Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Course Design Coffee

Warming up with coffee before heading out to field check.

Are you going to BEAST, Union Bay-- a sprint adventure race?? It's the most fun you'll ever have on a weeknight. Don't let the phrase "adventure race" scare you away. Advanced navigation experience is not required! I can promise you that, as I've been busily course designing with a whole spectrum of participants in mind.

When designing any navigation course-- the goal is not to be tricky or sneaky. Even the most advanced courses should require skill, not luck, in order to find the checkpoint. Don't worry about shooting bearings (or even knowing what that means). At BEAST events, the navigation is at an intermediate level. You'll have to make some decisions to get between checkpoints. E.g., "let's ride down this street for 2 blocks, then turn uphill." If you've ever sat in the passenger seat of a car, thumbing a Google map and announcing which way to turn to the driver-- you can navigate at a BEAST race! If you're still terrified of maps, that's what friends are for! Adventure Races are, after all, traditionally done in teams. 

Online registration is now closed for Thursday's BEAST Union Bay, but you can still register day-of! Don't forget- this BEAST race is also a fundraiser for the newly formed USA Mountain Bike Orienteering Team!

Hope to see you there! Go to for more info! Also, check out the Beast Facebook page.

Friday, June 22, 2012

BEAST: Union Bay, an Urban Adventure Race.. to benefit USA MTB-O TEAM!

'BEAST' stands for: Barebones Evening Adventure Sprint Tournament, and it is a BLAST!

While the term 'adventure racing' might spook some people into thinking ziplines, paragliding and mystical navigation skills are involved-- BEAST is actually quite family and novice friendly!

First of all, most BEAST races take place on a weeknight and are therefore reasonably short in length. Finish times are between 2 and 3 hours, half the time of the 4-6 hour events designed for more experienced racers. Yet it's still long enough to experience a little bit of the thrill of racing at night, as most racers will finish after the sun sets. (Bring lights! See BEAST Required Equipment page.)

A peek at what the bike map will look like.
The navigation difficulty is also kept to an accessible level in BEAST events. Whether on foot or bike, checkpoints might be off the beaten path-- but always close to the navigational security of a nearby trail or road, so you're never far from knowing where you are. If you can read the Woodland Park Zoo map and figure out where the giraffes are-- you can navigate at a BEAST race!

And finally, you do NOT need a garage filled with sporting equipment for every sport ever invented. Most BEAST events are on foot and bike only-- dust off your old mountain bike, because it will do just fine! The Union Bay race does include a canoe portion, but most competitors rent directly out of the UW Waterfront Activities Center, which is where the race begins.

Excellent adventure racing apparel! Source site.

Alright, you've got no excuses now! The race is short, the navigation is not too hard, and the equipment list is manageable.. but why should you do BEAST?

Because it's so much fun!!

BEAST races are most fun when you team up with friends, whether new or old! The teamwork that adventure racing requires will be a unique experience to share and you'll have the best stories to tell over beers. Also, don't forget: you get to brag about doing an adventure race on a WEEKNIGHT! Sure beats watching Hulu on a Thursday.

To top off all this fun, one more reason you should sign up for next week's BEAST: Union Bay on Thursday, June 28.. Part of the proceeds will go towards my trip to Hungary! If you haven't heard, I've been invited to race as part of the USA Mountain Bike Orienteering Team at the MTB-O WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS!!

  • $5 of every registration goes toward the US MTB-O team.
  • Mention that I referred you, and $10 will be donated.
  • Donate on top of your registration, and Mergeo will match it with an additional $10!
  • To boot, once we collect all these donations-- it will be again DOUBLED by an anonymous sponsor!

So, for instance.. if you sign up for BEAST: Union Bay and add a $10 donation.. that will turn into $40 for the US MTB-O Team! Ready for a weeknight adventure? Go sign up now!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

EXCITING NEWS!: I'm going to the MTB-O World Championships in Hungary!!

The news is out, I'm (Rebecca Jensen) going to the Mountain Bike Orienteering World Championships in Hungary!!

The official announcement, in the Orienteering USA June newsletter:

CLICK HERE TO DONATE to the US MTB-O Team and have it doubled by an anonymous donor! 
The doubling offer ends July 1st.

While foot orienteering is certainly growing in the USA and "adventure racing" is at least part of the general population's vocabulary-- mountain bike orienteering as its own discipline is still a fresh concept in the States. Most orienteers will experience "MTB-O" as a leg of an adventure race or a bike division at an urban event or rogaine. Signing up for an event that is exclusively mountain bike orienteering, however-- is still quite new and a bit different. So when the folks at Orienteering USA decided to support a mountain bike team to attend the World Championships this year, they did not require athletes to travel all over the country to earn A-meet points as they do for foot orienteering. Such a circuit of A-Meet events does not yet exist! Instead, OUSA put out a call for applications.

And I applied.

I applied, because I thought that my quickly blossoming orienteering skills and deep cycling foundation made me a prime candidate. It turns out that two more gals from Portland, OR came to a similar conclusion-- and here we are: a team of three, headed for Hungary!

While I did not have to fly all over the country to earn my spot on the team, I am honored and excited to have an incredible opportunity to further promote orienteering-- a sport that rewards not just athleticism, but also self reliance, active intelligence, and an intimate understanding of the outdoors. 

Don't forget to DONATE! 

The announcement at the online orienteer hub,

The local announcement from my local club, Cascade Orienteering Club:

Monday, June 18, 2012

Salmon La Sac, Long-O 2012: Photo Preview

Fast, open land..

Moss covered, bare rock..

 Low-lying crunchy brush..

Rock scree..

Vine maple pits..

Dead wood debris.. 

It gets thick in places..

 And steep in places!

Flowers in places, too.

Salmon La Sac, or "Cupcakes with Sprinkles"

Salmon La Sac is a beautiful, rugged and varied terrain. In just one run, an orienteer might encounter huge expanses of moss meadow, climb up jagged rock scree, or crunch their way through boneyards of dead dry wood. Wildflowers are abundant in summertime and you might scare up a fawn or two.

But before you're distracted by the beauty-- take note that this map will be much more challenging than the maps used closer to Seattle for Winter Series meets. Here are some tips and details to help you embrace and enjoy the challenge!

The high density of point features make parts of the map
look like chocolate sprinkles!
The map requires an orienteer to stay in constant mental contact, thanks to the many layers of features. While there are several large cliff-sided ridges that paint broad strokes on the map, each ridge is exploding with small hills and re-entrants. To add another level of complexity, each small hill looks like a cupcake with chocolate sprinkles due to the scattering of point-features; namely boulders, cliffs and knolls. 

For passionate orienteers, the feature density is a welcome challenge-- but beware of parallel errors! The last elongated hill with a knoll and a cliff might look a lot like the one next to it. 

Before you get confuddled (that's "confused" + "befuddled") by finding which knoll your control is on, remember that contour lines are your most reliable friend. Instead of just counting the boulders you see, take note of where they lie on the hill side. 

Also, don't forget that us course setters like to predict which side of the knoll you'll approach from and then place the control on the other side. (muah haha!).  Pay attention to your Control Description sheet. The magenta control circle on your map is centered on the FEATURE the control is on, not the control itself. Your Control Description sheet will tell you where the control is in relationship to the feature. E.g. "north side."

Upper Left: Rebecca Jensen and Patrick Nuss rehearse how awesome the course will be.
Lower Left: Patrick Nuss and Shara Feld ascend one of the many mossy hillsides. Right: Lots of wildflowers in bloom!

Don't forget that this is a LONG-O!  The Advanced Course at a typical Winter Series meet averages 5k. The Advanced Course at SLC is over 10k. However, it would not be enough to simply double your Winter Series average time-- since the course also has a lot more climb and much more rugged terrain than is typical at a Seattle park. It is advisable to bring food and water! There is also a Short-Advanced (7.4k) option for those who want the technical challenge without so much added length. The Intermediate Course (6.5k) will serve those who want to get out into the terrain, but have the option to return to the navigational security of the trail between most controls. The Beginners Course (2.9k) will stay completely on trails and roads, with controls at every decision point.

If you finish your course and find yourself craving more-- remember that you can volunteer for Control Pick-Up at the end of the day! Control Pick-Up is an excellent way to re-tackle controls that challenged you, or even to check out some cool controls that were not on your course. Control Pick-Up is also an excellent time to go back out onto course with your friends for some social orienteering.

While this post is full of cautionary tales, don't let that stop you from exploring this diamond of a map! Salmon La Sac is one of the coolest and recent maps in the Cascade Orienteering Club collection.This is a special opportunity to see an extraordinary landscape and expand your orienteering skill set. Camp the night before to make a weekend of it, or drive up Saturday morning-- it's only a 2 hour drive from Seattle! 

See you at Salmon La Sac!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Gearing Up to Rogaine, with Debbie Newell

Rogaines are long distance navigation events that typically take place in rugged terrain. Lengths may range from 4 to 24 hours, which is enough time for teams to cover anywhere from 8 to 80 miles. Traveling such a long distance in the wilderness requires you to be self-sufficient. Teams need to be able to move quickly and comfortably, but also be adaptable to changing conditions and ready for an emergency.

To get an idea of what to wear and pack, I interviewed local orienteer Debbie Newell about what she wears and packs for a rogaine. This is what she had to share:

  • a backpack with convenient pockets
  • versatile clothing layers
  • extra clothing in case the weather changes 
  • footwear that provides good traction for the terrain
  • a first aid/survival kit
  • food and water to keep you going
  • a whistle for emergencies
  • a baggie with toilet paper and hand sanitizer
  • and don't forget.. your compass!
Not covered in the video, but also important is:
  • a pencil, for signing in at checkpoints
  • a watch, so you know *when to be at the finish!

*Rogaines are run by a time limit instead of by course. All participants are provided a map at least an hour before the start with checkpoints of varying point values marked all over it. It is up to the competitors to plan their routes and decide which checkpoints to find. Just don't forget to be back at the finish by the designated time (e.g. 4 hours, 8 hours, 12 or 24 hours) because every minute that you're late is a point penalty!

Rogaining with Eric, SEVEN: Teamwork

In the spring of 2012 I signed up solo for the 7-hour division in the Rock Creek Ramble Navigation Race. In an effort to best prepare myself, I sat down with Eric Bone, the founder of Meridian Geographics (MerGeo) which puts on the event. 

This is the seventh and final installment in the series, Rogaining with Eric. 

Traditionally, rogaining is a team sport. It's up to teams to use this to their advantage-- a lot of eyes looking out for a control can speed you up, but arguing about which way to go can slow you down. Part of rogaine strategy is dividing up roles and tasks.

This one is about TEAM WORK!


Click here to see the whole series! And be sure to check out my own race experience!

Rogaining with Eric, SIX: Pacing

In the spring of 2012 I signed up solo for the 7-hour division in the Rock Creek Ramble Navigation Race. In an effort to best prepare myself, I sat down with Eric Bone, the founder of Meridian Geographics (MerGeo) which puts on the event. 

This is the sixth installment in the series, Rogaining with Eric. 

Rogaine events are long, very long. Ranging from 4 to 24 hours, even the shortest events require endurance and smart pacing for a good performance.

You guessed it, this one is about PACING!


Click here to see the whole series! And be sure to check out my own race experience!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Rogaining with Eric, FIVE: Route Planning & Strategy

In the spring of 2012 I signed up solo for the 7-hour division in the Rock Creek Ramble Navigation Race. In an effort to best prepare myself, I sat down with Eric Bone, the founder of Meridian Geographics (MerGeo) which puts on the event.

This is the fifth installment in the series, Rogaining with Eric.

Rogaining is unique in that competitors are allowed 1-2 hours to plan and strategize their route before the clock begins. What to do with that time?

This one is about ROUTE PLANNING & STRATEGY!


Click here to see the whole series! And be sure to check out my own race experience!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Rogaining with Eric, FOUR: What to Wear

In the spring of 2012 I signed up solo for the 7-hour division in the Rock Creek Ramble Navigation Race. In an effort to best prepare myself, I sat down with Eric Bone, the founder of Meridian Geographics which puts on the event.

This is the fourth installment in the series, Rogaining with Eric. 

Rogaining not only requires you to be in the elements for a long period of time, long enough that those elements may change. Eric shares his clothing choices. This one is about WHAT TO WEAR!

Click here to see the whole series! And be sure to check out my own race experience!

Rogaining with Eric, THREE: Nutrition.

In the spring of 2012 I signed up solo for the 7-hour division in the Rock Creek Ramble Navigation Race. In an effort to best prepare myself, I sat down with Eric Bone, the founder of Meridian Geographics which puts on the event.

 This is the third installment in the series, Rogaining with Eric. 

 Since even the shortest rogaine is going to require a snack to maintain energy, this one is about RACE NUTRITION!

Click here to see the whole series!

And be sure to check out my own race experience!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Rogaining with Eric, TWO: Light!

In the spring of 2012 I signed up solo for the 7-hour division in the Rock Creek Ramble Navigation Race. In an effort to best prepare myself, I sat down with Eric Bone, the founder of Meridian Geographics which puts on the event.

This is the second installment in the series, Rogaining with Eric.

As some rogaines are so long that they require night travel, this one is about LIGHTS!


You can also read about and witness my experience at the Rock Creek Ramble!

Rogaining with Eric, ONE: Choosing a Pack

This spring, I signed up to compete solo in the Rock Creek Ramble Navigation Race. Also known as a "rogaine," I felt like I hadn't quite yet mastered rogaine strategy or gear. Unlike the short, intense 60 minutes I was accustomed to at local orienteering meets-- a "short" rogaine might be 4 hours, while the traditional length is a whopping 24 hours. At the time, my previous rogaining experience included only a 4-hour and 8-hour, each with teammates. I had just signed up to run the 7-hour solo!

In an effort to gather knowledge- and to share it with you!- I interviewed Eric Bone. Eric is the founder of Meridian Geographics, which puts on the now ever popular Rock Creek Ramble.

To start, I asked Eric about his gear choices-- starting with the backpack.

This is the first in the series, Rogaining with Eric.

Also, be sure to check out my posts and video on my Rock Creek Ramble experience!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Studying Maps Before Meets

In my last post, I shared the epiphany I had when I discovered that it was not just permitted, but good practice to study a map of an area you will soon compete in.

The next question is, what does one study, exactly? These are the things I recommend:

What colors and shapes dominate the map? A lot of green can reveal that you'll be fighting vegetation. Contour lines that look like swiss cheese can suggest an ever-undulating course. Imagine how the course will not just look visually, but feel physically.

LEFT: open forest, intermediate contours and point features like boulders and knolls dominate this map.
RIGHT: marsh land, open forest and a speckling of small hills dominate this map.

Are there colors or features you're not familiar with? The course might present something you've never encountered while orienteering before-- like caves, sand dunes, or rocky cliffs. Make sure you know what everything on the map means. If you come across something unfamiliar, look it up! The IOF Specification for Maps is very helpful!

A venue during low (LEFT) and high (RIGHT) water levels.
Could the landscape have changed much since it was last mapped? While orienteering maps are unique in providing detailed vegetation information based on runnability, it is also the most fluid feature on the map. Vegetation can dramatically grow or be cut down within just one season. Check to see when the map was last updated to get a sense of how accurate the vegetation might be.

Another fluid feature of course, is water! Take note that water levels may be higher or lower than indicated on the map depending on the time of year you are visiting the venue.

Are there 'problem spots' on the map that require extra attention? For instance, a river may flow through the center of the map-- take note of where you may cross it. A map that's mostly grassy and open might have one especially rocky section with lots of cliffs-- decide from the comfort of your home whether you think it's traversable or not.

Run a sample course in your head. You may be able to find a RouteGadget or QuickRoute that reveals an old course. Make route decisions at every control and get yourself into the flow of the course. Imagine not just the scenery, but the physical task of each control-- feel yourself panting uphill or surfing down scree in your mind.

If possible, compare your route decisions to where competitors actually went. Notice patterns in routes of the front-runners. Are they busting through vegetation or traveling around it? Are they taking the trails or running in bee lines for the control? This kind of information should be taken lightly- as the variables affecting their route decisions are many. The weather, their health and experience may all be influencing their route decisions. The best route for one person may not be the best route for another.

Competitors may take very different routes!

Assess speed. How fast do you think you'll be able to move in this particular combination of topography and vegetation? Be prepared for the physical task that lies ahead of you.

And finally, get pumped!

What exercises do you go through when studying a map before an event? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

You CAN study!

As a new orienteer, every park I visited was a new place to orienteer. First I visited Lake Sammamish Park, then Magnuson Park, North SeaTac Park, the University of Washington campus and on and on. 

I taped these maps to my wall so that I could admire the new relationship I had formed with these places.

Then the next O' season rolled around. We'd be orienteering at Magnuson Park again. Whoa, hey.. I've orienteered there before- and I still have the map! Am I.. am I allowed to look at it? Study it? Would this be an advantage? Would this be cheating??

I knew that courses had embargoes-- it is not permitted to visit an event venue within 2 weeks (sometimes more) of the competition date. Does this apply to the map? Surely no one can police whether people are studying their map collection or not.

I was paranoid and didn't want to be a cheater. I convinced myself that I would have a better learning experience if every time I turned over a map at the start line it looked as fresh as could be.

I haven't orienteered at Moses Lake before, but have plans to this weekend!
I found the map online and am studying it as part of race preparation.

Then I read an interview with the USA's fastest female orienteer (and Rhodes Scholar), Alison Crocker. Part of her pre-race preparation? Studying the map.

STUDYING THE MAP?!! What edge have I been robbing myself of??

I went to the internet. Even if you have not orienteered at a particular venue before, often a map can be found online in old result files and other orienteering map databases. My orienteering skill had been improving dramatically each year. I climbed from 15th to 7th to 3rd overall in our winter series. I began to set lofty goals that took place in faraway places and it was about time I start training-- and STUDYING-- like an elite orienteer.

Just exactly what to study-- more on that to come.