Race Report: Nitrogaine 2016

Over the weekend of June 18-19, I took part in my second rogaine of the year (fifth total) – the Nitrogaine II up near Ann Arbour, MI. This was an 8-hour overnight event starting at 10pm on the 18th and finishing at 6am on the 19th.

This definitely had a higher flag density than any rogaine I’ve done previously, which was lots of fun (53 total controls for an 8 hour event…of which I ultimately found 30). The electronic scoring system was also nice. The relatively flat topography and nighttime conditions made navigation relatively challenging, but this was offset somewhat by reflective tape on the controls, and even some tags of reflective tape marking a small perimeter around most controls.

Maps were distributed at 8pm, and I spent most of the next two hours planning my route, coming up with a few contingency plans, and getting my gear together.


20 minutes before the start

I was trying out a brand new pack (the Salomon Peak 20) that I’d ordered online with a gift card, and ended up being very happy with it. It’s smaller than my Mountain Hardwear Fluid 26 that I use for long hikes, but larger than my Nathan running vest or Osprey Raptor 10. It’s lightweight and built more like a vest than a backpack, so it doesn’t interfere with running. It’s really designed perfectly for medium length adventure races and rogaines.

Salomon Peak 20

Salomon Peak 20

From the start/finish area in the southeast corner, the course map seemed to present two obvious options – a “northern route” and a “western route” – with plenty of variability and decision-making involved with each. I opted for the western route, then added a few additional controls further north on my return trip. On the map below, you can see my “pre-race” route plan in faint blue (which I mostly stuck to), a few bailout options I’d outlined in faint red, and my actual route superimposed with red sharpie.


click to enlarge

When the race started, I headed for control #74 along with three or four other people. I then began snaking my way in a southward direction, hitting controls #32, #86, #48, #31, #43, and #51. As with most rogaines I’ve done in the past, the highest density of controls seemed to be within a few kilometers of the start/finish area. I wanted to hit as many of these as possible early on to take advantage of all the points…but I also wanted to leave a few behind to give myself some flexibility for the tail end of the race.

Silver Lake, sunset

Silver Lake, sunset

I found all of these initial controls without difficulty. The undergrowth was relatively thin and run-able in this area of the map, and I was making better time than I’d anticipated. From #51, I made my way west to #96, then continued west until hitting a trail. Following the trail, I snagged #36 (underneath a footbridge) and #84 (near the tip of a peninsula). The only control I left behind in this southeast corner of the map was #56, since it would have involved some backtracking. In hindsight, though, it probably would have been worth the 10-minute round trip after leaving #96. A minor tactical error.

I made a much more serious mistake, though, going for #42. I easily wasted 15-20 minutes on this low-value control, initially missing it to the south, then doubling back and overshooting to the north, then wandering directly INTO the marsh it was positioned next to. I was on the verge of calling this one a lost cause, when another team “rescued” me. I was able to make it out of the marsh by heading toward their headlamps, and the three of us stumbled into #42 shortly thereafter.

After that mishap, I continued west to #75 (along a spur), #30 (just off the trail), and #44 (also just off the trail). I bypassed #67 since it was slightly out of the way…but again, in hindsight, it would have been a good idea to grab. The route was almost entirely on trail.

#80 was a little further off-trail (following the theme of high-value controls being tougher to find), but I had no trouble there.

After this, though, I made 3 mistakes in the span of 30 minutes. First, I managed to miss #77 completely. This was by far the “flattest” rogaine I’d ever done, and my skills weren’t quite up to the challenge of discerning some of the more subtle land features on the course – particularly at night. Being a novice, I generally like to rely more heavily on topography than my compass. When I found myself standing in the forest with no idea if I was north/south/east/west of the control, I bailed south back to the trail and continued to #88.

One of the trails

One of the trails – taken just before sunrise at the end of the race

On the way I made my second mistake. While jogging through the thick undergrowth (and glancing distractedly at my map), I snagged my foot on a fallen log hiding under the greenery. I face-planted hard. Completely knocked the wind out of me. This should have been a warning, but…

…two minutes later, I made the third mistake. I was only a hundred meters or so from #68 and trying to move too fast through some dense deadfall. I turned to look over my shoulder…turned back around…and took a stick to my right eye. When I reached up, the stick was still protruding 3-4 inches out of my eye. For a few seconds, I legitimately thought I had an open globe. Fortunately it was just lodged between my cornea and upper eyelid. So I got away with just a corneal abrasion, which hurt like a beast for the next few days.

Now with only one good eye, my pace slowed down considerably. This may have actually helped me making the loop from #68 to #88 to #104. The lack of trails in this section made route-finding more important, but now I was taking more time to fine-tune my route rather than navigating on the run. I ever-so-slightly overshot #104, but otherwise had no issues. Talking with others after the race, it sounded like #88 had given a few people problems.

The undergrowth was horrendous to the northeast of #104. After crashing through a few spider webs and slicing myself up on some briars, I finally stumbled back to the trail and made a second attempt at #77. This time I hit it dead on. Maybe this one eye thing isn’t so bad!

I continued west to #60, located near a copse in a large field of waist-high grass. I took advantage of the nearby water station to refill, then took a couple minutes to debate going for #102.

It felt wrong not to go for such a high-value control when I was already so close. But on the other hand, I wasn’t too excited about an extended off-trail out-and-back venture in my semi-impaired state. I decided to skip it and head for #47, which was probably dumb from a points standpoint. In the end, though, nobody finished <100 points ahead of me, so skipping #102 didn’t cause me to drop in the standings.

#47 was located a short distance off the road, near the top of a gully. I continued making good time on roads and trails toward #66, #73, and #69. These were all in close proximity to trails, so each only required ~5 minutes of bushwhacking.

When I hit the road north of #69, I had another decision to make. I thought briefly about taking a southern route toward a cluster of low-value controls (#41, #65, #34, #49, #33) with the option of picking up some high-value ones time permitting (#82, #70, #94). Instead I continued north toward the #63-#90-#71 loop. This was probably my biggest tactical error of the night.

I missed my intended turnoff for #63 and had to backtrack, costing me a few valuable minutes. I only overshot #90 by 30 meters or so, but the surrounding forest was packed with the densest brier patches I encountered all night. I lost another ten minutes or so flailing around and getting some nice gashes on my forearms and bald head.

When I regained the road south of #90, I immediately began hiking briskly eastward. I knew I had to make a decision about #71, and wanted to save time by doing it on the move. I had about 1 hour 40 minutes remaining, but the finish area was still several miles away. The route to #71 didn’t look terribly long or strenuous, but the lack of clear landmarks from the road (approaching from the east) made me worry I’d waste time hunting around in the dark (or stuck in another marsh). I decided instead to continue moving southeast, using the remaining time to pick off as many controls as possible nearer to the finish area.

So the loop northward to #63 and #90 probably wasn’t ultimately time well spent…but I still think I made the right call by skipping #71.

I detoured off the road to successfully bag #94 – a task made easier by a fork in the road to the north (good landmark) and some helpful topography. I then continued southeast to #52 (located about 100 meters off the trail, down a hill and next to a marsh), then to #58 (along a spur on the edge of a lake), and #38 (in a small depression). I had been a little nervous about making it back on time (there was a harsh 100 point penalty per 1 minute late), so I was running hard for the final 3 controls. I hated not going for #76, but the risk of missing the 6am deadline scared me off.

I made it back to the finish area with 11 minutes 26 seconds to spare…just as it was getting light enough to turn off my headlamp.

Silver Lake, sunrise

Silver Lake, sunrise

Here’s the breakdown by time:

Start – 2200
#74 – 2207
#32 – 2213
#86 – 2220
#48 – 2226
#31 – 2235
#43 – 2239
#51 – 2245
#96 – 2251
#36 – 2259
#84 – 2310
#42 – 2333 (after getting lost)
#75 – 2353
#37 – 2358
#44 – 0011
#80 – 0024
#68 – 0104 (after missing #77 and scratching my cornea)
#88 – 0111
#104 – 0132
#77 – 0154
#60 – 0224
#47 – 0249
#66 – 0303
#73 – 0320
#69 – 0329
#63 – 0353
#90 – 0411
#94 – 0506
#52 – 0524
#58 – 0532
#38 – 0538
Finish – 0548

And here are the results. I finished 6th out of 18 in the eight hour division.

Nitrogaine II Results


Published in: on June 24, 2016 at 5:49 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Nice job Matt. I’m really glad you didn’t sustain an open globe injury!

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