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6/1/06 Adventure camp

We've been kicking around the idea of putting on some adventure racing clinics. While short afternoon or evening clinics are easy enough to do, I wanted to host something substantial enough that non-local teams might find it worth their while to attend. Thus, Adventure Camp 2006.

This clinic will feature 18 hours of instruction, starting on a Saturday afternoon and going through the night. Class size will be kept small enough that everybody will get very personalized instruction. Readers of this blog will certainly not be surprised by the emphasis on limiting navigation errors, particularly at night. We won't neglect the other stuff, though. Remember the first rule of adventure racing success: don't suck at anything.

The camp is on, but there are still plenty of details to work out. Projected dates are August 19-20, but that could move a bit. The venue will be one of the local St. Louis parks. Cost will be $75/student. It would make the detail planning easier if we had some idea of how much interest there was. If this sounds like something you'd like to do, please drop me a note (use the contact us link). Naturally, we'd appreciate it if you passed the word on to others who might be interested.

The information page is here and a printable flyer (word document) is here. Registration form and more details are coming soon.

6/2/06 Dead legs

As I mentioned last week, the switch from training to competition can be problematic. Last year, I raced Mission hard and was able to come back for a good effort at Conquer Castlewood. That may still happen, but today's lunchtime run wasn't too encouraging. It seems that my legs are still shot. Since the efforts at Mission were about the same both years, I thought I'd look for other things that might have influenced the recovery. This is one of the many reasons keeping a training log is useful.

Training volume coming in. 2005: 40 hours in May prior to the race. About 60% biking, 30% running/orienteering. About 25 hours at tempo intensity or higher. No particularly deep efforts. 2006: 60 hours in May prior to the race. Fairly even split between biking and running/orienteering. About 20 hours at tempo intensity or higher. No particularly deep efforts. The difference is the 26-hour week in early May when I took a week off from work this year to finish the Team Trials stuff. As that was three weeks before the race, I'd call this one basically even.

Recovery work after. 2005: 5 hours, mostly easy and on the bike. One decent effort (Tuesday night bike races, ridden in the pack). 2006: 6.5 hours, mostly easy and on the bike. One decent effort (hot lap around Castlewood Wednesday). Looks like a draw here as well.

Weather. Moderately hot both years.

External stress. 2005: Moving to new house. 2006: Hosting US Team Trials.

Weight. 2005: Came back from Mission at 187 (up 3 pounds from previous week - that's normal due to inflammation), dropped to 185 by the end of the week. 2006: came back at 183 (up 4 pounds), dropped to 181.

Nothing's jumping out as being terribly different. Maybe my legs will come back in the next couple of days and I'll be fine. There is the happy possibility that my fitness is just enough better this year that I'm noticing the dip a bit more. I don't really want to count on that, but despite feeling crappy on Wednesday, I did turn a pretty good lap at Castlewood.

Tomorrow, I'll ride a bit which always seems to bring my legs back as long as I don't over-bake it (last year I rode a few hours the day before CC). It's a fun race either way.

6/4/06 Mixed results

Results weren't what I hoped for this weekend, but at least my legs were good.

On Saturday, SLOC hosted a Bike-O in Queeny Park. Queeny is a great place for a bike- O, it's just too bad the map is out of date for some of the trails. Still, Yvonne set some good courses that minimized the problems with the maps. The course had 15 bike controls, with a bike drop at #14. From there, you had to do a short foot section and then get the final control on bike. It was a fun format.

Bike loop, Run loop.

I didn't push too hard because I wanted to save my legs for Conquer Castlewood. Still, I managed to win. I think Ken DeBeer was saving his legs as well and David is in Peru.

In Conquer Castlewood today, Vicki and I started reasonably well, coming out of the canoe leg in around 32 minutes, second in mixed. The all-male teams had started before us, so I was zipping by the slower teams on the first part of the mountain bike section. I had just got around a bunch of folks when I got a stick caught in my derailleur. I thought I could ride through it, but it was more substantial than I realized and it ended up shearing off the derailleur. That put a quick end to my race.

Vicki went on to finish well; I think she was the fifth or sixth woman to finish. I don't know if we would have won, but we certainly would have been in the hunt. Everything felt pretty good up to the mishap. It was a bit of a bummer, but these things happen. You can't expect everything to go as well as last year.

6/5/06 Course consulting

I mentioned a while back that all the work that goes into preparing courses for a national-level orienteering meet can be a pain. For team trials this year, one of the tasks turned out to be a wonderfully positive experience was the course consulting. The course consultant was Eric Weyman, US Champion from 1980-1982 and again in 1984. Obviously a guy who know a lot more about the sport than I do.

The purpose of a course consultant is twofold. First and foremost, the course consultant makes sure the course conforms to the course setting guidelines. If the course setter is competent, this is a pretty straightforward review to make sure the distances are reasonably close and that the difficulty is appropriate for each course level.

The second purpose is more subtle and fewer get it right: the search for improvements. Many course consultants either focus too much on what they don't like or try to take over the design role. When trying to improve a course, these are difficult pitfalls to avoid. What are needed are positive suggestions for how the course could be improved while still letting the course designer find the solutions. Eric did this as well as I've ever seen it done, so I thought I'd share our correspondence as an example of course consulting done right.

Eric helped with all three days, but I'll just look at the courses for S-F. The Hawn process was complicated (and improved) by the fact that, as a World Ranking Event, we were also getting excellent input from the IOF controller, Vladimir Gusiatnikov. The sprint course didn't need much help.

Here's my first communication with Eric on S-F. The courses were Blue and Red.

Eric,

I have an update to the long courses at Hawn (David is still working them, but we wanted to share the bigger changes with you). The current versions are Blue2 and Red2. We talked with the Park Ranger about parking and she'd like us to use the big field (which we expected). That's why we had the start so far from the finish. It then occurred to me that we could fix the fence problem by just starting in the field. The first leg is a bit weird, but it's something we've used before. By having the first control clearly visible from the start, you don't have to do all the staging and worry about people seeing the runner ahead. The woods near the field are very open and it would be hard to hide the beginning of the first leg. I've used the same technique on the short courses at S-F.

Which brings us to S-F. I set these courses a few months ago using the old map. I've finished enough of the cartography to transfer them to the new map (there is some interesting vegetation near Blue #8 that I haven't drawn in yet, but the rest of the courses are in areas where I've finished the drafting. I must say that when I test ran these, I thought they were good, but looking at them now, I'm a bit less pleased. I'll let you look at them without me biasing your view with specifics.

Next weekend, I'll be going down to S-F to see how the vegetation is filling in. I should have the map completed a few days after that - although I intend to do one last check during the first week of May before printing.

I briefly looked at your sprint comments. I'll look at them more carefully this evening and get back to you.

Thanks for your work so far, your comments have been most helpful.

Eric

6/6/06 Course consulting: part 2

Here was Eric Weyman's initial reaction to the courses at S-F:

Eric,

S-F
I was expecting terrain more like Hawn. This is actually more Sprint-like than I expected, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. The middle has evolved as the super technical event, but it wouldn't surprise me if the Danish Middle had some dense trail networks.

I think your courses make nice general use of the area, with very good legs, but I think the TT middle courses are expected to be more technical. The sprint stuff is certainly good for a change of pace, but I think it is probably best to make more use of the off trail technical stuff. The weakest section on both courses is the 4-5-6 area, because of the terrain, not your legs. I think this section should probably be dropped from the routing.

Saying that is easy compared to finding a solution. It would be nice to include both campground areas, but I can see it might be necessary to drop one of them, to get more of the courses into the SW part of the map. I don't know what your options are with the Start, Parking, and Finish. Is crossing the main road a concern? Your Start has to work with the A meet courses as well, right?, but it looks like there are a few WY loop options.

The southern camp area looks like it could be used in the middle of the course. The northern camp area looks more difficult to use unless you could hit it right before the finish. This is unfortunate, because it is more interesting.

I think the vegetation patchwork areas combined with contour details are good and relevant. Your legs in this area are good, and some might be saved. I think it is worth making a complex routing (switchbacks, loops, crossovers) here to make the most of this section, and a slightly convoluted routing might actually be quite relevant.

Just keep in mind, whenever you are pushing technical limits and green veg, you have to be extra sure about control areas. Since you are the mapper here, an outside set of eyes might be useful for some evaluations. If there are any doubts about roughness, fairness, or the map, back off to something safer.

Traditionally Middle courses seem to have one serious long leg, still very technical, perhaps with route choice. A typical place to find a good long leg is on the second pass through the best section of the terrain. A long leg on the first pass usually messes up course printing geometry and presents out-of-order problems.

Course lengths
Certainly good Blue/Red proportions. With the current course, the lengths might be fine. If you go thicker and more technical, they should probably be shortened.

What is the contour interval here? and the scale? I know this is a work in progress, no problem, but north lines would help my frame of reference. :-)

My comments feel a bit disjointed. I hope they are helpful. I'm out of time tonight.

Eric

Shortly after that note, I received this additional comment:

Eric

After looking at Spike's recent post about Denmark training, I've had some second thoughts about your Middle. The WOC Middle might not be as technical as normal. I still haven't seen any really technical sections of terrain in this WOC region of Denmark. It might turn out to be more like Japan. What this means for your courses, I'm not sure.

I'm still not sold on something that is overly sprint-like, but my idea about maxing-out your technically difficult terrain might not be appropriate. It certainly looks like controls in green vegetation are relevant, but only in otherwise technically conservative settings.

Your thoughts?

Eric

My confidence was not exactly at a high point, here. I knew the courses were going to need an overhaul, but I was now feeling that perhaps my limited knowledge of international competition was going to leave me unable to make the improvements needed. I sent back the following response and went to bed hoping I wasn't in completely over my head.

Well, when we bid on the event, we conceded that we were just using these parks because they were great terrain, not necessarily highly relevant. Seems that in the US picking the best team of orienteers is probably the best bet rather than trying to figure out who goes best on certain terrain.

That said, I'd like the events to at least reflect the character of the respective WOC races. Thus, the urban sprint setting and putting the long on the more physically demanding Hawn map. With the leaves out, the visibility will be lessened at S-F but the white woods are still very fast. I think some of the legs that look dull are actually pretty hard to run cleanly at speed. There probably is more that can be done with the SW section of the map, at least for Red. I'm looking at that now. Putting in a long route choice leg will almost certainly get rid of one of the campsites. That's not necessarily bad, just a change from plan.

Eric

6/7/06 Course consulting: part 3

My course setting philosophy is always to try to find some great legs and then string them together as best as possible. The challenge set by Eric Weyman's comments was twofold: insert a quality long leg and make better use of the patchy vegetation in the southern portion of the map.

I first looked at possible long legs. What I was after was a technical leg with a slightly inferior trail option. This would reward runners who took the risk of going straight at it and spiked it, but it would be a real risk because the safe route on the trail would be better than going straight and booming the control. Although Eric had suggested placing this later in the course, I thought it might work early as a means of getting out of the 4-5-6 area from the original courses. The leg I finally settled on for Blue is one of the better legs I've ever come up with. Although I hadn't test run it, I was pretty sure it met all my requirements (when I did test run it later, I found the options to be even better than hoped for - more analysis on that later).

Red posed a bit more of a problem, since the Blue leg would eat up too much distance. I tried to follow a similar pattern, offering the same road/trail to the right, but the end result was a bit less satisfying. Figuring there was at least another round of review to go, I decided to leave it and hear what Eric thought.

With the long legs in place, the rest was not too hard to put together. Both courses followed a control-picking path through the patchy vegetation before returning north with some high-speed legs. I sent them off to Eric with the following note:

Blue2, Red2.

Eric,

Here's another shot (Blue2 and Red2). Let me know if I'm warmer or colder. On the long leg, I'm pretty sure the straight route is faster than the trail, but will have to test run to make sure. Much will depend on vegetation.

I also made some minor changes to the map. I have plenty more, but they are outside of the current course area.

Thanks,
Eric

6/8/06 Course consulting: part 4

Something must have tipped off Eric Weyman that I was a little anxious about the courses. He quickly sent back the following reply:

Eric

On a quick look, I think you've got something very good, and very interesting. I'll follow this with some detailed comments, as much as I can cover tonight.

Eric

Later, I received more comprehensive comments. Note that I had sent him the OCAD files, so some of his references to control numbers may be a little cryptic. I've added the course/control# in brackets where appropriate. Also, "RC" refers to Route Choice.

Eric

Lengths- Believably OK, at least close. I leave it to you to do some basic research on the speed of the terrain. I agree with Wyatt about putting the priority on course design rather than nailing the times.

No of controls / avg leg length- Blue has more controls/distance than Red. I think we ought to try to get them more similar. Adding one to Red, and cutting one from Blue would do the trick. Let's see if any good opportunities stand out.

Red2

2-3 Is the left side route in the picture enough? Depends on the reality light green? On paper, the straight, slightly right route taking on the light green and using trail and stream looks favored. #3 looks fixed. Can 2 be micro adjusted (clearing N edge or thicket edge or tip) to incorporate all options. Regardless, a neat campground leg.

4-5 Great place for a long leg, but I think this one misses its RC potential. Straight looks strongly favored to me, and left isn't in the picture. I think the comparable Blue leg is close to the optimal balance. Part of the solution might be to move #4 to 48 [Red1:4], the old red control. This looks like a neat leg/control area in its own right. Also how about moving #5 to the S or SE, perhaps sharing 54 [Blue2:5] with Blue. 103 [a green course control - it's the clearing 100m south] almost works, but I think a bit further S or SE would be even better. The main thing is to involve the straight and left routes, they are the most interesting . It would be nice to have the right trail route involved also, but if we have to lose one, I would rather lose the simple minded route.

Adjusting this leg will probably mean adjusting some other controls, but I think it is worth changing the other stuff in order to get this feature leg done well. I am hoping that a side effect of adjusting this leg will be to get the course away from itself course printing-wise, #11 being right on the current line from 4-5.

5-10 great section for control picking. #8 looks potentially bingo-ish with soft features preceding the control.

10-11, very appropriate leg. Currently, I think the two wide trail routes are favored, especially since this is towards the end of he course, where I think people tend towards safer routes. Therefore, I would like to see the straight options rewarded a bit more, which means moving the beginning of the leg further north, but on the same line, to preserve the sub route choice around the thickets (roughly midway)

I also wonder about moving #11 slightly further NNW. This cliffy bare rock area looks interesting and you could gain sub route choices at the ends of both wide trail routes. Keep in mind, if you go this direction, you should also move the beginning of the leg even slightly further north as well.

Blue2

Current 2 and 3 is are slightly simple, but I see no obvious option.

How about moving #4 up the hill? The other boulder group grabs my eye, but even the bare rock, S side would help. This is mostly to help RC to 5 (more left, less right trail) but also I think this will slightly improve 3-4 as well.

#5 great leg, and you might have the perfect feature here. The only other feature I would consider is the reentrant, upper part, immediately above the stream end, 25 -50m away.

5-10 As with Red, good control picking, #9 might be hairy, although slightly better from this angle. This section is probably the best place to cut a control, especially if you have many common legs/controls with Red..

11-13 not exciting, but OK. I can't improve. Contour wise this looks almost Danish, now if you can add some vegetation... :-)

14 looks ideal on paper, just check out the map and veg.

15 is fine but if you can't cut a control in the 5-10 section, this might be a candidate.

16-17 a great little leg.

I really like your basic framework, how the courses use the terrain with variety and change of pace. This is even slightly more interesting than I was hoping for. A little polishing and I think you'll have a great pair of courses. This terrain doesn't strike me as Danish, but I think these routings make a very interesting and appropriate use of this area.

Again, I could easily misstate something. Please ask if anything doesn't make sense. Glad to finish before midnight.

Eric

6/9/06 Course consulting: part 5

The last communication from Eric Weyman was quite extraordinary. It is not at all easy to make such detailed suggestions without simply taking over the course design process. He also made a point to note the parts of the course he liked. This is often overlooked by course consultants, but is very important. If all you have is negative feedback, you aren't left with any of your own ideas to apply to the remaining problems.

At any rate, with the comments given, it was quite an easy matter to address the concerns. I sent back a revised set of courses with the following note:

Blue3, Red3,

Eric,

Here comes round 3! As I think we're getting pretty close, I'll include some comments of my own:

Red3:

2-3: the left side is the fast route by about 10-15 seconds. That should be obvious since the competitor can see the light green and gauge the speed.

4-5: Tried a lot of different things, but kept running into problems of too much total distance and the course crossing itself too closely. Finally settled on this, although the leg isn't quite as long as before. The left is fastest, but I think many will be inclined to go straight since the trail/field lead you that way.

9 (formerly 8): Not really all that bingo-ish. While the light green boundaries are pretty vague, the medium green is easy to pick out because it's all scrub oak.

12: Added this to keep them off the trail to the right (which isn't that great of a route, but it looks better than it is on the map and I'd hate to sucker someone). If I keep this, I'll move the control to the clearing immediately north to get an around/through choice. Also, this adds a trail choice since we got rid of the trail route to 5.

13: None of the control locations here are particularly tough because of the streams, but at least this one is in the depression so the bag won't be visible from 300m away. The rock faces to the north tend to be loaded with poison ivy so I'd rather not put a bag there.

Blue3:

2 & 3: Tried something completely different here. Not sure if it's better, but it does give a lot more options to 3.

4: Liked your suggestion here.

5-10: Didn't drop a control because I ended up adding 2 to red. Several shared controls with Red, but no common legs.

11-13: Sorry, I don't think the scouts would like me felling an area to create some vegetation interest here! [Note: this particular comment is amusing in hindsight. Two weeks before the meet, the scouts logged the area giving lots of vegetation interest and necessitating some hasty remapping.]

14: Well, I think it's fine, but I do have an excellent vetter who will be double checking my work.

I'm hoping to get down there Saturday and test run a few things, although I'm currently nursing an injury that may interfere with that. At the very least, I'll put tapes out since I expect to keep most of these locations.

Thanks,
Eric

6/10/06 Course consulting: part 6

Eric Weyman responded to the latest updates as follows:

Eric

> Red3: > 2-3: the left side is the fast route by about 10-15 seconds. That
> should be obvious since the competitor can see the light green and
> gauge the speed.

Sounds perfect.

> 4-5: Tried a lot of different things, but kept running into problems
> of too much total distance and the course crossing itself too
> closely. Finally settled on this, although the leg isn't quite as
> long as before. The left is fastest, but I think many will be
> inclined to go straight since the trail/field lead you that way.

I first regretted not seeing the longer leg, but the more I look at this leg, the better it looks. This has some straight, slightly left options, that I didn't notice before, but I think are great. My eye still favors the straight, slightly right, trail at end route, but nudging the control slightly south would cure that. How about combining 104 and 59 onto something just N of 59, say the clearing or dry reentrant in the light green.

> 9 (formerly 8): Not really all that bingo-ish. While the light green
> boundaries are pretty vague, the medium green is easy to pick out
> because it's all scrub oak.

Fine.

> 12: Added this to keep them off the trail to the right (which isn't
> that great of a route, but it looks better than it is on the map and
> I'd hate to sucker someone). If I keep this, I'll move the control
> to the clearing immediately north to get an around/through choice.
> Also, this adds a trail choice since we got rid of the trail route
> to 5.

I like everything you say, I was going to suggest moving it N to the clearing, for an additional reason. The small southern clearing looks bingo-ish/miserable? from this direction.

> 13: None of the control locations here are particularly tough
> because of the streams, but at least this one is in the depression
> so the bag won't be visible from 300m away. The rock faces to the
> north tend to be loaded with poison ivy so I'd rather not put a bag
> there.

Sounds good.

I think you have an excellent course here. I'm out of suggestions.

> Blue3:
> 2 & 3: Tried something completely different here. Not sure if it's
> better, but it does give a lot more options to 3.

I was looking at this new #2 as well. Thought I commented on it, but I guess I didn't. My main concern is new #2 being similar/ nearby to Red#2. If you think this is OK, fine, it makes for good orienteering. When I considered this area, I was thinking the light green reentrant, upper/SW part, might be needed in order to be dissimilar, but this clearing is probably better, if it can be justified. Can the Red control 47 be clearly hung on the bare rock or stream end to differentiate it, and Blue #2 hung on the opposite side/edge of the clearing? I'm guessing most Blue runners will actually see this flag on the way in, which is OK if it looks different, but if it leads to mispunches or systematic distraction you might have an unwelcome issue. This is for you in-the-field guys to decide.

> 5-10: Didn't drop a control because I ended up adding 2 to red.
> Several shared controls with Red, but no common legs.

Fine. I am comfortable with more common controls, even some common legs, but if you are willing to put out the extra controls, I'm getting out of your way.

I haven't looked at your other courses, but I'm hoping they make plenty of use of the TT controls or legs. It makes for good conversation and "meet spirit". There are a couple TT controls (55? and early campground controls) that might even be applicable to lower courses, which I think it is a nice touch if you can do it. If the courses will be run in the same time window, I might retract that.

> 14: Well, I think it's fine, but I do have an excellent vetter who > will be double checking my work.

No problem.

As with the Red, I think you've got something great here, at least on paper.

It has been a real pleasure watching these courses develop. I don't feel the need for any more comments, but feel free to run anything by me.

Eric

There was more work to do, of course. Vetting and a final field check of the vegetation led to some subtle changes (and one not so subtle - the logging operation on the blue course). However, it was the meticulous review that helped change a set of mediocre courses into ones that received high praise by the top orienteers in the country. I certainly hope that other course consultants will follow Eric's example in offering such fine criticism.

6/13/06 Custom shoes

I tend to get a lot of mileage out of cycling shoes, so I don't really mind spending a bit for a quality pair. I've been riding in the same pair of Shimano road cycling shoes for the last five years or so. They're OK shoes, but certainly not the best I've ever ridden. I'm not sure if it's the normal spreading due to age, or if breaking my foot twice a couple years ago changed it's shape, but they don't really fit right anymore. So, I've been trying on new shoes.

I had pretty much decided which ones I was going to buy when Russ Murphy approached me after a race. For those not familiar with the St. Louis cycling scene, Russ is one of the top 40+ riders in Missouri and also has some pretty serious adventure racing credentials. He owns Mesa Cycles that competes with our sponsor, but good bike shops are rare enough that I don't think I'm hurting Big Shark by giving his store a plug.

Russ noticed during the race that I ride in a somewhat twisted position on the bike. That's largely a result of my curved spine. He indicated that Specialized has a footbed system that can help correct that. When you've ridden 250,000 miles over 25 years of competition, the suggestion that your riding position should be changed is not easily embraced. However, I figured there was no harm in trying it out.

So I hopped over to Mesa, put my bike on the trainer and we played around with these little shims that change the angle of the foot on the pedal (this is the vertical angle - the pedals already allow for some horizontal float). I'm not one for hyperbole, but the difference is truly astounding. The shims only add a couple millimeters to one side of the sole, but it completely straightened out my alignment. Add the fact that the shoes (BG Pro Carbon) themselves fit my foot quite nicely and it becomes the best $250 I've dropped on equipment in a long, long time.

You can read more about the system here.

6/17/06 Harriman

One of the best places to orienteer in the US is Harriman State Park just north of New York City. The area was used for World Orienteering Championships in 1993. Despite growing up there, I'd never run a orienteering race on that map until today's sprint meet held by Hudson Valley Orienteering. The meet consisted of three very technical sprint courses. I'll post maps when I get back to St. Louis.

One of the big differences between Harriman and the terrain around St. Louis is the complexity of the rock features. We have a few parks with a lot of rock, but it's always accompanied by some prominent contour features. At Harriman, you really have to read the rock features. I found that difficult and didn't do particularly well. As a training exercise, it was fantastic. As a competition, it was rather dismal.

6/18/06 Hills

I'm back at my parents house in upstate New York (Ithaca). I lived here for just three years in High School and then two more getting my Masters, but I've always considered it my hometown. That's probably because this is where I started bike racing and that's certainly been a rather defining activity in my life.

It would be hard to construct a better place for cycle training. I suppose one could argue that some legitimate mountain passes would be good, but you really don't see those very often in races, even at the pro level. What you do see a lot of are fairly steep climbs rising 100 to 500 meters. They are everywhere here.

Today, I got out for a few hours and hit some of my favorites. The weather was quite warm and the road was melting on the first climb I tried. I changed my route to hit climbs on better roads. I was still able to get in plenty of great riding. In total, I climbed around 1500 meters, spread over 5 significant climbs and several smaller ones. Definitely one of the better rides I've done lately.

6/19/06 Tiny one

Today we visited Katey Strollo, Carol's best friend from childhood. She just gave birth to a baby daughter named Clare. She's a few weeks early, so she's really small (just over 5 pounds). Fortunately, both Clare and Katey are doing fine. Click on the image for a full-size photo.

6/20/06 Carol's Song update

Here's an exciting action shot from last weekends meet. The amount of rock on the ground here is pretty typical of the area. I was surprised at how well I got over it because I don't get much practice running on rock. Not that it mattered because my navigation was pretty rough (although I spiked this one!)

A conversation I had at the sprint meet last weekend reminded me that I haven't given an update on our larger mission for a while. As the conversation was personal and I forgot to ask if I could make the details public, I'll just say that one of the competitors there has a family member with ALS and was wondering when the program will be ready for test.

The honest answer is that I don't know. The plan has been to take a few weeks off after my current assignment to get the prototype to where it can be handed off to another programmer. The problem is that my current assignment keeps getting extended (it was supposed to end over a year ago). While it's always hard to turn down work, it's just as important to remember what's really important to you.

6/22/06 Loaded

On the way back from Ithaca, we were towing a trailer loaded with some things from my parent's house (they're moving to a smaller place, so it was grab it now or never see it again). It was interesting (if a bit painful) to see the effect of the trailer on the WRX's performance.

Like most small performance cars, the WRX is tuned to produce high horsepower with very little torque. This is accomplished by using a very lightweight engine that can run at high RPM's. In the case of the WRX, the high-end output is augmented by the turbocharger. The advantage of this over the traditional big-displacement engines is that the light weight improves handling and at low RPM's the engine is still pretty efficient, giving decent gas mileage. The drawback is that the engine is very sensitive to load.

Kate's Jeep gets around 17 mpg on the highway. That's pretty bad, but even when we've towed a 5000-pound trailer, it got 15. That's what a 5.9 liter V8 buys you. It can grunt along all day at 2000 RPM's even when loaded. In contrast, the addition of the 1500-pound trailer we towed back from Ithaca sent the WRX's mileage from 25 to 18. Still better than the Jeep, but the gap sure did narrow.

It occurred to me that this might be the reason that triathletes often run into trouble the first time they do a long adventure race. They're in great shape, but their bodies are tuned for going really fast under very low load. The heavy packs and slower muscle contractions of an adventure race drain them more than they realize.

The solution to this, of course, is to train loaded. I run with a pack a couple times a month. I do almost all of my mountain bike training with a pack. I don't go minimal, either. I carry at least 10 pounds, usually more. It's a little more fun to go light in your training so you can go faster, but the rewards of load training are very apparent in long races.

6/23/06 Prepared

Yesterday, I was at work talking with Kate on the phone about how I should get home so we could leave for dinner before the thunderstorm arrived when the phone went dead. She called back on the cell to say that our neighbor's tree had just fallen over into our yard and taken out the power lines in the process. It's not clear what knocked it over. The tree was healthy and there's no charring to indicate a lightening strike. It must have been a mighty strong gust of wind to snap a 2-ft diameter trunk.

I got home and dug through my racing gear and soon we were all outfitted with LED headlamps. Yaya seemed particularly amused by it all. I'd been thinking that it was a little silly that I have this huge collection of headlamps, but it sure came in handy yesterday. The power is still out today (although the Union Electric says they'll probably have it restored before nightfall). Fortunately, the LED lights go quite a long time and I've got spare batteries, so if we need them for another night, we'll have them.

6/25/06 Goomna

Yesterday, we did the Goomna Adventure Race in Highland, IL. It was sort of our first win of the year. A big thunderstorm forced cancellation part way through and the race format (a Motala - where teams do loops in different orders) made it impossible to know for sure who was in first place at the time. We were declared co-winners along with two other teams.

While it would have been fun to see how things finished (from comparing splits, it looks like we were basically in a dead heat with Thoughtprocess.net), the call to cancel race was correct. Some teams were on the lake when the thunderstorm hit, others were riding on wide open country roads. Not the sort of places you want to be when lightening is hitting the ground. At the post-race captain's meeting there was universal agreement that the cancellation had been appropriate and the formula for determining the "winners" was as fair as possible under the circumstances. I'll write a race report soon.

6/26/06 Keep moving

I was reminded this weekend of the first rule of adventure racing: keep moving. We did this quite well for the first five hours of the race. Both of our transitions were under three minutes (the first was a scant 90 seconds). We managed to keep walking while eating or taking electrolytes. The only on-trail stop was a brief pee break, but even that was quick because we all went at the same time (much faster than taking three separate breaks). This was no small part of why we entered the sixth hour looking very much like the winning team.

Things broke down a bit at that point. We hit some technical singletrack and weren't able to cover it smoothly. In Amy's defense, she's not a mountain biker and we had hoped that Goomna would have very limited (if any) singletrack as in previous years. Still, I think we could have planned for the possibility better. We still got through the singletrack better than most teams simply because we made fewer navigation errors, but we lost a lot of time to Thoughtprocess. We were still in the hunt, but at the point where the race was called, the advantage had certainly passed to them.

It ended up being a moot point as the shortening of the race meant we'll never know which team was actually ahead. Still, it could have been a painful lesson and we need to be conscious of it even though it didn't cost us anything.

Incidentally, staying on the move is the focus of our clinic in August. We'll be looking at a lot of ways that teams give away large amounts of time in the form of many tiny chunks. Learning to limit such losses is the single biggest improvement a team can make and every team, no matter how skilled, can always improve.

6/27/06 Buildup

I've switched my training to the buildup period leading to the 1000 Day. Peaking for an orienteering meet is a little different than peaking for an adventure race. Most importantly, O-meets require real speed through the woods. The 1000 Day is an extreme form of this as much of the terrain is quite open. Therefore, I'm modeling my buildup program after a 10K schedule. The basis is the 38:00 10K schedule in The Self Coached Runner by Lawrence and Scheid. I've had good success with their programs in the past.

Of course, one needs more than foot speed. I'm replacing some of the tempo runs with fast navigation training. This will be done in park settings to emphasize reading the map at speed. I'll also work in cycling and paddling to keep the other Adventure Race skills reasonably sharp. We've got three nationals qualifiers in the month following the 1000 Day.

Being back on a strict schedule is actually a pleasant change. The extended base period this year has been productive, but it was getting old. Having a firmly set goal and a plan for getting there has freshened my attitude towards training. Since it's hard to objectively measure results in orienteering, I'll run the St. Charles Flat Five the week before to get a measure on my fitness. I'd really like to break 30 minutes, but I may need some help from the weather to do that. If it's not too hot, it's doable.

6/28/06 Micro-periods

When I wrote about periodization (1/11) last January, I mentioned that I usually just break the season into fairly large chunks. This is mostly because adventure racing is so varied that you don't really want to make any period of training too specialized.

As I'm currently building up based on a 10K training schedule, I've been poking around a bit looking at various philosophies behind creating running schedules. Greg McMillan has an excellent article on how to implement micro-periods. It's much more nuts and bolts than most discussions and includes a useful worksheet. Actually, the whole series of articles is pretty good. If your training plans include building up for a running race, this is a must read.

6/29/06 Baseline

One thing I always like to do in the early part of buildup is run a "baseline" workout. A baseline workout is a hard effort that gives you a reasonably objective measure of your performance. This serves several functions.

First and foremost, it helps to clarify your goals for the end of the period. Depending on the result of the workout, you may need to make an adjustment to bring your goals into line with how much improvement can be reasonably expected during buildup.

Secondly, it helps guide your training. Most of the really valuable fitness workouts involve very precise expenditures of effort. The baseline serves as a guide for setting those levels.

Finally, the baseline gives you some way of knowing how effective your buildup was. By comparing your performance during peak to your baseline, you can assess what type of training is most effective for you.

A good baseline workout is short enough that the effort doesn't trash you for more than a couple days. It should be similar in nature to your goal event (a 10K cycling time trial, for example, is a fine baseline workout if you're peaking for a 40K TT, but a rather poor baseline if you want to run a marathon).

Unfortunately, yesterday's baseline run wasn't very informative. The distance was good (2.5 miles in 14:55), but the course contained a significant climb (at least by road running standards) and my legs were a bit off as a result of Tuesday's track workout. I'm not really sure how much to adjust for those factors. I would have expected to run that distance in about 14:35, so I might be right on, or I might be a bit fast or slow. Obviously, I'm not off by much, but I already knew that.

I started thinking about baseline runs and how hard it is to do it right. For one thing, if you don't know where your fitness is, it's pretty hard to find the right pace at the start. That's crucial to getting a good time. I came up with a baseline workout that doesn't require you to know your fitness level but still gives an accurate reading.

Run on a track starting at whatever pace feels "firm". It should be a pace you can hold between 10 and 15 minutes, but it doesn't matter if you're off a bit. Take splits every 200m and make sure you stay on exactly that pace (this is easier if you pick a fairly "even" pace like 6:00/mi rather than 6:07). Again, it doesn't make much difference what it is, just that you run evenly. When you start to falter, try to push a bit to get back on schedule. When this no longer works, unleash your finish kick and take your time at the next 200m line. You now have a time for a distance where you ran even splits to exhaustion followed by a kick - the perfect race. This result can now be entered into a pace calculator (such as this) and converted to whatever distance you like.

The only downside of this workout is that it requires a tremendous amount of discipline to do well. You will certainly be tempted to call it quits early. I'd say you should be able to get back on pace after faltering at least twice before kicking. You could add some competitive feel to it by doing it with somebody you're evenly matched with. Just remember that you are trying to go further than the other person, not faster.

6/30/06 Mid-year assessment

Halfway through the year seems like a good time to see how we're doing against our season goals.

  • Top 10 USARA Ranking. Currently we're 21st, but we've only raced in 2 ranking events. If we do well in the fall races, we'll move up. The competition continues to improve. A top 10 is possible, but certainly not guaranteed.
  • Win a qualifier. We came close at Mission with a strong second place finish. We've got four more qualifiers on the schedule.
  • Win a goat event. Done! Picked up the win at the BillyPig.
  • Win a bike race. Not likely, as I don't have any more road races planned. Closest thing would be to defend my title in the MO State Games Duathlon.
  • Break an hour at Pere Marquette. We'll just have to see on this one. At least my weight is down and that counts for a lot at PM.

Basically, it looks like things are on track. My own training has been a bit higher than planned so far this year. That's mostly due to the extension of the base period all the way into June. A spring peak would have resulted in fewer hours at somewhat higher quality. One thing that jumps out is that my cycling time is much higher than planned (planned values shown are one half of the total hours planned for 2006):

ActivityPlanActual
Navigation8582 at speed plus another 37 hours mapping
Running6053
Cycling75148
Paddling3515
Other1514

The high mileage on the bike is mostly a result of the heel injury that had me riding the trainer in February when I normally would have been trail running. The paddling is down from plan, but I didn't expect to really dig into that until the summer, so it's OK.

So the only major adjustment is making sure the paddling gets worked in over the summer. Fortunately, Doug, Brad, and Vicki are all on board with the idea of bringing that skill up, so we'll support each other in getting out on the water.

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