Thursday, October 29, 2009

The thinking athlete

I was watching the video of Jess' race last weekend, and it struck me how differently the top 10 or so girls ran from everyone else. Their technique was effortless, smooth, efficient - you get back to where Jess is running (and she is DAMN fast, so don't think I'm mocking her), and the girls are choppier, looking a little looser. Part of that might have to do with the slower people working harder, but watch that video and see how the black girl in front just floats over the ground. Beautiful to watch. After seeing that video, I asked Jess what her team does for running form drills - not much, apparently. I know a lot of running coaches think that running is such a natural motion that if you try to change how someone runs, it'll totally mess with them.

I don't know how I feel about this - I sort of feel like every motion can be improved with conscious effort. This could just be stemming from my gymnastics days ("Straight legs, Aleksandra! What do you think this is, the beginner class?" thanks, Youlia, for teaching me how not to coach), when you had to always be conscious of what your body was doing, since you're judged on appearance, but even doing endurance sports, running, biking, skiing especially - I am always conscious of what I am doing, attempting to move deliberately. Some might call it over-analytical. When I ski, I spend about 95% of that time thinking about my technique. Even on a bike, I find myself thinking about pedaling smooth circles, dropping my shoulders. How much do you cyclists out there think about technique? I'm not talking mountain biking so much, but the road stuff - do you just pedal? Do you runners just run? Or do you think about it?

I know Jess would disagree (being the poster girl for just doing stuff as it happens), but I think to be the best at your sport, you always have to have a subconscious feeling for what your body is doing. Or does that take away the fun? I feel like I have more fun when I feel that I am doing something perfectly, but that could just be the type A speaking. Or maybe that is why I like to coach.

Did cavemen think about how they ran?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Orienteering... at night

Sort of like mountain biking at night, orienteering in the dark is supposed to really increase your technical proficiency... the only problem is, its terrifying. Who is going to know where to look for your body when you run into a tree and knock yourself out and then the rabid coyotes of eastern Mass drag you off to their lair to eat you? Even chipmunks look menacing when you're running alone at night. Luckily around Boston, most of the parks where we orienteer have lots of trails, and are bounded by roads, so its hard to get really lost, and the trails give you a very nice feeling of safety. But in Pawtuckaway, where they host the wicked haahd night-o, well thats a different story. I was too scared to try it this year, maybe after enough urban night-o's I'll be confident enough to brave the bears and moose and attack badgers of Pawtuckaway.

CSU (the orienteering section) has been alternating street orienteering training with night orienteering recently. Last week, we were running on a map of MIT, I wasn't running hard or fast but I kept running into Lori, who was running hard and fast, and she was utterly confused until she figured out that I was cutting through buildings. Apparently, when she said "you can't go through the buildings", she meant, that's against the rules, not that it was impossible - because I definitely found many shortcuts...

Last night we were at Cat Rock Park, in Weston, and for the first time ever, I enjoyed myself thoroughly at a night-o! I was a little nervous about coyotes (why do things that don't scare you in the daytime make you shiver at night?), although some people might debate about whether or not there are coyotes in this area (there are), but it was cloudy, so the city lights were reflecting off the clouds and actually giving a fair bit of light to see by. This meant that in the open areas, you could actually move pretty quickly, and in a straight line to boot! My light isn't very bright, so most of my orienteering at night is pretty slow - like 12 minute miles slow - because I just can't see far enough to be able to simplify the map. I need to figure out a way to rig my mtb light to my head without a helmet.

Anyway, I caught up to Mark at number 2, and then threw away many minutes overshooting 4, caught back up to him on the way to 5 and we were together to 10. We overtook Ed on the way to 7 (which I also messed up, I kept trying to lose Mark, but its impossible to lose people at night because you can see their lights. It did occur to me to turn off my light so that he couldn't see me, but luckily I ruled that out as stupid early on). I kept trying to drop Ed, but it just didn't work. We lost Mark on the way to 12, taking a different (faster) route, and then I almost dropped Ed in a couple places, but each time he'd see me and sprint to catch up, and with a recovering ankle, there was no way I was going to run faster than my safe little trot, in the dark, off trail...

Anyway, we finished, everybody came out of the woods, nobody had gotten attacked by rabid deer (gotta look out for those aggressive suburban deer), nobody had broken a leg, poked out an eye, twisted an ankle, all these things that I am always SURE will happen when I run at night. I think I just moved one step closer to being comfortable with the scary darkness...

Monday, October 26, 2009

Travel diet weekend

That means I stay home. My mom and my dog came to visit - Tira, she gave us such a scare back in August, we really thought she'd be dead in a couple days. And then she totally turned around, and now she is like a puppy again. She got attacked by a nasty dog Friday night, a big German Shepherd whose owner couldn't control it, and I guess its lucky that dog wasn't going for her throat, he took a big chunk out of her butt. She's ok, but was gimping around all weekend. Poor little old beagle, having to spend the weekend in my third-floor apartment - she'd give you the signs that she had to go out, we'd open the apartment door, she'd look at the stairs and change her mind. So slow up and down those stairs, even with the painkillers from the Vet she wasn't happy.
Here she is at the Rochester A-meet, assisting me with my duties as finish volunteer.

Luckily by Sunday she was more energetic and her wounds were scabbing over, so we went on a walk through a gorgeous forest on a gorgeous day.

But I have little respect for owners who can't control their dogs - if you know your dog has a history of attacking other dogs, keep it on a leash. Especially in public places, hell if Tira was a kid I bet the average mother would be suing.

It was a nice change from Saturday's rain, where we'd been helping out with CSU's Skyline Scramble, a trail race in the Fells. It was a pretty small turnout, and I'm afraid that some of the runners won't be coming back after they got lost - that is probably our fault, we floured the course but it rained overnight (the flour WAS still there), and the instructions were to follow the white blazes, which are sometimes hard to see. A couple people made a wrong turn, next year we'll definitely have to put out some streamers near intersections. You can't exactly run tape around an 8.1 mile loop, but at least the intersections will be better marked.

The bike cave, travel diet weekends tend to mean its time to fix the bike(s), luckily I had Ed playing too. I think we need more light in our place...

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Morgan Smyth, of the USST, came to Boston to give a talk to the CSU juniors last Sunday. It was pretty cool that she'd take time out of her life to come share some stories with the juniors, and I could tell it made an impact on a lot of them. She came up through the ranks just the way they are doing, there is no magic formula or huge leap, its just hard work, a little talent, a little luck, and more hard work.

One of the things I was glad to hear Morgan say was that she attributes a lot of her success to making the right decisions - she admitted she'd made plenty of wrong decisions, too, but it all comes down to the fact that you have a choice, and its up to you to make the right one. She's had some setbacks, knee surgery in 2007, compartment surgery last summer, but it was great to hear her tell the juniors that you can bounce back from anything, usually stronger than before, if you make the right decisions - recover well, rest well, train well. Its not always a walk in the park, but its not supposed to be easy.

As a coach, it was music to my ears to hear her say she worked on technique every day. None of the kids would believe me if I said it, but now hopefully they'll be inspired to do the work, to come to practice with the focus necessary to reach their potential (which is a stupid phrase, but its true). You've gotta focus on your goals, and on how you'll get to those goals, and its a long road and there aren't any shortcuts, but you'll get there if you keep working.

Huge thanks to Morgan for sharing her time and her thoughts with us. We are all going to be cheering for her to get on that Olympic team. It was really great for the kids to see how "real" the good skiers are - there is no difference between my swaggering J2 boys and Andy Newell other than age and a lot of hours on skis... and they have to see that for themselves. I think they call that believing in yourself.

But me, I can stay old and cynical.

Here is what Morgan had to say about her visit with the best junior club in the whole world.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

MRC Cyclocross

Alex has a really bad day and tries to avoid the grumps.

The Belgian Beer Festival Saturday night was awesome, but it meant that I might have felt better racing bikes on a different Sunday. The plan was to hit up the NEOC Club Championships orienteering event as a warmup for the bike race, the orienteering was in the Wrentham state forest, literally 1.1 miles south of the race site for the cyclocross. I wanted to run the red course (the course I'd be ranked on for the championships), and then run some of the easier courses fast to work on navigating at full speed. This would leave just enough time to get to the race site, register, get dressed, and race my bike.

Then Colin proceeded to crash my car in the process of driving it to my house, but it still drove, so, we went to Wrentham. I was kind of worked up.

It was pouring rain and 37 degrees, but I figured I'd warm up by running. I neglected to take into account how horrible the map was - it did not line up with reality, which makes running fast basically impossible, because you're questioning everything and wondering why its all just so wrong. Even the trails were wrong. Given a slightly later start than I'd planned, I had to run one of the shorter advanced courses, and never got time to run one of the easy courses fast like I'd planned. I hate it when I fail at training.

I got to the cyclocross race with 17 minutes before my race, badly hypothermic - I couldn't really sign my name on the waiver, it was more of a wiggle from a pen held in a fist. I managed to get myself dressed and on the start line, but my teeth were chattering pretty loudly. I hadn't seen the course, but it didn't really matter, since the mud kept things pretty slow. The pack spread out slowly, and I moved back quickly, my body was just completely rejecting this bike riding thing. After a lap my core temperature had come back up to normal, and I felt like I could race my bike, so I started picking back places. I'm good at the mud, and I love riding in slop, so once I'd figured out how to pedal my bike, it wasn't too hard to move up a little. One girl from the 3/4 race (which started at the same time as the 1/2/3 race) had gotten in front of me, and that threw off my counting to figure out where in the race I was.

After enough sloppy turns, I caught up to Michelle, who looked at me and said "Its YOU again!" I think that means she wasn't too happy to see me. We moved up to what I thought was 5th and 6th but was actually 6th and 7th, and I got a gap on the last lap by taking the inside line by the tree up at the top of the course, and opening it on those fun little downhill corners. It was a fun race, thanks to the mud, but I definitely wasn't working as hard as I was yesterday - there was no choking on my own phlegm going on in the cold rain. I do have a gripe - if you're going to hold a race in the dirt, which can turn into mud if it rains, it would be really nice if you could have a hose there.

I may love racing in the muck, but I sure don't love cleaning the bike afterwards. Or the clothes. Or my car. Which has some problems beyond being muddy right now.

But I thought I did a good job with not getting into too bad a mood on Sunday, despite having someone else get in an accident in my car, failing to accomplish my training goals for the day for orienteering, getting super hypothermic and attempting to race a bike while mildly hungover, and staying cold for many hours afterwards thanks to the CSU meeting... I suppose it could have been worse.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Mansfield Hollow CX

I did this race in 2007, when I was really pushing the limits of being overtrained, and I ended up dropping out. I just remember being so, so, tired. I could barely make it up the run-up, not to mention think about pedal my bike. That's not a good sort of tired. Anyway, this year, I'm not overtrained, and I've been having a lot of fun riding my bike, and this race was no exception.

I started in the second row, I hadn't done a super thorough warmup so I figured I didn't need to blast out of there. The start was stupid sketchy, people changing lanes, veering all over, rubbing elbows, so I slowed down. Through the first little uphill barrier, around the field, onto the off-cambre and I screwed that up, had to awkwardly dismount, and pretty much took out 3/4 of the women's field. Eight got away, and a bunch more passed me as I was trying to figure out how to get my bike down from that hillside. Whoops. My initial reaction was to feel pretty guilty about causing people to have to dismount, and then I realized, its a cross race, its the first lap, its something mildly tricky in traffic - you can't get too mad at someone bobbling it. The guilt dissipated.

I set to chasing, and moved up to 7th by the end of the lap, caught 6th just before the technical part of the course (which was SO MUCH FUN), caught up to 5th by the run-up, passed her on the power section, and set my sights on 3rd and 4th. I caught Michelle going into the third lap, and caught up to Natalia after the run-up by the guy in the chicken suit. I was leading into the field back onto the off-cambre, and I carried too much speed and got bounced off balance and fumbled again, another awkward dismount and I was really annoyed about that, and Natalia and Michelle rode past me. I knew I could catch them, I had legs of gold that day, and I'd already discovered that I was significantly faster on the fun part of the course. I knew at that point I wasn't catching 1st and 2nd, there wasn't THAT much room for error. While it would have been nice to use these legs of gold to contest first place, racing is racing and bobbling is part of it, best to just learn to ride a bike.

We had two laps to go, I got past Michelle by dive-bombing a corner, and caught up to Natalia just after the sand, where I was making up ~10s on her each lap. I'm good at sand. Instead of instantly attacking, I sat on her wheel to recover up the run-up and through the woods back to the power section. When she didn't speed up there, I knew I had her, so went around and tried to sort of attack - difficult when you're already going close to full-out. I wish I'd had a HRM on, I was basically wheezing the whole way.

I was in 3rd going into the last lap and knew I just had to ride cleanly to cement this place, and I heard Natalia go down going over the telephone pole thing, now it was just Michelle I was holding off, so I railed the corners and the sand and got myself a pretty nice little gap, held on to 3rd but was >1min down on 2nd, who was <30s down on first. The prize money paid the entry and some gas, and the race had free food and a man in a chicken suit. I'll be back next year for sure.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A shitshow of a weekend

On paper, it looked fine. To me, of course, reasonable has a different meaning than it does to most people, but still. Friday night, dinner with some friends. Saturday, cyclocross at Mansfield. Saturday night, Belgian beer festival. Sunday morning, NEOC club championships (orienteering). Sunday noon, MRC cyclocross, same town as the orienteering. Sunday afternoon, CSU meeting to hear Morgan Smyth talk.

OK, maybe that is a little busy.

Anyway, Ed decided that he wanted to make indian food for dinner Friday. We only have three burners right now, since one of them committed sepuku. Ed wanted to make seven dishes. Plus rice. Reality check? Whatever, it worked, it tasted good, we have enough indian leftovers for many, many, meals. But you don't get that much food produced without a sous chef, I was on my feet for a long while.

I had wanted to go to Portland for the Casco bay cyclocross race, but Portland is pretty far away to drive alone. I try to avoid driving alone, since its bad for the environment and I feel super guilty about being an environmentalist and driving and flying all over the place, so I at least make lots of efforts to carpool. Nobody was biting on a drive to Portland, so I figured Mansfield Hollow was the next best bet - it was far, but not as far as Portland, I love the course, there was free food, and Colin agreed to carpool. Naturally, I didn't take into account the fact that his race wouldn't end until 3pm, and the beer fest started at 6. This sounds doable until you realize that Mansfield Center is 90 minutes from Boston, its 45 minutes on the T from my house to the beer fest, I had to drop Colin off first, and traffic on I-90 was stopped at one point on the way home.

Poor Colin had no idea what he was getting into when he agreed to carpool.

Late arrangements were made, I would leave my car at Colin's house overnight, he would drive it to my house in the morning since he was going to MRC too, even though he'd have to be there 6 hours early. Thanks, you're a trooper.

I get a call Sunday morning. "Alex, its Colin. I have good news and I have bad news. The good news is I'll be on time, the bad news is I crashed your car". Um, what? I gather some idiot in a 15-passenger van tried to go the wrong way around a rotary, and a little blue honda was in the way as this was happening. Colin followed the van out of the rotary, to a gas station, got out of the car and the van gunned it. At least he got the plate number, we're working things out and insurance will cover the damage, but boy does that suck. And the car works. The current theory is that it was a college student driving a van for Head of the Charles, who was still drunk from the night before and realized that if the cops came they'd have a DUI. So they ran off. I hope we get them.

So anyway, we turn around 10 minutes from my house because I've forgotten my compass and my sportident for the orienteering. Proceed to get to the meet 25 minutes later than planned, I ran brown, and got really pissed that the map didn't line up with the terrain and the waist-high blueberries were marked as runnable forest. I also got sopping wet. Colin had been hanging out at the race heckling, luckily the race site was 3 minutes from the orienteering site. He came back and got me, I ran over to registration, got a number, managed to get dressed and on my bike in time for a cyclocross race.

End Colin's involvement in my weekend. I bet he breathed a huge sigh of relief as I drove off.

Drove up to Lincoln, avoiding the Patriot's game traffic, got to get inspired by Morgan, and at this point (after a dinner of leftover indian food) I'm almost at a manageable level of stress. Ahhh.

Why is tomorrow Monday? I need a weekend to recover from the weekend...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

An introspective sort of morning

I looked in the mirror this morning and my face looked old. Tired, lined, dry and pale. I'm too young to feel like this. By the numbers I'm getting plenty of sleep, by the feel, not nearly enough, the alarm is waking me in the mornings instead of the usual method of waking up first and turning it off so Ed can sleep longer. Hard to get out of bed when its cold and the windows aren't properly closed... It was cold this morning, 34 when I left for work, the realization that I was wearing the same layers as I would in late November was sobering. I still feel like summer was just yesterday. I can't figure out why I'm not bouncing in my chair giggling about impending snow - West Yellowstone has snow on the ground already, but I don't feel ready for ski season yet. Maybe its that I don't feel financially stable enough to afford the tickets to the places I want to go race, maybe I'm just too busy chasing other pursuits. Maybe I just haven't done enough intensity yet. This week seems loaded with intensity but light in volume, its a change. Is it too late? Oh the doubts. I'll have to trust the coach.

Orienteering - I am really finding myself caring more and more about that silly sport. I've done it forever, at a recreational level, and then got roped into ski-o and realized I wanted to be good at it - that I had a chance to be much better than genetics will allow in straight skiing. So started doing summer orienteering more seriously, fell in with the CSU crowd (makes them sound like a bunch of serious drug users, whoops), bought an SI card, bought orienteering shoes, wrote some goals for orienteering, and then last weekend I came to the realization that I'd sold my soul - looking at those open woods, my feet started twitching - I just wanted to go run through the woods, in contact with my map, totally in touch with what the paper says about the terrain. I guess its like when you learn to read, you had no idea that being literate would be THIS COOL. Suddenly, I want to be really good at it. I want to be the best. Can I balance these new goals with the older goals set for the ski season? It seems doable. But I also think that working full time, coaching, training full time, sleeping 8-9 hours a night, and racing in three sports is doable, so I don't know if I should listen to what I say. Who says you have to sacrifice?

38 days to West Yellowstone. Suddenly my desire to do rollerski intervals tonight went way, way up.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Harriman camp

Its been three weeks since I sprained my ankle, and the damn thing was still swollen before the camp. Needless to say it didn't improve with 14 hours of orienteering, but I suppose the one saving grace was that the Harriman maps are just so technical that I couldn't move very fast for much of it. But it was still stupid - nay, STUPID - to go to the camp, from an ankle-recovery standpoint. The third day I re-twisted it - not badly, but it certainly didn't help matters. I'm actually surprised that I made it that long before rolling it a second time, especially just using tape rather than an ankle brace - tape stretches as it gets wet.

Anyway, the camp was fun, super informative, and super motivational. Thierry Gueorgiou and Francois Gagnon were there - Thierry is a multiple-world champion in the middle distance and Francois has been up there too - along with two other French orienteers who aren't half bad. The real eye-opening moment was watching Thierry move through the woods - absolutely unbelievable. I might be able to run like that if my legs were 5 feet long too... but I doubt it.

Here is the map from the Team Trials in 2003 - we re-ran it to see where we would stand. I would not have made the men's team back then (duh), but I didn't finish last. The red squiggly line is my drawn route, you can see that it doesn't exactly go straight to each control... but I was pleased with my few clean routes on that map. There is just so much detail, it pays to be good at simplifying. I'm horrible at simplifying, I do ski-o maps, which are simplified for you, you just follow the green lines... here there are rocks, and patches of mountain laurel, and ginormous blueberry bushes, and more rocks, and cliffs, and the maps are accurate enough that pretty much every feature out there is marked on the map. It took a lot of time (oh, 12 hours on the map or so) before I could really relate the features I was seeing with the map. Most maps I run on are much simpler, and there are just fewer features in the woods to begin with. Anyway, running here made for a unique, interesting, challenge.

We went bowling the first night, and I'm pleased to say I finally broke 100. I also beat Thierry, so now I can say I beat a World Champion. Or something like that.

Thierry had been doing all the driving, and Friday morning the French guys showed up a little late to training. Apparently they're just fast at everything, since he'd just gotten a speeding ticket for 64 in a 45. The next day, they arrived with plastic policeman caps and aviators... except for Thierry. I think he was bitter that he had been the one to get the ticket.

This was the corridor exercise that we did Thursday afternoon - the idea is that you follow a very straight line and pay close attention to the features that you're crossing, because you can't relocate off of other bits of the map. I am apparently atrocious at using my compass correctly.

Walking to the start of the Highlander - Sunday was a race, 26km straight-line distance, and while I wanted to do it, I did the one smart thing I'd done all weekend and did not race. Brendan was also gimpy, so we walked to the start to take pictures, and then did a map hike - basically you walk a course, stopping wherever you need to, to really figure out the terrain. That was super valuable for me, and things were making a lot more sense afterwards.

Ali Crocker, an ex-skier-turned-orienteer-becoming-ski-orienteer - she is going to give me a run for my money in ski-o this winter if she follows through with it. If you're from the skiing world you might recognize her name. Damn good skier.

Jean-Baptiste (French champion) and Thierry (world champion) at the start.

Will Hawkins at the start of the race - he ended up second, not too far behind Thierry (although definitely not close enough to challenge him).

Thierry prepared to crush some souls.

The woods were so beautiful - open, easy running (except for the rocks), just makes my feet itch to go running there.

World champion doing his warmup... everyone else just stood there at the start.

Lori ran with Presto, her whippet, and he didn't look that tired until she stopped moving and he just lay down in the sun and didn't want to move.

So, it was a very valuable camp in terms of technical training, but it may very well have destroyed my ankle... we'll see how the recovery goes. At least cross won't hurt it too much more, but sometimes I just can't stay off my feet...

Thursday, October 8, 2009

US Team training camp

Yup, thats right, I'm at the US Team training camp right now.

Bet you all were thinking I was in Lake Placid! Wrong team, I'm in upstate NY with the US orienteering team. As much as I would love to train with the USST, well we all know that isn't going to happen. The US O Team is holding a camp at Harriman state park, where the World Orienteering Championships were held back in 1993. That means that the maps are world class, and this place happens to be where they'll be holding the team trials next spring. I got invited somehow, I'm a little fuzzy on the details, it either has to do with being on the US Ski-orienteering team, or just Ross really pushing for some other CSU runners to come along. Anyway, the coolest part of this camp is that a couple French orienteers, one of whom is super famous in the map running world, are here too, so we'll get to see how the best of the best do it.

Its a packed weekend coming up, but I'm pretty psyched. For most people, it'll culminate in the Hudson Highlander, but I'm not sure my ankle needs 4-5 hours of racing just yet... we'll see how I'm doing after 12 hours or so over three days in the woods.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

More O-ing

If you want to be good, you have to practice... I've been doing more orienteering recently, despite the ankle setback. Hopefully it'll actually strengthen my ankle to run more, we'll see how that hypothesis plays out. Anyway, I'm operating under the "if it doesn't hurt just keep going" scenario, and so far so good.

Last Friday was a US orienteering team fundraiser sprint, in Peterborough NH at Shieling Forest. Both Ed and I went up, Ed to work results of the e-punching and me to just sort of help out where needed. I decided that with enough tape, anything is possible, and went out to run the course. Although my speed wasn't great, since I was being pretty hesitant, I ended up second. My plan was to run a perfectly clean race, and I failed completely at that, but it was clean for the second two thirds of it.

I've been having issues recently getting off to a fast start in sprints, the first control (and all the stuff getting there) is just coming at me too fast. This was no exception, and I felt overwhelmed the whole way there. But then I decided that I was good to try to run a little faster, and totally overshot two, ending up in the wrong reentrant since I had gotten off my compass line. This cost me over a minute, and so I tried to make up time to 3, which was a mistake since I ended up overrunning it and costing myself another 15 seconds. I didn't learn from my mistake, and overran 4 as well. This was getting frustrating. I yelled "Focus!" and that seemed to do the trick, because I was clean to 5. At this point I could hear a guy catching up to me, and I went into stealth ninja mode. Can't let someone catch up!

Unfortunately, he caught me as I was leaving 6, he probably heard the beep as I punched the control, and he passed me on the way to 7. I then tried to catch back up and pass him between 8 and 11, somehow navigating well while focusing on my competitor but just unable to run fast enough to get him. 12 I was a little too far to my left, and attacked from the trail, which worked well, and then I saw him leaving 13 as I got there. I was sort of slow going to 15, unfortunately, and that was the last I saw of this guy, but I was pleased that I ran as well as I did while trying to pass him back. I think other people in the woods tend to help me focus better.

Since my ankle held up so well in the woods, I figured I'd try running on the streets. CSU was holding a street-o (actually I was hosting it for CSU, we rotate who sets the course each week), and I'd designed some intervals. Unfortunately, you can't really do control-picking on a street-o, and the full course was 10 miles, which was a wee bit too long for a Tuesday night. Luckily, you could choose to do some of the intervals. I ran controls 4-9 and 12-16 as intervals, each one was about 1.5 miles, which was far more running than my legs wanted to handle. They sure don't do speed too well right now, because I am SORE today. At least my legs went fast, they are just paying for it two days later. The map was basically impossible to read, but because its a street-o, you have plenty of time to figure out where you're going as you run. I guess I have an advantage since I know these streets really well, but I ran perfectly clean!

And then we gathered at my house for some delicious chili and Ross's apple crisp. The only point of running is the eating afterwards, right?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Gloucester, day 2

While I thoroughly enjoyed playing in the mud Saturday, I'm not going to say I wasn't pleased with the warmer, drier, conditions of Sunday. The mud had firmed up enough to be tacky, rather than peanut-butter-y, although there were definitely some sections of pure glop. The course had also changed - they sent us through the off-cambre backwards, and through a sand pit, and although I was sort of hoping they'd send us down the run-up, I can see how that would be dangerous from the race director's point of view. I snuck in most of a lap before the masters' race, and really liked how much of the course was rideable. I also really liked how there was no pavement uphill of death.

But I had a resolution. Saturday I'd let my head control me. No more. Everywhere that I wanted to whine, I planned to attack. All those straight power sections - I was going to attack. Any pavement - I was going to attack. Doesn't matter if I am riding alone or with people or my attack is pointless, I just wanted to be on, the whole time, none of this "I can't ride with her" business. Its amazing how having a race plan like this makes you feel empowered, and holy cow was I nervous on the start line. Good spot though, just behind Cathy.

The little tykes took off, some of those juniors are just so tiny. I think they should probably start them behind the women, if I were an eight-year-old I don't think I'd like getting passed by 3/4 of the women's field, but it might be empowering to pass some of the stragglers. Anyway, we went soon after, I was near the front but not quite there entering the hole shot, but its such a nice wide hole shot that nothing stopped me from continuing to pedal and thus coming to the front of the race. Why do people stop pedaling when they hit the grass?

I was neck and neck with Karin on those first grassy turns, but she (justifiably) cut me off on one of the last ones, I had forgotten that the course turned and was trying to get past her. Soon after that she was gone. We came into that little off-cambre bit by the baseball diamond, and I'd pre-ridden this, I knew it was rideable and Karin and I had spread it out enough that I wasn't in traffic. The spectators were loving that I rode it, I don't know if it was faster but it sure felt better. On the pavement, Allyson came by and opened a small gap (how do they do that so quickly??), and I hadn't pre-ridden that little bumpy bit after the pavement, so the turns took me by surprise. Stupid on my part. Anyway, I was trying to close the gap coming into the sand, and I carried way too much speed into the sand pit. Made it around the first turn, turned too much, overcorrected, overcorrected again, course tape, boom I'm down, doh. I got up and started running as Natalia caught up to me, she was shouting at me to move but its not like its singletrack through the sand, you want to get around me you go around me, I'm not ceding this nice packed line...

Anyway, she came around as I remounted, and I caught her wheel going past the pits. This was fun, I could get to liking this whole power-through-the-power-bits-instead-of-whining attitude. Anyway, just on the other side of the pits, Natalia hit a wooden post straight-on, and did a perfect cartwheel over her bars. Ouch... I hit the gas to put some time between us. Allyson was gone after my fumble in the sand, I pedaled harder, but coming across the backstretch by the water there was a girl catching up. She'd made contact by the time we were through the other side of the peanut butter mud, but I followed my race plan and stomped on it up the paved hill, so she didn't pass me. I opened up a gap again on the turns and then by riding the off-cambre, thought she might be gone but I saw her behind me as I rounded that pavement corner after the barriers. Pavement! Attack! Into the bumpy bits and I rode those turns much better this time, and managed to reign in some of my speed coming into the sand, just enough so I could control myself.

She was near but not in contact, and I was starting to think I could hold on to this third place - thanks to the length of the laps, I was on the bell lap already, and there were plenty of fun places left to make up time even if she did latch on. Then going by the pits, trying to ride a slightly drier line, I whacked into a wooden post, and did a slightly-less-spectacular cartwheel than Natalia's. The girl in red went by as I was picking myself and my bike out of the mud, and gosh did it feel like it took forever to get moving again. By the time I was rolling she was gone, and I didn't have the speed to ride the little up-down thingy. I was still super winded from landing on my back, but by the time I remounted I could breathe again. Of course, I couldn't see the girl in red, and I could see a girl in green closing, so it was back to race mode.

The girl in green came close by the backstretch, but I used my race plan to attack the uphill again and lost her for good in the corners, even though I had to run the off-cambre due to getting caught behind a junior coming in to it. Even if there were a race at stake, I would feel horrible passing one of the little juniors aggressively - totally different if its a 15-yo boy, but the little guys don't need to get elbowed around just yet. Anyway, no sign of fifth place as I came through the barriers, and I finished in fourth. Bummer about whacking the post, but not running into things is definitely part of cx racing...

I have to admit, that was an awesomely fun race. I never thought I'd say that about the Gloucester courses, but the rain and mud Saturday combined with the funness of Sunday's course just made for an awesome weekend. I hope they don't go back to the grass crit mode, because this was how it should be! My only complaint was that there wasn't a heater in the beer tent Saturday...

Monday, October 5, 2009

Gran Prix of Gloucester, day 1

This last weekend was a ton of fun. Not only was it the biggest cx race of the year on the east coast, but the courses were great! I never thought I would ever say that about Gloucester, the famed grass crit, and maybe its just because of all the mud, but I was smiling way too much, given the amount of mud in my teeth after the race. Saturday 2 inches of rain were forecast, and that may have been correct - it poured all morning, which made staying warm interesting. I did a good warmup, but by the time we went I was pretty chilly, and didn't want to sprint as hard as I should have off the line. Luckily, everyone slows down going into the hole shot, and I was far enough up that I could just keep pedaling and pass pretty much everyone. I think by the second corner I was in 2nd. This was nice. It was actually feeling kind of slow and relaxed through those corners, which was kind of pleasant.

Karin Holmes was ahead of me, and I know I can't ride with her - the last head to head match we had was at Quad cycles, where she rode with Anna Milkowski, which is something I don't think I'll ever do. In retrospect, I should have tried harder, but my head told me to just ride my own race. Anyway, Karin just kept pulling away, and soon thereafter, Allyson Snooks from MRC caught up. She also pulled away, but not quite as quickly, so when Natalia Gardiol caught up, I hung with her for a while. Another girl who I didn't know came up later on, and passed Allyson I think. I just couldn't hang with her, but I'm wondering how much of this was in my head - I was really sucking on the uphill pavement bit, and I think I should just taken some of my own advice and pedaled harder. Anyway, on the run-up I managed to lose Natalia, although some time after that (on that pavement section) Clara Kelly, the little powerhouse who hasn't quite figured out bike handling yet, came zooming by. Just like in the Quad cycles race I couldn't hold her wheel, and she was gone.

Anyway, I held off Natalia to the end, for fifth place, and thoroughly enjoyed the mud and the muck and the rain. More races like that, please!

Photo taken without permission from Dana Prey

After changing into dry clothes, which seemed to take forever, since I was hiding in my car shivering so badly my teeth were actually chattering, we ventured towards the food, because Ed wanted to buy me sausage and beer and who am I to refuse an offer like that? Anyway, I had just taken the tape off my ankle, and two steps out of the car I stepped on a rock and rolled it again. I tried not to cry, but that hurt, bad. So Ed taped up my ankle again, and then the sausage and beer made it feel better. And soon it felt good enough to sprint around screaming at people to pedal harder for the rest of the afternoon. Perfect recovery for sunday!