The last time I did a 24 hour rogaine with Tim was back in 2016 at the World Champs in Alice Springs. I had just come back from fairly significant surgery on my wrist, and while I was recovering and rehabilitating, Tim was training hard. When it came to race day, it was time for me to test how far I had come, and to see if I could match Tim for pace. I ended up doing a bit of suffering but since it was me that did the suffering and not Tim (as happened at World Rogaine Champs in 2010) we managed to pull of a pretty solid result, about 30pts off the podium for 4th place in the open men and 5th overall.
So roll on Dunedin and the NZ Rogaine Champs, I knew this was going to be a bit different to other NZ Champs and having spent a reasonable portion of my teenage years training in the Silver Peaks it was going to be on home terrain. The build up was slightly blinded by the opportunity to race at one of the more fun adventure races around, the Southern Lakes Multisport 24hr race the week before. I reminded Tim, that the last time we did well, it was because I did the most suffering… Not the most ideal race preparation, but then again Tim went out and ran the Dusky track himself.
The week before the race I took some pretty drastic measures to ensure I recovered well, like getting lots of sleep and then flying down to Dunedin to minimise stress and the soreness associated with driving for long distances. When I arrived I was picked up by Dad and had a comfortable bed to sleep in on Friday night before heading out to the Waiora Scout camp in the morning in potentially the most prepared condition I have ever been in for a rogaine!
Tim and I set about planning our route, from the outset it looked like a small-ish area, and with a scale at 1:40,000, and just A3 we thought it might just be possible to clear the course. As our plan took shape we opted to work our way through the course from the lefthand side, down through the middle and back out to Mt Cargill before heading back through town and the forestry blocks to finish up. We marked out time check points in two hour lots and with a plan of close to 100km it did not seem entirely unreasonable to plan to collect them all.
Now from what we know now, what we did not factor in was the weather. Dunedin, famous for its weather didn’t fail to deliver, it was going to rain lightly from 12pm to 10pm, then moderately from 10pm to 4am and then lightly again to finish with at 12pm Sunday.
I wasn’t too nervous on the the start line which is a fairly rare occurrence for me, but usually a good sign. As we waited for the briefing to commence, the rain started to fall slightly more heavily and I opted to put my jacket on. Tim joined me, but then quickly changed his mind, and tried to convince me to do the same. I should have listened, but of course I was enjoying my last few moments of warmth and calmness while resting my feet ahead of 24 hours of the opposite, and felt better starting in my jacket.
The start of these races always seems to just happen, almost catching everyone of guard, leaving us all a bit startled. Tim and I headed off down the road, with a bunch of bikes completely unaware we were not going in the right direction. I got all excited and Tim wasn’t quick enough to call be back so about 1 minute in we were having to make a course correction. Embarrassed by our mistake we were meet by a bunch of heckling older males. These older males were not that helpful at letting us go past either and we had to sort of push through the bush to get past. I got a little close to the rusty barbed wire fence beside the track and “RRRRrrrip” my shoulder caught on the fence and ripped a nice hole in my A-grade jacket. There was a lot of swear words said, and after I had removed the now B grade jacket and angry Tane mode was activated and Tim was put to the sword for a while.
My trail finding skills were put to the test as we followed along the old track up the hill in the direction of “The Chalkies”. We caught up to Georgia and Lara and then Greig and Steve, just before a control on a cliff. At the top we took a short cut and managed to open a gap on Greig and Steve. Georgia and Lara followed us, but we managed to gain a bit of distance on them on the track. With the gap open we were able to up and back to the summit on the next control before they saw us. From there our route altered a bit from the teams behind, we did a short out and back to pick up a 60 pointer.
There was just some “easy” tracks to follow looking at the map… but “easy” turned out to be quite tricky quite quickly resulting in a lot of bashing around in the bush on the ridge top. One disadvantage of us going and getting the “out and back” 60 pointer was now we had to get ourselves through not only the tight little weasel tracks but past a whole lot of other teams. Crouched over, smashing my way through, the trails were pretty much perfect for me to squeeze through, unfortunately for Tim – who is a big larger than me – had to do a bit of suffering to keep up!
I was eating and drinking well (which is unusual for me!!) and was feeling good.
Eventually we made it down and out of the thick undergrowth and popped out into a stream bed. Given the amount of rain Dunedin had had over the last week or so I think there was probably a lot more water in there than normally! The trail up the river bed was pretty rough and involved a lot of jumping in and out of the river for quite a while. The water was very cold, and my feet definitely enjoyed the brief reprieve every time we were able to climb along the waters edge.
We reached the stream junction and we were about 2 hours in and about 30mins ahead of our target time. We were in a good place so we stormed up the hill, and made contact with a couple of guys going in the same direction. It would be a long time before we next saw anyone else! It had been pretty warm down in the valley, despite it being a little bit rainy, the tree cover had provided good rain protection. As we made our way up to the Pulpit Rock area of the map, we were getting a bit higher and making our way into the clouds and the really misty weather. One control was up in this really shitty bashy bush, pushing our way through it was like making your way through a car wash. I really felt like we fluked this one, somehow we managed to walk right into it.
A bit further up the track closer to the summit of Pulpit rock we had to go cross country, the rain had really set in here so we made the call to put jackets on and I think mine stayed on for the remainder of the race! The bush bash down and across to the control wasn’t as bad as it looked, and we were in and out pretty quick. We made a small error on the next control, then the route turned into a bit more of a trail run in some sort of familiar terrain for the next few hours. Target time was slowly slipping out of grasp, and the weather wasn’t helping much at all.
After several hours of no contact with the outside world, we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by a few more people again. We started on yet another out and back section, and surprise, surprise we ran into Greig and Steve again. We knew now we had closed up the gap between us and them, and with our extra 60 points in the bag we were in good shape. The next few controls Tim and I did a variation different to Greig and Steve without really knowing it until we hit the river bed again. It was sort of a bit treacherous and slow going, the river was rising a bit from what I could tell too. When we reached 85 ahead, it became very apparent we had made a bit of route choice gain which help our confidence quite a bit.
We climbed the hill again, buoyed by our little gain, hoping to use the daylight left to best of our advantage… and then discovered Greig and Steve weren’t too far behind us. From being 30mins up, now suddenly we were 2 hours behind our target time as it got dark. Due to the Weather darkness seemed to come early than it was supposed to and now we had to think about consolidating our plan. Tim was pretty keen to make the call to drop one control still about two hours away, while I wanted to stick with the plan as long as we could until we needed too. It took me awhile to realised that this was the right thing to do as we emerged up near the top of flagstaff in the cold misty rain. It was probably now that I should have put some more layers on as I started to get a bit cold, but I persevered.
We had a bit of trouble with 59, it was just misty and so cold and I just had no enthusiasm to look all that hard. Eventually we stumbled on the control and climbed back up to the top of Flagstaff. Up the top my demeanor had gone from cold and annoyed to grumpy, then I got even more cold and grumpy relocating twice of the top of flagstaff to find the boulder but we just couldn’t see anything at all, at a guess it was visibility must have been about 10m in the fog and the dark. After some post race analysis Tim determined we were maybe 20m off after reviewing the google earth images… In the end we decided to pull the pin and move on.
The next control on our list was 63, which was about 1km off the track in some scrub, again it looked like it was potentially going to be a minefield. The executive decision was made pretty early and we bailed on it too. Similarly 93 was off the main track, maybe only a few 100m off the track though so we went in to get it. I followed Tim as he jumped across the stream draining the swamp to get the control and I fell right in! It was deep, I don’t think my feet touched the bottom even though it was only about a metre wide. This didn’t really help my mood at all and went to a dark place for a while. Luckily we were going uphill next so maybe I could generate some body heat to warm up.
Swampy Summit was just as bad, if not worse than Flagstaff, super thick fog. We took a pretty solid bearing into the open area aiming for what we thought should be an easy 3m tree to find. However… we ended up in around the right spot, but surrounded by intensely thick mist, 5m visibility , so thick that you couldn’t see anything but the white halo from your headlamp. Coupled with the atrocious visibility it was dark, raining, windy and absolutely freezing moving around in cold, ankle deep swamp. After about 10mins of hunting in what was diabolical conditions we decided we didn’t have a shit show in hell in locating the flag methodically and bailed. The control was 2-300m from the nearest point feature and to take an accurate bearing within +/-5° we could be up to 25m out so our best method was probably aiming for it and hoping to randomly stumble ontop of it. Bailing on 33 gave us the confidence to bail on similarly placed controls 80 and 79 while we were at it.
32 was close enough to the track we gave it a go, there was something a little bit weird with the map here, I think the road is on the otherside of all those crosses, either that or there is a building not on the map, and couldn’t see the crosses in the dark and mist. Anyway we wandered in and seemed to find it alright. I think Tim started to get a bit tired or something, I was so cold and grumpy I didn’t really notice, but we initially attempted to attack the next control from a wild direction. I quickly talked him around and we came back from the other side and got it sorted.
It was now getting into the chunk of the night time and we were starting to make our way to the furtherest away point. Even with our cut down plan we were still behind schedule by about 1-2 hours So at the next control, the first one over the main highway, and after a little wobble we stopped and made a new plan. We debated sticking to plan or cutting the plan short to ensure we had enough time to collect a number of big points in the last 6 hours. In the end we waited around so long I got really cold again, but we threw the dice and went for it.
On the way up to Mt Cargill there was one control to collect along the way… I have no idea what Tim was thinking and we didn’t really discuss it. We crossed the powerline track which I didn’t realise at the time, the mist was that thick, and we continued along what I thought was the very overgrown powerline track. I commented to Tim about it being very overgrown, but I don’t think he understood what I meant. So we arrived at a track bend and he wanted to cut into the nasty and thick looking undergrowth. After some discussion I realised where we actually were and had no idea of where Tim’s intended attackpoint was. I thought it was a pretty silly one myself but Id let it happen and now it was pretty clear that we should go back attack it from the powerline track on the map. We considered bailing on it, but in the end we went backwards, tail between our legs, to the powerline track where we met Greig and Steve again! About 20m off the track, and sure enough we picked it up with no extra scratches at all. However the time delay here forced us to make another call, and we dropped the top three controls on that loop which added to approximately 300 pts.
I found the next control a bit weird, but it was misty who knows what it actually looked like in there…. 54 was on a vegetation boundary, in the mist it just looked like it was in a bunch of trees. From there we headed back to the road towards 62 and came across some weirdo out on a training run? we initially thought he was a competitor but confirmation with some others that spotted him suggests that he was a shift worker or a friend of someone or just a crazy out running around at 4am……then again we considered where we were and where we had been and what we were doing and figured it probably wasn’t all that abnormal!
Control 104 was located in a gorge, we came into it from the bottom but it was still dark and all the rain made the river look pretty gnarly, so we checked the map again and thought we needed to attack from the top. We couldn’t find it from the top either, so figured it must have been washed away, and rather than hunt around aimlessly for 20mins we pulled the pin. This meant that we got a bit down now knowing we knew Greig and Steve were now probably 100 pts ahead. It got light, but it was still dark in the forest for another 2 hours, and I started to fade a bit. Once we got back to the Pineapple track, which took us what felt like an age to get there, Tim took some of my gear. I refused to give him my whole pack as it was providing me with an extra layer of warm. Time for yet another new plan. On the way up to the control out of 104 we talked to some guys we caught up and found out the control was in the gorge… the only place we hadnt actually looked. So rather than tempt fate with the dubious combination of a 20 and 80 pointer we did a U-turn and it was back down to 104….
Once out of 104 we had a long road bash ahead of us and it sucked big time. I started to feel bored, which meant I started to feel tired and a bit grumpy again… Poor Tim had to put up with more of my grumpiness. The going was easy and event the easy looking controls were not that technically easy. The road section certainly soaked up lots of distance for what felt like not many points. One bonus of cutting back through town was the ability to stop at the dairy! Tim rushed in, bought coke and lollies and got the hell out of there quickly. The coke was soo good and it was good to get in some sugar that hadn’t been tainted but getting wet…. I dont think I ate anything else other than lollies for the rest of the race!
At around 8am we were very close, almost temptingly close to my Mum’s house but somehow it was about there things started to turn a corner for me, I had made it through the storm in my mind and I was back in familiar territory. Local knowledge prevented us from getting DSQ’d by wanding into out of bounds on 71, Tim was insistent that we cut into someones driveway but I knew where we needed to go! On the way up we were passed by a fire engine by the main road intersection, it was going so slow and in a hurry that it still hadn’t reached the corner to the bull ring by the time we got the the forest entry!
As we made our way through the forest I warmed up a bit which had a remarkable effect on my mood, I moved down 5 pts on of the Grumpyness scale… or up? either way less grumpy! We started to run a bit in here with three hours to go we had an ambitious plan. Tim floated the idea of going back early, but by now I was pretty determined that we were going to keep pushing untill the bitter end or maybe I fell for Tim’s reverse psychology!
Time was ticking on by and with an hour and a half to go we had a big climb up to grab 77 which once in the control circle turned out to be easy. We had a self imposed time limit of 20mins to get down the road to take aim at one last 100ptr. Tim was keen on extra distance over “clean” running even though it was almost twice as long, 50/50 call I think. Were on target to collect it just, but we encountered some pretty shitty terrain by the bottom and it was clear that we could easily loose just as much time as we would gain if not more if we went for it. With 40mins to go we bailed which made me a little angry as I had worked myself back into a good space. But it was a sensible call and I think although upset I agreed with Tim’s call there.
After a bit of running to get back on track we found ourselves with a tiny bit of extra time as we arrived at 49 which was only 500 or so meters from the finish with 27mins to go. We had enough time to grab another 50 pointer. Since about 6am we hadn’t seen anyone else and now with only 15 or so minutes to go it seemed like it was just us until over the top of the ridge we saw Greig and Steve again, going opposite direction! We managed to find a good line into the forest behind the scout camp, and then just like that and with around 8mins to spare it was over.
We knew the final result was going to be close, it felt like that middle part of the race where we had to bail on a number of controls we missed a lot of points. However, as it turns out we were not the only ones to have some “bad luck” out there and once we downloaded the punch data it was all confirmed. A hard fought win to us! By no means perfect, but our hard work and persistence paid off in the end. When it came to consolidation I think we probably made some good calls, but we also traveled the furthest distance so that undoubtedly helped us out quite a bit too.