Jukola is the biggest orienteering race in the world, a yearly relay taking place in Finland which should absolutely be at the top of any self-respecting orienteer’s bucket list. Having been rescheduled to August last year, the race was back in its usual midsummer slot, promising light well into the night, speedy forests and some epic racing. Even more happily, the organisers had been lobbied by the political communications wing of CUOC and DrongO to make sure it fell after the end of the Cambridge exams, and before the start of May Week, so really, everything was in place.
And so, Dom, Sarah, James and I (Peter), along with veritable gaggle of DrongO members, made our way out to Finland for the race, being held in the south-western town of Mynamaki. People arrived in dribs and drabs and thus were able to get some practice in the rocky, tricky terrain before the big race. The days before the weekend were glorious and your author even managed some post-training swimming in a small quarry. There was even some attempts at night O, which is rather tricky when it was still patently not dark at 1.15am! I could just hear the voices of those southern Cambridge students waxing lyrical about ‘how armarzzinngg it is in the summmarrr when it gets darrrk at 10 yaaaaa’ – the chumps.
Anyway, race day arrived, and so did the torrential rain. Yippee. First up was Venla, the women’s relay, and it was with great anticipation that we gathered to watch the mass start of over 1500 teams. It really was quite the spectacle, only marginally ruined by the *REDACTED* who held up an umbrella about 5 rows in front of us. If you ever find yourself in the crowd at a rainy Venla, don’t be that guy. Cos we will shout at you violently, and you wouldn’t want that now would you?
Recent alumnus Fiona Bunn was running for her Swedish club on first leg and did a stellar effort to finish comfortably in the top 30, mixing amongst some real BNOCs of Scandi orienteering. Sarah Pedley found herself on second leg for the DrongO team and ran a cracking leg to pull them up to 447th, before Helen Ockenden finished off on fourth leg to take 244th, a great result for team! Venla was undisputedly thrilling to watch, and now those racing in the night were extremely excited/nervous/terrified (delete as appropriate) for what lay ahead…
At this point, your author must make a confession: I was running for Kalevan Rasti’s second team, and was thus granted the privilege of staying in an extremely nice house literally 200m from the start area with all the amenities any Finn could dream of: sauna, hot tub, surround decking, lack of humour etc (just kidding about the last one). Obviously, I was forgoing the true Jukola experience of military tents in the field like the rest of my comrades, but to be honest in the rain I was rather glad of this.
Soon it was time for the Jukola relay, starting at 11pm. The atmosphere and tension in the arena were palpable – I can quite safely say that I have never been so hyped in my life. With a 6 gun volley from the Finnish Defence Forces (personally I would rather like more things in my life to start with such a serenade), we were off for what would ensue to be 80-90 minutes of utter chaos: pushing, shoving, fighting over Emit punches, falling, shouting, swearing, more fighting and even some orienteering in there as well! Special credit should be given to James ‘Balboa’ Ackland, who started in 1213th and managed to work his way through 900 other competitors in the first few kilometres. I am reliably informed by eyewitness Luke Fisher that he was ‘literally swimming’ through middle-aged people up towards the start kite – apparently, some of them even survived his deplorable, unhinged violence.
The first leg was an unbelievable experience, and the torrential rain and not-so-far-off rolls of thunder only added to the surreal feel of it. I finished in 80th, having lost around 30 places late on owing to blindly following some angry Finnish men through practically impenetrable patches of dark green forest when we could have just run round the path – silly me. James should be commended for gaining nearly 1000 places from start to finish – there aren’t many races where you can say that!
Later on in the early light of the morning, Dom Dakin boshed round no bother through the forest to gain over 100 places on 6th leg and bring DrongO 3 up to the 500s, and special mention should be given to recent alumnus Luke Fisher who not only pulled the DrongO team up to a very respectable 127th place finish, but also got the 67th fastest split on his leg – seriously impressive stuff from the wee man in the blue, even if your author did have to dissuade him from going in the start pen about 90 minutes before his sixth leg runner was due. We have to remember that since Luke has not been orienteering since birth, he is in fact a complete beginner, so this sort of amateurism is excusable to an extent.
And with that, Jukola was concluded. An amazing weekend of racing with thousands upon thousands of Scandinavians with stupid little folding stools which they insist on carrying around everywhere – what could be better? Now, thoughts turned to the upcoming May Week, with Dom even managing to get from Finland back to Cambridge for Emma May Ball that same day. Rumour has it that if you open him up, he is made up purely of red bull and blue smarties…