Jukola 2004

John McCullough was orienteering for a weekend in Finland...

The Jukola is a Finnish midsummer orienteering institution. Try to imagine a cross between a Formula 1 motor race with no cars and an all-night open air concert with no music. Nine thousand people assembled on an airfield (let's hope someone thought to tell the pilots) in tents for a seven-person overnight orienteering race, starting around 11 pm and finishing around 7 am (for the faster teams, that is). There's also a four woman race called the Venla relay which takes place in the afternoon before the Jukola: the girls get a chance to trample down the undergrowth for the big race later on. Well really!!!

This was my second Jukola. I was an invitee onto a London OK ream with Ronan and Julie Cleary, Ken Warren (anyone remember him from the Irish Junior Team of the '70's?), former round-the-world yachtsman Ian Searle, Steve Bingham and David Saunders.

Ian Serle gets ready for the first leg of the Jukola 7-person overnight relay

You remember the scenes of the Magnificent Seven where Yul Brynner assembled his shady-handed gunfighter who had taken to the drink, the hopeless cases who nevertheless pull off a miracle when the Mexican village needs defending. Well, that was us, except the miracle didn't happen this year.

Camping in a Finnish army tent (one per team), we filled up with coffee and pancakes, pasta and pudding to prepare for the night ahead. To sleep, perchance to eat: aye, there's the rub. The event is so out of the ordinary that all your normal routines go out the window: if you are to run at 3 am, do you go to bed (and fail to sleep)? Do you try and run early (when it will be at it's darkest) and then retire to the sauna with a beer for the rest of the night, or run later when it will be brighter?

Here's to next year ...

A Finnish army tent, complete with (bullet?) holes

Ian, running first had a good, steady run. Second-leg runnel, Ken - in his first Jukola, was concerned about mispunching. When he came back after his leg and said that he had mispunched, we didn't all believe him, but his dejection was too convincing. In the dark, in a Finnish forest, in the heat of a competition, it's easy enough to do. As a result the team was disqualified and, though third leg runner David got out, the rest of us were to run in a mass-start for teams such as ours. So our aim of finishing in a higher place than our race number was dashed for another year.

Following several hours (days, even) of ritual humiliation, Ken (who had sprained his ankle badly the week before) had been punished sufficiently and was allowed to rejoin the party.

This year's race was not as technical as the 2002 race: there were some tracks in the forest and the visibility was unusually good. With Ryanair flying to nearby Tampere, it wasn't that bear to get there.

Some of the terrain at the 2004 Jukola relay in Finland (Above). Some of next year's area shown (Below).