Setanta Ireland Rogaine 2012

This is the third time we’ve ran the Setanta Ireland Rogaine; the lure of running/orienteering for 24 hours without stopping is somewhat attractive, but it’s not just the challenge that draws us back to Ireland, it’s also the bizarre and random things that always happen when we cross the Irish Sea. This year was no exception.

Our tales of the rogaine had tempted Steve and Tim from the Dark Peak Fell Runners to enter this year’s event and so we met them at the airport in Dublin on Friday morning. After shopping for essential rogaining food (sausage rolls, quiche, currant buns and cereal bars), we headed down to the Wicklow Mountains. After an afternoon walk around Glendalough we headed to the An Oige (Irish YHA) bothy/hostel in Glenmalure on the off-chance that they had space for us to stay. To our surprise, the place was bustling with people when we arrived, but it turned out that everyone had come up to the hostel to watch a performance charting the hostel’s history! The performance was in the common room of the hostel, which was only large enough to hold about 12 people, so the ‘friends of Glenmalure Hostel’ performed twice! Just when we thought they had finished, they announced a third sitting to which we were invited, so our introduction to the hostel was a ghost story about the key figures who endowed the cottage to An Oige. It was really very good and was a great welcome to Ireland.

The Glenmalure youth hostel with the ‘Friends of Glenmalure’ awaiting the next performance

After cups of tea and chatter about the day ahead we had an early night, but not before being perusing the map and being truly grateful that it was ‘detailed’ .. for sure navigation.

We need good navigation ‘for sure’

After a large breakfast we arrived at the event centre at lunchtime and started the race at 2 pm.

Richard and Rachel at the start

Over the next 24 hours we travelled around 90 km (56 miles) on a course that had about 3360 m of ascent. The route that we choose covered most of the Harvey’s Wicklow Mountains Map as you can see below.

The route

I’m not going to describe the whole route in detail because it’s very long, but I’ll mention a few memorable points.
1. It rained extremely hard within 30 minutes of the start of the race. I could almost feel the raindrops doing straight through my waterproof!
2. We saw the Dublin lights in the dark and mist

Sometime late in the evening with the Dublin lights in the background

3. We had tried to choose a route that allowed us to run on the road during the night. Unfortunately this didn’t quite work out, and we passed this section whilst it was still light. This left us with some fairly tricky navigation in the dark. One of these bits was up an extremely steep hill, which took about 1 hr 10 mins to climb. It was so steep that it was almost vertical and it was covered in heather and crags. It was so bad that Richard almost lost his sense of humour and we even considered re-tracing our steps down to come up another way. Nevertheless we persevered and eventually emerged at the top.
4. Our next navigational challenge was a boulder in the middle of nowhere, which we had to find in the pitch dark and fog. Richard took a bearing from a known location and I paced, and amazingly it was exactly where we expected!
5. At 4 am in the morning we ran down a minor road in the middle of nowhere and saw a structure on the road. Richard deviated to check it out, and it turned out to be 4 young blokes who were preparing to skateboard down a really steep hill! Very very bizarre! They didn’t even appear to be drunk!
6. At 4.30 am we ascended the next hill and Richard and I very nearly fell asleep whilst walking.
7. After a beautiful run down a ridge in the early morning, we choose to descend into a valley via a logging track. As we descended, the gorse got denser and denser such that when we got to the bottom, we were well and truly prickled from the waist downwards. I pulled a 5 mm thorn out of Richard’s foot the next day!
8. We slowed down a lot towards the end and we ended up getting back to the campsite 1.5 hours early – there were no more controls within reach.

Overlooking Poulaphouca Reservoir on the first afternoon
The sun finally shines on Lough Dan at 6 am on Sunday morning.

After we finished we feasted on the BBQ supplied by the event organisers and then awaited the results.

It turned out that Steve and Tim won first place! And we won first mixed team (second overall). A great effort by team GB!

This event is legendary – both for impenetrable vegetation (in places) and for a great great challenge. Many thanks to the organisers for putting on a great event and in particular for putting out and collecting in the orienteering controls from literally all over the Wicklow Mountains. I think we might go back and try again at some point.

Karori 3 hour rogaine

Browsing the internet for orienteering events, revealed that the Hutt Valley Orienteers were organising an afterwork 3 hour rogaine in Karori. This appealed for two reasons, first it involved 3 hours of running around and secondly, the event was centred in the town where Richard grew up. This location had the advantage that we could use all of Richard’s local knowledge …. or so I hoped.

Karori is a pretty suburb of Wellington with quite large hills on every side. These hills harbour lots of trails and tracks, providing quite a good setting for the 3 hour score event. The only difference between running this event in NZ compared to the UK is that the vegetation here is rather man-eating and therefore it is more difficult to assess the relative merits of taking shortcuts through the bush.

We were given the event map 30 mins prior to the start of the event; a luxury to which we are not usually accustomed. So we sat around and discussed our options, and decided to go with the first possibility that we noticed.

RIchard studying the map in the 30 minute map viewing time available before the race began

The route we choose is shown on the map below.

Our route

We decided to collect a few urban points, before heading up into the hills to the northwest of the area. The paths were quite straightforward and controls easy to locate, but this wasn’t going to last for long. Our first brush with the bush was at control number 84, which was located in the midst of vegetation described as ‘thick forest (enter at your peril)’ on the map. It was rather man-eating and slow-going, but thankfully we came across the control fairly quickly and then decided to head up a stream to escape. We headed up to the ridge, where the fog was a fairly thick and the wind was blowing a gale, then we made our way in a southwesterly direction down the ridge to the Karori Park Reserve where we searched and searched for number 62, but to no avail… Richard’s local knowledge had failed us… either that, or all the paths were in different places and the map only showed a small number of them! We headed back down to the urban area and then over to the Burrows Avenue Reserve (almost running past Richard’s childhood home!) where we collected more points and travelled through more man-eating vegetation (yuk), before heading back to the events centre with 4 minutes to spare.

We collected 1270 points and came joint 4th out of 19 teams, with the teams ahead of us collecting 1380,1370 and 1310 points… if only we had found number 63 – which was worth 60 points!

Anyway, we had a really great time and enjoyed the nibbles afterwards. Thanks to the Hutt Valley organisers!

Enough about vegetables: a real adventure!

The climbers of this blog are relatively impressed by a 2 hour run, this post is about real mountain running. This weekend was a real test of the limits. As we were competing in this event, we realised what a stupendous sport we had got ourselves in to …

… fancy trying 24 normal orienteering events in one go, nonstop
… fancy running a mountain marathon, without stopping at the end of the day and without sleep
… fancy orienteering right through the night…

“Rogaining” as wikipedia states is “the sport of long distance cross-country navigation. Championship Rogaines are 24 hours long”. In other words, collect as many controls as possible, in any order, in 24 hours!

Last year we did this event, but we slept in the middle of it – last year we decided that this was our downfall as we ached too much in the morning to continue properly … so this year … we had decided not to sleep!

The Rogaine started from Coronation Plantation, near Sally Gap in the Wicklow Mountains in Ireland at 12 noon on Saturday. We marked our map and set out, planning the route to make the navigation in the night section of the race as easy as possible. Our chosen route took us east towards Powerscourt and then north into the Glencree river valley. Here we managed to get to an outside wedding just in time to hear the vows and slightly later we happened to enter an area being used for another orienteering event! I think the latter must be a world first! We headed over a hill and into the Glencullen Valley, where we stopped in a very irish pub for a pint of coke and a bag of bacon fries (at the outrageous cost of 15 euros!). We were losing light about this time, so quickly we scaled the next hill and ate half a quiche at the summit to prepare us for the long dark night. It was about 10.00 pm by this time and we felt surprisingly good. We wondered whether this was down to the Skins tights we were wearing (they are compression tights which are meant to help muscles work for longer) … Anyway we ran down the lovely ridge of this mountain with the sun setting and soon we were on a road. Great for easy navigation! After some time, we headed into a forest to collect a few more controls. This was surprisingly easy and so we headed off again on-road, the next off-road section was probably the worst part of the whole 24 hrs however! We started off through a lovely grassy field, which unfortunately developed into one massive thorn bush field. It was quite a slope and so we didn’t want to head back up and so we tried to find a route through the bushes. Things started to look up and we thought we could see the road, but then in front of us we realised that there was a ditch filled with thorn bushes and more on the other side. With the road about 10 m away, I took my caving instinct and went underneath. This was not nice and at one point I was sliding into a stream (of unknown depth)with thorn bush completely surrounding me. Needless to say, we made it and when we got onto the road we realised that we had been pretty lucky as around us the bush had been much much denser. We continued, through a cemetry, by a lake, on a long road, up a long hill, over dark farm tracks, through forestry workings and back onto roads…It was still dark and after a section on the road of about 25 minutes we got to a bridge … that was closed … and only half present. So we walked all the way back along the road we’d just walked over … 🙁

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Getting our act together again we started into another forest to collect 4 more controls as the light returned! We still feeling pretty good at this point too … even as we came out of the forest, the peat bogs didn’t deter us! by this time we had done a complete circuit and had arrived back at the camp to get some more food – this is allowed! We had a pot noodle and a cup of tea and with 20 mins rest we started out again over the hills for the last 3 hours of effort. By now, I was feeling quite tired and the ground on the other side of the camp was much more difficult with long grass all bent over in the opposite direction to our travel! The way back was even worse as the tussocks started – not good on tired legs!

We arrived back at camp with about 45 mins spare – it was not quite enough to do anything with and we were tired. We were so pleased to have kept going for so long however… we really didn’t stop except for tying shoe laces, scoffing a quiche, drinking a pint of coke and during the 20 mins break at the camp.

We measured the route … 57 miles! Amazing! We came 2nd mixed team – the other mixed team were quite amazing – although they had known that the bridge was passable if you had dared to walk to the end of it and looked down at a dam wall 3 m below!

We think our eating plan worked really well – eat every 2 hours and eat jelly babies in between. I also think that the Skins tights helped enormously!

Following the Rogaine, Richard and I headed off to Clare and visited the Cliffs of Moher and some neolithic sites on the Burren.

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A day out walking in Ireland

As my contract comes to an end this Friday, we were forced to use up my final 3 days of holiday and so we decided to go to Ireland and partake in a spot of walking.

A spot of walking actually meant competing in the Setanta 24 hour Rogaine. A rogaine isn’t a way to maximise hair growth as some may be led to believe, it is in fact a sport which requires the competitor to navigate over country and find as many control sites as possible in a period of 24 hours! A little more than your average country walk then!

The location was the Wicklow Mountains south of Dublin. We arrived at the event centre for the race which started at 12 noon on Saturday. It was really quite wet and very windy, but nevertheless we apprehensively donned our fell shoes and waterproofs and lined up with the other competitors with the only questions being “are you 6 or 24?” meaning are you going out in this weather for 6 or 24 hours? We had to do the 24 hours of course … one of the reasons being that Richard kindly entered us for the World Rogaining Championships in Estonia and having never done such an event, we thought we must have at least one attempt at a 24 hour race beforehand. With map in hand we were given 32 grid references and the event started. We mapped out all the control sites on the map (with orange pen first, then black as we realised that the orange ink ran off in the rain!) and set off. Our very first obstacle, within 10 m of the start was a waist high and rising river. This did not deter us as we waded through and started up the first hill. We visited 13 controls in total on the first day heading over mountain after mountain and crossing stream after stream. Every few hours we’d stop for a sausage roll and then continue on. Highlights were the beautiful scenery … low lights were the rain, which fell in buckets, the cold river crossings, the bogs we crossed for hours and the areas of turf cutting that were hard on the tired legs. Nevertheless we continued and thankfully our plans to come off the moors before dark fell into place nicely which left us some easy controls near roads to find by torchlight. Our plan was to continue until about midnight, then get 3-4 hours sleep at the base camp and then restart in the early morning. Unfortunately this didn’t go completely to plan, as when we started to head back to the base camp after our last control we realised that there was a large river in the way that would definitely we impassable after all the rain. The only answer was to take a huge diversion adding about 1 hr onto our walk home. Eventually we made it back to the event centre … we’d been wondering whether we’d be able to wade the river next to the campsite for the past few hours and as we got closer it looked very high and very fast. Then we saw an organiser with a lantern and his friend with a piece of rope highlighting the best part of the river to cross. What a relief, my legs weren’t really up to walking much further to find a bridge after 13 hours of walking. He threw us the rope and helped Richard and I across the river, after which we gorged ourselves on pot noodle (supplied by them) and went to bed.

After tending to various wounds we fell asleep with alarms set for 4.45 am. We awoke and tried to get moving, this took a little time, but soon we were back on the road. Richard and I were amazed however at how tired our legs were and although we managed to get a further 4 controls in the morning we were absolutely knackered. The wind had also increased and was almost blowing me off the mountain tops which wasn’t particularly pleasant. We arrived back at camp a few hours before midday. It would have been possible to collect another control, but Richard and I were so knackered that we just couldn’t face another hill. Back at camp we measured our distance … 40 miles in 24 hours over the hills! And we came joint 3rd, not bad for our first 24 hour rogaine, bring on the world champs in September!

This was definitely a cake worthy adventure!