Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Running the rogaine: race analysis

First things first; this join-the-dots, as-the-crow-flies map of our collected controls bears little reflection on the routes we took. Phew... we covered distance. The split summary says that we covered around 45km straight-line distance. We're guessing that this could be doubled with ease.

The race started at 12h00, which gave us little under 8-hours of daylight. This was actually why we decided to take some headlamps and to return to the hash house around midnight to pick up the next lot. I was carrying the new Petzl Ultra, which has a great beam but low battery life (around 3.5hrs using a combination of low, medium and high beams according to need). Heather had my Black Diamond. We also had a strong handheld bike light, which is great for spotting controls. Back at the hash house we had the all-powerful Silva orienteering headlamp with two batteries and another "normal" Princeton Tec LED headlamp. Our backpacks were already full with food (enough for over 12hrs), rain gear, heavy-duty emergency bags and such, so space was limited for packing in the bulky Silva and more food.

Back to our route... We made excellent progress during the day, ending up on the top westerly side of the course just over an hour before dark. This was pretty much on our predicted time (perhaps an hour later), so we were quite pleased. It's really hard to gauge pre-race just how long it will take to move over the terrain and/or how difficult the controls would be to find.

We had skirted the outer portion of the course, missing some central controls, which were in nastier terrain. This meant that we would be covering a bit more distance getting around. We're both runners so we weren't phased by this.

So, darkness falls just as we're approaching control 74. The control was located at the top of a marsh. We found the beaver dams spot-on, but stuck in thickets we looked around for the control and just couldn't spot it. Speaking to a photographer at a nearby waterpoint, it seems we were 10m from the control. They do have small reflective squares on each side, but we just didn't see it and didn't want to stick around hunting for it. We turned around, leaving it to head for the much needed water point and control 41.

We'd run out of water an hour earlier and had been very conservative with our consumption throughout the day as there were no nearby waterpoints on our route. I usually drink a lot but we hadn't had more than 2l to drink since the start; I had a cracking headache, which was relieved with a shot of Rehidrate, lots of fluid and two Panado.

I was a bit agitated at leaving the control, especially as I knew that we'd been so close to it. And, it was a 7 point control (heighest being 9, lowest being 2). Nonetheless, we couldn't waste too much time searching so getting out of there was a good idea.

Control 41 was a no-brainer, next to a tower that was visible from the waterpoint. In the few minutes that we'd stopped to refill our hydration packs, gulp down Rehidrates and grab munchies, we got very cold. Heather gets colder than me so in next to no time her teeth were chattering.

From 41, a footpath was indicated en route to our next target, control 60. We'd found these footpaths during the day to be a mix of clear or indistinct; so we took an easier, but longer road route around where we could run to warm up. Turns out that this footpath was actually quite clear, with hiking trail arrows on most parts.

Control 60 was a bad one for us because the paths had changed, with a clear jeep track not being represented on the map. After about 400m I smelled a rat, knowing we were a few hundred meters too South of the control. The hillocks are difficult to gauge at night - one blessing was the beautiful full moon, which was up most of the night. We turned around, hit another path and found competitor tracks.

On this... loads of participants were on the course and by nightfall all of the controls had highways leading up to the control. In some areas there were loads of tracks coming from different directions, others showed people searching around and some were single footpath "highways" - clear giveaways which were nice.

The competitor tracks in the area of 60 were all over the place. We were one hillock before the pond. When we didn't find the control as expected, I knew something was up. Two other guys came along and I asked them what they thought. They were worse off, scouring the landscape. I suggested we try one hillock over, which proved correct (Phew!). My Petzl died just then, so we followed them through the vegetation to the control.

Our plan was to head from 60 on the western perimeter of the map towards the southern controls. 51 was our next target, about 4.5km away. It must have been around 23h00 by the time we got near the path turn-off for 51 and I was very worried about our light situation. It would take us another good few hours to nail 51, 61, 50, 42 and 52 on the way back to the hash house, which was a long way off.

It was crunch time. We turned around, headed back to the road and started for the hash house, which we estimated to be about 10km away. That's a lot of distance to cover with no controls. Arrrrrggggghhhhh! Lesson learned that hard way (isn't it always!).

Took an age to get back - we'd met up with two foreign guys on the way. Back at camp we guzzled pasta and hot soup, climbing into sleeping bags around 04h15. We slept until 06h15, getting up just as the sky was lightening.

We chose an easy few controls that were close-ish to the event centre. With only 5-hours of race time left, there just were not enough hours to cover big distance. We swept through the controls and finished around 11am, an hour before the cut-off.

The only bad thing about this event is that - would you believe - there were no showers at the event centre! Correction - there were two cold showers, which you wouldn't have gotten me under even with a substantial bribe. Seems the organiser's idea was that people would go into the sauna and then into the cold shower. Funny.

We had baby-wipe showers and settled in for an afternoon nap. Most of the competitors left during the afternoon and the camp area got very quiet; we were only booked on the event bus to Tallin the next morning.

We did lots of sleeping, left in the morning for Tallin and spent Monday afternoon walking around the old city, which dates back to the 1100s. It is a fabulous place to visit. Tuesday noon we flew to London and so ended our first 24hr Rogaining World Championships and visit to Estonia.

Lessons learned
  1. Consider more zig-zagging options and don't be too put off by swampy areas
  2. Avoiding blue, watery sections eliminated some controls that could have been useful
  3. Although we wanted to head back to the event centre, we shouldn't have done so. It really was difficult to access. I'd asked the race organiser post-race whether many people came back; he replied that very few - far less than anticipated - has returned. We should have just carried everything from start to finish. This was our initial gut reaction when we saw the map, but
  4. We thought we'd lost about 6hrs with traveling back to the hash house, eating, sleeping (2hrs) and transition time during which we collected only 3 points. Turns out, looking at the race splits, that we lost around 8 hours. That's 1/3 of the total race time! This shows in our points score.
  5. 24hr rogaining is really not as "long" as I expected. Yes, you're on your feet for a long time, but the hours do pass quickly because you're so focused (especially when you're making bloopses!)
  6. Heather and I each got one blister, about 3/4 the size of a 10c coin. Our feet were in perfect condition, even after all the miles - we were thrilled. We suffered no other injuries or niggles.
  7. It is worth checking out the start of trails where we've assumed they may not be great. The amount of foot traffic could make it more distinct, even at night, and the trail could turn out to be good quality. Not good to make assumptions without a little bit of investigations. If you get to the trailhead and it isn't great, then take an easier option.
  8. Trust your navigation! This is one that gets navigators at some time or other. When things go weird, you think you're the one making the mistake. Sometimes you are not. This happened to me twice - it is unsettling. We went back to last point of certainty to correct and got it sorted out. I'm 200% certain that the one control was on an adjacent spur, only about 20m away, but still wrong (I tracked the features from two sides to confirm); a clear road was not indicated on the map at all near another control. In both cases I knew where I was.

This is the first time that Heather and I have run together. She kept me on the straight and narrow, timing distances, spotting trails and junctions, calling features and even turning me around when I completely forgot from which direction we'd approached a control!

All in all this was an excellent event and I've come out of it with my mind buzzing and feet itching for another rogaine... soon. I like to think that next time my planning with be that much more cunning (less conservative), more smart and more efficient.

My thanks go firstly to Heather for so eagerly saying yes to join me at this event. It was great to run with you. Michael handled loads of admin for us, like arranging my visa in London, booking our accommodation in Tartu and Tallin and being supportive all the way through. Suunto's Steve recommended and supplied global compasses, to keep us in the right direction (these will go to Abu Dhabi too). This saved us the hassle of buying compasses here. John's Petzl Ultra is a neat toy - it brightens the dark forests. We wore pretty pink CapeStorm tops; but they hardly saw the light of day, being hidden under layers and shells. The Motion Tights were excellent protection against stinging nettles, which zapped us a few times but left no lasting stings - thank you Ian. And thanks too to all our friends for your words of support.

I'll post the race map with our route once I'm back in SA next week. For now, I'm off to visit Tracey, my first rogaine partner, for a few days in London. Cream tea and scones is on my priority list.

1 comment:

Richard Lund said...

Thanks for the comprehensive update Lisa, I am sure it will help other trying Rogaining in the future. There is an added thinking load compared to a straight Orienteering race!