Friday, October 29, 2010

Park World Tour: China-licious!

When I was in Scotland for my first PWT (or, oft referred to by the Euros as the PVT) event in September, at some point during the banquet, the organizers said that there might be another PWT this year, possibly in China. I leaned to the person sitting beside me and said, “If that happens, I’m totally going”. Though I had some steak and kidney pie in my mouth at the time and he may not have understood what I was saying, the point was, I didn’t care what I was doing, if I could orienteer in China, I would drop everything and do it. 6 weeks later, and I did! Despite moving halfway across England (think… Edmonton to Calgary!), starting an internship and having an exam the day after I get back, I hit China as the lone athlete from Canada to provide my unique brand of orienteering (Start √† Get Lost √† Repeat).

I arrived in Beijing to exactly what someone might expect from China, with very very low visibility due to presumably a combination of cloud and smog. The adventure immediately started when my friendly pick-up from the airport dropped me off at a building at the Beijing Sport University, lead me to the lobby with the smoking security guard, said “goodbye”, and left. Turns out there were people waiting for me down a couple of hallways, but there was some brief minutes of extreme concern being left in a random place in a country where absolutely nobody speaks your language. And, as it turns out, China is an extremely foreign country.

Once all the dust settled I found my place to stay; rooming with the Czechs, who were cool guys. For the next couple of days we had some opportunities to do some training and some sightseeing around town.

The second training was in conjunction with what appeared to be the school relays of the Chinese Championships at the Olympic forest, a fully man-made park just North of the Olympic venues. Looking at Google Earth its actually much bigger than we experienced, it’s a shame we only used such a small area.

Anyway, the event was an impressive sight, tons and tons of school children running around, all super keen about orienteering.

Many of them were pretty fast, but tended to lose time because they all employed the time tested strategy of “run really fast. Stop. Run really fast. Stop.” Still, it was a sight to behold, and the Chinese did really well with making the start exciting with a big mass start with a long run out before hitting the start triangle. It meant everyone basically left the stadium running. I took notes.

The next day it was our turn to compete as part of the Chinese National Championships sprint. It was in the same area, using part of the same map as well a new part. It was unfortunate because despite being a potentially fun and confusing area, it was probably not used to its maximum because the course was relatively easy. Naturally, I found a way to drop the ball on number 10, but despite that it was largely a runner’s course. I ended up 11th, but that was okay because of the caliber of runners that were there. As an “elite” orienteer, I probably had no business being there! I finished my standard 1:45 behind the winner, who happened to also be the sprint world champion. Unfortunately it also seems like the world ranking numbers didn’t think he tried very hard, and I didn’t get nearly as good world ranking points as I would have hoped.

Here’s the map of the race . Legs 4-5 and 5-6 are indicative of the less than ideal course planning. But, regardless of that, it was still super fun, there were tons of people, and the Chinese deserve mad props for the event. Post-race, we all gathered on stage and stood around while several gazillion pictures were taken of us as a group, and we spent another 10 minutes taking pictures with people. I think my main attraction was that I was two feet taller than everyone else.

After of day of re-hydrating and visiting this…only kind of impressive wall-like structure in the middle of China, we had another race, a middle-distance-ish race at Bei Gong Forest Park, north of town. The first thing we did on race day was get stuck in traffic. For two hours. This also included missing the turn to the race and getting the bus stuck on a powerline. It should also be noted that the trip home took about 25 minutes.

The race itself was really fun, as per usual it took me three or four controls to get the hang of things, so I try not to look at the results list. Instead, I’m pleased about the fact that I hung on to the two Austrians that caught me, lead them for a couple of controls, and managed to drop them on occasion. Scratch the waste and I would have dropped a solid 3 or 4 minutes. The terrain was a kooky little mix of brush and open terraces. Here’s the race map:

There were holes everywhere which for most of the race I was convinced with graves, which made me terrified to fall in one. You’ll notice that there are graves marked on the map, so I was convinced all the other holes were empty graves too! Turns out they are apparently holes for new trees. But, at the time, definitely graves. I had to detract my mental opinions that I thought it was highly inappropriate to put a control on the dirt knoll that was made from digging a grave. Sorry China, minor mis-understanding. Also of note were the remarkably aggressive thorns of the Chinese countryside. The picture shows the size of the two thorns that were just about 80% into my leg. I had to stop after getting hit by one of them because I thought I'd just be bitten by something. Youch!

Post-race, I went for a jog up the mountain with Murray and got a solid view of the city. Now that the weather was finally clear, we got a fantastic view of the city, and it is very impressive. Rather than word it, here’s a picture:

At this point, there was still one more day of sightseeing, which included a fun little event which I think we should do sometime, a visit to the forbidden city, and the final PWT sprint at the Summer Palace. Part 2 will happen when it happens!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Adventures in France, Continued.

I've been in France for nearly three weeks and each weekend has been packed with orienteering. The first two weekends held the World Cups in Annecy and Geneva, which you can read about below. This past weekend was an action-packed two days hosted by the St-√Čtienne club NOSE.

The adventure started with a winding drive through the Parc Naturel Livradois-Forez. In contrast to National Parks, a Parc Naturel is intended to protect not only the natural setting but also traditional ways of life. You could really see the need for this protection as we passed by many boarded up buildings in villages in danger of extinction.

The orienteering started with a middle distance in some tricky rocky terrain at the Chalmazel Ski Station. This was a great event and we even had gps tracking for the elites! You can see the map and some embarrassing gps tracks here ;)

Shortly after the middle finished, it was time for a night-0 on the same map. Using my connections (i.e., Emily), I was able to stay with NOSE (plus Theirry Gueorgiou, Olav Lundanes and Johan Runesson) at a ski lodge right on the map. The club provided amazing food: roast duck, stuffed pork, yummy salads, lots of cheese and fruit! Everyone was so nice and welcoming.

Sunday morning we woke up to snow! People did not believe me when I said it was probably warmer in Canada. However, a fun relay made it worth getting out of our warm beds! And that was that, another great orienteering weekend close to my new home :)

View from the spectator control down to the ski area.  Photo: Loic Le Goff

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Athletes' Rep Report

The AthletesCAN Forum is coming up at the end of the month. I am really excited to participate again this year. Last year, Patrick Goeres was able to step in for me as my son, Stian, was due right around the Forum date. This year, as it is being held in Gatineau, the COF has chipped in for locals, Eric Kemp and Jeff Teutsch, to take part. Jeff will be helping in the KidsCAN School Day, too.

In preparation for the Forum, we were asked to reflect a bit on our role this past season. I thought it would be worth sharing my thoughts. You can check out the Athletes Rep Report to see what the High Performance Committee and I have been up to this past year.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Canada represents at World Cup races

After an eventful September, with half the Canadian Women's Team relocating to France, Carol Ross and Emily Kemp have burst onto the World Cup scene... well at least we're finishing! Let's just say that World Cup events here are just a smidge tricky ;)

Our debut started in the beautiful French Alp town of Annecy. Day 1 was action packed, starting with the Orient-Show. This unique event took place in an arena with a fence maze and lots of snazzy blow up features. Everyone ran 3 three-minute races and then the fastest runners qualified for the semi-final, and if they really were fast enough, the final! It was pretty darn exciting to watch and the media was there in full force interviewing Carol on French radio... in french!!!

Orient-Show amazing-ness!!

By the time all of the buzz from the Orient-show had died down, it was already time to start warming up for the sprint in downtown Annecy. Fortunately, those who missed the memo about it being a night sprint were able to exchange their passport for the use of a petzl headlamp. Phew!

Carol tearing up the field!

Day 2 held the major event of the weekend... the grueling 9km long distance. This was real orienteering; crevasses to evade, hills to trudge up, and enough contours details at a 1:15000 scale to make you cross-eyed. We suggest that anyone who has WOC 2011 on their calendar should brush up on their magnifier skills.

With only 5 days of recovery, we were right back in amongst the company of Simone Niggli and Thierry Gueorgiou except this time at the World Cup Final in Geneva, Switzerland.

We started out with a 5km middle distance course which was quite refreshing after our adventures in Annecy. The terrain was, again, very physically challenging with some real Swiss style climb... up and down.

Is it a Dane? Is it a Czech? No! It's a Suisse!! It's Daniel Hubmann!!!

The elite runner’s season came to a spectacular finish on Sunday with the PostFinance Sprint. The race was set up so that spectators were able to see runners hot off the starting ramp, then again as they surged through the map exchange, and finally when they blazed into the finish. Lots of excitement going on everywhere!!

My goodness, those were two pretty hard core weekends but with some great company all-round!! Even though this World Cup season is over we've already put next season's World Cups on the horizon! You never know, these two Canadians may make top 40 ranked next year and you'll see us on the starting list for the PostFinance Sprint alongside Simone Niggli and Helena Jansson! ;)

Monday, October 4, 2010

Turkey Trot 2010

Last weekend Eric K. and I travelled from Ottawa down to Toronto for the annual ‘Turkey Trot’ event. The event was a good chance to get some more racing in on different terrain, and to act as a warm-up weekend ahead of GLOF and the US Champs in October. In addition, a very generous $100 prize was on the line for the best overall Male and Female runners, which was very enticing.

The weekend started off with the Middle distance at York County Forest, north-east of Toronto on the Oak Ridges Moraine. My race was pretty sloppy as I wasn't focusing on the map well. The course wasn’t very difficult, yet I made several small mistakes of 30s to a minute. I attribute some of this due to the fact that I assumed the map scale was 1:10000 when it was in fact 1:5000. Needless to say I was over-running controls the whole course. Rookie mistake! I ended up in 4th place, approximately 5min behind the winner, Nick Duca. While I was fairly far back after just the first race, I was optimistic that my next races would go better and that I could still be in contention for the $100 prize. The map with my route and the results can be found below.

Middle Results

Middle Map

Middle/Sprint Terrain

Fast, open woods

On Saturday afternoon the sprint race was held on the same map. I was looking forward to improving on my morning performance and getting my technique sorted out. I had a clean race and was running fast throughout, and managed to get 1st place. I lost 20s on a routechoice mistake to control 10, but that was the extent of my time lost. Eric also had a good run, and ended up in 2nd place, 30s back. I managed to make up 3min on Nick Duca in the sprint, however I found out afterwards that the overall prize was based only on the middle and long, meaning the gap was still 5min going into Sunday.

Sprint Results

Sprint Map

Poison Ivy... :S

The long race was held at Eldred King Forest, in similar terrain to Saturday’s races. My aim was to run really hard the whole way and hope I could hold on technically. The first two thirds of my race was really good, I was moving really fast and smoothly and had lost very little time. Unfortunately things started to fall apart in the last part of the course, highlighted by a 2.5min mistake to 18. I came into the finish in 2nd place, 5s behind Eric! I was satisfied with the race but had no hope that I had made up any time on Nick. To my luck though, Nick made a large mistake on the second last control, in a vague area, and came in over 5min behind my time. I had won the $100! (Sorry Nick)

Long Results

Overall Results

Long Map

Overall it was a great weekend and it was really exciting to see Ottawa OC at the top of the results in both the sprint and long races. A very big thanks to TOC and UKR clubs for organizing the event, and for donating such generous prizes.

F21 and M21 medalists. F21 winner was Elena Logvina of GHO (far left) .

Eric and I with our 'loot'

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Washington, DC Update

A dispatch from, as far as I know, Ottawa Orienteering Club's most southern member.

Not counting a couple of small street-O/social events, the local fall orienteering season in the DC area kicked off on September 19th with a National Orienteering Day score orienteering event at Lake Accotink, a smallish park just outside the Beltway in the Virginia suburbs. It was a lovely day and an unusually well-attended event for the venue with about 115 starts on a map where QOC (Quantico Orienteering Club) has been accustomed to getting barely more than half that. Hopefully, a good omen for the orienteering season to come. But I and a number of other QOC members were busy elsewhere that morning at the Bushwhacker Adventure Running Race - not what you might expect if you're familiar with GHO's adventure running events but a nominally 10 mile trail race through parkland along the Occoquan River with off-trail shortcuts permitted and only three obligatory e-punching checkpoints enroute. The race has been held three times in the past but scheduling conflicts kept me away. This time I made it along with five other QOC members and, unsurprisingly, we did pretty well against a field of runners and adventure racers - I won overall by about 7 minutes, Peggy Dickison won F50-55 thumpingly by finishing third female overall, and the other four orienteers grabbed the first four places in M45-49. Somewhat like shooting fish in a barrel, perhaps, but a banner day for QOC nonetheless. As the newly minted QOC president, I'm particularly happy that most of the orienteers running wore either their QOC orienteering uniform tops or the new QOC running singlet, which I model in the picture above.

I think I caught the photographer by surprise - he seemingly managed to get frontal shots of all the racers behind me. In any case, I can hope that contributed a little bit to raising the profile of orienteering locally. If we're really lucky, whatever the freelance writer I talked to who was there on behalf of Runner's World writes will actually make it into the magazine, which might inspire others to try similar race formats and incidentally raise the profile of orienteering more broadly, even if only slightly.

I followed that up with, since I was stiffening up noticeably, a less than full speed run of the score-O that afternoon and some control pickup. A day well spent and, with NAOC, WOC and COC behind us, a good beginning to the no particular pressure, just have fun and the results will be what they will be but it would be nice to make it through to winter without serious injury fall phase of the orienteering season. That means, in addition to a fairly heavy schedule of local QOC events, the Hudson Highlander tomorrow, the Golden Leaf O Fest next weekend, the US Classic Championships the weekend after that and DVOA's Hickory Run event the first weekend of November. Plus, of course, the fairly heavy schedule of local QOC events. Hopefully, I've recovered well enough from August over the course of a month of mostly cross training to get through all of that without this season's nagging injury - a chronically tight and fragile feeling left hamstring - flaring up into something debilitating that would compromise winter training.

So, a busy fall of orienteering awaits. Which is nothing new, in contrast to the position as QOC president to which I'm still adjusting. Fortunately, the QOC Maryland and Virginia Vice Presidents and others in the club are perfectly competent to keep our local event schedule ticking over with little, if any, help from me other than to keep my powder dry to design courses in the event that they have trouble recruiting a course setter for a local event. Nevertheless, it's a big change from my previous fairly high level of involvement in club affairs that everything is now my business and that promoting orienteering is now my job rather than just a hobby. To date, that's largely meant a fair bit of effort over the summer and the first couple of weeks of September assembling a new QOC web site. So far, it's mostly an aesthetic and organisational improvement over what preceded it, though we also tried to to make it much more helpful to beginning orienteers in terms of content describing orienteering and orienteering technique, but the plan is to roll out much more interactive functionality in the year to come, much of it integrated with similar changes to the Orienteering USA web site, which is also undergoing a Web 2.0 redesign. Hopefully, having a web site that doesn't look several years out of date alone will have at least a marginal effect of making QOC more attractive to prospective new orienteers.

Beyond the web site, keeping the club ticking over and working towards our next A event (timing and venues still TBD and therefore on the agenda for the next Board of Directors meeting), I get to try and dream up other ways to attract and retain new orienteers. Mostly attract. Not to say what QOC offers is beyond improving but I tend to think there would be a lot more orienteers in North America if everyone who would like it if they tried it had heard about it and tried it. So I'm focusing on raising awareness of the existence of orienteering generally and QOC in particular. The new singlets were one effort in that direction that I was involved with last year - you can't see much of it in the photograph above but they have "QOC ORIENTEERING" printed quite boldly on the back, sending the twin messages "Something called orienteering exists" and "There's an orienteering club in this area that you could check out". I don't expect a rush of new participants just from that but it can't hurt. It was also nice having them in time for last season's annual meeting - we gave one apiece to the juniors who showed up regularly for training sessions in QOCs small junior program in recognition of their dedication.

I've also been toying with the idea of having QOC host a trail race, no navigation involved, on the theory that people interested in a trail race may be relatively good prospects compared to dedicated road runners and that having an event we could put on local running event calendars without the intimidation factor of off-trail navigation being involved could also serve to raise our profile and drive some traffic to our web site that might notice the rest of our schedule while they're there. I've been shot down by one possible venue, a national park conveniently close to DC but with apparently an inconveniently extreme level of concern for the state of their trails and the impact a running race might have on them, so it's back to the drawing board as to where we might try this and when. In the meantime, we've just been approached by a local running club planning a new 50K trail race in one of our mapped parks about whether we could customise our map for their purposes so we may be able to realise some of the same benefits I was envisioning from hosting a trail race by negotiating to do that in exchange for some publicity in the form of our brochure in the race packets, fairly prominent attribution of the customised map to QOC, and the like.

Hopefully other and perhaps better ideas will come to me - suggestions are welcome. I certainly shouldn't have any trouble finding things to think about during long training runs this winter under the new dispensation.

No doubt many of the likely readers of this are coming to GLOF in Hamilton next weekend. See you there.