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Sunday, December 22, 2013

Practice makes...better

My navigational incompetence is no secret.  I do OK with Jeff along to help me out when I get stuck, but solo attempts have ended in tears and my turns at navigating during rogaines typically go awry. Granted, it's not a huge deal since my team has multiple good navigators, but I still really want to improve and not be such dead weight.

Luckily, the St. Louis area has a permanent orienteering course set up at Rockwoods Range, but while I've known this for ages and done nothing about it, I luckily have more motivated friends.  Wanting to get more practice after the Hawn meet, Mickey bought a map and we headed there today to try our luck.  We were supposed to meet Dave at 7:45, but we missed a turn and ended up being about 20 minutes later than we'd planned.  It's always a good sign when you get lost on the way to navigation practice, right?

We set off in search of our first control and found it without too much trouble and just a slight suggestion from Dave.  We weren't exactly sure how the points were marked and so didn't know what we were looking for, but eventually we found it.  And now you know what you're looking for.  They're easy enough to see head-on, but they're almost invisible if seen from the side.  Definitely made me appreciate the orange and white bags used during meets!

10% chance of precipitation my ass
Our next control was in a reentrant.  I was trying to follow along on the map but kept getting distracted by talking (go figure). We agreed on our attack point, but when we got into the reentrant and didn't see the control, Mickey and I got a little sidetracked and ended up on the far side of the reentrant, while Dave (who'd mentioned that he thought the control could well be hidden off to the side) stayed opposite, finally calling over "You're getting cold!"

Dave got the solo picture while we stood to the side wearing our orienteering dunce caps. What's cool is you can turn them upside down and make them cones of shame.
Mickey asked Dave to explain what we'd missed, which he did (basically, since the circle marking the point was off-center, it suggested the point was off to the side of the main reentrant, and the little squiggles on the sides were smaller side reentrants, one of which held our control).

We hiked back up to the trail, which we took around towards our attack point for the next control. I was making more of an effort to follow along, and I kind of felt like I knew basically where I was, which is something of an unfamiliar feeling.  Reaching our attack point, we headed downhill off-trail.  The guys are much better judges of distance than I am, so that's one area where I still just followed along like the sheep I am.  As we neared where we thought the point was, we discussed the clue, pit. What's the difference between a pit and a depression? I still don't know, but thankfully we spotted the marker.

Presenting...the pit
To get to our next point, we could trek back up the hill we'd just descended (grumpy face).  Looking at the map, I suggested that instead we head to the creek and then follow the creek until it intersected with the trail we needed.  Then we could take the trail to another trail to the point.  So easy!

rockwoods map1
Going from 21 to 22
Like pretty much all of my brilliant navigational ideas, this one didn't quite go as planned.  We got to the creek/trail intersection with no problems (well, except for the fact that Mickey was so busy looking ahead that he totally missed the fact that the trail crossed the creek...I'm starting to understand how I ended up being crashed into a downed tree!).  We headed northish on the trail looking for the other trail heading off to the right and...nothing.

Probably the smart thing to do once we couldn't find the trail would have been to immediately attack from the creek, but instead we spent a lot of time here.  Mickey went off to check things out while Dave and I waited, then after waiting a while we headed up the trail and then off where the other trail *should* be, missing him as he came down  looking for us. Thank goodness for cell phones or we might still be out there wandering back and forth, and a good reminder of why in adventure races teammates are required to stay within 100 feet of each other. Eventually Dave and I made our way to where Mickey had found the next CP, just in time for Dave to have to head back towards the parking lot.

Solo credit for this find.
With an hour or so left before I needed to be back in the parking lot in order to get to my father-in-law's Christmas party, we settled on two more controls.  I may have been a little nervous about losing our Dave-shaped navigation security blanket, but I was hopeful we wouldn't get too lost.

  rockwoods map3

We got back onto the trail and decided to attack 23 from the hilltop the trail crosses at the bottom right corner.  With all those little squiggles representing a wavy series of small ridges but nothing that stood out to us as a defining feature to use to help us, I really thought finding this point would by like looking for a needle in a haystack.  Instead, we practically walked straight to it.

Dual selfie fail, but so proud of ourselves for finding it on our own!
All we had left now was CP19.  We decided to hike north up to the hilltop, then stay high as we hiked west and downhill along the rock faces (those black bracket-y things you see on the way to #19).  If we kept them to our right, we should go in a line right to the reentrant where we'd find 19.  It seemed pretty foolproof, which of course was reason for me to worry.

We executed our plan well and ended up down in the creekbed, which was wide and flat and located in a pretty open area.  I'd expected the reentrants to be a little more noticeable, but I didn't see anything like what I'd been looking for.  We walked a very short way down the creek and I saw a little side channel. "Do you think this could be it?"

I wasn't at all sure, but the direction of the channel and the way it turned into the creekbed  made me want to try it out, and Mickey thought it could be right.  We hiked up the reentrant until it split.  (Above, just outside of the pink #19 circle you can see how the blue line forks).  "If this is right, the point should be here between the two reentrants, right? The clue is knoll...could this be a knoll?" I was nervous as we climbed the small rise.  I really, really wanted to be right, and it felt right, which would've made being wrong that much more depressing.  I wasn't wrong though and spotted the marker with a happy yell.

Feeling very triumphant
From here, we planned to hike uphill (always uphill) to the trail and then follow the trail down (finally down) to the parking lot.

rockwoods map4
We planned to basically follow those faint dots up to the top of the hill.
We hiked uphill, and then the land leveled out we still didn't see the trail, so we paused to figure out where we were.  Looking around and at my compass, I said I thought we were on that long finger.  Now, to anybody even halfway competent, I'm sure that would have been blatantly obvious, but it was a huge deal to me to be able to look around and relate what I was seeing around me to what I saw on the map.  Very exciting moment for me.

We hiked the rest of the way to the trail and then followed it down to the parking lot.  It was a great morning to be outside, really pretty with light snow and ice-covered trees.  It was definitely chilly, but all the uphills kept you warm.  Even if Mickey can already navigate circles around me on his second outing, it was fantastic to feel like maybe I was making some progress.  I'm definitely looking forward to getting back out there and practicing more, and we've got plenty of points left to find.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The one we'll talk about for years - Pere Marquette 2013

Yesterday someone posted on Facebook that the only people out on the roads were fools and trail runners; that may have been redundant.  The St. Louis area was blanketed with between 3" (where I live) to 8" of snow, and despite meteorologists nailing the forecast road crews seemed to take their sweet time clearing the streets...at least the ones we were all using.  You see, snow or no snow, Saturday was the 25th running of the Pere Marquette Endurance Trail Run, and people were determined to be there.

As in pretty much every area of my life, I'm a big chicken when it comes to driving in the snow, so I was pretty thrilled when my friend Cheri offered me a ride.  She had to be at registration early to bring giveaways from her sponsor, Power Bar, so she rolled into my driveway at 5:50 a.m.  On a good day, the drive to Grafton takes around 45 minutes; slowed by heavy snow and covered roads, we took nearly an hour and fifteen minutes.
View of the bluffs on the River Road
Despite the crazy road conditions, we didn't actually have any problems until we got to the Lodge, where we promptly got stuck twice in the parking lot.  My pushing wasn't too effective (I blame my warm but virtually tread-less boots, not my noodle arms), so big thanks to the guy in the Marines hat who helped us the first time and to Russ and Daryl who helped us the second time.  Cheri escaped near-disaster when parking as her car slid within an inch of a concrete-covered light post and then again later when a minivan ended up mere inches from her car on the other side.

We survived the trip!
There was so much more snow at the park than at home.  I think they ended up getting around 8", and everywhere you looked was amazing winter beauty.  I always look forward to this race, but because I've been logging much better training than in past years I was particularly excited to run this year; I felt confident I was in PR shape.  Because of this I had some mixed emotions about the snow.  It was gorgeous and made the story that much more fun ("Remember the year we ran Pere Marquette in 8 inches of snow??!"), but it was also forcing me to reframe my day from "race" to "adventure".

The great hall of the lodge, largely empty 1.5 hours before race time
 No one else was finding their travel any easier, so registration was weirdly empty for a long time.  In a normal year, this hall would be packed by 8:00, but instead the road outside the lodge was bumper to bumper as cars inched their way along.  In the end, 466 racers showed, though some ended up having to change waves and run in an extra "late" wave set up to accommodate those who got stuck longer than expected on the roads.  Not only did so many racers brave the bad roads, but many volunteers did as well.  To me, it's one thing to make a slightly ill-advised drive to be in a race; it's a whole different level of commitment to do so in order to help out.  Big thanks to all the volunteers who were there!

As the start time neared, I pinned on my bib, took off my boots, and padded around in sock feet.  I couldn't wear my running shoes inside because I was trying something new. Earlier in the week, Mickey had shared a link in response to my Facebook whining about not wanting to run on icy roads.

I was intrigued, but not entirely convinced.  Then, on Thursday night I saw one of Emily's  Instagram pictures showing she'd done the exact same thing to her shoes.  With a snowy forecast and two of my super-smart, research-prone friends doing/recommending the same thing, I was sold.  I stopped at Home Depot on my way home for supplies.


Though he was convinced I was crazy, Jeff was nice enough to help me get started, and then I (over)did the rest by myself.

In addition to getting the same idea from two different trusted sources, I was also reassured by the knowledge that, if I somehow ruined my shoes, I was ruining the broken ones and still had a brand new pair of Cascadias waiting in the wings.  Of course, this was only helpful if I tried on the screw shoes ahead of time or at least brought the spare shoes along with me...neither of which I did.  Oops.  The lodge didn't allow cleats to be worn inside, so I slipped them on by the door and headed down to the start line.

Runners waiting for their waves
This was my fourth year running Pere Marquette and the first time I've actually made my wave on time.  Normally I get caught talking and have to start a wave or two later.  The clock neared our start time and Mike told us to "Go...no, not you guys!....ok, NOW go!"

Running in fresh snow is hard work, but we had the advantage of following 23 other waves of runners whose feet had packed the snow into a flat, hard pathway for us.  I ran cautiously at first, unsure of my footing on the smooth surface, but I quickly gained confidence as my shoes dug in.  Any question I had as to the value of the screw shoes was put to rest on the first climb.  I watched as people ahead of me skidded on the slippery surface, losing traction and momentum.  With no such problem, I was able to pass people who were slowed by the conditions.  That didn't stop my friend Jody from passing me on the hill, though.  He's still a much stronger runner than I am.

Stolen from either Cheri or Amy :)

The hills, like always, left me gasping and out of breath, walking the biggest ones, but the scenery was a wonderful distraction.  I could've spent the entire race taking pictures of the snow-covered trees.  It was such a neat experience to run somewhere I'm so familiar with and see it look so different.

The snow smoothed over many of the rocks and roots you have to look out for, and it covered the treacherous layer of leaves that can hide all kinds of ankle-turners.  Because it was so packed down, it was almost like running a really white sidewalk.  Downhills were a blast.  Rather than hurt my time, I think it may have actually helped me.  The only time I felt like the conditions slowed me down was when I had to crawl through a fallen tree or was caught behind someone slower and had to either bide my time or detour through the thicker snow on the sides to pass.

Coming into mile 6, where the course crosses the park road and then loops back up, I was looking forward to seeing my friend JB, who was continuing a tradition of running the last section with me after finishing his race.  Patrick, Chuck, and Robin were at the turn cheering and taking pictures, so I got to wave to all of them and then pick up my pacer. :)  

This year's race was a wonderful contrast to last year's suffer-fest, and I was a much happier running partner for my friend this time around.  Last year I'd been hurting and also feeling the effects of basically not training for the month leading up to the race.  This year I ran much stronger and, better yet, was having fun.  Having just cruised down a long hill, I was feeling good and passed a couple people as we started up the trail.  The stairs were terrible as always and made me very thankful for my long legs as they seemed even taller than usual.  We were admiring the beautiful day and I mentioned how sad I was that I didn't have any pictures, so JB offered to take my phone and get some pictures for me.  I think he did an awesome job.

Up another hill...
Like I've mentioned before, it's pretty awesome to have friends who are bloggers or blog readers and understand the importance of pictures to break up all these words. :)

Pere Marquette Endurance Trail Race. 8" of snow, gorgeous trails, great running, 5 min PR. #snow #trails #running
Might be my favorite running picture of me ever.
In addition to being company and photographer, JB also did some gentle coaching as we approached the last long downhill.  "OK, you've got room to pass here...get around these people before you hit the downhill and they'll never catch you again."  I kind of lack any kind of killer instinct, so I probably would have just jogged happily along until the finish, but I followed directions like a good little girl and passed several people here.

The last mile of the race is a blast, primarily downhill and you can let loose.  I was pushing hard (and had the freight train breathing to prove it) until about .5 miles from the finish when my shoe came untied.  What to do? I didn't want to stop and tie it and have someone pass me, but I didn't want to step on it and fall. Instead I slowed up, watched Jody pass me again, and ran carefully into the finish.  Stupid shoelace.

So now, in the space of a week I'm 2/2 in snowy winter races.  That bodes well for the Little Woods Ultra on the 28th. And what more can you ask for than to have your favorite races in crazy beautiful, memorable circumstances? That, and sharing the experience with so many of my friends was plenty for me.  Even so, I still got one more treat from the day, and that was a 4+ minute PR on the course! I'm pretty happy about that.

I like the direction this is going.
On the other hand, if you contrast the amount of training I did leading up to this year's race with the amount I did leading up to the past two years' races (it's a lot more this year), then maybe that 4 minutes isn't all that impressive after all.  Either way, it's been a lot more fun racing with at least a certain amount of preparation and work leading up to the event.  I think this "training" thing might just stick.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Racing in a winter wonderland: 2013 Castlewood 8 Hour

The first thing I did after turning off the 5:30 alarm was to check weather.com and groan: 10 degrees.  All week long I'd been obsessing over forecasts of highs in the low 20's with a rising sense of dread, but the day before the race this had been replaced by a sick excitement that we were going to be racing in weather that most people -- that I -- considered ridiculously cold.

Fuuuuuuddddggggge (but I didn't say "fudge"...)

I've had the chance to both run and ride in temperatures below 20 already this year, so I felt fairly confident in clothing choices and in how I'd feel on the trekking and biking legs. I was very nervous, however, about the paddling leg, not because of clothing choice but because I had volunteered the last time CW was cold and several teams had tipped their canoes in the frigid water. If you've raced with me you know that paddling is always my least favorite discipline, and the cold was the ice-ing (see what I did there?) on my anti-paddle cake.  Still, if I avoided things that scare me I'd probably never leave the house (or start our gas grill), so there was never any question that I was racing.

Team Virtus is never known for timeliness, but rolling into race HQ at ten minutes before start time was a new low even for us (at least in my experience).  I typically avoid any type of responsibility (other than chief morale officer), but somehow I had sort of volunteered to handle passport duties.  That pretty much meant I spent the entire race getting out the passport, putting away the passport, or worrying about having lost the passport...all things which could have been remedied if we'd used Orange Lederhosen's passport-holding system (basically, attaching the passport to a badge holder on your shoulder strap. That way, it's always right there and easily accessible), but in our last-minute arrival I'd done a lousy job of getting the passport attached and didn't have time to fix it.  We barely had time to drop our bikes and say a couple of hellos before the race started. 

Bob's navigation was flawless as he led us up and across snow-covered hills for the first four CPs.

Adam, Jim, and Bob
While Bob made the nav look easy, walking was more interesting. The steep hillsides had a thick cover of snow-topped leaves, making traction difficult and hiking downhill a lesson in gravity, momentum, and the benefits of lots of trees to grab.

Photo credit: Sneat Pinkles
I was perfectly comfortable on the trek, but my camelbak hose froze before we reached the second CP. I'd tried to blow the water back into the bladder after drinking but obviously failed. With nothing to drink I was glad that the first trekking leg was short and I'd (hopefully!) be able to drink from my bike bottles soon.

We had four initial trekking CPs and then punched our fifth at the TA (which was also race HQ).  There was a big fire going, so I was able to thaw out my Camelbak hose while changing shoes.  I also took advantage of the indoor bathroom while we were at the HQ.  Our friends Greg, Sean, and Dave were all volunteering, and we saw them while at the TA.  It's always nice to see familiar faces while you're racing, and we still had Luke and Becca to look forward to since they were already at their volunteer station.

Transitions are always a weak spot for us, and this was no exception.  We were pretty slow getting changed, but finally we were all switched over to our bike shoes. I added a fleece balaclava and lobster gloves to my ensemble.  We considered whether or not to bring our trail shoes, but since all of the CPs were either via bike or canoe we decided to leave them behind.

 This race is proof that it's nearly impossible to make me happy. In the weeks before, I was worried because I was afraid we'd have to mountain bike in Greensfelder Park, site of a very unhappy bike leg in the 2011 race.  After we got the maps and found out we wouldn't be riding in Greensfelder, I was worried because we were going to be riding a lot on potentially icy roads that lacked the wind protection of the trails. Happy or not, we set off across the snowy parking lot and onto the road.

For all of my initial fears, the roads were actually in great condition.  Seeing the Forby Rd. hill ahead of us, I shifted down into my smallest ring only to have my bike start making weird noises.  Sighing, I shifted back into the middle ring and resigned myself to walking a big chunk of the hill.  Instead, I surprised myself and rode the whole thing.

Bob led us straight to all of our bike CPs with no problems; as nervous as I'd been about riding on the roads, I was wishing for them once we were onto the paved trails around Route 66 State Park.  Unlike the roads, these hadn't been treated.  We never fell (here), but I rode in a constant state of worry that my bike would slip on the ice.  All too soon we were riding up to the canoe put-in.

cw luke and becca
Photo credit: Luke Lamb
Becca and Luke had it way worse than we did since they were sitting still.
I'd been dreading the paddling leg ever since the temperature stopped dropping, but we were happy to see Luke and Becca stationed here.  Jim and Adam grabbed their canoe while Bob and I carried another as far down the ramp as we could.  Bob had two points to plot for CPs in the river. While he did that, I put on my waterproof jacket and waterproof pants, and Jim and Adam loaded all of the bikes into the two canoes.

Jim looks on while another team prepares to shove off.
Even though Bob and I had carried our canoe most of the way from the parking lot to the boat ramp, we still had about 30 (?) feet to go to the river.  I don't have a lot of upper body strength, so I was dreading having to lift the canoe with the bikes inside of it.  Just as I bent over to grab my end, Jim and Adam came over and helped Bob carry it instead.  Yes, the race photographer did get a picture of that, but eternal shame is a small price to pay for not having to do the heavy lifting...plus, I don't think it counts as playing the girl card if you don't actually ask for help, right?

The beginning of the paddle was a little sketchy as another team ended up sideways in front of us underneath a bridge.  I was convinced we were going to broadside them and tip, but we made it past without incident. The river was nice and smooth, and the wind was at our back for most of the ~5 mile paddle.

My over-the-shoulder picture taking skillz need work, but at least I got Bob and the snow in the picture.
As much as I hadn't wanted to get into the canoes in our weather, it was a really cool experience to paddle past snow-covered river banks.  Some of the water near the banks was icing over, and it was so cold that the water droplets on my pants were freezing there.  The nose of the canoe and the shaft of my paddle were completely coated in ice.  Despite all this, I was surprisingly comfortable...with one exception.

Not wanting to get my new gloves wet, I had switched to a different pair for the paddle.  By the time we reached the first river CP, my fingers were so cold that I couldn't unzip my jacket pocket.  It probably took me 5+ minutes to get out the passport, punch it, put it away, and ditch the second set of gloves for my nice warm lobster gloves.  Almost immediately, my hands were comfortable again, and the rest of the paddle was great.  We even managed to catch up to and pass several other teams by the time we reached the canoe take-out, which was being manned by some of my Team Revolution friends.

cw canoe take out
Photo credit: Jim Donohue
Jean, Suzanne, and Jackie at a calm moment.
The canoe take-out was also a gear check. We had to show them a few listed items (lighter, emergency blanket, spare tube, and some required team gear) in order to get the punch for that CP.  Once that was done, we carried our canoes up to the parking lot (I did my part this time), pushed our bikes up, and got ready for our next bike leg.
cw bonfire
Photo credit: Suzanne Renner
Warming up around the fire.
The first three CPs were located along the Castlewood flats, which made for some fun, stress-free riding along the snow-covered trails.  Once we'd found our CPs, we rode to the Cedar Bluff trail, the only real singletrack of the day.  Having ridden (and struggled) there this summer with Chuck, Jacob, and Dave, I knew there were some hills that would give me a hard time and some rocky sections I'd have to walk.

Our course notes instructed us to ride the trial in a counterclockwise direction looking for three unmapped CPs along the trail. We ran into several teams riding the trail in the wrong direction, and we also came across Keith and Daryl, two of my tri club friends.  It's always nice to get a hug out on the trail. :)


We took a short break around the midpoint of the trail after pushing our bikes up a long hill.  Once we got going again, the trail was mostly downhill (wonderful) but getting sloppy and traversing the most difficult/technical section.  Once we got to the rocks I couldn't ride this summer in dry conditions, I hopped off my bike and started pushing.  There were a few spots I could have ridden a little bit, but I'd have lost more time climbing on and off my bike.  I ended up only about 30 seconds behind the guys.

Once we were off the Cedar Bluff trail, I felt a huge sense of relief. We'd survived the paddle, and the most difficult of the biking was behind us.  All we had left was flattish singletrack and some road riding back to race HQ.  Yes, we anticipated another trekking loop there, but trekking doesn't make me as nervous as paddling or mountain biking.  Leaving this section, I for once knew exactly where to go because this had been my volunteer station last year when I met my friend Dave.  It was very fun to be able to contribute to the team, even if, as Adam remarked, it took me 6 hours into the race to do so. :)

Speaking of Dave...where was he? Knowing he was supposed to be at his station from around 10-2, I'd anticipated seeing him at the canoe take-out. Where else could he be?  The question was answered as we rode up to a CP at the intersection of the Al Foster and Bluffview trails.  There were Dave and his new partner, handing out maps for a "bonus" trekking leg, exactly like we'd done last year.  That decision to leave our trail shoes behind wasn't looking quite as brilliant any more, but there was nothing to do but head onto Bluffview in our bike shoes and find the three CPs.

We left our helmets with our bikes, another decision that was questionable in retrospect.  You wouldn't think a little hike would be all that risky, but walking on the hard-packed, frozen snow in our bike shoes, all of us fell...most of us more than once.  I love that trail, but it was progressively less fun with each fall, and we were delighted to get the heck off of it once we'd found our checkpoints.

There was one more trail CP, where the volunteer directed us across the highway and up Alt Road.  I had very clear memories of this beast of a hill (there's a ski area located at the top if that gives you any idea how fun it was to climb), but since I was able to ride the whole thing in 2011 I felt pretty confident in my ability to do so again this year.  Of course, having no granny gear made it a little less pleasant, but I was happy to once again be able to make it to the top.

We had worked up a good sweat climbing the hill, which meant that we froze a little coming down the other side.  The guys screamed down the other side of the hill while the guys flew down I spent a lot of time on the brakes.  From there it was a short ride back to race HQ where Luke and Becca greeted us with cheers and smiles and Greg confirmed our suspicion that there would be a final trekking leg.

cw end of bike leg
Photo credit: Luke Lamb
So far so good...now let's go plot those points!
We headed inside to eat some delicious pizza while Bob plotted the 8 points left in the race.  At this point it was around 3:00, and we had to be back at the finish by 4 in order to avoid a time penalty.  This final leg was about a 4 mile loop, too far for us to cover in our remaining time, but there were two points within reach.  Since quite a few teams had opted to skip this last leg, getting a point or two would move us ahead in the rankings.

We went straight to the first CP, which had actually been our first CP earlier in the day as well, and then Bob led us towards the next.  He didn't seem quite as confident on this one, and when we got "there", there was no CP.  We walked a little further...still nothing.  Bob wondered aloud if it was misplotted, so Adam suggested we check if it was plotted correctly.  There was the problem...we had plotted it in the wrong section.

 With all of the other CPs out of reach in the remaining time, we knew we had to head back to the finish line.  I know Bob was disappointed not to get that last one, but it's not like it was going to be the difference between us winning or not.  It's great to place as well as possible, but for all of us the real joy is in going out and spending the day racing and having fun together, and once again I'd say we were definitely on the "fun" podium.

We were hiking through the woods within sight of the finish line and discussing what a great day it had been.  I mentioned how I'd had a great day despite us having to carry Jim all day (totally not true) and was going on to elaborate how much he struggled on the trekking and the singletrack (he can ride circles around me) when I tripped on a snow-covered branch and fell flat on my back.  "That's the fastest I've ever seen karma work!" Jim laughed.

If it was karma, I guess I'm glad it took me out before I finished picking on Jim...otherwise it might have broken my leg if I kept it up.  I must have some pretty strong karma working on my side, though, to have lined me up with such a great group of teammates and a fantastic day.  As worried as I was about...well, pretty much everything, I wouldn't have missed this experience for anything.  Sometimes epic days result from big struggles to push through and plenty of things that are pretty miserable at the time.  This year's Castlewood 8-Hour was the best combination of fun and epicnicity all wrapped up with a frosty bow.  I'm so glad I was there.

cw finish

And that I didn't lose any fingers or toes. ;-)

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Thanksgiving Break

Man, I love a 5-day weekend.  Of course, no matter how long you're off it's never long enough, but I managed to fit a lot of fun into my Thanksgiving break.

Wednesday: Grocery store (not particularly fun), pie making, and backyard soccer (I lost, 10-6) with Jacob.
I don't usually think he looks like me, but I can see a definite resemblance in this picture.
 Thursday: The 5K Turkey Trot, which we already covered, and family football at my mother-in-law's house.

Our team: me, Jeff, my nephew, Daniel, and my niece
Action shot

Friday: While Jeff did some early Black Friday shopping, slipping in neatly between the midnight and midday crowds, I piggybacked on someone else's group ride.  Mickey and I started early because I wanted to be finished by noon, so we rode a short stretch of singletrack and then headed east on the Katy Trail. Wow, was it cold.  I'd only ridden this section once, during Patrick's Cycle 100+, on a very hot day. Friday, by contrast, was around 25 degrees when we started.  

Summer 2010 vs feels-like-winter 2013
The low point of the Katy Trail is in this stretch, and the picture was a pretty funny contrast with my picture from the high point (taken during my second Katy Trail tour).

We met up with a few of the Momentum guys, and though I had some concerns about keeping up, they were nice enough to ride at a pace I could maintain.  We rode a couple laps through Bangert Island, which was fun, and then headed down the Katy towards Weldon Springs.  One of the guys used to do adventure races, so of course I talked his ear off about those.  

It was almost 11 when we hit the turnoff, so I decided to turn around.  I've ridden the Katy plenty on my own, so I told Mickey he should just stay and finish out the ride with the guys.  When he didn't go along with that plan, I suggested he ride the new-to-him stretch of trail (which I'd ridden during the Graveyard Gravel Grinder back in March) and then catch up to me.  Since he's way faster than I am, I figured he could do that no problem.  

I hadn't figured in the fact that he'd be riding 6 miles out of his way first, though, so I ended up beating him back to the parking lot by about 2 minutes (but hey, I was right that I could ride back on my own just fine and he got in a nice hour of riding fast).  47 miles of riding and a reminder that below freezing temps don't have to keep you off the bike.

After getting back, I made another pie, this one for my mom's Thanksgiving get-together on Saturday, then got ready for dinner.  After being blog friends for what seems like forever, I finally got the chance to meet Kovas and Laima in person.  Mike and I met them in St. Louis at Bailey's Range and had a great time visiting with them and their lovely family.


Saturday: I hadn't been thrilled that my mom planned Thanksgiving on Saturday because it conflicted with my orienteering plans, but she's always understanding if our schedules don't exactly mesh.  I was planning on racing solo at the St. Louis Orienteering Club's 3-hour Turkey-O at Hawn Park.  Navigation is a huge weak spot in my adventure racing arsenal, and while I have no desire to actually be the navigator I'd like to at least be able to give useful input.

Mickey was going to get his first orienteering experience with my Virtus teammate Bob, so we met up in St. Louis and he drove to Hawn.  We (and by "we", I mean "he" because I just showed up when I was told to :D) overestimated how long it would take us to get there, so we showed up an hour before registration started.  Luckily, it was a gorgeous morning and a beautiful place to hang out (and help the organizers carry stuff) while we waited.
The next best thing to training with another blogger is training with a blog reader who understands my obsession with having pictures to put on the blog. 

We got our maps, marked them, and sat at a picnic table looking at them.  Struggling to orient myself on the map I started to consider that maybe this wasn't the race to do solo.  Two years ago I did most of the navigation at the Meramec Turkey-O with Jeff and Jacob, but since Jeff is a surveyor and way better with maps, he can help me out when I get stuck.  Despite my growing sense of navigational doom, I did enjoy getting to say hi to our Alpine Shop friends Jeff and David and my friends Scott and Melissa as well as visiting with the friendly people at our table (which was in high demand since it was in the sun).  By the time the race started, I had decided I'd run the first couple of controls with Bob and Mickey and then go my own way after that.

That fleece jacket got a lot of use this weekend!
Hawn is a gorgeous park, and the weather was fantastic (high 40's? Maybe the 50's? Warm enough that as soon as we started I knew the jacket was a mistake), so we were in for a great day no matter what.

Early in the race
Mickey, whose sole map/compass navigation experience as far as I know consists of reading the book I loaned him last week, was a natural.  So he rides faster than me, runs faster than me, and navigates better than me. Whatever...I can fold a map better.  And give birth.  I'm pretty sure I can at least stay ahead in one of those areas.

CP1 (well, the first CP. I don't think it was actually #1)

 I managed to drop my passport after the first control and figured that was my sign that it was time to strike out on my own after I went back and found it, but instead Mickey ran back for it.  My motivation to go solo by this point was pretty negligible, so I decided I'd just stick with the guys for the rest of the day and practice my navigation some other time.  Like...oh, maybe never.

Creek crossing
We hit the first couple controls with no problem, and then we had to decide where to go next.  Looking at the map, the next closest was #26, a 20-pointer.  Bob mentioned that it looked like it would be tough, but I had this great plan of attack.  Like basically every time I've been navigating, it didn't go so well and we ended up wasting probably 45 minutes (or more) looking for the stupid control.  In our defense, we weren't the only ones who struggled with it, but man that was frustrating.  And costly, since it ate up nearly a third of our time.

We should have cut our losses long before we did, but eventually we had to move on or miss the cut-off.  I was actually wearing a watch and was the one to make the call.  We hiked back out of the Bermuda Triangle; it took a lot longer than it seemed like it should have, but eventually we came to the area where I remembered Bob, an hour or so previously, telling me to pay attention to how it looked because he'd gotten all turned around here last year.  Oh, how right he had been.

With time at a minimum and the trail nice and smooth, we knew we'd better do some running if we wanted to make it back before the cutoff.  Running with a pack, even a relatively light pack, is a whole different experience than regular running, so we put some walk breaks in there too.

Total fake run on my part
We did manage to collect two more controls on our way back, and it was nice to end the meet on a brighter note than our struggled with #26.


We had some climbing up from the two last controls, but that left us with a lovely downhill run to the finish.  Alpine Shop's Jeff Sona flew past us as we ran down the trail and another guy was ahead of us too, but since we could see them on the trail we knew where it went and could cut straight downhill instead of following the switchbacks.  This cut out a chunk of our running time and let me jump onto the trail ahead of Mickey (the only way I'll ever pass him in a run) and was a full-on blast.  We should definitely run more in our races.

All in all, even with the navigational hiccups, it was a great day.  The guys got in some practice, and I got to look at a lot of pretty rocks and do some trail running. Everybody wins.

Sunday: After three straight days of early wake-up calls, I slept in til almost 9, and it felt wonderful.  I'd offered to run with Nathan, who needs to be doing plenty of running in preparation for boot camp, but I missed his pre-work window.  It's too bad, because it was a gorgeous morning, temps in the 40's, perfect for running.  Instead, I went to the grocery store, made 2 cakes for Daniel's 21st (?!?!) birthday, cooked brunch, and cleaned the house.

I did get my run in after the part, just a short 2 miles with Nathan, broken up by a stop at the park for some pull-ups (I managed two).  It was actually a great run, getting to talk with him the whole time. With that boy, it's either conversational feast or famine, so you just have to appreciate the times he's talkative.  I'm thankful for the time together, thankful for the great weekend, and trying hard to be thankful to have a job to go back to tomorrow.  That is, I'm definitely thankful for the job...it's the going back to work part where I'm struggling a little with the thankfulness.

How long til Christmas?