Rotoiti is a mysterious map. There is no other way to describe it. Virtually flat, so using contours to navigate is impossible. Thick kanuka and manuka scrub so you can't really see where you are going. Clearings that all look the same as each other. It's no wonder that no one who had run there before had anything other than terrifying stories to tell...except Michael who is clearly a bit crazy! So clearly I was pretty nervous lining up at the start.
It was all very well to go out there with a plan of attack but oh my god...you know you're off to a flying start when you get hopelessly lost trying to find the first control!! I pretty much walked (otherwise known as bush-bashed) my whole way round...round in circles!!! After finally finding #1 I was going along as okay as you were going to get until #4 which was really quite mysterious. Turns out I wasn't the only one thinking this which is always encouraging.
Then somehow I got #5 no problem (a miracle!). This was only to be followed by going round in circles for quite some time for the next control. #7 and #8 were easy which then lulled me into a false sense of security. With only 1 more control to go I figured not much could go wrong (hahaha!). Oh man. The first half of the control went really well and I thought I had my attackpoint but it just didn't seem to work out. Once I realised I had no chance, it took me forever to get back to the telephone pole so I could start again. Somehow the second attempt worked out fine but it was so frustrating because once I got to the control I realised I must have been so close the whole time but just never managed to find it. It felt like trying to find a needle in a haystack!
I will have to come back to this map some day and see if I can get it to make a little more sense!
The first event of the Australian Champs was the middle distance. From what I could see from old maps it was going to be steep and the notes seemed to indicate it was going to be quite rocky. It was even quite a ride up to the start (they even supplied us with little maps so we didn't get lost!) which was a good warmup (especially good because it was pretty cold).
I mostly navigated okay but was a bit hesitant especially to start with when I saw one of the top Australians going down some very strange route (apparently she later blamed her bad time on mechanical issues...hmmmm). The terrain was extremely physical and you really didn't want to take the wrong track and go flying down a hill you weren't supposed to 'cause coming back up would be a killer.
Thanks Pete for snapping me in action as I leave the start
There was one bit where you could either go back out to the track along the single track you'd just come up or continue along it and although I figured it was probably slower to continue I thought it might be more fun so I went that way! I just kept imagining I was riding at Woodhill and thought of the rocks as the usual tree roots and it seemed to work quite well.
I made a couple of mistakes near the end when I was pretty knackered. Somehow I ended up at #13 before #12 which I think happened to a few people. Then on the way to #14 I didn't see the track I was looking for and started off down the wrong one. Luckily I worked it out fairly quickly before I'd gone too far wrong! I was pretty happy with my race overall though.
Oh my god, worst race of my life!! It was a freezing cold morning and after hearing wild stories of how tough the terrain was on this map last time I was not exactly feeling prepared. It started out okay, although I felt really slow and there were a few weird sections where it felt like tracks were either missing or just plain different from the map especially on the way to #2. Then I bumped into Marquita whilst looking for #3 and we came to the conclusion it wasn't in the right place when I spotted it through the bush. Frustrating.
Then it got bad. I was having a lot of trouble breathing and the sand was just ridiculous. I was struggling up the hills and felt really dizzy at one point and somehow managed to completely loose contact with the map. Not good!
Because I am stubborn, I got all the way out to #9 which is on the very far corner of the map, about as far from the finish as you could get, before deciding I couldn't continue. Of course, I still had to ride back which was a mission. Yeah, I could have finished but I really couldn't face the sand and fairly epic hills that looked like dominating the last section of the course and my breathing was starting to really hurt so it was my first ever DNF. I thought I'd feel bad about it or something but I kind of felt relieved that I'd been able to stop.
Quite a few years ago we used to have these orienteering events called Short-Os which were 2 short races back-to-back with a chasing start in the afternoon where your time in the morning race affected what time you would start in the afternoon. The winner of the afternoon race (the first runner to finish) won the whole day. Anyway, we haven't really had races like this in years...until this weekend. Sunday was 2 middle-distance races back-to-back with a chasing start in the afternoon. Basically starts related to your results in the morning...if you took 29 minutes and 34 seconds then you started at 1:29:34pm. First running back wins the grade. Make sense?
This event was again held out at Woodhill Forest. Woodhill is a pine forest grown on sanddunes out on the West Coast North of Auckland city. It covers roughly 12,400 hectares. The morning race started out fairly averagely really. I would get to roughly the control circle but be about 100 metres out from the control and kind of fluff around a bit before finding it each time. Tessa caught me at #5 where we both got ourselves confused. I thought I'd come down the depression on the right. Turns out I'd come down the one on the left and Tessa had followed me. Then the control felt further over than it looks on the map.
We ran together from then, catching up to Frances around #7. We all mucked around too much at #9, finding another control first with Frances mispunching (she thought it was the correct one and kept going). It was pretty physical as we were all pushing quite hard especially when we were running as a group. I was quite happy with my pace but not so happy about my orienteering.
Most of the W21E times were quite close together (although not as close as the men's elites) and we were all pretty revved up for the afternoon although standing around for a couple of hours in the cold took its toll. I was pretty nervous. There was quite a gap behind me so I was pretty sure I wouldn't be caught up but I was feeling quite determined to beat Mace, the Aussie Bushranger starting 24 seconds in front of me!
We had to write our start times on the back of our hands then line up in order (all grades mixed up together). They would count us down then when it got to your time (for example, mine was 1:29:54pm) you punched the start control, ran to the box with your course maps in it (double-checking you got the correct course) and followed the tape up over the bank to the start control and then you were off.
I caught Mace fairly quickly but I was so determined to get ahead of her that I made heaps of stupid mistakes. I slowed down and switched my brain onto orienteering mode after running straight past #5 but by then Mace had got ahead. Oh well. I just concentrated on having a clean run from there which went pretty well. Obviously heaps of the girls stuffed up somewhere too as I saw Kate and another Aussie near me and Angela raced past (despite having started a few minutes before me). Other than #9 (where I saw a few elite men standing on the tops of the ridges looking a bit confused!) the rest of the race was good. Just frustrating about the first half! I can run faster in this terrain than Mace so I should have beaten her if I'd be concentrating properly. Oh well, hindsight is a wonderful thing!