Rock Creek Ramble – a 10 hour Rogaine

8 April 2012
Because Margo is injured, I attended this event with Jackie, an orienteer who had never rogained before. Our friendly rivals were two 65+ male orienteers. They beat us by 90 points in 1600.

I was struck that our rivals came a highly respectable 3rd in the full field of 19 teams, most considerably younger than they. Walking orienteers beat running adventure racers half their age. The lesson seems to be:

Navigate with surgical precision! 

Jackie and I messed up on only one control. We would have had about 160 extra points if we had not made this mistake, and come in 3rd not 4th!

Map of the event, green line shows actual route taken

I have made some notes as to how to do a rogaine with a new partner, so next time we do not lose those 160 points. These notes are for daytime events, so do not include any night time navigation tips that would be useful for a 24hr event.

Before the event:

Tip 1: Agree on distance to be planned  when you receive your map. This can be done by doing something together prior to the event to determine your likely speed, or by discussing past event experiences. 

We went on a 9 km orienteering event together in the same terrain the day before. We moved at a speed we felt we could do easily for 10 hours. This gave us what turned out to be an accurate prediction of our speed the next day. Our speed estimate was based on straight lines between controls. If it is not possible to do a real test, use your 24 hr walking speed on rough terrain (4.5 km/h for me, but it would depend how rough the actual terrain is), reduced slightly because you are not going to go in a straight line  (to 4.25 km/h on this particular map where most legs are reasonably straight), and reduced further by an estimate of the average elevation gain per km using the 1:8 rule: In travel time, climbing 1 vertical m is equivalent to covering 8 m horizontally. On this course this gave me an estimate of 4km/hr and we actually did 3.9 km/hr. Please note we did not stop to eat or drink.

Tip 2: Agree on your roles and procedures for the day.

At each control we agreed on our route to the next control. If there had been disagreement, Jackie was considered the navigator and her route choice would prevail. We each had a role at the control: Jackie punched, I signed the sheet. Then Jackie got ready with a bearing to the next control and I calculated our estimated time of arrival at the next control. Actually we tried to have pre-prepared the compass bearing and time to next control as we walked into the control, as this saves time. Leaving the control, Jackie and I checked we agreed on the compass bearing if one was to be used. Going from control to control, Jackie either went by compass course and I looked for other progress indicators (terrain, distant features, time) or we talked about the situation. For example, if we were planning to go on the road and then leave it, as we approached the point we were to leave the road, we would discuss that this is where we intended to leave the road. Every 2.5 hrs we had a mark on the map. At these points we checked our time, agreed to any changes in plan, and reminded each other to eat and drink.

Tip3: Agree on what to bring, and think about your feet

We used orienteering compasses. Next time we would consider bringing a sighting compass for use on setting up the initial compass bearing  for longer navigation legs. In between controls, the speed of use (more convenient handling) of an orienteering compass is superior. Both of us got sore feet after about 7 hours. Our problems with relocating at the one control were much worse, because we were both tired and had sore feet. We intend to talk to our adventure racers friends to find out what they do to prevent sore feet!

Tip3: Prepare a string the length you have pre-agreed you are going to run. Bring pins and a board.

Tip4: Practice your orienteering

Go to an event with your local orienteering club. Walk the first few controls ,and increase your speed only once you are hitting the controls with precision.

On event day prior to receiving the map:

Tip5:  Be 100% ready to leave prior to getting the map.

In 1.5 hours available to choose our route we were hard pressed to come to a good “best route”. We succeeded, but only just within the time available. Doing anything else during this time might cause you to plan a less efficient route… and get fewer  points for the same physical effort.

On receiving the map:

Map with string on final course, in green you can see the actual route we took

Tip 6: Start looking for groups of controls with high point value and low effort. Connect such groups with a pencil line. Then try and see a loop that takes in these groups, that is a similar length to your pre-agreed event distance. Look to see if parts of the map have steeper terrain than others, and use the 1 foot vertical up equals 8 feet horizontal rule to see if this will significantly slow you. Optimize your loop for total point value by adding and taking away controls. About 10 mins before you leave, freeze the agreed route. Make your intention sheet. Decide which way to go around your loop by considering which way gives you maximum flexibility to add or subtract controls at the end of the event. Mark on the map the check locations where you are going to eat, drink, and decide if changes to the agreed route are required.

On the Course:

Tip 7: Only go as fast as you can go and still navigate

For us this is walking speed unless we are on roads.

Tip 8: Go between the controls using a variety of methods:

  • Compass course
  • Terrain reading
  • Pace counting
  • Time

Once we were close to a control, we “looked for it” using the control description as a guide. This worked well and the looking took less than 3 minutes. We did not use time and pacing perhaps as much as we should have, especially near the end. Sticking to our navigating procedures would have helped us greatly with the control we had trouble with. Pace counting is done by pre-counting the number of paces you do per 100 m, then using that count to know how far you have gone. It is a useful technique for distances less than 500 m. Longer distances are best done by time: We know we do 4 cm on the map per 15 minutes, so measuring the distance on the map to the next control you know the time when you should arrive there. This is best done by the person who fills in the intention sheet at the control, because as the current time is written down, it is easy to add the time to the next control and remember when you should be arriving there. Adjustment for speed due to the difficulty of the terrain can be done using the previous leg’s speed when appropriate. All the above worked for us and we hit >95% of the controls with precision, with more care that could have been 100%.

Tip 8: Have an agreement as to what process to use when lost.

At the control where we over shot, we failed to behave rationally. We could have pinned the control correctly within 10 mins IF WE HAD STOPPED AND THOUGHT. The fact we did poorly on this control detracted from the fun of the day. I think in future we need an agreement for a “5 minute time out period” which any person can call, where we analyze the situation and see how best we can re-locate another try for the control.  We relocated and found the control, but the relocation attackpoint was an excessively distant one. The difficult thing is ending the 3 minute “looking period” and starting the 5 minute “time out period”. I propose any team member can call for this at any time, and the “5 mins” does not end until a method of re-attack is mutually agreed. The group stays together until agreement is reached.

Tip 9: Have fun, be relaxed!

You will enjoy the event much more if you have a good partner and a good organizer who places the controls well. Eric Bone who organized this event did this perfectly. Thank you Jackie and Eric for a great weekend.


One response to “Rock Creek Ramble – a 10 hour Rogaine

  1. Thanks for the detailed overview of your course — and how you approached it. I did the 7-hour alone, and this was the first time that I used either pace-counting or the take-a-bearing-and-walk-in-a-straight-line approach. Both techniques were very, very successful for me. The big mistake of the day that I made was also because I didn’t stop to re-orient as soon as my compass pointed in the wrong direction, and I lost about 25 minutes to that mistake (and went well over a kilometer out of my way). Things to keep in mind for the next one!

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