Saturday, June 18, 2011

Escarpment Trail run

Last weekend of lowland training! Recently I received a letter telling me "due to a stroke of bad luck, your entry into the Escarpment Trail Run has been accepted". This is a 30k race at the end of July on a technical, rocky, interesting course in the Catskills. Seems like a good place for some recon and a bit of trail running/hill climbing from the valley to the finish line and then along a few miles up the course.

Escarpment boulder:

There used to be a nice hotel up here:

North Lake (the finish line for the race):

Today was a hazy day:

More Catskills geology (is that a duck in the upper left?):

One of several views along this stretch - this trail has more than its share of views compared to other Catskills trails:

This was a bit of a surprise:

View back down to the finish line lakes from North Point:

Bad Man Cave (not, apparently, related to the Bat Cave):

Rob Lowe's book on my iPod kept me entertained and laughing. The extended version of The Outsiders is now in my Netflix queue, plus I'm really looking forward to seeing Austin Powers again sometime soon!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

CNYO REgaine orienteering

Last weekend I competed in the CNYO REgaine event. By "competed" I mean I went all-out to try to maximize my score, the most all-out I've done in a while, certainly for a long event anyway. By "REgaine" I mean a relay-style rogaine, where there are separate segments to the 24-hour event in which you can go out and look for controls in any order. We got a map with 39 controls at the start, each control worth a different # of points, and whoever got the most total points by the end of 24 hours would win.

The main difference from a 24-hour rogaine was the requirement to return to the start/finish area and rest for a certain length of time during each 6-hour segment. Most folks were running in the "Lone Wolf" category where it wasn't even a relay, just one person going out into the woods 4 times and coming back to rest in between. There was at least one team that switched off runners and always had someone in the woods, but it seemed the more competitive folks ran it solo.

The concept that I liked was that you could decide what order to run the following legs: 5 hour run/1 hour rest; 4 hour run/2 hour rest (twice); 3 hour run/3 hour rest. You could also swap the run/rest order to get more rest, but most people I believe ran the max 16 hours allowed for running. The only restriction was that you could not run back-to-back legs.

So that's quite an explanation, and this post will only get more wordy from here - no photos to share, I'm afraid. My complete focus was on the race, and by the end I was way too covered in dirt and grime to think about touching the camera. Anyone who doesn't really truly care about this event and all the details involved may want to skip this post or at least skip to the end to learn the outcome :) I haven't written a real race report in a long time, fair warning!

I drove my car out to the Morgan Hill State Forest south of Syracuse and set it up for sleeping and working on maps and gear. Any stage race requires efficiency during the rest periods and a quick gear turnaround for maximum sleep. I planned to experiment with a slightly odd strategy of starting out with a 1-hour rest period to work on maps and route planning, since we would receive the maps right before the start, and with rogaines it usually takes time to figure out a good course of action. I think everyone else got their maps and ran.

It was nice having time to divide up the points roughly into 4 sets, with a solid plan for the first leg and an eye on several controls that could be gotten whenever I had extra time. The most fun was on an island in the pond next to the start/finish - along with a canoe for anyone that wanted to use it. I looked forward to that, hoping I wouldn't be in a hurry at the time.

After an hour I waited with a group of runners doing the 6-hour course starting at 1 pm, then it was time to go. I ran along a dirt road and found a logging road over to a trail. It was immediately clear that the logging roads kinda sucked. Almost all of them were wet to some degree, sometimes comically so with deep slippery puddles. It was easier following alongside the road in the woods and dodging trees instead of muddy ruts.

I stuck it out for 300 meters in the name of learning about the terrain, coming to the blue-blazed hiking trail that wound around the western and northern parts of our map. Much better! After a nice downhill run I found the paved road that cut through the middle of the map and headed south.

The start/finish was located in the northwest corner of the competition area, and it was a long way to the furthest points. That made the southern section the obvious go-to spot for the 5-hour leg, and I probably could have figured that out on the fly without sitting for an hour checking everything out first. I ran a ways down the road, climbed east up the blue trail and then along a path next to a creek to find #65. 30 minutes in, that took a while, but hopefully the next few would come more quickly. I was aiming for 13 controls in 5 hours, hoping for 3.5 per hour plus 30 minutes down and another 30 minutes back.

A logging road magically appeared where none existed on the map, so I followed it across the hillside back to the blue trail and then up, up the hill on the first long climb of the day. That went great and I found #46 in a stream junction. Next a bit of trail until it petered out and then my first cross-country trek. It was only several hundred meters, but it was slow, slow, slow - pushing through brush, climbing over logs, ducking under branches. I was happy to pop out at a logging road even though it was, of course, wet and muddy.

The next control was sort of in the middle of nowhere on the "NW side of vegetation boundary" so I followed the road around until I got as close as I could and still knew where I was (at a bend in the road). Another runner appeared from the other direction, we said Hi and then both set our compass bearings and walked into the woods. We weren't going exactly the same way, and the woods were thick enough that he soon disappeared from sight.

I slowed at the right distance and then came upon a drop in the terrain ahead - so I was approximately in the right place but didn't see any vegetation boundaries to speak of. I could hear the other guy crashing around in the brush somewhere. I turned and followed the edge of the plateau, looking every which way until I spotted the orienteering flag for #35 not far away - sweet! One of the best feelings in the sport. The only better would have been to hit it right on in the first place. So I get a "half Bingo" for that one.

Back out to the logging road, I followed it for a ways until it unexpectedly split. Dang logging roads. I took a guess, it seemed to be right, and I continued pace counting until it was time to drop down the west side of the hill. I was looking for a drainage intersection, and I figured I would drop down in between the two drainages and find the control a bit below that.

Well, that was the plan anyway. I dropped down the steep part and right when I got to some easier terrain there was a woman runner just standing there staring at the hillside. I pondered the map and continued lower until it was obvious that I had gone a bit too low. Back up along next to a creek (so at least I was probably in the right general area), with a couple other folks looking too. I followed the water flow until it faded to nothing, then decided to try a bit further north. Coming to an obvious deeper drainage, I looked up to see control #44 just hanging out waiting for me. Nice.

No idea whether the other people had found it yet. I took off through the pine trees heading west. I found a nice trail leading down to #28, then hiked up a hill cross-country when I didn't find a dotted trail-looking thing that was on the map. #67 was at the top of the hill, and that was a nice flourish to a set of close-together points.

I followed a park boundary trail, crossed a little creek and climbed up to a logging trail heading east. I tried a southerly bearing cross-country but couldn't resist a faint trail thing that headed approximately that way. When it eventually died I had to cross some woods and then open areas - but I quickly learned that the open spots may be nettle-infested, so I immediately backed out of there. A bit more futzing around and then I saw a huge open field ahead.

Once out of the woods I checked the overhead powerlines and my compass, coming to realize that I had missed the southern park boundary that I'd been shooting for. During the quick run-around to recover, the woman from control #44 came from the other direction. Hi there! I punched #32 at the edge of the field and turned around to follow her back to the powerline road.

After a short debate with myself about distance vs. climb, I went with the direct powerline route (more climb, less distance vs. taking the road around) and studied the map as I made my way up the long hill on the other side of the drainage. I had originally thought to just climb straight up through the woods, but I was learning the wisdom of taking paths whenever possible instead of fighting through crap on a shorter route.

A quick road run, and a greeting to the woman and a couple of guys on the out-and-back, then I found #81 just off the road. The southernmost points were complete, and I was still making good time.

I had been debating the order for the next 3 points - these were the last ones that I needed in the southern third of the map, with an option to get a 4th (#52) to make the next segment easier. I decided I had time to go for #52, so I would head over the ridge to the east to gather the 3 controls, end up at the bottom of the drainage, and then climb up to #52 as I started back north. It was a bit risky since I was getting toward the end of the 5-hour section, but if it worked I would be in great shape for this portion of the map.

The first of the set of 3 was easy - a flat muddy trail to #12 in a reentrant. The team of 2 guys arrived there when I did, fun to chat with them for just a second. They were doing the race unofficially because they were staying together instead of following the "solo" rules, and I envied that they had company. I missed my rogaine-partner-husband.

Up and over the ridge to the east, I waded through some berry bushes and came out at the big powerline again, ran down it and carefully figured out where to head across the steep hillside into the woods. I aimed above the next control, crossed a couple creeks, and then started down the last one looking for a spring. Just when I had decided that I had gone too far downhill, there was #49 - relief.

I barrelled down the rest of the hill to the powerline at the bottom and found the main creek to follow south to the third control in the set of 3. The clue was "East side of stream" and it was about 500+ meters from that spot. There was even a little road along the creek for a ways, bonus! I ran and pace-counted and eventually got into the creek to look for the control.

But it never appeared, and I wondered if I had missed it while running further on the road than I had expected? I had not been careful enough to follow the side drainages on the west side, because the visibility around the creek was good and I had been checking up and down in the creek whenever I bypassed the actual creek bed for a short distance.

Re clearing the course: I had the idea that if everything went great, I might get all 39 controls, i.e. perhaps I could clear the course. A nice side benefit to this strategy is that every control counts the same. You just need all of them, no point in spending time thinking about point values. The downside is that you can't miss a single one. Getting stuck means you have to figure it out. John and I almost gave up on a control at a rogaine a couple years ago, and that would have cost us the race.

So I wasn't keen on abandoning this control especially when there was no way I would get back here later. On the other hand, the REgaine format doesn't allow for a lot of time spent on one control unless it's at the beginning of a segment or near the start/finish - neither situation applied here! There really was no room for error. Returning late from a segment meant losing 3x that amount of the time at the start of the next one, which could be a big deal depending on how late you were.

So when I hurried back north, checking every possibility on the east side of the stream and not finding anything, I started fretting. When I could see the powerline cut, I knew I was in trouble. For some reason, I still wasn't ready to give up. I remeasured and ran the 500 meters back, verified that I was in the right place to begin with, and decided that I couldn't spend any more time on it, bummer.

Looking at my watch and options for getting back, I started getting a bit frantic - that's a long ways without much time! One last look at the map for #42 and I noticed that the control circle was plotted slightly west of the main creek. In desperation I climbed above the creek to the west and started north, heading for home but at least trying something different along the way.

Then I saw footprints going uphill and looked up to see a control flag - no way! I had found #42, I don't get it, but I gotta get out of here right now. I punched my card and booked it back to the little road, wondering WTH was that?

I had already been debating how to get back from here. The smartest/fastest way was probably west back over the ridge past #49 to a road that would allow one more control along the way. On the other hand, #52 was right up the powerline to the northeast and just up a spur, and how could I resist that? The distance was just a little more, just a tad more up/down, but the biggest difference was the greater amount of off-trail travel. Hmm, what the heck, let's get #52 and try to make the next segment easier.

As fast as I could, I hiked up the powerline road to the top and jumped into the woods. 200 meters of absolute crap and brush and vines and prickers later and I was really wondering just how dumb I could be. Especially looking at the map now, I see a path I could have taken to avoid all of that - d'oh! That kind of shows what happens to my brain when I get in a huge hurry.

So I found the path finally and #52 was right there, so that went well. Now "all" I needed to do was continue up the spur to a logging road to the main road and then run like heck for a while. It started out slow but gradually got easier to run through the trees and then I found an old road to follow. As much as I could coax my legs to wade through brush and climb over downed trees, I tried to do it as fast as possible. Phew, this is not my forte. Especially as my legs started cramping up from the effort and dehydration.

I finally found a real-looking logging road and that seemed like a good sign. But there was a gradual deterioration of said "good sign", as more roads appeared and of course there was plenty of water and mud to mess around with in this maze. This went on for some time and I was not in the mood to deal with it. Where is the dang main road? Come ON already. I had to stop once to let a leg cramp ease up, better be careful with that.

As I suspected, I had missed the S-bend in the road and hit it further west, so that was an extra 500 meters of logging road suck that I didn't need. Arrgh. At the same time, I was really close to an 80-pointer at that spot and just could not resist going to get it. This is what a REgaine will do to you!

A bit more off-road nastiness and I found #87, now I really, really have to go. To heck with the woods, I'm going around on the road. I took off running, first west and then back northeast, gearing up for a long road run and working on a pace I could reasonably sustain for a while. My legs were fine with basic running, and I finished most of my Gatorade to try to get a bit more hydrated for the run back.

Finally I was back on the northernmost map (of 3 maps). A runner approached from the other direction to ask me a question and I yelled out, "No time, gotta go!" so he ran along with me to chat. I told him I had just seen the slight bend in the road and a clearing on each side. He was looking for the same control I was heading for, so we ran together until I saw a possible trail entrance to the left. My new friend had not tried it yet, so that was promising. We ran down until crossing a little stream where I jumped into the woods to find #69 at a ruin (didn't look around to see what that was).

That was fun, gotta run! The other guy was on the 6-hour course and still had an hour to go, so I left him and headed downhill in search of a particular trail. This involved a bit of stepping over logs and pausing to let my calf cramps relax before running downhill some more. Eventually I found a creek and was happy to be at the bottom and close to the next road.

I even found a little trail heading up to the road, yay! But then I popped out at the road and realized I had taken the less-direct trail downhill and I had further to go than I thought. Boo!

At this point I had one big hill to climb and no way to make it by 6 pm, but every minute counted so I kept pushing. This was crazy. The event was only 1/4 over and I was killing myself. I ran, speed-walked uphill, ran some more, really ran, and finally found the hash house (start/finish) - 5 minutes late! OMG.

The check-in lady thought I was 1 hour 5 minutes late, so that took some explaining and she finally got that I had started an hour after the rest of the 24-hour crowd. Obviously mine was a unique strategy! So she recorded me as 5 minutes late, for a 15-minute late start on segment #2. Could have been worse.

Segment 1:
5 hours running
Around 28 km
2300 feet of climbing
14 controls (rockin'!)
709 points (controls worth their number in points)

After some recovery, Gookinaid, change of socks, and getting ahold of myself, I tracked down one of the event directors to chat about the clue for #42. He did mention that there was a park boundary that should have precluded the main creek from being "within bounds", which I had not noticed and did appreciate. But he also said that the clue should have read "East END of stream", meaning one of the streams coming down on the west side that ended on a bench above the main creek. That would have helped quite a bit.

He said he could try to do something for me, so I told him all I really wanted was those 5 minutes back so I didn't have to start late on the next leg. He was agreeable, and I was happy. I really appreciated his listening and working with me, that was helpful. And I was ready to move on and focus on "What's Next".

So what is next? The biggest ripple effect of my problems at the end of leg one was not having time to go after 2 controls on the side of the mountain that I was planning to hit on the way back. In the daylight. From the top (and the controls were much closer to the top than the bottom). I rearranged my 2nd leg to start with those 2 controls and hopefully have a little daylight to help me out. Then I would go for the loop I had already planned, minus #87 and #52 that I had already punched.

Still, there were a couple other controls that looked iffy in the dark, and I figured this leg would be the crux of the race. Either I hit them all without problems or I wouldn't clear the course.

After 2 hours, I was ready to get going again. My legs took a while to get loose and eventually they warmed up along with the rest of my body. I ran out the same road, skipped the logging road "short cut", and used my learning from the end of the last leg to start at the right spot at the bottom of the big hillside.

As I was running along, I suddenly realized that the normal strategy of running 5 hours starting at noon, instead of 1 pm like I had, made much more sense. I had calculated nighttime hours and didn't see much difference, but I had neglected to realize that leg 2 could be done from 6 to 10 pm (half in the dark) and leg 3 could be done from 3 to 6 am (again about half in the dark). That would be a big improvement over my 4-hour leg that was apparently all in the dark. Because it was dang dark in those trees - no help from the setting sun here. I was about to find out how much I would pay for this strategic error.

I ascended the side of the hill trying to follow the park property line. It started out bounded by "No Trespassing" signs but I eventually lost sight of any of those, and nothing else appeared to indicate where the property line was (drawn in large dot/dashes on our maps). Surely I should have worked harder to figure this out down at the bottom, but instead I forged ahead relying on a bearing and pace counting. At what seemed like the right distance to a property line corner, I turned and took another bearing, angling up the hillside and again counting paces.

Amazingly, the little creek crossings happened at just the right time. When I got to the 3rd one I started looking for the control flag. Uphill seemed like a good bet, and then I found an old road crossing the creek. That matched the map perfectly, except there was no control 50 meters down like there should have been. No sign of the park boundary either (the control clue was "boundary corner"). I muddled with that for a bit, trying to decide how to recover.

Finally I climbed a couple-three hundred meters up to the main road, basically telling myself I had run out of time to play around. Running down the road it became clear that I had been in the wrong area (don't you hate it when the terrain matches the map but you're in the wrong place?). As soon as I figured that out, I couldn't bear to leave a control hanging just a short ways below me.

So I dropped down, ran through some clear woods, found the correct streams, and found #53 just like that. I should have just done that from the beginning!

Now to aim for the 2nd side-of-the-hill point. I had originally planned to follow a logging road over, but it ended on the map and I didn't trust the property line markings to be visible in real life. So I figured on going back up to the main road since that worked so well on the first point. Then I saw a logging road, not marked on the map, but going exactly the right way. And if it continued, it might connect with a road that WAS on the map. I couldn't resist. Stupid impulses.

For 300 meters this worked great. This was about halfway across. Then the logging road turned directly uphill and was covered with downed trees in that direction. Sigh. I had to forge ahead, back to pushing through brush and crap and now not able to see very far ahead to figure out a better way through. What a mess.

After a time, I did find the up-down logging road I was looking for. But annoyingly there were several side roads that didn't really match the map. I made one effort at heading off 100 meters to look for the control, on the "South side of copse". I was only successful in finding an area dense with trees, like perhaps a copse might be, but no flag. Sigh.

I gave up, went back to the logging road and climbed almost to the top. Then the road curved, just like on the map, and I knew where I was. Where I was was only 200 meters away from the control, and I just couldn't leave it there. I paced counted down the hill, turned off 100 meters, and only had to search a minute or 2 before the #21 control reflector lit up in the beam of my bright Fenix light. Score!

I'm not sure if I was being dumb or tenacious. Probably some of each. At that point I knew I wasn't going to get all of the 2nd leg points that I wanted, which meant I wasn't going to clear the course. And here I was wasting time for 21 measly points. But I found it, damn it, so that was satisfying enough.

Back to "Salvage Mission" mode, again. This time I didn't have as many options, no extra 80-pointers to hit along the way. I nixed #43 down in the next stream bottom because of the off-trail travel and especially because of the confusing logging roads I knew existing on the ridge up the other side. Instead I focused on a 70-pointer that was further away but closer to a road and worth more points.

I took off running down the road I had been on earlier, passed close to #87 and kept going east and then south until the road curved back around northeast in a sharp bend. Here I started downhill, aiming off toward #73 at the bottom of the valley. I started watching the clock, keeping track of how long everything took so I'd know what to expect for the run back.

Down the hill, I had to keep climbing over logs and going around big rootstocks. It was so dark and hard to figure out the fastest way down. I had a vivid image of John leading the way, finding the best routes and making everything easier. I sure miss my rogaine partner. Not just for that, of course :)

At the bottom I turned right and followed the creek to control #73. No problems with that, at least. I climbed back up at an angle, found the road, and speed-walked/jogged back uphill. Along with #43, I was leaving #50 and #57 on the far east side. But I was really running out of time to mess around. Which is too bad - if I had skipped even one of the first 2 side-of-the-hill controls, I might have been able to tag both those 50-pointers. It took me too long to give up on the concept of clearing the course.

I ran along the road, turned north and passed the trail that dropped down to #69. I still wanted a couple controls on the way back, so I found a bend in the road and turned into the woods to look for #34 on a cliff. It was a bit of a fight through the vegetation, and I must have crossed the little creek on the map without noticing. When the ground finally started dropping away ahead of me, I circled around to the right and came upon the control. It was hanging above the creek but I was looking at a steep drop-off to get to it - guess I better go around first!

That accomplished, now I needed to get down the big hill again. I followed the creek on down, going as fast as I could without being directly in the creek but also trying to avoid traversing along steep banks. Eventually it leveled out and then I found the road.

I decided I still had time for one more control, #29 next to the nearby pond. I found the nice blue-blazed trail and followed it to a little creek which led down to the pond. It was rather eerie down there in the dark - lots of reeds and a marsh-looking area. I made a point not to walk off into it in case it was covered with shoe-sucking mud. But I didn't see the control, decided "that's that then", turned around, and spotted the reflector off to one side. Hey, I found every control that I went looking for on this leg, even if it wasn't pretty!

Time to get outta Dodge. I guess I originally had intended to stay on the blue trail across the main road and over to #41 on the way back, but I no longer had time for that. For some reason, I circled the pond around the south side anyway, making for a longer trip back. But it was a nice run on the trail, so there was that. Back on the road, up the road, along the road, I was again counting the minutes and trying not to get back late. What is up with this constant worry over the clock?!

And this is when it truly dawned on me just how tough this event can be. In a regular rogaine, you can plenty of time for errors and recovery, adjusting as you go, just working out the endgame in the last few hours, and then if you want to really push to get a couple extra controls then you run all-out and there's a bunch of adrenaline in the last hour. But here, you get to do that "all-out" thing up to FOUR TIMES. Any mistake early on will be magnified based on how far from the start/finish you are when it happens and whether future legs can be adjusted to account for it.

So here I was again, running as fast as I could to get back to the hash house. This time I made it with about 3 minutes to spare. I have GOT to stop doing this!

Segment 2:
4 hours running
Around 18 km
1600 feet of climbing
5 controls (weak!)
210 points for a total of 919

Time for a 3 hour break. This is the definite benefit to this event. I am SO not use to stopping for multiple hours unless it's in the middle of a multi-day event and even then there is a ton of gear to mess with. This was so tame in comparison. I wasn't even sleep deprived yet! And I changed my entire set of race clothes, and that never happens either. I was glad I brought them so I could get all the wet stuff off and crawl into my sleeping bag feeling mostly fresh. I slept 2 hours, drank some SPIZ, and was ready to go at 3 a.m. with most of the rest of the 24-hour folks.

The air temperature wasn't too bad, probably in the 50's, but it was cold enough waiting around to start. Then it took some time getting my stiff legs back to jogging and then running shape. I heard later someone complementing another guy on how fast he had been running - his reply was that it was the beginning of the leg, and by the end he was all tuckered out. For me it was just the opposite. Slow start, fast finish. As I warmed up, I stripped off my jacket and buff and was back to standard race clothing within a couple miles.

Everyone else went in a different direction while I headed back out in my standard "run down the road" start. I had a plan for this leg from the very beginning, and the only thing I changed was removing the very first control because I was concerned about my nighttime pace and ability to get all 7 controls in the 3 hour time slot. I really wanted a particular 70-pointer near the end of this loop and decided to give up on #51 which would involve a good bit of climbing. There were a couple extra points I could still shoot for at the end if I had time.

I started with a long road run to use up some nighttime minutes, eventually arriving at the northeast corner of the map in about 45 minutes, as I had expected. I carefully pace counted down the road, marked the jump-off spot with a stick, then continued a bit past to see if the park boundary was obvious. It was, and my pace count was good, so I headed into the woods.

Carefully looking around while carefully stepping over logs, I scanned with the bright light until I spotted the reflector for #66 dead ahead. Bingo! Nice start. Much better than the last leg, and under an hour this time :)

Back out to the road, I greeted a guy running toward me and he sang out "Runners in the night!", too funny. I found a trail to follow, briefly saw the blue-blazed trail, then continued on a logging road over a hill and down to a bend. Heading down into the woods, #33 was right in the right place. I was on a nice little roll.

Trail, back to the road, still waiting for any sign of daylight but none coming yet. I searched for a good way into a thicket to find a reentrant heading uphill, but didn't see anything pleasant so I plunged in and hoped for the best. Then I found a trail going up/down that I should have checked for around the dirt pile at the bottom, ah well. At least I was on it now. A short ways up and I could hear the creek I was looking for. I peeked into the mass of crap and there was #27 - love it when that happens.

I followed the trail all the way up until it hit the mapped logging trail, then climbed some more to a spur. Another short bushwhack and #58 appeared right in front of me. Now this is how night nav should be. I seriously should have picked a better set of points for segment #2, controls that were closer to trails and involving a lot less cross-country travel.

After going north for a short bit to find another logging road, I followed it around and further north until I picked up the orange-blazed trail for the remaining northern travel. This was great, trail running in the early morning, feeling good and moving well, no serious time constraints finally. I was watching my watch religiously but didn't have anything to worry about at this point.

Somewhere in here it finally started getting light, but I still needed my handheld in the trees and my headlamp to read the map details. I found the northern hilltop and set out through the woods to find the "East side of vegetation boundary". There were huge clearcuts from logging activity, and I crossed three of them but didn't really expect that to be the vegetation boundary I was looking for - that would be too easy.

At the end of the hill, I started back while looking more closely on the eastern edge, spotting control #75 down in the bushes along the way. That was the one I really wanted, so that was a nice tag.

I returned to the orange-blazed trail and ran along over the top of the hill and down the long drop to the west. It was a super fun run, in the daylight, switchbacking and gliding along. It felt like a short version of a Massanutten hill, coming down from a ridge. I met a guy coming uphill and he kindly stepped out of the way for me as I ran by and thanked him.

Watching the clock ever-closely, I was pretty sure I had time for #39 down in the drainage system across the way, so when I reached the road I went across and got back to the bushwhacking. The vegetation wasn't bad for a quick traverse, and I soon found a stream heading down to the main creek. At the stream intersection, I marveled at the pretty little section of creek, located the control, got my feet a bit wet, and turned to head back uphill to the road.

There were a few tracks in here, but nothing permanent and soon I was on my own pushing through berry bushes for a bit. Eventually I reached the road and was psyched to see that I didn't have to sprint for the finish. Not only that, but I also had time for a quick trek across a field to #31 at the edge of the clearing.

And not only that, but I had 14 minutes remaining when I got back to the hash house, plenty of time for a little canoe paddle. I carefully put the Wenonah in the water, sat on the middle seat (it was thankfully set up as a one-person ride), and pushed off. Once I finally got it pointed into the pond instead of at the bank, I was gliding smoothly over to the control at the island. One punch of #19 and I glided on back. That was fun!

It was such a relief to finish a segment with plenty of time to spare, but not enough that I was second-guessing myself about skipping #51.

Segment 3:
3 hours running
Around 14 km
1800 feet of climbing
8 controls (much better!)
348 points for a total of 1267

The hash house was cooking up breakfast, and normally we don't get to partake much from the hash house in a rogaine so I wandered over. Scrambled eggs? Heck yeah! That was great, along with hot chocolate. I ate it in the car, changed socks for the third time, and crawled in the sleeping bag for an hour nap. One more to go. Could I get up and do it again?

There wasn't much pondering, just rub the sleep out my eyes, drink the Spiz already made up, put on the O-pants, gaiters and wet shoes, and strap on the pack that was ready to go. I waited until the last possible minute so I wouldn't have to stand shivering at the start for too long, and then we were off for the final leg.

Again I was the only one heading in this particular direction, which was fine with me. I like navigating without distractions. It was time for the big eastern loop, and I was ready. No more road running to start the leg, yay! I rounded the pond and started up my favorite blue-blazed trail toward the top of ridge #1. Once there it was an easy matter of following tracks along the park boundary to spike control #30.

I had budgeted 30 minutes per control in a big loop with 7 controls and a bail-out spot near the end if needed. I was well under time from the get-go and that made me happy. I figured the long road run at the end wouldn't be too bad if I didn't have to sprint it.

Way down the other side, then way up the next ridge. My legs were doing great, which pleased me. I was in a good mood that morning. The blue-blazed trail led south along the next ridge, right to the most amazing overlook! It totally surprised me to finally get an awesome view of the valley to the west, how wonderful. I found #56 back in the woods behind the clearing, no problem.

I was starting to think that THIS should have been the 4-hour night loop. I do still wonder that at this point. Leaving a set of challenging points in the middle of the map (relatively far from the start/finish) for the end seems weird to me, but they were probably the best set for a 4-hour daytime loop. Even if that made things less flexible for the other segments - I'm not sure how that would have gone without actually trying it.

Anyway, all things to ponder later. For now, I was running downhill on trail and enjoying the morning. I found the dirt road going way, way down to the road and the parking area for the nearby waterfalls. At the bottom I crossed the road and followed a little trail in to #88. Easy to find, but with a huge climb back up the way I had come. Sounds good to me!

I passed a couple who were out for a morning run, and they asked what we were doing. After a quick reply and "that sounds like fun!" from them, I continued on. My legs handled the speed-hiking well and eventually I made it back up to the blue-blazed trail. It headed for a creek crossing, where I needed to go off the trail for a bit to locate the next control. At least that was the plan. I was looking for a park boundary corner on a hillside, so I tried looking for signs on trees and I followed tracks up and down the steep slopes. Hmm, that didn't work. I went back to the trail to try pace counting from the curve, then decided to head down to the creek to count from the bottom instead.

But there was no need for that, because lo and behold! The control was right next to the frickin' trail. Obviously the trail wasn't drawn quite right on the map. Here I was thinking that this is the control that would have stumped me at night for being somewhere obscure, and it still may have, depending on how I approached it. But it was right there. If only I had the patience to stop and ask the runners if they might by any chance have seen an orange and white orienteering flag? I have teammates that would do that, and in this case it would have saved a few minutes for sure. Normally probably not so much. Most of the controls were nowhere near the regular trail.

Ah well, time to move ahead. I crossed the creek, noticed where the falls were falling a bit lower down (sounded pretty anyway, from my vantage point) and climbed a bunch of stairs (?) to continue along the trail heading upward. More climbing and climbing, pushing the pace back up to the ridge. I found a saddle and crossed over to locate #70 in a reentrant, my most direct Bingo! of the day.

Back to the wonderful trail, now heading downhill but still to the south. I found the right spot to aim toward the last control of the area, confirmed by many footsteps along the dirt logging road that led into an area of downed trees and brush. I saw a guy ahead of me suddenly bolt uphill at high speed - I recognize that reaction. Sure enough, he was headed right for #54. Thanks for the help, sir! I tagged it and went back to the trail to run down to the main road. That was fun!

Well, now I had quite a bit of time remaining, with one control to hit on the trail to the finish. I unfolded the map just to see if there were any controls out there that I still had a snowball's chance of getting to at this late hour. Nope, nope, not even close, hey wait check that one out. My friend #51 (the one I skipped at the start of leg #3) might be feasible. It involved a lot of road running and then a climb on a trail, very little off-trail, and seemingly straightforward nav.

After a bit of math, I decided if I could get back to the northern section by 10:30 am then I would try it. I thought it might take an hour out-and-back for #51, and I should be able to get #41 and to the finish in 30 minutes, I hoped. I ran well along the main road, keeping a good pace, and coming to the decision point at 10:14 am. Well, that settles it - let's try for #51!

I also set an absolute turn-around time of 11 am. There was no way I could be late getting back this time - for every minute late in the final leg you lose one control starting with the highest valued. Too much to risk!

So I ran on the road, checking my watch at various points, finding intersections where I had last seen them in the dark, and eventually getting to my buddy the blue-blazed trail again in the northeast sector. It went downhill next to a really pretty creek, crossed it, and started up the other side. I focused on the map, slowing for little creek crossings that should have helped the nav. Except there were so many of them that it only confused things.

I was pretty sure I would see a sign at the park boundary (since I was on the trail), and sure enough there it was. I backtracked just a tad and then took off up through the trees. The 2-man team was coming down, and soon I located #51 with plenty of time to spare before the hard cutoff for turning around. Nice!

I ran down, speed-walked up, up some more, ran down the road, ran with the 2 guys for a short bit, then ran some more on the road. Back to the trail where I had started exactly 60 minutes earlier. That was a pretty good time estimate, if I do say so myself.

The trail went up one last long hill, and I knew I still needed to keep moving because I had one more control that I really wanted. I had been eyeing this one all day and night, and just never had the time to go get it on the way back to the finish. It was time.

I followed the trail around and jumped off at a little drainage that went down to a creek. #41 was in a bend in the stream, and I expected to find it pretty much right there. But that didn't happen - was I too low? I started upstream until I was sure there were side creeks coming in that indicated I was actually too high. That, plus the tracks of the many folks before me. I ran downstream, jumping rocks and trying not to get worried about this. Not again, right?

Finally there it was - my final control - yay for #41! I hustled back upstream and then up to the trail. I could have (probably should have) hiked up the west bank to the road from there, but I was quite fond of the blue-blazed trail and wanted a few last minutes running on it. Well, until it seemed to be taking too long and my watch was ticking along toward noon. Gotta get back, gotta get back... ah, there's the pond, that's a good sign. And then the road, I knew I had it from there. Just a short jog back and I was done. Phew!

Segment 4:
4 hours running
Around 20 km
2300 feet of climbing
8 controls (1 more than expected)
438 points for a total of 1705 (out of a max of 1900 possible)

I felt pretty good about everything except the 2nd leg, and I left only 4 controls unpunched. It wasn't perfect, but I learned a lot for next time. At the awards ceremony I learned I was the top female, and also 3rd place overall. Wow, that was really a surprise! I saw a lot of fast folks out there, and I thought the course was clear-able but no one did on that day. We'll all have a go at it again next year :)

My award - how neat!