More Irish teams ran in the Jukola and Venla Relays in Finland last weekend than ever before. Setanta Orienteers and Defence Forces Orienteers had entered teams while Irish runners also represented London and Finnish O-clubs.
The Jukola Relay is an annual 7-person overnight relay run around midsummer in Finland. This year's race, the 60th, was close to Tampere, accessible by Ryanair, and about 1500 teams took part: that'sover 10,000 runners. The Venla Relay is a 4-person relay for women only, run the afternoon before the Jukola (cynics might say that the girls are sent out to flatten the vegetation for the big race).
A largely-Setanta team of Nina Phillips, Mary O'Connell (3ROC), Deirdre O'Neill (FIN) and Hazel Thompson finished 727th in the Venla, while GEN's Mary Healy ran with Jalasjarven, who finished 669th.
In the Jukola, the DFO team os Seamus O'Boyle, Ruairi Short, Colm Hill, Tony Maher, Gretta O'Connor, Fabian Flood and Kevin O'Reilly finished a very credible 724th, with Ruairí's run bringing them in as high as 284th.
The largely-SET team of Timo Haikonen, Dave Weston, Mick Mangan, Brendan O'Connor (AJAX), Jim Mulroney, Stephen McCarthy and Seán Hassett finished 1128th, with almost every runner improving on the placing of the previous one.
London OK, featuring 3ROC's Ronan and Julie Cleary and John McCullough, finished 927th, having risen as high as 563rd after leg 2.
The Jukola started at 11 pm with the heart-stopping blast of an anti-aircraft gun, with 1500 runners charging for the narrow funnel, slowing to a walk up the sandy hill and dispersing in the young trees across the valley. Looking at it on the big screen at the changeover, it looked like a stream of coloured Smarties flooding into the forest, each runner's colourful top lit up by the following head-torch.
Leg 1 was 11.4km and the expected winning time was 72 minutes; leg 2 12.2 km (77 minutes), leg 3 13.2 km (81 mins), leg 4 7.8 km (45 mins), leg 5 7.9km (44 mins), leg 6 9.8 km (57 mins) and leg 7 13.7 km (77 mins).
Heavy rain during the night slowed up some of the runners on the first three legs, so the organisers delayed the mass start for remaining runners by 30 minutes to 09.15 on Sunday morning. This mass-start was even bigger than the first leg one, with long queues to punch the early controls: in fact, you could have to wait a minute or so even to see if there was a control there!
The terrain was coniferous forest with a few tracks, quite rough underfoot, with some extraction lanes. There was quite a lot of climb on the courses, plenty of marsh, some beautiful, fast forest with lichen-covered ground, but some parts of lower visibility.
Finnish club Delta, anchored by Valentin Novikov, won the Jukola Relay with the winning time 8.16.04. The Swedish team OK Linne (Patrick Higgins's (LVO) Swedish club) anchored by Mattias Millinger had been in top positions during the whole race finished second place, 92 seconds down, with Finland's Vehkalahden Veikot a further 7 seconds behind.
The Jukola website reports "The second position was a tight competition between OK Linne and Vehkalahden Veikot until the very end. At the last control the teams were separated by one second in favour of Vehkalahti, but during the final spurt OK Linne's Millinger was stronger and took the second place to Sweden.
Jukola's anchoring leg offered the spectators an extremely exciting play since the final decision hd to be waited for until the last minute. Right in the beginning of the leg the other top teams caught up Lynx who had started in the lead position with a difference of one minute to the other teams. Thereafter, the race was extremely tight. Novikov escaped from the others shortly after the middle of the course and after that he gave no chances for the other teams."
A live big-screen display using GPS showed the spectators where runners were going, while the whole thing was live in Finnish TV and radio through the night. On Sunday evening the Jukola had top spot on the TV sports news, displacing golf, soccer and car rallying!
Sweden's Domnarvets GoIF won the Venla relay in a time of 3.17.48.
Next year's Jukola and Venla relays are at Mikkeli, 230km NE of Helsinki and about the same distance from Tampere, on June 13-14. See
This year's results, routegadget and photos are here.