JK & other Easter O musings

“Are you going to the JK?”.
“Sorry? The what?”
It is spring 1976. Martin Mulligan, one of the founder members of UCDO, asked me this in the college library. I had only really started orienteering the previous year and I had never heard of Jan Kjellstrom or the JK, the big British event named in his honour. Of course I’d have loved to go to the Lake District but, sadly, you had to enter the event in advance and I had missed the deadline, so I’d have to wait another year. In the meantime, though, I had the opportunity to run in my first Irish Championships at Stranahely in the Glen of Imaal that May – orienteering in the summer meant that I had to buy a T-shirt (bright blue, with a big Guinness logo on the front: T-shirts weren’t a thing in Ireland in those days!), followed by my first Welsh 3-Day O-Ringen a week or two later, my first time orienteering outside Ireland.

In 1977 I managed to cadge a lift to the JK at Godalming in Surrey from two staff members from UCD, travelling by ferry, crammed with my rucksack into the back of a Mini for the long drive. But what an event! Thousands of people, sunshine, runnable beech forests, orienteering gear on sale – wow! I ran M21B (the equivalent of M21S nowadays) and the weekend included a “training event” on Friday where you make up your own course from the controls on the map, the individual at Leith Hill on Saturday, a Relay on Sunday and a “warm-down” event on the Monday. The maps were
printed on the new wonder-material, “Tyvek”, a synthetic paper which unfortunately tends to get disculoured and difficult to read when you get blood and mud on it! Wally Young and Eileen Loughman were both 5th in the top Men’s and Women’s classes – a fantastic result.

The Jan Kjellstrom or “JK” is a major event on the UK orienteering calendar, running since 1967 to remember a young Swedish orienteer who helped the sport to get established in Britain, but who tragically died in a car crash. Jan was the son of Silva compass founder Alvar Kjellstrom. I thought this was a great way of spending Easter so I organised travel and accommodation for a
busload of Irish orienteers for JK78 in Sheffield: the numbers were boosted by a group from Queen’s University in Belfast when there was a ferry strike and they had to come via Dublin. In order to help the students claim their costs back, everyone gave them their bus tickets and receipts for an expenses claim from QUBOC. We followed the overnight ferry to Liverpool by a coach trip, watching the country wake up and the locals coming out to cut their grass and wash their cars.

Again, JK78 provided a training event, an individual with a steep, muddy field for assembly at Wharncliffe, and a relay at Strines. This was my first time (but not my last!) to see the difficulties that weather can cause the organisers, particularly for a relay, where all the runners have to be on site early and at the same time.

In 1979 the event moved to Exeter and I organised another ferry and coach trip via Liverpool. More sunshine and long courses – by now I had moved up to M21E, if I remember right. Unfortunately drinking and very rowdy behaviour on the part of one group in the party soured the experience and I
chose not to organise any more trips like this again. On the way back to the ferry, the coach broke down on the motorway and, luckily, we had a group of Army cadets on board and one of them lifted up the hatch in the floor and fixed the engine, and they held the ferry for us so we made it by the
skin of our teeth.

After a few years the JK’s all tended to merge into a blur, although it became the normal way to spend Easter. In those days, before Ryanair, it was always a ferry and car trip, to England, Scotland, Wales – all over the UK. Things which spring to mind for various reasons were sleeping in a huge draughty, cold animal shed at Shepton Mallet; running in fantastic open terrain in sunshine in Snowdonia; delayed starts because of the combination of snow, narrow roads, muddy fields and traffic.

It has always been a great weekend although it’s not always family-friendly if you have small kids, as there can be long walks in bad weather from parking and to starts, struggling with muddy buggies. The format has evolved over the years: 4-man relay, 3-man relay, two-day individual (from
1980), and now four days with sprint (from 2006), long, middle or long, and relay. The mini-relay for small kids is always fun to watch: I remember seeing a large group of kids running along a racecourse from the start and one lad stopping to look at his map. One of the parents/spectators shouts out “Don’t look at the map! Follow the others!” – not advice everyone would agree with!

At one JK relay someone sounded a hooter before the mass start of the JK Trophy (elite) relay and all the runners took off like the start of the Grand National and it was impossible to get them to come back – how could you predict something like that?

For many years paper or Tyvek control cards were used for punching. At one JK I punched the last control and ran 400m downhill to the finish before realising that my control card was no longer attached to my wrist: I looked back up the finish field and saw it fluttering in the wind, still attached to the pin-punch at the last control. There was nothing for it but to turn round and run back up and back down again. Lesson learned – always check!

Some years are less attractive than others, so the run of JK’s has been broken from time to time, with other interruptions due to other events like the World Irish Dancing Championships. In 1995 the World Masters Championships at Murcia in southern Spain was an attractive option: sunshine, seaside, very dry terrain (where I discovered that running in new O-shoes isn’t always a great idea if you want to avoid serious blisters), fresh lemons to slake your thirst at the finish and great orienteering. In other years, the extensive pine forested sand dunes of south west France beckoned: my favourite terrain. Interestingly, in one of these years the English-speaking competitors all arrived before Easter for the first event on Good Friday, but we couldn’t find any orienteering activity. Eventually we found the event centre and discovered that the English information said the
event started on Good Friday, but the French information said it started on Saturday, which it did! Better to be a day early than a day late, I suppose.

The sun doesn’t always shine at Easter, though: one trip to the Czech Republic saw the extended Irish Junior Squad under the leadership of Greg McCann running in knee-deep snow for a training camp and multi-day competition near the Polish border, although the first day – which was actually in Poland – was in beautiful, runnable, sunny, snow-free beech forests. It was interesting to see the contrasts between the traditions on both sides of the border where, in Poland, Easter was celebrated with families dressing up and visiting all the churches and having parties, while on the Czech side, Easter in the religious sense didn’t exist. On that topic, actually, one of my fond JK memories is of Máire Walsh’s uncle, Fr. Aidan, saying mass on Easter Sunday in the open air in various forest locations, for a small group from his school and other interested orienteers – a really spiritual experience.

Eventually, in 2011, the JK came to Northern Ireland and I was involved in a small way, as assistant controller for the Relays on the dunes of Tyrella in Co. Down. It was revealing to see how much thought and work goes into the event from the inside, from issues of mapping, land access, accommodation, prizes, equipment, course planning – you name it. Planner Philip Baxter and
Controller Andy Lewsley were very dedicated and produced a memorable relay event. It doesn’t always go according to plan, however: the weather can have a big influence, with organisers needing to be flexible and imaginative in dealing with issues like sudden snowfalls, putting start times back, cancelling or switching days around, having tractors to pull cars out of car parks, dealing with casualties and even fatalities at the event, or the effects of foot and mouth disease which forced the cancellation of the JK in 2001, or this year with Covid-19.

This year, actually, two alternatives to the JK presented themselves: Slovenia or Latvia. I had entered for an Easter event in Riga and booked flights, accommodation and car hire so as I type this I should be running in Riga, but we’ll be back to orienteering in the future. Incidentally, I should mention Easter orienteering in Ireland, as for some years the ever-enthusiastic Seán Cotter and Bishopstown OC in Cork have run a low-key 3-Day event at Easter in Munster.

You can read about JK’s and other historical aspects of Irish orienteering in the IOA archive of “Leinster O-Clubs Newsletters” and old issues of The Irish Orienteer” here.

Maybe some others would like to add their Easter orienteering memories? Please contact Debbie on

Happy Easter, everyone.
John McCullough
Easter 2020.

Images: Map from British Orienteering archive and cover photo courtesy of Robert Lines.

How to get the best JK

I asked Toni O’Donovan for her hints and tips for running in the JK. 1967 saw the first Jan Kjellström International Orienteering Festival or “JK”, held in memory of Jan Kjellström. The annual JK moved to Easter in 1969, and now regularly attracts a field of four thousand or more. The 1974 JK was the first British race to attract more than one thousand entrants.  There is usually a great contingency of Irish in attendance.


Prep in advance
It’s a week to go before the JK so it’s time to do some geeking and thinking about the areas – first get old copies of the maps, look at routegadget to see what’s been on before, has anyone described races there on blogs, attackpoint, nopesport…. Both areas are very different and require different skills but your compass will be important for both.

For the middle you need to ensure that you use your compass when coming down into re-entrants to ensure that you are in the right re-entrant as it is easy to lose time with a parallel error. The terrain can be quite runnable and this sometimes makes it a hard decision to run straight across the spur terrain or to go around (up or down) to controls.

For Beaudesert, you will need to use your compass for accurate bearings into point feature controls in blocks of forest. The terrain can feel hard in Beaudeseert but it is for everyone. Consider going around where the terrain is tough. For the sprint look at aerial photography as well and try to spot tricky bits.


Favourite JK
I loved the JK in 2015 in the Lake District. I was pretty fit and so felt good while running and because of that really enjoyed the technical challenge. Technical, rough terrain is always my favourite and that isn’t exactly a good description of Cannock but really I just love to race so enjoy most JKs (the only thing I don’t like is brambles).

Advice for the Start Box
My advice is not to do anything different just because this is a ‘big’ event. Every event should be done in the way that suits you best. For me I’m always cheery in the start box, chat to the officials if I know them, say thanks as I move through the boxes and if there is chat between the competitors then I join in. This doesn’t mean I’m not focused, I always have my control descriptions in properly, have checked the first control description, and on sprint checked for any outside/inside/top of/bottom of descriptions, I will have checked north and watched what directions people are heading and set my compass on roughly the right bearing.

These are just routines that are good practice but don’t try new things at a big event and what you do on the course is more important than the start box and if doing something new in the start impacts on what you do on the course then it’s not worth it – the key thing is that I do the same thing at every event so I always feel relaxed and ready. For a major race that I have focused on and prepared for, I will remind myself in advance of all the prep I have done and reaffirm to myself that I am ready but I do that before the start box.


If things go wrong, how to regain focus?
Races aren’t over until the end. At the middle distance qualifier in the World Champs 99 I missed the second control – clearly although I made mistakes, it was just the type of terrain where others were too and so I qualified for the A final which was really exciting – ultimately if you are making mistakes then others may be too and it is good to practice putting mistakes behind you and thinking of the next leg as a new race and go through the same routines you would do when orienteering perfectly.

Reflecting on mistakes is something for after a race. When I struggle to refocus I use all my strategies, take a bearing, check my description/visualise and use talk O. In the long distance at the JK the terrain could be quite tough in marshes and green stripe – it would be easy to get discouraged and feel like the race wasn’t going well for you but remember if you find the terrain tough then others will too and keep pushing.

With so many controls, how do you keep from getting distracted?
If you’ve visualised your control in advance then the other controls shouldn’t distract you. If you have visualised the control, then be confident in yourself because getting distracted usually happens when you doubt what you have visualised.

Thanks Toni! So in short- go and enjoy!!!!

Jan Kjellström International Festival of Orienteering 2018 West Midlands 30th March – 2nd April

The selectors are  currently finalising the calendar/ selection policies for the Junior Squad for next year. One of the recommended races is the JK.

The date for the most cost effective entries is fast approaching.

(Junior / Student fees in brackets)

Entries by Sprint Days 2 & 3 (per day) PreO & TempO (per day)
Sunday 17th Dec £15 (£7) £23 (£8) £12 (£5)
Sunday 28th Jan £17 (£8) £25 (£9) £12 (£5)
Sunday 25th Feb £19 (£9) £27 (£10) £12 (£5)

Accommodation is best secured early, and some is recommended on the website.

Some of us are staying here in Cannock itself.

The JK is a fantastic event for families and those interested in exploring wonderful areas of countryside without having to travel too far.

We will be, as usual, entering Junior Relay teams for the Monday.

Happy Running


Irish Juniors Perform Well at JK

The strength and depth of the Irish junior squad was on display over the Easter weekend for the JK 2016 in Yorkshire, England.

Large numbers of juniors turned out, with Irish competing in every junior age-category with the exception of W10.

Top Irish results came at both ends of the junior spectrum with some of the older elites placing highly, alongside some of the under-10s.

Standout results:

Day 1 (Sprint):

In the M10  class Daire O’Brien (4th) & Oisín May (8th) performed well, both earning top 10 finishes.
Jonathan Quinn also performed well placing 10th in the highly competitive M20 class, as did Emer Perkins, placing 7th place in a similarly competitive W18 class – both top results.

Day 2:

As we entered the forest, the M10s once again performed well, swapping places with Oisín May claiming 2nd place , and Daire finishing in 6th position.
Emer Perkins ran another great race to claim a podium position of 3rd place in the W18 Elite class.
Paul Pruzina also ran very well finishing in 6th place in the M20 Elite class.

Day 3:

Out onto the fells, the young M10s rounded off their weekends very nicely to claim an Irish 2-3 finish overall with Oisín once again finishing 2nd on the day, and Daire gaining places with his 3rd place finish.
Weather hazarded many of the later starters, but was not enough to put off either Róisín Long or Paul Pruzina who finished 9th in W20 Elite and 7th in M20 Elite respectively.


Paul Pruzina’s succesful days 2 & 3 earned him 5th overall in the M20E class. Róisín Long finished in 10th overall to join Oisín,  Daire and Paul as the Irish juniors with top 10 overall finishes.
Other notable finishes include:

  • Jonathan Quinn 12th (M20E)
  • Conall Whelan 13th (M18E)
  • Emer Perkins 14th (W18E)

For more, take a look at the full results at: JK Results



Orienteering in Ireland
Orienteering Ireland, Irish Sport HQ, Blanchardstown
D15 DY62, Ireland