Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Curious Rise of ROGAINE Courses in Adventure Racing.

Dear Adventure Racer Family,

As Guest-Blogger on www.CheckpointTracker.com this month, I am tackling ROGAINE-format (orienteering, get checkpoints in any order, tally "points" at the finish line) courses in adventure racing. I am opposed to the concept, as I view an adventure race as a journey from Point A to Z. Nomenclature and semantics fog the definition, but Point to Point, Loop, Clover Leaf, whatever you want to call it...sequential order of checkpoints from Start to Finish is what I personally prefer as a "traditionalist" in AR. A good course should be designed to challenge racers' decision making and navigation skills, offering several options along the way that may or may not be faster: Bushwack or take the longer, but faster trail? There are myriad reasons why race directors decided to change to an orienteering format over the last several years, but my argument is simply that there is another way...

The rise of orienteering's influence on AR has meant that over the last few years more races have been designed as ROGAINE (orienteering acronym describing typically longer orienteering events: “Rugged Outdoor Group Activity Involving Navigation and Endurance"), or modified ROGAINE, which means that checkpoints are spread across a "course", and the team that hits the most, sometimes in any order, at the finish line with the fastest time wins sometimes with a fixed time frame such as 24 hours. Skipping some or many checkpoints becomes a strategy for teams. Some teams may even skip half of the checkpoints, only to reach the finish line as..."finishers". This may work in orienteering, but Adventure Racing is NOT Orienteering in my opinion.

An event that calls itself a Race, but invites athletes to show up at the start line without even EXPECTING to FINISH the course is far from what I would consider a "race". Call me crazy. This is just my humble opinion as an "old school" adventure racer who started in the mid-1990s. I am totally aware that there are many out there who enjoy and even prefer this ROGAINE format. They don't want to do the whole course, or maybe in a few cases are not capable. I also am aware that many of these athletes came into the sport more recently than I, and this is all they have experienced. This is normative to them, and they see AR as a multisport orienteering event, or ROGAINE.

In recognition of the myriad challenges Race Directors face, the prime directive for them in my opinion is to design a course that recognizes the bell curve. A course should be do-able in 24-30 hours by the vast majority of teams. Some RDs complain that the top teams will then finish in under 20 hours, maybe even 12 in some cases if the majority finish in 24-28. I ask: How many teams are racing for the win? Not many. If there are 30 teams at the start line, there may be a few that will "blast through the course" without incident, racing for the win. Most of these teams care first and foremost about winning, not spending an extra 4 hours on a course orienteering in the woods, zig zagging this way and that.

The bottom line is my heart is broken that adventure racing has become-in some instances-a race that encourages teams to toe the starting line knowing they will skip checkpoints or entire sections. Who would start an ultramarathon, Ironman, ultra mtb race, sailing regatta, or any other competition planning on NOT doing the whole thing? This concept is native to orienteering, not adventure racing. I am all about inclusion and attracting as many people as possible to AR, however possible. In the past, finishing a race was not a guarantee in an adventure race. Far from it! I did one race in 2000, the Mega Dose in Virginia that had 60 or so teams. None made it to the finish line under the cutoff. None. My team was the only 4 person team to finish the race, and thus "won", after 88 hours of racing across 250 miles. The other teams all dropped out along the way, save for a couple duos and soloists. Every team knew at the start line that the race was almost a "Mission: Impossible".

Perhaps my "vote" will be meaningless, but I am too passionate about competing fiercely and winning races based on my hard work, blood, sweat and tears put into training. The commitment it takes to prepare to compete for the win involves enormous sacrifices and opportunity costs. I enjoy the training, and it is a lifestyle, but if I am standing at the start line with my teammates, knowing we have all made the same deep commitment to our preparedness, I want a rewarding JOURNEY from A to Z, and our win or loss to be based on fitness, teamwork and skill. Strangely, my opinion is in the minority today in adventure racing.

This is just one guy's preference and opinion. It should go without saying that my CPT blog was written purposefully as disruptive leadership, a splinter under AR's fingernail to provoke thought and an emotional response throughout the wider community...to elicit a reaction. This reaction was over 100 comments in the first 48 hours, and over 300 votes in checkpointtracker.com's online poll (Poll was ROGAINE FORMAT ARs: Good, Bad, Maybe).

This is just the beginning of the conversation, and I invite everyone to contribute their own opinions and offer solutions. For racers new to the sport, I invite you to read Martin Dugard's "Surviving the Toughest Race on Earth" and other accounts of the wild and wonderful world of adventure racing in the early to late 1990s. The book is fantastic and might acquaint some with both the Adventure and Racing parts of Adventure Racing. Both were unbelievably intense, and regrettably unimaginable to today's incarnation of the sport.

The #1 goal for the blog was to start a conversation with some controversy. It worked! I am stoked so many people have chimed in and opined on not just the original vs. rogaine debate but many other issues surrounding adventure race course design, cutoffs, short-coursing, etc. Hopefully this forum will continue to stay active and the racer-RD communication floodgates will stay open for the betterment of the sport, regardless of your preferred 'evolved' iteration.

In Adventure,



Dima said...

Sean, this is Dima. There are too many comments on CPT, so I'll put one short here. I call you guys "monsters" with very positive meaning :-) I proud I can race against you and I am doing my best to win, but I am not fit enough and in most cases I fail into "it is not for everyone" category. But how many monsters like you are in this big country? 200, 100? May be even less. Fitness is not the only factor that makes you good racer, there is something wrong with our brains, that's why most people stay in triathlons and don't switch into AR. I am the guy who brings new people into the sport by directing 10 hours Calleva Adventure Race. These new people think I am the Monster :-). But every year 2 or 3 teams out of 40 running Calleva race, get hooked up and move into 24 hours and longer races.
I totally understand your point and I think there are a few really good old school races every year. Untamed New England is one of them and I raced all three editions of it. Out of all 3 I got two DNFs, but I will race it every time Grant puts it in this country, because it's the best race on east coast. Unfortunately the best race is not always the best for the sport. This sport will not survive without new people and without rogain option. You must admit this.
With Great respect.
Team Calleva

sean.clancy said...

Hi Dima,

The sport and the world needs more people like you!

Before the transformation of adventure racing into multisport rogaine in many areas, there were many accessible races to developing teams. HiTec series, Balance Bar, etc. These had sometimes challenging navigation, but were point to point and there was no such thing as skipping CPs. Courses were designed for the thick of the bell curve to finish in 24-28 hours. Yes, the winners sometimes smoked the course with ace navigation and insane fitness in 14-16 hours, but this was not always the case.

In any race there are only a handful of "pro" teams scorching the course fighting for the win. Sometimes just 2 or 3 in my experience. This is within a field of 20-40 teams/soloists, etc. I don't think any RD should worry about when a winning team finishes. Design a course that is a Journey, A-Z that the Bell Curve can finish in 24-28 hours. Who cares when the pros finish?

There has been an influx of orienteering athletes into the sport, which is good, but they have transforemed AR into a mutisport orienteering race. I hope you see where I am coming from in my arguments.

Yes, my language was intentionally provacative and judging by the 300+ athletes who voted in the poll in the first 24 hours and the 80 comments to the thread in the first day, it struck a nerve! That was the intent, to start a conversation. I am not aware of this happening in our sport before...debate is healthy, and fosters greater communication between RDs and athletes like you and me.

Those who know me knew I was "pushing buttons" but they also knew I feel strongly that adventure races should be of the "original" course design and not orienteering events. That is just my preference. RDs and athletes can promote and enter any event they want, but I will choose to avoid orienteeering format ARs. Just my preference.

Thank you again for participating in the conversation. Grant's UNTAMED races sound awesome, and I regret not racing this year.

Switzerland looks to be EPIC and perhaps even "real" AR...you should enter!



sean.clancy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sean.clancy said...

I was remiss...

Of course there was conversation and debate in the past...just forgot how far back! The original ARA listserv is how Team Eco Internet was formed (later Salomon, then named NIKE)...you can still find all the conversations from 94-99ish on there if you look.

It would be fun to look back and compare attitudes and perspectives.