Jukola is a Finn phenomenon in orienteering – held since the late 1940s it has become one of the largest orienteering events in the world, this year attracting around 18,000 competitors. It’s an all-night relay, starting at 11pm with 7 runners per team tackling varying lengths of courses from 8.5 to 16.5km.
It’s been on my bucket list for a while but putting together a team and being fit enough to run it, affording the cost and having the time to go have always been barriers…. This year Cath and I decided to just do it, whatever, and ended up piggybacking some pals in a Bristol Orienteering Klub team (I was a BOK member years ago so I do have some claims!).
Cath took the trip at a slightly more leisurely pace but as I had limited holiday I did it in a whirlwind, landing on late on Friday night flying from Manchester. BOK’s resident Finn, Tommi Grover, kindly hosted everyone at his family house just outside Helsinki on Friday night and on Saturday we drove out towards the Russian border where Jukola 2016 was to be held.
The weather all weekend was constant rain with the odd shower of not raining, leaving the ground waterlogged, and from the off I decided my wellies (Nokia ones, of course) were a very good thing to have brought with me.
We arrived just in time to see the Venla (Women only relay race of 4 runners) kick off and then after dropping our kit in our home for the next 24 hours (an army tent) we spent an afternoon slowly getting soaked, eating too much sausage and cheering on the BOK team and any other Brits we could see coming through the changeover.
There are huge outdoor shops that appear for the weekend on site in large tents, together with food outlets and sponsors – all a bit like Glastonbury (Still the Pilton Festival if you grew up near Glastonbury in the 70s & 80s as I did). Unfortunately, over the course of the day it got even more like Glastonbury as the site turned to a sea of mud.
At 10.55pm I found myself lined up with 1740 others (men and women) in rows of approx. 30 as maps were handed out. At 11.00pm a Finnish Soldier with a rifle let rip a burst of automatic fire and we were off as the Benny Hill theme tune pumped out through the PA!
The start is bonkers, trying to glance at an A2 sized map, find the start triangle on the map, fold the map down to try and see the long leg to #1, work out where you are going, perhaps take a compass bearing and oh…. leg it through a sea of mud….. with 1700 others doing the same thing at various speeds!
After about 700 metres of run out we were faced with a wall of young trees and rock and we all dived in, ducking, jumping, weaving; hundreds of orienteers forming long trains through the forest, threading their way through, splitting and rejoining, everyone attempting to stay in touch with progress over the map, hopefully in the right direction.
And so this continued, the trains thinning slightly, groups of 150 of so converging on controls (or not) over the next 11 km.
For me it was just rough compass, hang on to a train going in the right direction and pick off the big features. I made a couple of mistakes, one where I should have taken a ‘British’ style easy route-choice rather than the ‘Finnish’ straight is always great approach and avoided a horrendous marsh and ditch network, and one where I went with the train not trusting my instincts that I was right and they were wrong (difficult to go against 20 or so others).
My legs started to give in as I came through the long spectator loop and it was all I could do to hang on through the last section but I finished in a respectable 920nd position and handed over.
Our team was a rag tag bag of all sorts of fitness and abilities and I had to leave for home before we ultimately finished but finish we did and nowhere near last with many older Finns taking literally hours to finish their legs. The atmosphere was fantastic, the normal relay camaraderie taken to a whole new level.
The adventure didn’t stop, however, when we got to the car – the parking field was strewn with cars in random angles up to their axels in mud, 4 way flashers on waiting to be pulled out by a team of tractors. We had a flight to catch and managed to jump the queue for a tow. I’ll remember being pulled out sideways through the mud by a huge tractor in our brand new hire car for years to come.
We just made the flight and I eventually rocked up back in Stafford with a bag of stinking wet and muddy kit at 10pm on Sunday night with a smile on my face. A great event – Ill be back…
A video of the event can be found here