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.