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.

4 Replies to “Go Your Own Way”

  1. Brett,

    Interesting article, I agree with most of the points made. Safety is the real challenge with solo participation. We permit solo participation on short events, but as the events get longer the potential search area area grows exponentially and while there are some good technologies emerging, we do not have one today that we can deploy that will let us find a walker who is incapacitated outside of a mobile phone reception area. EPIRBs have this capability but they need to be activated and also tree canopies can provide a challenge to current systems.

    When we have a reliable continuous tracking system available to use I would support a rule change to have solo participation. In any case the rules are not set by NSW Rogaining.

    1. Hi Chris,
      Unfortunately, as I am now an ultra-veteran, by the time we have a reliable continuous tracking system I will probably be dead.
      Regarding your last point about the rules not being set by NSW Rogaining, could you confirm that the NSWRA follows the Rules of Rogaining and Technical Regulations (2012) as shown on the Australian Rogaining Association website on this page – https://rogaine.asn.au/Rules-and-Standards/rules.html?
      If so, is solo rogaining allowed in NSWRA rogaines under the terms of Paragraph 2 in the Preamble which states “State Associations may adjust the technical regulations for specific minor (ie non-championship) events, where they consider this appropriate, by decision of their association management committee. They may also adjust the technical regulations for a specific state championship event where there are compelling reasons to do so. Any adjustment proposed for an Australian Championship rogaine requires the written approval of the ARA executive, acting on the advice of the ARA Technical Subcommittee”?
      If this is the case, the NSWRA can change the rules to allow solo rogaining in any of their rogaines, with the only exception being an Australian Championship rogaine. I assume that this is how solo rogaining is allowed in the minigaines …
      Cheers,
      Brett (the bush lawyer)

  2. I have some sympathy with Brett’s argument, but also agree with Chris’s reservations. The additional drawback with PLBs (EPIRBs) is that if you have an accident soon after dark there is unlikely to be a response till the next morning.
    That issue aside, I must say I appreciate having a partner on 24hr events as in effect you can take it in turns to zone out on the go! I guess I’ve been in the lucky position to have had a couple of compatible parters for the last few years – not sure how I’d go teaming with someone I didn’t know. (btw I’m an ultra, like Brett.)
    The reality is that the number of people entering long events (surely the only “real” ones!) is quite low and needs to be increased. It would be interesting to survey the rogaining community to find out whether more people would be attracted if solo was permitted, or indeed whether some people would be turned off because they wouldn’t want to compete against solo hotshots. I suspect I would be in the latter camp!

  3. +1 for rogaines without a partner. I’d enter every one like that if i could. The rogaine i learnt the most from was the solo mingaine – more so than winning NSW 8hr, lake mac etc etc. I think your missing out on entries from the orienteering/trail/ultra running community too. Garmin In-Reach or even live tracking via strava/garmin can work though there are teething issues. I’d be, and i’m sure others, would be willing to pay $20 more if i had to hire a tracking device of some description.

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