Jeansie and I spotted Revenant not long after the event was released. Long distance, navigation based and self supported had us curious, and since neither of us was able to race an expedition adventure race in the first half of the year we decided to give it a crack.
In the lead up to the event details were scant. We knew that it would be on foot only, to expect a loop based format and that it would be in the hills near Garston, just south of Lake Wakatipu. The organisers hinted at various unique elements of the event.
Usually for an event like this I would share the map, dissect the course and explain route choices. However, out of respect for Scott and Leroy and their course I haven’t included a map and will only talk about route choices in general terms.
Our first impression when getting the map was that the course was very compact, with multiple dog legs out to controls. We were also expecting (hoping) for a different course for each loop, but things looked more or less the same for all legs.
The event started in darkness, approximately 11pm. This followed around 2 hours of slow drip feeding of information interspersed with loud music. The intent seemed to prevent us from resting pre race and to put us under a different stress than is normally seen in other endurance events. Once we finally got going the main challenge was low cloud and mist that limited visibility. This persisted through the first night and a few hours beyond dawn. We had some wobbles in the mist, generally coming up short on controls and getting pulled into unmapped noise on the topo map. A reflection of poor preparation by us with not enough time spent sharpening up on the 1:50000 scale. Combined there were probably 90 minutes lost overnight.
Our nav issues continued in the morning with what we think was a monumental parallel error. Neither of us have ever been in a situation where we have run out of features to relocate off. I think our error occurred when we incorrectly identified a key attackpoint along the leg. We then used this “known point” as the basis for all of our relocation efforts. We should have had 2-3 attempts from this “known point” before returning to the previous known point. Instead we kept compounding our error. Eventually finding the control was elating. However we will not get back that 2 -3 hours that we spent stumbling around in circles. Many other competitors had issues with this control too.
The rest of the lap was uneventful. The silver lining of such a huge mistake was that we were now well and truly warmed up on the 1:50000 scale, so nav was much smoother, with no more time loss.
Once we completed our first lap it was fairly clear we would not make the cut off to start a 3rd lap (approx 10 hours available to complete a 2nd lap when our first had taken nearly 20). We continued a second lap, keen for some more time in the hills as a duo and wanting to at least do the course in both directions. Our travel was much faster this time around, we had a good feel for the terrain, and having already been around once we could optimise our route choices based on information we had picked up previously.
Eventually we got collected from on course, the organisers were concerned about some incoming weather, and as we were 2 of the 3 competitors remaining on course, with the 30 hour time cut for finishing lap 2 already passed, they decided to come and retrieve us.
Is Revenant do-able? Yes.
I think the 4 laps are do-able by someone who is well conditioned to time in the hills. The main challenge will be managing wakefulness and fatigue.
What would I suggest to people aspiring to complete it?
- We walked 90% of the time. Train by tramping. Get comfortable walking in knee high snow grass, climbing large hills and walking up rivers. No need to be able to run climbs. There are plenty of flat trails where it is possible to shuffle/jog.
- If I was to do it again I would prepare by going and doing a few big backcountry missions back to back. It is about time on feet.
- Walking is possible if you minimise faff around time. Don’t stop for a sit down, keep transitions fast and do eating/changing clothes/map reading on the go.
- Keep route choices simple. We got caught out when we tried to go too straight (due to vegetation) or to cut corners (nav errors/usual topo map limitations). Just follow the linear handrails and look for fast travel during the day that you can return along at night.
- Travel in a group. We went as a pair. I think 2 pairs (ie an adventure racing team) would be ideal. Can share the pace making and mental attention. I have no idea how the individual runners did not lose their minds once they had been awake for 30+ hours. Organise these in advance. Have an agreement to do 2-3 laps together then free for all lap 4.
- Use full body cover. There is plenty of matagouri/speargrass/bush lawyer/thistles. Protect the body to minimise niggles.
- Travel light, we had 25L bags and these were potentially too big. I reckon you could get away with a 10L if it had plenty of spaces on the front and sides to stash food.
- If it is wet/rivers are up times will blow out. Completing it will require reasonable weather.
- Have a plan for entertaining your brain on some of the mind numbing parts of the loop, especially at night.
I could go on and talk about route choices and navigation in more detail, but will have to leave that for you to figure out. Lets just say that straight is not always great.
Thanks to Scott and Leroy for their passion and efforts in creating Revenant.