2014 Australasian Rogaining Championships

Team 84: “Milo the Moose” – Mike Hotchkis, Andrew Duerden, Tristan White (Competing in Men’s Open)
Australasian Rogaining Championships, 2014, Durmmond North, Victoria, Oct 11-12

A SPUR OF THE MOMENT DECISION

It’s 3am. I’m in the middle of the bush. It’s dark. I don’t know where I am. I’m tired. My feet are covered with blisters and my legs feel like cement. Why am I doing this? Actually, more to the point, why am I PAYING to fly down to Victoria to do this? That’s a snapshot of a particular part of my Australasian Rogaining Championships experience. And indeed, if that were all it was, why would anyone do it? But there’s more to a rogaine than that; read on for the whole picture.

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I had looked forward to the possibility of doing a national championship rogaine since two of my (then) regular teammates did it last year in Atherton, and particularly hoped that I could find someone to enter in the university division with, as I knew that with my ability, I would have potential do pretty well if I simply had someone who could keep up with me. Alas, it was to no avail, for no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get anyone to enter with me, and as a result, was unsure whether I should enter at all if I didn’t know of anyone I could enter with at my skill level, particularly because uni was at full pelt and I knew I’d have to study at every available opportunity.

Two weeks before the event, I found that Andrew Duerden and Mike Hotchkis were planning to compete with the intention to go hard, and they kindly let me know them under the basis that I could hopefully help keep the pace rolling at 3am in the morning, and since both were World Champs competitors, it was a great opportunity to compete with a high calibre team. Concurrently, I talked to a friend who happened to work for flight centre where I brought up the question of whether he could find me a good deal between Sydney and Melbourne on the Friday and Sunday. These two things prompted me to stop beating around the bush (figuratively) and register to the ARC near Castlemaine, VIC so I could beat around the bush (literally). Despite realizing that flight costs at this late a date were $400 return, I had my mind set on it at that did not deter me from making the trip.

PRE-EVENT

I arrived at the Hash House at around 7:30 for dinner with all the others, met some new faces and caught up with old ones. Had a good sleep in preparation for what was to come and rose at 7am, packed and ate a very sizeable breakfast, shoving down as much as I physically had room for before joining the massive queue for map collection at 9am on the dot. It was crucial that we made the most of the planning time available, for poor route choice can sacrifice a lot of points, even if the navigation itself is done well.

Upon a cursory glance at the course, the most striking thing I found was the distances between controls. On a typical championship course, they may typically 1km apart, where I found that here they were mostly around 1.5km from each other and, according to Mike’s formula (I never knew such formulae existed!) there was an average score of about 40points/km on the whole course. Consequently, it was important that our route choice would achieve a score greater than this, so this involved eliminating those controls that would put us under this rate.

THE WHOLEFOODS PHASE 12pm-8pm

I’ve broken down the event into 3 stages, which is how I remember it and have titled them in relation to they types of food I ate throughout. I’ll summarize each into a series of dot points to make it more readable.

– I loved the start tent they set up like in a big marathon, and seeing the number of starters was an experience
– The first 8 hours were fast. Navigation was basically bang on and made it to the first water point within 4 hours, about 20km away
– Hot spots on my feet developed 2 hours into the event – not a good sign
– I watched Andrew almost step on a pair of mating brown snakes and for the next two hours I thought every big stick that got flipped by us was another snake.
– The only bad terrain was about 200m worth of thick undergrowth, a stark contrast from many areas in NSW.
– As I had eaten a huge amount before the event, I only ate a bag of nuts in the first 5 hours, followed by two apples and a sandwich as dark approached

THE GEL PHASE 8pm-5am

We stopped (at 91) at 7:50pm as dusk approached to get out lights and for me to finally tend to my feet, one of which had a very sizeable blister on it. I taped it up and was determined not to let it hinder my progress.

– Aimed to take 1-2 gels every hour to give me fast acting energy, along with a mix of museli and fruit bars
– We goofed up a checkpoint (80) shortly after dark, possibly due to complacency and adjusting to night navigation, wasting about 20 minutes by not going far down enough on the spur it was on and tried the one adjacent, having to go back again.
– Reached W01 at 11:30pm and had a 30 minute rest there. My feet were still sore but luckily the blisters didn’t get worse.
– Had another break 2 hours later for a food/feet tending stop
– I was completely unaware of our whereabouts for some of the nighttime checkpoints if I missed hearing the discussion of how to arrive there and simply trusted they’d know what they were doing.
– The pace was much slower during the night, and each of us had our stumbling blocks with our individual performance
– The most memorable of these was Mike’s literal stumble at 3:30 am where he got a big cut on his hand. It was at this time I realized I left my map at the checkpoint. Despite it being only 50 metres back, I couldn’t find the flag at first.
– I personally felt gradually weaker between 12 and 5am, as physical exhaustion and sleep deprivation increased.
– Other memories of this period is a blur as time seems to warp throughout the night

THE CHOCOLATE PHASE

– Refilled at W20 and had a half hour break at 5am. Despite marked at the same place on the map, the checkpoint was 100m away from the water cans
– I drank a tiny bottle that could be best described at Red Bull on Steroids that was given to me as a promo sample that would give amazing energy with no lows. (It was a test as I’d never had it and was saving it for an emergency only)
– The combination of the drink and it getting light soon later resurfaced my energy and I was from then on well ahead of the other two
– Mike’s feet were visibly hurting – from what I understood it hurt a lot more than he let on, but despite that he kept pushing
– I was eating primarily chocolate from this point on, with the hope of giving me the caffeine hit I needed
– The pace was even slower, though not by our doing.
– We stopped at 8am (at 81) to discuss route changes. We decided against going in the SE quadrant of the course and picking up 5 more near the hash house.
– Walking across an open field at 9:30am, it felt really hot!
– I wanted to go get a 50 pointer (59) just before the end, but sanity took over and we retired to the finish at 11:10am.

AFTERMATH

After an amazing shower, it was lunchtime, and despite my exhaustion, I was able to get up and down to get many helpings of food to make up for all the gels I’d put down. We got a total score of 2610, just missing at top ten with 12th overall. It was great to see how others enjoyed it and find out each other’s score.  Hopefully next year I can get someone to compete with me in the uni division

I thought it was a great running event in terms of the organization, Hash House location (at a youth camp), the weather, the food and the management team acted professional, which is very impressive for a volunteer run organization. I was also very happy with the way our team worked together, pulling each other during low points, both physically and mentally meaning that we were very efficient, and something that I see a veteran competitor like Mike has learned over the years. It was definitely worth the time and the money to get myself down there, they are memories that I will cherish. I learned a lot about good course planning and navigation as well as how to execute a 24 hour event well physically, and I look forward to the ARC next year to improve more. I seriously recommend rogaining; it’s built me as an athlete and a person in so many ways.

EPILOGUE

To put things mildly, I was wrecked at the end of the event and was happy that it’d be a nice short flight back. As I’d printed my boarding pass on the Friday, I simply had to go through security and board. I checked at the Jetstar desk where to check my flight’s status, and the staff member I talked to said it’s on time and just to go in. When boarding time commenced, I looked for the gate number, but all it said on the screen was “Go to gate” with no number listed for my flight. So (with my buggered feet and all) asked several people where the info desk was, and ran across to it, only to find it was the Qantas desk and they didn’t know, so ran to the other side to the Jetstar desk, where they told me it was cancelled.

CANCELLED?! Well why didn’t they tell me on the screen? And why didn’t I get the text they’d allegedly sent me?! I was directed out of security back to the queries desk to find out what flight I could go on. I got transferred to a Qantas flight 50 minutes later, but I couldn’t get my boarding pass as it was still processing 15 minutes later, so eventually had to ask someone to print it. He told me to go back through security and get it printed at the Qantas service desk, which I managed to, and finally got on the flight. Looking for an aeroplane to Sydney made looking for a flag in the dark in the bush seem easy!

The flight itself went okay, though when I reached the train station, things weren’t over. It was 8:15pm so I figured I’d be sweet to connect with the 8:45 train to Hornsby, but for some unexplainable reason, the train from the airport decided to stop for 5 minutes at the station before Central, and pulled in at 8:44:30. I was not happy, as there was trackwork on the other line so I had to get an all stops back, arriving home 2 hours later than I wanted. And this time I slept well, about 13 hours all up!

Tristan White

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How to get converts to rogaining

All of us at NSWRA think that rogaining is the best thing in the world, and everyone needs to hear the Good News of rogaining. But is it easy to actually get friends to sign up for an event or even understand what the heck we are talking about when we bring it up (“No, it’s NOT the thing that you put in your hair. It’s a SPORT!” is one of my common responses to such questions). Even casual acquaintences of mine work out pretty quickly my obsession with the hardcore outdoors and many (perhaps understandably) make an effort to distance themselves from my plans, no matter what they otherwise think of me as a person.

My 21st birthday was a big occasion so as people do, I had a party to which I invited friends from all walks of life including those who are reluctant to ever go outdoors with me, thinking that it’d just be a opportunity to hang out and talk. So imagine their surprise when in the midst of it, they were given a map, clue sheet told to go navigate to as many circles as possble in 40 minutes!

When the teams started to run off, I’ll admit that I was unsure whether they were actually doing the event or heading to their cars to get away from this cruel tyrant who was making them do EXERCISE at a PARTY, but as the time ticked away, all guests returned, mostly with smiles on their face. Although one said to hold me down whilst another punched me, all others told me how much fun they’d had and they’d be talking about this for years to come!

Although this more felt like an orienteering event, it being mostly on tracks, I made an effort to include some real cross country, so put a control halfway up a hill off a proper track, a 100 pointer in a tidal mangrove swamp (which proved to be controversial the clue of “very tip of mangrove” did not hold at the time of the event) and a 90 on the other side of the river, as well as several up watercourses, so that one could at the very least see what a real rogaine consisted of! As it was a party, prizes were given as 1 chocolate bar per team member per hundred points, with bonus chocolate to those who made the swim (which thankfully one person did).

Of course, the most exciting thing about the activity was that I got several friends telling me that they’d be keen to do a proper one at some point. I guess I’ve got to keep bringing it up with them!

So if you’re hosting an outdoor social event, think about having a “scavenger hunt.” Just make it interesting and manageable, with some challenging ones for those who want to experience the “real” thing and who knows who’ll sign up to the next event!

Thanks to Gill for letting me borrow the urban rogaine flags for the event, and to Graham Field for turning it into a professional map! That actually made it amazing!

Tristan White

Map of the event