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2/1/08 Snow

It took until February, but we finally got a good old fashioned snow storm. Total accumulation is around 8 inches. That's enough to wreak havoc on a city this far south. I took the bus and train into work, so it wasn't a big deal for me. People who drove in had a pretty long commute. A lot of people stayed home altogether.

I don't mind snow (although, I could go the rest of my life without it and not feel deprived). Running in snowy woods can be a lot of fun if it's not too deep. It definitely slows you down, though, so I've postponed the Test Loop Retirement yet again. Probably shoot for the first weekend in March, now.

2/2/02 Data point

Just a single outing, and not a particularly technical one at that, but my first attempt at running hard while consciously biasing all decisions towards navigation was wildly successful at Cuivre River today.

The course I ran had 6 800m legs that were admittedly not very difficult (orange level) separated by some short control-picking segments. I ran the long legs at close to threshold, but tried to keep my focus on the things one does to navigate accurately (primarily, anticipating and checking off features). I felt like I was in very close contact, even though I was running sub 6:00/K.

Of course there's a big difference between running a handrail leg accurately and running one that requires advanced navigation. However, my main goal (aside from getting in some interval work in the terrain) was to test the idea that you can hit the gas and still keep your mental focus on doing the little things that matter to navigate accurately. At least for this session, I was successful at doing that. It will be interesting to see if it holds up at the Cliff Cave meet in two weeks. Loss of contact there can get mighty expensive.

2/3/08 From scratch

Spike wonders what orienteering would be like if the sport was invented today. In particular, would we see a lot more mass start events? I'm pretty sure we would and I think it would be a good thing.

I often compare the development of orienteering in North America to the development of cycling, just 30 years behind. The same could be said of the sports in general (although cycling has more like a 50 year head start in Europe. These comparisons make some sense: both sports are a form of human-powered racing, both rely heavily on a piece of specialized technology (bike; map & compass), and both struggle to balance the need for good terrain (typically rural) with exposure to population (typically urban).

It's on the last point that the sports have diverged. Orienteering, until recently, has biased the competition towards using the best terrain. Cycling, on the other hand, has always tried to get its competitors in front of a crowd, and if that means holding a criterium around a city block, so be it. The results speak for themselves. While World Cup orienteering events do draw fans in the thousands, they are several orders of magnitude off of the 1-million plus hoards that line the roads for Tour de France stages. The interesting part of this is that, while exposure in the urban areas helps cultivate the interest, the city dwellers are more than happy to travel to the "true" challenges of the rural areas such as mountains and cobblestones. It is at these decisive points that the largest (and wildest) crowds are found.

Orienteering has caught onto this and is now pushing urban sprint events. I think this will help the popularity of the sport, but to really make the sport fan-friendly, these will have to be changed to mass start.

I can hear the purists howling already. Mass start sprint? How does navigation fit into that? Quite nicely, actually. It's not the super technical navigation of middle distance events on glaciated terrain, but I've put on a few mass start sprints and the best navigators beat the best runners every time. Reading a map and making good route choices while running at 3:30/K in a pack is not a trivial skill; only the best in the world can do it.

The underlying fear that I perceive is that these types of events will come at the expense of the more traditional navigating solo through the woods. I don't think so, and tomorrow I'll explain why.

2/4/08 Race of Truth

Quick, name the world's most prestigious bike race. Easy one, everybody knows it's the Tour de France. Now, name the most prestigious single-day bike race. Ah, a bit more debate on that. The most common answer among casual fans would likely be Paris-Roubaix. Also getting a lot of votes would be the Tour's mountain top finish at L'Alpe d'Huez. However, while either of those wins are sure tickets to stardom, there is no 1-day performance that garners the respect of serious fans (and the other pros) like winning the final Time Trial stage of the Tour.

While the tactics of road racing are fascinating, they also blur the outcome. A lesser rider is often left dangling off the front under the assumption that they will be brought back. Usually they are, but sometimes they aren't. While few dispute the merit of the win, such a victory is not seen as proof of superior ability. Rather it's seen for what it is: a gamble that paid off. But, there's no faking a time trial win. And, to win one against the best riders in the world after three weeks of racing means you've got something pretty special going on.

So, despite the fact that time trials may lack the excitement of head to head racing, they remain a big part of the sport and fans jam the sides of the roads to watch the elite take on the "Race of Truth."

I rather expect that if the IOF starts putting individual mass start races (relays are already mass start) in World Cup and WOC meets, the Middle Distance individual event will quickly become orienteering's own Race of Truth. The relatively short distance mitigates the problems of following (if you get caught in a middle event, you're probably not in contention for a medal) and the bias towards short, technical legs mean that you can't sneak out a win by simply outrunning folks. The fact that one man (Tero) has completely dominated this distance for the past few years is proof that superiority has no trouble asserting itself in this discipline.

This is why I don't fear the rise of mass start events. No matter how appealing (and I, personally, like them a lot), they will never produce a definitive champion the way a technical Middle course does. Adding mass start races to elite events won't cheapen the individual events; it will elevate them. Meanwhile, the sport will finally have the fan-friendly showcase that it has been searching for.

2/5/08 That didn't last long

With a high in the mid-70's yesterday and rain today, the snow is long gone. That's pretty typical for around here. We seldom hold onto it for more than a week.

2/6/08 Of race and races

No real racing content today. I have no desire to join the growing horde of political bloggers and, as a right-leaning moderate, I don't really care that much who the Democrats nominate for President. However, what happened yesterday deserves comment. I think that we get so caught up in the details of the moment: the personalities, the delegate count, the speeches, that we miss the profound historic significance of yesterday's primary. As William Saletan so elequontly put it in Slate:

This is not a diversity-training exercise. It's a nationwide primary to choose the next president of the United States. The American color barrier, at its highest level, is collapsing.

Obama may not win. Of course, if he doesn't, we'll finally get to see a woman challenge for the world's most powerful post which is just as remarkable. Regardless of who the Dems put up, they'll certainly get a tough fight from the Republicans. Race and gender may prove to be insurmountable obstacles this go round. But, while the final outcome is of immediate primacy, what is truly significant is the fact that there are three people with a legitimate shot at being the next President of the United States. Only one of them is a white guy. That was unthinkable when this country was founded and even 200 years later it was fantasy. This sea change in attitude has happened during my adult life.

There are a lot of bigots in this country. Racism and sexism will not go away any time soon. But what happened yesterday is huge. And, even though I'll be voting for McCain, his opponent will make me proud to be an American.

2/8/08 WTF?

Today, I'm not so proud to be an American. I know it's just one nutball and maybe they do have these problems in other countries and we just don't hear about it. But, seriously, what kind of culture produces actions like this? Six people dead because a clearly unstable guy with a history of confronting the government gets his hands on a gun. No, I'm not advocating gun control. I'm advocating sanity. Who gave that idiot a gun? They should be locked up forever.

Why does this make it into this blog? Because the Mayor of Kirkwood is named Mike Swoboda. That name may look familiar to those who attend SLOC events. Let me clear up the confusion. Michael Swoboda, a regular at our meets, is not the Mayor of Kirkwood. This doesn't make the event any less tragic, but perhaps a little less personal.

2/13/08 Not really a taper

One could take a look at my training log of late and come to the conclusion that I'm resting up for my first A meet of the year in two weeks. Well, no, I don't taper for meets after just a month of base training. No, I'm working two jobs right now and simply don't have much time for training.

Still, I am looking forward to it. The terrain in Arizona looks like a lot of fun. As long as I go there with that attitude, I might actually run OK. If I put a bunch of pressure on myself, I'm sure I'll just mess it up.

2/14/08 Deep

What did I do for a workout today? Well, on the surface, it was an 80-minute road run. It was more than just a workout, though, because I was also running an errand. I had to go to Straub's to get two of The Best Brownies in St. Louis. This was motivated, of course, by the fact that today is Valentines Day and nothing says "I love you" like chocolate.

But, that was just the tip of the iceberg. I was also memorizing a poem that I was going to recite for Kate this evening. Kate is pretty easy to impress in the romance department (good thing, as I'm an engineer), but this actually was a fairly deep effort by Wallace Stevens and I found that by reading and repeating it while running, it became something of a meditation andI was able to get a lot more meaning out of it.

So, was I exercising, shopping, appreciating art, practicing map reading on the run, or expressing my love? All of the above, I guess. I don't usually function on that many levels at once.

You'll have to go to Straub's and sample the brownies for yourself, but here's the poem:

FINAL SOLILOQUY OF THE INTERIOR PARAMOUR

Light the first light of evening, as in a room
In which we rest and, for small reason, think
The world imagined is the ultimate good.

This is, therefore, the intensest rendezvous.
It is in that thought that we collect ourselves,
Out of all the indifferences, into one thing:

Within a single thing, a single shawl
Wrapped tightly round us, since we are poor, a warmth,
A light, a power, the miraculous influence.

Here, now, we forget each other and ourselves.
We feel the obscurity of an order, a whole,
A knowledge, that which arranged the rendezvous.

Within its vital boundary, in the mind.
We say God and the imagination are one . . .
How high that highest candle lights the dark.

Out of this same light, out of the central mind,
We make a dwelling in the evening air,
In which being there together is enough.

2/16/08 Cliff Cave

SLOC held a meet at Cliff Cave today. This is the area that I mapped in 2004 for US Intercollegiate Championships. I've always run pretty well here and, until today, had a perfect record (6 wins on the old map, 4 wins since remapping). Today, David Frei kicked my ass. I didn't think I was doing particularly poorly (although I was certainly aware of the fact that I wasn't moving as well through the thick stuff as usual). I figured he might have me, but I sure didn't expect the gap to be 4 minutes (he finished in 37:52, I was 41:52). I'm glad David's running well again since it's nice to have a push at local meets. Meanwhile, I'd better get some sleep between now and going out to Arizona next weekend because my game is clearly off more than I realized.

2/17/08 Now what?

One of the things that bother me about getting older is that even little injuries take a lot longer to heal. What bothers me more is the realization that some injuries will never heal. I'm hoping that's not the case with whatever is currently wrong with my hamstring.

This one has been nagging me since Pere Marquette. The strange thing is that both hamstrings are sore. It's pretty unusual to get the same injury on both sides at once so I assumed it was just sore muscles. Two months later, they're still sore, so it's obviously a little more serious than that. I haven't really pushed myself since then as this is the "down" part of my season. However, today they were really sore following a fairly mild effort in yesterday's race. That doesn't bode well for a 2-day event on fast terrain. If I don't see some real improvement in the next couple days, I'm going to have to cancel the trip to Arizona.

Viewing it on the positive, if you had asked me before the event if I would have traded a career-ending injury for breaking the hour at Pere Marquette, I would have said yes. So, I suppose I should be happy that I'm just coming away with a chronic nag.

2/18/08 Auspicious start

Well, this year isn't off to a very good start. After two fairly lame efforts in local O-meets, I've come up actually lame. I was going to wait until after my session with the masotherapist tomorrow to decide for sure, but I can tell from how I feel today that there's no way I'm competing this weekend. I'm sure I could patch myself up enough to run the first day, but I don't see how I could put anything together for day 2. Next event that matters is the Flying Pig first week of April. That should be enough time to heal up - if I can figure out what's actually wrong. The fact that I don't know that right now is troubling.

2/23/01 Sitting out

I've recovered significantly this week, but decided it was best if I didn't make the trip to Arizona. I'm a little bummed to miss a meet on such great terrain and the fact that it's cold and drizzly here in St. Louis hasn't been much of a comfort.

Apparently, Spike got himself sick but went to the meet anyway. He contented himself with walking the Brown course. I did this back in 1999 when I broke my ribs just prior to US Champs near Lake Tahoe. Kate and I had already planned it as a vacation and bought non-refundable hotel rooms, so we went anyway. It turned out to be a great time, and I would agree with Mike's assessment that, "Walking the course was fun...but not as fun as running a course."

In a somewhat humorous side note, I ended up getting as US Championship medal for winning the M-Brown class (the class for people who enter on Brown, but should be running a longer course). I don't know why they gave me that, since M-Brown isn't a championship class; I never regarded it as a legitimate win.

2/24/08 Return of the Rex

After being sidelined for a bit over four months, I've got my car back. I gave up on finding a used engine for it and ended up just buying a new short block, getting the heads machined, and valve train rebuilt. It ended up costing about the same, and now I at least know that none of the parts were abused in ways that might necessitate a similar repair next year.

While it's nice to have a car again, I can't say that it's been a big deal to be without it. I don't need it for commuting to my current position and I don't do much traveling in the winter. However, now that March Mapness is almost upon us, I'll be needing the car to get out on maps. There's not enough daylight in the evenings yet to ride to the woods and get in any kind of quality workout.

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