Some events take longer to write about than they take to do. I hope this isn't one of those.
Note - read with https://tracktherace.com/en/world-rogaining-champi...
- we are team 185. Select as favourite, then click on us, and one of the buttons makes the tail show up.
It was Jack's idea to have a go at this, and we'd agreed to treat it as an experiment to see what it was like, rather than as a race, so as not to risk breaking ourselves. In the event Jack moved to Norway (the things some people will do to avoid a commitment, eh Jack?) and I drafted Robbie in to take his place (hi Robbie, if you're reading this). Robbie and I did the Saunders together last year so I knew we could spend 24 hours together without getting on each other's nerves too much.
Arrived too late on Friday after the drive from Girona to register, so just checked into the hotel (5 mins from the start), packed race bags and went to bed. Registered at 8am following a convoluted system of signing disclaimer forms and multiple queues in time to get to map issue for 9am. Then the three hours planning time commenced. Provided with three (A1 size!) maps.
We had booked a planning table, but didn't get the confirmation ticket we were supposed to - luckily we blagged our way into the marquee. We wanted to be inside due to the thunderstorm going on outside - torrential rain and thunder and lightning that sounded unsettlingly close when you're up a mountain already and planning to go even higher.
We had seen people lugging around large pieces of cardboard and we were about to find out why - they places their maps on the cardboard and inserted drawing pins with cylindrical heads into the locations of each control - one colour per control points value. Then used string to wrap around the pins on possible routes so they could judge their intended distances. Genius.
We had a small piece of string and a pen.
I had thought that 3 hours was going to be massive overkill and it would take about 10 minutes, but the time flew. We eventually decided that:
- we would do multiple loops in order for us to come back to the hash house to eat/restock food/sleep maybe
- given it was really claggy, we didn't want to be going up into the mountains immediately; however
we also didn't want to be in the mountains in the clag in the dark since this would render the torches useless. This last point won, and so we decided on a mountain loop first
- we decided on a mountain loop, a forest loop, and a final loop at the end which was shorter and may not happen dependent on if we'd misjudged the timing of the first two loops massively
- we worked on a speed of 4kms/hour on the basis that we thought we could brisk-walk at that speed - uphill might be more like 3 and downhill would be more like 5, but 4 was a good average
Based on these vague sentiments we planning loops of about 36k, 33k and 20ish k. The idea was for the first two to take about 8 hours each and then to have 6 hours for the final one to allow time for stops, etc. We didn't have much of a scientific basis for the loop other than the obvious points; avoid unnecessary ascent and don't worry about ignoring low points values. We loaded our bags with enough food for an 8-hour loop, threw in torches just in case and got to the start in time for the 15-minutes-to-go 'compulsory gear check' which we assumed would be a kit check but actually involved just a GPS check. We think maybe this was relaxed and sped up due to the rain.
By the start the rain had eased, but it was still enough to warrant full waterproofs. First control straightforward and in a massive train - hard to walk at this point with plenty of people running off, but we restrained ourselves. Next control straightward again, still lots of people, feeling the altitude a bit on the climb. Then another easy one but we were now already more or less on our own after an hour. We then had a contouring leg where we realised the mapping had some issues - massive more-or-less impassible in the wet conditions boulderfield not shown - so had to drop lower and then climb up to the crag. They had said that the veg mapping was two-colour only (white and green) and that veg thickness had been determined automatically and so might be wrong - but we thought they'd have got rocks right. Unfortunately not. It was weird using something in o map colours with only the amount of detail a MM map has.
Easy path leg, then halfway to 89 we got to a slope so steep that we determined it was so wet it would be near-impossible to climb in the conditions. So we deviated from our plan for the first time and bypassed it. Annoying since it was a high points score, but I think we'd have been there for ages.
Then the first control we (I) messed up, top of a reentrant. AP wasn't strong enough and we were slightly too high and missed it. Vegetation mapping definitely had issues, but could've read it better regardless. Annoying but one of the advantages of 24 hours is that 24 hours is ages
; who cares about a few minutes, right?
Easy next control and then finally the sun showed up and it was off with the waterproofs. Then down to the lowest point before a climb to the highest - Tosa d'Alp, at 2587m. This was, I think, a 1,150m climb all pretty much in one go, about 4k, via a water points and some other controls. [At the water point we should've done an out-and-back to #89 which we'd missed before, as we were now at the correct height - but I didn't even consider it - see (4) below]. As we climbed to the high point it got all claggy again, obviously.
Stopped at the aid point for a bathroom break (bit lucky here; of the two we visited this was the only one with toilets) and found out the aid points had soup. Don't know if this is standard! This one also had a roaring fire. It was hard not to stay.
Lovely ridge walk (well it would have been if we'd been able to see anything) to very suspicious control 'narrow passage between cliffs, southern end' - which was tucked around a corner
in the narrow passage - definitely hidden. The passage is straight on the map, so it was pretty dodgy imho. I had literally just said to Robbie 'I will just check round here, but I really don't expect it to be here'. This set the tone for some of the other controls later.
Lovely bit of nav in the clag to the next control, still out in the open in the mountains, put waterproofs back on again (and on they stayed). Lower line than intetended but worked well to the next 'rock passage' which was also tucked way, way deep into the middle of the passage
rather than being at the end as described. We faffed around with this one before coming back to the one we'd looked at first and searching more thoroughly. Lesson learnt...finally.
Along the path/ascent to the next control, thunderstorm began again in earnest with thunder and bright, bright lightning strikes which due to the clag, seemed like they were everywhere at once. At c.2000m up a mountain, this was pretty unnerving. High winds as well, so was starting to get a bit chilly, especially with wet hands. A few more easy controls to finish though, only one of which confused us in the clag due to an unmapped fence. Steep descent back to the hash house with just
enough light to still read the map by.
Loop 1 had taken us about 10 hours - 2 hours more than expected and with one control less than we'd hoped. So not great, perhaps, but we didn't see it like that - we'd got back before nightfall which had been the original aim, and still feeling good. Had a sausage baguette at the hash house (surprisingly empty, we thought) which was nice but my stomach didn't accept it as race food (Clif products only, apparently) and so felt a bit dodgy for an hour. But fine after another Clif bar, obvs.
On went all the layers (hat, gloves, 5 layers [vest,ls,thermashell,thin jacket,coat) - bear in mind it's July in Spain(!). I didn't have tights, so just had wproof trousers over my shorts. Not having tights was an error. Headtorch with spare battery, and emergency headtorch just in case (in reality 2 batteries were more than enough - I think because I'm used to using it in November where the cold kills the batteries). Loaded up with another 10 Clif bars (ended up eating 11 in total over the 24 hours).
Decided to do 2nd loop in reverse direction than we'd planned it, because it had a section which was into the mountains again near the beginning, and it was still claggy/raining and so I wanted that section at the end of the loop where it might have improved (or it might be dawn, but either way).
Some issues with #53 where we couldn't find a way through the steep uphill wet veg in the dark and so had to retrace our steps and go to next control another way. Remembered that navigating in the dark is hard. Still, despite the unmapped (massive) stream, hit a crag on a spur bang on and similarly with the next control, before messing up and losing time on the one after, #46, due to dodgy mapping again I reckon #excuse
- the stream continued way further on the map than the ground, making using the end as an AP impossible. Had given up on it, and found it on the way out.
Good next few controls including hitting another crag pretty well, and stopped at another aid point to fill our bottles. They had soup again here, and tea and coffee I think, but we didn't have anything. This was another time at which I should have deviated from the plan given that we were at the aid point already, and picked up #58 and gone a different route to #90, but didn't consider it. Leaving the aid station where it was toasty, I was getting cold again now and not looking forward to going back into the more mountainous region. But I hoped the climb would warm me up a bit, and it did. Some nice nav again before a windy section along a ridge. Getting close to 4.30am now I think and we were flagging, but not feeling as bad as expected. Perfect nav again into a re-entrant.
Crossed the border into France (totally unknowingly) and then down a steep hill, with Robbie noticeably dropping behind and complaining a bit... I hoped he was just fatigued as I was. Definite dawn as we hit #105 and my spirits were lifted a bit - we'd made it through the night! Without ever considering giving up. Decided that as we needed the waterpoint anyway, we would get a 'bonus' #35 to make up a bit for #89 that we'd missed. Robbie removed his shoes at #35 though as thought he'd got thorns or something in his feet - turned out they were insanely blistered. I offered blister plasters - they were rejected because I only had two and he needed ten
. Ah. Problem.
The event now turned into a real struggle for Robbie and he was going pretty slowly. I was feeling worse and worse, with my R shin starting to hurt and my general hip/knee fatigue that sets in after a long race, but they were low level pain and I could have pushed through it for longer. But Robbie was in a world of pain. Between #40 and #91 there were definite tears in his eyes, although he probably wouldn't admit it. It was a real struggle to watch to be honest, he was insanely determined to carry on. I was very impressed. Especially as the route to #40 through 'yellow' had been anything but - impassible vegetation for literally hundreds of meters. Some of my distance judgement went way off in the latter stages of the race, maybe due to tiredness, #91 felt a very long way away. Saved by finding the mapped cave in the first reentrant (but counted three caves all the same size; not sure why the other two didn't warrant a mention).
One last waterpoint and given Robbie's condition I thought that was it, but he bravely/stupidly insisted we get another three controls from our final small loop before heading back. We managed this mainly with no issue (other than one slight nav error where I was way off, basically caused by following other people; I blame being tired) other than being very slow. I tried a little jog in this section and it felt much better than walking - this is one of the reasons for (3) below. I guess it uses different muscles.
Finished at just under 23 hours. Probably had time to get another one of the closeby controls that we'd left for the the final loop, but Robbie really wasn't up to it and I wasn't going to insist.
Finished 34th on MOpen, out of 75 teams. Top half, in world championships in a sport we've never tried before? Pretty pleased to be honest. 88th/381 overall, so beaten by lots of vets/women etc, but still; high standard competition; literally the best in the world. And we didn't run any of it, and we learned a lot too (below). https://www.wrc2019.cat/wrc2019/resultats/RESULTAT...
At the time I was thinking about how I'd never do it again - but am already planning on doing it again. Learned about myself too I guess - it's not really about whether I enjoy something, but I need to feel that I've given it my best shot - if I feel like I can do better, I need to keep going until I've done as well as I 'should'. So needs another attempt, definitely - with updated strategy.
(1) Take cardboard, pins, string etc
(2) Have more of an idea about walking and running speed and the effect elevation has
(3) Do three loops; 9 hours day, 9 hours night, 4 hours day (with options to shorten or lengthen last loop - basically leave a lot of controls near the finish). Plan to run the first and last loops and walk the night one
(4) Don't be afraid to modify the loops on the fly - and remember controls discarded might be accessible from other angles later in the course
(5) It is cold at night! Take tights and a down layer even if it doesn't feel like it's going to be used (eg July in Spain, for example)
(6) Take spares of everything in case they get wet/damaged
(7) Take spares of shoes and socks and then change between walking/running loops - if conditions have changed; change socks too
(8) Waterproof socks for the night/walking loop!
(9) I have only just thought of this - but different colour pens to highlight contours at different levels would have given a much better indication of the relative heights of different parts of the area
(10) Hat/gloves need to be more accessible to allow for changing conditions
Might add more to this list as I think of them!
Note - actually, this did take more or less as long to write as the event took to do :)