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4/2/07 Beat

Well, the trip was great and the meet went well. I have lots to write about, but I've had very little sleep in the last two days (we drove straight back from Philly after the meet yesterday so I could be at work this morning). So, I think I'll wait until tomorrow to write anything substantive.

4/3/07 High point of the trip

Well, let's start with the good stuff. Actually there was a lot to choose from. Even the long drive back home turned out to be fairly pleasant and featured one happy surprise (more on that in a later entry). However, there's no question about the high point for the week: the Day 2 Finish.

All three runs were good for me, so as I approached the GO control for the last course, I was already in a happy mood. There was a pretty good sized crowd at the finish and, since this meet was Middle and High School National Championships, there were a lot of kids cheering for their classmates. There was also somebody playing bagpipes which was both bizarre and cool at the same time. I had heard the commotion from quite a ways off. Sprinting to the line amidst lots of noise is always fun (unless your legs are shot, but even then the crowd helps).

I had a bit left in the tank, so I charged up the hill to the finish (posting the 5th fastest run-in). Just before the line an unmistakable voice cut through the cheers. It was Yaya yelling, "Go, Daddy, Go!" As soon as I punched the finish control she ran under the barriers to come give me a hug. That got the obligatory, "aw" from the crowd.

Normally, I'm on my own at these meets. Of course, I count many of the competitors among my friends, but Kate and Yaya usually stay home. This was the best 2-day performance I've turned in at an A-meet. It was really nice to have Kate and Yaya there for the end of it.

4/4/07 Wine tasting of the trip

As is our custom when we visit upstate New York, we hit some wineries on our trip. Usually we visit the wineries closest to Ithaca. This trip, we decided to go a bit further and check out one of the more renowned Finger Lakes wineries: Dr. Konstantin Frank. To say it was worth the trip would be a colossal understatement.

It was certainly the best tasting we've experienced (including some pricey ones in California). Our pourer was very knowledgeable and presented similar wines side by side so we could better appreciate the differences between the first run wines and their second label (Salmon Run, which is also darn tasty).

Of course, it helps to be visiting during the off season. We were the only people there for most of our tasting. Still, we've been to many wineries where we were the only people there. We've tasted wine as good and received service as good, but it's pretty rare to find the two together. Most of the New York wineries are charging for tasting now, but this one was free. We returned the favor by buying a case.

4/5/07 Technique revelation of the trip

Switch to damage control immediately. I already knew this, but I was a bit surprised at how effective it was. The clip to the right shows my worst leg of the weekend. Leaving the control there were a bunch of thorns on the red line. I went right to avoid them. When I got to the dirt road, I saw the stream right in front of me and forgot that I was off the line. I mistook it for the stream along the line and started up the spur, thinking I was heading straight for the control.

I was a bit surprised at how light the thorns were given that the hillside was mapped as double slash. As I got near the top, I noticed that my direction was off. It didn't take long to figure out what had gone wrong. Less obvious was what to do about it. I decided to bail to the fields so I wouldn't compound a nav error with getting hung up in nasty vegetation. Also, it saved all the climb that I had just done.

At the time, I figured I had given away something like 3 minutes. My split was actually only 1:45 off the fastest for the leg. By immediately committing to a recovery route and running it well, I kept the damage to not much over a minute (even run perfectly, I would not likely have posted the fastest time). Certainly one of the better saves of my career.

4/6/07 Culinary surprise of the trip

OK, this was NOT the best place we ate all trip (that honor goes to the Main Street Cafe in Spencer, NY). But it was a pleasant surprise.

Driving back home from the meet, we got to Wheeling, WV about dinner time. We were just looking for something simple that wasn't typical fast food. We saw a sign for Hoss's Family Steak and Sea and figured we'd give it a try. Stepping inside, I initially thought we might be in for a Ponderosa experience. I'm not slamming Ponderosa - if you want large quantities of mediocre food, it's the place to go. But, that's not what we generally look for. However, despite the familiar order up front, grab your salad from the buffet, and wait for the entre all for about $10, the quality was much more in line with what you'd expect from a proper sit-down joint.

As of now, they're all located in or near Pennsylvania. If you're traveling that way, and want some good food for cheap, you might want to give them a try.

4/7/07 Dreadful session of the trip

I did a fair bit of ski orienteering in upstate New York when I was in college. I knew that ski-O was a variant of the more popular foot version, but I didn't actually try a regular foot orienteering event until 15 years later in St. Louis. I'm glad I didn't. I think if I had taken up the sport in New York, I would have quit and never returned.

I don't know what it is about upstate New York's woods that throw me. Sure, the vegetation is a bit thicker than here, but I don't mind Chicago which is thicker still. It might be the feature size. The features there tend to be either really big (like a 1000' ridge) or really subtle (intermittent watercourse on a wet hillside). I'm used to having a higher density of medium sized features to stay in contact with. At any rate, every time I go out training around my parents' house, I mess up. My meet results from the area are only slightly better - I can think of one decent run out of the six I've done.

Anyway, I decided to give it another go and went out training at Hammond Hill. I hit a few controls well, but I also messed a bunch of them up. On one, I got to where I thought the feature should be, but I had such a hard time reconciling the map with what I was seeing that I took a safety bearing out to the road! I haven't had to do that in a while. Even more frustrating was the fact that from where I hit the road, it was clear that I was actually pretty much where I was supposed to be when I bailed. So, why couldn't I make sense of the map?

I don't know what the problem is. I'd say the maps are bad, but I know that's not true. The mapper for Hammond Hill is Mark Dominie, one of the more respected mappers in the country and certainly one with stronger credentials than mine. There's just something about that terrain that I have trouble reading. I'm hoping I get a chance to go back there for a week and really work on it. There are several good meets a year held in upstate New York and I'd like to attend some of them. It would be nice to be able to read the map when I got there.

4/9/07 Turnaround of the trip

I've probably beat this trip to death in terms of material, but I'll leave on a high note. I wrote a few days ago that my biggest boom of the A-meet came at control #9 on day 1. At the time, I thought I had spoiled an otherwise good run. Subsequent analysis of splits shows a much different story.

Going into leg 9, I was actually having a pretty mediocre run. I was in 16th place. The boom at 8 wasn't nearly as bad as I thought and it only dropped me one more place. What happened next is the real surprise.

From #9 to the finish, I had the 7th fastest time; losing less than a minute to all be the top three. The resulting finish was one of my better A-meet performances. I have to wonder if the mistake didn't snap me out of some sloppiness that I wasn't aware of at the time. Or maybe I just started running faster. At any rate, the splits came as a shock to me. The lesson is to keep going even when you think you've messed up. It's very difficult (not to mention a waste of concentration) to accurately assess a performance while in progress.

4/10/07 60"

I haven't been on the bike much this year. Sunday, I went for what would normally be a late February ride: a bit over two hours in a 60-inch gear.

I'm showing my age by referring to the gear in inches. Just about everybody talks about gears in terms of ratios now. Old habits die hard but that's not the only reason I cling to the antiquated terminology. I just find a single scalar value easier to understand than a ratio. I think this is true for most people.

Expressing the gear in inches is a carry over from the bikes with the big front wheel and pedals directly turning the axle. A bike with a 40" front wheel would be much easier to pedal than one with a 50" front wheel (not to mention, easier to get on and ride). However, the bigger wheel would allow you to go faster at the same cadence. When bikes switched to chain drive, the gear ratio was expressed as the size of wheel that would be needed to produce the same cadence on the old style bike. The formula is simple enough: gear = wheel diameter x (chain ring teeth / freewheel teeth). Not the sort of thing one does in one's head, but if you get used to talking about gears in inches, you learn them pretty quickly.

Any serious cyclist knows that a 39x14 is a "bigger" (as in you go further for each pedal revolution) gear than a 53x21. But, bigger by how much? If you express the gears in inches, it's obvious: the 39x14 is 75", the 52x21 is 68", so it's about 10%. Of course, to do this, you need to know the measurements of the ratios. Perhaps the advent of 9 and 10- speed freewheels was the reason people switched terms. There's a lot more ratios on a racing bike now than there were 30 years ago when men were men and had only 5 plates on the back to choose from.

I used to do all my early season riding in a 60" gear. That corresponded to 42x19. With the standard inner chain ring now 39, I use a 17 on the back, which is slightly more (62"). This ratio is remarkably versatile. You can comfortably maintain an easy pace on a level road, climb most hills, and spike your pulse spinning it out on the descents. The varying cadences train your muscles to be efficient at different speeds of contraction. The uphills build strength, the downhills work technique, and the level stuff is easy base miles. All this with virtually no risk of messing up your knees in the cooler spring temps. If you really want the full benefit, ride a fixed gear so you can't goof off.

4/12/07 Day/Night

This weekend I'll be returning to the last race to really kick my ass. Two years ago, the KC Day/Night event left me about as sick as I've ever been. Thanks to the efforts of David, it was still a good finish, but I was just a passenger in the night portion.

The format of the event is a typical 2-hour score event during the day followed by a longer night event. The events are scored separately, so if you want to do well during the day, you have to run it like it's the only race you're doing. That makes recovering for the night event a challenge.

Obviously, I didn't do this very well in 2005. I was fine for the first three hours at night, but things went very badly after that. My legs were OK, but I couldn't push at all without puking. As the venue was Bluffwoods (one of the hilliest areas in Missouri), there wasn't any getting around pushing. Therefore, I did a lot of puking. I'd like to avoid that this time around.

The terrain this year is Knob Noster, which is both flatter and smaller. I'm a little skeptical that they can set a full 8-hour night course on that area, so the night portion might be shorter. Then again, I could be wrong. I'll go there prepared to run for the full time.

I think my big mistake last time was eating too much sugar between the events and during the early stages of the second event. I had some soda and cookies in the afternoon and was pounding Hammer Gel during the first part of the night. I think my digestive system just got scrambled. I've found that I don't take well to sugar in longer events. It's helpful in small doses, but I have to balance it with other food.

I'll also try to get some rest between the events. I should have at least 8 hours between the events. Getting a few hours of sleep is probably a better use of the time than running around looking for stuff to eat. You only burn around 4000 calories in an 8-hour night event. A single meal to replace the calories burned during the first event should be plenty.

4/13/07 Nasty

It's nasty out! Forty degrees with rain mixed with snow. Word is that this will all blow over before we're out on course tomorrow, but we may have to deal with a few inches of snow on the ground (and it will still be wet and cold). My history has been that I do well in bad conditions provided I remember to eat enough. You burn more calories in this stuff. At any rate, Knob Noster is a great place to race in any conditions.

The folks doing Planet Adventure might get it even worse. The storm should be in full force in southern Indiana tomorrow. I'll be interested to hear the stories that come back from that one.

4/15/07 Double

The Day/Night race at Knob Noster went about as well as possible. 2 races, 2 wins. I should footnote that with the fact that a lot of good night racers were at Planet Adventure. Still, must be present to win.

It was interesting how different the two races were. Both were score events and both used the same map (although the day event only used the eastern half). That's about where the similarities ended. The day even was almost all in really fast woods. I averaged 7:25/K. The night event had us going though a lot more thick stuff. That, the extra distance, and the normal slow down for night nav meant I averaged around 17:00/K.

The day event felt like orienteering. The night event felt like an adventure race. I've got more to say on that, but I'm really tired, so it will have to wait.

4/16/07 AR Mode

I wrote yesterday that the night event "felt" more like an adventure race than an orienteering meet. Much of this was simply because it was a long event held at night. However, there were some more subtle differences that significantly altered my strategy.

I ran the first few controls pretty much the way I run orienteering: reasonably aggressive routes staying in constant contact with the map. My pace was certainly slower than what I'd use for a 1-hour day event, but I was moving quickly. After crossing to the west side of the map, I found that strategy lacking for several reasons.

The vegetation was a lot thicker on the west side. Many areas mapped as open woods were actually pretty slow. I knew I wouldn't be able to blast through that stuff for six hours. The footing was also causing me problems. I had worn spikes for the day event, but switched to trail shoes for the night event (3 hours is about all my feet can take in spikes). The ground was really soft from all the recent rain and snow. Trying to run fast without spikes had me slipping quite a bit. So, I resigned myself to a slower pace. More importantly, though, was the fact that thick vegetation at night makes it really hard to stay in contact with the map. This is particularly true when the vegetation mapping is vague or incorrect (as is typically the case on adventure race maps).

The clip at right shows a leg that I would have run much differently in an O-meet (the leg is being run from 23 to 61). In an orienteering meet, I would have run pretty much straight, aiming off slightly to the right. When getting to the far side of the ridge, I'd look for the reentrant on the left of the big spur and head down. That would have been begging for disaster in this meet. The light green vegetation was loaded with clumps of thick stuff and thorns, so holding an accurate bearing for 300m wasn't realistic. Relocating at night is always dicey, so it would be nice hit the far side pretty close to the intended target.

By staying along the near side of the ridge, I was able to significantly reduce the distance traveled on bearing (and move a little quicker, too, although there was still plenty of vegetation to deal with). The entry point into the green was a very distinct spot, so I could pretty comfortably shoot a bearing from there knowing that if I stayed close, I should at least be able to see the right reentrant from where I emerged. Not all the legs worked out as well as this one, but the strategy of taking safe routes off big features kept me from making any really costly mistakes through the night.

Looking at this same leg on the USGS quad gives a better idea of how much useful information was available. Confronted with this leg in an adventure race at night, I think most teams would take the ultra-safe route: cross immediately to the other side and then contour along until they spotted the control. That's not a terrible plan, but it means more distance and a lot of bouncing in and out of reentrants. By using the top of the big reentrant on the near side as an attack point, the leg is shortened without giving up the safety of using obvious features.

4/18/07 Goose ambush!

I thought it was just an isolated instance, but it seems that there's a goose in Bridgeton that has it out for me. On Monday, I was riding along when I heard some honking behind me. I looked over my should just in time so see a goose coming after me. Some evasive maneuvers were required to avoid getting pecked. Today, I was riding on the same road and, sure enough, here comes that same goose again. This time, he was coming at me from the side so I spotted him in advance and avoided him easily.

I've never been caught by a goose, but my dad has and he says it's not much fun.

4/20/07 KC Day/Night

Race report is here.

4/22/07 Curse of the Goat

Today I won Chicago's Goat event, The Curse of the Goat. While not an A-meet, I regard it as one of my bigger orienteering wins. It turned out to be a really exciting event, with the result coming down to the last couple controls. It's nice when a mass start race works out like that. I'll post maps and details soon.

4/23/07 S-F Sprint 1

While I was up in Chicago at the goat, SLOC was hosting an event at S-F. I set two sprint courses for the event. There was also a Canoe course. As part of setting the courses, I test ran a bunch of the legs to determine if the fastest routes were properly indicated on the map. Here's my analysis of the first course (full map). Note: if you didn't do the sprints and want to "grade" yourself, click on the map link and take your best stab at the route decisions. Keep track of how long you look at the map because making the decisions quickly a big part of sprinting.

On the map clips for each leg, the solid line shows the optimal route. The dashed lines show sub-optimal routes with the time loss for taking that route. Note that these are time losses that I experienced. As course setter, I had a two advantages: I didn't have to read clues, feature details, etc. because I already knew where the control was and I already had the route I was going to run figured out. That means that the time differences should pretty accurately reflect the true difference in the routes when run hard without error. In real competition, you see a lot of other factors coming into play.

1-2: There are two decisions on this leg. The first is how to get to the trail across the dam. Straight isn't terrible, but there are two steep banks, a marsh, and a fence, so around routes definitely need to be considered. The longest route (taking the road/track all the way) is fast running, but cutting the corners saves a few seconds and beats the redline by about 20 seconds. The second decision is how to attack the control. Straight is out because of the uncrossable cliffs. Going all the way around on the left avoids slow spots. Around on the right is shortest, but runs into some slow vegetation. Going between the cliffs is 10-15 seconds faster than either around route.

3-4: The fast route for this one depends on how well you can run on rocks. If you're pretty fast on uneven terrain, straight is the way to go. If not, taking the vehicle track to the road and then coming down the powerline may be better (it was only 10 seconds slower for me). Going all the way out to the road south of the control adds too much distance and is an additional 10 seconds slower. In all cases, you want to exit the control to the NE. Going out to the west to get the trail is 10 seconds slower.

4-5: The choices are obvious on this one: straight or road. The road is safer, but you'll have to go through thicker vegetation approaching the control. Straight was about 15 seconds faster for me. On the other hand, if you miss the control even slightly, you'll give some of that back, so the road isn't a bad choice unless you are really accurate. The other advantage of taking the road is that it affords a good chance to look over the rest of the course (if you were smart enough to do that, give yourself full credit for the route).

6-7: The main choice here is whether to go up the hill early or stay low. Because the first rock face comes all the way down to the stream, staying low entails two extra stream crossings. That, combined with the fact that the vegetation is more open on the slopes makes the high route about 10 seconds faster.

9-10: Pretty much a toss up, but because the little buildings push you just slightly left, you're better off staying left around the fenced pond. The difference is only about 5 seconds, so the real important thing is that you don't waste any time thinking about it.

To get an idea of how you did, add up the time losses for each sub-optimal route you selected. Note that we're not talking about navigation errors here, just time lost on routes. Add to that how many seconds you spent stationary figuring things out (this probably adds up to more time than you think). If you did the exercise just now, assume that you could get in about 15 seconds of map reading on the run. Subtract that from the time you spent looking at the map online. Here's a somewhat arbitrary, but reasonable grading scale:

  • 0-10 seconds: World class or really lucky.
  • 10-20 seconds: Excellent; consistent with the top North American runners.
  • 20-45 seconds: Solid performance at the local level.
  • 45-90 seconds: Need to work on quick decision making.
  • Over 90 seconds: Sprints are just not your thing.

Shameless plug: If you fall into the bottom two categories (or even if you don't but still want to get better), the Thursday series is for you. Hope to see you this week at Lafayette.

4/24/07 S-F Sprint 1

While I was up in Chicago at the goat, SLOC was hosting an event at S-F. I set two sprint courses for the event. There was also a Canoe course. As part of setting the courses, I test ran a bunch of the legs to determine if the fastest routes were properly indicated on the map. Here's my analysis of the first course (full map). Note: if you didn't do the sprints and want to "grade" yourself, click on the map link and take your best stab at the route decisions. Keep track of how long you look at the map because making the decisions quickly a big part of sprinting.

Below are the legs that have significant (by sprint standards) route choice and the time losses associated with each option. Note that these are time losses that I experienced. As course setter, I had a two advantages: I didn't have to read clues, feature details, etc. because I already knew where the control was and I already had the route I was going to run figured out. That means that the time differences should pretty accurately reflect the true difference in the routes when run hard without error. In real competition, you see a lot of other factors coming into play.

1-2: There are two decisions on this leg. The first is how to get to the trail across the dam. Straight isn't terrible, but there are two steep banks, a marsh, and a fence, so around routes definitely need to be considered. The longest route (taking the road/track all the way) is fast running, but cutting the corners saves a few seconds and beats the redline by about 20 seconds. The second decision is how to attack the control. Straight is out because of the uncrossable cliffs. Going all the way around on the left avoids slow spots. Around on the right is shortest, but runs into some slow vegetation. Going between the cliffs is 10-15 seconds faster than either around route.

3-4: The fast route for this one depends on how well you can run on rocks. If you're pretty fast on uneven terrain, straight is the way to go. If not, taking the vehicle track to the road and then coming down the powerline may be better (it was only 10 seconds slower for me). Going all the way out to the road south of the control adds too much distance and is an additional 10 seconds slower. In all cases, you want to exit the control to the NE. Going out to the west to get the trail is 10 seconds slower.

4-5: The choices are obvious on this one: straight or road. The road is safer, but you'll have to go through thicker vegetation approaching the control. Straight was about 15 seconds faster for me. On the other hand, if you miss the control even slightly, you'll give some of that back, so the road isn't a bad choice unless you are really accurate. The other advantage of taking the road is that it affords a good chance to look over the rest of the course (if you were smart enough to do that, give yourself full credit for the route).

6-7: The main choice here is whether to go up the hill early or stay low. Because the first rock face comes all the way down to the stream, staying low entails two extra stream crossings. That, combined with the fact that the vegetation is more open on the slopes makes the high route about 10 seconds faster.

9-10: Pretty much a toss up, but because the little buildings push you just slightly left, you're better off staying left around the fenced pond. The difference is only about 5 seconds, so the real important thing is that you don't waste any time thinking about it.

To get an idea of how you did, add up the time losses for each sub-optimal route you selected. Note that we're not talking about navigation errors here, just time lost on routes. Add to that how many seconds you spent stationary figuring things out (this probably adds up to more time than you think). If you did the exercise just now, assume that you could get in about 15 seconds of map reading on the run. Subtract that from the time you spent looking at the map online. Here's a somewhat arbitrary, but reasonable grading scale:

  • 0-10 seconds: World class or really lucky.
  • 10-20 seconds: Excellent; consistent with the top North American runners.
  • 20-45 seconds: Solid performance at the local level.
  • 45-90 seconds: Need to work on quick decision making.
  • Over 90 seconds: Sprints are just not your thing.

Shameless plug: If you fall into the bottom two categories (or even if you don't but still want to get better), the Thursday series is for you. Hope to see you this week at Lafayette.

4/26/07 Lafayette

A cool, drizzly guaranteed another light turnout, but those who came enjoyed the first event on the Lafayette map. David Frei re-established himself at the top of the heap after last month's upset. Next month we'll have a double header at Tower Grove, so I might actually get to run a course.

Results are here.

4/27/07 Tougher than it looks

My decision to map Lafayette park was not met with universal enthusiasm. Most people thought the park was too small and too open to be of any interest. True, compared to some of the other local parks, Lafayette is small and a bit thin on feature detail. Still, I was pretty sure that a decent course could be set.

Orienteering in this type of area is tougher than it looks. The temptation is to just run in the direction of the control because the legs are so short. David Frei tried that on the way to #1 (actually, he was looking ahead at future legs, but in the process lost track of how far he had run - things come up pretty quickly at 1:3000). He ended up losing 15-20 seconds frantically trying to spot the marker. That matters in a sprint.

Bill Langton had a much different problem. When he got to the map exchange, he couldn't make any sense of where he was on the new map. He ended up panicking and running off south instead of west towards the next control. That cost him over a minute and knocked him completely out of contention.

Both these guys are good enough that such mistakes can only be attributed to the strain of an event where your pulse is spiked and every second counts. Sprints require you to get your body fired up for an intense effort while keeping your head clear. That's really hard to do and it only takes a tiny mistake to blow the win. That's one of the reasons that the format has become so popular. If you haven't tried an orienteering sprint, you really should. Usually you end up ribbing yourself about things that should have been easy, but on the time you get one right, it's quite a good feeling.

4/29/07 Complex?

I'm starting to think that the neighborhood Northwest of me might be a good spot for a bike-O. I never really thought of it as being particularly complex, but tonight while running, I got stopped by a driver asking for directions. That happens a lot when I run through the area.

To the north is Creve Coeur Lake Park which has some bike trails. There's a power line cut through the area that also has a trail on it. It would be easy to set legs with interesting route choices. I think I've got my hands full right now, but I might put it on my future projects list.

4/30/07 Easier than it feels

Generally speaking, I'm happy to have the warmer, longer days of spring. One thing I don't like is how hard it feels to run. The past couple days I've really been plodding at the start of runs. I started running with my heart rate monitor to make sure I wasn't just whimping out. I was. My pulse was way below my normal training zone.

I'm not aware of anything you can do to make the transition to warm weather training easier. It just feels like crap for a few weeks while your body adjusts. At least I'm getting to the point now where I can run fine after about 20 minutes. By June, I'll have no problem running right from the start. Of course, by then we'll be getting our first really hot weather, and that's a whole 'nother thing.

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