Orienteering race 1:41:23  *** 11.33 km (8:57 / km) +530m 7:15 / km
spiked:16/24c slept:0.0 (injured) shoes: 2006 VJ Falcons
Jukola 206. Team Cambridge Sports Union!!!!
Ok, I wrote up a big long thing about Tiomila, might as well do the same about Jukola.
The trip began for me on Thursday, when I made my way over to the clubhouse to meet up with Linne's first two men's teams and the women's teams for the trip over. The other teams would come over on Friday. We piled into a bunch of minibusses and drove down to the Silja ferry terminal in Stockholm. We got on the boat just in time to get the choice seats for the Sweden - Paraguay World Cup soccer game, and the trip began. After watching the game, I got seven solid of hours of sleep in the cabin and woke up in time to gobble down several eggs, lots of cereal, and tons of sandwiches at the huge breakfast buffet before arrival in Turku. Pretty much straight from the boat, we drove over to the Jukola training area and went for a training run on a beautiful sunny day. I got a chance to test out the theory that having rested for almost a week beforehand would make my hamstring feel better, and the theory failed immediately, as the hamstring pain returned in exactly the same intensity as before after about a minute or so of running. Oh well.
The training itself was fun and relaxed, and everyone was in good spirits, though i was slowly beginning to get nervous for my lead-off leg, which was still a good 36 hours away.
We spent the afternoon and evening in a hostel in Turku, spending most of our time watching World Cup games and planning possible Jukola 1st legs on the old map of the area - Mats organized a course-setting contest using the old map. This was a great and really fun way to study the map and terrain ahead of time, and i knew the general layout of the land and major features quite well by the time my start came about the following day.
I got up early Saturday morning and got a ride over to the Jukola event center with the girls' first team. Wishing them good luck, i walked over to the CSU team military tent and met up with the whole gang for a team meeting and the beginning of the true experience.
Matthias, Kenny, and Ross were already there, and Peter, William, and Claire showed up shortly, so the whole gang was together. Also at the tent was Leif Akerblom (bubo), who had graciously offered to be our team manager for the relay, as well as Benn Legg and Andy Dale, who found a random Finnish team to run for and were crashing at our tent. Right from the team meeting, it was clear that this would be awesome. Everyone was in a good mood and very excited, and Leif came prepared, with a (what turned out to be extremely accurate!) schedule of when each of us should come in and change over if were to achieve our informal goal of making the top 250. At the meeting we also got our new Axis Gear uniforms and took some pictures before getting a chance to dirty the uniforms (and sprain some ankles) during the model event.
The afternoon was spent watching Venla (with Simone dominating on the last leg, and the Linne girls, 4th through two legs, mispunching on the 3rd...) and wandering around the enormous orienteering city erected just for the weekend. Maybe it was the sunshine, maybe the pretty setting, or maybe just everything together, but the whole thing just felt like a big, giant festival - a celebration of orienteering. It's hard to describe the atmosphere in words, but watching the thousands of orienteers mingling, standing in line for meatballs and mashed potatoes, shopping for O-shoes (or farm equipment, which was also available for sale...), or just sunbathing next to the forest of military tents somehow made you want to do this orienteering thing every day of your life.
Well, standing out in the sun before racing isn't exactly beneficial, so eventually we made our way back to the tent to hang out, make jokes about Peter's age and height, and brave the smell of the latrines that the organizers had thoughtfully placed right next to our tent.
Finally, after all the wait, anticipation, and nervousness, it was time to run. I was thrilled (and terrified) to be running the first leg, but somehow the feeling of dread completely disappeared when I was standing on the starting line, with my map hanging above me, and row after row of orienteers lined up ahead and behind me as far as the eye could see. I had thought a lot about running the first leg and decided for myself that my main goal should be to not blow it - to not put the team unfathomably far from its goal right from the start, so reading control codes and trying to avoid blindly following were to be major priorities. As soon as the starting gun went off, all of those cautious thoughts disappeared, and I took off like a bat out of hell, hoping to not get trampled by the mob coming from behind, while passing as many people as possible starting ahead of me (we had a start number of 673, meaning that 672 teams - or so - were starting in front of me, and another 700 or so behind...). The starting dash consisted of making a half-loop around a big field followed by a steep climb to the start triangle. I flew up the hill, coughing because of all the dust thrown up into the air by thousands of pounding feet, and took off following one of the streams the crowd had split into, having managed to plan at least part of my route for the 2+km first leg on the climb. Having prepared myself for an extremely high pace early on in the race, i was surprised to find the pace to be pretty normal, and i managed to maintain good map contact on the first leg, as we were running in the open quite a bit, and darkness hadn't really set in yet. Along with a big pack of people, i spiked the first control and immediately saw what Leif had predicted would happen: dozens of people seeing the control code and stopping, looking confused and starting to run around hoping to find their own forking. I thought to myself: better to not end up like that!
After the first control we had a steep downhill to a field, and on the way down i felt a hand or foot of the person behind me on my shoulder, back, or head a number of times, and i had to struggle to keep my balance while flying down hill in a crowd. The next few controls went well, and i felt like i was gaining places in a hurry, but still not moving very fast. The terrain was steep and the woods were thick the entire time, so passing people was almost only possible by just spiking the controls - everyone was running in a long line, and getting out of line to try to pass was difficult in most places. There was a moment when i was running in a line reading my map and decided that we were going wrong and took off at an angle, suddenly by myself, something you are never supposed to do in this situation. This time, though, i was right and hit my control and rejoined the line, most of which aparently had a longer forking here that just didn't include my control. On the long, physical leg from 7 to 8 i was beginning to feel that this was becoming night-O, which meant i had trouble keeping map contact at the speed we were moving. Each time i tried to slow down to read the map, i'd feel a hand on my back or an elbow in my side as someone attempted to pass, so eventually i had to make do with either getting out of line to read the map or taking quick glances and hoping the people in front knew where they were going. Not surprisingly, this backfired almost immediately. After crossing a waist-deep marsh that had already turned into a mudpit, we climbed up a steep, green slope and and kept going, side-hilling along some cliffs. Suddenly, the pack turned uphill and i almost got sucked in with them, but stopped at the last moment. Then i heard someone shout my control number in English (or Swedish? - i don't remember) and point in a different direction. Taking a glance at my map, i agreed, and followed the shouter. Again there was a pack, this time climbing along a steep rockface, using all four limbs to keep from falling off. Even here i felt a hand push me from behind repeatedly, enough so that i stopped and turned to the guy behind me and said "if you touch me again, i'm going to kill you" in good old English. He backed off, while the guy in front of me turned around and smiled.
A few controls later it felt like night had completely set in, and tiredness was approaching. I didn't look at my watch, but felt like the race was going a lot slower, and the running was a lot tougher than i had expected. At this point, around control 13, i was around 215th place in the relay. After that, things went downhill. I slowed down to get a drink at 13 and sped up to catch up to the pack i'd been running with. I caught them, but at the cost of losing contact with the map. Sure enough, after a few hundred meters, the whole pack stopped, with no one seeming to have any idea where to go. I ran around the hillside for a while, found 3 controls that weren't mine before finally relocating and finding the right one - about 2 minutes lost. Crossing a stream in the dark green on the way to 15, i fell into the mud and emerged with the map taking on a nice dark brown color. As i was cleaning it running in a pack, i again lost map contact, and this cost me at least another minute or so. Then on 16 my problems continued, as i took my own route choice, going around a hill that everyone else seemed to climb. I was unsure of where i was attacking from, but went ahead anyway, afraid of slowing down, as now there was a pack running after me. After a hundred meters or so, i hit a control and was elated, only to find that it wasn't mine, and i was now one of those guys standing around hopelessly lost at the wrong forking. This took another 2:30 of aimlessly running around to fix, and by the time i hit 17, i was in 317th, having lost 100 places in 2km or so! I ran hard on 19 and 20 and took off for 21, sensing that the end was finally near. I was feeling very tired and low on energy, as this has been one of the most draining races i'd ever run. Sure enough, i messed up 21, a small cliff on a hillside sprinkled with a dozen controls and hundreds of people running in all directions. This was my worst mistake - from the splits, it looks like i lost abut 5 minutes here! What is more amazing, though, is that on this same leg i also gained 36 places! I wasn't the only one hopelessly lost, i guess... (I was surprised to see quite fast runners around where i was at this point, including Stephen Palmer running for the Malungs 2nd team). The rest was easy - just run hard, find the right map to pick up, and hand off to Matthias. I was shocked, as i ran through the finish, to see that i came through in 282nd, as i expected to be somewhere in the 500's at this point. The hand-off went well, and i was finally done. Turning around to look up at the hill, i saw a continuous river of headlamps emerging out of the dark forest and flowing towards the finish and finally thought to myself: this is pretty cool.
The rest of the night was all about watching and cheering. I talked to Leif and Peter, showered (skipped the sauna 'cause i forgot to bring money for it), changed, made sure that Kenny was awake
and went off to go watch. Next to the finish, there was a kiosk with computer screens on all four sides. You could come up to it, type in a team number, and see that team's progress through the most recent radio control. This was a great way to track the progress of your team and its rivals. By the time Matthias came back, having picked up a whole bunch of places and put is into the top 250, it was after 1am and already getting lighter. The coldest and darkest part was over, and people, many of them just lying in sleeping bags next to the finish, were beginning to wake up to watch the last few legs. It was really exciting tracking each of our runners and watching each of them having really solid runs and cheering them into the finish, one by one. None of us had a spectacular race, but everyone did what they were supposed to do, and when the sun was fully overhead and heat was beginning to set in again, we started cheering wildly as Will Hawkins appeared out of the woods, punched the final control, and took off in a successful pursuit of the guy in front of him, picking up one more place on the run-in for a final result of 204th for team CSU!!!
After some more celebrating and hanging out at the event center, we gradually began to disperse, in complete agreement that this was one of the most fun things we'd all done in our orienteering careers. If there is a North American club out there thinking of putting up a Jukola team - do it, it's an experience well worth the money and the sleep deprivation! I think every member of team CSU, as well as of the Greater Vancouver team, had a great time at Jukola this year. Everything, from the club spirit and camaraderie, to the feeling of having survived when you emerge from the woods and tag your teammate, whether in the darkness, with the sun slowly rising to chase away the fog, or with day's heat already setting in adds up to make this an unforgettable experience!
Of course, there is also the aftermath - when Kenny, Ross, and i got to Turku, we were exhausted. All we could manage to do was wander around aimlessly, eat some kebab, and collapse to sleep on the grass next to the Turku castle, where hundreds of Swedish orienteers taking the ferry back to Stockholm were sleeping, playing soccer, or getting a head start on the night of partying that awaited on the boat. I felt so tired (and also a bit sick) that i skipped all the drinking and partying and just slept in my cabin the whole time, only to wake up at 2am or so, when some of the Linne guys opened the door for our youngest Jukola runner, a 17-year-old, who crawled in on all fours, threw up in the trash can and proceeded to pass out on the floor.
I've been babbling a bit too much, so let me finish with a big thanks to Matthias, Kenny, Ross, Peter, Mikkel, and Will for making this happen!!!!!!!! Also, a huge thanks to Leif for keeping us sane and helping us all along the way, to Claire for not killing any of us, and to OK Linne for letting me travel with the club and enjoy all the perks of the trip despite not running for them this time!