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12/1/06 Disaster

We don't get hurricanes in the Midwest and earthquakes are exceedingly rare (although, when they do occur, they rival what California deals with). That leaves ice storms as the most destructive force that nature sends our way. Last night's was particularly bad. I haven't got out into the woods to survey the damage, but the urban areas are reeling.

I'm among the half million people without power today. (I'm writing this from a computer at a friend's house). Being without power in the winter really sucks. It's no picnic in the summer, either, but at least you don't run the risk of freezing to death or having all your pipes burst. If we get power back in the next day or so, I think we'll be fine. If it goes much longer than that, we may have a real problem on our hands. When thunderstorms took out power to a similar-sized group last summer, some people went a week without juice.

From what I hear, Kansas City got a lot of snow, but not as much ice. Hopefully the woods in the area of the Possum Trot weren't too messed up. It would be a bummer to have that race ruined by a lot of new, unmapped deadfall. Of course, if I don't get power back, I might not be able to go anyway. That would be a true bummer because I'm one of only three people to finish all 9 editions of the Trot so far.

12/2/06 O Mt. O

The first event of the Possum Trot weekend was the O Mt. O sprint on the Kansas University campus today. It was a really fun event. I'll post the map when I get it scanned. I ran well and finished 2nd in M40+ (4th overall). The course was very interesting and required serious concentration to find the best routes through all the buildings and alleys.

Hopefully, I've still got some starch in my legs for the tough hills tomorrow.

12/3/06 Possum Trot Weekend

Don't have much time to write as I have to get ready for an out of town assignment tomorrow. I'll post the maps from this weekend and add some commentary throughout the week. All in all, a very fine weekend of orienteering, both from a meet quality standpoint and personal results.

Trot, loop 1
Trot, loop 2

12/4/06 Sikeston

I had time to write tonight, but decided to use it for my last long run of this base period instead. I wasn't sure if my legs would be up to a long run, but they were fine. Orienteering doesn't tear up your legs like road running, so I can often do a reasonable workout, even the day after a race. I wanted to get the long run in today so I'd have plenty of time to recover for Pere Marquette this weekend.

I'm staying in Sikeston, Missouri right now. My current contract is with a small manufacturing company here. Training opportunities are somewhat limited around here, but my run was quite pleasant. The temperature was just below freezing and the moon was nearly full. The breeze was noticeable, but not a problem.

I was surprised that many of the fields still have cotton in them. I thought all that would have been picked by now. I took a closer look at some of the plants and they seem to be doing fine, despite the cold temps. I picked a few balls of cotton just because it's something I've never done before.

12/5/06 Eric's Absurdly Detailed Skip Analysis

Normally, I write my Possum Trot race report first and then add this as an appendix. With my schedule turned on it's head with my new assignment, it only seems fitting to write this first. Besides, Spike has already weighed in on the subject and I can't be scooped by him!

This year's skips at the Trot were made simpler by the fact that there were two loops with one skip per loop. This meant you couldn't skip 2 in a row (unless you chose to skip the exchange control, 13, which would be insane since you had to go there to get your second map anyway). On the other hand, the nature of the area meant that assessing a skip was more difficult. Rather than simply hacking off the most distance, you really had to look at running speed. The fields were much faster than the woods. As always, this analysis is based on the speeds of the top finishers.

Loop 1:

  • 2: This is the most obvious skip, and it's pretty good, but not as good as everybody thought. The main downside is that it comes so early and you don't want to break with the pack right away. However, most people took this one, so the pack stayed together. With so many taking this skip, there isn't much good data on the alternative. The fastest times reported for 1-2-3 are 7:57 and I think the leaders could have done it 30 seconds faster than that. The pack did 1-3 in 2:44, so this skip saves about 5 minutes.
  • 6: Darius Konotopetz was the only top runner to take this. I think it's quite good, although I don't have his split to confirm. The pack did 5-6-7 in 11:56. 5-7 doesn't save any distance (it's actually slightly longer), but it's 1100m of fields and roads with just a little woods on each end. Hitting 6 puts you in the woods the whole way (unless you take the big around route to 6 like Swampfox did). I was running field legs at around 6:30/K, so this leg should be in the 8 minute range for a savings of about 4 minutes.
  • 7: This is the other obvious skip and it's also quite good. I (like many others) thought it inferior to 2 because the distance removed is through the fields. 6-7-8 was 9:53 for Tom Carr and I, but we goofed up 7 a bit. It should have been more like 9:30. Steven Graupner did 6-8 in 5:09 for 4:20 saved.
  • 11: Another obvious one that suffers because the distance saved is through fields. Tom and I did 10-11-12 in 7:18. None of the top runners took this, but 10-12 is just 400m of fields, so we'll call it 2:45 for 4:30 saved.
So, 2 appears best, but not by much. As long as you executed well, you should still be in the hunt for the second half. Let's see what the choices are with the race on the line.

Loop 2:

  • 14: Not obvious, but worth a look. 13-15 is all trail running, about the same as 13-14. The savings is basically 14-15, which was just over 3 minutes. Nobody took this.
  • 15: Saves a bunch of distance, but it's all fast running. 14-16 is about the same as 15-16, maybe 10 seconds slower since it's not downhill. That makes the difference 14-15 again. Rudy Schwarz was the only person to take this.
  • 16: Replaces the light green running from 16-17 with a road run - and on a highway at that. I did 15-16-17 in 5:56, but was pushing really hard there to get away from Tom. The rest of the top 5 did it a minute slower. 15-17 is 700m of highway and then 30 seconds through the woods to the control - call it 3:30 for 2:30 - 3:00 saved. Nobody took this.
  • 22: I'm surprised this one wasn't more popular as it's quite obvious. I guess most people again concluded that too much of the distance saved was through fields. Randy Hall skipped this, but I don't have his split. It looks like 21-23 is about 15 seconds faster than 21-22, so the difference is 22-23 plus a bit. 22-23 was 3:47 for me, but I took a dumb route. I think the real savings is more like 3:30.
  • 23: The most popular skip among the top 10 and I can't figure out why it was so appealing. Sure, it saves distance, but it replaces field running with woods. 22-24 was a bit over 3 minutes. 22-23 is slightly longer than that. Only 3 of the top 10 to ran 23-24 and I don't have splits from any of them. It's 300m of fields and 150m of woods, so it should be around 3:30. Total savings just under 4 minutes.
  • 24: Taken by the top 2 finishers. Saves all of 23-24 and replaces the 800m woods leg of 24-25 with a similar length leg of fields and roads. Sorry to be smug, but this one should have been spotted by more of the top runners. Savings is at least 5 minutes.
  • 25: Not at all obvious, but it's at least as good as 23 (Mike Eglinski took this when David Frei split by skipping 23 and they came back together at 26). As with the skip of 24, it replaces the 24-25 woods leg with fields and roads. 24-25-26 was a bit over 13 minutes. I don't have splits from Mike, but the leg is 300m of woods and 1100m of fields and roads. Should be around 9:00 for a savings of 4 minutes.

Some might debate it, but I think it's fairly clear that 24 is objectively best. Not enough to turn the race on it's head, but enough that some of the close finishes could have gone the other way if 24 had been skipped rather than 23. I think that's the way skip decisions should play: not decisive, but still worth getting right. Another fine job by Mike Shiffman in putting together interesting choices.

12/7/06 Hard freeze

After a couple days of mild temperatures (which proved insufficient for melting all the ice we got last weekend), it's back to being really cold, at least by Missouri standards. High today was 17F, and it will likely get into the single-digits tonight.

I'll be interested to see the condition of the trails at Pere Marquete this weekend. Normally, a hard freeze means fast times, but if there's still a few inches of ice on the trail, that will make the descents pretty tough. Although icy conditions won't help me hit my goal of running under 1 hour, it probably will help my finish position. Few of the top runners have orienteering shoes, and you can't beat them for grip.

12/9/06 Wave zero rocks

I have to say that running in wave zero at Pere Marquette was everything I'd hoped with none of the downside. My big fear was that I'd be stuck at the back of the wave and then just get passed by a bunch of people in later waves. That probably would have been true a few years ago, but two things have changed. First, I'm faster. I finished 13th overall, so I was actually in the top half of the wave (there are 24 waves of 25 runners each; eight of the runners who beat me were in wave zero). Second, the seeding is now done by past results rather than 10K time, so there aren't as many fast trail runners relegated to later waves. Only two runners passed me from later waves.

There was just a bit of congestion as we started the first climb (about 400m into the race). I don't think I lost more than a few seconds there. After that, it was clear sailing. I was worried when I found myself in a little pack on the third descent which is the most technical. This is not a place where you want to be stuck behind folks, especially when the trail conditions are as bad as they were today. However, in wave zero, you're running with people who know what they're doing and while I did pass them on the descent, it wasn't hard to get by because they weren't flailing around. The picture below is just after the descent (click for larger).

The runner right behind me is Brad Middleton, who caught me from wave 4. We went back and forth from the top of the third climb to the middle of the last descent, but then he pulled away to finish 20 seconds ahead of me (of course, he was already 2 minutes ahead by virtue of his later start). I think I owe a good bit of my performance to that little battle. Prior to being caught by him, I was starting to lose focus.

After the event, we had a great time hanging out in the lodge. Yaya danced to the band while we waited for awards. We passed the time making new friends with John and Judy Schneller who had traveled all the way from Des Moines, Iowa for the race. As you can see, by the time the awards came around, Yaya was very excited to see her daddy get one.

12/10/06 Undertime

Today was SLOC's annual Christmas Party and Score-O. The party was the usual pot- luck affair. Baby-O certainly enjoyed it. Yvonne was there with baby Beck and there were several other children there, so she had plenty of company.

The score-O was 1-hour at one of our steepest parks, Greensfelder. I was concerned about running such steep hills the day after Pere Marquette. I planned a course just over 6K, figuring that 10 minutes per K would be good going. Several factors made that assumption wrong. Chief among them was the fact that the soreness from PM really hadn't set in yet. I was able to run pretty well. Knowing the uphills would be tough, I planned my route to avoid as much climb as possible (although it still came to nearly 5% climb).


I didn't realize how conservative my route was until it was too late to add any controls. As you can see from the map, the four that I skipped are quite a ways out. Getting any one of them would have used up almost all the remaining time, even if incorporated in the most efficient manner. By control 17, I knew I'd be early, but the out and back to #19 looked like a lot of extra time. I think the best plan would have been to insert 19 between 15 and 16. It still would have been tight, but doable.

Fortunately for me, David Frei made the same planning error, so while I had 10 minutes left over at the end, I still won because he didn't have time to pick up an extra control, either. It was a fun event, but it was weird to finish that early without sweeping. I usually do a better job of planning late drops so I can come in just under the time limit.

In hindsight, a far better route would have been to leave #3 for the end. Even though that was less than two minutes out and back, it's a good control to leave as a filler. That would have got me to 15 knowing that I had time to get 19. If I didn't have time to get #3, I wouldn't be much worse off, but if I did, I'd have an extra control. I think I would have done that if I had more faith in my legs. Rather unlike me to sell myself short. My problems usually stem from thinking I can do more than I can.

12/12/06 Possum Trot race report

Is finally here!

12/13/06 2006 wrap up

Seems a bit odd to be assessing a season just as I get into a buildup phase. Pensacola has my training periods out of phase with the calendar. However, I had set goals for 2006 and I'm done competing until next year (the Frostbite races are still to come, but they don't count because I'll be running them as training runs rather than races). Therefore, it's time to see how things went.

Against my stated goals, it wasn't a particularly good year. The team decided not to go to USARA Nationals, which had the effect of nixing most of the team goals. We did have a pretty good showing at Muscatatuck, proving that we're at least capable of competing on the national level.

In individual competition, I did get my goal of winning a goat event (won 2, the BillyPig and Turkey-O). I didn't win any bike races, but I got a couple age group wins in Duathlons. I narrowly missed the hour at Pere Marquette, but I can't regard at 13th overall at that race as anything but a success.

While achieving only one of six goals, I found this year quite satisfying. I still think goals are important, but this year certainly proved that there's more to enjoying an activity than putting notches in your belt.

12/14/06 No arguing with the G

In the early part of the year, Mikell Platt stated that one of his goals for the year was to "achieve the G." By this, he meant showing up at the starting line of a race weighing less than Peter Gagarin. Peter made this a lot more difficult for him by dropping some weight of his own and Mikell failed to meet this goal. However, chasing the G did have him racing lighter and he certainly had a good season in all other respects.

The nomenclature caught on with the Attackpoint crowd and quite a few folks now refer to their weight as their "G value". I'm not sure if that discussion spurred me on, or if I came to it on my own, but I decided early this year that I, too, should dump some weight and get closer to the 172-pound frame that served me so well in my late 20's (I've been targeting mid-180's for the last few years, but it's crept into the 190's from time to time).

Once I determined to do it, dropping below 180 wasn't that tough. Improving from there has been more of a struggle, but I certainly raced lighter this year than I have since 1993. I subjectively rated all my races this year based on what I felt would be reasonable expectation at the beginning of the year. I gave each race a 3 if my performance met my expectation, a 4 if I was a bit better, a 2 for minor disappointments, and saved 1 and 5 for anomalous results. The two 5's (SLUG 50K and the Meremac O meet) were not shockers when they happened as I've recognized my improved fitness. However, they were great runs by my expectations going into the year. I had 2 DNF's this year, but since neither had anything to do with fitness, I rated them based on how the race was going up until the retirement.

Plotting the results as a function of weight yields an interesting graph:

The three points on the right are early season results. I'm not sure I would have been so pleased with them in the middle of the year. Leaving those aside, the trend is quite clear. The lower the weight, the more likely a good performance. This is hardly a surprise, but the slope of the trend is noteworthy. It appears that a difference of just 1-2 pounds is significant. It's good to have hard data on these things if for no other reason than to help turn down that extra piece of pie over the holidays.

12/16/06 Mid pack

All my mass-start races in the last few months have either played to my strengths (trail runs, duathlons) or been "small pond" events where I find myself near the front of the field. I got a bit of a reality check today running the first event in the Frostbite series hosted by the St. Louis Track Club.

With High School cross country season complete and no competing races in the area, the Frostbite Series brings out a pretty strong field. There are certainly much larger races in the St. Louis area, but the quality doesn't get too much better. As a result, I found my self looking at the backs of over a hundred runners during the 12K race. Granted, I could have placed better if I was actually running it as a race (I was running it at marathon pace), but even then there would have been a pretty good-sized group up the road.

Naturally, I find it more fun to be up front, but I enjoyed today's event. It was certainly more interesting to run in a big pack than to pound out eight 6:50 miles on my own. It was also a lot easier. While there was no shortage of individuals who had misjudged their efforts, the pack as a whole kept a very even pace. By simply holding my position, I ran very even splits, which was the goal. I'm planning on running the next two Frostbite races as marathon pace runs (10 mile and 20K). The fourth race is a half marathon that comes three weeks before Pensacola. I'll run that one as a real race to get a measure on my fitness.

12/17/06 Random orienteering

Last night David had a Christmas party at his house. Most of the Carol's Team crowd was there as well as some other members of the St. Louis adventure racing scene. After we'd all had a chance to drink a bit, we went out for a night orienteering race at a park near his house.

The format was really good for this sort of thing. It was a 25-minute score event, with 13 controls. Rather than selecting which controls to hit, your control order was dictated by drawing cards. The controls were labeled 2-9, J, Q, K, A. Just before the start, we all drew a card. That was our first control. At each control was a stack of cards. You drew another card and that told you your next control. You kept doing that until the time was up. Your card count at the finish indicated how many controls you had visited. Rob got the most (27, which gives you some idea of how tiny the area is).

I like finding ways to add some luck to orienteering. At major competitions, the goal is to reduce the element of luck as much as possible. That's why A-meet directors spend so much effort on checking the map and making sure the controls are placed exactly right. That's fine when the goal is to determine who the best orienteer is, but at an informal event like a picnic or party, adding some luck lightens the mood considerably. Most of us still ran it pretty hard, but nobody got too worked up about the results.

12/18/06 Saddle height

Most people who ride a lot know that saddle height is the most important bike measurement to get right. Note that this is not the same as saying seat tube length is important - it's not. Saddle height can be adjusted whereas the distance from the saddle to the brake levers is pretty much fixed unless you want to screw up the bike's geometry. That's the measurement you want to look at when buying a bike. But, assuming you got that one fairly close, saddle height is the one that should be fine-tuned.

Conventional wisdom is to start low and keep creeping it up until you start feeling discomfort at the back of the knee. Then drop it about half a centimeter. A good bike shop can fit you just as accurately in one try by measuring the angle of your knee at the bottom of the stroke, but I've found the crude method works pretty well.

You want the saddle as high as possible without hurting yourself. The higher the saddle, the more power you have, but if you overdo it, you run into problems with tendonitis because you're pulling the leg back at the bottom of the stroke when it's too far extended.

What brought this to mind was an outing with Yaya this afternoon. We often go around the block with me walking and her on the tricycle. Today she seemed to be having more trouble than usual getting up a slight incline (it's not a hill by any stretch, but when you're 3 and pedaling a plastic-wheeled vehicle, it doesn't take much to slow you down). I noticed that her legs were still bent quite a bit at the bottom of the stroke. I haven't adjusted the seat position since last summer and I guess her legs have grown another inch since then. I moved the seat up and she was off like a shot. It was a pretty vivid demonstration of getting free speed just by setting the bike up right.

12/19/06 Skills hit list

Last year I identified 10 skills that I wanted to target this year. Here are the results (in ascending order of importance):

  • Getting cleanly and quickly in and out of the control circle. Some progress here, mostly the result of a general improvement in all aspects of navigation. I didn't really put any extra effort into this, so it's not surprising that the gains were modest.
  • Climbing. I decided I didn't have time to make any headway here, so I dropped it as a target.
  • Night nav. A fair bit of improvement here. I was leading the night section at Berryman when I hit the misplaced control and Carol's Team had the best night split at Planet Adventure. I didn't train this quite as much as I had planned. I think there's plenty more room for improvement.
  • Whitewater paddling. This was another one that got jettisoned due to time constraints.
  • Mountain bike descending. Some improvement here. I spent more time on trails than I have in the past few years. I'm still giving up a lot to "real" mountain bike racers, but won't slow down too many adventure race teams.
  • Flat navigation. I made some strides here early in the spring. I haven't raced on flat terrain much this year so it's hard to know how much real improvement took place.
  • Plotting. Big improvement here. We were the first onto the course at the Mission Adventure Race. I thought it would take more practice than it did to improve. I could be faster, but I think I'm pretty close to the speed at which plotting faster would risk plotting one wrong.
  • Mountain bike navigation. I didn't really work this specifically, but I did notice improvement as a result of just spending more time on trails and therefore being more comfortable reading the map while riding. We didn't boom any MTB controls this year, but I can't think of any that were particularly tough.
  • Light green vegetation. This was easily my biggest gain of the year. I worked it quite a bit and by early fall felt I was moving much better through areas with undergrowth and/or downfall. Two of my best orienteering meets this year (Meremac and the Possum Trot) had significant amounts of thick, but runnable vegetation. My lead at Berryman was largely the result of hammering out a long leg through moderately thick stuff when almost all the other top teams bailed to a road.
  • Single-blade paddling. Another big gain, although there's more work to be done. I'd say that paddling in the back with a canoe paddle has gone from being a liability to neutral. I'd like to get to where it's a strength. That will take another year at least.

I think the list was a little ambitious last year. While I made significant headway on the top two items and a little progress on others, it was too hard to work in enough training to address all the areas. I think I'll cut the hit list down to five items for 2007 and try to make sure I really put some effort into each discipline.

12/20/06 Terrain tempo

Like most runners, I typically run my tempo runs on roads. There are some good reasons for this. Road running is fast, and tempo runs are supposed to "feel" fast (although they shouldn't be race-level efforts). Your pace is also fairly predictable on roads and a tempo run loses a lot of its value if the pace isn't pretty close to your target (within 5 seconds/mile your 10-mile race pace is a good rule of thumb).

That said, I think running tempo runs in the terrain is extremely valuable provided you can run them at the right level of effort. This is much faster than most people run when navigating. Although some elite orienteers can be accurate with even higher heart rates, most of us simply don't have enough oxygen going to the brain to avoid errors at 90% of max.

Because you're moving faster than normal, terrain tempo helps develop the coordination to move through vegetation and clear obstacles smoothly - skills that can save a good bit of time at slower speeds as well. Terrain tempo also teaches you to look further ahead. If you have to move 10 meters off your line to get around a fallen tree, it's better to realize that 50 meters in advance rather than 10. You also get a better appreciation for how much relatively small obstacles slow you down and learn when to go around them and when to crash through.

Because tempo pace is too fast to navigate accurately, the course for terrain tempo has to be slightly different than a regular orienteering course. There are several ways to "dumb down" the navigation to where you can handle it at tempo pace:

  • Don't navigate at all. Just run on your watch through the woods at tempo effort until 15- 30 minutes have passed. While this preserves the stamina benefits of the workout, I don't think it gets the full value of being in the terrain. You may also be pretty lost at the end of 30 minutes of random running in the woods.
  • Run a bearing. This is excellent training for rough compass. This exercise gives you a good idea of how much variation from intended bearing to expect when you are running on the needle (answer: a lot - holding a tight bearing requires you to slow down so you can keep the needle still and take sightings). Bring a map along but don't look at it while running. Use it when you're done to see far you went off. This variation is particularly well suited to tempo intervals (e.g., 2x12 minutes with 3 minute recovery) because you can use the rest to figure out where you are and what bearing to run to get back.
  • Set a course that uses major handrails to big features. This allows you to run each leg hard by following the handrail, but still be thinking about landmarks as they go by.
  • Set a test loop. This is my favorite way to do terrain tempo. A test loop is a course that you run often enough that you know your way around it. You may still have to bring the map, but you're not figuring anything out. The map is just there so you don't have to remember the whole course. Depending on your skill level and the difficulty of the loop, you may have to run the course quite a few times before you can run it at tempo pace. You'll know when you've got it because suddenly you can run as fast as you want and not make any mistakes at all. I typically get to that point after running a course once a week for 2-4 weeks. Even though the jump in speed just a reflection of knowing the course, it's still a great feeling when it happens.

If you do a fair bit of road or track tempo work as part of your training, you should be able to run terrain tempo by "feel" and be reasonably close to the right effort, but you'll probably be just a bit slow. Because running in the terrain puts greater demands on the skeletal muscles (particularly the stabilizing muscles), the same cardio effort will feel more difficult off road. If in doubt, a heart rate monitor is useful. Tempo should have you between 85 and 90% of max heart rate.

12/21/06 Team awareness

Daniel Gray Wilson of the Harvard Graduate School of Education performed a survey study on the teams at Primal Quest this year. The focus of his research was the impact of self-awareness on both performance and enjoyment. I haven't had time to review it in detail, but it appears to be a well-conducted study with some interesting results. You can check out the abstract or the full study.

12/23/06 Listen, skeptically

I've written here before that you should listen to your body when training. As much as you may believe that you have the world's greatest training plan set out, if your body can't do it, you need to adjust. That said, it's important not to give in too easily.

Today, I had a long run planned on the Lewis and Clark trails. They are really nice trails that have been featured in the Runner's World Where to Run column (the article was several years ago and seems to have expired from their website). The first mile is really easy - flat, smooth, almost like running on a road (it gets a lot tougher after that). I ran the first mile in 9:40 and felt terrible. Running another 21 miles on much tougher singletrack didn't look like much fun. I began to think about bailing on the workout and trying again in a few days.

Fortunately, I didn't decide that right away. Long runs are the most difficult part of planning a training schedule. Moving one often requires juggling several other workouts as well. So, I decided to keep running and see if I would feel any better.

Mile two (which contains a pretty good climb) took 11 minutes, but the gentle mile 3 went by in 8:30. Mile four (the toughest on the Lewis loop) took under 10 and I started to feel like I might be finding my stride. The relatively flat fifth mile gave me the respite I needed to get into a rhythm and I was not in trouble from that point on. I ended up finishing two laps of Lewis and one of Clark (about 22 miles and a whole bunch of climb) in just under 3 and a half hours, exactly what I had planned.

It's important to listen to what your body is telling you, but it's also important to know that not all the signals are reliable. In particular, feelings of general tiredness often recede after 30-45 minutes of moderate exercise. If I had not felt any improvement in that time, I certainly would have recognized that I needed rest and cut the workout short. By being patient, I got in the workout I wanted and won't have to rearrange things over the next week.

12/26/06 Slow focus

I've been struggling over that past year with navigating cleanly when moving slowly. Some of this is a result of the correlation between slow pace and the use of USGS maps in long races, but even adjusting for map quality and fatigue, there's no question that I navigate better when moving quickly.

To fight this, I've been doing some control picking at an easy pace. I still use orienteering maps because there's less temptation to use rough compass when you have rich feature detail. On an orienteering map, I can stay in constant contact with the map - provided I keep my head in the game.

And that's the rub. It's hard to stay focused when not moving fast. It seems so easy that your mind starts to wander. It doesn't take too much of that to lose contact with the map. Of course, on an O-map, relocating at low speed is relatively easy so it's important to recognize when you've lost contact and recovered rather than staying in contact the whole time.

Today I did a control picking exercise at West Tyson at an easy pace. It was still faster than my trekking pace in a 24-hour race, but slower than my usual training pace. I didn't lose contact once, so I started thinking what I had done differently than days when I've struggled with focus.

First and foremost, I think it's practice paying off. The improvement has been incremental; today was simply the latest data point in an upward trend. The practice has been primarily the control picking noted above, but I've also done a few sessions featuring longer legs where I run a bit looser, but still try to stay in rough contact at all times.

Another difference with today's session was the complete absence of thick vegetation. West Tyson is pretty open year round and particularly fast this time of year. The map does have a couple areas of light green, but they would probably be white on most maps. Despite improving my speed through light green this year, I still have a tendency to run too loose in low visibility, assuming I'll be able to relocate on the other side. This is almost always true, but when it isn't, it leads to big problems, especially at night.

I think the next logical step in improving this area is to work slow navigation in low visibility areas. I'll have to think about the best way to do that since most of our mapped areas are very open. I may have to use some USGS maps.

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