Orienteering my way around orienteering

In 2013, I did my first trail race.

Last year, I tried another kind of race.

Orienteering.

What is orienteering, you ask? I’m still trying to figure it out but this is the gist according to Orienteering USA: Orienteering is a race in wilderness navigation using a map and compass.

You run (or walk) around from check point to check point. You find these check points (which are a flag-type box) by navigating on your map (that the race provides). And each check point has a number so you obviously work your way in numerical order until you get to the end.

There was an urban race being hosted at my college alma mater campus so I figured it couldn’t be that difficult. I mean, I know where certain buildings and landmarks are so it’s not like I would get lost. Hopefully.

It was raining on the Saturday before Christmas, which is when the race took place. Everyone around me had obviously been orienteering before. Unlike me, this wasn’t their first rodeo. They had a plastic band around their wrist so they could have their paper map in full view without it getting wet. I had mine in my pocket and every time I took it out, it became more and more like mulch because it was raining so much.

Bryce was set to do the advanced course and I was going to tackle the intermediate one. (I know, I am a beginner but since we were racing on campus, I figured I could complete the intermediate course).

As soon as I started, I looked at my map and saw the check point #1. I ran to the area that I thought it was at but as soon as I saw the orange box, I thought, “What happens if I stick my e-punch into the check point but it is the wrong check point? Will it beep at me? Will I be disqualified?” (By the way, the e-punch is a little device participants carry around and stick into each check point so that the race can electronically keep track of your time and whether or not you go to the correct check points).

Sorry for the blurry photo — my hands were freezing! — but the above is what the e-punch looks like.

Because there were more than four different orienteering races going on at once (varying from beginner to advanced to even elementary and high school student courses,) the number 1 check point for one race wouldn’t necessarily be the number 1 check point for another. This is why each physical box was assigned a box number. I didn’t realize this until I sheepishly stood by what I thought was my first check point for several minutes.

In this moment, I was kind of in a slight panic. I thought I wouldn’t be able to complete the race at all. I don’t know what I’m doing here! I’m a marathoner, not a navigator! As a small child ran by me in the pouring rain, waving her map around, I pulled myself together. If she can do it, well, I guess I can do it, too! It can’t be that hard!

I turned my map over to discover the key that told me what box number each of my check points were associated with. I felt much better and my heart rate returned to normal. One by one I checked off each check point, scrambling around my old college stomping grounds.

Once I got through the first two or three check points, I was in a rhythm. It was starting to be fun!

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I never had to use my compass because I was never so disoriented that I didn’t know what direction was north. (All the directions for the check points would give a clue like, “east of a lone tree” or “north of stairway.”) And note while the map looks normal and detailed, there are no street or building names on it.

I’m proud to say that I completed my very first orienteering race that day.

It may have been cold. I may have felt like giving up for a second at the start. But, I really had no expectations going into it. I just wanted to try something new.

When I saw that I finished 5th out of 22 participants for the intermediate course — with five of those being groups! — I was pretty impressed with myself. It took me 38:08 minutes, which was about 10 minutes behind the leader. The race was a 3.2-km race, which means that if you ran to the check points in straight lines, it would be 3.2 kilometers.

I lost a lot of time at the beginning when I was figuring out the first check point, but towards the end, I went from one check point to another in the same amount of time it took the first place racer!

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I definitely had fun — the above is my “I’m-done-and-it’s-pouring-rain-and-it’s-five-days-until-Christmas!”-face. But, I know that if I were to do an orienteering race in the actual wilderness, it would be harder than this urban one. I would probably have to talk Bryce into being in a group with me if I were ever to do a wilderness orienteering race so I wouldn’t get lost in a forest or something like that.

If you are a runner looking to try something different or are in the off-season from training for a race, I’d recommend giving orienteering a try. Or, even if you’re not a runner but enjoy the outdoors, this could be a fun activity for you!

I can’t say I’ll be doing many more of these any time soon since I’m beginning Eugene Marathon training, but if I do, I’ll be sure to let you know.

Happy orienteering / running / not-getting-lost this year!

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The story of a runner’s first triathlon

[Note to reader: This was originally written a few hours after finishing the race. This entry was posted three days later.]

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I’m pretty darn excited right now.

It could be the adrenaline rushing through my veins — three hours after I crossed the finish line.

It could also be because I just did something I thought I could never do. 

(Moral of the story is we all need to listen to more Justin Bieber — and never say never).

I completed my first triathlon this morning.

I swam, biked and ran consecutively — and with no mishaps! I didn’t have to stop during the swim and hold onto a nearby paddle boarder or man-in-a-kayak that they had scattered all over the lake for our safety. I didn’t crash my bike during the second leg or have to walk my bike up the hill connecting to I-90. I didn’t get a flat tire. I didn’t mess up my transitions too horribly. I didn’t have to walk during the run.

I did cramp — a bit.

The open water swim was what I was fearful of the most. But, all those horror stories we hear about other participants swimming on top of you or kicking your goggles off … I didn’t experience. The water was pretty calm. It was overcast out. The water was warm. After I passed the last buoy and was on my way back to shore, my right foot however started to cramp. I was slightly alarmed and didn’t know what to do.

I hopped onto my back and backstroked the rest of the way. I even passed a number of people doing this! (But, that didn’t matter. I didn’t care about beating other women, I just wanted to get back to sweet land).

This is what I look like about eight seconds after swimming 1/2 mile.

Once I did, my heart was pounding extremely fast. I was worried about my foot. I yelled at Bryce that my foot had cramped. He said something back — what exactly, I can’t recall. My family was there cheering for me. My mom ran along side me with her iPad — trying to take photos (yes, she is one of those people) — as I walk-jogged over to the transition area.

Getting out of the wetsuit wasn’t as bad of an operation as I thought it would be, too! But, having seven family members – yeah, I had people fly in to watch me 🙂 — and Bryce on the other side of the fence cheering directly at me can be a bit intimidating. It was really nice to have all the support though.

Finally I was on my bike and had 12 miles ahead of me. And let me disclose that prior to the race, I had never biked a consecutive 12 miles. I always did an out-and-back ride during my training where I would stop and take a water break. What would 12 miles continuously feel like? It was fine.

Until the last two miles came and that darn right foot started cramping again.

This time it was worse than when it cramped in the water. And, since I was on a bike it wasn’t like I could just go on my back and let my arms do all the work …

I started applying less pressure with my right foot and pedaled vigorously with my left foot.

“I may not be able to run if this doesn’t stop,” I thought to myself, slightly defeated.

Everything was fine though.

Smiling because I am approaching the transition area — and see my family.

I was out of the transition area in a minute and it was game time. My body was ready for this leg of the race. Once a runner, always a runner.

A quick wave to my admirers as I start the 5K.

The three miles were a cake walk. (I did cramp — not in my foot but just above the knee on my right leg. Cramping seemed to be the theme for the morning).

No matter. I was passing everyone! OK, I’ll be honest. I passed everyone (mainly because a majority of the participants were either walking or jogging) with the exception of one woman. A few meters before the finish line another woman sprinted by me. (I’m not bitter).

Just like Bryce had said earlier in the morning, I was doing a running race — I just had to swim and bike first to get to it. And, I did.

Mad dash to the finish — can’t remember if this is before or after that woman passed me!

Many people are too scared of doing things not because they will fail at it, but because they tell themselves that they just cannot do it. Once I decided to do a triathlon, I knew that I wasn’t going to fail at it. I knew I would finish. I even surprised myself by finishing in under two hours! I can do a triathlon faster than I can run a half-marathon. My total time with transitions: 1:44:42.

The biggest challenge for me was to override the “I-can’t-do-this” thought. Because as cheesy as it sounds (and I sure know it does,) we can all do anything if we just decide to actually do it.

This runner, is now a triathlete. 

Danskin Triathlon Seattle 2012

(And, hey, I knocked off one of my New Years Resolutions!)

Help! I can’t swim and I’m going to do a tri!

I finally got my act together and went to the pool Friday. I’d like to say that I swam but really it was more of an attempt.

OK, yes, I can swim. But, not very well. And, it has been made clear to me that I have no swimming endurance. Or, because I was born premature, my lungs never fully developed and that is the reason why after nearly every stroke, I felt like I needed to gasp for air. (Oh, good clean, air!)

My family belonged to the neighborhood swim (and tennis) club ever since I was a little kid. That is where I spent most of my summers, just going to the pool. I was jumping off the diving board — may it rest in peace. Apparently diving boards are a safety hazard now. I was just hanging out with my friends. I was playing on the jungle gym. I was going to the ice cream social. I was playing pool basketball. I definitely was not swimming laps.

My family still has membership to the swim club — we are alum status now for being members for 20 plus years or whatever — so I still have access to the pool.

I forced my friend Mo to go with me. She’s a pretty strong swimmer and does laps several mornings a week. I needed her to 1. Re-teach me how to swim efficiently. 2. Teach me lap swim etiquette. (Now I know what “splitting the lane means!) 3. Make sure I didn’t drown? Those lifeguards look like they are 16! I don’t think they would be able to save me should something bad happen …

I was winded after one lap. Yes, after one lap of freestyle, I was tired. Mo asked me what part of my body was the most tired. I responded with “everything.” Besides my legs though, it was my lungs. I need to really work on my swimming. I am doing a sprint triathlon in mid-August. The length of the swim portion is a half mile, which is equivalent to 35 laps at the pool. Thirty-fives laps! I can only do one before I have to touch the wall!

Humans were born to run. That’s why I am a runner. You just put one foot in front of the other, and go. It’s really as simple as that. Swimming is not like that. We were not designed to keep our heads under water for an extended period of time! And, it’s not that my swimming form is that bad, my problem is that I slightly start freaking out in my head when I am under water.

As soon as I started getting “close” to the other side of the pool in my laps, I would think, “Ah, I can’t breathe! All these bubbles! What is happening?” And then that last quarter of the lap seems like forever.

If I knew I would freak out this much while swimming, I don’t think I ever would have signed up for a triathlon. I have nine short weeks to get myself to not freak out in the water and to get my lungs in check.

I’m nervous.

Learning to yoga hike to Harry Potter Lake

When I received the confirmation email and read its content, I wanted to call Nikki right away and say, “What have we gotten ourselves into?? Do you still want to do this?”

It was only going to be an 8.2 mile (roundtrip) hike up some mountain to a serene lake where we would do some yoga next to said serene lake. Note: I may be training for a marathon but I am not a hiker. Sure, I like the idea of it and friends that do it (and friends that drag me up Mt. Si after a night of drinking and sleeping three hours — true story, sorry, tangent).

But the weather was supposed to be rainy … I wasn’t sure how I was going to carry my yoga mat “hands free” on the hike … The email said we’d leave at 7:30 a.m. and be back no later than 7 a.m. — this would take up my entire Saturday!

“We could just eat a lot of food or shop or something instead of  this,” Nikki suggested.

Her proposal was tempting. But, we already paid for the yoga hike — yep, that’s what it is called, people. So, with nervousness (and maybe even a bit of anxiety) we packed our bags and decided to go for it. What’s the worst that could happen?

It could pour all day during our hike and then we’d be miserable. Everyone else could be super in shape and leave us in the dust. The other participants could be … weird. We could be attacked by a bear, or mountain goat. My CPR and first aid training is still valid from when I was a preschool teacher but I don’t know enough if something terrible were to occur out in the woods — on a mountain. We could get lost forevermore.

I live to tell you that none of that happened.

The weather ended up not being too great but it was merciful. It drizzled on and off throughout the day. The worst was that it was colder than I had anticipated. Luckily, I had packed my one pair of rain pants that I own. Nikki however, whom I must add is from Hawaii and bought her very first raincoat a year ago — she’s lived in the Pacific Northwest for six years now — wasn’t as prepared. Luckily, our trusty hiking guide slash yoga hike organizer had lots of extra layers in his Marry Poppins backpack. And lucky enough, Nikki got to wear rain pants that were 10 times too large for her and could have easily been from an MC Hammer music video. But then she discovered that there was a more normal-size extra for her to wear.

When we reached Gallagher Head Lake, I was hoping that maybe our leader would forget about the yoga aspect of this yoga hike. I was tired. And hungry. And, it was kind of rainy. I mean, I’m used to running in downpours and playing ultimate in snow storms but for some reason doing some yoga in some drizzle didn’t appeal to me. Luckily, because it was so cold at the top of the mountain — what mountain were we on? — we all agreed that we would trek back down and try to get an abbreviated yoga session in if the weather permitted.

Thank goodness.

Nikki and I didn’t have a problem keeping up with the group on the way up. In fact, at one point we were leading with a few others trailing behind and us stopping every so often to make sure they were still nearby. In their defense, they were stopping to take photos and talk about plant types or the waterfall or something else nature/science-related. On the way down, the group stuck together. But then, our instructor decided to switch it up. Each of us staggered four minutes behind the person in front of us and we finished the remaining 30 to 40 minutes hiking alone.

It was nice. But I really had to pee so I pretty much bolted down that mountain.

And we did do some yoga, but I was so tired from the day that I focused too much on the fact that it was going to get dark soon. I didn’t get home until 9 that night.

What impressed me the most was that I wasn’t even sore from all the hiking the next morning. I’d like to say it was luck, but I’ll just say that I am (sort of) in shape.

I am lucky enough to have a friend who can easily coerce me into signing up for a yoga hike — to a lake that has a fine resemblance to the one in Harry Potter.