September 2014/1

Featuring reports on the Jukola Relay; news from the archives, JWOC Report …

Jukola Relay, Kuopio, Finland, 14-15 June 2014:  Land of the Midnight Run

Any of you who have heard of the Jukola will know that it is a 7-person overnight relay competition in Finland each June.  The race, which starts at about 11 pm, is preceded by the Venla relay, a four-person women’s race in the afternoon. This year there were more than 1600 teams in Jukola and more than 1200 teams in the Venla, and the organisers estimated that, with families and spectators, there would be an attendance of about 30,000!
Kuopio is an hour’s flight or about 6 hours drive north of Helsinki and the competition area was on Finland’s biggest inland island. I flew from Dublin to Helsinki via Stockholm, and after a couple of hours, an onward flight to Kuopio, where we arrived at about 1 a.m., and it was still bright enough to see clearly. We picked up the hired cars and drove another hour and a half or so to our home for the weekend, a wooden cottage by a lake in the forest. Arriving at 02.30, it was almost broad daylight again, just time for bed!
After a few hours sleep and a leisurely breakfast, we drove to the competition area, following the line of cars and camper vans on the same route. Big fields of cars, muddy after a few days rain before the event, and a huge array of circular green army tents for the teams filled the assembly area, with big white tends housing sports supermarkets and all the other ancillary services needed by a competition of this scale.
I was running on a London Orienteering Klubb team and there were also teams from Trinity College in both the Venla and Jukola.
I was to run leg 5, a 7.6 km leg, theoretically at about 7 am if all went well on the first four legs, so I wouldn’t need my headlight – just as well, as I hadn’t brought one. The evening was spent in the tent, estimating running time (worst and best case scenarios) and gauging when to eat and sleep. The ground underfoot was like a ploughed field due to heavy rain beforehand, and the wellies were out in force.The crowds assembled to see the mass start at 11 pm, with the warning that the start signal would be from an army field-gun but also with a fly-past from a Finnish air force jet fighter which came in right on cue, skimming the treetops and rocketing vertically into the sky with a heart-stopping roar, disappearing in seconds into a tiny spot in the distance: very dramatic! See a video of the start here … and here‘s another for good measure – less professional but capturing the feeling!

Just time for a doughnut and a hot chocolate, then into the sleeping bag, ready to get up for a 7 am run. It was so cold during the night that socks, hats and even towels were needed to keep warm. I woke suddenly at 7 am, alarmed that I might have missed my incoming runner, David Rosen. The plan had been for each incoming runner to go back to the tent and waken the second-next one while the intervening runner was in the forest. Due to some bad runs during the night, we were running behind schedule, so I was in plenty of time. Dressed, out into the early sunlight. A quick “Happy Father’s Day!” from Eoin, who I med accidentally on the road, and off to the changeover area to wait.
The sun rose higher and still we waited. The clock crept inexorably on and then it was time for the mass starts for the remaining runners: one for the 13.9 km leg 7 (including Eoin) and then one for the others, including myself and Ronan on Leg 6. The last mass start would actually be bigger than the first leg one. They removed the barriers and the runners lined up, two successive stampedes to the start control, 970 metres and 8 minutes from the start for me. Then the orienteering started …
Control 1, across the flat forest with drains and undergrowth, over the hill, across the marsh, up onto the second hill. What’s that crag doing there? I must be further right than I thought. Over the hill and follow the flat forest and up to the small re-entrant – not quite what I planned but OK. Control 2 – along the hill to the right, through the band of young trees and down the hill: slightly too low – climb up to the right – there it is! Leg 3 – short leg: around the hill and down to the spur – fine. Legs 4, 5, 6 … all fine. The area was quite hilly by Finnish standards, but not by Irish: the 7.6 km course had 285 metres climb and 17 controls. Runners going every direction, some on my course, some not.

National newspaper coverage for Jukola

The map has the three-digit control code printed beside the control number ( 1-283, 2-280 etc) so there isn’t too much opening and folding of the big map to see what’s coming up next. Missed No 8 by a few metres and had to come back up to it, a 1.6 metre crag in an area of crags. Back on track again- no heroics, just a jog with a map! Control 12 – easy, boulder, looking forward to a drink on the road just after it. take a bearing, take a drink, run into the forest on the elephant track – but where is the control? 200 metres from the track, on a hill, NE-foot, # 159? No sign of it. Back towards the drinks station and try again … same result. Is the drinks station in the right place? Run along the track but it’s vague in every direction. Go to the crest of the track and take another bearing … still no control. OK – get outta here. Head south, maybe see the shooting platform; if not, hit the small track. Suddenly, a little orange and white flash in the corner of my eye – I live to fight another day. 12 mins 30 seconds to do less than 300 metres – 1458th out of 1477 on that leg! Across the flat forest, up over the hill with the bare rock and crags, look down the big cliffs  and know I have to go left a bit for No. 14, then follow the ridge down towards the final controls, the PA getting louder with every step. See the car parks and the tapes – nearly there. Make sure to get the last control right, not like last year when I only got the right one after three attempts: into the finish, over the footbridge and under the gantry. Manage to raise the pace a bit for the 220 metre run in – 589th out of 1476 runners on that leg. At least I picked up 44 places despite my problems with unlucky control 13. When Ronan  and Eoin finished we had come in 1,220th place, slightly behind our race number 1201: not bad considering the catastrophic night leg 2 where we dropped more than 500 places! Anyway, it’s not all about winning, is it? Most of the teams obviously have no hope of coming even in the to 100, and they are made up of families, friends, workmates and occasional orienteers.

Leg 1: 11 pm.

The event facilities include a beer tent and a sauna, plus hot showers and all the O-gear you could ever want, so there’s plenty to do. There’s even a forest church and (sometimes) a betting office where you can bet on the Jukola results. After our runs it was a spot of shopping (no end-of day bargains this year though) and back to the cottage for a swim, sauna, dinner and mosquito hunt. 
The weekend is a fantastic orienteering experience, and looking at the age range of runners taking part, there are plenty of old dogs with life in them still!
One suggestion, though, to avoid the huge numbers in the Sunday morning mass-starts,  is to start the Jukola earlier, maybe at 10 instead of 11 pm: it will be equally dark during the night but it will give more runners a chance to come through before the 08.45 mass-start cutoff time. Still, I don’t imagine that many of the Jukola organisers read TIO?
Next year’s Jukola is at Turku, in SW Finland, quite easy to reach by road from Helsinki and by ferry from Sweden. – and I believe the post-Jukola ferry trip back to Sweden is a party experience not to be missed!

Course Planning
Here’s a great description of the course planning process from Meghan Rance in Orienteering Canada:

“In my experience, good orienteering course planning is like good writing. First, consider your audience. Who are you doing this for and what are their needs? Second, create a structure. Have a beginning, a middle and an end. Have fast, exciting bits, long, twisty bits and a few surprises out of the blue. You are trying to keep your audience on their toes not falling asleep from boredom. Last, edit the heck out of it. Your first attempt is not the final version. It is a draft. Make sure each part serves a purpose and that you keep repetition to a minimum. Keep editing until you have just the right pace and tone.

Good course planning takes time, thought and theory. With that in mind, and a focus on creating good legs rather than good controls, anyone can plan fantastic courses.”

See the full “Course Planning” issue of Orienteering Canada  here. (Thanks to Nick Barrable of the excellent CompassSport magazine for the tip-off).

Inside Orienteering
Read the latest issue of the International o-Federation’s magazine “Inside Orienteering” here.

Two Great Initiatives

I came across two great initiatives on the British Orienteering web site recently, both aimed at getting people orienteering without them noticing. The first, “Xplorer”, is aimed at primary and pre-school kids and their families, doing a kind of map-based treasure hunt in local parks and finding pictures of animals and things to complete the course (see here).
The second,  Run Challenge, is aimed at adults who are interested in outdoor exercise (joggers, running clubs, triathletes, sports clubs) who do a 45 minute treasure hunt type event using a modified OS map to find as many clues as they can. See here.

Nowhere is the word “orienteering” mentioned in these sports, but the transition from either of these activities to “real” orienteering should be pretty seamless.
These are the kinds of things we need to adopt before orienteering dies of old age. We absolutely must get more young people into the sport – this is not just an Irish problem, but we have to deal with it ourselves, for our situation.
At the risk of flogging a dead horse, there are populations of people out there who need to discover orienteering – the problem is that they don’t realise it. The whole scouting organisation is ripe for orienteering but we don’t have any contact with them; the National Scouting Centre at Larch Hill doesn’t even have a current O-map.
The production of several university campus sprint maps is a great development: we need to bring the maps to the people, not the other say around.

Our sport
“Do you guys even realise that kids nowadays are growing up with knowing the forests only from TV-documentaries or excursions in school who never leave the paths. Can you imagine that there are people who never had the sensational feelings of running through a river, dangerous downhills , climbing uphill so steep you have to use your hands not to fall, swimming through a marsh, running into a spiderweb, running to green forest where you smile because you know only few persons in history have ever been there before! That, ladies and gentlemen, is why we have the best sport in the world and people from other sports will never understand ” – from the “Orienteering memes” Facebook page.

History Pages …

It’s really interesting to go back in time to see what was happening years ago in orienteering: for old timers it brings back happy memories, for newcomers it shows the development of the sport and what has gone before.

Read the Autumn 2004 issue of The Irish Orienteer here
Read the September 1994 issue here.
Read the July-August 1984 issue here.

Back issues can be found on the IOA web site under “Archive” here.


Team Leader Ivan Millar’s Report

 The 2014 Irish JWOC team were all set for their Bulgarian challenge – by recent standards it was a small team of three final year juniors. The team consisted of two LVO juniors, Mark Stephens and Jack Millar, and 3ROC’s Eoin McCullough, their coach and leader for the week was Ivan Millar. The LVO contingent flew out from Dublin early on a Wednesday morning about a week before the competition began. The team were heading for the popular Bulgarian ski resort of Borovets which would be the main base for the national teams and the competition event centre. Borovets is located about an hour’s drive south of the capital city, Sofia – unfortunately there are no direct flights from Ireland into Sofia so the best option was to fly into the Romanian capital, Bucharest, and drive south to Bulgaria from there. The plan was to drive to Borovets via Sofia airport were we would pick up our third team member Eoin who had just spent a week orienteering with the Irish World Champs team/supporters in Italy. It turned into a bit of an epic journey though as we battled massive traffic jams that had built up on Bucharest’s questionable ring road and officialdom at the border. Eventually a few hours later than planned we collected Eoin and made our way to our accommodation for the training phase.

We had already had the benefit of a Bulgarian JWOC training and preparation camp in the spring. It was vital to have this experience both for the competitors to get a taste of the various terrains and also for the team officials to find their way around, get a feel for the location, the locals and how they operate. It is also important to find out where the closest shops are for purchasing massive amounts of chocolate biscuits, bananas and bottles of water! The first JWOC race (the sprint) was to start the following Tuesday, so that gave us five days of training. Before leaving Ireland I had arranged 6 or 7 specific training exercises for the team on the areas provided. We had PDF quality maps from the organisers and using OCAD I plotted the courses and exercises – many thanks to LVO for letting us print off a few copies of each of the exercises.
The training phase.
The competition terrains to be used for JWOC were going to be challenging and varied so it was important to experience all of the areas. Our first training day was in Samokov town. Samokov is the closest real town to the Borovets resort and would be the venue for the sprint race. There was a small mapped area provided for sprint training, taking in a town park and some residential streets. To break us in gently we had some sprint sessions around this area. We then headed to a mapped forest overlooking Samokov town for some relay type exercises in some uncomplicated forest terrain which had many paths and would be very similar to the area being used for the relay competition.
The JWOC competition programme comprises 5 orienteering races, three of these races could be considered middle distance (middle qualifier, middle final, relay) so I had focussed much of our training with this in mind.
The JWOC middle race was to be held on an area called Zheleznica which provides an area of terrain with specific challenges. The forest has good visibility but the challenge is to understand the shape of the ground which is quite steep and complicated with many re-entrants and erosion gullies running down the slopes. It can be very difficult to judge distance when running across the slopes with a high risk of parallel errors and to compound things further relocating after a mistake is very difficult. It promised to be a real challenge so time spent on the Zheleznica relevant terrains was essential. Luckily part of the Zheleznica area was opened for training and on the Friday we headed there for some training. I had three courses planned, each focussing on a different element of the map (rocks, rivers, and contouring the slopes). In the afternoon we headed to our favourite forest Relyovo for a control pick exercise.
Typical Relyovo terrain with numerous erosion gullies

After breakfast on Saturday we headed to a forest called Shiroki Dol for some training that focused on downhill navigation, as the long distance race promised lots of downhill running. The training course was planned in five downhill sections, with an uphill walk/jog between each section. Shiroki Dol offered a few different technical challenges and each of our downhill sections focussed on one of these. Satisfied with our mornings training, we headed back to the car for some lunch and in the afternoon travelled into Sofia to pick up the latest addition to the team, Harry (Millar), who had taken time out of his European rail trip to be assistant coach and supporter for the team.
Sunday morning started bright and warm and, as this was the last day before we moved to Borovets for the start of the competition, we decided to have an easy morning and train in the afternoon. That afternoon we went to the relay training area in Borovets, we focussed more on compass and identifying useful attackpoints to guide us into controls. Overall our training so far in the build-up had been pretty easy going, however it was important for the team to get a taste of race pressure before the real competition started so in the early evening we headed back to our favourite forest, Relyovo, for a middle distance simulation race. It was all serious as we walked to the start – no messing around with sticks or throwing pine cones – we had start boxes, start intervals and thanks to Harry we even had authentic start beeps! The course was set to exact length, climb and there were the same number of controls, we even had a spectator run through and final loop planned. Unfortunately the spectators couldn’t make it from the start in time to shout encouragement, we made it to the finish though and the race times were good – the training was paying off.
We spent our last night in our training accommodation where our host, Mrs Christo, provided a lovely meal for a hungry team. We then packed up and got ready for the next day’s transfer to the competition hotel in Borovets and the next phase of the trip – the JWOC races.
Jack, Eoin & Mark after a hard training session.

Following accreditation we moved into our new rooms, unpacked, got lunch with the other teams, picked up the model event maps and planned our day. We were surprised at the newly updated maps (especially Zheleznica) – it looked a lot different; contours and forms had changed, knolls had appeared, there was now even more detail on an already complicated map! We would need to revisit before Fridays middle qualification race, however that afternoon we visited the long and then the sprint middle events for some casual training. It was great to have controls out in the forest at last, no more hunting for little red tags hanging from branches, this small improvement seemed to lift the teams confidence. That evening was hot and humid and at the first of the weeks team leaders meetings we were told of all the arrangements for the next day’s sprint race and also that the forecast was for the weather to break in the morning.
The JWOC races begin.
It was an early start the following morning as the team and assistant coach Harry got their first taste of what was to be the regular quarantine procedure consisting of an early bus to an athlete’s holding area (usually a weather proof building) where there was a complete ban on electronic equipment and even escorts to the toilet.
Jack was first Irish starter for the sprint and probably got the best of the weather because shortly after the first starters headed off the heavens opened and by the time Eoin set off on his run the deluge was in full flow. Perhaps the thunder and rain helped Eoin focus more on the race as he finished with a great time for the 3km course, finishing an excellent 44th place Eoin’s time of 15 mins 58 secs was just over 1 minute behind the winner from New Zealand, Tim Robertson. Jack and Mark had steady, error-free runs and were surprised to finish with the same time of 17 minutes 50 seconds along with two other runners! This was good enough for 114th place out of 160 runners. The course was maybe not as technical as most had expected, it was more of a runners’ course. Jack was slightly disappointed for having a cautious start to his race but overall the team were very happy with this start to JWOC and knew that tougher challenges lay ahead
Mens sprint final map

Wednesday was the day of the long distance final which was to be held in an area called Maliovitsa. The area is based on the lower, forested slopes of a ski resort 20km from Borovets. The courses were planned by Bulgaria’s top elite orienteer Kiril Nikilov and promised to be challenging with at least one long leg, with route choice option, and a runner separation system (butterfly loop). Spectators and coaches had the benefit of a competitor run through, so as the runners pass through the arena we could gauge their progress and offer a word or two of encouragement.
Eoin was first of the Irish to pass and was making good progress. After the pass through there was a final loop in the forest and the runners returned 20 to 30 minutes later to thunder up the run in. Eoin continued his excellent form to finish the 10.2km course in 1 hour 32:55. Jack was the last of the Irish runners to start and was running well until the leg to the butterfly loop where he had trouble locating a control in a steep area of green forest, the remainder of the butterfly loop was also costly and he finished disappointed with a time of 1 hour 54:31. Mark was also disappointed with his run – finding the running conditions difficult in parts, the forest had very low visibility and the terrain included some tricky areas of rock and scree. Mark’s time of 2 hours 16:35 was a lot slower than what he had hoped for. The long legged Swede Anton Johansson made the mens course look easy, he was fastest in a time of 1 hour 15:17. Eoin just missed out on a second top 50 by finishing an excellent 52nd, Jack was ranked 113th and Mark finished the long in 140th place
Eoin finishing the Long race

The next day offered a rest day and an excursion for the competitors to some ancient ruins. For the rest day we opted to skip the tour of the ruins, get some rest in the morning then have one last visit to Zheleznica before the middle races began.
Our last training on Zheleznica was on the new model maps and the improvement in map detail and quality was amazing. It gave us more confidence going into the middle distance races, knowing that the tricky terrain would test our map reading skills to the limit.
With 5 races during JWOC and only 2 down I reminded the team that we weren’t even half way yet and even if some were disappointed there was still time to improve results.
The next morning was an early start for the team, they boarded the buses for the hour long trip to the Middle qualification races. Harry again did a great job at the quarantine with the team, keeping them in good spirits pre-race. The middle qualifying race is split into three heats of similar length, the top 20 finishers from each heat progress to the A final, the next 20 make the B final and the remaining 20 or so will run the C final races the next day. The team had all trained well for these races and we hoped for good results and were very pleased when Eoin and Jack both made the B final, even though made some mistakes along the way. Mark struggled to keep contact on a few legs and lost some time but was looking forward to a tough task on the C final.

Mark in action – Middle Qualification

The Middle final was held on the remaining (southern) part of the Zheleznica map. The area was similar in nature but with more rock detail to further complicate navigation. Eoin and Jack again made a few mistakes, Eoin finished in 37.40 in 33rd place, whilst Jack was 44th finishing in a time of 41.29.
It was worth noting that the A and B finals were similar courses with the same length of 3.7 km. Both finals had strong fields with similar winning times and Eoin and Jack can take heart from running faster than many on the A final. Mark had his best run of the competition so far with an excellent result of 13th in the C final, finishing only 6 minutes behind the winner, Corentin Roux of France. 
The night before the relay at our last team meeting we reflected on how things had gone for the team over the previous week or so. We had all had some highs and lows, and enjoyed some good racing and training. We also reflected on the journey the team had taken as Irish juniors and how we had encountered similar ups and downs along the way. For the team it would be their last major relay race as juniors, they had raced many times together before and all had good speed and with a bit of luck and three clean runs, I knew we were capable of a good result.
Testing terrain – Zheleznica middle B final

Relay day dawned overcast with the threat of rain. The relay area was in the surrounding forest of the Borovets resort with the arena situated in front of the resorts main hotel and at the foot of ski run. The spectators would have a great view of all the action as the teams passed by, ran a final lop of controls and then sprinted across the slope to the final control and run in. The women’s race started first at 10:00am and at 10:15am Jack lined up along with 53 other starting teams in the men’s race.

Right on cue the heavens opened and the thunder roared overhead as the starter sent the teams off into the forest for the first leg. The forest around the resort is often used for cross country skiing and has many paths, technically it was probably the least challenging area used all week and could be described as most similar to an Irish forest with some dense patches of undergrowth and generally messy ground cover effecting running speeds. Anything can happen under the pressure of a relay and the potential for mistakes was still a real threat. Jack ran hard on first leg staying well up in the main bunch of 30 or so runners who were spread out over 2 or 3 minutes. Mark took over in second leg with a few of our “target” teams just ahead and behind him. He had another great run, handling the pressure well and passing over to Eoin running last leg. Eoin finished off a great JWOC week for him, with a fast run holding off the Australian team and almost catching the German runner ahead on the final loop. We were delighted with the end result – 20th nation and 28th team overall out of 54 that started.
The Irish team had stayed in contact with the major teams throughout, finishing in a time of 1 hour 50:48, Sweden were the men’s relay champions followed closely by the Czech and Swiss teams all in a time of 1 hour 36 minutes
The relay was a great end to a great competition in Bulgaria were we treated to challenging and varied running terrains, pleasant running weather, excellent event organisation and helpful, friendly hosts. There was only one last thing to do… PARTY! 
So, as the majority of competitors let off steam at a local nightclub, I packed and loaded the car in preparation for our 3 am departure to Bucharest. The team turned up on time and good form and as they snored their way through the dark Bulgarian countryside I reflected on the past few weeks we had spent orienteering and looked forward to the next JWOC challenge of Norway 2015.

– Ivan Millar, LVO.(Thanks to Ivan for permission to publish this).

Running Shorts
Four MTBO events have finally got off the ground in Leinster on the Saturdays in September: Djouce, Co. Wicklow (6th), Curragh (13th), Saggart (20th) and Three Rock (27th). Two courses will be on offer each day, and the organisers are hoping to attract a mixture of orienteers and mountain bikers. Details on the IOA Fixtures page here.
Congratulations to W18 Róisin Long (Ajax), M18 Paul Pruzina (LVO), W20 Niamh Corbett (CorkO) and M20 Eoin McCullough (3ROC) on their selection for the Junior European Championships in Belgium at the beginning of October. See details of the competition here.
Fermanagh Orienteers are staging the 2014 Northern Ireland Championships at Castle Saunderson, Co. Cavan, on Saturday 4th October. See details here. The weekend will also include training for the Irish elites with GB 2013 World Championships silver medallist Scott Fraser.
Andrius Michelkiawicz, a Lithuanian elite orienteer working in Dublin, invites us all to the Lithuanian Cup on October 18/19: see details here. There’s a middle distance and a long distance race, and Andrius says there’s lots to see and do in the area. Ryanair fly from Dublin to Vilnius, but not every day – travel out on Thursday and back on Tuesday for less than €90 return, or out to Kaunas on Friday and back on Monday for €110. The competition is about 2 hours from Vilnius.