Rogue’s Liam, Craig and Darren teamed up for the inaugural Dark Side Championships run by In2Adventure in 2010. A race report on their night out follows.
The ARA Dark Side Championship promised something a little different in an adventure race, with a start time of midnight and a tag line of “are you ready to venture into the dark side?” The race was set to start across the NSW border on a mix of private land and Mebbin National Park trails, with the imposing peak of Mt Warning as a backdrop. As one of the last teams to arrive at the pre-race kayak drop, it was evident from the number of boats that it was a relatively small field for the inaugural running of the Dark Side Champs. However, a quick look at the team list revealed that the cream of the crop of adventure racers in Queensland were present, with past winners of tough races such as GeoQuest, Hells Bells, XPD, Anaconda AR, Bribie Island Multisport and 24hr Rogaines towing the start line.
Team Rogue was entered in the male category, with Darren and Craig as my team mates. Our strongest competition in the men’s division looked to be team SCAR who’d been dosing out a liberal serve of sledging via email in the week leading up to the race. A deal had been struck that the losers would buy coffee for the winners, and hence there was a lot at stake in this race. With the maps handed out 5 hours before the start of the 12 hour race, there was plenty of time to pour over the course despite our late arrival. Indeed, in the hour before the start gun, race HQ was a ghost town as teams tried to bank a little sleep or finalise last preparations.
At exactly midnight, teams set off on the first and longest trek leg of the race. With four check points to be collected in any order, route choice came down to either a clockwise or anti-clockwise loop. Having raced in the area earlier this year, I was familiar with the track leading out of the start site property so we were able to get a little jump on the other teams who turned off too early. The first CP was probably the navigationally hardest of the race, being in an over grown creek at the end of an indistinct trail that was hard to spot at night. We were lucky to pick it up second when the sound of the sport-ident timer beeping gave its location away nearby as the Mexicans punched in. Great navigation by Darren had us pacing off the back of the Mexicans for the rest of the leg with team Mountain Designs a little further ahead. Team SCAR had opted to run the leg in the reverse direction, and when they passed us, I estimated they were more than half way through the run, but with the two navigationally tougher CPs to get.
After just over 2 hours of running, we rolled into the first transition on the heels of the Mexicans just as team Mountain Designs and SCAR were heading out on their bikes. It was already evident at this stage that it was going to be a long race, and I was wondering about the chances of the trailing teams to get through the full course. We were just settling into a rhythm on the bikes when less than a kilometre into the first ride a stick flicked up into Craig’s rear derailleur, pushing it into the wheel of his bike. Fortunately, the hanger was only bent and not broken, but it meant that he was not able to change the gears on his rear cassette. Given that we still had over 50km of hilly riding ahead of us, it was going to be a long night for Craig. With the time spent trying to fix the derailleur and a different route choice option between CPs 2 and 3, we lost touch with the teams in front. We did, however, get a good indication of our lead on the fifth place team as we rode past them as they were running in. The hike up to CP 4 was tough, with a loose and scrabbley ride back down to the TA.
Arriving at the mystery creek leg TA, we were glad to find the next trek was only very short. Taking a bearing from the “giant fig tree” we were able to hit the first creek CP at the same time as SCAR who had entered the creek off the track further downstream. They then proceeded to power past us back up the hill to the TA. At this point the leading team was only 20 minutes ahead of us, and the next team behind had yet to roll in. The ride out to the next TA was over 6km of almost pure down hill on a well established 2WD dirt road. We probably coasted a little too much on this ride, and while it was a blast we dropped time to SCAR and the leaders.
Dawn had risen just before we rolled into the transition, where we exchanged bikes for PFDs and headed for the shore of Clarrie Hall Dam. Towards the end of this run, Darren had his first and only navigational blunder, in what was an otherwise spotless performance. Having raced on the lake earlier this year, and recognising the hill Darren was about to take us down, Craig picked up the mistake and we were back on task quickly. Amazingly, the swim on tubes across the water to the other side of the dam where our boats awaited us was one of the more enjoyable parts of the race as it was nice to get a chance to be off the feet for the first time. Also, Darren’s tube swimming technique left a lot to be desired for and it was fun to have a laugh at his expense after he had smashed us on the bikes up until this point.
The kayak leg at the Dark Side champs was one of the best of any race I’ve done. The scenery with Mt Warning in the background was beautiful, and it was nice to be in our own fast boats. Navigation was relatively straight forward with a loop around the dam. We also spotted the three lead teams as they paddled back but we had not closed the gap on them at all. Checking back out of the kayak TA, only four more teams behind us had made it onto the water before the first short course cut-off, giving an indication of how tough it had been through the night until this stage.
On the shuffle back to the bikes Craig and I had a conversation that went as follows:
Craig: “Is this next bike leg longer or short than the last one?”
Me: “It”s shorter I think.”
Me: “But there’s a hill.”
Me: “A really big hill.”
Craig: “I didn’t need to know that.”
And what a hill it was. Although I think I’ve done longer and steeper hike-a-bikes in races before, this would have to be close to one of the toughest given how over grown and eroded the tracks were, requiring you to really haul on the bikes to get them up. When I asked Darren if this was the hardest hill he’d tackled with a bike before, he responded that no, he’d done 3 hills harder than this one in the Rogue 24hr adventure rogaine which I’d organised earlier that year, which I must admit gave me a bit of guilty pleasure.
The view from the top of Mt Terrago was short lived, and while I’m not going to make any stupid claims that the downhill afterwards was worth the climb up, it was one of the more fun descents I’ve made on a bike in an adventure race. Heading back to race headquarters, we passed by SCAR who were heading out on foot, which dashed any hopes that the final bonus 8km trek leg had been removed from the race. This leg required us to get 4 out of 6 check points, with the closest 3 all located within small dams requiring a swim. There was nothing for it but to head back out and up the hill one final time. Just as we were leaving, Team Mountain Designs were crossing the line with the Mexicans following in just 7 minutes behind. At this stage we were walking the up hills and only managing an intermittent shuffle/fast walk on the flats and downs. Although we knew there was not a cut-off time for the finish of the race, pride was at stake, and we pushed hard at the end to come in under 12 hours. In the end, our finish time was 11 hours 59 mins: enough to secure fourth place overall and second in the mens (with only four teams making it through the full course).
The Dark Side champs was a genuinely tough race. I would rate it as hard as most 24 hour races I’ve done, given the lack of sleep, hilly terrain and long course distances. The linear format with a couple of rogaine elements was great and it was obvious a lot of thought had gone into the course planning. Credit must be given to the In2Adventure team for linking up the course to include the paddle on Clarrie Hall Dam, and for allowing us to use our own boats which, although logistically trickier, made for an enjoyable kayak leg. The format starting at mid night meant that faster teams had to do more of the course in the dark as opposed to the other way around, and although I wasn’t a fan of the Friday start time on the peak hour drive down, it was great to have the rest of the weekend to recover. In the end, team Mountain Designs were penalised 30 minutes for not taking a PFD on the final trek and slipped to second place overall, just behind the Mexicans, with But A Shadow closing out third in the mixed and fifth overall. Team SCAR proved too strong in the end, taking a few minutes off us on every leg for third overall and first men’s team, and have truly earned their free coffee next time we catch up. A big thankyou to my team mates Craig for pushing on with a tough race on a broken bike and Darren for such efficient nav and general strength as well as Hammer Nutrition for the race entry. Hopefully this race will grow in numbers in the future as it is a genuinely tough race with a lot of potential.