Kuitpo was to be the Rogaine of redemption. I don’t think Dion, my rogaining partner, or myself actually said it out loud, but we definitely had a point to prove… probably to ourselves more than anyone else.
By Sarah Murphy, Australian Adventurer & Trail Runner
[Rogaining is a sport of long distance cross-country navigation, involving both route planning and navigation between checkpoints using a variety of map types. In a rogaine, teams of 2-5 people choose which checkpoints to visit within a time limit with the intent of maximizing their score. This rogaine event included a ‘Cyclogaine’ for MTBers.]
Way back at the start of May I was competing with a new partner for the first time – the 24-hour Rogaine State Championships at Willow Waters Gorge, just out of Hawker in South Australia’s Flinders Ranges. Dion is fast. Very fast. I am not. But over 24-hours I figured it’s more about strategy, navigation and stamina, so it wouldn’t really matter if our speeds were mismatched. Right?
Absolutely. Finishing a 24-hour Rogaine at the top end is all about planning, navigation and stamina. And did I mention navigation? It’s fair to say we had a navigational shocker that weekend. Sure, we finished fifth overall and State Champions in the mixed category, but there were many hours spent searching for controls through the night – failing to find them, abort, replan, repeat.
It was an incredibly tough event in complex terrain, but it left me feeling completely defeated (and a little broken!).
Fast forward three months to the 6-hour Bush Rogaine to be held in Kuitpo Forest, around 50 km south of Adelaide, South Australia. Dion and I had teamed up again. This time I was a little nervous, as with a 6-hour event, speed is a definite factor. Leading up to the event my legs were tired. Over the past two months I’d run two marathons, a 100 km ultra-marathon, and over 60 km in the Yumigo 6-hour event. Dion had been racing cross country and had been dealing with a few niggles, but in the week leading up to the event he declared his legs as “feeling good”. Oh boy.
The weather during the week of the event had been truly awful. Thanks to the Antarctic Vortex and the usual wrath of Mother Nature we’d been shivering through our coldest winter in almost 20 years. I was a little concerned about how wet it might be, but a Client who lives nearby reassured me that Kuitpo is in a rain shadow so it doesn’t actually rain “that much”. I guess it’s all relative.
Given the cold and wet conditions expected it seemed only fitting that ioMerino should be sponsors for the event. As winners of the mixed State Championships back in May, Dion and I had received some ioMerino vouchers, so we were both decked out and ready to handle whatever the Weather Gods could throw at us.
I made my way to Kuitpo early Sunday morning, arriving in plenty of time for the 9am map hand-out as a big crowd was expected. The forest roads were very wet and muddy but with blue skies overhead I wondered whether we might be spared the downpours of the day before. (There was 10 mm rain on the Saturday and the temperature reached only 8 degrees Celsius).
9 am rolled around and it was time to collect our maps and plan. Cue the rain. At first we put up with it, then tried sheltering under an umbrella. Eventually we gave up and retired to the car to finish our route planning. For a 6-hour event teams have 2 hours to plan their route, with the aim being to collect as many points as possible from around the map within the 6-hour period. Failing to make it home on time means losing 10 points for every minute late.
The course looked a little too large to contemplate ‘cleaning up’, (that’s where you hit every single checkpoint in the allotted time frame), although we thought there might be a couple of other teams who would give it a good crack. One team had declared in the weeks leading up to the event that they were hoping to cover around 60 km. They were definitely going to be the team to beat, although I figured there would be around 5 or 6 teams at the pointy end competing for the win.
We set ourselves a target of 50 km for the 6 hours based on a clockwise course heading west, then up north to collect the high points at the top of the map. Whilst the southern section of the map in Kyeema Conservation Park would be pretty, I was sure it would be more challenging terrain and slower going than the forest up north. We decided to leave those points alone.
In no time at all it was 11 am, and time to set off into the forest.After the initial hustle and bustle of teams racing to the first couple of controls we didn’t really find ourselves following a similar route to any other teams throughout the day. It could have been because we had a genius route, or a terrible one. Or maybe we were just moving faster than other teams.
We were aiming to cover around 8.5 km/h and managed this easily for the first hour collecting our eighth control at around midday. If only we could keep up this rate of controls we’d clean up the course (there was 48 controls in total). But the controls were further apart up north. 8.5 km/hr doesn’t sound very fast, but even a minute spent at each control, not to mention time reading the map, consumes time.
Unlike three months prior, today our navigation was spot on and we were nailing each control. Of course the terrain is much less complex in Kuitpo and the tracks make it easy to get around, but we didn’t seem to be struggling with the scale or our concentration like we had in the Flinders.
We spent the first hour or so carefully picking our way around the puddles and the mud. I’d been running in the Icebug Zeal shoes for the past few weeks and had been surprised at how dry my feet remained in wet conditions. As it turned out they were no match for Kuitpo Forest, but they certainly put up a valiant fight. As we made our way around the course the puddles got bigger, deeper and it seemed there was no patch of forest that wasn’t waterlogged. There sure must have been a lot of rain over the past few weeks. Eventually we came to a ford crossing flowing ankle deep – no way around it, so through we went. From then on there was no point puddle-dodging.
Dion and I were both sporting ioMerino High Point Neck Tubes as ear warmers, although his alternated between ear warmer and neck warmer throughout the day – the ultimate in versatility. I opted for my trusty Rapids V-Neck long sleeve, with an Altitude Active Tee underneath. These are my go to pieces for trail running and rogaining over winter. The layers kept me warm all day, and I only needed a light waterproof jacket to keep dry during a few brief rain showers.
Three hours into the event we were right on pace and still going strong. At some point after this we headed cross country between controls and found ourselves confronted by a deep, wide creek surrounded by prickly gorse bushes. We estimated it would be over knee deep, and given we couldn’t see the bottom, we decided it was too risky to try crossing it. We probably wasted around 20 minutes or so here, trying to find our way through the prickles to a safe crossing location. Eventually we found a fallen tree somewhere upstream almost spanning the creek. Only required one leg in knee deep and we were across – time to get a move on.
From here things went pretty much according to plan, but we weren’t able to regain the lost time and estimated we were around 25 minutes behind schedule. I was also slowing down, especially on the hills. We decided we’d have to cut our course short and drop three controls down south. Somewhere around this point Dion had an altercation with an electric fence – in hindsight I was probably the one who needed the boot, it might have given me a much needed shot of energy!
With half an hour to go we were close to the Hash House but were determined to pick up a few 20-point controls on the way home. Fifteen minutes before cut of, we decided to go for one more. Unfortunately we took a less than optimal route to the control which cost us a couple of minutes and ultimately we were just over a minute late home, which cost us 20 points. It was an uphill finish and my legs had nothing left, so Dion could only look on from the top as I struggled up that last incline. At least we hadn’t lost more points than the last control was worth!
At the end of the day we collected 1740 points and 34 controls and finished second overall and first mixed team. We covered 45km over the 6 hours.
The winners, an all-male team, absolutely smashed the course with 2050 points, 36 controls and 50km. Clearly a more efficient route than ours. Given the calibre of the runners in that team I was never going to be able to match their speed, so second place was as good as a win for me!
A brilliantly set Rogaine in a beautiful location. A huge well done to the event setters, the volunteers and all the teams who braved the elements that day to compete. There was more than a few competitors spotted in their ioMerino gear, and I’m fairly certain none of them were heard complaining about the cold.
At the end of the day did we redeem ourselves? Yes, I think we did.
Rapids V-Neck long sleeve (my go to LS for trail running)
Highpoint Necktube, worn as a headband