Thursday, October 29, 2009

Course Analysis: Ross Smith at the US Champs

Here is an excellent and very informative course analysis by Ross Smith, CSU, silver medalist in M21 at this year's US Championships in Greenbush, Wisconsin.

-11:03 start time. Patrick Nuss 11:05, Boris Granovskiy 11:07
-4 poptarts (easy to eat) and a mug of tea (superstition) before the race, singing and positive mood.
-Chilly and damp, wore a buff, mesh USA top, trimtex ¾ length pants, underarmour ankle socks, lucky reindeer boxer briefs and inov8 x-talon 212s while running. Bit of a sore back from sleeping funny so took some Ibuprofen 30 mins before start.
-Warm up of running around, up to the start and back a bunch, to the bathroom and back, etc. -Nothing structured or special. Thinking about how I should be thinking about something, and about having a clean 1st control.
-Had felt great at the model the day before, very excited to race. Anticipating that a good race would be a win.

Start - 1
When I saw the first leg I was worried by the green forests. I saw the trail and latched onto the relative security of following a path for a bit and then running through white woods. I quickly cut out to the parking lot and then along the trail… the footing wasn’t great on the trail and I was having a hard time reading the terrain around me as I ran along. I cut into the woods only vaguely knowing where I left the trail because I was feeling rushed and I got lucky to pass over #17. Once again assured of where I was, it was easy to go over the hill, skirt the three pointed depression, and go up over the ridge. Hesitated a little bit coming down to the knoll, as visibility was low.

- 2 first mistake. Left without a clear enough plan, only vaguely aware that I wanted to avoid the darker green. Big problem in viewing the contours to the north of the control as a hill, not a depression. Off by 15 degrees on my compass leaving 1. worried too much about running fast, not enough about keeping contact with the map. Very quickly along the way knew that I was out of contact with the map and then pushed on in hopes of hitting the powerlines and rebounding. Which is what I did.
- 3 just go straight, visualize down, up, down into the control
- 4 just go straight, saw the black ‘x’ then it was down into the big depression, up the other side into the depression on the far rim

4-5, 5-6
- 5 a long leg, and I depended too much on seeing the indistinct path 2/3 of the way along. I didn’t see the path, but did recognize the reentrant just before the path from having come that way before. I once again was fortunate to see control 18, as I was able to quickly adjust my route which had started to drift (unconscious desire to hit the path maybe?). Was supposed to hit trail and follow along until cutting past the hill along the smaller trail. Instead dropped down out of 18 into the round depression, and followed the hillside for a bit and then realized that it was tucked into the green, so cut back over.
- 6 straight, visualized going up steep hill, long reentrant with control at the far end. Don’t remember the ‘X’ here.

6-7, 7-8
- 7 saw the large hill 2/3 of the way as my target, just get there and then follow along into the flag. Knew that it was a big hill and so I aimed a bit off to the left (more than I wanted to) to be sure to hit it. When I saw that I was coming up the little saddle in the hill, I altered my plan and ran along the left side of the hill instead of the right. Then, I went down and up in the last reentrant, because it looked faster than going around. As I climbed the last saddle before the control I had a lot of confidence that the flag would be right on the other side.
- 8 follow along the hill, around the round depression and along the long depression, up and into the green.

- 9 another long leg and this time I again saw the hill I had used for 7 as being a good waypoint. Once I got to the tip of that hill, I just aimed rough compass for 9, aware that there wasn’t much of a backstop if I missed the flag. Saw the black ‘X’ and was relieved again. Down into the green reentrant and up the hill on the other side. Judged the slope of the hill and knew that I needed to go farther north when I got to the top.

9-10, 10-11
- 10 saw the large shallow depression 1/2 way through and wanted to skirt either left or right. Woods were better to the right, so I did that. Saw the large green hill, and contoured around, came down the spur on the other side and saw Ken [Walker] going in to punch the control. Score!
- 11 wanted to get ahead of Ken, and left the control on a rough compass with the idea of skirting below the first peanut shaped depressions. Lost focus a little bit and saw the green hill just before the control before I recovered my place exactly.

11-12, 12-13, 13-14, 14-15
- 12 out to the road, and then I had decided to follow along the ridge and over the saddle into the control. I cut into the forest after the first big depression, but got bogged down a bit in the next little depression. Saw the pair of boulders, then kept to the plan.
- 13 meant to go right of the hill, but the vegetation pushed me left. I had my eyes up, scanning the forest and so when I saw the hill a bit to my right I knew that I just needed to get to the saddle.
- 14 reminded me of a control on the model the day before. Follow along the string of depressions, used the last hill to aim for the pit.
- 15 wind out to the road, came past the triangle hill to the road, so knew where I was. Then I cut around the north at the base of the ridge and into the control.

- 16 the long leg. Scary at first and then I realized that I could use the same big hill as a pole star at the end of the leg. Then there was a ridge that brought me most of the way there, and finally I could take the trail until that ridge. So I cut out to the trail, not really caring which way I went, followed along to the ridge, kept contact as I went down into the depression and up over the little green hill, followed up north to the base of the big hill and here I decided to change my plan a little bit and instead of following the hillside around, tried to cut across the hypotenuse. This might have worked had I not then lost focus and I tried to read a small hill in the flat area as the large hill my control was behind. I checked behind that hill and didn’t see a reentrant, then I charged across to another hill that I saw… still nothing making sense. Feeling very panicked so I started heading back towards the hill to relocate (though my garmin shows me running more south than west) here I saw Clem [McGrath] and that helped me realize that I hadn’t gone far enough, turned around and chased back up to Clem, and finally up over the hill and into the flag.

16-17, 17-18, 18-19, 19-20, 20-F
-17 a bit angry, a bit relieved, I just wanted to be done. Had seen this control before and could recall a bit what the terrain around it looked like. Came down the hill, saw the depression to my right and then knew to turn left and into the flag.
-18 aimed straight at the flag, saw Ken again from when I hit the trail and was able to chase him into the flag. Also had been to this one before too.
-19 around the first depression, then along the side of the big green hill, out the spur and down into the pit on the other side.
-20 out to the road, scanned along the side to see if there was an opening in the green, saw the cairn and then saw a gap. Cut through the field.
-F still had some left for the final sprint.

- Ran very fast. Physically the fastest guy racing that day in those woods. Even the green didn’t slow me too much.
- Able to keep my eyes up, get information and use it quickly to adjust my route
- Able to simplify really tough terrain and find the minimum necessary to navigate

- Did not have a full plan before setting out on some legs. This cost me a lot on 2, but I got lucky on other controls.
- Did not mentally stay focused on the long leg, 16, long enough. Can’t “coast in” to the finish, need to stay sharp the whole way.
- Changed routes trying to save a few seconds. Better to choose the correct route then stick to it.

- Interesting to see how much my drawn track differed from my GPS. Plus the fact that I couldn’t draw the routes in at all for some of the legs. A positive sign of simplification? A negative sign of lazy map reading?
- Won splits at the beginning and at the end. A good sign that I didn’t go out too fast or run out of energy. Did not take any gu or water for the course (80 mins) but the race seemed short.

- 2nd place (80:00), 2:31 out of 1st place Will Hawkins (77:29), 3rd place Leif Anderson (84:02)
7:05/k, for 11.3k and 426 meters of climb
- 11 fastest splits, 6 seconds or less from the fastest split on all but 3 controls (two big mistakes and Erin Schirm was blazing fast to 12)
- WinSplits “without errors” puts me at 73:58 (6:33/k)

Monday, October 12, 2009

Training Camp Update: Harriman State Park, NY, October 8-11

This is an unedited review by Peter Gagarin of the US Team training camp at Harriman State Park that was attended by several French national team runners, including multiple world champion Thierry Gueorgiou and WOC medalist Francois Gonon.
(Note: the US Team coach resigned his position during the preparation stage of this camp, so several US Team members stepped up and made sure that this camp happened. Many thanks to Clem McGrath and Eddie Bergeron for doing a great job with last-minute organization.)

A review of the Harriman training camp.

1. Pre-camp planning.

I'm not sure how long this training camp was in the works, as I'm only marginally involved in Team stuff these days. I wouldn't have had much interest in it, except that I'd heard that Tero was going to be there with a couple of friends, and I was curious to meet him and maybe see him in action. Participating in the camp wasn't appealing in my current state, nor was getting involved in organizing it, but it seemed like offering to hang controls would useful and would be a valid reason to be there. And also might make it easier to meet the French guys. So that's what I did, made my offer a couple of weeks ago.

And then Mike [Waddington] decided that he couldn't come, and was stepping down as coach too. So there was a bit of a leadership gap. But Eddie and Clem stepped up and got things organized, and the camp happened.

The plan was to start Thursday afternoon and run through Saturday afternoon, and then run the Highlander on Sunday. Hard training in the days leading up to the Highlander may not be the best preparation, but the thinking was, the training is more important than the Highlander and if you start the Highlander tired, so what.

Some Team members were coming for the whole thing (Eddie, Clem), some just for Friday and Saturday (Nikolay and Kat, though she only stayed part of each day), some just for Saturday (Cristina, Samantha, Ross, Ali), and some not at all. In addition, there were two promising juniors (Andrew Childs and Hannah Burgess) there the whole time plus a couple of Canadian team members (Emily and JT). And then in addition to that were several others, mostly CSU members. I'm not sure how it happened that they came (it was no problem as far as I was concerned), though I know there was some discussion about which and how many non-team members could take part. I never bothered to try to find out the details.

2. Thursday.

Eddie organized the training for Thursday. I met him there late morning to get enough of a head start to get the controls out in time. First was corridor training. Note that I had the whole map; participants had just corridors maybe 50-75 meters wide to use.

Corridors map.

Following that immediately was a control picking course --

Control picking map.

My timing was just about perfect. As I was hanging the last control Tero appeared. Glad I wasn't a minute later.

Folks arrived after a bit, with Eddie last, having not just run both courses but picked up all the controls in the process! Meanwhile Linda Kohn had arrived, and headed out to hang controls for the middle course for Friday morning. I went out to take care of the controls for the O' intervals for the next morning.

The others went off to our two wonderful hosts for the camp, Alan and Mairead Young, and Bernie and Liisa Breton. Both families were just unbelievably hospitable, including hosting dinner for all of us Friday at the Youngs and Saturday at the Bretons.

But for Thursday evening we went out for dinner, French guys included, at a local diner, and then bowling after that. Very good fun.

3. Friday

Clem had organized the training for Friday, with some help from Sandy who printed the maps. This was the only wet day, raining quite a bit in the morning, not much in the afternoon though the woods were still wet, though it really didn't make much difference.

First up were the O' intervals, to be run in small groups, with forked controls and breaks between each section to regroup and take a short break.

Intervals map.

Then there was a middle course. No route because Linda hung those.

Morning middle map.

Both these courses included sections with a mix of small features and patches of laurel, not at all easy. Other parts were wide open.

Meanwhile Linda and I were hanging controls for a rerun of the middle course from the Team Trials in 2003. We used stands for these to make sure we could get them in the right place (there is a real lack of trees in Harriman for hanging controls).

Lunch was both good and bad. Good because we all drove off to Sloatsburg to get lunch, all together, good company. Bad that it took quite a bit of time, so it was mid/late afternoon before they all started the TT course, and getting dark by the time some were finishing.

Team Trials middle map. Linda hung the 6 eastern controls.

Seems like everyone did all the training. The controls were left out in case anyone wanted to run any of the courses on Saturday.

Wonderful dinner at the Youngs, everyone there and a ton of food.

4. Saturday

The French guys had said they would organize a training for Saturday morning. Tero planned the courses at lunch on Friday and I hung the controls that afternoon, so all of them could run too.

It was a 2-person, 8-leg relay, so everyone ran 4 legs, total distance for each person was 5.6 km. Tero and I went off set up the start/finish while everyone else got a hands-on participatory warm-up led by François Gognon, another of the amazing French guys of the past decade. I gather the warm-up consisted of 10 minutes of jogging, and then 10-15 of running drills (crazy walks), and then a couple of uphill intervals to the start/finish.

The relay was excellent. Serious competition but also good karma. Winning team was Sam and J-B.

The format was two-person teams. Four legs run by each, the first three in varying order, then the last one common. The first three legs are shown in red on the map. That's what the lead-off runner got, but both runners on the team used just that one map for the first three legs each, i.e. the tag was just hand the teammate the map, they'd do same first leg, then both the second, then both the third. Six possible combinations, broke things up nicely. And then the final loop, just 800 meters, shown here in black, was actually on a separate map, again each teammate did it. Tero's time on the last leg was 3:38, Ross next best at 4:02, trying to hang with him, did good except on the uphills.

Relay map.

Back to the parking lot, which several folks pitching in to retrieve all the controls. A short but wonderful awards ceremony orchestrated by the French. Then off to lunch again, except for Ross who ran the morning middle course from the day before and picked up the controls too. Jon Torrance ran the TT course and picked up those controls. And Brendan, suffering from a sore knee, had skipped the relay and picked up the controls from the O-intervals.

Back from lunch, the serious part of the training camp, at least for Tero, was a rerun of the Short final from WOC-93. He was taking it especially seriously because his current coach is Petter Thoresen, who won the event 16 years ago.

Eric Weyman had come up just to set up the course (he was the original course setter). Everyone ran it late afternoon. Tero was 23:20 for the 4.75 km, would have been 3rd back in 1993, though the vegetation has changed some and it's hard to know how much of an adjustment to make. On this day he was way ahead of any of the North Americans.

WOC-93 Short final map.

Then Eric set off to pick up all the controls, and take all the gear back to Sandy (we had borrowed it from DVOA). And the camp was over. Except for another great dinner,this time at the Bretons, probably 30 people there.

6. Observations

-- Mostly it went well, especially considering the last-minute scrambling just to make it happen. As usual, people were willing to pitch in to help, though often not willing to commit until the last moment. There was lots of training done, despite the fact that the Highlander was looming on Sunday. No one seemed to be dogging it on Saturday. The accommodations were superb, and free. The vibes seemed to be very good.

-- So what was missing?

First, this was a training camp where you were given the opportunity to train, but you were mostly on your own as to what you were working on. Other than François's session on warming up, there was no coaching. So I'm not sure how much people got out of the camp. Or how much more they could have gotten.

Second, it seemed a bit of a missed opportunity with the French guys. They were clearly not there to be in any leadership position, they were on vacation. Nevertheless, they offered to organize Saturday morning and that was really cool. But it seemed to me that people were hesitant to make connections. They were with us from Thursday evening on, doing the same trainings, eating and relaxing together. I just think people could have been much more assertive in connecting, and learned stuff in the process.

Note that beside Tero and François, the other two French guys were also very good -- Jean-Baptiste was at two WOCs, 31st in the long-distance final in both 2003 and 2004, I think he is ranked 7th in France, and Matthieu was a little slower but not much. All were very cool, would chatter away in French, but anytime anyone engaged them, they were glad to talk about most anything, and all spoke good English. I really enjoyed having them there. I hope the others did.

Third, again because of a lack of a coach and planning, there were no indoor or evening sessions. I went to a training camp in Hamilton several years ago, where the guest stars were Holger and Sandy Hott, and there were classroom sessions every evening, and very interesting sessions. This camp had none of that. My sense was that everyone was having a good time, but that much more could have been accomplished.

Fourth, if there is a lesson in this it is that planning needs to be done much earlier and more thoroughly. Planning the woods training. Planning the non-woods training. Getting the equipment and the maps. Arranging for e-punching (didn't have that this time). Getting commitments from team members (senior and junior) to come. Getting helpers. Figuring out what policy to have about non-team members (and what to charge them, they got a free ride this time). All this is work, but it makes for a much better final result.

Fifth, as I said, the one real coaching moment was about warming up properly. So then it was interesting to note a couple of things. During the relay Saturday morning, where you were running four times with rest intervals averaging 10-15 minutes, the French guys were continually moving during their rest intervals, staying warm and ready to go. Everyone else was standing around chatting and spectating and not moving at all. And before the WOC93 race in late afternoon, the French guys did a very thorough warm-up (Tero was breathing quite hard as he stood waiting for the start command). Ditto for Jon Torrance and Nikolay. No one else did anything.

At what point do we take things seriously?

And finally, I have a lot of admiration for those team members who had the attitude that they were going to train hard, and then run the Highlander on (very) tired legs, and even flew in from some distance to do it. And not much admiration for those who showed up for the Highlander but couldn't come at least a day earlier to try and learn something. Especially with a world champion there.