It has been four weeks from the 131 km Koli Marathon – Marathon of Dangers. The first 3 weeks I took it easy. Just some cycling, yoga and core training and trying to recover from the race. After these easy 3 weeks I was attending with a friend, Asmo, to Synkkä Syysunelma (Dark Fall Dream if you translate directly.)
Here’s a short description of the race taken from the organising team Peräkylän Ponnistus or Backwood Hillbillies:
The Mammoths March
Mammoths March (in Finnish Mammuttimarssi) is an adventure type race that requires some orienteering skills to be able to stay on course and to find the various challenges that need to be completed.
The race is traditionally held yearly during the last weekend of October with distance in the various series ranging from 25 km to even over 170 km, so a bit of something for everyone. The race also usually offers qualifying points for the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc or UTMB race.
For 10 years the race was called Mammoth March. It is a race with different distances from 30 or 50kms to 130 – 160 kms. It includes running in road, trails and forest. Race starts always in the evening, on Friday between 8 and 9 p.m. You get the coordinates two week ahead, and you need to prepare and plan the maps and route for the trip. The options are often to go throug the woods or if you are unsure about orienteering you can take a longer alternative using bigger roads and trails. But you definitely need to know at least the basics of orienteering. The race includes always a swimming part which is done in a lake or the sea. The water is not particularly warm anymore at the end of October and that makes it even more interesting. Luckily it’s only around 10 meters of swimming. A few times the temperature has been below zero and the worst part is to put the frozen life vests on. It takes some courage to take your wet clothes off, swim in the dark and put the same clothes back.
Due to the short recovery time from Koli I decided to participate in 100 km distance and not the 160 km. I participated using my Backwood Hillbilly club name Pohjan Tähti (Northern Star) that was given to me when I became a member of the Backwood Hillbillies club.
The start for the 100 km group was at 8.30 pm. It was already pitch dark so we started with our head lamps on. The route consisted of 26 control point. Each team had a gps device that can be tracked by the organizers in real time. This help not only in emergency situation when help needs to be delivered to team but also to check that each team collects all control points in right order. In addition to gps the organizers had followed this year a simple procedure to check that every team goes via the control point. In a Barkley Marathon fashion the teams had to collect one page of each book placed at the control point. This was a nice addition and a first time for me to experience.
The first controls were quite easy. We started with Asmo a little faster than the others and after a while we could not see any other teams anymore. A little after two hours, around 18 km, we came to the control point where we were expected to swim. At this point it really helps not to think of anything rational, just act according to plan. And the plan was to be super quick. The swimming part took a few seconds and the rest of the total 12 minutes of stop is mostly consumed by putting back those wet running clothes with your freezing fingers not moving the way you want them to. Not a very pleasant stop but a necessary one to avoid the penalty of running an extra 7 km. After the swimming we increased the pace a little just to get warm again.
After about some 30 km I started to feel the fatigue in my body. Clearly I had not recovered from the Koli 131 km race only three weeks earlier. It is not that easy to find out that you still have almost 80 km to the finish line when your body just wants to quit the race. Luckily Asmo is extremely good in orienteering so we didn’t have any trouble finding the control points. This was nice since I was not very keen on covering any unnecessary distance.
As the kilometers kept slowly piling our pace just kept declining. I had to walk even the smallest uphill’s and I had some trouble with my breathing. At control point 16 the organizers had provided drinking water for the runners. We had a short break here to fill you bottles with fresh and cold water. However the wind was so cold that we had to continue running as soon as possible. The cold wind also kept those walking periods shorted.
After crossing the Kiikala airport, which is not by the way used that much anymore, I was not able to follow the route for some time. This was due to my own mistake of forgetting one part of the map probably somewhere in the competition center while going through the route with Asmo before the race. Luckily I had Asmo to rely on. After a couple of controls I was back on the map and able to follow our route again. We took a short break and eat some bread and chips. It was almost 8 am in the morning when we turned off our headlamps. That was surprisingly late. Sometime in the morning I had to put on my extra jacket just to keep myself warm. The last control points we just kept pushing to finish the race and getting to sauna. Finally after 13,5 hours and about 100 km we reached the finish line.
Synkkä Syysunelma is a nice race concept with not only running but also some orienteering. This makes it somewhat different to other running competitions. And not to forget about the swimming.