Markkasen Maraton

Running in the heat and humidity through majestic and challenging terrain with map in hand… Let me tell you about the Markkasen Maraton hosted by the Blister Brothers. Race report below.

Photo: Jaakko Lehto

On Saturday morning, June 13, 2020 I traveled from Turku to a village called Röykkä in Nurmijärvi, a region north east of Helsinki. I drove my car with Jaakko L. and Lassi V. in tow and we met our fourth teammate, Benjamin N., at the local K-market store. We were there to compete in a long orienteering-like event called Markkasen Maraton.

Photo: Juha Tontti

The four of us would run together as team Banco Central for 12 hours in a competition that mimicked aspects of the Barkley Marathons and criminal activity of the infamous Finnish bad guy, Volvo Markkanen.

We arrived a bit early and waited around to receive instructions about the race. We knew the location of the start area and our time of departure at 12.54 pm.

To our surprise, no race organizers were present (at least visibly) at the start area, so we just found our maps, placed our drop and finish bags in a provided trailer, and started running at exactly 12.54.

The maps were not proper orienteering productions, but they worked as general topographical maps with varying scales. We followed the first map to our initial checkpoints and later received a second map, later a third, then fourth, and so on (see image below of maps 5-8).

Many of the checkpoints were actually fairly challenging to find and required navigation skills. Luckily I am slowly improving my map reading skills, and Jaakko and Lassi were there to help as well. Most of the maps contained motivational quotes that helped us as we struggled: Yoda’s ‘Do or do not, there is no try’ was nice. Some of the other quotes were: ‘Embrace the suck’, and ‘when you feel slow, lost and worthless, remember that you were once the quickest sperm cell!’

The first few hours of the competition were the most difficult for several reasons. First of all, the heat of the day was oppressive between 13.00 – 17.00. Second, the checkpoints required much more off-trail navigation than checkpoints later in the day. Third, we didn’t know exactly when we would have access to water, so we carried what we thought was enough (spoiler: it wasn’t enough). I started the event with 2.5 liters of water (sports drink) along with an emergency juice box of 0,2 liters. It turned out that our first water check point was about 24 kilometers away, which would have been fine on easier terrain or on a cooler day. But this day the temperature was in the mid 20s, bright sunshine, and quite humid in the forest. Luckily, Jaakko was able to give me some extra water he had, which helped me survive until the water checkpoint (I returned the favor later in the day). I was, unfortunately, beginning to experience the first signs of heat stroke before we arrived: headache, dizziness, and slowed responses. I know these symptoms well, so I could tell that I wasn’t quite at the total shut-down phase. When we arrived at the water station, I immediately drank as much as I could and then proceeded to baptize myself in a small creek nearby (see image gallery below).

As I noted above, the terrain was challenging, especially during the first half of the event. We passed through dark forests, deep brush, a swamp or two, a sand pit, epic rock formations, and more. At one point (see image below), I had to climb down a large boulder into a cave to retrieve the next map – and use a rope to get out. Why did I volunteer for that?

Photo: Lassi Vira

Road runners prefer smooth roads. Trail runners prefer smooth trails. In orienteering and rogaining, off-trail is home.

Off trail in the forest. Photo: Jaakko Lehto
Off trail in a swamp equals wet feet. Photo: Lassi Vira

At each checkpoint we had to take a picture of a book and send it to the organizers as evidence that we had arrived. Originally, the plan was for us to rip a specific page out of the book, but due to Covid-19, the organizers smartly adapted their plans. See the gallery below for a few of the books we found along with some other photos showing the terrain.

Only 3 out of 30 something teams made it to the finish line before running out of time (12 hours). We made it to checkpoint 27 of 29 with 90 minutes to spare, but after an hour of searching, we failed to find the checkpoint and decided to call it day. At that point it was mostly dark and we were using our headlamps (it never truly was completely dark, but headlamps were needed by about 23.00. My GPS shows that I was exceptionally close to checkpoint 27 (see below), but alas, we never found it. Would we have had time to complete the course if we had quickly found checkpoint 27? Probably not, but it would have been extremely close. In total, we covered around 63 kilometers in 12 hours, which is admirable considering the terrain.

Overall, the event was fantastic and I raise my hat to the organizers for their hard work. The terrain was amazing, my team stayed positive the whole time. Thank you for the snacks and warm fire at the finish line. Thank you for your creativity in this event – there is nothing like it in Finland (or anywhere!).

Finally, thank you to my teammates: Jaakko is a great navigator and runner. Lassi is also a great runner and is improving quickly at both running and navigation. Benjamin was a stranger to us, but now he is a friend with a positive attitude. When I think of Benjamin, I think of the Lego song “Everything is awesome!” 🙂

Humble suggestions for organizers

  1. Perhaps tell us a bit more info about when and where water will be available. Perhaps provide at least 2 liters per person as each water station? pliiiiide
  2. Have a place to camp, shower, sauna(?), clean up, warm up, and eat at the end of the event (actually, you did have most of these).
  3. Charge people to participate so you can more easily provide these suggestions (thanks so much for a free pilot version!). Make some $$$$$ off us idiots.
  4. Start early in the morning to avoid middle of the night driving home. Or, a good camping spot would also work.
  5. Provide enough maps for each team member (rather than max 2 maps per team).

Less humble suggestions for myself

  1. Carry more water, you fool!
  2. Jump into lakes more often, to cool off.
  3. Change shoes and socks at the drop bag. You know you should, so just do it.
  4. Use mosquito repellant more liberally.
  5. Improve map navigation. Lots.

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