16th European 24-hour Rogaining Championships – Latvia

Photo: ERC

Writing on August 26, 2020. I participated this past weekend in the 16th European 24-hour Rogaining Championships with Matti V. in Latvia. The competition was moved from June to August because of COVID-19. Interestingly, the Covid statistics in Latvia are actually better (meaning lower) than in Finland.

Suzanne’s excellent mask handiwork in a nearly empty plane

On Friday, we flew from Turku on an early flight and arrived in Riga, Latvia around 6.30 in the morning. Everyone in the airports and on the plane was required to wear face masks. I had a mask that my MIL made and I also sometimes used a buff. After arrival in Latvia, we had to wait in the airport for our car rental office to open at 8.00. An employee showed up at 7.30 and I asked if we could get our car, but he said we would have to pay an extra 30 euros for early pick up. 🙂 So we waited until 8.00 and were eventually served by an over-eager new(ish) employee who took his sweet time helping us – but I didn’t mind, because he was trying so hard to do a good job.

Photo: ERC during the 24-hour event – the next morning

After being set free in our car, we drove immediately to the competition center for the race, which was located outside of the city of Tukums in the tiny village of Milzkalns. The drive took only about 1 hour though we did stop for some snacks at a gas station, Circle K. I haven’t seen a Circle K since I was a kid in the USA. We used to walk there to buy Garbage Pail Kids cards and slurpees. At this store in Latvia, I quickly learned that not everyone in the country speaks English (like most do in Finland and other Nordic countries). The middle-aged ladies and I had a nice laugh together as we tried to communicate about how many hot dogs I wanted. And so after a quick snack we drove to race location. While driving, I also quickly learned (remembered) that people drive more aggressively in most countries, compared to Finland. Luckily I have experience driving in Russia and the United Arab Emirates (Dubai). The speed limit outside of cities in Latvia is 90 kph but if you actually drive that speed you are putting yourself and others in danger because everyone will queue to pass you. Note to self: Don’t let certain people in my immediate family drive in Latvia. 🙂

We arrived on site in the early morning with more than 24 hours until the start of the competition, so we decided to hone our skills using a practice map that uses the same scale as the competition map. The practice map location was about 15 kilometers from the race event center. Quick side note: Having lived outside the USA for more than 15 years, it is extremely difficult for me to write ‘center’ rather than ‘centre’. My mind has adopted certain British spelling conventions.

Matti in the practice area
Practice area

The practice map taught us that the terrain would be variable and include considerable shrubbery and high ground plants. We did not complete the whole map because we wanted to conserve energy for the race. We covered about 8 kilometers, much of it walking.

After our training practice, we drove to Hesburger (Finnish restaurant) in Tukums. We were tired and wanted to sit down to eat in the cool interior, but a large group of youth led us to decide to use the drive-thru and eat in the car, which was a safer decision as far as corona risk.

Friday evening we spent around and in the hostel at the race event. The organizers provided a nice opening ceremony that included traditional folk dancers as well as a prerecorded video welcome from the President of Latvia speaking in English. While watching the program, I enjoyed a flavor of Fanta that doesn’t exist in Finland.

Watermelon, melon, starfruit!

After the opening ceremony, we went to our room and slept the night away. We were both surprised that we actually got a decent night’s sleep. Matti, in particular, had had very little sleep the two previous nights because of a busy work schedule, so this respite was most welcome.

Waiting for the opening ceremony. We were quite early.

Saturday morning we dressed in our race clothes and packed our race vests. We each started the event carrying about 2.5 liters of water, food for 24 hours, and some extra gear. Each pack weighed about 5-6 kilograms in the beginning, which is a bit heavy for running.

At 9.00 in the morning, we were given our race maps and we had 3 hours (really more like 2.5) to plan and make our final preparations. Any electronic devices are forbidden during the planning and the event, so we prepared a string in advance with markings at every 5 kilometers. We placed this string on the map to design our route and then later used permanent markers for the same, after finalizing our plan.

Photo ERC

Below is the string we used. Black markings at every 5 kilometers, red at 10km, and orange at 50km using a map scale of 1:27000. The total length of the string reached to about 100 miles of real terrain, which we knew would be too long. We figured that we would probably run between 120-140 kilometers in the 24 hours.

And so we all lined up and started running at 12.00. Matti did a good job keeping us from starting too fast, which is a particular weakness of mine, so that was smart. I don’t think I will try to give a shot-by-shot recall of the actual event (you can see our entire route here at the men’s GPS tracking). Rather, I think I will write about what I learned and how to prepare for the future.

What I will write about the event, though, is that the course contained many technically challenging sections of thick forest and undergrowth. We tramped through many bogs and swamps. Rain poured on us for several hours and we were soaked through completely. The course had nine water stations and I believe we visited seven of them. Running at night was preferable to day as the temperature was cooler (around 15 c at night). I contributed to helping find a few control points, but Matti conducted most of the precision strikes. I am slowly improving my map reading, but I have much to learn. I hit the proverbial wall badly around 20.30 and we had to stop and walk for at least 30 minutes while I recovered from an overwhelming feeling of exhaustion. The pace the few previous hours was a bit faster than what I was comfortable with, so I was unable to stay well hydrated and fed. I did have one or two low moments later in the race, but as long as I was eating and drinking calories, I was able to run (although it looked more like a jog/speed-walk at times). Matti was strong 99% of the time. I think I saw him without a smile on his face only one time. 🙂

Matti’s heart rate data. I think the dip is just about when I hit the wall and we had to slow down

We unfortunately misunderstood one of the rules about crossing fields with fences that cost us almost exactly 20 minutes. We eventually figured it out and didn’t repeat it, luckily. You can see in the image below that we were the only team to go around the yellow field (the other colored lines show where teams had crossed previously). It had a wire fence so we thought we were supposed to circumnavigate. It turns out that that rule only applies to crop-growing fields, and this was more of an animal pasture. That one mistake probably cost us from getting on the podium in our division. Live and learn.

The results are here at this link. We got 21st place out of around 240 teams as well as 6th place in our division. I really like rogaining because it combines endurance running with the need to critically think and navigate in difficult situations like darkness, swamps, and underbrush nearly as tall as me. But I need to learn more about map reading. Had this contest been based upon kilometers alone, we have placed as the 6th team overall and 1st in our division. Just for a mental exercise, let’s look at the event had it been based only on kilometers, which I know is not fair because teams would have changed their strategies if that were an actual rule. But anyway…

If results had been based on total kilometers in the event + calculation of points per kilometer

  1. La Sportiva (Tammemäe and Linnus) with 144.3 km still would be in 1st overall. Score: 457 = 3.17 points per km.
  2. Ilmäraeksimatud (Mirme and Roose) with 143.6 km still would be 2nd overall. Score: 439 = 3.06 points per km.
  3. MĂĽrsk XIV (Klais and Roosaare) with 136.2 km would have been 3rd (real placement was 6th overall. This means they need to learn to read maps better (just like me!). Score: 388 = 2.85 points per km.
  4. Baltu Lokys (Jasinevicius and Rudys) with 129 km would have been 4th (real placement was 10th overall). Better map reading would have helped this team too. Score 362 = 2.81 points per km.
  5. Laid mums tur laime diet (Bibers and Jasans) with 128.5 km would have been 5th (real placement was 3rd!). Score: 410 = 3.19 points per km. So this team did the best job planning.
  6. Swan and Eagle (Palmer and Virtanen) with 123.9 km would have 6th (real placement was 21st). Score 327 = 2.64 points per km. Obviously this shows that we need better map planning and reading.

So Teams 1 and 2 had the most kilometers and the most points, but Team 3 actually had the highest points per kilometer. Very interesting. Sounds like we need to get a sporty mathematician on our team (who can do this math without electronic devices, which are forbidden in competitions). I wonder if David Radnell will read this… 🙂 I should note that the info above is only based on the men’s results. Using data from the other teams would alter the results above (but not too much).

The End

On Sunday after the race, our flight home to Turku left just before midnight so we had a few hours to kill in the airport. Matti and I both fell asleep on the chair benches. Luckily, Matti checked his phone and then woke me up – otherwise I would have missed the plane.

As for unwanted souvenirs, I had two ticks (first time in my life having even just one!). Additionally, I seemed to have turned my ankle and now it is swollen with a nasty blister on the outside of my heel – I can’t figure out how to avoid those yet. The ground wasp stings – so painful! – on my leg still remain as well.

I would like to thank the organizers for doing such a great job arranging for this competition even during a pandemic. They wore face masks / shields during registration. They put on a really nice event. Well done!

And thanks to Matti for his orienteering skills that far surpass my own!

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