Rogaining is navigation, speed, and endurance. A point system?

Planning before a 24 hr Rogaining with Matti V.

My experience is certainly limited, but I have participated in more than 20 Rogaining events of different lengths, ranging from 2 to 24 hours. If you are unfamiliar with Rogaining, please read my previous entry here.

This post discusses the physical and mental skills needed in Rogaining as particular to different events of varying lengths. Intriguingly, the skills needed to succeed in a short Rogaining event can differ rather remarkably from those needed in longer events.

My experience and current opinion – subject to change with further light and knowledge – is that Rogaining requires three main skills from the runner: Navigation, speed, and endurance. I have tried to depict this athletic troika in the table below. I hope that this table contains a plausible representation of different Rogaining events along with the skills needed to succeed therein. Following the table, I will define the skills in more detail and provide examples.

Rogaining Duration and Accompanying Skills: Point System

Event Duration
(in hours)
Estimated Distance (mix of trail, path, off-road)

* × .8 – .9 if poor conditions, technical terrain, night
** × .5 – .7 (or less) if extreme conditions / terrain
Navigation (1-3)Speed (1-3) Endurance (1-3)
218 – 22 kilometers331
635 – 45 kilometers22+2
850 – 65 kilometers222+
1270 – 90 kilometers21+2+
24110 – 135 kilometers (so far)113
24+?113
Rogaining duration, distance, and skills – based on Jeremy’s experience

First, a note about the 1 – 3 point system. The number ‘1’ itself represents the least required degree of the named skill, while ‘3’ would be the most important. So in terms of navigation, the number 1 indicates that you still need to know how to read a map, but orienteering mistakes are less costly in the bigger picture. Why is this? Well, in longer Rogaining events, the course map will cover a large section of terrain, so it’s much easier to determine your general location based on surrounding landmarks (fields, rivers, villages, mountains etc.) Additionally, in these longer events, the control points (checkpoints / rastit) are also usually easier to find and can often be seen from a distance (because it is an endurance event more than a speed race that heavily depends on accuracy in map reading – like shorter events).

I have frequently thought about the skills involved in Rogaining and how the length of a particular event influences the required physical and mental abilities. For example, a short two-hour Rogaining lends itself much more to someone with a strong background in traditional orienteering, which requires runners to cover 10-20 kilometers (or more) at a blistering pace (near maximum heart rate). A longer 24 hour event, however, could eat such runners alive. So what talents, training, and skills lend themselves to the inherent diversity found in a short Rogaining event as opposed to something longer? Such is the attempted pith of these musings.

I am sure that my views will develop and change over time, but in this post I offer some thoughts that may be of use (or at least of interest) to runners considering attempting a Rogaining event. I will now review the three main skills of navigation, speed, and endurance.

Navigation

Successful and skillful navigation is the ability to use a map and compass accurately and quickly. This process involves an enormous mental load and is required both before the event, while planning, and during the event while actually on the move. Simply knowing which way is north, south, east, or west is not enough. The experienced navigator knows how to read the terrain on a map that represents a reality that they have yet to experience in real life. Such a navigator knows how to read contour lines to avoid taxing elevation gain and maximize speed; flora density to circumnavigate impenetrable forest sections; and the differences in slight rises, depressions, stones and more. And by the way, all of that is just a brief introduction to map navigation.

Speed

Speed is perhaps the easiest to define and understand: the time it takes to run from point A to point B. Additionally, by the term ‘speed’ I mean raw speed and pace that runner can keep in a 5 km or 10 km race. Think of the fast orienteering enthusiast or road runner who excel at events that last from 30 – 60 minutes. These people will beat me at these distances almost every time. If Japan is known for its marathoners, I would suggest that Finland should be famous for its excellent shorter distance runners. The reasons for this are probably historical as well as related to the goals of the many youth yleisurheilu sports programs in the country. But that topic requires more thinking / research, and is beyond the scope of this post.

Endurance

Endurance is the ability to continue running even on tired legs, eat and drink while on the move for hours to days, solve foot and stomach problems on the go, and survive the overwhelming instinct to stop, rest, and sleep. Get me a sofa and some ice cream!

I think endurance is at least partially synonymous with ultra running and training. For an introduction to ultra running, see this article at the appropriately-named website irunfar: A Newbie’s Guide to Ultramarathons.

More Skills?

A possible fourth category? Mental fortitude – some people just can’t mentally imagine running more than 3 or 4 hours. I understand this mindset, because I thought the same only a few years ago. You might be surprised, however, what you can really do if you really want it.

Limited Sample Size

This post is based on my own experience in Rogaining events. Applying this directly to another human being would be somewhat problematic, though I think certain generalizations and comparisons could be considered. To understand my background, basically I am an endurance runner who has completed many long training runs and ultra races, including 5 official events covering 100 miles or more (160+ km). As for shorter races, my 10km PR is just under 38 minutes, which is not great, but note that most of my training focuses on longer trail/ultra events). I have only completed (and attempted) one official road marathon and that was 7+ years ago and in the earliest stages of my running life, so that particular time (3:40) is absurdly irrelevant now.

Conclusion

Future research should include a larger sample size. 🙂 Now get out there and give Rogaining a try! I would welcome comments on this post. How can I improve my point system?

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