For some there is considerable interest in who went where, why and how did they time it to be back with seconds to spare? How do the top teams work out the best route or are they just so fit that the route is not important and they run to control after control, simply heading back when the time runs out. Why is it that the top teams want to get their maps as soon as possible and disappear until the briefing 15 minutes before the start? In this article, Vice President Craig Colwell demystifies the planning methods used by those top teams.

For many of the competitive teams the time between getting the map and starting is the most critical period of the event, with some believing that this is where the event is won or lost, so avoid these people during their planning period as they are in “racing” mode. For the less serious people this is still a critical period as selecting a good route and correct distance, can be immensely satisfying as well as maybe avoiding long climbs uphill or crossing marshy rivers, etc.

To select a good route is largely dependent on knowing how far you can travel in the allocated time. Regardless of how you are going, coming back late is to be avoided as losing points negates a lot of the effort expended (and being more than 30 minutes late means being disqualified and is ‘poor form’ as it causes un-necessary angst for the organisers).

Your team’s kilometre per hour rate should be based on the slowest team member’s ability, not the fastest. Terrain type will also affect the rate. The recent event at Rhynie would be considered fast as there was very little scrub or steep difficult terrain. However the extensive cropping did pose time consuming detours. The winning team in the 12 hour event were travelling at approximately 5.5km/hr doing approximately 65km in the 12 hour period. The second team (John Soden teamed with me for the first time) travelled 54km at an average speed of 4.5km/hr.

Knowing your km rate for different terrains comes with experience (and this can be practiced in our local Parks, hills walking trails and forests), however for novices and relative inexperienced bush walkers or rogainers a pace of about 2 to 3 km per hour could be used for daylight hours. Night time can easily halve your km rate. Note that rogaining is an endurance event and a steady even pace will generally see you back at the finish in a sound condition. Don’t be influenced by the speedsters who zoom off at the start.

So how do you start? Listed below is the method John and I used to work out our proposed route.

  1. We discussed the distance we expected to travel. John was suggesting about 45kms (based on straight line between controls) and I was a bit more optimistic thinking we could do about 50kms – just over 4km per hour.
  2. Using a cork pin board the map was laid out and the 90 and 80 point controls were pinned (see photo below with red pins). A string line was wrapped around these pins and then measured and converted to kms. First measurement came up at 37kms. This was well within our distance parameter.

  3. Next we added green pins for 60 & 70 point Controls and re-laid the string line. Re-checked the distance came up with 43kms. Still OK.
  4. By adding the yellow pins to any control on the basic route and re-stringing gave us an expected distance of just over 50kms.
  5. Next came discussions on alternative routes and which direction to go first (north or south). We both agreed that coming home from the north seemed safer as there was an excellent road network close to the HH and an easy-to-navigate ridge line from 64-48-83-46. Also there was more chance of being lost and wasting time in the night time in the larger hill network to the south of the HH. So heading south first was selected.
  6. We then worked out when we should be at certain controls to be on schedule. Control 42 at 2.30pm and control 84 at 6.30pm.
  7. Next, an escape plan, can we shorten our course if we get lost and lose time looking for a control. We decided that the northern controls above the Wakefield River could be dropped and a cut-out from C54 to C35 could be used. If things were really going badly then C74 to C55 to C83 could be done.
  8. We looked at adding controls if we are ahead of schedule. C55 from C83 then to C46 was a possibility and also a run out to C52 from the HH and back if we got back early. Looking at getting extra controls early on is not recommended as usually time ‘used up’ getting these controls is needed later in the event, however we decide to make a decision on C40 in the south when we got to C41. By then we would have a feel for the terrain and also know how our km rate was going.
  9. The next stage was to put our plan into place by doing it and trying to stick to it. We both thought that if we could achieve this plan, a top five finish should be possible as we both thought that there would be teams that would clean-up the map getting all the controls.

So, how did it go for us? As expected there was a mad rush from the start with a large number of teams leading us to our first control (C80). From then on we were generally on our own with other teams seen in the distance at times or around the control locations. At C41 we decided to go for C40 as our speed was good. We were still slightly ahead of schedule at C42 even after collecting the extra control. By C84 however, even though we were ahead of schedule by 30 minutes the pace was starting to tell on both of us and we doubted our ability to get all the controls north of the river in the dark. Decided on making a final decision at C57. The long steep climb up to C74 in the dark and then the climb to C57 stumbling over the numerous rocks showed that our speed had been significantly reduced in the dark, taking about an hour to do these two controls. We decided to abandon C93, C75 and C22 and hopefully pick up C55 and C52 instead. However having a disaster on the leg between C57 and C85 by heading in the wrong direction and then not being able to read the contour lines properly, lost us considerable time. We now needed to be at C35 by 8.30pm to get back in time. Our selected night time route back from C35 worked well with relative easy navigation and, apart from the leg between C48 and C83, relatively crop free. The roads between the church control and C44 enable us to walk at a speed of approximately 6km/hr and with a slight cross country detour to get C66 on a fog shrouded spur, saw us back at the well lit HH with about 9 minutes to spare.

At this event the Navlight scoring system was used. One feature of Navlight is the ability to review your own, and other teams’, routes and timings. You can do this by going to the SARA results page and following the links through to the overall results. If you click on the link in the Tags column for the team you’re interested in, you can see their statistics. For example, here’s our stats.

Obviously there are many course variations, and I’ve reviewed the Navlight stats to make some comparisons. An interesting alternative is that for the 4th place team of Paul Hoopmann & Des Norman (see photo below of their route). They headed north first and their straight line distance of about 47kms was shorter than ours but would have collected the same amount of points (however they were unable to locate their final control C52 in the fog). This cost them probably two places.

Evelyn Colwell and Tarnya Van Driel used a similar planning method to ours but for a 36km route length (based on about 3.5km for walking about 10 hours with 2 hours spare for breaks, fence climbing discussion time, etc). They followed their route choice religiously, were ahead of schedule during the day, but slowed down during the dark and had some time consuming hold-ups getting around the crops. However they trundled in with 2 ½ minutes to spare, very pleased with themselves, after visiting all their chosen controls.


Craig Colwell