Occassional thoughts about orienteering
Monday, July 31, 2006
A couple of WOC notesWOC Bets
Betsafe.com is offering some bets on the WOC. For tomorrow's sprint race the longest odds look to be on Minna Kauppi beating Simone Niggli. Simone is the obvious favorite. But, it looks to me like the odds for Minna are a bit off. I'm not going to bet, but if I did, I think I might go with a small wager on Minna.
Does sports psychology work?
Orienteering seems to be a sport ripe for sports psychology. The orienteer has a lot of time to stress and worry. While the orienteer is racing out of the eye of the audience (and coaches), that lack of feedback can be tricky.
I know next to nothing about sports psychology, but I read an article in Slate that addressed the question "Does sports psychology work?"
The article focuses mostly on baseball. Here is a quote:
A sport psychologist would be worth a lot of money if he could give players a genuine competitive advantage. Perhaps mental imagery and self-talk really do work better than superstitious fiddling. It wouldn't be impossible to find out. Full-on experimentsÂ?with players assigned to different treatment groupsÂ?would yield the best data, but even that level of rigor isn't necessary. Mental trainers could learn a lot just by keeping careful logs of all their cases, with statistical outcomes for each player.
No one asks the baseball shrinks for these data. If a player's happy, then his team is happy, and everyone calls the intervention a success. Does A-Rod think his therapy works? Sure. Right now, that's all we have to go on.
Why I don't plan ahead
I rarely plan ahead because my brain can't handle it.
If I'm running on a trail on the way to the first control, I don't take the opportunity to look at the rest of the course and consider route choices for later legs. I sometimes take a quick glance at the entire course to get a sense of the overall shape and see if there are any unusual terrain types or extra-long legs coming up. But, in general, I keep my mind on what I'm doing and what I'll be doing in the next couple of hundred meters.
I havtroublebe switching between thinking about what I'm doing and thinking about the future. For some reason, when I start thinking ahead, I stop thinking about what I'm doing and I have trouble getting my thoughts back to what I'm doing.
I was reminded of this when I read Samantha Saeger's report of her long qualifying race at the WOC. Here is a bit of what she wrote:
On 2 I was trying to read ahead and I sort of lost contact with what I was doing. I thought I was one hill further than I really was. It wasn't that much of a problem as I simply kept on going and eventually figured out where I was and came up the reentrant from the bottom.
As I look at the splits, it doesn't look like her bobble at 2 cost much time (maybe 20-25 seconds). posted by Michael | 8:12 PM
Sunday, July 30, 2006
US results in the long qualifier and some sprint snapshotsThe U.S. had a better day in the long qualifier. Against the peer nations, the U.S. won 10 and lost 19 (34.5 percent). That's better than in the middle qualifier and better than the long qualifier at the last WOC in Japan (4 and 15 for a winning percent of 21.1 percent).
I don't have the results in front of me as I'm writing, but I had the impression when I was looking that the U.S. was close to getting a couple more wins. On the other hand, the U.S. benefited from a relatively weak day from Canada (only one Canadian beat a U.S. runner).
Some sprint snapshots
I took a few photographs at the sprint race in Kansas City yesterday.
Taavi starting fast (and on his way to an easy win).
Fritz approaching the finish.
Dick leaving the last control.
posted by Michael | 6:53 PM
Saturday, July 29, 2006
US results in the middle qualifier compared to peer nationsHow did the U.S. do in this morning's WOC middle qualifier against a group of "peer nations"?
First, some background. A few years ago I put together a list of nations that the U.S. could consider orienteering peers. Basically, these are nations that have some similarities to the U.S. in depth and quality of orienteering (with a few other factors included). If you're interested in the details (and before you send me an email griping about my list), you should read more on peer nations.
The original list I came up with back in 2004 is worth a look, but for this year I've modified the list. For the modified list, I shortened the peer nation comparison for the U.S. to:
For each U.S. competitor, I looked at the results and compared them to the runner from the peer nation list. If the U.S. runner finished behind the runner from the peer nation, the U.S. is scored one "loss." If the U.S. runner finished ahead of the runner from the peer nation, the U.S. is scored on "win." Then I add up all the wins and losses. To add some context, I looked at the results from the middle qualifying race in Japan, too.
2006: The U.S. had 7 wins and 25 losses.
2005: The U.S. had 4 wins and 15 losses.
The winning percentages are almost the same (21.8 percent this year compared to 21.1 percent in 2005). My sense as I looked at the results is that the U.S. was quite near having a good bit better record this year. If just a few things had fallen into place, the U.S. records might have been more like 12 wins and 20 losses.
Why compare to peer nations?
I put together the peer nation list with the idea that it could be a good way for the U.S. WOC team to look at their performance and to help set some goals. I wanted a very simple to use system. So simple that a runner standing at the results board would be able to look up and count up their score. You don't need a spreadsheet to calculate. I also wanted something that would encourage everyone to fight hard no matter how the run was going. Most U.S. runners go to a WOC with an idea that making the final is a personal goal. But, if you make a boom or two, that goal disappear. On the other hand, if you're fighting for wins against the peer nations, you've still got a chance to earn some "wins." posted by Michael | 4:49 PM
Super elite videoI shot a bit of video of the racers on the third super elite race. I put together about 2 minutes of clips showing the two route choice options on the first leg.
Check out the traffic jam on the way to the parking lot and some really fast running.
I tried to identify each runner. I think I got them right, but I'm not positive.
posted by Michael | 4:22 PM
Friday, July 28, 2006
super elite sprintOne of the highlights of this year's Oringen was watching the super elite races. The organizers did a good job of making the racing spectator friendly. They were rewarded by big crowds and a good field.
I saw an estimate in a newspaper that the city sprint drew 5000-8000 spectators. I'm dubious, but I'm sure there were a good 2500 on hand.
The map shows Eva Jurenikova's routes.
The finish circle on the map is in the big square. That's were the crowds gathered to watch the race. The runners started right next to the finish circle and ran a marked route to the start triangle.
The organizers had 3 (or was it 4?) TV cameras out on the course and a big TV in the square. Once camera was right at the start/finish area. Another camera was around control 13. The other camera was on top of the mountain around controls 9 and 10.
They also had 2 or 3 announcers. One in the square kept a good running commentary, updating everyone on the progress and sprints. Another on the mountain gave from-the-terrain updates. If I remember correctly, they had a 3rd announcer who did finish-line interviews.
Standing in the square, you could see the runners on TV and in the distance as they ran across the mountain. Check out the snapshot below. If you look very carefully, you'll see the runner on the screen and you can spot him on top of the mountain. You can see a couple of giant O' markers on the mountain to help spectators in the square.
The snapshot below shows a spectator cheering on Oystein Kvaal Osterbo in the last 100 meters before the finish line.
posted by Michael | 7:40 PM
Thursday, July 27, 2006
Making mistakesDaniel (piutepro on Attackpoint) has been training to make mistakes. Here is a bit of what he's written:
I spent almost two hours mistaking this morning....It turned into an experiments of mind sets and about the mental process while orienteering. I also began break some of the self-imposed rules. What about running with the map in the left instead of the right hand? What about cutting through the worst mountain laurel around? What about going so slow, that it seems stupid? What about assuming that I can read a complicated area which I normally would just brush over or go around or look for one obvious feature in it.
The practice of mistakes/errors/confusion is fascinating. It almost takes the pain out of making mistakes, since this is the purpose of going out.
I definitely had to think something during the practice, almost a philosophy of what failure means. The basic concept is probably, that every runner makes mistakes. The advanced runners recognize them earlier, correct them faster and bounce back mentally right away.
My first thought is that practicing making mistakes is a strange idea. Why not just practice orienteering and, when and if you make a mistake, practice recovering?
But, as I think about it, I become more interesting in Daniel's experiment. One of his conclusions, that good orienteers recognize mistakes sooner, correct them faster, and bounce back right away, is consistent with my experience. In general, when I'm orienteering well, I make fewer mistakes and recover from them quicker.
Kent Olsson talks about recognizing a little nagging feeling before a boom becomes a big boom. He talks about recognizing that feeling and immediately taking some action. That's consistent with Daniel's thinking.
The closest I've come to practicing mistakes is probably doing "relocation" - running for a bit without reading the map, then stopping and trying to relocate. It can be a fun way to train. It might be training a skill needed to recover from a mistake. But it doesn't feel at all like making a mistake during a race.
While I haven't practiced making mistakes, I often spend a few minutes before a race thinking about the type of mistakes I could make (often as a way of thinking about the terrain and map) and how I might recover from those mistakes. posted by Michael | 8:35 PM
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Looking on the bright sideI'm a fan of the Kansas City Royals. That can be tough. The team is bad. And they've been bad for years. It is easy to get down about the team and the team's future.
But, Kansas City has a really good sports writer named Joe Posnanski. In today's paper Posnanski wrote an article where he looked at the Royal's strengths. Here is a little bit of what he wrote:
You ask: What are the Royals’ strengths? Well, for one, the Royals have a lousy record. Obviously, that would not seem a strong point but it depends how you look at it.
You can read the whole article on the Kansas City Star web page.
What does this have to do with orienteering?
Posnanski's article inspired me to think about the strengths of U.S. orienteering. We've got a pretty dismal record in World Champs, but that doesn't mean we don't have some strengths as an O' nation. While I was jogging tonight, I put together a little list of some of those strengths.
For example, an obvious strength is that we've got great terrain for orienteering. We've got huge varieties of terrain and a lot of it is really interesting (places like Southern Michigan and the Hudson Valley on New York are a couple of examples).
I easily came up with 5 strengths. I won't list them. That's not the point. The point is that it is an interesting exercise. Pick something that seems like it might not be the best situation, then take a slightly different view and think about the strengths of the situation. posted by Michael | 9:29 PM
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
More thoughts on Oringen mapsThe Oringen maps were very detailed. Take a look at the map below with Eva Jurenikova's routes from the first super elite race.
The course begins in a very detailed area that is a bit hard to read. It was especially difficult at 1:15,000. I was grateful that my class had 1:10,000 maps. Even then, I used a magnifier almost the entire time.
The super elite maps were actually a bit easier to read than the maps the rest of us used. When I actually got my hands on one of the super elite maps, I was surprised to see that it was printed differently than the maps the rest of us used. The super elite maps were printed on regular paper, while the rest of us (the less-than-super-elite) had maps printed on tyvek. Tyvek is a tough, water proof paper. An O' map printed on tyvek doesn't need a map case, but it also doesn't seem to print as well as regular paper.
So, what do I think of the Oringen maps?
I thought the maps were good. The mapper had some difficult problems to solve. The terrain was quite rocky in places and making decisions about how to map the rocks must have been difficult. From what I could see, the mapper was pretty consistent in dealing with the rock features.
The tyvek paper was ok. It would have been easier to read and use the maps if they'd been printed on regular paper and put in plastic map cases. But, I can appreciate that the organizers had a bit easier time dealing with the maps by printing them on tyvek.
I'm sure lots of people didn't like the level of detail on the 1:15,000 maps. They could be really difficult to read. Maybe there are rules about using 1:15,000 maps rather than 1:10,000 for elite categories? I can't see the value in forcing people to use maps that are difficult to read. I wonder if the super elite runners would have preferred a 1:10,000 map? posted by Michael | 8:32 PM
Monday, July 24, 2006
A few Oringen snapshotsNo energy to write today, so I'll just post a few snapshots.
The terrain called "tallhed" on the Oringen maps was very nice. Check out this snapshot (which isn't actually from the competition terrain, but does show some of the sort of forest you had a chance to run through). Keep in mind that a lot of the terrain was not like this. We spent a lot of time running in rougher, rocky terrain.
For an American at Oringen, it is always amazing to see just how many people orienteer. You can watch the stream of runners on the finish chute for hours...and they just keep coming.
Speaking of the finish chute, on all 5 days we had to cross bridges. The bridges are a bit of a pain. You've got to climb when your legs don't want to climb and the downhill is steep enough to be a bit nerve wracking.
The bridges can make a nice frame for a snapshot.
And when you run up the finish chute, you run hard and try to look tough. Martin Johansson looks tough in this snapshot as he finishes the last day of the super elite race.
posted by Michael | 9:29 PM
Sunday, July 23, 2006
Compare these two mapsCompare these two maps of the same area. The first map is from 1989. The second is from 2006. They cover the same area - part of the terrain used for this year's Swedish 5-Days.
posted by Michael | 8:26 PM
Saturday, July 22, 2006
On the way homeOringen 5-Days is history and it won´t be long before I am sitting on a plane making my way home. My short report would be:
Lots of fun, really nice terrain, maps and course.
Lots of fun, visiting with friends and spending time in beautiful Mo, Hälsingland.
Lots of fun, making mistakes and struggling to run through the stony terrain but managing to improve each day.
Lots of fun, watching the "super elite" races.
I will try to write more and post some photos over the next few days (and once I have had a time to recover from the long flight home). posted by Michael | 11:45 AM
Monday, July 17, 2006
Oringen 5-Days UpdateJust a quick update from a dial-up connection...
Two days into the 5 Days and I have to say the terrain and courses are really good and interesting with lots of variety. Today's terrain included areas a lot like the really detailed (and rocky) areas in New York as well as areas that felt like running in a campground (flat, very open forest with lots of trails).
My orienteering has been a bit uneven. Running has been tougher than I expected. In particular, I get really tired in the big rocks and as soon as I start to go uphill.
Tomorrow is a middle distance race that seems to be in a different type of terrain. It should be a lot of fun. posted by Michael | 2:00 PM
Saturday, July 15, 2006
Some advice from Mats Troeng and Gunilla SvärdThe Swedish 5-Days starts tomorrow. Today I got some advice from Mats Troeng and Gunilla Svärd on how to prepare for the races. It wasn't exactly personal advice, it was from interviews published in the sports section of today's Uppsala newspaper.
Compared to a regular competition, it pays to be steady because it is such a long competition. You need to avoid any really bad performances and run safe races. It is important to prepare yourself mentally for that. But, of course it doesn't hurt to be well trained.
You have to have a lot of training. You have to run for 5 days and one bad performance and you're out of it. You shouldn't try to win a day but just do five good races.
Good advice. Nothing new or different. But, it is always good to get a reminder.
I'm a bit worried about the race (which is usually a good thing for me) after having a bad training yesterday evening. I ran a course at Lunsen and got lost on two legs. So lost I had a real hard time relocating among all the 1 contour line knolls and small marshes.
If it is practical, I'll try to update this page from the 5-Days. If not, I probably won't post any updates until next Saturday. posted by Michael | 2:57 AM
Thursday, July 13, 2006
Orienteering on TVI sat down in front of the TV a few minutes ago to watch the Swedish daily sports news. I knew today's stage at the Tour De France was tough and I wanted to see how it had gone. They showed a few highlights from the stage, maybe 3 minutes in total. And then they had orienteering!
The orienteering news was a short profile of Peo Bengtsson. Bengtsson was involved in developing ORingen 5-Days and making trips all around the world to spread the word about orienteering. The coverage included a bit of an interview, lots of video of Bengtsson wandering around in the woods setting a course, and some vintage video of an event from about 30 years ago.
I didn't time it, but I'd guess orienteering got more coverage tonight than the Tour De France did. Cool.
Update - I just went over to the Swedish TV web page figuring I might find a video of the story about Peo Bengtsson. It looks like it hasn't yet been posted, but probably will eventually. But I did find something interesting and unexpected - a photo from Naadam, the biggest sporting event in all of Mongolia. Check out the photo below (photography by Ng Han Guan/Scanpix).
posted by Michael | 3:22 PM
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
Living on a mapI'm living on a map right now. The friends I'm staying with in Uppsala live in the middle of a map of Vårdsätra Skog. It is great. This afternoon I ran a course beginning in the backyard. It was a tough course with lots of map reading and some difficult running. But it was so cool to be able to orienteer right out the door. posted by Michael | 11:44 AM
Monday, July 10, 2006
Simulated HälsinglandI ran a short course today designed to simulate orienteering in Hälsingland. The course was at Lunsen, just outside of Uppsala. The terrain around Uppsala is not especially like Hälsingland (where the Swedish 5-days takes place) but I think the course was a good simulation.
Magnus set the course and he should know what the 5-days terrain will be like. He grew up right next to the main center for the 5-days and has spent plenty of time over the years running around those forests.
What did I learn today? First, running in the forest the day you arrive after a transatlantic flight is not easy. My legs felt slow (and I kept the pace slow) and after 45 minutes thinking was too much to do. Second, when the forest is a bit rough and rocky, I stuggle to move and to read the map. I think I can make some progress on both fronts over the next few days. I should adapt to the time in about 3 days. More running in the terrain won't make me fast in the Swedish forests, but it'll certainly give me time to improve a bit. posted by Michael | 10:45 AM
Sunday, July 09, 2006
Back to SwedenI'm catching a flight in a little while, heading back to Sweden for (among other things) running M40 at Oringen in Halsingland. It should be fun and the competition looks good.
I'll update this page when I can, but don't count on daily updates for the next couple of weeks. posted by Michael | 8:26 AM
Saturday, July 08, 2006
Video from Sprint Race in WyomingI shot some video during the sprint race last weekend. Not much to say about it. I had the camera set on low quality, so the picture isn't very sharp. You'll see James S. (red pants, white top) making a little swing at the second control. You'll also see some tired looking runners punching at the last control.
posted by Michael | 3:48 PM
Friday, July 07, 2006
Advice for golfersI came across this sign on a golf course in a park where Mary is setting a sprint course for a race later this month.
I was struck by two things. First, this sounds like good advice for an orienteer. Second, it'd be fun to put up signs around an O' course with advice for orienteers. You could have signs tacked up to trees...."read the map"...."Do you know where you are? You should." posted by Michael | 9:34 PM
Thursday, July 06, 2006
You know you're getting old....You know you're getting old when you start saying things like, "back in the day it was much tougher."
The first time I ran the Swedish 5-Day was 1984 in Blekinge. Kent Olsson and Karin Gunnarsson won the elite categories. Back then, winning the top elite categories meant 5 days in a row of tough orienteering. The courses weren't quite normal one-day distances, but the courses weren't short.
This year, the "super elite" run three races: a middle distance (back in the day, middle distance was called "short") a sprint, and a classic distance.
"Back in the day it was much tougher."
To be fair, I think they've made the event a bit wimpy in order to attract the top elite runners who might otherwise skip the competition to avoid getting worn out before the WOC.
One of the interesting features of this year's super elite event is that the third day is on an old course from 1975. To make this stranger, the organizer published the old maps and courses. So, today's super elite will be able to study the course and make their decisions ahead of time. That sounds like fun for a training event.
Check out PDF's of the 31 year old courses for the men and the women. This year, they run the same courses but get a new map. posted by Michael | 8:30 PM
Wednesday, July 05, 2006
Why not count your steps?Some discussion over at Attackpoint about pace counting got me thinking -- why not count your steps?
I am among those orienteers who doesn't count steps. I have no idea, none at all, of how many steps I take in 100 meters. Long, long ago, I knew my pace. But, I almost never needed to pace, so I lost the tool. And, I don't miss it.
I can only recall wanting to count steps once in the last few years. I didn't know how many steps it took per 100 meters. But, it didn't matter. When I looked at the map, I saw that pace counting would be useful on the leg. So, as I approached the control, I counted my steps in an early part of the leg (say from a trail junction to the bottom of a reentrant) and then just used that number of steps on the part of the leg where I thought I needed to count steps. It worked fine.
But, in 20+ years of orienteering, I've rarely wanted to count steps. So, it doesn't seem like an especially useful tool.
To my way of thinking, counting steps isn't important. But being able to judge distance is important. The question becomes: is pace counting a good way to judge distance?
I prefer judging distance by looking (or by "feel" if it is at night). When I was just starting to orienteer, I realized that the block where I grew up was 200 meters x 100 meters. I used that to help me judge distances. If I looked at the map and saw that I needed to go 100 meters, I knew that was the distance from my front steps to the front steps of Bill's house, just down the street. The technique is a little rough, but so is counting steps. The advantage to judging distance by look/feel is that you can use it to, for example, estimate the distance between you and a feature off to your side. Pace counting won't help with that.
I imagine other orienteers judge distances the same way I do, that is by relating them to a known, familiar distance. But, I haven't seen people teaching others to use that technique. At the Texas Junior O' Camp, for example, I've seen lots of exercises about pace counting, but I've never seen an exercise on judging distance by look/feel.
Yet, it is a very simple technique to use and to practice. All it takes is finding some places you are familiar with (like distance around where you live or work) and becoming aware of how those distances look/feel. Gmaps Pedometer is a great tool for doing that.
So if you were familiar with the Ames Monument (snapshot below), you might guess that walking a lap around the monument would cover about 100 meters. Gmaps Pedometer puts that distance of a lap around the monument at 106 meters. Then, if you're orienteering and need to cover 100 meters, you'd know that it would be "like" taking a lap around the Ames Monument -- no need to count your steps.
posted by Michael | 9:26 PM
Tuesday, July 04, 2006
Snapshots from O' in WyomingA few snapshots I took in Wyoming over the last couple of days.
posted by Michael | 8:30 PM
Monday, July 03, 2006 1:19 PM
Sunday, July 02, 2006
Sprinting at altitudeI ran two sprint races today and had, by far, the best races I've ever had at altitude (running on maps near Laramie at something like 8000 feet altitude). I wish I could understand why the running felt reasonably good, but I'm just not sure. Maybe I should chalk it up to dumb luck and gradually gaining experience. The lack of climb on the courses helped.
I wouldn't say running at altitude felt good. But, I managed to hold a pace that felt hard without ever quite going so hard that I had to stop and catch my breath.
I looked at the site statistics and discovered that a page visit from a Yahoo Search for "stepped on a thorn." Ouch. I feel sorry for the poor chump who must have stepped on a thorn and then decided to search the web for help. My advice -- pull the thorn out, wash the wound as best as possible, and keep an eye out for infection. posted by Michael | 6:32 PM
Saturday, July 01, 2006
Today's trainingWhen I was in Sweden in June, I made a bunch of mistakes because I ran too fast (which is the same, I guess, as thinking too little) on the last bit of a leg. In most of the places I've run this year, you don't get penalized for running the last bit fast. In fact, in most midwest terrain, you get penalized if you slow down as you approach a control.
To run well at the 5-Days in a few weeks, I think I'll need to be prepared to shift gears when needed. So, I'm working on that these next few days.
Today's main session was running a course where I picked clear attackpoints, ran to the attackpoints, and then walked the last bit to each control (reading the detail on the map and making sure I didn't just wander toward the control). My hope is that it'll set my O' brain into the right mode. posted by Michael | 6:46 PM