Over the past few years of adventure racing, there have been a number of boxes I’ve been able to tick off: expedition races, stage races, ultras, travelling overseas to compete and competitive results in a few events. However, one race format still left on the bucket list was a 24 hour rogaine (apart from a dismal attempt in 2009 that had me pulling the pin sick at the 12hr mark on the other end of the map before trudging another 5 hours back to the hash house). Even though I’ve done trek legs in expedition races that have taken over 40 hours long, I was under no illusion as to how tough a 24hr rogaine could be. Indeed, I’d hazard to suggest that any “24hr” adventure race with its discipline changes, transition areas and fast winning times doesn’t really come close to the challenge of 24hrs of cross country navigation on your feet.
Coming into the race, I had three major goals that Leo seemed happy to be on board with – 1) stay out for the full 24 hours, 2) nail the navigation and 3) go out easy and finish the race strong. Knowing that there was a couple of very strong interstate teams racing along with some competitive local teams (including friends/team mates Jamie and Paul), we weren’t too concerned about posting a competitive result. Ultimately we were pleased to finish third overall, first mens team and first QLD team despite a less than perfect race.
Up front, a big thank you should go to Paul Guard and his organising team for posting a flawless event. The location was perfect for rogaining being not too hilly and relatively open. So much work goes into putting on an event of this magnitude with CPs spread over a 100 square kilometres. Paul’s control placements often made for very tricky navigation, opting for many secondary features such as minor spurs and gullies that caught us and most of the field out on multiple occasions.
Our plan of attack was for a 90km course, starting out at 5km/hr, dropping to 4km/hr for the first part of the evening then 3km/hr during the dark hours of the night before finishing at 4km/hr once the sun was back up again if the legs could take it. Much of the pre-race discussion surrounded how cold it was going to get and how much warm gear to take, with the area posting sub-zero temperatures into the lead up to the weekend. Ultimately I opted for just a light thermal, 180g windproof jacket and a buff given that I’ve always found this number of layers to be sufficient and practical in the past, and at least we wouldn’t be paddling or riding which I find to be much more cold inducing activities. The one concession I was willing to make was a pair of gloves, which I ultimately forgot to pack and deeply regretted during the night.
Heading out in a clockwise direction, we picked up CP23 where it was quickly apparent not all watercourse lines were equal on the map. In a recurring theme, many of the mapped blue lines in the flatter areas were very indistinct on the ground. Heading on a bearing to the second control, CP52, we found the Tiger team up ahead back tracking out of a major creek line. This had us second guessing ourselves and relocating to another spur before realising that we were correct on our original heading and only 200m short of the check point with 15 minutes lost. The goal of nailing the navigation had gone out the window pretty quickly. Ultimately we collected 43 check points, making errors on 7 of those that cost us time. Worse still though, were the two additional controls that we went for and never managed to locate before cutting our loses. These were CPs 37 and 90. Frustratingly, with the mistakes on the other 7 CPs I can look back and see the errors we made – typically issues boiling down to either poor distance estimation in the flatter open areas or losing contact with features when using unmarked tracks for faster travel. However, with CPS 37 and 90, I’m still scratching my head as to how we went wrong. CP37 in particular was a real killer – not only did we have to drop CP37, but it also meant dropping CP72 as well, and a look at our splits shows that by the time we relocated at CP29, over two and half hours had passed since leaving CP93 just 1.5km up the road.
It was during those cold dark hours where our navigation was letting us down that it was great to have a goal of staying out for the full 24hrs firmly in mind. In fact, Leo and I had even previously discussed how crap it was going to feel in such a situation, so it was great to have a solid flight plan in place and just stick to that. We managed to keep to our planned route pretty closely, although upon reaching the water point at CP12, we decided to do the southern loop in an anti-clockwise direction to give us more daylight for some of the trickier check points. We also dropped off a big bag of food here to collect later on. Despite our navigational blunderings, we were making better time than expected by our pre-race predictions, ultimately covering closer to 100km on the ground.
As always, the rising of the sun brought renewed energy, but also the coldest temperatures of the race. My minimal layers were enough to get through the race, although I was pretty uncomfortable at certain points, but my fingers really suffered without gloves. Later reports suggest the temperature dropped as low as -6 degrees at Warwick and it would probably have been even colder in the exposed lower areas of the course. Indeed, the water froze in the hose of Leo’s bladder at one point, and both of us received a dusting of ice at one fence crossing. It was also during the first hour of light travelling from CP64 to CP25 that Leo stopped us dead in our tracks with an exclamation. Less than 50m ahead was a massive feral pig in full flight cutting across our path. Perhaps sensing our presence, the pig also stopped on a dime and tilted its head towards us. It was at this point that I’m sure Leo and I had the same thought – there wasn’t a single tree, creek or man-made feature to hide behind, but Leo was a faster runner than I am. Fortunately, the pig decided we weren’t worth the bother before tearing off at full tilt again. Leo suggested he was late getting home from a big night out and didn’t want to get into more trouble at home than he already was.
Ultimately, despite losing literally hours due to navigational mistakes and the tough challenge of being out for 24hrs on the feet (or perhaps because of it), I really enjoyed myself at the event overall. I was fully expecting to walk away from my first 24hr rogaine having ticked a box and swearing “never again”, but I’m definitely keen to have another crack at one, perhaps an interstate event where the type of terrain will be new to explore. I was also glad that we were able to finish the race faster than we started as a result of taking it that touch easier at the start and looking after ourselves. So much volunteer work goes into these events, it is really worth supporting them.
So after a bit of an enforced mental break from all things adventure racing other than training, it will soon be time to get back in the swing of things. The next few events I’m particularly looking forward to include the 12 hour rogaine, the cyclegaine and Hells Bells 24hr AR. Preliminary course setting has also begun for the Urban Rogue in December, which promises to be another great event. I’ve drawn on the help of Alan Ferris, a local to the area for initial course scouting with a Brisbane historical theme playing a major feature in many of the control point locations. I’m also excited to announce that Globe Trekker will be coming on board as a major sponsor of the event. Watch this space for more news in the coming months.
(Editors Note: This race report was written a number of weeks ago, but due to ongoing admin difficulties with the Rogue Adventure website, it is only now being published. Shortly after writing this article, the event organiser of the 24hr QLD Champs, Paul Guard, suffered a significant family tragedy. Paul has demonstrated great poise and bravery during what must be extremely difficult times and our thoughts are constantly with him. From my experience of working with Paul through the rogaine association, and particularly the Rogue24 Adventuregaines, I’m sure Paul’s parents were very proud of their son. For more information on how you can support Paul and his fundraising efforts to honour the memory of his parents, please follow the link here – Liam)