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Thursday, February 25, 2016

Race Report: Rovaniemi 150 2016

After my Iditarod Trail Invitational race last year it was pretty clear that I would return to Rovaniemi for a third time. In addition to 66 km and 150 km distances, last year there was a double distance 300 km for the first time. I had already decided to do the 150 km. Some people have asked me that why not 300 km? For those who don't know, back in 2014 I almost won 150 km. In the last kilometers I rode at wrong side of the Ounasjoki river and that resulted an extra loop. I had about 10 minute lead but lost the race to Rene Fisher only by one minute. Overall it was a great race from me but that dramatic finish has haunted me.

Winter ultras are far more unpredictable than other races. Conditions plays a major role. Every year there are different participants, and the level of competition is much higher now. My racing philosophy has always been to win myself and after that see where I stand in the final results. 2014 changed that a bit because I was so close to win. This time I set a super difficult goal for myself: to win this race.

I trained and prepared for the race a lot. A hell of a lot. And there were some scary moments. I had some back problems in December but luckily got my back in control quickly. I was on the edge, in terms of quantity and quality. And I was nervous. All kind of flus and lately influenza epidemic have hammered Finland. If I would get sick, the whole plan would collapse.

Luckily, it didn't. In the tapering period I was feeling great and I was optimistic with my chances in the race. In the last week, it snowed a lot in Rovaniemi and temps very only mildly below zero. It started to look like we would have at least tougher conditions than last year, when records were broken.

On Friday, the race briefing day, I rode a bit on the Ounasjoki:

Saturday, at the start line. Photo by Rovaniemi150:

As always, the start fast. I was in the lead group on the Ounasjoki river, and probably 3rd at the first checkpoint, Porohovi1. One of the fast men, Kyösti Soini, was opening a gap. There was no way for me to keep that pace so I just concentrated on my own pace. After Ounasjoki the real stuff started with the first snowmobile track to the Sinettajärvi. The conditions were soft and it was instantly pushing time! It was going to be tough race this time.

There were two 66 km riders in front of me. Another man to watch, Jussi Karjalainen, was with me and soon I couldn't keep his pushing pace. A tall man from SwedenZbigniew Wizner, passed me and he was pushing strongly. Certainly I didn't like the situation but it was still very early in the race so anything could happen. On the Sinettajärvi lake I soon passed Wizner and I was closing on Jussi. Sinettajärvi lake was rideable for the most part but it wasn't very fast.

Photo by Rovaniemi150:

After the lake I joined Jussi briefly. As soon as the tough climb on a snowmobile track started, we were pushing our bikes again. Jussi is also a tall guy with long legs. He was seemingly a very good pusher and again I couldn't keep the same pace. At some point Wizner came back and passed me. Also, the hard man in the 300 km race, Jan Kopka, was doing well.

It was hot, I kept my jacket open, but I already had first signs of headache. I drank and ate more. Eventually the mild headache faded away. A very good thing because the going was tough indeed.

After Vittavaara and Morajärvi checkpoints I passed Wizner somewhere and I was in third place. At the checkpoints we had to write our names before leaving, and there were in and out times too, but at this point of the race I didn't pay much attention to it. There is a bit longer road section between Peurajärvi and Kuusilampi checkpoints, and it was a relief to ride for awhile after the almost endless pushfest was going on.

Photo by Rovaniemi150:

At Kuusilampi checkpoint came the first surprise. Kyösti Soini had decided to DNF because his knee didn't stand all the pushing. I also noticed that Jussi wasn't too far away, maybe ~20 minutes. Kuusilampi CP is around halfway point, so I thought that anything is still possible and I just pushed harder. After a while I had to slow down just a bit because I knew that it could take easily over 20 hours to reach the finish and I was slightly worried if I had enough food for it. Another 300 km man, Antti Sintonen was doing great and I was going with him. He was able to ride some sections with ultra low tire pressure. My tire pressures were low too but I had tubeless setup so I couldn't go too low.

After a while I lost contact with Antti. Pushing felt pretty brutal here but there was that long road section ahead so it was about perseverance here. This race was so completely different compared to 2014! Finally the road section started and I pumped high tire pressures.

The long road section went pretty well but the fatigue started to kick in. I had to command myself pretty hard. As I reached the next snowmobile track to Torimokivalo I was surprised that it was rideable, for the most part. Some of the climbs had to be pushed, but it was slighly easier now. At Torimokivalo I passed the skier that had passed me after Kuusilampi. I was still about 20 minutes behind Jussi. I was tired but I didn't have any signs of sleep deprivation.

Just before Norvajärvi lake I caught Antti but Petri Lindström came behind and caught me. The wind was blowing really hard on the lake. We rode together. After Norvajärvi there was the last snowmobile track back to Ounasjoki. It was also rideable. It was good to have the company of Antti and Petri. Just before Ounasjoki we ate a bit, though Antti was heading to Porohovi2 checkpoint. When we arrived there with Petri, Antti took a short nap.

The wind was brutal on the Ounasjoki river too. We shared the work and agreed for a sprint finish to settle 2nd and 3rd place. Petri was just a bit stronger in the sprint.

Although I didn't win, I was on the podium again, and I really put a very hard effort. Actually, I think this is my best performance in the 20-24 hour range. I did everything I could and didn't left anything to the trail. On the next day I had difficulties with easy walking and I was very sore.

I want to thank again my family for support and my sponsors: 45NRTH, Porcelain Rocket, 9:ZERO:7, LumicycleNextie and Alpkit. Thanks also to Alex and his team for organizing the race.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Winter overnighter and training

Apologies for the radio silence here in my blog. Life has been very busy and I have prioritized riding, training and family over blogging.

Proper winter weather arrived here in Southern Finland finally after Christmas. Last week we got fair amount of snow so it was time for an overnighter and more some serious training for Rovaniemi 150 race in late February. Perfect area for this is of course the National Park of Kurjenrahka.

The usual suspects, Peter and Juha, were also on the move. My plan was to join them in the night between Saturday and Sunday  I started riding from home around 23:00.

Getting a good warm at the Passage of Askala:

I was also testing new tires from 45NRTH, Flowbeist and Dunderbeist:

Temperature was around -18°C.

On the Vajosuo forest road. I forgot to charge the battery of my helmet light but single Lumicycle Explorer unit is very bright and you don't need that much light when there are snow everywhere.

I rode via Vajosuo shelter and Antti Sintonen was sleeping there. He woke up briefly. After few words I continued to the Vajosuo mire.

Peter and Juha had been riding and pushing their bikes here in the evening, so it was easy to follow their tracks to the Rettu shelter.

It was tough but great going on the mire. After it there was some bike pushing through a forest to the trail.

After ~45 km of riding and some pushing I was there. The clock was past 03:00. What a night!

The morning was beautiful, and the usual chores followed.

After rather slow morning we continued to Rantapiha.

Near Savojärvi I got a resupply of water from Peter and Juha as I had several hours of riding ahead. The guys would leave to home with their cars.

The first section of the trail towards Töykkälä was easy to ride as hikers had done some grooming.

The Kurjenrahka mire. It's truly amazing place, especially in winter time. That's why I call it 'winter paradise'.

I followed again Peter's and Juha's old tracks that would lead me eventually to Töykkälä.

After the magnificent mire that was partially rideable I was on the sketchy, notorious trail with all the broken duckboards.

I found myself pushing my bike more than riding it. Nevertheless, it was good hard training.

I reached Töykkälä around the sunset. I had still about 42 km of riding on the small roads to home.

I was pretty tired and had to really command myself, but after 8 hours I was back home.

Really happy that I got the full benefit from this weekend. All in all, it was also massive training week, with 22 hours 35 minutes and 360 km.

Thanks Peter and Juha for the company. Check out Peter's blog report and Juha's photos here.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Mammoth March Anguish

Over the last four years, one race has cemented itself in the calendar: Mammoth March. For those who doesn't know what this race is, here is a brief summary that I wrote back in 2013:

"The Mammoth March Impossible has potential to be most challenging and demanding ultra endurance race in Finland, specifically for runners. 170 km (closer 190-200 km for cyclists) distance is not that long for cyclists, but there are other elements that can make it really hard endeavour: start in the evening at 20.30 and consequently riding through the night in pitch darkness with sleep deprivation, orienteering that requires concentration, possibly adverse weather conditions of Finnish late fall. And that special swimming checkpoint in cold water. So, it's not just a long, long orienteering race. It's very much an adventure race."

Last year's edition was a bitter disappointment with a personal DNF while my team continued to the finish. This year marked 10-year anniversary of the event. To celebrate the occassion, the track master, 'Karhusolan Tiukunen', changed to longest 'Impossible' track to 'Anguish', meaning ~200 km instead of 170 km with fairly optimal orienteering for runners. For cyclist, it would be of course even more, easily ~240 km. The event would take place in the southern region of Forssa, including the national parks of Liesjärvi and Torronsuo. The rules of these parks forbids mountain biking, so some walking would be inevitable.

Like always, the level coordinates of the checkpoints were published about two weeks before the race. The first surprise was that 'Anguish' track had massive 45 checkpoints! Fortunately, the old 24 hour time limit was raised to 30 hours, but still it seemed like a daunting task because the track master is known for brutal race tracks.

In the previous years I haven't been much involved in the orienteering part but this year I really wanted. I ordered a map holder for my bike:

Our team from last year saw a change too when Tommi decided to participate in the 100 km March track. Unfortunately, another change was on it's way as Peter had a persistent flu and it really didn't make any sense for him to take this challenge which was to be very hard. We still had a track plan meeting on Monday and Peter was planning the route with me and Jarkko. Also, Peter printed maps for me. Our fairly optimistic estimate was that it would take 20-24 hours for us.

My preparation for the race was very good this time. I rode almost 1000 km from October 1st to 21st. I had also day off from work on Friday.

The weather forecast was optimistic too, but prior the event it rained hard so pretty much everything would be wet.

We were well in advance in the small race centre, Kievarin Kirnu in Turpoo. The race centres have always been small and ascetic, just perfect for the grassroots feeling this event has always had.

There were 18 teams (some of them were solos) on the start line. The mood was incredible, with Twin Peaks Theme as a background music! At 20PM we were off.

Checkpoint 1: after rather short ride on tarmac we encountered small forest road and then pretty rough terrain. Great start to this adventure. After CP1 we were a bit lost but found our way fairly easily to CP2. CP3 required a hike to the top of a scarp which was super sketchy! The actual checkpoint was inside a cave.

Some very slippery boardwalks followed on our way to CP4. This was first CP that required a long walk. The trail was very wet and slippery too. CP5 was fairly close where we left our bikes. We found it easily, but we were just a bit lost about our bikes. Soon we found them.

CP6: the swim! The evening and early night felt really warm so it was actually great to cool down. The water was indeed really cold but it was refreshing!

CP7: not much recollection about that one. CP8 was again in the area where mountain biking was forbidden. We followed the trail very closely, but it took a loop and we knew that the CP is on the other side of the loop. This took too much time, and when we finally found it we took a shortcut through the forest.

To our surprise, all the 'transfers' between checkpoints were gravel roads and some of them were very soft after the rain, and on top of that, some of them were plowed! So, CP9-CP12. I don't have much recollection about them, only that those gravel roads were super SUPER tough! But it was very fitting. This was Mammoth March. It is supposed to be very very tough!

CP13-14: first signs of sleep deprivation, but I got over it fast. CP15: we took a short break and ate more. The energy consumption was already horrendous at this point.

Photos of CP14 (maybe) and CP15:

We did a couple of orienteering mistakes on our way to CP16. When we finally found it, nothing was there. Probably someone had taken it off.

It was now early morning and the darkness was finally over. CP17 was easy:

We had also finally some asphalt road as we rode to CP18. It was on the highest point of this ridge:

And nice views on top of it:

CP19: beautiful place on the shore of 'Suujärvi', roughly translates 'Mouth Lake'.

CP20 was close to CP19. We hiked this steep hill:

On our way to CP21. This are was truly beautiful:

CP22: down to the shore. What a location! Tiukunen is truly the master!



After CP24 we had finally the planned break for more food and drinks in the centre of Forssa:

CP25: another beautiful location on the side of old waterworks:

CP26: Tiukunen had really done her work to find these strange spots:

My new map holder worked great, and the whole experience was now really different and way better as I was on the map all the time and navigating.

CP27: now this was tricky, a 'Tiukunen special'. We tried to approach it from the shorter side. The trail vanished soon and we made the right decision to ride to the other side of the forest and try from there. Well, the trail turned to wrong direction there. We left our bikes and walked to see if we would find the big stone where it should be. After some wandering we found it!

CP28-CP29: these were fairly easily found near these large fields:

CP30: longish transfer but finally on tarmac! This one was at the bird watching tower of Kiljamo, in the National Park of Torronsuo. The actual CP had been taken off from the tower:

Great views:

CP31-35: we had lots of gravel grinding with between these checkpoints, and uphills too. Things didn't look too good because we knew that the rest of the CPs would be pretty slow. One of the CPs here was a bit difficult to find and we made an orienteering mistake, taking some precious time. For the second time I felt also very tired and for a brief time I was sleepy as I pushed my bike.

CP36: we knew that we are in the right location, but we couldn't find the CP, which was supposed to be in a ditch. We seek pretty much every ditch with no result. This took again lots of time, and the sun was setting. We took a bit longer break in CP37 as we were tired and hungry.

CP38: we decided to take a shortcut but this turned out to be another mistake. We were in the Välisuo bog. On the map, there was a marked trail. The actual trail turned soon to a very dense copse, and pushing our bikes was slow and tough. We had already discussed that if we would not find CP38 easily, we would abort the mission. 24 hours in and with the views in the photo below, still 7 CPs left, it was probably the right decision.

We rode directly back to start/finish. The distance was probably between 15-18 km long and felt pretty hard even thought it was tarmac all the way. The elapsed time in the finish was 25 hours 35 minutes, 248 km riding with ~10 km of it was walking.

Normally DNF would feel like a disappointment but it didn't feel like that this time. We went to great lenghts, pushed ourselves very far and it was an epic experience. For the first time in this event, I was on the map all the time and orienteering. This made a big difference compared to other years. It was much more interesting and also rewarding and fun.

So, actually, DNF in this race doesn't necessarily mean complete failure. Finishing this race is far from being self-evident. Yes, it would have been great to finish with all the checkpoints, but in terms of experience, it was a success. Which brings to the purpose of Mammoth March. It's an adventure race, and we had a great adventure. And, Mammoth March is very unique race and event. Every year, the tracks are different, and after all, every team makes their own track. Mammoth March is a small race and has great grassroots feeling in it. It challenges every racer in a complete way. It is not for everyone, and it shouldn't be. I really hope to participate in many years to come.


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