San Francisco Day and Night Metrogaine

Map with routes here.

Notes on the map (which is over a 1 meg download). My route goes counter clockwise, meaning #31 is the first one I visited. My planned route is in red, actual in blue. The controls in yellow are timed, meaning they close sometime during the race (#53 120 minutes after start, #59 90 minutes after start). There were an additional 7 controls worth a total of 900 points on Marin (North of the Golden Gate Bridge, not shown). Each control was worth its number minus its number mod 10 (e.g, #59 was worth 50).

I decided to do the San Francisco Night and Day challenge, run by Eric Bone and Terry Farrah. I've always wanted to see SF, and this seemed like the most fun way to do so. I've also always wanted to do a metrogaine. I did the 7 hour race. There was a 16 hour race also, but as the races started at 4pm, more of a percentage of the latter would be at night, and that doesn't appeal to me much. As my race would go to 11pm, I'd get a taste of the night anyway.

Pre Race Prep

The interesting thing about a metrogaine is that you can buy food and water along the way if you can find a store when you want one, so you can pack light, and there were to be no water or food controls, of course. I did some poking around the 'net before the race to try to plan how much water, and how many calories I would need for the race. The plan was a light run for the 7 hours.

I planned to consume 240-280 calories per hour (40 of which would be protein), and 500ml water per hour. I had a 2 liter Camelbak with a small pouch which I just managed to cram in the requisite GU and Clif bars. I even made up a little schedule of when I would consume what, to force even calorie intake, and taped it to the back of my map. Probably way more anal than most people. I figured I'd buy the necessary extra water and at-large calories along the way. I mixed about 250ml of Gatorade with the water in the Camelbak to start. I also packed a blister kit, some advil, some cash, a wimpy head lamp, and a phone card. Loaded up on a nice plate of sushi and sashimi; possibly not the best pre-race fare, but I'm not gonna fly across the country to SF and not have sushi downtown.

I had no idea what sort of pace I would, or could set in this race, having never done anything like this before. I looked at the results from last year, and, according to the numbers posted, the winner of the 7 hours did so at a pace of 8.7K per hour. A 10 minute per k pace, which I figured should be the minimum, of course comes out to 6K per hour. As last year's race was in Seattle, and San Fran is much hillier, I figured the sweet spot would be about 7-7.5K per hour -- at least that was my planned pace.

I also made a note to measure actual K on actual planned route, not the typical O method of straight line distance. Space in a metrogaine is different than typical O, as you have to stay on the grid, and can rarely go straight. I also, along these lines, made a note to look for route planning that had a lot of 90 degree legs between controls, and avoid the 45 degree legs, due to the forced structure of the gridded space.

Race Planning After Map Distribution

The course was over 3 maps, Marin to the north, downtown, and South SF, with the hash house being in the south. As Marin required a ferry and/or bus and/or a walk across the GG bridge, and also looked rugged, I ruled that out of hand immediately and did not even pack the map. Not only did it seem a logistic and strategic nightmare, I did want to spend time in the city.

The first thing I noticed about the map was that the timed controls were on a diagonal, but on a road that followed the diagonal. Thus much cheaper between than any other two similarly visually situated controls in the grid space. Not only that, the second one (#59), which closed 90 minutes after start, seemed on the border of what one could get as part of a reasonable route early in the race. So I figured the winner would be getting #50, and #59. Following that logic, if we accept that the winner would be at #59, then it seemed certain that the winner would also be getting #103 and #84. Thus we had to get #103. If OTOH, we tried to get #103, and missed #50 and #59 on the way, that would be alot of dead time going without feeding myself points, either on the way or on the way back. So the crux of my plan was to make sure we got to #59 at about 90 minutes in, and optimize as much as we could before then.

After that, it would be to pick up the valuable controls on a route back to the hash house area, as there were plenty of valuable ones close in to the south. I figured the winner would also be getting close in control #86 and #105, and while I did mock up a southerly loop near the hash house, the real plan was to re-evaluate at #105.

In the early planning, I spent alot of time hemming and hawing about how to optimize point pickup before the deadline at #59. The big issue was #56, a valuable control, close in, that I figured most people would get. Also, an easy control to get from the south, but very awkward if not impossible to get coming back from the north. Thus, I wanted to get it on the outbound loop. Also, part of the problem was that #66 looked approachable from the south, but not the north, so once at #56, you have to get #66. But if I did that, I could not get out to #63 and #51 as well in the 90 minute limit, based on my expected pace. It was worth about 50 more points to do the route to #63, so I made the painful decision to plan to drop #56 and try to grab #66 from the north on the way back. (The relatively worthless #26 and #27 seemed like obvious drops, but I penciled in #26 just in case, as it seemed so close to my planned route).

I agonized on that one decision for a long time, and while the rest of the route planning was straightforward, I found the hour of time given to plan (the maps were late and there was a mandatory meeting) not sufficient to feel comfortable (my original plan was to try several permutations). I filed my intention sheet and hoped for the best [an intention sheet in a rogaine is where you mock up your planned route for the organizers in case they have to conduct a search].

Race Play by Play

#31. Was not used to map, and did not see the road that went along the starting area, and was one road farther south than I wanted to be. Forced to go out of my way a block, and climb more than planned, as the cross street I wanted wasn't there.

#41. Found the navigation harder than I expected. I was not reading street names on the map, so was navigating as I do in in traditional O (strict contact) while trying to keep up a reasonable pace. Decided my technique would be to get on the street the circle was on as early in the game as possible (so long as that did not incur extra climb), in order for there to be less to think about and to count.


#63. Did not realise the red line was an uncrossable freeway (it was stated that red lines were federal land boundaries that could be ignored). Bungled a bit there. Saw another team come out of #63 on the way up the hill. Figured we had the same plan.

#51. Caught the other team on the way to this control. Verified with each other that we had the same plan. The race was on. Asked if they were going to skip #26 (they said yes, I was still undecided).

#34. Took a split on this one to determine my current pace, and to see if I would have time to hit #26. Was feeling strong, at least stronger than I expected to. Different route to #34 than the other team, and never saw them again.

#53. Skipped #26. Figured I could probably make it, but it would be tight, and I did not want to risk 50 points for 20 points. I knew #59 was a sure thing if I skipped.

#59. Difficult navigation keeping track of the cross streets. The clue was difficultly worded, that is, it wasn't obvious to me what I was looking for (it was the price of a shoe in the back of a store, but no address was given, so I wasn't confident it would be a no brainer). Saw another team ahead, and made sure to keep them in sight. Got to the store at around 71 minutes into the race. Could have hit #26 safely. Could not find the shoe, and was searching with the other team. Was frustrated (more on this aspect of the race later). We exchanged team numbers to vouch at the end of the race, but as we were leaving the salesman asked if we were "looking for this". Turned out he had "brought it up to the counter because so many people had been in looking for it". Sigh. Lost 4 minutes here. Also realised alot of people had been thru here ahead of me. Wondered if they had hit #63, or if I was leading.

#84. Church on a hill. Tough climb. Was feeling a bit thirsty, but had plenty of water left. Think the Gatorade/water mix was grating on me. Was thinking about buying a half-liter on the fly, but did not see a convenient place.

#103. Another tough climb. Some sort of tourist monument. Small snack truck here; decided to buy some water, but it was closed. Was feeling quite strong, and well ahead of pace, and decided on an impulse to hit the 2 controls on Fisherman's Wharf, which weren't part of the original plan. Bad decision in retrospect, as there was more than 80 points to be made in the south later. But hey, you have to visit Fisherman's Wharf, right?

#37. Wrong. I'm not sure what the hype is, just alot of tourist kitsch that seems avoidable, in my well-traveled opinion. The downtown and some of the other areas are much cooler. Also, mobs of people here, who, on an O map, would have been mapped medium green, as progress really was compromised. Control was a Ben and Jerry's -- chance for some at large fat calories, and some water, but the queue was too long.

#57. Sloppy nav along the wharf as I was trying to avoid the throngs. Saw a guy selling water -- I asked how much -- $2 for 500 ml bottle. Thanks, but no thanks. Still had plenty in the Camelbak. Wondered if I'd regret this tightwad decision once I got out of touristville and back into the downtown ...

#62. Throngs of people getting on a cable car. Control was mishung -- described as cable car schedule NW corner of intersection, was actually NE corner, checked the one on the SW corner first. A bit frustrated having to avoid people and traffic with all the extra road crossings. Had been priding myself on approaching on the proper side of the street as the control throughout the race, and was feeling a bit surly about this one. Still felt strong, but was longing for some ice cold, sports drink free water.

#44. Tried to optimize climb avoidance.

#43. Hit a corner grocery in Japantown on the way; paid $1.79 for ice cold 2L of water. That's better. Downed a good 300ml and carried the bottle; didn't feel like dealing with the Camelbak.

Refilled the Camelbak at the control. Was surprised that I had only drank about 1L so far from it. Was just under 4 hours into the race. On schedule with eating. Dealing with the CB was a pain; had to unload everything to refill the bladder. Started to get cold, otherwise felt good physically. Downed all the fresh water that would not fit in the CB.

#26. Another change of plans. Plan was #66, but looking at the map indicated it had to be approached from the south, so if I'm going to do that, I might as well grab #56, since it is not that far from the south approach. Then if I'm going to be at #56, would it not stand to reason to pick up #26 also, since a bit roundabout, but climb-avoiding route to #56 takes us right there? (Probably not, the 20 pointers just aren't worth it).

#56. This was worth it. Really cool area, where the "street" was actually stairs, and there were little houses there.

#66. Was approachable from the north after all, as green area was park, not vicious wild veg (more on that at another control). But was happy with this change in route.

#64. Positively Haight Street :-) (actually not the planned route, but was well worth it).

#83. Got lost in the park and lost some time. Was not sure what was mapped road, and mapped tarmac path on the 20 year old USGS base.

#52. Bingo exit from 83. South of #83 was fenced in arboretum, was not sure if it was faster to go east or west, guessed wrong. East was certainly safer, and I knew that at the time, but I will take chances out there. Was still feeling OK physically, but walked up this hill. Was starting to wonder when the headlamp would have to come out. I hate night navigation, and was dreading that.

#86. This was a big gamble. Control did not look approachable from the west, at least not on road, as they did not connect. Heading east on Kirkham saw the mountain, and figured I could bushwhack it if I had to. Did not look signed, nor too thick, but very steep. But decided to take Kirkham where it bends around to the north, and approaches the closest part of the switchback of the road going up the other side of the mountain. Property looks like a university or hospital or the like, and the woods are not signed!; we're in business so long as I can climb the lines in the near dark. There was even a small staircase going nowhere up the side of the hill to get me started.

#105. At #86, put on the headlamp. 9PM, 5 hours in, 2 hours left. Nav to #105 looks tricky, and it is in the dark. Have to stop a bit at streetlights to make sure I don't make a mistake. Beautiful view; glad I did this one at night. Obvious what inspired the Journey song Lights. Clue said "telescopes", thought this was going to be an observatory, but was those tourist ones that you put a quarter in. Realised I had not been keeping up with my eating schedule, but was not hungry. Hydration was fine. Was getting cold. Not bonking, but definitely not feeling as strong as an hour ago.

#45. At this point, I re-evaluated, and felt I had plenty of time to get #45, #81, #87, and possibly #61 with a pickoff of #22 on the way in. So I went for #45, figuring #87 was not at risk.

But between #105 and the south of the map is where I taped my two map sections together, and there was some sort of disconnect. Either the route I thought was there was not, or I made a mistake due to this misalignment, and found myself lost, needing to relocate near where Portola hits Woodside. It took 4 minutes to sort this out, as I could not find Portola on the map -- a pink line that did not look like a road, especially in the dark.

Control was actually 25m from the center of the circle (clue said thusly, but I was still annoyed). Had not eaten in a long time, but was not hungry. Forced a Clif down anyway, on instinct. About an hour or so left. Could not find a place to throw the wrapper away and carried it for almost the rest of the race in my free hand.

#81. Figured I'd just climb the mountain as was possible at #66 without a road, but it didn't work out that way. Went to the one deadend at the base of the mountain, but was all private residential land and thus out of bounds. Decided I was just stay on roads close to the base, and hope for the best. Veg on mountain was not bushwackable, but by luck found a path.

Was a poor path, but was generally going up. Almost seemed like bushwacking, especially in the dark. Need a stronger headlamp. Eventually hit a better path, but was contouring the mountain. Bushwacking was still impossible. Turned right (west), but trail decended. Went east, then found another trail going up. All this stuff was unmapped. See people with headlamps way up on the mountain, which inspires me to keep pushing, and eventually hit a wide trail that obviously leads to the summit.

Control was plaque at base of cross, was asked to find the year such and such happened, but this detail was not mentioned on the plaque. Perhaps there were two plaques up there. Was livid, after the arduous trek up that mountain. Wrote down key information from the plaque to prove I was there, to haggle with the organizers when I got back.

Finish. Had about a half hour left. Decided I had time to get #87. But got lost in the neighborhood east of the mountain, and while I could relocate, in evaluating the approach to #87 from the east, after my experience approaching #81, I deciced to call it a race at that point. I ran a good, strong, and relatively clean race, and while I didn't think my planning was the best, I still felt, considering everything, that it was good enough that I had won, and did not want to risk a big blowup on #87, which looked very risky, especially in the dark.

Back at the hash house at 7 hours, 50 minutes, and 26 seconds. First place, 1390 points, 50 points ahead in 7 hour foot, and tied with best score 7 hour bike. Was shocked that I was still running, but certainly not that fast, and not up hills.


I was shocked that I could run for most of 7 hours straight, and keep up a decent pace (for me), to boot, at least for the first 4 hours. So I was pleased with my physical performance. I was also pleased with my calorie and water management, and my navigation.

Strategy and route planning were the weak part of the game, but not so weak to cost me the race. Too many big pointers south of the hash house were not collected, and I think they could have been, at the expense of some 30s and 50s, at least the ones at Fisherman's Wharf. In talking to other competitors, however, they also made mistakes in going for 20 pointers. If I ever do this again, (and my quads right now are saying "no way Jose"), I will have to really knuckle down on route planning (or just draft a good partner ...).

My total estimated mileage was 43K, for a pace of 6.3K/hour. Prior to donning the headlamp, my estimates mileage was 35K, for a pace of 7K/hour.

The organizers did a great job. It must take a ton of work to put something like this together, and the course design was interesting, and challenging to attempt to optimize. It was definitely worth flying across the country for, but as more of a woodsy, navigational guy, it has to be a city like San Francisco to make it worth it.

I did have couple of quibbles with the course -- SF is probably one of the hilliest cities in the world, and it seems a bit cliche that the course setter put a control on the top of each one. I would have preferred a bit less of that, perhaps some hilltop, and some hills simply as obstacles for the over/around problem. Perhaps I'm being over critical here, and that is just part of the game.

One other nit that can (and should) be fixed is the verification of visiting a site. The principle is sound -- that is, a multiple choice question asking a question that can only be known (in theory) by visiting the site, such as "on the plaque at the base of the monument, what year was the monument dedicated?".

But reading these things, and trying to find the piece of trivia asked for, which was often at the end, is an annoyance in the heat of the race. Sometimes it was ambiguous, sometimes simply not there, and sometimes there was more than one mural/plaque/etc., leaving you in a frustrated search (and in these cases of duplicates, both were either wrong, or the clue could be construed to fit both). I often found myself 100% sure I was in the right place, and simply searching like a madman (oh, its there), or re-reading the things several times.

A better approach would be to keep it simple, such as, "what is the third word in the plaque?". (And always make it the third word of whatever you are reading). No ambiguity, quick, no long reading. I love treasure hunting, but this is a race, and I think could be made more enjoyable if the verification were less like trivia, and more quick and simple.

One team took to taking pictures of the ambiguous points on their cell phone. Good idea, but I would not want to be saddled with the extra weight.

But overall, forgetting these two quibbles, a fun race. Notice no complaints about the map. Yes, 20 year old USGS, and problems here and there, but appropriate for a rogaine -- that is part of the game ...