ENDracing's stance on the rogaine question

Stephen Regenold eyeing his map during a rogaine.

If you don't know what the rogaine question is, then have a look here to get up to speed.  Since you're reading this blog it's probably relevant - either you're a fan of adventure racing or an actual advenutre racer.  As an adventure race director, i just thought i'd take a minute to explain ENDracing's thoughts on the place of rogaines in adventure races so that you'll know where we stand on the subject and be fully informed before forking over your hard earned dollars to participate in one of our events.

Sean, the author of the piece linked to above, obviously has some pretty strong feelings about the presence of rogaine sections in adventure races (hence his choice of words such as cancerous), and while i certainly share many of his concerns - particularly in light of my recent experience of being penalized 6 hours for a misinterpretation of the rules during a rogaine section at the AR national championships a couple of weeks ago - i do feel that they have a place, if appropriately managed, in AR.  Here's why:

In order to be viable, a race has to attract a minimum number of teams. The differences in team abilities and therefore speed is more dramatic in AR than any other endurance sport i've participated in, as it's attractive to a select group of professional athletes as well as very amateur weekend warrior types.  I feel that the difficulty facing a race director (RD) is to create a course that pushes top teams so that they feel suitably challenged but remains accessible to less capable athletes.  Granted, some RD's don't feel this way and there are races out there where maybe 3/4 of the field will simply not finish - in fact, some set out to create a course with this high level of attrition.  But i'm convinced that there is a way to have a course and race that is tough for seasoned racers and rookies alike - and i think a well designed rogaine section is a useful tool towards this end. 

Sean presents the idea that clover-leaf race formats where the course includes several 'loops' that return to a central spot (most likely a TA) would also accomodate differences in team abilities.  My concern with solely relying on such a format is that the only option for a slow team in this case is to skip an entire section.  Personally, when i design a course, i put some awesome stuff in each and every section.  The idea of forcing a team to skip an entire leg of the race would very much change the race experience and i feel is something to be avoided whenever possible. 

Most of the problems with rogaines that Sean mentions i think can be dealt with by ensuring three things -

  1. the rogaine feels like a separate section of the race (i.e. the whole race isn't a 'multisport rogaine') and happens in a relatively small (as compared to the entire race) area.  Ideally this small area can is set up in such a way that any route choice is permitted between the points so that teams have much more of a classic orienteering experience.
  2. The rogaine section (along with the rest of the course) is properly vetted by experienced racers with the aim of examining and testing all reasonable route choices, not just getting a time estimate for the section.
  3. RULES.  If there are any sections of the rogaine location that are off limits, or special instructions (ie. only bike on established trails, etc), these need to be clearly laid out in the instructions, perhaps to the point or ridiculous redundancy, and covered thoroughly in the pre-race meeting.  

The nice thing about a rogaine where the number of points visited by a team is optional is that it gives both a race director and teams themselves some decision making power.  As a RD i can set some really challenging points - harder to find, up a punishing hill, or even in the middle of a swamp that are going to test a fast team pushing their limits but that would break a less experienced crew.  Because finishing the race doesn't require visiting all the points with this format, these rookie teams can still reach their goal of facing and meeting some minimum challenge that the race presents.  In this vein, i will also often use 'in line' optional CP's during my races - points that are part of a sequential order section  but are optional.  For example a trek section involving CP's 4-10 might have points along a reasonably straighforward route but two or three optional points (5a, 6a, and 7a) such that 5a is at the bottom of a long ravine that the trail crosses somewhere between CPs 5 and 6, and similarly for the other optional points. 

The bottom line is that my goal in designing a course is to create an enjoyable race - with some minimal level of suffering and 'coolness' on each leg that will be a common experience for all racers who finish - that pushes top teams gunning for the podium and rank beginners just trying to meet the minimum requirements with relative equality.  Rogaine formats have, and will continue to, play a role in such courses.

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