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Third Thursday Series
Carol's Fat Ass

Curse of the Odd Trot

December 3-4, 2005

I get an unusual greeting from competitors at the Possum Trot each year. Rather than the usual "How's it going?" I hear "Is this a good year?" No, I don't own a vineyard. I own a strange little string of results. Possum Trots 1, 3, 5, 7 were bad; while 2, 4, 6, 8 were good. You wouldn't necessarily know this from looking at the results, but the pattern is real. PT9 was shaping up to continue the sequence when I sprained my ankle at US Long Course Orienteering Champs just three weeks before the event.

For the Kansas Champs event on Saturday, I tape the ankle and decide to run easy. If it feels good, I'll run the Trot hard. Otherwise, I'll walk it and defend my 2nd place in the prestigious Lifetime Trot Rankings (behind Michael Eglinski). The event is a lot of fun, particularly the (gasp!) Micro-O section.

Kansas champs map, Micro-O section.

For those not familiar with the furor generated over Micro-O, it is a form where there are multiple control flags in the vicinity of each control. Precise reading of the map and control description is needed to determine which control to punch. Choosing the wrong one results in a penalty of time or distance. I still don't think Micro-O has any place at World Championships, but it is fun to do.

The event goes without incident and I don't detect any new swelling in the ankle, so I decide I'll tape it again and at least start the Trot with the intention of being competitive. This year's edition is held at the Bluffwoods Conservation Area, north of Kansas City. The terrain is brutal with steep slopes and thick woods. Despite having more distance and climb (14.8K, 850m) than past years, the number of skips has been reduced from two to one. Course setter Mike Shiffman is apparently determined to push the winning time over 2 hours. Nobody doubts he will be successful.

Map north, south.

At the 9 AM start, we're greeted with temperatures in the low teens and a light dusting of snow. The first leg is long and primarily on road and trail so there's plenty of opportunity to look over the course. Mark Everett and Mikell Platt both set a stern pace, but the rest of the field is content to jog down the road and assess skips. Two jump out immediately: #4 and #22. Other candidates are #13, #15, and #18. Although #4 looks best, I rule it out because I hate to skip so early.

Most of the field turns up the ridge to #1 early and that was probably the fast route. Michael Eglinski and I turn up late and get to the top just in time to see Mark and Mikell heading down the trail to #2 with Tom Carr in hot pursuit. As we get to the control circle, David Frei, JP Ingebrigtsen, and Pete Curtis are coming out. The gap stays the same through #2, but then David's group overshoots the trail junction on the way to #3 and we form a pack of five.

Nobody wants to leave the safety of this group this early, so we all head down to #4. The woods are trashy and I'm trying to step carefully so I don't turn the ankle again. As a result, I slip to the back of the group. On the way to 5, I'm in danger of losing the group altogether, but manage to barely stay in contact. The woods are a little more open heading to #6 and by the time we crest the ridge heading to #7, I'm back in the group.

About this time we also catch Tom along with early skippers Colby Rikard and Jerritt Johnston. This brings the group to 8 which is the largest pack I can remember this far into a Trot. We stay together through #8 at which point David starts to take charge.

Tom and I are the first to react and by #9 we have a little separation. We descend down the spur, which turns out to be a bit slower. JP, Pete, and Jerritt take the quicker route along the stream to the trail and we're back together at the water stop. Michael and Colby aren't with us anymore. I know Michael doesn't like running in packs, so I wonder if he's dropped off intentionally hoping we'll boom.

We do miss #10, going to the reentrant to the right, but the error doesn't amount to much. Heading to #11, I consider taking the trail from the field around the top of the ridge, but decide to stay with David who is looking more and more like the strong one of the group. He's still leading on the way to #12 when we pass the spur I was going to take down to the trail. I figure the next one is just as good, so I stay with him. When he turns right descends through the rocks, I realize he's making a parallel error and I cut back to the trail. Jerritt and Tom follow David.

Had I taken my own route, I might have gained a couple minutes off that mistake. As it is, they recover by heading out to the road to the west, which isn't that much worse than my dogleg. I meet Pete in the field beneath the control and David and Tom show up just as we're reaching the control. Jerritt and JP have dropped off the pace.

David and I both sense that the group is ready to snap for good. We blast along the top of the ridge to #13 (which adds climb and distance, but is fast running) and open a gap approaching the control. We split heading to #14, but come back together scaling the absurdly steep slope below the control. It's a tough scramble that takes a couple minutes so we can see our pursuers. Tom and Pete aren't giving up yet and JP has managed to get back into the mix as well. David and I push again to #15 and get enough daylight that I assume that the others have decided to skip this one. We take the red line to #16, backing off a bit on the climb up to the trail. We apparently relaxed too soon as Tom rejoins us on the descent to the control.

Everybody seems ready for a truce and the three of us take a more civilized pace to #17. Heading down the spur towards the control, I can see the reentrant that the control should be in. It looks like it's an old jeep track running parallel to the stream that has eroded about a meter below the land around it. When we get there, we can see pretty well in both directions and there's no control. We shrug and head up the hillside a bit. After about a minute of poking around we decide we're too high and go back to the original feature. Sure enough, the flag is further down on a section where the gully gets a bit deeper. The control placement was right, it was just a classic case of a group being careless with everybody figuring somebody else was paying attention to the map.

I punch first and as I hand the punch to Tom, I look back for David. I know he was right behind us when we spotted the control, so it's strange that he's not here. As we head through the water stop, Tom wonders aloud what he's up to. Earlier, we had agreed that #22 was the control to skip, but I'm thinking he decided to skip #18 instead to get away from Tom and I (it's just the sort of treachery I've come to expect from him). Checking the map, I see that I had underestimated #18 and it's actually a decent skip. I push up the hill, determined not to get burned by a skip that I hadn't even considered.

Approaching #18, I see Michael leaving the control. He appears to have a couple minutes on us. I don't know if he's skipped already or if he got by us during our mishap at #12. Either way, I'd rather hook back up with him so I lift the pace. The route to #19 is much less friendly than the map implies. Following the ridge is easy enough, but the woods are certainly nothing I would map as white. Tom seems to get through it a bit better and takes the lead. I pass him briefly when he hesitates at the edge of the circle approaching #20, but he recovers quickly and we head down the road to #21 together. When I cut into the forest, I'm surprised to find the ruin and control just a few meters in from the road. I had expected to go further before getting to it.

As I punch #21, I look up the hill and see Michael approaching from the top. He must have also expected it to be further in and missed it. He runs with us towards #23, but when he doesn't turn up the hillside at the out of bounds area, I realize that he has already skipped and has to get #22. That leaves Tom, David, and me vying for the last podium spot (I correctly assume that Mikell and Mark have built an insurmountable lead). As we approach #23, there's no sign of David - his strategy either worked or it didn't, but his hand has been played. The only thing for me to do is figure out how to get rid of Tom.

On the way up the hill leaving #23, I take a good look at the rest of the course. Most of it is on trail, but there's one remaining section of green woods. It's only a few hundred meters, but it's downhill - a combination that puts me at a decided disadvantage given my ankle. I remember how easily Tom got by me on the way to #19. I figure my only shot is to blast the trail.

We get to the top of the ridge together and as soon as I step on the trail, I nail the pace. Tom's pretty fit, so I expect a ferocious response. When it doesn't come, I back off just a hair so I don't go completely anaerobic and do something really stupid. I push through the green descent to #24 as best I can but, as expected, Tom makes up ground and is right behind me at the control..

I charge up the hill to the trail leading to #25. Although I know I need to keep pushing, I'm terrified that I'll miss the corner of the trail and run an extra hundred meters through the woods as Tom sails by. It's actually a pretty substantial trail and I spot it easily. The rest of the course is all trail, except for a few meters hopping off to get the controls. Thinking this might come down to who can punch quickest at the last control, I take off my right hand glove so I'll be able to handle the punch quicker. I'm trying very hard to focus on what I'm doing and not think of all the boneheaded ways I could lose in the last kilometer.

By #25, I've opened a gap of 30 seconds. The trail to #26 is paved, so I decide it's time to go for the knockout. It's the fastest I've run since turning the ankle and the effort helps calm my nerves which are now getting pretty jumpy. Although the trail bend gives a rock solid attack point for #26, it's an easy control to miss at full speed. I almost overrun it when I pick up the knoll 20 meters to my left. It's not a spike, but it's good enough. I get back to the trail just as Tom is leaving it so the gap is now around a minute.

That should be enough, so I return to my normal pace hoping my oxygen-depleted brain can recover enough to find the bridge to the last control. My thoughts now turn to David. Running in from #27, I can see a small group standing around the fire at the shelter. I don't see David, but it's not until Mary Jones comes over and tells me I'm third that I relax.

My finish time is 2:47 which comes to a fairly dismal 12 minutes per K. Even adjusting for climb and vegetation the run isn't particularly speedy. But, that's not what goat events are about. My strategy and tactics were good, total nav error was less than five minutes, and I had the legs at the finish to match my best Trot placing ever. This one clearly goes in the "Good Year" column so the Curse of the Odd Trot has been broken.

It seems the Trot gods were shooting at me, but hit my two closest rivals instead. David's disappearance at #17 was not deception, but extreme misfortune. A low branch flipped off his glasses approaching the control and he never was able to find them. After stumbling through a few more controls (he's nearsighted so he can read the map but has trouble seeing the terrain) he decided to pack it in. Tom lost a contact lens early in the race and struggled with depth perception. He fell quite a few times (two of the falls I saw looked pretty nasty) and that certainly had to take some of the starch out of his legs at the finish.

There can be no doubt that this was the most physically challenging of the Possum Trots to date. With only 20 finishers, I think it set a record for DNF's. The navigation wasn't particularly tough, but between the green woods and climb, staying focused was a challenge. As usual, Shiffman did a pretty good job of using the terrain.

Alas, the Curse of the Odd Trot is not the only tradition to die this year. During the race, my watch got reset. With no splits from my competitors posted on AttackPoint, I don't have the vital empirical data necessary for Eric's Absurdly Detailed Skip Analysis. Perhaps such data is forthcoming. Until then, I'll merely state that I believe that #4 was objectively the best skip, but that it came too early in the race to be taken by the top contenders. I would rate the top late-race skips (from best to worst) as 22, 15, 18, 13. But of course this is mere speculation; unsubstantiated gossip that shouldn't be read, repeated, or even contemplated by anyone. Ever.

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