get in touch with the guy when out of the blue comes an email from another ALS victim, Jamie Lee, who reads both of our sites. Long story short, Carol's been added to the list of "Warrior Poets" on Blazeman's website. Check it out for some inspiration stories from him and several other ALS victims.

12/17/05 Stepping up your nav

Adventure Racer Phil Nichols sent me a question I get quite a bit, so I decided to answer it here:

... I've always done decently with maps (2nd full season of racing), and by the end of this season, I was far more accurate. I'm still frustrated with our orienteering section times relative to the top teams. Case in point: Berryman adventure with Team Mantis. We held our own, but I want to be faster. What would you recommend to bring this dicipline to the next level? Practice, and more practice, I'm sure. Would you stress O events at this point? Would you stress being patient and letting it come to me? I'll take any hints/tips you might offer and I won't use it against you in competition!

First off, congrats for recognizing that you have a problem. Many new Adventure Racers think once they can find all the controls, they've got navigation down. Realizing that there's more to go should be obvious given the big gaps in time, but many don't get it.

Your first suggestion really is the best: practice and more practice. Time spent navigating pays you back bigger dividends than any other form of training. The difference between navigating cleanly and simply finding the controls is hours, not minutes. Once you've got the other disciplines reasonably mastered, there's no way you'll get those kind of gains. But, of course, you already know that or you wouldn't be asking the question to begin with. So, how to use the time most wisely?

First, understand the real goal. It's not, as one might expect, to be able to find the markers. Anybody can find the markers given enough time. What you're trying to do is minimize time lost to errors. To do that, you have to learn how to stay in contact with the map. This means that at any time you can point to exactly where you are on the map.

There are three drills that are particularly useful for this:

  1. Control picking. This is an exercise where you run very short legs; 100-200m between control points. Running short legs forces you to stay in close contact with the map because you're never far away from the next control. If you do this with a friend, you can alternate where one of you goes first and then waits at the site for the other one to pass. This gives you some confirmation that you've found the right spot. When I do this on my own, I just pick control locations that are pretty obvious.
  2. Line-O. Here, you draw a route on a map and try to follow that route exactly. A group variant of this is called "Beaver-O" (don't ask me why) where the group follows the line together and at random times, the last guy in line calls out "BEAVER!" and you all stop and mark where you think you are on the map. Then the front person goes to the back and the group continues.
  3. Mapping. Mapping forces you to think about how features are represented. It also helps you realize how much subjectivity there is on a map. You learn what to trust, what may depend on the mapper's interpretation, and what is just plain wrong (which is a lot on most Adventure Race maps). Mapping also has the benefit of producing something useful for your local club. Even if you're not very good at it, the map can probably be used for a local event.

I'd rate the effectiveness vs. time of these three activities in the order presented. Nearly half my time in the woods is spent control picking. I also do a fair bit of mapping. I don't do much line-O because I do almost all my nav practice alone and line-O works best in a group.

You can do these exercises on any map, but I think you learn fastest on a true orienteering map. The better the map, the better the feedback you get from the training. Adjusting to the rougher maps of Adventure Racing isn't that hard. More on this last point here.

12/18/05 Target practice

The key to being a good adventure racer is to be well rounded. As David likes to put it, "Don't suck at anything." Thus, training plans should be designed to maintain skills that are well developed and improve the ones that are weak.

Easier said than done. First, there's the simple fact that the weak skills are probably weak for a reason. Either you don't know how to or don't want to train those areas. Reversing either or both of those conditions is no small thing. Second, there's the constraint of time. Most training guides assume that the activity you are trying to train is the only activity you're interested in. You need to find a way to work on the weak areas without neglecting everything else.

It can be a bit overwhelming. What's worked for me is a training strategy I first employed early in my cycling career. Realizing that I had to get better at everything (climbing, sprinting, distance, etc.) to join the ranks of the elite, I decided to focus on one thing a year. This took a lot of patience, but by devoting a whole year to each discipline I was able to put together a training plan that targeted the key area while still working maintenance of the other skills. A year is also long enough that you can realistically expect noticable improvements. Happily, I found that once a skill had been elevated, it could be maintained with much less attention making gains in other areas possible.

Of course, if you're new to the sport there may be enough weak areas that you can't afford to address just one item a year. I still think that it makes sense though to pick one item that you will build your training around and then fill in the rest.

12/19/05 Targets for 2006

I'm not a big fan of New Year's resolutions. If something needs fixed, why not take care of it right away rather than waiting for a new year to start? However, as a new year of training and racing dawns, it does make sense to put some goals together. In keeping with yesterday's post, I intend to have one overriding training goal for 2006. I'll get to that, but even for the maintenance training it's useful to have an idea of what you need to work on. So, I went through all our races for last year and put together a top 10 list of things that cost us time. Over the next few days I'll list each and what I plan to do about it.

12/20/05 #10: In the circle

This really isn't much of a problem in adventure racing, which is why I've listed it as number 10. However, I am certainly aware from the sprint orienteering events I've done that I could be quicker at getting in and out of controls. Part of it is simple mechanics - checking the control code, punching quickly, getting the map re-oriented for the next leg, etc. I could probably save 1-2 seconds per control by doing those things better. That may not sound like much, but 20-30 seconds in a sprint event is several places. I think the only way to get better at these things is just to do a lot more sprints. I should be able to do that as the Chicago club will be offering sprints at their meets next year. I'm also trying to get a St. Louis sprint series going next summer.

The bigger part of it is being able to enter the control circle with a complete mental picture of where the control should be and how to attack it. This is something we don't get much practice with in St. Louis because our woods are so open you can usually see the feature (if not the control bag itself) from outside the circle. An armchair drill I might try is to take a map of a course I've run in thicker terrain and try to remember what the route to the control looked like inside each circle.

5/21/05 #9: Climbing

I've yet to lose any time on a climbing section, but one of these days we'll get hit with a 5.9 where the only alternative is to go up on an ascender. In such a case, having some better skills could save some time. I can get up a 5.9 in climbing shoes, but wearing my trail shoes there's no chance.

I don't have any desire to do lead climbing. Aside from the fact that it never comes up in adventure racing (at least not the ones I do), it seems to add a lot of danger for no real improvement in the activity. Everything in the Midwest can be climbed with a top rope and I don't see myself traveling to some far away land for the purpose of scaling a cliff.

I do enjoy climbing. The only reason I haven't trained climbing is that there's nowhere nearby to work on it. There are several good indoor climbing walls in the St. Louis area and there's no shortage of natural rock. Unfortunately, climbing is prohibited on all the local cliffs. To really develop my climbing abilities on natural surfaces would require traveling and cut into my other training. So, as much fun as it is, my climbing will continue to be restricted to the occasional visit to the climbing gym and whatever comes along in races.

12/22/05 #8: Night nav

You might be surprised to see this listed since the night nav sections are typically where we excel. It's true that we've wiped out some substantial deficits at night, including our big move from 9th to 3rd at USARA Nationals in 2004. But this just reinforces a point I hold as axiomatic: you can never be too good at navigation.

Rather than comparing results to other teams, I compare to the objective standard of "clean navigation". By this I mean, how long would the leg take if you moved at the same speed and executed your route flawlessly? Against this standard there will always be room for improvement and, in my case, enough room that it warrants being listed as a "weakness".

It's generally accepted that night navigation is necessarily slower than daytime navigation. This is true, but the difference is much less than what most believe. The decrease in peripheral vision means you have to turn you head more and it's harder to read the map. It's also hard to assess vegetation from a distance so you end up going straight through some nasty stuff that you could have gone around. The combined effect is around 10% with good vegetation mapping, 20% on typical USGS.

Most people see their speed cut in half. The rest of the difference is due to difficulties relocating. The decreased visibility means that you have fewer features to use if you lose contact with the map. Errors are much more expensive at night.

During the day, I typically give less than 5 minutes per hour in errors. Three minutes per hour is my target. To be more accurate than that would cost me more time in speed than it would save in errors. At night, I lose more like 5-10 minutes per hour. Thus, there is potential to save anywhere from half to a full hour by improving both pace and accuracy on a typical 4-hour night trek.

I do roughly a quarter of my navigation work at night (about 40 of 150 hours total per year). I'm considering upping that both to improve night nav and also to get in more total navigation training. My responsibilities as a parent are making it considerably more difficult to get out into the woods after work. I used to do three or four nav workouts a week. Now I get in one or two. By training after Baby-O goes to sleep, I can probably slide in an extra map workout each week.

12/23/05 #7 - Whitewater

This isn't so much a problem of time loss as it is simply not being able to do certain races. I can paddle the front of a canoe in whitewater and can get a Kayak through class II rapids OK. In the back of a canoe, I'm pretty much restricted to flat water paddling. I'd like to get good enough at it that I can confidently take the pilot's seat up to class II/III.

Missouri doesn't have a lot of whitewater, but what we do have is very good. Jeff offered to work with me on this and I think I'll take him up on it. I'm also considering going on one of those "learn to paddle fast water in a weekend" camping trips. It's not a big priority as the only race we do that has real whitewater is the Ozark Challenge and that looks like it might be off our schedule for next year due to other conflicts. We'll see.

12/24/05 #6: Descending

One of the things I like about adventure racing is that you don't have to be (in fact, shouldn't be) riding on the ragged edge like you do in a mountain bike race. I've come to realize that mountain biking at 80% speed is really quite pleasant.

In my last pure mountain bike race (which was several years ago) I chucked myself over the bars when I tried to jump a ditch and the first thing to hit the ground was my head. I was wearing a helmet (or wouldn't be writing this now), but when I sat up I had no feeling below the waist. Just a pinched nerve and everything came back fairly quickly, but it did make me think that maybe I was getting too old for that sort of thing.

I can't say that psyched me out any. It's not even the worst crash I've had on the bike. But I really don't heal up the way I used to, so I've become a bit more cautious. That's not generally a problem in races because you don't make much time on descents anyway. Going uphill is what you need to be good at. Still, I have noticed that my descending skills, which weren't that great to begin with, have atrophied since I stopped pushing them.

I think I need to spend a bit more time working technique on the bike. I don't want this to cut into my other training, so that means I'll have to be a bit more selective as to where I ride. Hammering for 40 miles on the Katy trail (an old railroad bed) is a fine fitness workout, but it doesn't do anything for technique. Ditto for the 150 hours of road riding I do every year. We've got some good trails around St. Louis - I just need to get on them more.

12/25/05 #5: Flat nav

I've written several times that our terrain around St. Louis is what's called "ridge and valley". This describes more or less parallel ridges and valleys that are at least a few contour lines high. This is the most common type of terrain in the US, so it's good training for most places. But, not for everywhere.

Flat areas require much different techniques. Because you don't have large contour features to stay in contact with, you have to use either much smaller contour features or switch to something else completely.

A few years ago, I decided I needed to come to terms with flat navigation. I traveled to most of the "local" meets put on by the Chicago club (I use quotes, because Chicago's local meets rival most A-meets in terms of attendance, organization, and course quality). By the end of the year, I noticed a significant improvement. I think it's time to hone those skills again.

Today, I'm in Chicago, visiting Kate's cousin and her family for Christmas. I brought along my maps and got out for a decent workout. I ran in Busse Woods which is the flattest area I've every raced in. I'm going to try to make a few more Chicago meets this year. We like coming up here anyway so Baby-O can play with her cousins.

12/26/05 #4: Plotting

Easily my least favorite part of adventure racing is plotting the points. One of the reasons I don't like it is because there's no way to confirm that you've done it right. If you mess up a plot, you may lose a huge chunk of time before realizing that you're not even looking in the right place. To combat that, I tend to be rather slow in my plotting. While I rarely misplot a point, I do give away time to the teams that plot quicker. We lost over ten minutes before we even set foot on the course at Raid the Rock and it wasn't because the lead team was being sloppy - all their plots were correct.

I've got two things planned to improve this. First is to practice it some more. This isn't something that cuts into other training time so there's no downside. Just plotting a couple points a few nights each week should make a difference. The second is developing a better UTM plotting tool. The standard tool is a corner floater. Here's a typical example. I've got some ideas on how this could be improved. I'll report back on my findings.

12/28/05 #3: MTB Nav

Navigating on the mountain bike should be easy. Most times, it is, but that's part of the problem. It's not always obvious when it's getting hard and you can get pretty lost before you realize that something is wrong.

This situation usually arises when the trails are poorly mapped (or not mapped at all). Following a well-mapped trail isn't too much different from reading a regular street map; just keep track of the intersections and turn at the right one. When the mapping is off, you need to check off other features just as you do during off-trail navigation. There are two ways to determine if the mapping is bad: trust it until you get lost or employ careful map reading all the time.

Obviously, the latter option is preferable, but it caries its own price. Reading the map while riding is difficult on technical trails (which are also the ones most likely to be mapped wrong - even USGS gets most fire roads right). Looking at the map every hundred meters or so (as you would on foot) will slow you down. Stopping that often is out of the question.

I'm thinking of drills to work on this. The obvious one is to take a USGS map with no trails mapped to an area with a dense trail network and try to stay in contact with the map while riding. I've done this a few times and the result is usually a trip over the handlebars. I think just spending more time riding with a map in my hand would be useful.

David has a handlebar-mounted map holder for his bike which allows reading the map with both hands on the bars. While safer, he notes a significant downside is that it's harder to keep your place on the map so you have to look at it for longer. The handlebars also vibrate a lot more than your hand.

A drill that may prove useful is to ride a trail for a while (maybe five minutes or so) and then try to plot the trail on the map from memory. I could then compare my plot with an orienteering map (or just jog the trail afterwards). I think if I got good at remembering the features we had recently passed, I could relocate pretty quickly if I realized the trail wasn't matching what I expected.

12/29/05 #2: Light green

Against runners of roughly my fitness, I get through open woods about as fast as anybody. While I don't particularly care for it, I hold my own going through the really nasty stuff, too. Light green is another matter.

Light green refers to the color used on an orienteering map to indicate vegetation that slows you down at least 15%, but not more than half. Interpretations vary widely on this; most North American mappers overstate the effects of vegetation.

My problems with light green are twofold. First, there's the simple issue of size. Generally, height is a good thing in sports, but when you're trying to duck under low branches and vines, smaller is better. Being taller also means a longer stride which makes quick direction changes more difficult. Being heavier means coming down a bit harder, and that's not a good thing when you've got unsure footing. The result is that I tend to run with a choppy, hunched over gate through semi-thick vegetation whereas smaller runners are closer to their normal stride. At 6'1" (yes, really, although all the 5'10" guys who claim to be 6' get mad when I say it), I'm not exactly a giant, but when I run alongside someone like Peter Gagarin, it's obvious that just a few inches of height can make a big difference.

The second problem is more significant and, fortunately, can be addressed: the stride itself. I learned to run on roads and did quite a bit of road running in my teens and early 20's. I didn't start running in the woods until my early 30's. My stride still has a lot of the long, low, carriage typical of middle distance runners. Running through light green requires higher turnover and higher carriage. I've been working on this for some time and have certainly made progress, but again, running alongside someone like Peter Gagarin (who I can take on the road) makes it pretty obvious that there's more work to be done.

Realistically, this doesn't cost me anything in adventure racing. I've never been on a team where I was the slowest through light green and I doubt I ever will be. It probably hurts my orienteering less than 5% (and not at all around St. Louis). Despite such minimal objective losses, the ability to move through the terrain is such a fundamental element of the sport that I'd like to be really good at it.

I think I'll try to do some of my tempo runs in light green rather than on the road. There aren't too many areas of light green around St. Louis except in the summer. Cliff Cave and Emmenegger are probably the best mapped areas for training this. There is also some unmapped flood plain that would work.

12/30/05 And the number 1 item is...

... single blade paddling. As I mentioned in the entry on whitewater paddling, I do most of my paddle training in a kayak using a double bladed paddle. This does a fine job of working the paddling muscles, but does nothing for working the technique of single blade strokes.

I never regarded this as much of a handicap, because on the rare occasions when I had to take the back, we were using double-bladed paddles. This summer, I found myself in the back a few times and every time we picked up a single bladed paddle, we lost 20 minutes. That's a problem.

So, next year my number one training objective is to come to terms with single blade paddles.

There is the fact that I don't have a canoe. I suppose that's going to have to be my big equipment purchase for the year. And, I'll have to figure out some way to transport it. The WRX isn't exactly a boat hauler and Kate doesn't like me taking her Jeep all the time.

Those problems aside, the I'm looking forward to making this a training priority. Honing an under-developed skill is fun because you see big improvements. Of course, I still expect that the bulk of my training time will be running (including nav practice) and cycling, but paddling will be a much bigger component this year.

Mostly, I write in this space to give some cohesion to my own thoughts. However, I do hope that at least some of you found this series of ideas stimulating as you consider training priorities for the next year. Good luck!

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