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Blog Archives

1/1/06 Performance goals for 2006

Training goals are fine, but presumably one trains to improve (or, at least maintain) performance. So, what are we shooting for in 2006?

As a team, I'd say last year's record was pretty good. If we can match that given the newer members we're taking on, that would be a good achievement. Another top-10 USARA ranking and at least one qualifier win are two obvious goals. I'd also like to see us back in the top 10 at nationals, although getting to Southern California for the event may pose some difficulties.

Personally, I've decided to start running Blue (elite) again at Orienteering meets. I'm not quite sure why I want to do this since I didn't even win any Red courses at A-meets last year. I guess I just miss racing against the best. I don't expect to win any races on Blue. I'd like to win a goat event - I've got four planned (BillyPig, Chicago Goat, Turkey-O, Possum Trot). The Turkey-O is technically not a goat, but it's enough like one that I count it.

It would also be nice to win a bike race one of these days. It's been two years since that's happened. I'd call this a minor goal since I don't really take cycling training all that seriously anymore. Another secondary goal, but one that means a lot to me is to break on hour at the Pere Marquette trail run.

1/2/06 How to build a training plan

There are some coaches out there who build training plans for Adventure Racing. Unfortunately, very few of them have any real experience in AR; most are just applying principles from other disciplines that they do understand well. That's not a terrible thing. Fitness is fitness and there is a lot of commonality. Even a less than perfect plan is better than just guessing what to do each day.

Most adventure racers, even at the elite level, are self-coached. I think this reflects both the above-mentioned shortage of knowledgeable coaches and the basic reality that most of us are simply too busy to follow a rigid routine dictated by someone else. Fitting in training around all of life's other priorities means being flexible and making the most of training opportunities as they arise.

To do this, you have to know something about putting a training plan together. Since I'm in the process of putting together my plan for 2006, I figured I'd talk through it here. The basic steps I use are as follows:

  1. Set performance goals
  2. Determine skills required to meet those goals
  3. Determine training objectives to address those skills
  4. Determine training periods (seasonal goals)
  5. Within each period, determine training objectives
  6. Develop specific workouts for meeting objectives
  7. Develop a schedule template for fitting in workouts
  8. Assign workouts to schedule
Many self-coached athletes go straight to this last step without the necessary preparation. This leads to training schedules that lack cohesion. Each workout may be fine, but the workouts don't complement each other. In particular, recovery is generally not given enough consideration. Such schedules often lead to overtraining symptoms, even if the total volume is quite manageable.

The other benefit of the earlier steps is that having a firm understanding of the function of each workout means that you can rearrange things if needed and know what areas are affected by the change. Schedules with little or no grounding, if they work at all, are easily knocked off by changes in plans. A well conceived schedule remains effective, even if things need to be changed to reflect other priorities.

Over the next few days I'll review each of the steps.

1/3/06 Setting goals

This activity doesn't require a lot of explanation. My entry from two days ago laid out my goals for 2006. Goals are whatever you want them to be, but there are a few things to keep in mind when setting goals.

First and foremost, goals must be measurable. A goal to "do well" in a certain race is a lousy goal. There's no way to verify if it has been achieved. If you look at the goals I set, there will be no question at the end of the year whether each one was met. In fact, as they are "public" goals (that is, based on published results) anybody can verify whether they've been met. I think these are the best goals because you have both external and internal motivation to achieve them. If I achieve one of my goals, not only will I know it, but so will anybody else who cares (a small group, to be sure, but a group whose opinions matter to me).

Goals should be both realistic and ambitious. We've all heard the cliche, "If you don't aim for the moon, you won't reach the treetops." Well, that's BS. If I want to climb a tree, I don't turn my thoughts to designing a rocket. I think it would be great to win Adventure Racing World Championships. But, if I make that a goal, I've got to run around finding world-class teammates, serious sponsorship, and a month off from work. None of that's likely to happen and trying to pull if off would cut into my training time, making it less likely that I'd reach the more realistic goals I've set.

Fantasy goals just distract you from the real work required to meet an ambitious one. Dream all you want, but set goals that you have a reasonable chance of reaching. They shouldn't be easy, but they shouldn't be nonsense, either. You can always set a new goal once you've reached the one you're shooting for.

Finally, stay focused. Too many goals make for a haphazard training plan. Have one or two overriding goals and then a handful of smaller things that you'd like to do along the way. Make sure the secondary goals complement rather than distract from the primary.

1/4/05 Skills

In each discipline, speed is determined by four basic factors (which are themselves dependent on a number of things, but let's start simple): strength, pace, endurance, and efficiency.

Strength is generally not a big issue in adventure racing. Once you are strong enough to perform all the tasks, there's not too much direct benefit in developing surplus. (You're either strong enough to carry a canoe or you aren't.) That said, there are many indirect benefits of strength. Training strength is often a shortcut to gains in other areas.

Pace is the rate that your body can convert food to kinetic energy. This varies with total work; each time the work doubles, pace drops by about 5%.

Endurance is the point at which the above relationship breaks down. For example, if someone runs a 3 hour marathon, it's a pretty sure bet they also run 10K in 38-39 minutes. The opposite is not necessarily true, because their endurance threshold may be reached before marathon distance, forcing them to slow down more than they should.

Efficiency is what percentage of time and/or energy goes into the task at hand. This is by far the most important element in adventure racing. Teams of roughly equal fitness are often separated by hours because one team is much less efficient than another.

These four factors are crossed with the disciplines to produce a list of skills. For example, in cycling you might consider:

  • Strength: Squat, 200m TT, short climb (under 30 seconds)
  • Pace: 4000m TT, 40K TT, long climb (over 10 minutes)
  • Endurance: Century, double century
  • Efficiency: Cadence, aerodynamics, singletrack, descending
Note that we're not looking for workouts (yet). We're looking for skills. A 40K Time Trial is a rather poor pace workout, but doing one well is a pace skill.

Obviously, this list can get pretty long by the time you consider all the disciplines in Adventure Racing. The idea is not to be overwhelmed, but to recognize that most of your time losses are probably due to weaknesses in a few key areas. You also want to look for common problems. If you note that most of your weaknesses are in the endurance category, then you need to work on endurance in general.

Fitness gains (strength, pace, and endurance) are easy at first and then get hard. If you stay at it long enough, there comes a point when the goal is simply to slow the rate that fitness declines. Efficiency gains come slower, but they keep coming. You can always improve technique. Once any glaring weaknesses in fitness have been addressed, efficiency skills will find their way to the top of the list.

If this looks like a lot of work, that's because it is. Identifying and assessing each skill takes a fair bit of introspection, some of which isn't pleasant. The payback is when we go to create the workout template. By thoroughly understanding what is required for performance, we can create a plan that properly prioritizes the training. Further, it is often possible to combine efficiency workouts and fitness workouts. This allows a greater number of workouts to be directed towards efficiency skills without neglecting the need for fitness.

1/10/06 Objectives

Sorry for the outage; hope I didn't lose too many readers. I should be back to posting more or less daily.

Once you've assessed your list of skills, it's time to form some training objectives. Unlike goals, which should be a stretch, training objectives should be realistic steps that you plan to take to increase the chances of reaching your goals. Like goals, measurable objectives are better than subjective statements like "work on mountain biking."

My target list for 2006 shows which areas I want to focus on (the results of the skills assessment). As one would expect with an experienced racer, nearly all the areas are efficiency skills. From a fitness standpoint, maintaining my current condition will be fine (easier said than done, but it does indicate that my overall level of training is probably about right).

Last year I trained 505 hours. I was on pace for closer to 550, but a late season ankle injury forced me to cut back quite a bit. I'll stick with 550 hours as my overall training objective.

The distribution was a little off, again due to the ankle injury. Most of the lost time was time I would have spent in the woods doing navigation training. That and my overall desire to work on paddling yield a somewhat different breakdown from last year:

Activity 2005 2006
Navigation 137 170
Running 166 120
Cycling 173 150
Paddling 20 70
Other 9 30

The increase in the "other" category is also due to the paddling influence. Weight training and swimming both fall in there. I'm not really sure why I did so little of those last year, but if I want to be fit for paddling, I'll need to step those up. The extra time is coming out of the running bucket. I think that's safe because most of the navigation training also involves running.

Of course, there's more to training than just putting the time in. One also needs to consider the quality of the workouts. Again, the skills inventory is helpful here. I'll further qualify the time training as such:

  • At least half the paddling should be single-bladed.
  • At least 2 workouts a month devoted to speed through light green.
  • At least 2 workouts a month on technical singletrack with a map.
  • Plot at least 100 points a month.
  • At least 10 orienteering events and 10 training sessions on flat terrain (this one's a bit of a stretch, making it to the A-meet in Florida in February would help).
  • At least 2 night navigation sessions per month.
  • At least 10 sprint orienteering events (another stretch, but doable if I count training events where someone else sets the course.

That leaves whitewater paddling and rock climbing out of the plan. I'm sure I'll do some work in those areas, but don't want to build too many constraints into the training plan.

1/11/06 Periodization

The human body does not improve in a nice upward progression. Progress will stagnate at some point. Adding more training may help for a while, but sooner or later fitness has to regress during a recovery period before any further gains can be made. Planning out when fitness improves and declines (rather than waiting for injury or burnout to dictate it for you) is called "periodization".

I think I first saw this term used sometime in the early 80's. The concept is certainly much older than that. It basically is a formalization of the rather common sense notion that if you are to be at your peak at one point in the year, you will not be at your peak at other times (otherwise it wouldn't be much of a peak). Thus you need to be intentionally off-peak most of the time.

At a minimum, a training calendar should have four periods: base, buildup, peak, and recovery. Some coaches use a more granular system. In particular, the base period can be further subdivided into periods of low intensity and periods of regular quality training that isn't building towards any specific goal. I usually don't bother making that distinction as I do quality workouts year round (except during recovery).

Depending on the sport, this set of periods may repeat two or even three times in a year (three is really hard to get right). The length of the base period is quite flexible; there's no real downside to extending it. The others should be kept reasonably short for best results (particularly the peak).

I typically want a small peak sometime in late spring and a big peak in November. I still haven't found a good reason to peak this spring, so I'll just go with a really long base period. Long enough, in fact, that it does make some sense to subdivide it.

Right now my periods look something like this:

  • January -March: Base. I will do several orienteering races during this time, but I'll train through them. This is the best time of year to work navigation around here, so I'll be doing plenty of that. Much of it will be fieldwork for US Team Trials which I'm directing in May. The bulk of the training here is fairly low intensity, but I'll get in one or two quality workouts a week.
  • April - July: Base. There's no radical change in plans from the preceding period, but the quality and quantity goes up a bit. I'll also start working on the season objective of improving single-blade paddling. I expect to do a fair bit of racing during this period. These will be trained through, except for the long ones which will be followed by brief recovery periods (days, not weeks). Training volume is high (12-15 hours/week).
  • August - Mid October: Buildup. This is the heart of the adventure race season in the Midwest. This is the least flexible part of the schedule because it's very important to get quality workouts in around the long stuff. Workouts will be shorter and generally higher intensity.
  • Mid October - Early December: Peak. The peak starts with a taper period leading into the part of the season I really care about: USARA Nationals, Turkey-O, Possum Trot, and Pere Marquette. Those races cover 5 weeks, which is a pretty long peak, but I've managed it in the past.
  • Rest of December: Recovery. Closer to outright rest. I generally don't do much of anything between Pere Marquette and Christmas.

Many coaches would look at the above schedule and complain that there's way too much racing during the base periods. The orienteering races in the winter and spring really aren't a problem because I don't run them as hard as a running race. The summer racing really is sub-optimal; several of those events are pretty close to maximal efforts. I'm sure I would do better to skip the summer racing altogether, but that would miss out on a lot of fun events, so I just manage best I can.

1/17/06 Period objectives

Setting objectives for a training period is similar to setting them for the year, just more specific. For example, consider the first part of my base training period (which I'm currently in). There are no performance goals for this period (winning the BillyPig would knock off one of my season goals, but it's not a priority as there are other goat events later in the year). Thus, I'm looking at how this period supports my goals later on.

The overriding goals of this period are 1) maintain fitness, 2) get in some navigation training, and 3) stay healthy. The first one is relatively obvious and easy enough to do. The second fits nicely with the first since navigation workouts tend to be lower intensity (although they don't have to be).

The third is the hard part. I've found that to stay healthy it helps to gain a little (but not a lot) weight. I've already done that, so now I just need to keep it level until March when I'll drop it back down. The total training volume also needs to be a little lower and the amount of sleep slightly higher.

So with that framework in place, here are my training objectives for this period:

  • Training volume between 8 and 12 hours per week.
  • Complete field work for US Team Trials (mostly mapping and course testing).
  • At least one workout per fortnight in each of the major disciplines: navigation (preferably night), trail running, mountain biking (preferably with a map), paddling.
  • Keep weight between 188 and 192 pounds.
  • Three strength workouts per fortnight.
  • Two pace workouts per fortnight.
  • One endurance workout per fortnight.

The three strength workouts may come as a surprise since base is usually associated with low-intensity. This is a common misconception. It's certainly true that the really tough pace workouts should be avoided during the base period. However, this is the best time to work on core strength. Strength workouts done properly require a good deal of recovery. This is the time of year when you can build in enough recovery to get the maximum benefit from such workouts.

1/18/06 Workouts

This is the fun part for me. I like trying to think of new ways to train skills. Mixing new workouts in with proven standbys keeps training fresh. You may have noticed that many of my objectives are framed in the context of a fortnight. This gives more flexibility for working in some non-standard activities.

Of course, it's important not to get carried away. Repeat miles may not be a particularly novel workout, but there's a reason everybody does them: they work. The main thing is to identify the point behind each workout. This allows you to fit workouts into the template defined in the next step.

So down to specifics. We look at each objective and design workouts to fulfill them.

  • Training volume 8-12 hours. This rules out any really long workouts. The exception to this will be the Bonk Hard Chill, which should be at least a 10 hour race, maybe longer.
  • Complete fieldwork for team trials. This involves three activities. Mapping, which I usually do in chunks of around 5 hours (I don't really count this as physical training, but it has considerable technical benefit). Test running, this is race pace efforts of individual legs or entire courses to make sure that the distances are right and that the map correctly represents route choices. Flagging, which is simply putting out tapes at each control location to mark where the control should be hung. As with mapping, flagging needs to be done carefully so the physical benefits are minimal.
  • Strength workouts.
    • Lifting (squats, leg extension, leg curls, calf raises, bench press, military press, rows, upright rows, pulldowns, arm curls, arm extensions). Typically I'll do 2 sets, one warmup of 12 reps and one moderately heavy (6-8 reps, near or at failure on the last rep). I work squats a bit differently. Squats are so fundamental to the cycling motion, that I'll often work longer sets (25-30 reps) and also go pretty heavy (failure on 3rd or 4th rep).
    • Sprinting. Typically uphill. There's a set of steps at Creve Coeur lake that I can run in just over a minute. That's a little long (getting into lactic versus alactic respiration), but it works OK, if I don't do too many reps. I'll also run smaller hills (20-30 seconds) with a 50-pound pack.
    • Paddling. As part of a longer paddle, putting in several "pickups" of 20-30 seconds adds a strength component. The key here is to really focus on acceleration rather than trying to maintain a high pace.
  • Endurance workouts. Not too much to say about this, just get out and do something for a while. Generally, my endurance workouts are in the range of 3-4 hours, although I'll go longer than that on the bike.
  • Pace workouts. These are the most important workouts and the ones that require the most care. Enough care that I'll devote a full entry to them tomorrow.

The remaining objectives don't affect the workouts themselves, just how they are fit into the training plan.

1/19/06 Pace workouts

Strength and endurance workouts focus on the skeletal muscles. Generally, such workouts tax the muscle close to exhaustion. Pace workouts focus on the cardiovascular system. Cardiac muscles are much different than skeletal muscles. Obviously, taxing cardiac muscles to exhaustion is not a good thing and, unless you're out of shape or using drugs, your body simply won't let you do it. What you can do is run your system right on the line between aerobic and anaerobic respiration.

Workouts right at this threshold will result in moving the threshold higher (or, in us over 40 types, at least slowing its descent). If you're off, even by a little bit, the workout loses it's value. Working above threshold will result in anaerobic performance gains, but it won't help your threshold much and the recover required will be similar to a hard race. Slightly below threshold is the realm of "junk miles." Not only does the workout fail to address your fitness, it leaves you just tired enough that you can't do any quality work the next day either.

Pace workouts fall into two categories: intervals and tempo. Both are needed, but interval work is certainly the more valuable of the two. Unfortunately, intervals are widely misunderstood. Most people avoid them because they view them as "killer" workouts. They are not. If you come away from an interval session feeling blasted, you did it wrong.

That's not to say intervals are easy. Running right at threshold requires a lot of discipline and some measure of discomfort. But it shouldn't feel anything like racing. Intervals are designed to work your heart, not the skeletal muscles. If your legs (or arms, in the case of paddling workouts) are burning, that's an indication that you've crossed the threshold and are into anaerobic respiration. That won't help your heart any.

I do the majority of my interval work running on the track. I didn't do as much of this as I should have last year and I think my results showed it. While not particularly interesting, the track makes it easy to make sure I'm running exactly my threshold pace. If you are doing regular interval workouts on the track, you get familiar enough with what threshold feels like that you can also do a more free-form type of intervals known as "Fartlek". This word, which literally means "speed-play" refers to training that is less regimented, but still involves alternating short threshold efforts with periods of lighter activity. Most of my biking is like this; I ride the climbs at threshold and back off everywhere else.

So what is threshold pace? A starting point that works for most people is that repeat miles should be run a few seconds per mile under 10K race pace. Repeat 400's and 800's should be run at 5K pace. For the first few, I'll check my pace every 100 meters to make sure I really have the pace right. After that, I can run them pretty accurately by feel. What you don't want to do is run a 6:15 mile with splits of 90, 97, 98, 90. It's very important to run an even pace.

The reason for this is what's happening with your heart. When you start, your heart is beating relatively slowly, but your body immediately starts burning fuel at threshold pace. This quickly depletes the blood's oxygen supply and forces the heart to race above threshold to catch up. By the end of the interval, things have stabilized and the heart should be beating at very close to threshold pace. The rest period allows the heart rate to fall back down so the process can be repeated. This only works if the energy output during the interval is reasonably constant. Variations of more than a couple seconds per minute are enough to significantly decrease the value of the workout.

The other form of pace workout is tempo work. This involves holding a pace near threshold for an extended period of time (20-30 minutes). These workouts are not easy, but again, it's important to not turn them into races. If you go above threshold, you'll still get some benefit, but your recovery time will be much greater. The overall impact on your training will be negative. Your tempo pace is very close to your race pace for 1- hour, which is also about 10-15 seconds per mile slower than you 10K pace (assuming you run a 10K somewhere in the vicinity of 40 minutes).

So, on to the actual workouts (based on 10K time of roughly 38 minutes):

  • 3x1mi@6:10 800R (3 miles at 6:10/mile with 800 meter jogs in between each)
  • 5x800@2:55 400R
  • 10x400@87 400R
  • 400@90, 800@3:00, 1600@6:00, 800@2:55, 400@85 all 400R
  • 3@19:00 (tempo)
  • 4@26:00 (tempo)
  • Tyson side of Chubb trail @ 55:00 (this is a very hilly trail, so it blends tempo running with some shorter pushes).
  • 1 hour mountain biking in a hilly area (fartlek).
  • O-intervals (running a control picking course alternating legs run at race pace with legs run easily).
  • Rockwoods and Emmenegger test loops (tempo). These are two orienteering courses that I know well enough that I can run them significantly faster than my normal navigation pace. The Rockwoods loop takes me about 35 minutes and the Emmenegger loop takes around 22.
  • Repeats paddling Castlewood rapids (paddling up takes about 2 minutes, then I recover going back down).
  • Swimming 10x100@1:45, go on 2:00. Swimming requires less recovery time because overheating isn't an issue.

1/21/06 Dead legs make bad choices

Today was SLOC's annual Cold Nose meet. It wasn't particularly cold; about 40F. Conditions were just a bit soft. David Frei set a course that used a lot of running along contours. This kept the climb down, but also meant you had to run pretty hard because you had decent handrails most of the time. A map of the full course is here.

Most of the climb came right at the end. The run-in from the last control was quite different from the typical finishing leg. At 825 meters, this was the longest leg of the course and it presented a significant route choice.

Map of final leg

When I was copying my course, both routes were immediately obvious to me and the straight one looked faster. I razzed David a bit for setting such a brutal finishing leg. He was surprised at my reaction because he thought the fast way was to go around. (Such pre-race analysis would be taboo in a big meet, but with David not running, there wasn't really any reason to wait until after to think about routes.)

By the time I got to #9, my legs were really going away from all the hard running on soft ground. I still thought straight would be faster, but I was afraid I wouldn't push as hard as I needed to make it pay off. Thus, I wimped out and took the road route. A few minutes after finishing, I ran back out to #9 and came in on the straight route. Although I had had some rest, my legs started burning immediately. I pushed as best I could and was surprised to get back 40 seconds faster. I suppose the difference would have been more like 10-15 seconds given how bad I was feeling at that point in the race, but there's no doubt in my mind that straight was the way to go, even when tired.

While it made no difference in the outcome of the race (with David setting courses, there were no other national-level runners competing), it was another lesson that I really should know by now. Giving in to fatigue is a killer. It's essential to be disciplined in late race choices and be willing to take a more demanding route.

1/22/06 Test loop

I have several orienteering courses that I run repeatedly. The point of running courses over again is that you can run a bit more confidently, so fitness rather than navigation becomes the limiting factor. The course I run the most is the Rockwoods Test Loop. This 5K loop was originally a course I designed for a meet. The meet was a memory-O, so the legs all had handrails. This makes it a good course to re-run because once you know which handrails to follow, you can really blast.

I typically run the test loop at around 7:00/K. Yesterday, I ran the meet at Rockwoods at that pace. I felt that that although the control points were non-trivial, the legs themselves had good handrails, so I should try to match my test loop pace. I was pleased with how it turned out. I had to slow down approaching a few controls, but was pretty much full on the whole way. I didn't boom any controls.

Training the test loop has given me the confidence to run handrail legs fast. Going forward, I want to get better at spotting good handrails. I remember Michael Eglinski reviewing a run and pointing out some really subtle linear features that he was able to follow. In the mean time, I'll keep running the test loop every couple months to remind myself how fast you can go when you are confident of your navigation.

A map of the test loop is here. It's not high enough resolution to use, but if you have a map of Rockwoods (available from SLOC), you could copy the control locations.

1/23/06 Template

How do you go from a list of workouts to an actual training schedule? There are two basic approaches. The first is to carefully sit down and schedule a workout for each day for the period. This is a lot of work. An easier (in my view, anyway) method is to develop a schedule template and then fill in the template with actual workouts.

A template doesn't dictate the actual workout - it just specifies the general goal of that day's training. Then you pick a workout that matches that goal. A template can cover the entire period, but a more typical use is create a repeating template. I find that a template that repeats weekly is too restrictive. I use a fortnight template.

A good template balances the quality workouts with enough time to recover. Trying to jam too much into each week will just wear you down. By giving yourself easy days, you can actually train more than you would if you tried to pack as much as possible into each day. Here are the basic constraints that I use for developing a template:

  • Skeletal muscles require recovery 30-50 hours after a hard workout (strength or endurance).
  • Cardiac muscles can be trained hard each day, but it's important to keep track of the cumulative effect of pace workouts on skeletal muscles. I generally avoid more than two straight days of pace work.
  • When doing quality work on successive days, it's better to work the cardiac muscles on the first day and skeletal muscles on the second. It's tough to do good pace work when your muscles are tired.
  • When doing multiple workouts in the same day, they should either be done back to back with no recovery (brick workouts) or with at least eight hours in between.
  • As a concession to reality, I always put in a day each week that can be jettisoned. If something comes up and I have to skip a workout, I shift the schedule one day and get rid of the optional workout. Some care needs to be taken that you don't move a quality workout onto a day when you need to be recovering. This is another reason why it's best to do the pace work first on back-to-back hard days. If the first day is skeletal and the second day gets postponed, it will wind up in the recovery slot from the first day.
  • As another concession to reality, my long workouts have to fall on Saturday, Sunday, or Tuesday.

I don't take the template too seriously in the early base period. I like having a few months of the year when I'm less structured in my training. Still, it's useful to have one, if for no other reason than to recognize when certain things are getting neglected. Here's my template based on the objectives for this years early base:

  • Monday: Active rest; any discipline but usually just an easy run on roads.
  • Tuesday: AM: Intervals; usually on the track, but occasionally something else. PM: Night navigation.
  • Wednesday: Weights; lower body at an intensity that makes the 2.5 mile run back from the gym seem really long (at least it's downhill).
  • Thursday and Friday: Active rest; any discipline.
  • Saturday: Fieldwork for team trials; may include some orienteering at race pace.
  • Sunday: Tempo; any discipline.
  • Monday: Weights; upper body only.
  • Tuesday: Night work in any discipline.
  • Wedndesday: Speed or hills.
  • Thursday: Weights; upper body only.
  • Friday: Active rest; any discipline.
  • Saturday: Endurance; any discipline.
  • Sunday: Mountain biking and/or paddling depending on which disciplines I've used in the preceding days.

The quality workouts have already been covered, but I haven't talked much about active rest. This is a really important part of a schedule. A short (30-45 minutes) workout at an easy pace is much better for recovery than taking the day off. These workouts can also be used to develop skills as long as they don't get too vigorous. For example, I may run a control picking course, but walk all the uphills.

1/25/06 BillyPig

This weekend I'll be running the BillyPig in Cincinnati. The BillyPig is a "goat" orienteering event. Goat events are derived from the popular BillyGoat race held each year in the Northeast. Distance is longer than typical orienteering, but shorter than the real endurance stuff or adventure races. The mass start is broken up by adding forked legs, optional skips, and/or other devices that get people to take controls in different orders.

Goat orienteering is definitely my favorite form of the sport. I like the mass start which adds a lot more strategy. Some would say this comes at the expense of pure navigation, since you can follow others on technical legs, but I've found this doesn't happen too often. Following sounds a lot easier than it is.

Although this is not the time of year when I take results particularly seriously, I've got some reason to be optimistic about this race. The course will be set on the Miami Whitewater map, which is a lot like Rockwoods Range with thicker vegetation. I've got a mixed history on this map. Last time I ran there was a win at the 2001 BillyPig. The time before that was US Long Course Orienteering champs when a decent run was rudely interrupted by a dislocated shoulder with 3K to go.

Last weekend's performance indicates that I'm going pretty well on ridge and valley terrain right now. This is probably my best chance of the year to accomplish the season goal of winning a goat event. The quality of the field looks about the same as 2001. The only other time I ran the BillyPig was 2002. That year the field was better and I finished second to David Frei.

1/26/06 When to blast

I've received several kind comments on last weekend's run at Rockwoods. At 7:04/K, it is the fastest pace recorded at an actual meet at Rockwoods (in fairness to Ross Smith, his run at Intercollegiate champs last year was almost as fast on a more difficult course). As I mentioned a few days ago, I ran the course with the mindset of pushing hard and relying on handrails.

Clearly, this strategy is hugely effective when applicable. The question is, when do you use it? Sometimes it's obvious. Leg 1, for example, really only has one route: run along the ridgetop and then drift off to the right. Not much need for caution there. My split for that leg came to 5:37/K (map).

Legs 6 is less obvious. I followed the base of the ridge SE of the redline. This was better than using the stream, because it was faster running (out of the light green) and the huge reentrant 200m before the control served as a nice stop sign. Keeping track of all the little curves in the stream to know where to turn off would have been more difficult. From the big reentrant, it was easy to pick up the ditch. From there, the tiny clearing on the edge of the circle was visible which served as a nice attack point for the control.

Leg 8 was another leg that featured a prominent handrail, but only if you were looking for it. The side of the hill gets significantly steeper just above the control. This change of grade was easy to spot in Rockwoods' open forest. I ran to the base of the steep section and then followed it right to the control.

The risk in running a course loose like this is twofold. First, if you make a parallel error, it can be a whopper. Most of the handrails I used did not have parallel features nearby, so I wasn't too worried about that. The bigger risk is forgetting to tighten up when you don't have an obvious handrail. There were only a few places like that on Saturday. I made a very conscious effort to slow down and be careful on leg 7 (drifting to either side and looking for the control on the wrong spur would have been disastrous).

I think the run was a good opportunity to do some critical examination of what went right. We often focus too much on what went wrong and don't really assess which habits we should reinforce. I hope I can remember the positive lessons from last weekend in other races on similar terrain.

1/27/06 3-Way

Keep those dirty thoughts to yourself; I'm talking about Skyline Chili. I've raced quite a bit in Cincinnati. I always eat at Skyline Chili when I come here. No worries about running out of gas at the BillyPig tomorrow - I've got plenty of reserves now!

1/29/06 One down

Granted, if one was to cherry pick a goat event, the BillyPig would probably be a prime target, but it's still a real goat event, so winning it accomplished a season goal. Actually, I was anything but confident on the way to the first control. Quite a few folks decided to start fast and I was in 5th place at the first control and only close because the lead group of three overran it.

Consistency carried the day, however. I only had the fast split on 7 of the 21 legs, but was within 15 seconds of the fast split on another 10. I had three weak legs where I lost 66, 95, and 140 seconds to the fastest person for that leg. So that's about four and half minutes of error over a 100-minute course, which is almost exactly at my target of 3 minutes per hour.

I'll write up a race report in the next few days. In the mean time you can check out the maps (start, finish) and complete results with splits.

1/30/06 Catching features

The first scoring race of the Catching Features World Series is going on right now. This is an international online tournament promoted by the magazine Orienteering Today. The series started last week, but there were some technical problems, so that race is being treated as a warmup. The races are run on maps from World Orienteering Championships and the courses are very technical. My run in this round was better than last week's, but I'm still nowhere near a top-20 finish needed to score points.

Like most online gaming communities, the folks at the top are really, really good at the game. Not coincidentally, they are also pretty good at real-life orienteering. It's not clear if being a good orienteer makes you good at Catching Features or if skills developed in the game translate to the woods. I'm pretty sure that both are true to some extent.

Catching Features is so much better than any other orienteering simulation that there really isn't much point in making comparisons. It was written by Jeff Walker during his senior year at MIT. He continues to improve it as a side job.

As with all computer simulations, the game takes a few liberties with reality. Time is sped up, so judging distance is a little different than in real life. You tend to get to things quicker than you expect. The upside is that it really puts a premium on reading the map quickly since a 5-second glance at the map adds 15 seconds to your time. You can read the map while running, but you still have to take a quick glance or you'll run into a tree (which makes you fall down for about 20 seconds).

If you don't have a access to good orienteering maps, you could do a lot worse for technical training than playing Catching Features. The best part is that it's super cheap - only $30. It works OK on just about any Pentium machine, and is really sweet on a machine with a good graphics card.

1/31/06 Animal Run

Today I ran the Alton Animal Run. It's the Metro Tri Club's winter version of Animal Ride. They're a fit bunch and I found the run to be a tough workout. The first few miles are very hilly. The rest is flat, but taken at a pretty stern pace.

I liked the format; basically some fartlek intervals followed by steady tempo. I think it would probably be a bit much every week, but I might do it every other week.

For any locals who might be interested, the run starts a 5:30 from the ballfields on 6th Street about 1/4 mile north of Edwardsville Road in Wood River, IL.

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