World Rogaining Championships, July 23-24, 2016, West McDonnell Ranges, Alice Springs, NT
Team 211 (Male Youth): Tristan White & Mitchell Lindbeck
Result: 3rd in MY, 47/299 overall
Few people would have guessed that when my adventurous neighbour (Martin Dearnley) brought up the concept of us entering this event called a “rogaine” for “a bit of fun” when I was only 12, it was going to lead to me winning an event outright, a category win in the national championships and last but not least, a podium in the world champs. I didn’t even know there were state, national and world championships when I was 12, or anything about rogaining for that matter. Times have certainly changed, but nonetheless, it has all still remained “a bit of fun” (okay, okay, not at 4am when I’ve messed up my fourth consecutive checkpoint but you get the picture).
My quest to find an U23 to compete with me in the WRC was completed when Mitch sent me a message in late 2015 in regards to the same quest. Having never competed together but observed each other’s comparable results, there was no question that he was the optimum teammate for me, so I promptly signed us up, and we resolved that we would compete together in every event we could in the months leading up to it. This ended up being the Lane Cove River Metrogaine in February, Tarlo 12h event in May and Paddy Pallin near Lake Mac in June, in which we came to know each other’s strengths, weaknesses and styles.
In addition, we did four self-organized hikes, firstly, the 35km steep and rocky Mt Solitary hike starting at 4pm and finishing at 5am the next morning at a fairly casual pace though getting us accustomed to sleep deprivation, then a 7 hour hike through the Grose Valley from Blackheath to Mt Victoria, also at night. The final one, just over a week beforehand, was a more civilized (mostly) day walk based around the Benowie Track in Hornsby, though adding in any excuses to take some cross country shortcuts though in the end totalled almost 50km.
The most notable practice hike, however, was the third, made on the Queen’s “Birthday” weekend, and one could argue that it was harder than the WRC itself. The Katoomba to Kanangra hike (K2K) is a staple hike, allegedly 45km, so Mitch entertained thoughts of doing it there and back – the K2K2K – in 24h. After all, 90km is at least what we’d be likely to cover in the WRC which is mostly off track and constant navigation; could it really be that hard?
Starting out at 3:50am in very cold conditions, Mitch and I, along with rival Rochelle Duerden stepped out of his Katoomba home through the spectacular scenery from Narrow Neck, down to the Cox’s River and along the ridge towards Kanangra Walls. It was only late that day that we realised that 45km had been hiked and there were still 15 to Kanangra Walls.
After a very long night on the return leg with many breaks, we made it back at 5pm, 37.5 hours after starting out. 120km was a “bit” longer than anticipated, but ultimately this was an unforgettable experience nonetheless that pushed us all physically and mentally – an essential element of rogaine preparation. If we could do this, we can do any 24h rogaine!
Flying up on the Thursday, we made it to the Ross River Resort in the late afternoon in the chartered bus and set up camp with other NSWRA teams – Marg and Rob Cook, Andrew and Rochelle with George, saving a spot for Martin and Graham who were due the next day. After a dinner around the campfire, Mitch and I were fortunate to hitch a lift with another team to the model course and had a chance to casually venture to several controls that evening. Having almost no judgment of any features other than ridgetops was a reminder of the importance of pacing and careful compass work as following the wrong spur or gully would be super easy to do.
We hit the model course again the next morning, this time when it was almost 30 degrees, making us hope that the forecast of 21 degrees for the subsequent 2 days was correct. I made sure that I packed everything I could the afternoon before, as well as put all my intended clothing in a bag so I didn’t have to fish around for it in the morning, and went to bed at 8:30pm. You can’t get too much sleep the night before a 24h rogaine!
With such a massive course, it was impossible to tell if there were any obvious routes, but after a few minutes planning and colour coding controls, sections of route started to show – a myriad of high scoring CPs across the southern end of the course, a potential loop to the western end of the HH and a good helping of low hanging fruit reasonably close to the main road from east to west. Measuring distance of these sections, plus a possible extension in the far west, we conceded that it would be unlikely that we could cover it all, but there were numerous exit points that would get us back home in time. Ultimately the flight plan put in the western loop to do before dark, with the southern section mostly on ridgetops to be travelled from east to, and getting whatever we had time in the western corner before grabbing all the ones in easy reach near the road in final few hours.
We were fortunate enough to be in the shot published in the ABC (far and second from far left at the front)!
We basically remembered the event in three stages – the afternoon, the night and the morning. We made good progress in the first few hours, moving along briskly and getting almost everything dead on, going from 36, to 81, 62, 41, 110, 96 and 42 through following the features closely, hardly needing the compass. The first glitch was needing to make a 1km detour to refill at W3 after getting 30 and 31 – I knew that if I became dehydrated 4 hours in, it’d be very hard to rehydrate myself! We got 70 and 40 by a fair bit of clambering up the side of ridges, and 100 and 60 were collected by following the wide river bed, and then to 34 after crossing the Ross River (actually with a bit of water flowing in it!), before arriving at W7 at 6:30pm just on dark, where we took the chance to completely refill and get out our lights.
The night leg started off well enough with us following up the watercourse to 74. Though dense with Spinifex, it seemed like a theoretically easy traverse, however in its density, we struggled to see the branching gully where the control was meant to be, and ended up going too far. Fortunately I was able to distinguish a nearby knoll from which I took a bearing, finding the control with minimal time loss. If only our subsequent mistakes were as quickly resolved.
We followed the road, then took a bearing off the river towards the foot of the main spur containing 85, and to avoid climbing any more we made the decision to handrail around the contour rather than drop in from above, but despite following the bearing carefully we managed to miss it so wasted 15 minutes or so trying to determine where we were, but by taking a back bearing we managed to find it, through the aid of lights from another team. Ditching 65, we took the long stretch to 92, which apart from a bit of confusion to the location of the bail off spur, we managed to find without incident. Oh, if only the subsequent 3 controls had been the same!
Seeing as hand-railing the contour on a bearing had worked a treat at 85, we nonetheless chose to do this again, with similar results. We ended up on a flat section which we perceived to be the region around 113 but the control was nowhere in sight. After 20 minutes searching the area, we were about to head to the top to take a bearing down when a team passed us showing it was much further below, where fortunately we found it.
Our hopes to make up for this goof up were not satisfied at 77. The plan had been to take an easy bearing down from the knoll, however, we couldn’t determine the knoll resulting in us taking the spur to the east. In the day, we’d have been able to tell this instantly, but being night it was difficult to tell if the right spur was across the gully and had to physically go over and find out. Fortunately it was right, but still soaked up another 20 precious minutes.
Our hopes for a better run to 103 were vanquished, theoretically a fairly simple decent on the spur at the end of the ridge, when somehow we managed to drop off the wrong one unknowingly. We ended up in the gully, of course, but unsure of which one, and missing the watercourse which we originally dismissed, at which point, almost 3am, I almost broke down emotionally until thankfully Mitch held it together to locate it just over the spur.
Our slow but careful trips to 114 and 93 were rewarded with us hitting them both dead on, as was our long trek across the field to 37 (though very steep climb down the rocky watercourse.) What would have been an easy trip to 106, by now approaching dawn, was made harder when I followed up to the saddle to the east and I became completely disorientated, though fortunately Mitch kept his bearings and successfully navigated us to it, just before 6:30am as the sun began to appear over the horizon.
Now we had 5 ½ hours to go and had some decisions to make. We were at the almost maximum distance from the Hash House so there was very little that could added in, however we hoped that if we got a good clip going, we could get the majority of the low hanging fruit near the road and still have some possible detours. Starting out with 78, there was a rapid change in the pace now that it was light and we were on a track. Our route then proceeded to collect 38, 107, 57, 94, checking in W8/ANC at 9am, too late to get any hot food, but was an opportunity to refill, and shove whatever “drugs” I had in my bag into my front pockets to chow down in the final hours. 76 was found easily, though we branched out too early at 35 and found ourselves wandering around the side of the wrong knoll for several minutes until it dawned on us.
It was just after 10am when we bagged 64, so we needed to make a unanimous decision of where to go from there. The options included running out to 54 and back via 44 (90 points), or to rush to 63, 52 and 73 (180 points). We chickened out of the latter unsure of the time available, though in retrospect we’ll we wishing we didn’t (more of that later).
54 was a long way, but was collected without incident, as was 44, just after 11am, where we happened to observe one of our rivals – the NZ M23 team – leaving. Knowing that there was a (tiny) chance that if we somehow accumulated the same score, but arrived back earlier we would beat them, we agreed to expend any energy we had left to run the remaining 2km on the road.
Putting it mildly, it hurt. An all-out assault on a 2km track hurts in any form, but when it’s done after 23 hours of all types of pain, it is beyond comprehension, particularly as the NZ team got the same idea, and in fact managed to overtake us. I would have loved to give chase, but when it was between that and getting back without passing out, I had to keep it a moderate jog. Finally, finally, the HH was nigh, and Mitch and I punched off at 11:20 – 40 minutes early, but realistically unable to collect anything else.
To our surprise though, our rivals had other ideas – we watched them drop their bags, attach their race numbers to their shirts and run off to 80, a 4km out and back, the same one we had all but ruled out, though of course now leaves us scratching our heads after seeing what it led to.
After posing with our map for a post-battleground photo, Mitch and I settled down in the shade; the legs that had done so much over the past 23+ hours could do no more and we settled down briefly in the shade with a good portion of other tired faces, to be given a printout totalling 2420 points – less than half the final allotment but not surprising considering the course’s size. Having a shower immediately (albeit a cold one as the hot water had run out) was a luxury that had very rarely been offered, and it was a great feeling to put on clean clothes as I severed my links with the ones that were now covered in crystalized sweat.
After briefly catching up with other NSW teams and trying to eat a bit of lunch (not easy with my stomach still feeling like a blender), it was time for the formal presentations. To our benefit, the U23 teams were called out first, with our names called out as being… 3rd place, with the comment that it was very close with 2nd, though ~500 points behind first (another AU team I hadn’t heard of).
The NZ team beat us by 10 points. By making that all out sprint to 80 points. 10 points. Of course we will forever be wishing we could have collected something else, which would have been easily possible. On the other hand, I’m sure they were elated that they made the trip, and (dare I say it), they really earned their placing over us. That’s rogaining though – hindsight is the best course planning aid, and the only way to achieve a top place is to treat every control as having the potential to decide between first and second, or second and third!
Nonetheless, it is a 3rd in a world championship event, so can’t be too disappointed! It was nice to be given a medal each, as well as a picture frame as a memento.
We also came 47th in the general classification (out of almost 300 teams), putting us in the top sixth, though the overall winners are in a league of their own, with a score of 4400, almost double ours and over 500 ahead of 2nd place!
Gear and Food
I managed to get my hands on a Camelbak Ultra 10 (constructed for Ultramarathons) late last year which I’ve spent the past few months tweaking to fit properly and holding maximum gear. I was able to increase its capacity by using re-useable cable ties to attach my jacket and arm warmers on the outside, and it worked a treat in this event, managing to (just) hold everything in.
After some debate, I resolved to wear a short sleeved shirt (as I’d rather a few scratches), short pants above the Spinifex-proof (allegedly) gaiters. My Salomon trail runners, which had its gore-tex coated in a layer of silicon, had their tread completely destroyed due to the sharp rocks, but held up for the journey. The night didn’t get that cold, so managed to get by with a pair of arm warmers and a headband, having carried a raincoat as a backup.
Knowing what type of food to take on such an event is always a challenge as it needs to be substantial keep me full, but easy to digest. Ultimately, I ended up eating:
- 5 Golden Circle fruit squeezes (I’d introduced them to Mitch at the metrogaine and he now swears by them!)
- 2 apples (these were great at 10pm)
- 1 mandarin (carried 2 more but didn’t feel up to eating them)
- 6 fruit bars
- 3 museli seed bars
- About 8 gels. These came to taste putrid near the end, but would cram down whatever it took to get me over the line!
- Block of Old Gold Cadbury dark chocolate, to help me through the night
- 2 small bottles of a liquid, best described as “Red Bull on Steroids” to shove down at dawn. These things are amazing,
- Bag of Snakes for the final few hours.
Needless to say, it’s not exactly what would satisfy the recommended “food triangle,” but in terms of getting us through the event, it couldn’t have been better.
What’s different about a World Championship Event?
Having now done all forms of NSWRA events, state champs, national (Australasian) champs and now a world championship event, I can now observe what makes this event special. In essence, it’s the same thing: You’re smashing yourself physically and mentally over 24 hours over tough, unfamiliar terrain. But there were some interesting differences.
- The control values were between 30 and 110 points. No little crumbs of 10 and 20 pointers next to the road. I had thought that there was some standard that controls were a maximum of 100 points as that’s all I’ve ever experienced (other than the last minute 200 pointers at the Tarlo event) but this seems to be convention – the ARC 2007 in the same region went up to 120.
- The size of the course was much bigger than any event I’ve done, being on an A1 sheet of paper. At 1:25,000, this covered about 20x12km2. This was in keeping with rule C2 “The course shall be designed so that the winning team is likely to visit most but not all checkpoints.”
- The controls were essentially all at least 1.5km apart.
- As opposed with state level events, the rules were much more heavily enforced to crack down against cheating: the electronic punches were made out of cloth, and attached with an official crimping a ring around it so that the only way it could be taken off was by cutting it. GPSs were put in a tamper proof bag by an official and needed to be returned within an hour after the event or risked disqualification.
- There was a practice course (this has occurred for the ARC on some occasions)
- Unlike the state 24h events where most competitors arrive Friday evening at the earliest and leave straight after the event, it felt much more of a community pre and post event, where almost everyone arrived by Friday evening (with many getting there on Thursday). It gave us a chance to really enjoy the event rather than rush there and back.
- There was a physical podium for the presentations, an opening and closing ceremony by the President of the IRF and medals given to every placegetter the presentations.
- Teams were required to be either made of 2 or 3 members.
- The ABC wrote an article about the event!
A bigger picture of rogaining
Having spent 5 days completely focussed on rogaining with people from all parts of the world, I was reminded of how this bizarre sport has taken off. From an unnamed activity invented by some university students in the 1960s, it has now spread into a sport with at least one formal organizing committee in each state and territory, a national Australian Rogaining Association with annual Australasian Champs, and an International Rogaining Federation that has its own 9 page document of official rules and has hosted world championships annually for the past 10 years all over the globe. The fact that it is a volunteer run sport all the way to the IRF is really awesome and shows the passion for people of all different nationalities to keep this activity going.
I once was chastened by a mate when I showed little interest in cricket, with him lecturing me how cricket was such an Australian sport and I needed to follow it. But if there is any Australian sport, surely it has to be rogaining; that was actively founded in Australia, and has taken its way all the way around the globe and meeting representatives from other nationalities helped remind me of this!