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11/1/06 CP-Intervals

Here's another variant on intervals that I like: I call it control picking intervals. They are just like O-intervals except that rather than running a single leg hard, you run a series of very short legs adding up to around 5 minutes in length. Then you recover by jogging an easy leg to the start of the next series. Click on the map to see the full workout I ran today.

You can run these either from memory or from the map. To run them from memory, you memorize the next sequence of legs while jogging the easy leg. This allows you to run a bit faster since you don't have to check the map. It's very hard to keep the details straight while running at threshold, so this is a good workout for training your concentration.

Running them from the map requires you to slow down just a bit and drills your ability to read details from the map on the run. It also works your ability to quickly re-orient the map at each direction change. I typically run the more linear sequences from memory and use the map when there are lots of direction changes.

11/3/06 Improvements?

I was paddling the Meremac again today and was admiring a little parcel of land to the east of the river just south of I-44. My understanding is that the land is owned by St. Louis County. The area is closed because the county doesn't have money to improve it right now. I suppose a shelter and parking area might be nice, but it's not easy to see how you would improve on such a pretty little forest. Sometimes you wonder if these land managers even like nature.

11/6/06 SLUG 50K Fun Run

Well, you have to understand ultra-runners to see the humor in labeling a 50K trail run a "fun run". It is the shortest of the "ultra" distances. However, the main reason for the moniker was that this was an informal club event (no fees, no tees) put on by the St. Louis Ultra Runners Group (better known as the SLUGs). It was the brainchild of David White, who already directs 3(!) "serious" ultraruns a year for the SLUGs.

The format of the run was novel. When David bounced the idea off ultrarunning legend Rob Apple, he said he'd never heard of it (at least in running - it's the standard format for auto racing), but that it sounded like a great idea. The run would take place on a short loop. Everybody would run until the leader completed the full distance. At that point, everybody would finish the lap they were on and be scored by how much distance they had covered. This meant that everybody would finish at roughly the same time (enhancing post-race socialization) and nobody would know ahead of time the length of their race, in either time or distance. It would all depend on how fast the leader ran.

My goal was to complete the entire 50K, which meant staying on the lead lap. As the laps were only .7 miles, that implied racing for the win. Not knowing how serious others were going to take it, I had no idea whether this was realistic or not. I doubted that anybody was going to try to run it in under 4 hours, but if they did, I'd have to let them go.

I drove out to David's farm in Chamois, Missouri on Saturday afternoon. Yaya came with me. Aside from a quality distance workout, this weekend was also a test to see if taking her with me and camping at meets was a viable option. The "camping" wasn't exactly primitive; we just pitched our tent in the White's back yard and had a nice meal with them in their dining room. However, Yaya loved staying in the tent and wasn't at all bothered by the fact that the temperature dropped into the low 40's overnight. I think she'll be fine for future excursions.

On Sunday morning we wake up at about 7:30. A few other racers have already arrived. Most show up in the next half hour. After placing Yaya into the capable care of David's daughter Jessica, I amble over to the start/finish/feed area for the 9AM start. David goes over the format and we all head off on our first loop. Nobody's anxious to nail the pace right off the start, and we finish the first lap in a leisurely 6:27. The next one isn't much quicker, but we have formed a little group of four at the front: David, Paul Schoenlaub, Andrew Karandjeff, and myself. The next two laps are run in around 6:00 and Andrew and I find ourselves slightly ahead of the others.

At this point Andrew starts building the pace. We run a couple 5:40 laps (just over 8:00/mi pace) which seems like a reasonable pace to me so I follow. Andrew continues to build and I decide that I better let him go. Besides, there's no reason to worry about staying with him; he's already told me he's only running the first three hours.

That leaves me on my own. I continue to average 5:40's; running slightly faster, but then losing about 10 seconds every other lap to get water. It occurs to me that I could have planned that out better and set up some water bottles to carry with me. Five seconds a lap doesn't sound like much until you multiply it by 44 and realize it comes to over half a lap. I do have one bottle at the feed area, but decide that I'll save it for later in the race.

The trail is pretty and has just enough undulation to provide some push/recover cycles. There are a few rocks and holes to watch out for, but it's generally pretty smooth. To reduce monotony, David has specified that we'll reverse direction every hour. I finish my eleventh lap just before 65 minutes and turn around. The reversal lets me see where everybody is. Andrew is about half a lap ahead and running well. Paul is about 30 seconds behind me. It appears that there are no other takers on the early pace.

Andrew laps me at around 90 minutes. Paul seems content to sit 20-30 seconds back. I wonder if his plan is to sit behind me the whole way and then trash me in the last five miles. He's certainly capable of it. I console myself that even if that is his plan, he won't likely lap me, so if I just hold this pace, I should get in my 50K. Just before the 2-hour turnaround, I decide to surge a bit and see how interested Paul is in coming along. I drop my lap times to 5:30 and after a few laps Paul is no longer in sight.

A few laps later comes the big shock: I turn a corner and see Paul and Andrew right in front of me. "You guys sure got off the gas." I say as I go past them. Paul says that he only intended to push the first two hours. Andrew is also slowing in anticipation of his early retirement. Obviously, the game has completely changed. There's nobody else on the lead lap, so getting the 50K is practically assured. I go back to 5:40 laps, but also note that the surge didn't feel that bad. Now that I need some new motivation, I decide that I'll hold this pace to marathon distance and then see how fast I can bring it home.

The marathon goes by in about 3:35, which is the fastest I've run one on trail. I settle into a new, firmer pace hoping that it will be as good as the 5:30's I ran an hour earlier. I'm pleasantly surprise when I hit the split for lap 39 and see 5:14. I stay on that effort for the next four laps (although two of them are slower due to eating and drinking). A few of the runners I pass thank me for shortening up the event.

As the folks at the finish ring the bell for my last lap, I'm told to switch directions one last time. I'm happy about this because the descent in the other direction is a bit more gentle and my left knee has been complaining the last few laps. I lengthen my stride a bit and turn in a 4:58 for my last lap to finish in 4:09:32. That's a de facto PR since it's the first time I've raced 50K and it's a time I'm pretty happy with.

I ask Jessica how Yaya behaved and she says "fine" in a way that I can tell there were a few 3-year-old moments in there. We all head over to the house for some post-race pot luck barbeque. Anything tastes good after a 50K, but I'm pretty sure the food was good even by normal standards. Yaya wants to take a nap in the tent, but I manage to convince her that she should sleep in the car on the way home. She's out cold within the first few minutes of the trip. Strangely, I'm not sleepy at all. That's a pretty good weekend that has me so charged up I don't even mind the drive home.

Splits.

11/10/06 Recovery?

This was supposed to be a recovery week. Physically, it has been. But there's more to recovery than just cutting back on your training. From a holistic standpoint, this week has been anything but recovery.

Monday, I went into work at around 8AM. Nothing unusual about that. I came at 4PM. On Tuesday. I did take a few short breaks to eat and for some easy runs, but it was basically 30 hours straight of working. I went back in at 9AM Wednesday and came home at 6PM on Thursday.

I actually enjoy big weeks like this when we're up against a deadline and have to really push to get everything done. Keeping your mind focused for 30-40 hours at a stretch is not bad training for adventure racing. Rich Ruid, a veteran of Eco-Challenge and the Southern Traverse once mentioned to me that a lot of the top expedition racers were "internet guys." His feeling was that they were the only people who had the money for the sport. I'm not sure that's true (after all, Rich managed to scrape up the cash and he's a hard-workin' blue collar guy). I think a more likely explanation is that software engineers are simply not fazed by the crazy hours of an expedition race because they do it all the time at work.

11/11/06 Check the thermometer

The weather forecast predicted morning temperatures in the low to mid 40's today. I dressed and headed out on a 3 and a half hour ride without confirming that was the case. In reality, it was low 30's at the start, warming to 37 by the end. That simple mistake took most of the fun out of the ride. Right around 40 is when I find I need a lot of extra protection on hands and feet to keep them from getting too cold.

I was riding with lightweight gloves and no covers on my feet. Even on the way out with a tailwind, I was getting pretty cold. Riding along Lindberg Blvd at around 30mph, I tried not to think about how much the return trip was going to suck. Fortunately, the wind did relent a bit, but the ride back was still pretty unpleasant.

11/12/06 Meremac

SLOC hosted a local meet at Meremac State Park today. Gary Thompson was meet director and course setter. Gary has pretty much taken this as a permanent position - he's run a meet at Meremac for the last several years. Click on the map clip for the full version of this year's Red course.

Meremac may be the toughest running we have. West Tyson, Greensfelder, and Castlewood are steeper, but they are so steep you really can't run the uphills. At Meremac, you know you need to be running the climbs, but your legs sure do complain if you do. The footing is pretty bad, too. Much of the forest floor, particularly on hillsides, is covered with small rocks. Again, they're not enough of a problem to give you an excuse to slow down, but you get a bad foot plant about once every 20 strides which means by the end of an hour, your stabilizing muscles are really shot.

Visibility is quite good, especially now that the leaves are down. There are so many big features, staying in contact with the map is pretty easy. It's pretty tough to find a control location that doesn't have a really obvious attack point nearby. It all adds up to a venue where you'd better be ready to run hard if you want to be competitive.

My running, particularly uphill, is as good as it's been in the last ten years (my long distance running is as good as it's ever been). I decided to use that fitness to run very direct routes today. There weren't many good routes to go around climb, anyway. The result was one of my faster runs when adjusted for climb. It was fun to go out and hammer like that. I don't get too many opportunities to run that hard in orienteering meets.

11/14/06 Fast finish

Today's run was a "fast finish" run. It's a simple concept: you start at your normal pace for a long run and then about halfway through begin building the pace. Keep building so that by the end of the run, you are going as hard as you can (like the last mile of a race). I ran about 10 miles in 80 minutes and then dropped about 15 seconds per mile, running the 17th mile in 6:10. The theory is that your average pace over the second part should be about your marathon pace. I think I averaged more like 6:40, which would be a bit quick, but it was close.

The physical benefits of a run like this are similar to a tempo run. It takes a lot more out of you than a tempo run, so there has to be some other upside to make it worth it. There is. A fast finish run is excellent mental training. Pushing the pace faster at the end of a long run requires discipline. More importantly, it gets you used to the idea of running hard when you are already tired.

Most people don't realize how feasible this is. It's natural to assume that if you're tired, you will slow down rather than speed up. In fact, increasing your pace has very little to do with whether you're tired or not; it's really just a function of whether you've stayed within yourself or overcooked the early going. As long as your early pace hasn't killed you, increasing the pace in the latter part of a race simply requires the mental fortitude to do so. Once the new pace is established, you often find you feel better, at least for a while.

My most vivid experience with this was at USARA Nationals in 2004. We were in third place going into the final triad (a 7-mile bike, scooter, run), but got passed just as we got going. David had an upset stomach, so we gave him the scooter and had Yvonne tow me from the bike. With 18 hours of racing down, I figured it would be just a shuffle to the finish. I tried to push a bit to stay with the team ahead of us. Yvonne kept the tension on the line and pretty soon I was running 7-minute miles. Even with a tow, I never would have expected that was possible so late in a race. We weren't able to take back third, but we sure made quick work of that last section (and opened a huge gap on the team behind us). Ever since then I've come to expect that my body has a lot more in it than my mind is willing to admit. That attitude has helped me finish strong in many long races.

11/16/06 Trashed toes

Shortly after the Meremac race, David and I were approached by a local adventure racer (who's name I neglected to get). He looked at our orienteering shoes and asked if they made much of a difference. When we emphatically answered "yes" in unison, his next question was whether we wore them in adventure races. We again answered in unison, but this time it was emphatically "no".

Orienteering shoes are similar to cross country spikes with a more aggressive tread and slightly more durable uppers. They are fast because they are light and the studs (on the heel as well as forefoot) provide excellent grip. What they don't provide is any sort of protection for your foot. While this is tolerable in a short event, more than a few hours in these shoes will tear up your feet pretty badly.

At Meremac, it didn't even take that long. Meremac is very rocky terrain. Not big rocks and cliffs (although there are a few of those), but lots of small stuff. That makes for a lot of awkward foot plants. Even with the shoes tightly laced, my foot was moving around in the shoe quite a bit as I twisted to stay balanced. I've got some nasty looking blisters on my toes as a result. Fortunately, they look worse than they are and I've been able to run this week. I'd hate to think how bad they'd be if I had been out there for three or four hours.

11/20/06 Course review

I started my career in engineering. As such, I got used to having my work checked by someone else. Always. That's just the way engineering is done. It doesn't matter how smart you are or how good your track record, somebody else always reviews your work. This is important when the consequence of a mistake is a bridge collapse, train wreck, or (in the stuff I was working on) explosion at a chemical plant.

Engineering reviews focus on finding things that are objectively errors, but it's also an excellent opportunity to get feedback on more subjective matters. I think most engineers are pretty good at appraising work because they are so used to being appraised. (For some reason that doesn't seem to translate into improved appearance or social skills).

The orienteering community has strongly embraced the idea of course reviews. As a result, it's a rare A-meet that has a serious problem and most are run without a hitch. Unfortunately, Adventure Racing has not yet reached this point. Although I didn't attend, I've heard enough from Nationals this year that I think the course can be safely described as a disaster.

The biggest problem was that it was way too long. That was "fixed" during the event by cutting off a significant portion. The problem is that communicating that sort of change out to all the teams during the event is very hard to do. David, Jeff, and Carrie went through the checkpoint where the course was to be shortened, but weren't told of the change. They ascended another mountain pass before concluding that there was no way they could make the cutoff and bailed. If they had been redirected, they would have finished easily.

That looks like a failure of logistics, but it's really a failure of the original course. Anybody with significant AR experience should have known that a course with 31,000 feet of elevation gain was not doable in 24 hours (at least not by the caliber of team that typifies the field at USARA Nationals). A simple review by a qualified individual should catch a mistake like that.

I keep hoping that AR will come around to taking course design, control placement, and map quality seriously. It's just not that hard to do. But it will only happen if meet directors are held accountable for the quality of their courses. Unfortunately, that isn't happening, even at the national level.

11/23/06 Craziness

We had another family over today. They have two kids, 4 and 2. The house was hopping to say the least. A good time but really exhausting, too. I don't know how people with multiple kids manage to compete. It's hard enough with just Yaya. If I had to keep tabs on two or three, I'm pretty sure I'd be a whole lot slower than I am now.

On an unrelated note, I was struck by the irony that we had five adults (my mother in law is here, too) and three kids all indulging in a meal fit for royalty (Kate's usual fine effort was taken to new heights with assistance from her mom and Crystal) and not one of us had a job right now. My contract ended yesterday, Kevin was laid off Tuesday, Kate's mom is starting her own business but is a ways from actually selling anything, and Kate and Crystal are full-time moms. What a country!

11/24/06 Indian summer

We don't get a nicely defined Indian Summer in the Midwest like I remember growing up in the Northeast. The temperature fluctuates, but the real obvious week of warm weather is missing. This year, we definitely got it, although quite a bit later than usual.

Today was another warm day; high temperature was nearly 70F. The weekend is predicted to be nearly as warm. This opened up some training possibilities that I hadn't counted on. Most notably, road biking is a whole lot more fun when the temperature is above 50. Today I rode for nearly four hours in shorts and a short sleeved jersey; nice. I might try to get in another long ride on Sunday (I had planned a long run).

Tomorrow's race may be a bit tougher than expected. I had envisioned running pretty hard for the full three hours at the annual SLOC score-O. With seasonal temps of mid- 40's, this would be easy enough to do. With the forecast predicting mid-60's instead, I may have to back it off a bit. I'll definitely need to carry more water than I anticipated.

11/25/06 Turkey-O

SLOC held their annual 3-hour Turkey-O today at S-F. I was the only person to sweep, although David came up just one control short. I'll write more about it tomorrow.

Maps: North, South.

11/26/06 Tiny maps

I'm making the maps for the Castlewood Adventure Race next weekend. The race director has asked me to use the orienteering maps of Castlewood and West Tyson as the base. I'm very familiar with both of those maps. I made Castlewood and have done some revisions to Tyson. Both could use a little updating, but they will certainly be better than the standard USGS maps.

What strikes me as comical is how tiny these maps are when printed at 1:24,000. I'm used to seeing Castlewood at 1:15,000 and Tyson at 1:10,000. At 1:24,000 they both fit easily on an 11x17 sheet (the maps overlap, so I've combined them into one.)

It's interesting how seeing a map printed at a different scale changes your impression of an area. Yes, I've always known that you can't set a long leg at Tyson, but seeing at this scale makes me realize you can't even set a medium length leg by AR standards. Of course, this is a sprint race, so short legs are to be expected. I think the area is appropriate.

11/28/06 Not quite so tiny maps

Jason took one look at the tiny 1:24 maps and decided that we needed to reprint the maps for this weekend at 1:15. Fortunately, I hadn't printed the whole run, just a few samples for him.

More significantly, he had me print extra maps so teams that wanted to could have two sets of maps. This is something that I think more race directors should consider. It rewards the teams that have multiple navigators and doesn't really have a downside (other than slightly increasing the map cost). Navigating as a group is more fun than just having the team follow around the lead navigator. When done properly, it can also allow the team to move faster while reducing errors. Adventure Racing is supposed to reward teams that can perform tasks better as a group. Why not extend that to navigation which is arguably the most important skill?

11/29/06 Footprints

OK, so let's assume for the moment that we do get a foot of snow tomorrow. Some of it will melt by the weekend, but a lot of it won't. Makes the orienteering at the Castlewood 8-hour pretty easy. Just follow the tracks, right? Well, here's a story for you.

In 1984, I did a ski orienteering event in upstate New York. The area was really small and the map scale was 1:5,000. On the way to the second control, I skied right off the map. I wasn't sure where I was, but I was pretty sure which way I needed to go to get back on the map. I bushwhacked through about half a mile of forest before realizing that I had somehow lost my map completely. At that point I decided that this wasn't going to be my day and packed it in.

My teammate Mike Spak started about twenty minutes after me. He made the same mistake and skied off the map, too. Rather than retrace his steps, he spotted some tracks through the woods and though, "that guy must have known what he was doing." After tromping through about half a mile of forest, he came to the end of the tracks. They were mine, of course, and they led nowhere.

It's always tempting to rely on others, especially when you've made a mistake. The truth is that even when you're completely turned around, you're still better off trying to solve the problem yourself. Following blindly just gets you further away from the last spot where you knew where you were.

For what it's worth, I'll be checking the control locations and when I do this in the snow, I'm pretty careful not to go straight to the control. So, at least one set of tracks will be one's you don't want to follow.

11/30/06 Zero

Just checked the website for Pere Marquette run and found out that I'll be in wave zero this year. Pere Marquette goes to single track after less than 50m, so mass starting all 600 runners is out of the question. The race starts in 25-person waves every 30 seconds to cut down on trail congestion. That still leaves the trail pretty crowded in the middle of the field, but at least the first few waves with the fastest runners get through OK.

This will be the first time I've started in the first wave. I've finished in the top 20 a few times, but until recently they seeded the waves by 10K time and my road running isn't nearly as good as my trail running. Now they use 10K time as a backup, but primarily seed from the previous year's placing (I was 20th last year).

Starting in wave zero has both ups and downs. On the up side, it's fun to be in among the studs. On the other hand, there won't be the usual satisfaction of catching stragglers from the waves ahead. Once I settle into my position in the wave, I'll be running pretty much alone.

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