After many years of waiting, I have finally experienced the Jukola mass start. This outrageously big race has never been at the right time of the year for me to compete in, but with WOC earlier than usual this year the opportunity arose. I ran for the Finnish club Hämeenlinna Suunnistajat, not a super star club but a really nice one with some young and older talent which reminded me very strongly of NWOC back home.
I have always loved running the first leg of relays and I aim to be a reliable first leg runner for New Zealand at WOC. Experience has shown me that I am able to pace myself well earlier in the race and then use other runners to increase my speed later on, and also know when to concentrate more on the navigation. My strategy at Jukola was no different, I knew that I would be fast enough to be close to the front, but probably not fresh enough to be on the front. I started in 75 place (out of 1600) , not so far back that I would get stuck behind slower runners. The pace from the start was as furious as expected, but I didn’t feel the need to push forward through the pack, instead I stayed relaxed and waited for the pace to slow. The first leg was very long with two possible route choices and I was happy to follow the pack either way. I tried not to get caught up in any bottle necks, and only moved forward through the pack when it was easiest. I see this as my characteristic style, aiming for high efficiency.
I never saw the pack split coming into the first control which was forked quite widely, so when the lines of runners crossed mid-way to control 2 I was very confused, and all around me was total chaos. I was very careful not to get into the wrong train. I ignored everyone and spiked 2 on my own before putting the map away to do some more blatant following for the next few controls. I was passing people quite easily here and started to navigate on my own again at the perfect time coming into 6 and strangely found myself completely alone. I find it unlikely that I was the only one around me with this split control and suspect a lot of people followed too much here. I rejoined the train at 7 which was beginning to fracture, and I wondered how far I was from the front. Turns out I was just over a minute off the lead, but this was too far to see in the forest. I wanted to push the pace of those around me to stop gaps from forming in the line, but it was too late and naturally a bunch formed before the long leg to 12. This was the second bunch. I wanted to run the road wide to the right for this leg but no one around me exited in that direction so I decided to follow again and not risk being alone.
After a lot of track running we arrived at some very tricky controls, in totally dark forest and there was a lot of action here. The first bunch (which was split across 2 route choices) was slow here, and the bunches merged to form a super bunch. 2 control later this turned into chaos with trains crossing through another double split. I could see a number of people make mistakes here. I was trailing on the back of the bunch and after being a little slow to 15 I did not have the legs to rejoin on the very physical leg to 16. The first bunch pulled away and then shed a number of runners again on the final hard control. I also made a small mistake and I was feeling pretty burned here and just held on to this second bunch to finish in 29th, 2 minutes down.
Full course can be found here: http://www.tulospalvelu.fi/gps/2017jukol1/
Given my training and travelling to Europe there was a good chance I wouldn’t be in great shape, but to give the Hämeenlinna team a stable first leg was a previlage, and they went on finish in 58th, their best result in recent years. As expected this was the most fun I’ve ever had with all the elements of sport I love thrown in together and I look forward to starting Jukola, or maybe Tiomila, in the near future. Now I need to recover from another race and get in some consistent training and recovery before WOC.
And here’s the money shot from KopterCam: https://vimeo.com/222195922