Rumours had spread during Saturday's sprint event about the epic 1.7km leg promised for this race. Duncan was setting and he had planned a great course. The first thing that became obvious when picking up the map at the start was that there were a number of tricky short legs in the coastal strip early on with the second half of the course including a number of long legs to test our route choice skills. The other thing that was obvious was that Duncan had chosen the ideal start location as the tape from the start box took us along a track through the otherwise unrunnable felled but not cleared strip between Coast Rd and the coastal forest. Once into the forest and past the start flag (or a high-viz vest on a pole that was doing a good imitation of a start flag) I moved relatively slowly, keeping in touch with the map and the features on the ground. The coastal strip is always difficult to navigate and I didn't want to get lost so early on but actually Control 1 appeared exactly where it should be and this gave me more confidence for the race ahead.
Control 2 was easy to find just off the track but my route to 3 didn't go exactly as planned. I cut the corner, leaving the track intending to pick it back up 100m further on but, in common with a number of people I spoke to later, I couldn't locate the track when I got back in the general vicinity of it. It appears that it is very indistinct in this area. After casting around for it for a short while I gave up and concentrated on the features instead. After spotting the tongue of forest heading into the sand dunes on my right, I climbed the dune in front and emerged almost on top of the control.
The fourth control wasn't much further over but the thicker vegetation just before it forced me down into the wrong re-entrant although this mistake was easy to correct once I noticed the lack of a control. From 4 to 5 the patches of green stood out over the open sand dunes and made locating the control simple. I understand that those who approached this control from the opposite direction on other courses had a lot more difficulty with it than we did. The leg to Control 6 would also have benefited from a more distinct track but here the open area at the bottom of the hill before the control made for a definite attack point.
Control 6 was the last control in the coastal strip for the time being and it was necessary to negotiate the horrible open but full of logs and branches section back to Coast Rd. I was fortunate enough to find an elephant track leading through a particularly narrow part and made it to the road without incident but Jonty was not so lucky, falling and bruising his leg; an injury that would eventually cause him to pull out halfway round the course and would stop him from running and training for the rest of the week.
Once across the road the forest was open and fast. The string course was visible to my right as I followed a compass bearing to Control 7 and a number of the controls from that course kept wanting to tempt me off course, a temptation that I resisted. Across the road to Control 8, just missing it and having to hang a right at the last moment and then there was a nice fast run to the track junction and the water stop. Although it was a little early in the race to really require rehydration I stopped anyway and made the most of two cupfuls; who knows what may happen between here and the next water stop?
From the water drop I navigated to Control 9 and then set off confidently on the short leg to Control 10. So confidently that it was inevitable that I would stuff it up. When I got to the ridge I could see a prominent re-entrant off to my left and assumed I had run too far to the right. I ran up the re-entrant and over the spur to the left of it only to discover a complete lack of controls. I glanced back at my map and correctly deduced my mistake (a parallel error involving two re-entrants 30m apart). I turned and ran back to the other re-entrant finding the control easily.
From 10 I ran down to the track junction and then ran along and below the prominent ridge leading to the control circle. The wiggly bit in my track towards the end of this leg was caused by me contouring around a spur rather than going up and over it. The leg to Control 12 was uneventful and was followed by a nice fast run through open forest back down to the water drop again. I was under the impression that this was my last water stop on the course (I hadn't looked at my map closely enough to see the other water drop between 20 and 21) so I made sure I was well saturated. I then ran down the track 100m or so before heading into the forest at the prominent depression. I followed a rough compass bearing and counted off the features, crossing the ridge to the control at exactly the right spot. A short leg followed.
From 14 to 15 I once again used a track junction as an attack point and then followed the quite complex ridge feature into the control. Running around the side of the large shallow depression, I made a right hand turn at the correct spot and ran onto Control 16. Then it was down to Coast Rd and along it, looking for the right place to cross the rough open. I chose to run down to the small patch of open near the road bend and, sure enough, I found an elephant track to take me through the rough stuff. It didn't make getting across the many logs and cuttings any easier but it did mean that they were all visible ahead of time rather than being hidden in the long grass.
Once back into the forest I faced a dilemma. I couldn't make the map match the terrain. I knew that I was close to the control but I wasn't able to latch onto any features that would locate me accurately. I knew that I was roughly the right distance from the forest boundary and I figured that I was probably a little too far west so I turned left and ran slowly scanning in all directions. Luckily, the control appeared just before I started considering my relocation options. From here I set my compass for the very short leg to Control 18. I still wasn't reading the terrain very well but the leg was short enough that I couldn't really go very much wrong before I was inside the circle and the control was in sight.
I exited to the track and ran down to the clearing, planning to use the track running south east out of it to take me towards the first of two controls on the open sand dunes. From my Quick Route you would think I executed this perfectly. In fact, there was no sign of the track and I navigated by means of the vegetation boundary instead. The absence of this track was a common source of complaints in post-race discussions but we all managed without it quite happily. From 19 to 20 I read features all the way, very conscious that the sand dune terrain is always difficult to read. However, I ran around a small hill expecting to see the control and sure enough, there it was.
I crossed back into the forest through what was supposed to be a narrow strip of green stripe but the underfoot conditions were treacherous most of the way back to the road. I was planning on using the track to take me most of the way to Control 21 and I was pleased to see a water symbol that I had previously missed. I hydrated up well and ran up the track and into Control 21. The first long leg of the race beckoned.
The leg to Control 22 could probably rate a blog post all on its own. I took what should have been a straight forward leg and somehow made a complete dog's breakfast of it, losing over quarter of an hour on this single leg. Here is a blown up view of my Quick Route for this area:
Now looking at the image above you can see that there are three clearings on the road and therefore I could have been north or south of the middle clearing. But I didn't see that. I expected to be north of the middle clearing, I could see two clearings that matched my expectations so I turned right and ran down to the clearing I could see. I ran through the clearing and followed a track to the track running parallel to the road. Again I turned right and, bang on cue, after 10m I came across a track heading off to the left. I turned up that track and was somewhat perturbed when it disappeared after a few paces. Never mind, I'll just follow my compass east. And again you can see what a shocking job I did of running directly east. I was expecting to come to a small ridge with quite a large drop off behind it. When this failed to appear I started to get a bit worried. But then I spotted a clearing ahead and to my left with a road behind it. This was clearly the clearing behind Control 22 and made a good catching feature. I ran to the clearing, set my compass for the control, ran past the depression and then . . . the terrain just didn't match. And neither did the bearing back to the clearing. And that road behind the clearing looked more like a track than a road. Was it possible? If I ran a little to my right would I come across Control 23 rather than 22? Yes, that is exactly what happened. This was now the fourth positive relocation I had done on this leg and only now did it become clear that the three previous relocations (track, road, clearing) had all been wrong. Still, no matter, I had lost a bit of time but I now knew exactly where I was and so it was just a matter of back tracking up to 22. I set a bearing and off I went.
After I had been running for a while two things happened almost simultaneously. Firstly I hit a track. Secondly, I could see Bruce off to my right, running purposefully in the opposite direction to me as if he had just exited Control 22 and was headed to 23. Which meant that this must be the southernmost track on the map and if I turn right and follow it then soon it will veer to the north and I can use that as an attack point. Off I went but the track refused to co-operate and didn't veer left (north). By now I didn't know what to think so I just kept running down the track until it exited onto a larger track. I stopped and checked the track direction very, very carefully. Yes, I was back near 23 again. But if I turned left I should get to Inland Rd fairly soon. And so it appeared. Turn left again. A few hundred metres up here I should get to a clearing - yes, there it is. I ran into the forest to the bottom of the ridge, turned and followed it around the shallow depression and breathed a huge sigh of relief when Control 22 appeared. I had taken 25 minutes for what should have been a simple 10 minute leg.
After admiring the control for some time, I set a compass bearing and headed off through the forest in the direction of Control 23. Reaching the bottom of the hill, I crested the ridge bang on target. I told myself that it was because I had been here once already but actually there was no distinguishing feature on the ridge line to help me and it was just good compass work accompanied by even better luck. I ran along the bottom of the ridge to 24 and then set out on the single longest leg of the race, determined not to make another stuff up.
Once again my strategy was to make use of roads and tracks where possible. I set a bearing for the clearing on the road (the one I should have used on the previous long leg) and double checked the smaller clearing further up by identifying the water trough, which turned out to be a common or garden variety bath. From here I kept an eye on the ridge in the forest to the left and, when I saw the track descending it, I ran into the forest and joined the track. From here it was a matter of powering along the track as fast as I could and then leaving it at the sharp right hand bend and running 30m to the next big track. I set a bearing, chose to run around the large spur rather than over it and then set another bearing from the bottom of the spur. As you can see this worked perfectly and placed me on the edge of the control circle. Whereupon I promptly misread the map and decided the control was at the top of the ridge rather than the bottom. I went wandering along the ridge looking for it. The sight of Bruce running in the opposite direction to me (again!) got me thinking that perhaps all was not well with my map interpretation, I turned around, ran back 20m and the control came into sight at the bottom of the hill.
From there I climbed the hill behind the control and then sidled around to take advantage of the track and use the distinctive triangular track junction as an attack point. This added distance to my run but I was able to run faster along the track and, after leaving Control 25 just behind Bruce, I reached Control 26 about the same distance behind so there was really nothing between my route choice and his more direct one. I went slowly to Control 27 but this was the result of the terrain and nearly two hours of running rather than any indecision or mistakes on my part.
The clearing on the track provided a good waypoint mid way between 27 and 28 and, although I was too far to the left at the control, I was aware that I should be on the control and glancing 90 degrees to the right saw Bruce exiting it. The leg to 29 was a matter of counting off the features, particularly the two tracks that were crossed and then it was a sprint through the forest to the last control, keeping Coast Rd a constant distance to my right. I hit the track slightly to the right of the control, correcting at the last minute as the control came into view and then a short run down the track and I was finished. My time of two hours and nine minutes was longer than it should have been thanks to be disaster on the leg to 22, longer than I had hoped I would take but still good enough to place me in the top half of the field.