The Katoa Po all night relays have a seven leg format with the race starting at dusk with a white course for the youngsters and novices and then continuing through yellow and orange courses before finishing with four red courses. A five leg option is also offered for teams who can't manage to fill the last two legs. In recent years, it has been filling the first few legs that has been the problem with innovative solutions like one person running for two (or more) teams or one person running two (or more) legs. This year Auckland was able to enter two 7 man teams and two 5 man teams without having to resort to either of those although it did mean sending Katalin out on Course 2 (yellow) with only a few months of Summer Series experience behind her. Thanks Katalin.
I was running leg 5 for our second five man team with Sylvie, Mary, Mark and Roger running the legs before me. Jonty was running leg 4 for our premier 7 man team. I wasn't expecting an early start but turned down the offer to be mass started at 11pm. Roger ran back in and tagged me at about 11:30pm and I was off, the last starter on leg 5 with plenty of leg 6 and even leg 7 runners out on the course already.
Straight away, the difference between running at night and running during the day became obvious. My entire universe contracted to an arc the width and depth of my headlamp beam. The first leg seemed relatively straightforward, I would follow the top of the escarpment up to the fence, find the fence bend where it descended to the valley floor, pass the stumps and run up the reentrant to the depression. And that is exactly what I did. But I did it slowly, uncertainly as I worried about getting out of contact with the map and not being able to relocate.
This was even worse with the second leg as I entered the forest and navigation was a matter of reading off the blackberry patches as I passed them. Once again, I actually did this mostly correctly, certainly realising as soon as I had gone a bit too far, turning and finding the control exactly where I thought it would be. But slowly, oh so slowly. At least I was more confident now and my progress on the third leg was faster although vegetation conditions were tougher once north of the track. I got to Control 3 a few seconds before Simon and someone else who was through and away before I could idnetify him. At this point I had two options. The safe one was to ignore them and continue with my pre-determined plan to head north to the fence and use that as a handrail to the next control; the other option was to run as fast as I could in their footsteps and let them drag me through the forest, hoping that they were heading in the same general direction as I wanted to go. I chose the second option and, despite getting wet feet when their imperfect navigation took us through the only swamp in the forest, I was still close behind them as they commenced the climb up the hill. I was some way behind by the time I got to the fence back into the farm land and Control 4 but close enough that I could see them heading into Control 5, exclaiming as they realised it was the wrong control and then heading back across the hillside to 4. It had been obvious to me from the map that they were heading to 5 so I had already struck out at an angle towards 4 and was able to pinpoint the control exactly as they stopped, punched and reversed direction. I also had a good memory of where 5 was as I headed across the hillside to it but that was the last help they gave me as they were long gone by the time I emerged from Control 5.
Back into the forest Control 6 was easy to find but then the next three controls would all cause me problems. Control 7 had the catching feature of the huge deep gully so had minimal impact on my time, Control 8 had sufficient vegetation features around to make relocating undemanding after I searched the wrong watercourse but I spent quite a bit of time wandering around the hillside before and above Control 9 before eventually finding it by relocating off the fence beyond it. Tom passed me at this point and I think took a mostly straight line route to Control 10 although his blog doesn't give a blow by blow account so I can't be sure. I cut across to the fence, using the fence bend as an attack point and thought I saw Tom heading off to the southern patch of forest as I ran down the fence. If so, the fence route (which Toby also took although with a lot more finesse and a lot further from the fence than me) would have proven quicker than navigating through the blackberry patches.
I found the controls in the southern forest easy to find and I was a lot faster here than in the northern forest although this was more likely due to confidence rather than any properties of the terrain. Looking back, my route from 11 to 12 (back up to the fence and back in off the fence bend) was a pointless diversion, I would have been much better going straight and using the fenced green area as an attack point. I caught up with, and passed, Stephan on the legs to 13 and 14. Later Jeff would express some difficulty with finding 14 but by keeping the gully in sight to my left I came across it quickly and easily.
A last flat out blast across the forest and it was back into the farmland and the map exchange. I had figured that the last loop would be relatively short but was still relieved to see an A5 map waiting for me and not an A4. The leg from 16 to 17 was essentially a repeat of the leg from the start to the first control and in fact I used Control 1 as a marker on my way past. I had planned to go to the left of the mess of vegetation on my way to 18 but found myself drifting slightly to the right so went that way instead. Crossing the track, I must have been within metres of the control but somehow contrived to miss it and so performed a fairly large circle before getting back to the right depression.
I had also planned to head straight from the gate to 19 but as soon as I got to the gate it was obvious the vegetation on that route was atrocious so I attacked off the distinctive tree further up the track instead. I aimed for the tree just beyond the control and managed to run right past it but corrected quickly and easily. From there it was simply a matter of sidling around the hillside using the track to 20 and then the finish, a fast end to the race. I took just over an hour and a quarter finishing just before 1am. I had been the last starter on leg 5 but had passed three runners on the course - Stephan I had seen but I had slipped past Jim and Guy somewhere in the dark.
As is the tradition at Katoa Po, the Auckland Club tent was heavily populated until the last of our runners came in. This year, that privilege went to Aiden who was just heading out on leg 7 as I finished and came back into the finish to a huge roar of approval a minute or two before 2am. Then there was the opportunity for a few hours sleep before prizegiving the next morning. Dwayne picked up a prize for his lack of skill at crossing fences (as evidenced by his tattered leggings) and we were informed that next year Katoa Po may be in January to capitalise on the Oceania / World Cup carnival. January 2013 is just getting better and better. It looks like with the pre-events in Auckland, the Oceania event itself, Sprint the Bay and then Katoa Po that we could have a full month of top quality orienteering.