Get Into Gear Part 8 – Food for Thought (Rogaining Nutrition)

by Tristan White

The dietary choices for many rogainers during events are as obscure as the sport itself. With very few other sporting events involving up to 24 hours of activity, the traditional energy gels and chews, and protein shakes are not enough to get by, and rogaining tragics are forced to find other items to supplement these.       

Obviously, all rogainers have different dietary requirements, taste preferences and budgets, and furthermore their food selection will be to some extent dictated by their level of competitiveness, so there is no magic formula for what one should eat in a 24-hr rogaine. I have nonetheless taken the chance to share my own habits and find out what a few other rogaine regulars – Ronnie Taib, Joel Mackay, Andrew Smith – have done, to provide a bit of a sampling plate for those looking for ideas.

  1. Tristan White

I am coeliac which explains the absence of some of the typical foods that many would otherwise eat. This gluten-free list could however provide some ideas for others with similar constraints.

  • 3-4 muesli bars with a mix of nuts and seeds
  • 3-4 dried fruit bars or other dried fruit such as cranberries, pineapple or apricots
  • 2-3 apples or mandarins depending on what’s in season
  • Bag of tamari-coated almonds. Nuts give long-lasting energy and the salt adds flavour
  • Packet of rice-crackers and circle of Brie cheese. As unconventional as it sounds, it was an amazing treat to dip into at midnight and is a much more attractive alternative to a gluten-free sandwich that’s been sitting in the bag for 12 hours
  • Tin of Dolmades (rice wrapped in vine leaves), a wonderful mix of salt and carbs
  • Bag of dark chocolate (usually saved for the last few hours)
  • Bag of lollies
  • 2-3 No-Doz tablets, usually one for midnight and another for sunrise
  • 2-3 fruit squeezes
  • A few gels for emergencies but rarely feel like eating them.

I generally start with the slower acting food such as muesli bars and nuts and hit the cheese and crackers as the night progresses, leaving the sweetest stuff till the end. My stomach can be a beast … at times I’m ravenous and afraid I’ve not taken enough, at other times I can feel bloated or nauseous from having too much. Couple that with unpredictable cravings for all different things. I really have to play it by ear (by stomach?) during the event.

2. Ronnie Taib (shown below, right, with teammate David Williams after winning the 2019 NSW Champs for the second consecutive year)

I’m generally a very big eater despite my small build, and usually lug quite a bit of food. For a 24-hour event I’d include:-

  • Five sandwiches in white ciabatta-type bread with butter, ham or salami, tomato or lettuce and pickles.
  • Two “poor man” sushi rolls: white rice mixed up with tuna in olive oil, a few drops of sesame oil, salt and pepper. I eat this out of a Ziplock bag which looks a bit like a sushi when compressed. The oil is to help the rice down at any time of day or night, especially when I run out of saliva to eat a sandwich.
  • Four muesli bars.
  • “Comfort food”: Shapes and snakes. One extra white sandwich with Nutella.

I am often unable to swallow anything when fatigue hits, so need food that is energetic yet bland enough to go down. Sandwiches are nice and tasty during the day, but I like a bit of variety for the night so go for what feels the least terrible. You’ll notice above I choose white bread and rice although they don’t fill me much, because too much fibre can make my guts unhappy when walking. I’ve been changing my rogaining diet over time because my brain seems to associate the disgust caused by fatigue with the food of the time, and well remembers it for subsequent events.

I tried Powerade in my water bladder once, at the 2015 Aus champs in Capertee, and that was a disaster. It felt too sweet and left me craving for water on that very hot day. After a few hours I started hallucinating … hearing water trickling in that dry land. Never again. Plain water, thanks.

And I usually bring 2 gels “in case” and may use them if the terrain is consistently hilly as they release some of the knee pain I get. I carry paracetamol, ibuprofen and antihistamine among other stuff in my first aid kit but, luckily, I haven’t had to use any for years. Pain is a good pacer…

3. Joel Mackay

[L-R] Glenn Horrocks, Joel Mackay & Andrew Black, open winners of 47th Paddy Pallin rogaine.
  • 3 CLIF bars
  • 3 other bars
  • 2 helpings of trail mix (helping roughly equivalent to a bar)
  • 2 helpings of dried fruit (apple, mango, pineapple, peach)
  • 1 muffin
  • 3 filled rolls (eg tuna or cheese + tomato)
  • 2 squares of my special home-made protein slice (oats, dates, cocoa, nuts)
  • 2-3 No-Doz
  • 1 apple, eaten just before sunset
  • Plain water (no electrolyte or sports drink)

I aim to eat something every 1-1½ hours, even if it’s just half of a bar, and carry less if we plan to pass through a café. I specifically carry a mixture of sweet and savoury, and all things I’ve had many times before. The apple just gives me something refreshing part way though the event.

No electrolytes because there is no evidence that I’m aware of that you need salts in endurance events.

4. Andrew “Smiffy” Smith

Andrew with regular teammate Toni Bachvarova look to be well-energised for the start of the NSW Champs (2018 at Abercrombie NP)

Currently our menu consists of a selection of:

  • bananas and Lindor dark chocolate wrapped in crepes
  • chicken lemon risotto wrapped in crepes
  • spaghetti bolognese wrapped in crepes
  • slices of pizza, preferably with pineapple in the topping
  • small roast potatoes flavoured with feta
  • mustard or just salt
  • dark chocolate wheatmeal biscuits
  • Anzac biscuits
  • Mixed nuts
  • Weetbix Go breakfast biscuits (no longer available)
  • chocolate
  • gels with and without caffeine

Food is my biggest challenge on a 24 hour rogaine. I always have trouble ingesting the energy I need to keep up the pace. It gets harder the higher the intensity, the warmer the temperature, and the higher the humidity. I’d love to be the type of person who can buy a bag of cheese and bacon rolls on the way and survive 24 hours eating them, it would be so much easier.

I add a weak mixture of Staminade lemon-lime (mainly for taste) and Endura Rehydration Low Carb Fuel coconut (for the electrolytes) to my water. I sweat a lot and need to replace the electrolytes to prevent cramping … or keep cramping to a manageable level anyway. I tried Endura Rehydration Performance Fuel a few times but it really blocks up my stomach and prevents food from going in. We also use ibuprofen when needed (I always need it!)

Our food changes over time as I get sick of eating the same thing. It’s a constant challenge finding new things I can stomach. Weight is not really a consideration – it’s much more important to be able to get it down.

Tristan W: How do you you manage how you eat so you don’t suffer adverse effects of eating too much or too little?

Ronnie T: Not very well. I always promise myself to eat a sandwich or sushi at least every four hours, and a muesli bar in between if needed, but I often fail to eat anything for most of the night and crumble, flat on energy as day breaks on Sunday.

Joel M: Just try to be reasonably regular.

Andrew S: I try to eat a small amount every hour. If I put too much in my stomach it will churn on it for hours. I used to try and eat a larger amount every two hours but that was getting too much.

TW: Do you have particular foods you eat the night before or morning of a rogaine?

RT: Nope. Anything goes, I don’t see myself at that athletic level. I may simply look for food that will suit the pre-event camping night, e.g., a warming dish if the night promises to be cold.

JM: No – just have breakfast (muesli-yogurt-fruit), morning tea (muffin or the like) and lunch (two filled rolls).

AS: I try to eat a good amount of high carbohydrate food the day before the event. On the morning of the event I try to get my stomach into race mode by eating smaller amounts at regular intervals. Many times I’ve eaten too much before the start and have to manage my stomach (and reduce intensity) for the first 4 to 6 hours.

TW: Is there any food that you specifically avoid eating either before or during a rogaine?

RT: I personally avoid grains and wholemeal now, although it may sound counter-intuitive. Too much sugar also makes me crave for teeth brushing.

JM: There are no good data that anti-inflammatories have a benefit in these events, so I don’t take them.

AS: My stomach doesn’t like fatty foods like sausage or cheese. I also don’t like muesli bars – can’t get them down.

TW: How do you pack your food in your bags so you can access what you need when you need it?

RT: I wrap my sambos in thin freezer bags, chuck all my food in a larger plastic bag in the main section of my bag. I carry a muesli bar in strap pocket and refill when I access the big items. Since we only walk, it’s always easy enough to access stuff.

I try to minimise my plastic use, but I admit packaged bars and freezer bags are the best weight trade off I’ve found. I return all my muesli wrappers and used bags to my local Coles for RedCycle-ing.

JM: Most food in outside pockets. Second helpings are inside in a separate food bag.

AS: We wrap all our food so that it is easy to access. Usually in old bread bags in outside pockets or the top of the pack. Pizza slices are paired up so the toppings are on the inside like a sandwich. We wrap the crepes individually in cling wrap – we are still looking for a more environmental solution for this.

TW: What are the differences between what you carry in 24-hr versus shorter duration events?

RT:  I cut quantity down for a shorter event, that’s all. But that’s also because I’m not inclined to run in shorter events.

JM: Anything shorter than 24-hr, I won’t have rolls or apple. In a 3-6hr event with lots of running in warm weather, I would have a gel or two because they’re easy to get down. In such conditions, I wouldn’t have nuts or other dry things. Sometimes I might add sports drink powder for the same reason if it’s very hot, not for the electrolyte but for the easily accessed sugar.

AS: We pretty much eat the same types of food for rogaines 6 hours and longer. For 3 hour rogaines we just use gels.

TW: If there is an All Night Cafe on course, how much effort do you make to stop at it during the night, or return to the HH for food where possible, and how much assistance is it to stop?

RT: I like the idea to stop at the ANC mostly to acknowledge and thank the volunteers there. However, we don’t plan around them as we had cases where we could not find anything our tummy would like. That said, I’ll usually grab a choc muffin if available. I should also talk about the best ANC “dish”. Not being a native-born Aussie, it turns out I had my first toastie ever on the Wombeyan Wamble rogaine, after hours in battering rain and storm. It is probably the best thing I ever had in my life!

JM: Always stop if I can. It’ll reduce by one or two ‘units’ the amount of food I carry.

AS: We always hope the HH and the ANC are not far from our course. Hot food goes down so much easier! I always feel much better after a feed (as long as I don’t eat too much). And cheese toasties are the best (my stomach is fine with cheese if it’s in a cheese toastie). If it is less than 1km out of our way we will make the detour – it’s definitely worth it.

Thanks everyone for sharing your experiences. I hope it prompts our members to share their good and bad times with rogaining food.

Solo-Super-Sped-Up Rogaining (Urban Score Orienteering)

by Tristan White

A key ingredient to rogaining (in addition to the navigation, teamwork, and route planning) is pushing through the long duration of the event. Excluding multi-day events such as the Tour de France or Test Cricket, a 24-hour rogaine is one of the longest continuous “official” sporting events.

But even the deepest rogaining tragics couldn’t hope to compete in a 24hr rogaine every week and simultaneously hold down a job, have some sort of family life, and keep their body physically intact. So what better way to keep up the routine of route planning, navigation and keeping fit on a weekly basis than a solo, super-sped-up version of a championship rogaine?

NSW is fortunate enough to have these Solo Super-Sped-up rogaines run by our various orienteering clubs. Despite the supposed rivalry between orienteers and rogainers, these events have long been popular amongst both the orienteering and rogaining crew, and for good reason. I did my first score orienteering in 2013 after a couple of years of serious rogaining and was immediately hooked.

As the summer orienteering starts kicking off around the State I had the privilege of having Ross Barr and Samantha Howe, coordinators of the best known midweek “Score-O” events in NSW, answer questions about the Sydney Summer Series (SSS) and Newcastle Summer Street Series (NSS) and explain why it’s such a great thing for rogaining regulars of all persuasions to give it a crack. Thanks to Sam and Rosscoe for their responses.

Sam (at right) with teammate Cath at Berowra Bewilderness Socialgaine 2018

Tristan White: How did you get into orienteering/rogaining in the first place?

Ross Barr: I was leading NPA day walks back in the early 1980s and my bushwalking friend, the late Bill Maclean from Garingal Orienteering, was a regular who used to urge me to give O a go. “You love the bush, you love maps…” But I didn’t think I had that competitive bit or wanted to run… How wrong this proved when I did eventually give it a go (at Macquarie Uni in 1987)! I was instantly hooked. I did my first rogaine a couple of years later – a Paddy Pallin I think.

Samantha Howe: I got into Orienteering and Rogaining through friends in the Newcastle Uni Mountaineering Club and was immediately hooked. I started helping by setting occasional street events and am now the Street Series Coordinator and I regularly set different events.

The Castlecrag course was one of the highlights of the 2018-19 SSS Season (and it may likely form part of the upcoming 2020 Socialgaine)

TW: Give a summary of how the series works.

RB: Each SSS course is 45 minutes in length, with controls numbered 1-30 on the map; 1-10 being ten points, 11-20 twenty, and 21-30 thirty; hence a total of 600 available points. The controls are generally in relatively easy locations, such as track junctions or fence corners; with a flag and electronic punch (SportIdent Unit) hanging at it. Competitors generally run (or walk) solo though we do permit team entries as well. Like a conventional rogaine, 10 points are lost per minute late, and generally the course is set so that the best runner collects almost (but not quite) all 600 points, and there is no obvious route so athletes are rewarded for clever route planning. There are 26 events this year, coinciding with each Wednesday of Daylight Savings.

Runners can usually collect maps from 4pm (though that’s changed somewhat with Covid) and start between 4:30pm and 6:45pm. The course closes at 7:30pm at which stage controls begin to be collected.

SH: NSS has always been a 45-minute score course with two minutes of map-reading time before starting. Maps are A4 size at 1:10,000. NSS used to have a multiple-choice question at each control (eg. #93 Colour of Letterbox: Red / White / Green) which were marked at the finish to give your score. Controls were worth 1, 2 or 3 points with 1 point lost for each minute late up to 5mins, then 2 points per minute up to 10mins late before disqualification at 55mins. Now we are changing over to MapRun which uses GPS on your smartphone or Garmin watch to beep and register each control as you reach it, then uploading your score at the finish. Controls will now be worth 30, 40, 60 or 90 points (changing due to MapRun control number limitations) with 30 points lost per minute late. A competitor’s best 10 results count towards their series total. Toblerones are awarded to any competitors who come to every event in the series and there are usually 5-20 people each season who manage this. Andrew Haigh seems particularly partial to Toblerone as he has the best record of attendance in the last ten or so years.

Starts are from 5pm – 6:30pm with course closure at 7:30pm.

TW: When and why did the Summer Series start?

RB: SSS began as something to keep you in touch over the summer when we had a hiatus from other events. Early years had various formats, but in 1991 we settled for the ‘Mini- Rogaine’ 45-minute score course we now have. The locations are slightly North Shore/Northern Beaches/Inner West Sydney centric, but we do cover quite a wide area.* This season includes Auburn and Earlwood for instance. Garingal Orienteers (my club) began it all, and we still do roughly half the 26 events each year. The other four Sydney-based clubs (Bennelong, Western & Hills, Uringa and Bigfoot) share the balance, with my role balancing the competing areas and dates – always a challenge! We get an average 200 attendees for each event, and a very much rusted on demographic. Our web site (about to be updated with the new branding from dirtyd) shows the programme, captures results and news. The latter usually being my cryptic race reports** – that I’m sure no one reads!

(*) There are now similar South and West Sydney Summer Series’ with a similar format, however less regular and held on weekends

(**) They really are cryptic. Each week Ross invents an original theme that somehow ties in with the location, course, organiser or best athletes. As an example, for the course I (Tristan) set at North Wahroonga he managed to compare the natural setting with different shades of “White” paint to coincide with my surname.

A SSS from 1995 at Boronia Park, North Ryde. It has more recently been utilised in the Lane Cove Rivergaine 3 in 2017

SH: The Newcastle Street Series started in 1990. Arthur Kingsland won the first series and several later series and he still competes each year. Club members of all levels take part and the street series has always been aimed at bringing new people in to try orienteering. A lot of Novocastrian rogainers have been attending the NSS for many years including Andrew & Nicole Haigh, Rob & Marg Cook, Van Netten family, Charlton family, Montgomery family, Ian Dempsey, Bob Gilbert, Neil Chappell and many more.

The trophy for outright winner is a 4kg+ lump of bitumen (see below photo of Andrew holding this trophy).

Clare Williams, Alex Massey and Andrew Morris with their NSS trophies

TW: What gave you the idea to start up the SSS, and what type of people came to the events back then?

RB: Big Foot had an event before I started, and I think there were earlier series’ that had faded out. Maybe I was just the right person at the right time – and 30 years later wondering, “Gee, what happened here?” Most of our early runners were all O club members, but then we started getting non-O athletes. Some fantastic runners have joined us over the years, though nowadays many names in both O and rogaining join the party, less the straight road-running crowd.

TW: You have set and done longer rogaines in the past. How can participation in summer-series events complement one’s performance in longer rogaines?

RB: Ron Junghans and I set the Paddy at Long Swamp (2001 – same location as the more recent “Pagoda Palooza”), and we were both pretty keen then. I’d always go out hard, Ron trailing back, but he always perked up at the 4-5 hour mark, often finishing the stronger. My rogaines with Ian McKenzie (both of us walking at fast pace) have been highlights also. The key link across the two map-sports is distance estimation, and the need for late plan adjustments as one tires. Both sports are defined by these features.

SH: NSS events are like mini-rogaines; controls have differing point values and you try to get the most points you can within the 45-min time limit. This is great to hone time-management skills, navigation under pressure and route planning to maximise points.

TW: How do Summer Series events contrast to other conventional orienteering events, and what makes them particularly ideal for rogainers?

RB: SSS are ’score’ courses, where you can (normally) study the map and course. The biggest difference to classic bush and sprint orienteering is that these are ‘line’ courses with no prior study. The key to good O setting is route choice and making decisions in very short time order. Orienteering in that sense is a more charged and athletic activity, where decisions on the run are often so critical and such a key aspect. Orienteering’s event times (being shorter) are a major contrast to rogaining, so SSS is perhaps a good cross over.

SH: NSS are ‘score’ courses (like rogaines) instead of traditional ‘line’ courses and are set in suburban areas with some reserves and occasional bush sections. Most competitors don’t use a compass as it’s more time consuming and they just keep track mentally. These events can be enjoyed at any speed by all ages and abilities, just like rogaines. NSS also has a walking-only category and a pram category (running with pram allowed) and you can compete by yourself or in a group. Children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult for safety.

TW: Do you have any particular favourite courses/maps/locations or events over the years

RB: No real favourites. The location variety is one of our best features, ranging from the bush of Lane Cove, Curl Curl, Tania Park and Kissing Point. So many – and three new maps this season! I suppose I’m a little bit keen on the inner West having mapped Pyrmont, Glebe, Annandale etc. They also hint at Sprint O to a degree, something I’m very very keen on.

SH: I too like the variation within the series – some maps are flat and some very hilly, some are grid-like (where you can easily make parallel errors) and others are curvy mazes. I prefer maps with lots of complexity and not too many steep hills. We have so many maps that we usually don’t repeat a map for three years.

Course prep for the NSS

TW: What is going to be different this series to reflect the Covid era?

RB: The Covid protocols mean we will pre-publish the courses (night before) to assist in minimising people mingling at assembly to study the route. Sadly, this was always one of the best aspects of our weekly ‘hit’ … getting to catch up with your mates, now pre-done, or back in your car. So, minimal people at rego. No results display etc. It will make the SSS Facebook page all the more important as a forum for athletes to spend hours comparing their routes to that of their mates!

SH: MapRun should help with faster times as there are no longer questions to answer at a control. Because it will now be GPS, we will be able to easily check a competitor’s route if a control doesn’t ‘beep’ and amend their score. Also, all competitors will have to physically pass through each control instead of turning around early (if they had good eyesight at a distance) and they will not be able to cheat by guessing answers or taking shortcuts through Out-of-bounds areas.

NSS route planning

TW: What in particular is there to look forward to this season?

RB: This year’s programme begins with the two cancelled events from Season 29 including my ‘Gone Trotting’ at Harold Park, Glebe. Both with new material. I mentioned the new maps (Auburn – dead flat, Earlwood, the full Northbridge which I’ve called ‘Remembering Bob Hawke’! and one behind Warringah Mall). Your (Tristan’s, held on December 2nd) one in North Wahroonga will be a cracker, as will Richard Pattison at ’The Cascades’ which hasn’t been used for over 25 years. Also Ian Jessup at Long Reef, another oldie getting a rerun in the sun. And don’t forget the 30th anniversary event – back with special permission at Balls Head where it all began.

A 1997 map from another favourite location, Balls Head in North Sydney
Ross’s own Fox Valley (South Wahroonga) course was one of my personal favourites, as it was for many other rogaine regulars.

TW: Thanks Sam & Ross for the info and obvious enthusiasm you have for the Summer Series. And for our readers, here’s links to other Score Orienteering comps in NSW & ACT.

Here’s one of the maps from Newcastle Summer Series 2019-20