The Irish Orienteer June 2013/2

A Worm’s-eye view of the Jukola

First leg mass start at 11 pm

The Jukola Relay is a big overnight 7-person relay run every year at midsummer in Finland. It attracts a loyal following, with many runners coming back year after year, and teams ranging from the elite clubs like multiple winners Kalavan Rasti down to social groups and work-based teams of postmen and firemen. This year I met one runner who is in his 43rd successive Jukola and who is hoping to run in fifty – something of a rarity as you can’t run until you are at least 16 years old.
The competition this year was based at Jamsa, an area of forests and (of course) lakes about two and a half hours drive north of Helsinki. Team numbers were down on last year when the event was close to Helsinki, but still attracted about 1600 teams, equivalent to more than 11,000 runners. An associated 4-person relay for women, the “Venla”, is run in the afternoon before the Jukola and featured 1200 teams, another 4800 runners.

Part of the map

The choice of venue must be dictated by finding a suitable parking and changeover area close enough to reasonable roads and public transport, as the terrain everywhere seems to be so good. Parking was in the yard of a big paper mill and we were bussed the 10 minutes or so to the competition centre. Here a whole town had been assembled, with sports shops, food, toilets, a post office, church, tents for teams to stay in, showers and sauna, plus all the orienteering requirements like changeover area, big screen TV, PA systems etc.
Irish interest focused on Nick Simonin (Leg 5 for Lidingo 1), Conor (1st leg for Tisaren) and Ruairi (6th leg for Scotland) Short, Andrew Quin (leg 6 for Lidingo 2) and Neil Dobbs (leg 3 for Helsingin Suunnistajat) all running, though on different teams.
I had ended up scheduled to run leg 2, about 12 km at night, with a London OK team. We worked out a rough timetable based on expected range of good and not so good results and I expected to be starting some time around 1.30 in the morning. The question was, how to prepare for this: when should I eat? should I try and sleep beforehand? 1.30 a.m. in Finland is only 11.30 pm in Ireland, so how much adjustment would my body clock have made? I no longer go running at 11.30 at night, but there was a time when I did … partly so the neighbours wouldn’t see this eccentric in their midst.
We arrived during the Venla relay, following it on the big screens with live GPS tracking of the leading teams. On the last leg Denmark’s Emma Klingenberg slipped past Halden’s Mari Fasting by taking a marginally shorter route on the last leg, and clinched the trophy for her club, OK Pan from Arhus.

Maps at the ready

Food and rest were the first priorities, so we were thinking tactics like a Formula 1 team working out pit stops. I opted for the ham and potato casserole supplemented by the odd munkki (doughnut) or pulla (cinnamon flavoured pastry) while others went for chicken and pasta or other options. I got my gear sorted out before it got dark, and got dressed ready to run before hitting the sleeping bag. The PA was still working away and the sky was bright outside so I didn’t get much sleep. I heard the Jukola starting at 11 pm with a loud gunshot (actually, two shots for some reason) and a microlight flying overhead filming, and dozed a bit for an hour and a half before getting ready. 12.10 a.m. and the leading runners come through: the usual suspects but with Murray Strain of Scotland lying 7th! See a video of the start from the air here.
O-shoes, headlight, EMIT brick, compass, glasses, race number … all OK. Drink some water and go towards the start. A final bite to eat (a bowl of porridge with milk and jam set me up nicely) and into the changeover area.
Right on time, first leg David Saunders came in, handing me my map and advising me to be careful in one complex area. Look at the control description for the first control, fold the huge map, and off we go. At this stage, thousands of runners had been through so there were elephant tracks through the forest. Do I really need a headlamp? To read the map – definitely; to see where I’m going – it’s a big help, though you can see the shapes of the ground and where the trees are.
A long run out to the start triangle, then follow the elephant tracks through the forest, onto the path, across the wide ride with the power line, across the road, into the forest and down the hill to the big depression: spot on. The EMIT unit on the site is facing the wrong way so I have to do a loop around the control to get my brick down to register. Up the hill past an unused control (all in place but the code numbers blanked out) to my re-entrant. The control codes are printed on the map beside the circles so it’s easy to check you’re at the right one; less easy to check the descriptions as you have to open up the map the size of a newspaper and fold it again on the run. On towards the southern part of the area which is hillier: up the steep hill, hands on knees giving an extra push, over the top and down by the knolls to the small reentrant. Phew! There it is.

Some take it less seriously …

Other runners are around me, many on my leg but some from later legs already coming through. It’s two o’clock in the morning but still not completely dark: there is light in the sky on the horizon but I’m not sure if it’s from the sun setting or rising. It’s rather overcast so the low sun when it rises may not be too dazzling.
Our aim was to keep our 5th leg runner out of the mass start at about 9 a.m. If we all ran to schedule we should manage that fairly comfortable, but anything could happen!
Look out for the drinks stations dispensing water and “Gutzy” sports drink. The course tonight is as long as the three days of the Shamrock O-Ringen rolled into one, so just keep going and guzzle the Gutzy. Remember not to use drinks stations as attack points as they aren’t always quite where they are marked on the map. Run into the forest from a drinks station with dozens of runners milling around. Can’t see the control. Back out to the track and in another way – there is it. Should have done that the first time.
The map is excellent: the forest is mostly runnable with good visibility and some paths and tracks plus the additional ones made by the earlier runners. Very little bare rock, few huge boulders, well-defined vegetation changes but some deep, wet and muddy drains. Someone in a Swedish OK Ravinen top goes past me and shouts “Hi, John!” – must be CompassSport editor Nick Barrable on Leg 3. Keep going to the tricky area David told me about: find the blob of grey for bare rock, over the hill to the control, then cross the drain into the green forest and on to the next control. Wrong number. Where am I? Back to the drain and realise I crossed it too far to the right. Cross a second drain and things start to make sense – there it is! Back on track again.
Three o’clock in the morning and the sky is brightening. The birds start singing and a couple of cuckoos join in. My headlamp is still going strong: it’s not really necessary now, but it’s too much trouble to take it off. Follow the marsh, over the hill and down into the scattered young trees to the pond. Running on the easier flat ground now, but I drift off to the right. Make the correction but I realise I’m tiring and starting to lose concentration. Grab a handful of mixed nuts and raisins from my pocket and plough on through the marshy forest.

Legs tiring at this stage but concentrate on not making mistakes – that’s where time can be lost. Into a complex area of scattered trees, scrambler tracks and contours for a couple of controls – OK. A couple of long legs coming up but it’s flat. A runner stops in front of me and pulls down his trousers at the edge of the path to … well, we won’t go there! I can now hear the PA system at the finish – that always puts extra pressure on. Some easy controls coming up, while I had expected some tricky ones approaching the changeover. Pick up a couple of paths and some elephant tracks, everyone running in much the same direction now. Put away the map, run towards the sound. Out of the forest into the open. Last control – 333. Where is it? I feel everyone looking at me. I can see 222 and 444, but where is 333? Wipe the sweat from my eyes and look at the map: OK, 50 metres to the right. Punch and run, up the bridge and down again, round to the finish timing unit. Throw in my map and keep running. Take the next runner’s map and look for him in the sea of expectant faces on the changeover line. Give the map to leg 3 Colm O’Halloran, mention the complex area that David had told me about, take his jacket. “Have a good run – you’ll enjoy it!”. He says “I ate your banana”. Thanks, Colm!
Walk back around to download my results, in the middle of a gaggle of leg 2, 3 and 4 runners: we knew we weren’t going to win, but we are on target for keeping Alison out of the mass start and with luck we might even finish higher than our team number of 1108.
Back to the tent to wake up Julie, our leg 4 runner, and get some food and drink into me. Get changed and into the sleeping bag. It’s 4.30 in the morning, 2.30 Irish time. What am I doing here? Can’t get warm in the sleeping bag but nibble fruit and nuts. It’s too far this year to walk to the showers and the sauna, so I’ll just have to stay as I am. Eventually, sleep.
Meanwhile at the sharp end the top teams are battling it out. French and Swiss names (Adamski, Gueorgiou, Hubmann, Hertner) mingle with the Finns, Swedes and Norwegians. Winning the Jukola is a huge thing – will Finnish club Kalevan Rasti do it again? The spectators huddle around the big screens, wrapped in blankets or with deck chairs. The Helsinki postmen come and go from the sauna. The daily menu rolls on, from chicken and pasta to pytt-y-panna (fried potato with bacon bits), to breakfast. The PA announces the final leg runners coming in … Thierry Gueorgiou anchors Kalevan Rasti and finishes almost two and a half minutes clear of Kristiansand’s Daniel Hubmann in a team time of 7.27.58.
The sun comes up and warms the ground. Bodies are strewn everywhere around the army tents, dozing on mattresses after the night’s exertions. Our final leg runners, Ronan and Mark, make their way to the changeover for the final mass starts 20 minutes apart. It’s heating up and the last two legs are long. Now I’m glad I did leg 2, even though the others have managed a night’s sleep. All across Finland, armchair orienteers have tried to stay awake all night watching Jukola live on TV (admittedly it’s not the most riveting, but it has a hypnotic fascination, like counting sheep).
While the last two are running, there’s time for breakfast and some final shopping in the selection of orienteering gear shops. Pick up some bargains (gaiters reduced from €26 to €10, Jukola shoe bags down from €10 to €3 …) and laze around. The protracted prizegiving with speeches and announcements in Finnish, Swedish and English takes forever, so I give up on it.
Everyone in: no disqualifications, no injuries, no DNF’s, all running towards the faster end of their predicted time. About 400 teams behind us. We ran our fastest time since 2005, so it could be worse.
However, this will be my last Jukola. At least until next year in Kuopio …
See the Jukola 2013 web site here.

Other News
This week the Junior World Championships and the World Championships teams are abroad, making final preparations for the events in the Czech Republic and Finland in the coming days.

JWOC (essentially for the M/W20 classes) start at Hradec Kralove in the Czech Republic on Sunday, with the long race on Monday, middle qualifier on Tuesday, middle final on Wednesday, sprint on Friday and relay on Saturday. The team is led by Greg McCann and the runners are Niamh Corbett and Aine McCann, Jack Millar, Niall McCarthy, Eoin McCullough, and Jonathan Quinn.
Last week temperatures were in the 30’s but they have coles to 15-20C this week and it looks like they will stay in that range for the duration of the competition. The team were training there at Easter in the snow but their familiarity with the maps and terrain will be a good start for JWOC. Follow JWOC here.

Meanwhile at WOC in Finland some of the Senior team are moving northwards, training for the long, middle and sprint races. Temperatures there are warm, in the 30’s, and the mosquitos are out, but the forests are great and preparations are going well.
The championships are the week after JWOC and are based at Vuokatti, 7 hours drive north of Helsinki. The team is:
Men
Sprint: Darren Burke, Josh O’Sullivan-Hourihan, Kevin O’Boyle
Middle: Nick Simoni, Conor Short, Darren Burke
Long: Nick Simonin, Conor Short, Neil Dobbs
Women
Sprint: Niamh O’Boyle, Rosalind Hussey, Susan Lambe
Middle: Niamh O’Boyle, Susan Lambe, Olivia Baxter
Long: Rosalind Hussey
Follow WOC here.See the squad’s facebook page.

Looking forward …
There are a few things to look forward to during or after the summer: the World Police and Fire Games in Belfast will feature three orienteering competitions on August 5th, 8th and 9th. The orienteering will be a sprint race in the city, middle distance in the city parks and long distance in the Mournes. See the WPFG web site here. There should be opportunities for a run even if you’re not strictly eleigible for the games. All eyes will be on Robbie Bryson (ex DUO and Ajax) who must have a good chance of a medal in the orienteering as well as in the fell running race.
Later in the month 3ROC are running three Tuesday evening events in Dublin’s Phoenix Park, with the same two course format as last year: dates are August 14, 21 and 28. September will also see the popular Fingal “Scatter event” series on Sundays.
In September we also move into Home International mode, kicking off with the Juniors (M/W 14, 16 and 18) in South Wales on the 14th and 15th. The Seniors follow with a joint Fingal/Three Rock weekend in the Carlingford area for the event (M/W20 and 21 classes) on September 28/29. Sunday 29th at Carlingford will include a Leinster Autumn Series competition and the LVO Club Championships. The Veterans (M/W35-65) finish off the series on October 5th and 6th at Sheringham in Norfolk.
If you are near a car ferry with some free time on the 13th October, how about a day trip to Anglesey to run in the Welsh Championships on the fantastic forested dunes of Newborough near Bangor?
Looking further forward, we have notifications of out of bounds areas for the 2014 Irish Championships to be run by Setanta in Wicklow on May 3-5  south and west of the Wicklow Gap , a three day in Oughterard, Co. Galway on the June Bank Holiday weekend 2014 (great areas, maybe drier underfoot then?) and the 2015 Irish Championships on Slieve Croob, Slievegarron and Cratlieve, Co. Down, in May 2015. (Slieve Croob was used for JK2011).

If YOU are at any interesting competitions, why not write about them for TIO?