Watagaine never again

The 2018 Watagans mountains rogaine was the third I’ve attended in this area, and definitely the last. The lack of route choices means everyone is doing the same course, with the only choice being which direction . No navigation was needed at all on this course. When nearing a checkpoint, one is inevitably greeted by someone else emerging from the bush and a well worn track directly to the checkpoint.
No real choice of route selection possible, no navigation necessary, and large queues at every control. This is not rogaining. Unfortunately, it has been the same every time in the Watagans. Please , please, change the area and the course setter!

Go Your Own Way

Thoughts About the Future of Rogaining … by Brett Davis

The main feedback I would like to provide on the NSW Rogaining   Strategic Plan 2018 – 2022 is its failure to embrace rogaining for individuals rather than teams. 

I am aware that the definition of rogaining is “the sport of long distance cross-country navigation for teams travelling on foot” – and I think this is the crux of the sport’s problem, especially if one of your objectives is to “increase participation rates by 15% per annum”. Rogaining is essentially an individual sport that has been forced to become a team sport because of safety concerns that were quite reasonable when the sport was created, but which may now be holding it back.

Would sports like tennis, golf, running, triathlon, swimming and cycling be as popular as they are today if participants were forced to compete as teams rather than individuals?

When I started researching the history of rogaining to find out why the sport was limited to teams, I was astounded to find that solo rogaining was already happening in both NSW and the ACT – and had in fact been happening for years! Because I never go into events shorter than 12 hours, I had no idea that the 3 hour Minigaines in NSW had been allowing solo entries since at least 2010 (despite Rogaining being a team sport). A quick check of past ACT rogaines showed that the Ainslie 5 hour rogaine in 2011 allowed solo entries, as did all the 6 hour Metrogaines since 2014.

I examined the results of the NSW Minigaines and found that the percentage of competitors who chose to go solo varied from a low of 13.5% (in 2010) to a high of 28.73% (in 2013) – with an average solo participation rate of 21.8%. For the six ACT rogaines where solo entries have been allowed, the percentage of competitors who chose to go solo varied from 9.7% to 21.15% with an average solo participation rate of 16.2%. Whether the solo entries were made up of teams that had split up or not is open to conjecture, but at least some of the solo entries would have been competitors who would not have been at the event if solo entries were not allowed. 

While I was going through the stats I noticed that solo competitors did very well in the rogaines. In fact, I could only find one rogaine that had been won by a team in the 11 rogaines I found that allowed solo entries.

As Julian Ledger said in a post on the NSW Rogaining Association Forum in April 2017 – “Looking at the results one has to ask do Rogainers do better on their own? Safety considerations aside if longer rogaines allowed solo entry would the lone wolves clean sweep the places …?” He also said “going solo means no distracting conversations, less chance of forgetting what you are supposed to be doing or partners pulling up with cramp. Left only with your inner voice you can focus on the navigation.” 

On the same forum, Chris Stevenson said “I made a deliberate decision to enter yesterday’s event as a team because I recall from previous events the competitiveness of the individuals … To put it in context, the average score of the individuals was 1,390 whereas the average score in the teams was 855.” Chris also said “Perhaps that is why they can’t find a friend to be their partner” – and this certainly happens to me. I would compete in every rogaine I could if solo entries were allowed.

On the NSW Rogaining blog under “Strategic Plan – What’s Wrong with Rogaining” – Shanti wrote in November last year “I find that the main thing holding me back is finding a partner (the partner finding service is great for this and I usually have success, but a lot of people might not want to walk around the bush for a day with a complete stranger). The 3 hr ones are great because you can do them individually but it would be nice if some of the 6 hr Metrogaines had an individual option.”

Similar feedback has already been published in the outcomes from your 2017 survey. One comment was “Wish you would offer solo entries for 6-hr event” while another comment said “About 3 hours, solo entry, in a natural environment, would be perfect for me …”

So I am not the only one who would like to see more solo entries allowed in more – if not all – rogaines.

What are the advantages of going solo and the disadvantages of teams? As mentioned above, finding a suitable partner can be difficult or impossible, because partners should be a similar age with similar fitness and similar motivation. And even if you are lucky enough to find the perfect partner, they will not necessarily be available for all the rogaines you want to enter. This is not a problem if solo entries are allowed. 

The age categories for teams are based on the age of the youngest team member. I am 65 which means I am an ultra-veteran, but at the Wingello Rogaine recently I was teamed with a 54 year old, which meant our team was not even a super-veteran team, and I had to compete against veterans 25 years younger than me. Solo entries completely eliminates this problem.

Another disadvantage of compulsory teams is the risk that your event could be ruined due to the misfortune of your partner. If they are injured, or get sick, or tire early, get blisters, or have a gear failure like a dead torch or a hole in a hydration pack, then your event is ruined too and you have done your very expensive entry fee cold. With solo entries, you only have yourself to look after, and blame.

The obvious reason that solo entry was not allowed in early rogaines was the safety factor. Teams were, and still are, safer than going it alone. But these days we have mobile phones, satellite phones, personal locator beacons (PLBs) and even the Strategic Plan seeks to “implement GPS tracking”, so solo rogaining is much safer today than it was when the sport was invented 40 odd years ago.

GPS tracking – and solo rogaining in 24 hour rogaining championships – will inevitably happen one day, so why not let it happen now? We already sign waivers acknowledging the inherent risks associated with competing in a rogaine, and if we are prepared to die in our sport and sign a waiver acknowledging this, there should be no chance of repercussions on the organizers. The fact that solo rogaining is actually allowed in shorter events means that insurance and litigation considerations have already been taken into account.  To make it even safer for solo rogainers, allow them to compete only if they have a PLB.

Anyway, that’s my feedback.

My Personal Pitch for the 24

Why You Should Do 24-hour Rogaines … by Tristan White

Rogaining in its most so-called “traditional” form exists as a 24hr event, stretching from midday Saturday to midday Sunday. Yet statistically from the past few years, our annual 24h event has significantly lower attendance than all of our other shorter events, and of these attendees, a large portion will compete in the 8hr event held in conjunction with it. It seems that rogaining in its “pure” form has been won out by several other factors:

  • Time: Unlike a 6hr event that can normally be crammed into a day trip (depending on location), a 24h rogaine at the very least requires the entirety of the weekend, and often part of the Friday and/or the Monday. For those with family commitments and inflexible jobs, this can become a major challenge.
  • Cost: The entry cost of a 24hr rogaine in comparison to a 6 or a 12 is often not significantly greater, however unlike a 6hr event which one can put on some lightweight clothes and a take a bit of food and water, a 24hr rogaine requires more specialist gear such as camping equipment, a decent headtorch, a big enough backpack, gaiters, shoes and socks and lightweight warm/waterproof clothing. If one doesn’t have any of the gear, it is a big investment for your first event. The cost of fuel to the event can also be significant.
  • Inexperience: Whilst a complete novice will generally get away with locating flags on or near a track, at least some of the time, being an inexperienced navigator in the dark in the middle of the bush is unforgiving and hence requires some level of inherent skill to have a chance of success.
  • The Sanity Factor: Why would anyone want to wander around the bush for 24 hours in the absolute middle of nowhere anyway? (It’s a question that I’ll invariably ask myself at some point during the night of a 24hr event.)

 

But as significant as these factors are, I am the NSWRA publicity officer and it is my job to convince you that you must try a 24hr rogaine. With the Abercrombie NSW Champs coming up, 24hr rogaines are on our minds and we want you to join us at the latter! So here’s a list of reasons why you couldn’t possibly miss out on doing a 24hr rogaine.

Experience

Although I’m (coincidentally) only 24, it is safe to say that I’ve had a huge variety of experiences in my life so far, and hope that many more will follow, but inevitably I forget things. I forget assignments I’ve done at school and university; I forget what people look like; I forget projects I’ve been involved with at work, and I forget who was the most recent political leader to be dragged out by their own party.  I even forget which girls I’ve crushed on and how I’ve failed to win them (no, it’s not by taking them on a rogaine!), but I remember every 24 hour rogaine I’ve done in my life. I remember which event it was, which poor sod(s) I was with, I remember the route we took and the blunders we made, and I remember what our result was. I even remember how long it was before said poor sod would talk to me after the event.

When I look back at my life in 50 years time, these are things I want to remember doing.

Perspective

Irrespective of how a team ultimately places in the general classification at the end of the event, a 24hr rogaine will force participants to push themselves to do things they wouldn’t normally do. Whether it be to stay up long after they otherwise would (and should) have gone to sleep, to keep moving until the hours blend into each other, or to maintain concentration following a bearing or a subtle spur for 2km in the dark, a 24hr rogaine tests the limits of all competitors. Every time I have just completed a 24hr rogaine, the thought of getting through an 8hr day at work or study seems that much easier.

Novelty

Saying that you spend your spare time walking around in the bush at 2am looking for little flags is a pretty cool (albeit somewhat weird) thing to drop into a first date, an ice breaker activity or a job interview.*

(*) Really.  At a recent interview, the manager saw the sport listed on my resume.

 

I’m interested in your comments – other arguments for or against the longer rogaines…

Fields, Fences and Frogs

Report on The SunSEQer Rogaine Australasian Championships 2018 – by Tristan White

Team 5 – Tristan White & Mitchell Lindbeck, “A Degree of Indirection”

There were many reasons that led me to once again enter a 24 hour rogaine, but as someone who  does not typically get bothered by Sydney winters, “SEQing” the sun was not one of them. However, plodding into the finish in a wet and bedraggled mess after facing steady rain for the past 9 hours meant that I was most certainly “SEQing” it by then!

I teamed up with Mitchell Lindbeck who had famously been my partner in the 2016 World Champs near Alice Springs. As he moved up to the Sunshine Coast shortly after that, we hadn’t paired for any events since so it was a perfect chance to have another go together. Arriving on the late afternoon Friday, it was pleasing to see how many NSW teams made the effort to show up. Too often the Aus Champs are made up of 90% teams from the host state so it’s great to see a good mix of interstate & NZ teams joining the fun.  

The first thought that went through my mind when I saw the map was the sheer size of the course. It was significantly larger than the standard size in itself, but with a scale of 1:40,000, the line distance was over 50% longer than what I was used to. By a rough calculation, it was an average of 2km between checkpoints, and there were many places that it was significantly more. Whilst far from flat though, the contour lines looked much further apart than in the standard NSW bush event, and it was obviously 80% open grassland. It depended on one’s climbing/running ability to decide whether that made an easier event. Mitch and I planned a base route to the west around 70km that got to the ANC relatively early on, mostly on roads in the dead of the night and temptingly close to the HH around daybreak but resolved not to make a detour to visit it.

Starting out at a steady walk, we went to 65 and 32 with minimal difficulty, before going further off track to get 103, 70, 95, 92 and 61, before the extended trip of about 4km to 101, followed by 68. We then collected 52 and 93, by which point it was getting dark and we pulled out our torches for the trip up the watercourse to the very welcome All Night Cafe.

After a pact to stay no longer than 15 minutes, we departed the ANC for the long leg, mostly on the road, to 81. We had heard accounts from another team that there was an angry landowner who was unaware of the event being held (due to a miscommunication at his end) and had angrily chased people off his land surrounding 81, Walt Kowalski style.

Deciding to take a marked track coming in from the North West, that is where our problems started. After the apparently straight road took several zig-zags that threw us off where we were and walking through a fenced field that we later realized was that of the “Get Off My Lawn Guy” and immediately jumped off. we made an estimate of where we were from a nearby gully junction and guessed the CP was on the adjacent spur. After climbing up it and seeing no flag, we realized our troubles were going to be far from over. After umpteen sit downs, stand ups, and attempted relocations, we had realized it had been 2½ hours since we left the ANC and eventually we decided that we couldn’t waste any more time there and decided to move on. Unlike previous times I’ve been geographically embarrassed, at least we could use the road we had come down as a landmark.

We hadn’t completely run out of luck, as it turned out. By chance we ran into another team coming from the opposite direction, who had just come from 81. We had been on the wrong hillside the entire time!  With a mix of frustration and relief, we climbed up the hill and down into the adjacent gully, and there was a red and white flag. Another 80 points in the bag. We kept this lesson at the forefront of our mind for the rest of the night: don’t trust the tracks!

Now it was 11pm, and the clouds had uncovered a glorious full moon that acted as a guiding light as we continued along towards 66, which we found with relative ease. 106 was found with extreme care, being in one of the many shallow gullies. Taking a bearing directly to one of the creek crossing points, 85 was found without huge difficulty, before we reached W3 to refill at about 1am.

Did I say anything about the fences? Barbed wire fences were everywhere over the course, and extreme care was needed, particularly in the dead of the night, to ensure it didn’t leave a lasting impression on our skin. For some reason, the song “We’re going on a Bear Hunt (or Flag Hunt)” went through my head: “Uh-oh, barbed wire. We can’t go over it, we can’t go under it; we’ve got to go through it!” But practice made perfect; by this point we had been through so many that we had worked out the most efficient way possible to get through: I’d hold up the bottom wire and Mitch would crawl under on his belly and would subsequently hold apart the bottom two wires so I could climb through. Now that’s teamwork!

It’s worth noting the other forms of life we had run into at this point. There were cattle galore over much of the course (which at night became a series of glistening eyes), and plenty of (I think) pademelons and rabbits who would jump out of nowhere. But the most intriguing company that we kept was on the way to 72 as we walked under yet another barbed wire fence and a dozen sets of eyes started heading towards us; as it turned out it was a pack of curious horses, probably wondering what two crazy guys with torches were doing at 2am. Whether they wanted attention or food I do not know but they would not leave us alone.  We gave up two valuable minutes giving them a pat, resulting in them following us across the paddock and having another eight or so turn up and join the fun. The sight of twenty sets of disappointed eyes staring at us as we crossed the fence again was one of the most prominent memories of the event.

Shortly after bagging 72, the stars and the moon were replaced by little drops of water, lots of little drops, and by the time we were along the track towards 105 the rain had really set in and the jackets were out. Although the anchor point was a track junction in a watercourse, it was remarkably shallow and indistinct and if it hadn’t been for my alert partner I would have walked right past. Thanks Mitch!  Heading up the “watercourse,” we found the CP with minimal effort. For the first time ever, I had the ultimate rogaining triumph: bagging a 100 pointer, in a shallow gully, in the rain. It doesn’t get any more classic than that!

Heading back to the track we started working out whether or not to get 67, which was partway up a hill after over a kilometre over a flat field. By this time we were soaked through and I was really keen to take whatever route that would keep us moving. But the anguish of walking past a CP when all points were so hard to earn won out, and we carefully set our compasses across to the hill, climbed under the barbed wire and walked across the now soaking grass. Halfway along, Mitch spied an absolute godsend: a tiny 2 square metre shelter in which I could quickly pull on all my remaining warm gear.  It was amazing what a thermal top and a small headband could do to warm me up. In the process another curious four legged friend came over to me; in this case quite a sizable green tree frog, who briefly jumped up my leg!

Fortunately despite (or possibly because) of our wariness of it, we found 67 without issue and made our long way back to the track, towards 83. The sunrise (albeit with no break in the rain) lifted our spirits as we were once again able to see to get 33 and 78 with minimal effort. By this point it was about 8am and it was a decision point. It didn’t seem as though we had enough time for either 45 or 87, a long way to the east and west respectively (though we would regret this later), and resolved to get 97 and 78, and collect whatever we had time for of 31, 73 and 30. As it turned out the open and relatively flat land made our movements  relatively fast.  We hence returned to the Hash House at 10:30am without anything else we had the confidence to collect in the remaining hour and a half. A good excuse for an early shower before the queues got long!

We ended up with 1870 points, putting us 33/110 teams, and covering around a relatively civilized 70km. Although it was a far cry away from 4th in last years Aus Champs, the slower pace we opted for and the nature of the open & less hilly course meant I wasn’t disappointed in the least. The runners were well and truly rewarded for sheer distance covered, and I just had no interest in running for 24 hours.

It is worth paying homage to a number of great performances of NSW teams, the culmination of several podiums led to us winning the interstate competition! In the general classification, Gill Fowler and Joel Mackay were the highest ranking NSW teams, scoring an impressive 2750 points putting them in 5th. Mitch and I overtook Gill and Joel just after sunrise after Joel described himself as “cactus” so I can only imagine how they’d done had Joel had a better day, as Gill is a very good ultrarunner which would have been a great asset on a course like this. David Williams & Ronnie Taib placed themselves 9th with 2490 points. Also just scraping into the top 10% in 11th place were Andrew Smith and Toni Bachvarova with 2450 points, also taking out the Mixed Veterans. After having dinner with Toni and Smiffy a couple of nights to compare routes, we discovered they did a very similar route to us in the reverse direction and added a few extra CPs west of the ANC and in the NW corner. They made it from the HH to 81 by just after 6pm; we did the opposite route (with one or two extra CPs in over double that time!).

“The Royals,” Andy Macqueen and Greg King also collected a great 2260 points to take out the Men’s Ultra Veteran title, in 19th place overall. Andy and Greg were one of the unfortunate teams to have faced the “Get Off My Lawn,” actually chased off with a quad bike, forcing them to entirely change their route. Mike Hotchkis and Neil Hawthorne paired up once again after Neil’s departure to Tasmania, just ahead of us at 1930 points, after Neil had had some foot issues. Having seen them do numerous 24h events (Mike from personal experience) I know that they are both very experienced rogainers and can all but wonder how they would have done were circumstances on their side. (Mike and I will be teaming up for the NSW Champs shortly so hopefully I can find out!)

The Duerden team was certainly worth a mention. Andrew and Rochelle have competed together for many years before Rochelle moved up to Queensland recently, but it was the first time that 16yo Jemma, who has now started competing regularly in her place, embarked on a 24h. Whilst it sounds like their trip out was not without its issues, it was nonetheless a remarkable achievement for Jem to get through as much as she did!

Martin Dearnley and Graham Field, whom I used to compete with in the old days, just scraped into the top 50% with 1400 points. Given that they came back and slept 7 hours, that was a fantastic score!

 

Just thought I would take a last chance to pitch NSW teams to compete in championship events. Notwithstanding the fact that the travel (and necessary time off work) is a greater hassle and expense than our “local” events, there are many other reasons it is worth making the trip to Tasmania next year:

  • A chance to win a national sporting event (depending on your category!)
  • Experience the types of terrain that exists in other states to test your rogaining adaptability! For example, I’ve never had a 1:40,000 map and it was an added challenge to visualize the distance of points on the map!
  • Meet like-minded people from all over Australia and NZ and even potential future partners (Mitch and I met at an ARC several years ago!)
  • An excuse to see a new part of the country. Why not stay for a few extra days and make a holiday of it, as I did in the Gold Coast the week before?
  • Just like all NSW’s 24-hour events, whilst these are “championships,” teams are always equally free to head out on course for a few hours, have a night’s sleep and get a few more the next morning.
[For reference, you can download the map from the ARC website, at http://www.qldrogaine.asn.au/qraonline/html/wp/results/]