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4/1/06 Great day

Today was a great day in just about every respect. The weather was easily the best so far this year � high 60's and clear. SLOC had a fun meet at Beaumont. I rode to and from the meet so that made for a nice long workout. Most importantly, Kate and Olivia came back from Chicago where they've been visiting cousins for the last week.

4/2/06 Scout Champs

I don't have much time to write this evening, so I'll just post the map from yesterday's meet at Beaumont.

Map.

4/3/06 Good enough vs. Right

I've run on the S-F map quite a bit and always found it to be adequate for local meets. The areas where it was outdated were easy enough to figure out. When I agreed to remap it for Team Trials, I was thinking it would be a fairly easy task. You can be wrong and you can be dead wrong. This was the latter.

Although the updates are minor, the terrain is sufficiently complex that getting it right is no small thing. The task is further complicated by the fact that aerial photos aren't much help. The little patches of vegetation aren't easy to see from the photos. You really have to map it on the ground.

The two clips above show the old map on the left and the update on the right. The area is about 200m across. The little fields have filled in a bit and the trail is gone. The rock features probably haven't changed, but my mapping standard is a bit different for rock. I've enjoyed doing it because S-F is such a nice area, but it sure has been more work than I was planning on.

4/5/06 Sprint philosophy

I've noticed what appears to be a schism in sprint course setting between Europe and North America. While there is general agreement that the courses should consist of very short legs with lots of direction change and decision making, the nature of the problems is quite different. Most North American sprints that I've seen are miniature versions of middle distance courses with slightly easier control locations. There may be route choice problems, but they are typically of the over vs. around nature familiar to traditional orienteering. These decisions basically boil down to is D1/S1 > D2/S2 where the D's are the distances and S's are the speeds associated with the routes.

European sprints are often like this, too, but the big ones also like putting in legs where the speed is pretty much the same but the shortest distance route is not at all obvious. To do this, you need to take the redline route completely out. Last years' world cup event in Italy is a good example.

We don't have any medieval cities in St. Louis, but we do have UMSL. The closeness of the buildings, presence of breezeways and bridges, reasonably consistent running speed everywhere, and relatively steep terrain (bringing stairways and ramps into play) presents the opportunity to set this type of leg. I've tried to do that as much as possible for the Team Trials courses. It will likely be rather simple compared to what awaits the US Team in Denmark, but at least it's testing the same skill.

Another aspect of European sprints is the extensive use of non-natural features. Control sites are often in alleyways, at the foot of steps, behind a brick wall, etc. Recognizing such control locations while running anaerobically is another skill distinct from the traditional woods pattern recognition. Thus, I've also tried to set the controls where, while not hidden, they are not visible until you arrive at the control feature. Close attention to the clue (which side of the wall, upper or lower part, etc.) will be important in saving seconds into the control.

4/6/06 Standards

As usual, there's a debate raging over on Attackpoint over interpretation of rules. This time it's about mapping and course setting standards. Never one to shun pedantic confrontation, I've put in more than my 2 cents worth. (Also in typical fashion, these grew out of other discussions, so you have to read down a ways to get to the meat.)

Most competitors are blissfully unaware of the actual standards that govern the sport. They have an intuitive idea of what is and isn't fair game in an orienteering meet, but they'd be hard pressed to recognize when something crosses the line. That's fine from a competitor's standpoint, after all, if it's there, you have to deal with it regardless of whether it should be that way. What bothers me is how many meet directors, mappers, and course setters are also ignorant of the standards.

Standards are a useful way of preventing the sport from drifting away from what it should be. Of course, standards can also prevent the sport from drifting to where it should be, but that can be fixed by changing the standards. I rarely return from an orienteering meet upset that the course was messed up. I'd say I'm displeased with at least some portion of about half the Adventure Race courses I run.

I don't think it's just a competence issue (although, on the whole, orienteering meet directors are much more experienced than AR directors and that counts for something). I believe that the presence of standards in the orienteering community helps keep people from trying questionable things that end up not working well.

My concern is that there's been something of a "democratization" of the process in the last few years. Affordable mapping software and GPS has led to a lot more mapping by people who haven't bothered to learn how to do it right. There also seems to be something of a power vacuum on the course setting front. Some rather questionable legs have been showing up in A-meets.

One of the things that I really chafe at when directing an A-meet is the extensive review process. It's a pain having to justify every leg of every course. But, as much as I don't like it, I'm glad it's there. I wish USARA would put something similar together, at least for National Qualifiers. Races are expensive, both financially and in time away from home. It's a bummer to pay that price and find the course lacking.

4/7/06 Off to Indiana

I'm heading to Corydon, Indiana for the Planet Adventure this afternoon. While it's the first time I've done this race, I understand from veterans of past years that the course and organization is pretty good.

Looks like there will be no good sleep for me until Sunday night. The prolog starts at 10PM tonight and we get maps for the rest of the course at 6AM tomorrow. Expected winning time is 18 hours and hopefully we won't be too far behind that.

I'm really looking forward to this one. Aside from having a good team performance wise, I think we have a really good mix of personalities. Vicki does a great job of keeping things fun while still putting out the effort and Doug and Brad are about as solid as you can get. We're certainly not the favorites, but who knows? If things break our way, the winning time could be our own.

4/10/06 Great race

Not too much time to write today, so just a quick update on the Planet Adventure. First and foremost, the organization was flawless. So nice to do a race where the maps are good, the controls are all in the right spot, and the event staff is on the ball. Yes, they should all be that way, but they aren't so we'll definitely applaud the races that get it right.

Brad, Doug, and Vicki all performed well. The only big time loss was due to me blowing the final control (what a heartbreak; it knocked us out of third place). In particular, Brad did an outstanding job in the pilot's seat of the second boat handling the unexpected whitewater sections (his first whitewater paddling, I believe). The normally tame river was swollen from severe storms the day before and we had a bunch of class I and a few class II rapids to deal with. All were negotiated without incident, which is a good thing because that water was COLD.

Aside from the rapids, the course didn't have much in the way of technical challenges. The biking was on roads and even the woods navigation was pretty easy. Given that our team is more tuned for highly technical events, I'm pretty happy with a fourth place finish in such a strong field. Sure would have been nice to get that last control right and finish on the podium, though. Guess I turned the brain off a few minutes too early.

4/11/06 Race the course

Little Rock adventure racer Steve Appleton writes:

Looking for a "trick of the trade" - this year [at Ozark Challenge] we were leading during the canoe - it was a "beach the canoe - trek to the CP - get back in canoes" - a few CPs like that. So - we get there - no way to hide the canoes - so the other team just beached where we were - then when we got the CP - they would know just where to go. Very frustrating. If you are leading - or anytime another team is following - how do you keep them from just following you? Another situation - if you are spread out looking - there has to be a better "code word" that means I found it - rather than "Steve, it's here" - then starts the mass swarming.. I was thinking on the way home maybe "steve, let's regroup" - or some other call out to give me a reason to haul butt over to them. Any ideas?

There are two basic strategies that dictate your tactics in situations like this. One is to base your actions on what other teams are doing and the other is to "race the course", that is, get through the course as quick as possible ignoring what everybody else is doing. It seems that most people start in the first camp and move towards the second camp as they gain experience. Personally, the only time I worry about other teams is when a "choke point" is coming up. I might encourage everybody to lift the pace if we're in a pack and know that a ropes section is approaching.

My experience with trying to separate from other teams is mixed, but generally negative. Last year at Extreme Heart Challenge, we really hit it hard to try to get a gap on Iowa Active going into the first nav section. It didn't work. We ended up having to plot our points while breathing hard and sweating on the maps. We took the nav points in opposite directions and finished the section in about the same time as they did, so they obviously didn't need our help to get around the course quickly.

At Mission on the Muscatatuk a couple years ago, David was doing his usual fine job of navigating in a section much like you describe. Other teams were following to the boat drop and then following to the control. David overshot one of the controls and, while he adjusted quickly, all the following teams lost big chunks of time roaming around on the wrong spur. So, sometimes being followed is actually a good thing.

As for a "secret signal", I think that is a good idea (although, if your whole team suddenly starts running to a spot, other folks are going to figure it out). We have a couple calls we use to indicate various things. Of course, you should never be so far apart that you have to really yell anything out. We generally keep quite when other teams are around so if we have to say something, we can do it without yelling.

4/12/06 Planet Adventure race report

Is now posted here.

4/13/06 How much to eat?

I've been all over the board on the question of how much to eat during a race. My current feeling is that most adventure racers eat more than they need during the event.

When I first started entering long bike races, I didn't eat enough. Learning to eat on the bike when traveling with a pack is a skill that needs to be trained. Ultimately, I got to where I could comfortably consume 1500-2000 calories in a 5-hour race, which is pretty normal for cyclists. I've found that food requirements for Adventure Racing are a lot different.

The main difference is that, while the total is higher, you're burning fuel much slower. This allows you to burn a much higher percentage of fat. In a 24-hour race, I estimate I burn something like 500 calories an hour. In a 5-hour bike race, it's in the 800 range (and can be even higher if there are mountains involved). Your body can only burn 200- 300 calories of fat per hour, so the requirements from other sources are doubled in the bike race. Thus, you need to eat more.

You start the race with about 2000 calories of carbohydrates in your liver. Eating right before the race starts can store another 500 calories in you stomach and your body has another 500-1000 just hanging around in the muscles, bloodstream, etc. Assuming you can burn 7000 calories of fat throughout the race, you're left with needing only 2000 more calories to get through a 24-hour event. To be safe, I go a little higher than that, but not much. My rule of thumb is 130-150 calories from protein and carbs for every hour of racing. (Note that, while having some fat in the food helps your digestive system, those calories don't really contribute to your effort if you're already counting on burning the max out of your fat reserves).

I've been using this guideline for the past few years and only ran into trouble once: at USARA Nationals in 2004. I think the problem there was that we rolled the boat early in S the morning at got very hypothermic. That had us burning a lot more calories to stay warm and both David and I ran low the following night. I wasn't off by much, though - I bounced back quickly after eating a little extra and had a strong run into the finish. (Too bad it wasn't 5 minutes stronger because then we would have snagged third!)

4/14/06 What to eat?

Following up on yesterday's topic. What we need is net burnable calories (total calories - fat calories). The fat calories might be burned, too, but then you'll just burn less fat from your own stores so it's a wash. It's still important that you do eat some fat or your digestive system will mount an ugly revolt after a few hours. Given that you need to eat 130-150 net burnable calories per hour during a race, how is that best accomplished? Everybody has their own preferences, but I'll tell you what I do and maybe some of the ideas will be useful.

First, I don't like having to think about food much. If I have to think about it, I screw it up because I'm more focused on the race. Therefore, I developed a system that is very simple. I divide my food up (or better yet, buy it already packaged) into packets of around 100 net burnable calories. Then, I estimate the hours to the next re-supply and put that many packets in my pack (plus a couple, just in case). Every hour, I make sure I eat one of the packets.

At transition areas, I usually eat a fair bit (400-500 calories) to cover the fact that my packets are just a little less than what I really need. Of course, if we don't have any place to re-supply (as in 24-hour orienteering events), then I have to be more careful to either increase the size of the packets or eat them a little more often (I generally go for the latter).

So, what's a 100 net burnable calorie packet look like? Here are some of my favorites:

  • 1 oz of Gu or Hammer Gel (I only eat this early as I find it upsets my stomach after about 10 hours of racing.
  • 1 Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pie. The bomb! The oatmeal seems to take the edge off the pure sugar filling. Only drawback is that they tend to get smushed. However, since they're individually wrapped, that's not a big problem.
  • 3 Fig Newtons. Yes really, only three! These things pack a punch. They also get smushed though, so I usually only carry one packet at a time and eat them first.
  • 1.9 oz Nutter Butter cookie pack. 1.5 oz (3 cookies instead of 4) would be closer to the calorie target, but I doubt Nabisco will change their packaging to accomodate my adventure racing. Most of the benefits of the Newtons without the smush problem.
  • 1.25 oz of Wheat Thins. Good for later in the race when you don't really want as much sweet stuff. You can buy 'em in handy little bags of this size. Similar sized packs of other crackers are also available (Cheeze Itz help wake you up at night).
  • 1.38 oz Austin Cheese & Peanut Butter cracker snacks. There's actually a fair bit of competition for this little niche with all the major manufacturers offering some snack-sized package of a cracker sandwich. I like Austin's version the best.
  • 2 oz trail mix. The old standby is great when trekking, but hard to eat on the bike or in the water.
Of course there are lots of other options, but I think you get the idea. At the food drops, I like sandwiches, Ensure, and chicken noodle soup (in the pop-top containers; it's fine cold).

4/15/06 Back injury

I've had a bad back my whole life. A mild case of scoliosis (spine that curves sideways) augmented by the muscle imbalance from cycling. I have exercises I do every night to help and usually incidents only last a few days. I'm also pretty careful about how I lift things. My last serious back problem was at the end of 2002 when I was out for six weeks.

Yesterday, I was just standing still when suddenly it hurt so bad I had to drop to my hands and knees. I expect this was a reaction to some work I was doing on the house that had me in unusual positions. I've also been carrying Ya-Ya around quite a bit lately and she's getting pretty heavy.

I rode the trainer a bit to try to loosen things up and that helped some. This morning I rode with David and Jeff. I was going to run with them, too, but decided to skip that. Things feel a little better now, but still a long way from healthy. Hopefully, this will not be much of a setback. The next few days are crucial.

4/16/06 Easter death match

I may get some angry emails for making light of the resurrection, but I figure everybody who cares about such things has already had time today for serious reflection on the paschal mysteries. Ya-Ya was being good in church today, so I actually got to hear the following passage from John:

So Peter and the other disciple [that's John, who has a strange aversion to first-person narrative] went out and came to the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first; he bend down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in. When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths rolled up in a separate place. Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived first, and he saw and believed.
Those who study scripture know that the tradition is that when a point is really important, it gets stated three different ways. So, it appears that in writing about the most important event in Christianity, John really wanted us all to know that he smoked Peter running to the tomb. With the Buckley-Frei death match now in its tenth year, I can relate.

4/17/06 Growing a sport

Cross-posted to a relevant discussion on AttackPoint

I have in the past, and continue to liken the state of US Orienteering to the state of US Cycling in the late 70's. About 2000 national members, 20-30 events of high caliber per year, a diffuse national organization where most of the work is done by local clubs, low barriers to entry (that is, a new competitor can get good results quickly), low exposure, and an envy of European programs and results.

Two people changed all that: 1) Greg Lemond and 2) Eddie Borysewicz (known simply as "Eddie B"). Lemond was a product of the status quo. He paid his own way (well, actually, his dad did, but that's typical for a 16-year-old), coached himself, won Junior World Championships and moved to Europe where he showed that it was possible for an individual to overcome the system.

Eddie B was the opposite. A coach from the Eastern Bloc school. USCF hired him to bring discipline to their national program. The approach was decidedly top-down (or "elitist" if you care to use the derogatory term). Despite only modest gains in membership, he built the US Team into respectability and then, by the 1984 Olympics, dominance (aided by the boycott and some questionable blood doping practices, but a lot of medals nonetheless).

It's not clear which of these two things was more instrumental in the rise of cycling's popularity in this country. USCF membership peaked at around 100,000 in the late 80's, but is still pretty robust. US riders continue to score results at the highest levels of the sport.

Personally, I like the Lemond approach, because it puts the responsibility clearly with the person who has the most to gain. As a semi-pro, I was delighted at the growth of the 80's. It would have been much more difficult to sustain myself on the scraps available in the 70's. However, having now returned to the sport as an amateur, I can't say that I find things any better now than when I started in 1978. Yes, there are more races and the fields are larger, but missing is the tight-knit camaraderie and the general sense of fair play. Even in the 40+ fields, it's pretty cut-throat competition. I don't even race open any more because it's just no fun at all.

I don't think that USOF can expect the same results from any program for three reasons: 1) The exposure is never going to be as good (the Tour de France made decent TV, even before Americans were winning it), 2) There isn't a big-money payoff for an athlete the quality of Lemond, and 3) the sport is just plain weird to American tastes.

So, if USOF wants to dump some money into an elite program, that's fine with me. It might work to some extent. But be careful what you wish for. Not all change is for the better.

4/18/06 New template

Between Planet Adventure and my current back injury (which is improving rapidly, but still a disruption), my training has drifted for the past few weeks. I've put together my training template to take me through July. This is still base, so there's plenty of volume and not a whole lot of really hard stuff. It may turn out to be unworkable due to external factors, but I'll try it for a couple cycles and see what happens.

  • Monday: Swim
  • Tuesday: AM - intervals on the track. PM - mountain biking and navigation (possibly after dark).
  • Wednesday: Lifting, heavy, lower body only.
  • Thursday: Lifting, heavy, upper body only.
  • Friday: AM - swim. PM - mapping.
  • Saturday: Navigation with emphasis on speed through the terrain and mountain biking.
  • Sunday: Long run on trails. Might be augmented by riding to/from the run.
  • Monday: Swim and upper body lifting (moderate weight).
  • Tuesday: Tuesday night bike races plus some extra riding.
  • Wednesday: Canoe with single-blade paddles.
  • Thursday: Tempo running or cycling.
  • Friday: Active rest.
  • Saturday: Technical navigation and some kayaking.
  • Sunday: Long ride.

I may also start slotting in some lunchtime runs. These are active rest, so they don't really impact the other activities. I did find them valuable for heat acclimation last year. I usually struggle a bit in hot races, but last year I was fine.

4/19/06 If Wagner wrote an opera about running

... it would be a lot like last night's training run.

My back is still a bit crooked, so I was running sort of listing to one side, but Zatopek used to win Olympic 10k's running like that, so I wasn't too concerned. The effort wasn't making things any worse, so I decided to push a bit running up a half-mile hill.

Nearing the top of the hill, I was being pushed along by a really strong tailwind. Strong enough that I was running well under 6:00/mile. Running that fast uphill is plenty fun in and of itself, but when I got to the top I could see why the wind was so strong. I was running right into one of the fiercest storms I've seen in a while. The whole sky was being lit up by lightening traveling back and forth in the clouds. I continued on and then had another fast uphill/tailwind section, but by now the lightening was off to both sides as well.

It's pretty easy to be inspired by that sort of display. I wouldn't have minded getting wet, but the storm didn't arrive until a couple minutes after I got home. Its bark was a lot worse than its bite - just some light hail and maybe half an inch of rain. I generally prefer training during the day, but sometimes the night gives you some pretty cool stuff.

4/20/06 Sugar

The Lenten sugar fast was an unqualified success, both physically and spiritually. I'm currently at 179 pounds, a pound below my most optimistic projections for summer racing. The spiritual upsides are harder to quantify, but there is a certain freedom that comes from such discipline - you don't have to stress over whether you should eat that cake; you just know you can't. Abstention is actually easier than moderation.

I did make an exception for Planet Adventure since I'm not sure I like my chances of getting through a long event with no sugar at all. I suppose it could be done, but I'm not going to risk the team's performance on it.

Now that sugar is back on the menu, I'll need to monitor the quantity. I really like sugar and have to be careful not to eat too much. This week I've been trying an experiment. I'm increasing my sugar intake while keeping the rest of my diet the same. I'm going to see at what point my weight reverses. It will probably take a few weeks to get a good read on this because of fluctuations in my training, not to mention some pretty extreme temperature variations (95F last Friday; this week we're seeing 60's and 70's).

I'm guessing that with training in the 12-15 hour/week range, I could eat quite a bit; maybe over a hundred grams a day. I don't see any reason to go that high. A typical desert (the size a real person would eat, not the tiny portion indicated in the nutritional information) contains around 50 grams of sugar. If I can maintain weight on one serving like that a day, I'll be quite happy.

4/21/06 Dedication vs. commitment

I recently got flamed out of a thread on Attackpoint for making the blasphemous suggestion that athletes aren't entitled to anything and if they want to make a serious go of a sport they should just do it on their own. The objections were directed at the irrelevant specifics of my statements, but it was clear that the underlying premise was what bothered folks. It took me a while to realize why this thought was deemed so offensive, but I think I get it now. I have no particular interest in reviving the thread to vindicate myself but, having clarified my thoughts, I'll share them here for those who are interested.

Athletes like to talk about how dedicated they are. These references are generally backed with observations about training hours and various self-sacrifices. That's pretty much what I mean by dedication, too, but it's not what gets you to the top of a sport. What's needed is commitment.

Commitment means that this is your only option. Either this athlete thing pays off or you're screwed. Career, family, whatever can wait.

By the time I got my undergrad degree, it was clear that if I wanted to pursue cycling full-time, that option was open but there were certainly no guarantees. I decided to continue my education instead. I don't regret that, but I can't honestly say I was completely committed to cycling because 22 years old is the perfect time to make that commitment and I waited until I was 25.

Out of grad school I did put my career completely on hold. I lived off of practically nothing for five years (which was not much change from grad school, where I was paid the princely sum of $8,000/year) and made everything secondary to cycling. The gamble failed. At age 30 I had no job, no money, limited work experience, and a divorce. I'd do it over again in a heartbeat. Putting everything on the line is something very few people ever do. I think it fundamentally changes your approach to life. For one thing, if it doesn't work out, you learn that failure is not the horrible thing that it's made out to be. And it's certainly not a terminal condition. I now have a very good job and a wonderful family.

I was having dinner with a bunch of NCAA Division 1A coaches one night. It was a gathering of Christian athletes and coaches so the conversation inevitably got around to the race disparity in sports. Every single coach agreed that race actually had nothing to do with it. The real disparity was that almost all the top athletes came from poor households (which are a higher proportion of minorities). Athletes from humble means have no reason not to commit fully because their alternatives are so bleak. They don't worry about contingency plans, because there are none. If they fail, it's back to poverty, end of story. That's quite a motivator.

Of course, there's nothing stopping your typical middle-class suburban kid from adopting the same attitude, but it takes a bit more guts. The safe road is to hold back, get a job, and fit the sport in around the "normal" progression through life. But, there's nothing normal about being a top athlete.

Most people who knew me well were very supportive of my exploits. Others were a lot more skeptical. It appeared that I was wasting my time on something that was very unlikely to pay off. Indeed, it was a financial disaster. The sum of my possessions on my 30th birthday were some basic furniture, a Geo Metro with 100,000 miles on it, $1,500 in cash, and some really nice bikes. At least I wasn't in debt, which is more than I can say for a lot of my teammates at the time.

The media has given this impression that pro athletes are wealthy. A few of them are. But for every full-time athlete with a 6 (or 7, or 8) figure salary, there are dozens making modest incomes and hundreds living below the poverty line. Naturally, these folks don't get much coverage because they're not as good. But the elite would not exist without them. It's from this large and largely desperate pool that greatness emerges. A few poor souls who dive in drown in the rancid waters, but the vast majority struggle safely to shore having failed in their quest but richer for trying.

4/23/06 Babler meet

Not much time to write today, so I'll just post the map from the SLOC meet today at Babler.

Map.

The course designer was Carol's Team's Rob Wagnon. As you can see, he's got a rather distinctive style. While the layout is a bit bizarre, and the climb is crazy, I like Rob's courses because they have good route choice legs. That's something we don't see enough of.

4/24/06 Competition bricks

The only downside of running the local orienteering meets is that they tend to be short days and I like to get in distance on weekends. I've tried running extra courses and helping with control pickup, but if you really run a 1-hour race hard, you don't have much left for anything else.

A few weeks ago, I tried riding my bike to a local meet. The ride out was a nice long warmup. On the way back, I did a few hills and was able to push a bit. It seems that running hard doesn't diminish my riding all that much. Yesterday, I tried it again and was again pleased with the results. I rode pretty hard the whole way home, including some good efforts on climbs.

I don't know that I'll ride to all the meets. Some of the parks are hard to get to by bike and some are quite a ways out of town. I think I will try to ride whenever possible. It makes for a nice long day, without taking away from the meet performance.

4/25/06 Course design

Rob Wagnon took my ribbing about his course at Babler with good humor and then asked for some legitimate feedback. I think Rob's courses are characterized by having good legs awkwardly put together. I think this is a symptom of not having a systematic approach to course design. There are various methods that work; the following is what I typically do.

First off, get over being enamored with specific control locations. Yes, that might be a cool place to hang a flag, but don't compromise the course just to get to a particular spot. Instead, focus on entire legs. A good leg will contain either route choice or fine navigation. A great leg will have both. You want to have some great legs in your course, but not every leg can be great. You may even need one or two that aren't particularly good to set yourself up for a great leg. Thus, you should identify some great legs and then build the rest of the course around them.

Looking at Rob's course, there are two great legs (2, 4) and two more that have excellent potential (6, 12). 6 falls short only because the road route is too strongly favored and the navigation in from the road is trivial. The little knoll on the spur 100m south would have given better balance and added a bit more fine navigation. 12 is a little harder to improve on, but the route possibilities are so good, it's OK that it's not on a technical feature - especially since this is a fairly good place for the GO control.

Four great legs is a strong start. Now they just need to be connected with good legs. The first problem is the proximity of 1 and 12. This is mitigated by the fact that they are the first and last controls, but it would still be nice to not have the first leg going right past the GO control. It also seems a bit of a shame to go all the way down the hill, just to turn around and go back up. Perhaps adding an opening control (lets call it 1a so we don't get our numbers confused) at the ditch bend 200m SW of the start would work. This would give a nice route choice leg into 1 (straight, low through the field, or high on the trail) while preserving the fine navigation to the point feature.

I don't know that there's much to do about 3. You have to get over the ridge, so you might as well do it in one grunt. 5 is pretty much the same. You need something on the other side of the ridge or the road route to 6 becomes too strong again. It's a decent leg anyway.

So far, just two minor improvements. This next section is what needs work. 7 is just gratuitous climb. The navigation is trivial and there's no route choice. 8 is better only in that there's less climb. 9 (numbered as 10 on the map - my mistake in copying) is needed only to improve the routing from 8 to 10, so if 8 is out, there's no need for this intermediate-level location. Let's just ditch all three. 6-10 isn't a terrible leg, but I think I'd move it to the south end of the cliff to bring the low route into play (and hope that Gary Thompson doesn't jump off that cliff and break his leg like he did four years ago).

This takes almost a kilometer out of the course. We added a couple minutes with 1a and the original course was a touch long. You could either go on to 11 as is and accept the course being about five minutes short or add another control. Given that the climb is still fairly high, I think I'd leave the course short.

I'm not suggesting that this updated course is A-meet quality (although I've seen worse at national meets), but it is a good, solid course. Clearly the original course had a lot going for it and just needed some rearranging to cut down on the crossing and climb.

4/28/06 Night training

Trying to finish up everything at work before I roll off today has left little time for writing the past few days. The time off will be welcome indeed.

I've been thinking about night training lately. At Planet Adventure, I made a whopper of a parallel error at night. Probably 20 minutes lost, maybe more. I never make mistakes like that training, but they are all too common in races. I think I know why.

Most of my night training is done at speeds not too much slower than my daytime pace. I have a pretty good feel for how much ground I cover during the day. I rarely need to pace count. In my night training, I often find myself not quite as far as I expect, but it's still close enough that I don't run into trouble. However, in night races, I'm usually going much slower than my daytime speed, because the race itself is usually much longer than a training session. My sense of distance is thrown off and I make parallel errors.

It's generally regarded as axiomatic that the faster you go the more errors you make. That's true if you're looking just in the direction of increasing speed from your optimal pace. However, I think that if you slow down too much, you start making errors again. I often find that during control pickup after meets, I will be a lot sloppier than when I'm running the courses competitively. Some of that is just inattention, but I think some of it is also a reflection of the slower pace (and those two factors are hardly independent).

I suppose I could pace count more at night. I think I'll also try doing some night training exercises at my 24-hour night pace.

4/29/06 Scariest time trial ever

Time trialing has never been my specialty, but the ones I do best at are what the Europeans call "scenic tours": technical courses with lots of ups and downs. Today, I rode a scenic tour on steroids.

Stage two of the Tour of St. Louis was a roughly 2-mile circuit through Greensfelder Park. The park is known to local orienteers, trail runners and mountain bikers as having some of our most brutal terrain. At last year's first edition of the Greensfelder Time Trial stage, roadies found out that the little park road packs a punch as well. The course starts with a screaming 16% descent with some switchbacks thrown in at the bottom. Then the course gets really serious with a whopping 25% climb. The second mile is tame by comparison, but would certainly be remarkable on any other course. The contour interval on the map is 20 feet.

Normally this course scares people with the prospect of six to seven minutes of intense pain. Well, that's what you sign up for. But today, we got quite a bonus - a thunderstorm. It wasn't raining all that hard when we rode, but the wind was howling; littering the course with branches and leaves. Obviously, the road was wet, too. Descending through 16% switchbacks on wet leaves while objects fall from the sky is, well, the scariest time trial ever.

4/30/06 Hammerin'

Normally, I pride myself in being a tactically savvy rider. It's one of the reasons I was able to compete at the semi-pro level without having the raw speed of most of my peers (being a good climber also helped). Even now, while I'm on par with most of the 40+ crowd, I rely more on experience than horsepower to get my results.

I entered today's stage of the Tour of St. Louis in 6th place. While that's not bad, it was clear I wasn't going to finish in the top three. Meanwhile, I had teammates in 2nd and 4th. Obviously, my priorities were to help them keep their positions. The easiest way to do that was to make sure that everything stayed together. And that meant hunting down every attack that went more than a few seconds off the front.

While there's not much strategy involved in controlling the front of a field, it is fun to do from time to time. For one thing, you're very active in the race even though you're killing your result in the process. The way to win a race is to wait for the move you want and then go with everything. In controlling the front you don't really assess the moves, you just go after them. You hear your name over the loudspeaker a lot more often and your friends on the side of the road get really behind your effort.

Of course, I wasn't doing this completely alone. Two other teams also had an interest in maintaining the status quo and they were helping to cover things. Pitted against that were three fairly good teams that had nobody in the top six and were launching attacks on almost every lap. That kept us pretty busy on the front.

I wouldn't want to race every race like today, because at the end of it all you find yourself at the back of the pack watching everybody else go for the win. But, it is fun to just go out there and hammer like that. It's probably the hardest I've ridden in several years. It's pretty satisfying to ride on the rivet all day and know you personally squashed a dozen breakaways. Sure, most of them were hopeless and somebody else probably would have done it, but maybe they wouldn't have and the move would have stayed away. Causing something to happen is better than hoping for something to happen. It's particularly nice when the final catch comes less than 200m from the finish, which is what happened today.

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