It's been a rough week. My heel has flared up, and outside of running, I can barely walk. Fun times.
I first heard of ROGAINE (apparently, originally named after its founders from Melbourne, but commonly backronymed to something like Rugged Outdoor Group Activity Involving Navigation and Endurance). The fun thing is that the sport came to the name fourty years before the drug ever did.
Anyway, it is essentially a Score-O transformed into an endurance sport. What's a Score-O? You are given a map of the area, which displays a collection of check points and a point value for each one. You have a time limit, and the team to collect the most points within that time limit wins. So, in a ROGAINE, the time is typically 24 hours (we signed up for 6). But, these maps are big. A mile is about 2 inches on this map, so there is a lot of potential ground to cover.
So, in my head orienteering, and ROGAINEs seem like the perfect trail runner side sport. They take all you have already, add navigation, and then force you off your favorite trails and onto new land. And, if you're nuts, it seems like a great way to practice for the Barkley Marathons (well, that and running up and down hills covered in razor blades for days on end).
But, I haven't got into any expectations yet. I've never done this before. This race is down in Virgil, so I'm imagining hills. Until this week, I was only worried about water. Now I hope to be able to run and not disappoint my team mate. Its going to be hot, humid, new ground, and a lot of fun.
I've run east of Virgil before, and the hills there were intimidating at points but manageable. With orienteering markers, we could end up anywhere. I do well at the Rochester meets, but the markers tend to be fairly close to easily recognizable markers. I wonder how much bearing taking we'll use. I'm really good at visualizing maps onto the world around me, I'm really bad at distance estimation. Should be pretty exciting
Slight update. I realized the day before this event that this is the first time in a long time that I've had to prepare for an outdoor event where I have no idea what I'm getting myself in to. I've done plenty of short runs, triathlons, etc. My first ultra was accidental, so by the time I needed to prepare, I had done one already. I have no idea what I'm going to regret not having tomorrow.
I've cooked up this idea of a string with markings on it to help with the route planning. I have long pants (icky in 90+ degree 90+ percent humidity weather), lots of water, my trusty Monk Packs, Fig Newtons, and Perogies (thanks Dan!). A whistle, hat, compass (in the stock and this thing that tells time). We'll just have to see. I had a person today tell me that he's run several ROGAINEs before but never orienteered. He clearly knew I wasn't talking about hair replacement and is making me wonder if I know what I'm getting into.
I've cut open my leg, further damaged my heel, and burned my fingers tonight, and sliced a friends house into three pieces. Tomorrow'll be easy after today. The decision after 0SPF to spend more time in quiet contemplation, hanging with my family, and generally being chill is helping some with the usual jitters. A week is awful fast for a change, so we'll see how it continues to change.
Hoo boy. I picked up Matt Webster and we were down at the race base camp around 10:00. The two RD were a delightful local couple. I'm pretty sure that he was Laz's spiritual third cousin. Or, maybe long races involving orienteering just attract this particular personality and look. We spent a while futzing with our gear and pack load out. I had four liters in my pack between bladder and bottles with 1500ish calories and buffs and compass and backup money and... I hoisted the pack, and ugh.
Not long after we got there, Olga arrived with her team and was much much better organized. We chatted a bit, and I claimed a table behind her so I could cheat off of her if I needed to.
1:15 to go before start, there was a mandatory meeting talking about not dying, not trespassing, we heard stories of buckshot in control points and participant's backside. We heard stories of agressive dogs on course, and were pled to not go be stupid.
1:00 to go before start, the maps were handed out, and we discovered how not prepared we were for this. I had brought a piece of string on which I'd marked mile increments, some cork board, and some pins so that we could do our planning. Those maps were handed out, and suddenly we say scissors, tape, 16 colors of highlighters, protractors, those rolly distance measuring things, and so much more. We borrowed scissors and tape, scrounged a pen from the car, and were able to hobble through, although we had many reasons to lament our lack of preparedness out on the trail.
So, you have an hour to plan on what you're going to do and where you're going to go. We had to turn in an itinerary to the RD, and then do our best. The string was a life saver. It was amazing how quickly the string disappeared as we planned routes. We would have totally overstepped our abilities without that thing.
We finished early, put our stuff away, and nervously waited for the start.
As is typical with my favorite trail races, at the proper moment, the RD said "Okay, you can go now", and we were off. The group split up into about three groups, with the majority going the same way we were. Matt had never done a trail ultra before and was most amused at the start, as we all just kind of sauntered off the start line and walked down the road.
An easy trot up to the first control point, where I punched our card, and Matt would sign us in nothing the time and where we were planning on going next. Continuing bushwacking up the hill, we went through the clearest "clear" forest we saw the whole day. That probably distorted our plans later, and we associated that color with wasy walking, and the rest was not.
By and large, in the early race, we would often divert over to the nearby sparse trails, adding distance to our route, but gaining the ability to move quickly and smothly. There were three other teams that had planned routes similar to ours, and consistently we would get there first, then spend longer finding the control, then get past them again.
Further timing mistakes that we made was that we picked controls that made sense from a distance point of view. We assumed that we could orient off of park boundaries and vegetation boundaries, and that is really stinking hard. We probably underutilized our compasses and need to work on distance estimation. About half way through the day (3pm), the wind and shade had kept things cool and pleasant. We had found 6 of our planned 9 controls, and so were right on task for my mental 2/3 in the first half plan.
We scrambled up a hill to find yet another "edge of needled tree" control point, wandering much too long, and then realized we were low on water. In an audible, we changed the plan to strike for the nearest water drop, and then figure it out from there.
If you wanted a textbook example of wheels coming off, a video of the next hour was exactly that. We wandered up and down hills, spent twenty minutes trying to move forward 100 yards through brambles, rolling our ankles, disturbing habitats, and seeing some of the most beautiful country I've ever experienced in NY. When we pushed through the last bit of brush and stumbled upon a dirt road that we knew was ahead of us, but didn't see until we were there, we almost reenacted every movie about exploration ever. I don't think either of us had been so happy to see a dirt road in our lives. We finally validated the wild guess at where we were half an hour ago and how seriously we had messed up our plans. We had a clear route to evacuate and get back to base camp, and a reasonable chance to get it done in time.
Down roads, up hills, and a moment of hubris, and we decided to snag one last control on our way out. Perfect orienteering got us to our attack point, drove us down a giant hill, and we hit where we expected to see the control perfectly. Ten minutes later, we had to abandon the search and flee to the finish.
For the second time in my life, I burst out up on a firing range. Which is bad. Except that meant we again knew where to go to finish, A quick skirting of the range, and suddenly an orange parked car appeared to view through the underbrush. One more climb, and a trot across an open field, and we were done with three minutes to spare.
So amazing. The other teams were a delight to interact with, and provided a sense of comraderie as we went along the course we had picked for ourselves. We gained so many stories, of which nary a tenth made it into this report.
I completed the destruction of my shoes, I have scratches all over my legs and feet from brambles, that occurred in spite of the long pants and shoes. My heel is seriously screwed up, as bad as it's been since late March. I'm tired and happy, and we've been plotting about doing this again next year since early in the race. Seriously, you should all be doing this. Why aren't you?
On the drive home, we realized that we were going right by the Candlelight 12 hour race. A quick call to wives about our delay, and we pulled into the parking lot. It is so amazing to watch so many of you accomplish so many life goals. It is an honor to know so many, and I am so proud of you guys.
I am grateful now to continue my pivot over to spending time trying to give back to the communities that have given me so much. I'll get a chance to heal, cheer all of your amazingness' on.