World Rogaining Championships - the Women Open winner story

You know it’s been a good weekend when, late on Sunday afternoon you find yourself and one of your best mates staring at the payment collection station on Barcelona Highway, trying to push your credit card into the cash slot and wondering why the damn thing doesn’t fit.. 

Exactly two years ago, standing on the third step of the podium at the World Rogaining Championships in Latvia, we did not set any long-standing plans. We were just excited to make it there with very little training under our belts. This is when it all started really. A couple of months after our bronze finish, looking back at all results and analyzing our shape and preparation, it became obvious that there is some unfinished business there.

This is how we ended up on a plane going to Barcelona on a Friday morning, less than 24 hours before the start of another World Rogaining Champs. 

Our strategy was to arrive at the start line as late as possible due to altitude - the race HQ or Hash House as it’s called in Rogaining world, was located on an elevation of roughly 1800 metres at the Catalonian Resort, La Molina, with mountains up to 2700 metres around it, nice hotels, stunning views and low-season atmosphere. 

We ended up being quite successful with our plan got there just in time to register, get a dinner that impressed the restaurant’s staff (we can eat too), taste some Spanish wine and headed to bed as early as possible. 

The model map was on the agenda initially, but was misplaced and we came to conclusion that we will have enough time with maps in the next 27 hours.

A hectic morning was guaranteed and at the breakfast in the hotel, the majority of people were looking way too stressed already. After another massive meal and we were off to the HQ. Here, it was a tough battle between the desire of catching up and chatting to old friends (some of them we only see maybe once a year) and the necessity to get yourself organised for the event. The maps were given out at 9AM. Stress hung in the air and began to rise to the next level.

wrc 2019 maria map plotting

I calculated how many different world champs I had raced over the last 17 years, and counted 10 and decided that surely I can relax and not follow the general panic in the air. 

The map was fully covered by brown contour lines going in all different directions. It was not a simple puzzle to solve with only 3 hours before the start. 

The questions to be answered, in order to plan an effective route are, how far we are capable of travelling within 24 hours; and how to put it all together within one or two loops, in order to minimise elevation gain and drop, as well as distance, maximising our score and which checkpoints to drop as a result. 

There were another 900 people around us trying to answer the same questions - what a beautiful relaxing morning in the mountain resort! The weather had turned it on too - thunderstorm and rivers flooding into HQ.

No one from 900+ participants hesitated. Once the start gun went, as everyone else, we took off to the 24 hours of hiking the nearby mountains, exploring what the human body is capable of and what we can get from our bodies, joints, muscles and minds.

No doubt, it was one of the most technical, both physically and navigationally, rogains in the history of the sport. 

The amount of route choices was such that, even at the very first checkpoints, there were barely any queues and later on, we never saw more than 1 or 2 teams and often there was no one else seen on the course. 

We took trekking poles with us, and many times I thanked Camp for making them so light and easy to assemble and dissemble. The map was hanging on my chest, twisting around my neck on the windy mountain tops, which did not prove to be a good solution. It was annoying and distracted me too much and finally, I got rid of the map case, took the map just in my hand, how I normally do it and life took on a fresh new light. The rain and occasional hail hit us right in the faces at the times when there were no tree branches to splash us with a fresh shower.

wrc 2019 log some training in before the championships

The variety of terrain and constant focus on not getting stuck on rocks or logs, or being washed away in rivers made the time pass very quickly. We traversed numerous gullies, constantly climbing and descending. The bush was mainly clean, with only a few thick patches, but there were barely any flat spots on that map. The ground was soft, which made it hard to run on, it was probably one of the rogaines with the least amount of running. We did jog on the roads when we could find them. 

There were a few thoughts constantly circulating in my head - keeping an eye on the timing chip - both of our wristbands got broken quite early on and I was wondering if we were going to get DSQ because of that. I was trying to re-focus my mind to the views, which were just stunning and I feel sorry we did not get any photos of them, it would be a set of masterpieces. Phones were left at home, trying to minimise weight.

I totally failed in the food preparation. Packing after our massive dinner, which left me with a feeling that I would always be full and that we do not really need much food. I took very few sandwiches and gels, with little carbs in them, just a couple of chocolates and muesli bars. Realisation of my mistake came very quickly and hunger was chasing me the whole 24 hours. 

I tried to keep a constant track of our location, but it was hard to do. Having raced with Ann since 2007, I found myself falling slack, knowing she was in control of the map. She took us through the Portuguese world champs, through Africa, through Hybins and Carpatian, on much worse maps, with very little or no mistakes. Once again, she was like a GPS, getting straight to the orange and white flags.

wrc 2019 the podium

Night time is when rogains are won and lost. Ours was no exception. Two checkpoints we struggled with a little bit. There was no reflective tape on the checkpoints, so if you didn’t approach them from the right direction and not quite at the spot, you could spend hours finding them. We did spend maybe 40 minutes in total looking for some of them overnight, but I believe it was an exceptional navigation, given the conditions, no reflective tape, complexity of the terrain and checkpoint placement.

From my perspective the course, the way we did it, could virtually be divided into 3 parts:- the very first one was flatter (it’s all relative, of course) and with more tracks, this is where we moved the best and covered the most of the ground; the second one was lower, with more sticky shrubs in it, where we dropped elevation a bit, but because of the vegetation and tiredness, slowed down; and the last one was high and open plains which we reached in the morning, when the weather cleared up, but the wind picked up. 

We climbed one of the highest mountains of the area and the gusts were trying to throw us off our feet and there was no place to hide. Our fingers got frozen, even in gloves. 90 points are not given easy, we knew it, but after climbing that mountain for a good 40 minutes, we decided to get out of there and move back to the bush, there were still a few checkpoints to collect.

wrc 2019 with the top trophey

During the last hours we were not moving very fast, as, I believe, a vast majority of the other teams were not either, after climbing 5,000+ metres over the previous 20 hours, the feet were surprisingly fine and muscles and joints were in really good shape. I usually say I’m only racing one 24 hour rogaine per year, because it takes me a year to forget all suffering. This time I had a feeling of being ready to race again very soon. 

The last hour - half an hour is always a rush again, greedy for points we were trying to collect all of what we left around the HH.

At the finish line it was a relief to find out we were not DSQ, as there were a lot of broken wrist bands and we got the highest score in women’s category. The weather warmed up and let us to enjoy La Molina in the beauty of sunshine. Time passed very quickly again, chatting to friends, prize-giving ceremony and lunch. 

Of course we were too tried to fully realise we were new world champions and it will stay with us forever. Our names are engraved on the trophy, along with the best from all previous years.

There is always a lot of work hidden behind the scenes and other people’s help in every victory. Mine probably belongs the most to my parents, who took me to the high mountains early in my life and I have felt at home surrounded by peaks ever since then.

(For those interested - here is WRC'2019 map, Spain, La Molina)

wrc 2019 with the top trophey 2