Tuesday, September 9, 2014

FIRST ROGAINE: a trail runners 'playtime'

It's no secret that I favor the trails over hard surface running any day, in any condition.  That said, no matter how much you love something, there can come times where some variety can keep things interesting.

A few weeks ago a running friend, Sally, plants the seed about entering a Rogaine event coming up.  I'd heard of it before, but knew very little about it.  Rogaining, for those who know as much as I did a few weeks ago, is most easily described as ultra running mixed with orienteering.  This particular event had both a 6hr and 12hr event of which there were 50 secret checkpoints (called 'controls') spread across miles of countryside; each worth a variety of score points based on complexity, location and distance.  The concept here is, the team who can gather the most points by visiting the controls within the given timeframe wins.
 

After a couple posts and comments thrown around on Facebook, we had a team formed for the 12hr event and had committed to it.  OK, now what?  I don't even know what we need to do.  All I know is that I'll be spending 12 hours out in the bush with my running shoes on so I'm happy.  The 2 others in the team, Dione and Tania were equally novices to the concept as I.  So this can either be a complete disaster, or a whirlwind adventure......

Thankfully, Sally had planned a training night for beginners to gather some basic tips.  While I couldn't make the session, I was saved by Dione and Tania who did attend.  Based on the knowledge shared, we all did our best to equip ourselves with the required gear.  Even meeting a few days prior to go over our 'team plan' in some naïve attempt to look like we knew what we were doing on the day.

Of course it seems idiotic to enter the 12hr event, rather than the 6 when none of us had been exposed to the game before, but hey, what's an adventure without jumping in the deep end?

We agree to arrive around 8:30am to get set up, knowing that the course map identifying the control locations is given out 2 hours prior to the 11am start time, at 9.  This is the time to strategically map out your ideal route to take, maximizing the points you can gather in the set time.

We set ourselves down, put together 3 different plans allowing for variables we're yet to experience, and decide on one to start us off.

5, 4, 3 ,2, 1.... and we're off.  Knowing we have 12 hours ahead of us, we agree that we must take it as easy as possible from the outset.  Gently running the flats and downs, walking the ups, should ideally give us sufficient pace while conserving energy. 

A few minutes later, we come across our first control, #20.  Granted it was the closest and easiest to identify, it was great to get our first one ticked off.  We childishly hi-5 each other in celebration of our small yet exciting achievement.  OK, on to the next one.....

Well, here's our crash course in what rogaining is really about!  We get to the approximate location on the trail, knowing the control is located off the trail about 150m.  In thick, prickly, dense scrub.  Not a clear path in sight.  The only tip we're given is 'the spur'.  What the heck is a spur?  We spend around 20-30 minutes 'learning' what the hell a spur is, and more to the point, what to expect when looking for these controls.  At least it was worth a lot more points.

The next few controls come along fairly quickly, and thankfully without much hassle.  Awesome, we seem to be getting the hang of it.  Not to mention we are about an hour ahead of plan now.


Off we head towards the most valuable control on the course, #100.  A short time later, it becomes apparent that we've gone past the track leading down to the control, and in fact had headed completely out of the mapped area!!!!  Oops, thanks Matt for suggesting we follow the creek bed.....  At least it had some great views.  We turn back, and get back on course within 15 minutes, finding the control quite easily after clambering down one of the steepest descents I've seen.

A couple of hours later, after completing our first intended loop of controls and arriving back at base camp (called Hash House) we only missed out on 1 control we'd planned on.  Not to mention getting back about 2 hours before plan.  What an awesome day it's been so far.  Sure, our legs look like pin cushions from the shrubs but a fantastic time indeed.

We happily reward ourselves by resting for 45 minutes, sitting down to have a good meal.  Night time now; headlamps on, review the next circuit and off we go.

Night time navigation is something I've gotten used to with trail running, but heading off from the track into the bush was another story.  With no geographical points of reference to guide us, we begin to rely a bit more on the compass.  The last few hours during the day has prepped us well enough on the basics that we can focus more on 'not getting lost'.  Fortunately, this section treats us well.  Finding all intended controls without much of an issue at all. 

About 2 hours left, it's time to start heading back.  We'd deliberately left a couple of controls near camp as contingencies just in case we had time.  Awesome, we have time.  Cutting straight across to grab 1 of them took a few minutes navigating through a thick pine plantation forest, we head towards the our last one for the night to find the control had been stolen by local campers.  Oh well, it's been a whirlwind day in superb scenery with some extraordinary people.  Time to get back.

Arriving back at base with an hour left on the clock, the team equally agrees to call it a night and just relax.  We'd achieved more than we'd originally planned, so to sit back with a hot chocolate around the campfire was a perfect ending to an enlightening day.

During presentations we learn that the low expectations we had on ourselves, anticipating a dead last placing or close to, is countered by coming in 20th out of 33 teams.  Bonus!!!!!

I think I've found my 'cross training'.  There's so much to learn, and I will most definitely be back to take it all on board.

Big thanks to my team members Dione And Tania who made an unknown day such a wonderful experience.  Knowing how easy we took things, mixed with not knowing what the hell we were doing to begin with, I'm pretty sure next time around will be quite an improvement.

Until next time............