Markkasen Maraton Vol. 2

This event, the Markkasen Maraton, takes its inspiration from the notoriously difficult Barkley Marathons race in the USA, but it is not trying to copy it exactly. The organizers brainstormed what a Finnish version might look like, and they came up with this as an idea for one loop of the real event, which has five loops.

Update after initial posting: Below, I will add some awesome photos from one of the organizers, Pasi Flinkman.

After name dropping such an infamous event, allow me to immediately address the elephant in the room: Do I think that participating in this small event in Finland will somehow help me gain entry into the race in the USA? No, I don’t. Have I tried to apply to the event in the USA? No, I haven’t. Do I know how to apply? Theoretically, yes. Is Barkley my goal? Nope. Is it my dream? Of course! Do I think I will ever go to the Barkley? Nope. Do I want to? Of course!

Photo: Bebbe. Shoe stuck in the mud.

At the end of the day, I do train hard, but I am not as naturally talented as many. I am happy to report, however that my navigation (compass and map work) is finally improving tangibly. I can finally contribute to team navigation in a useful manner. Hurrah! What does this mean in practice? Well, have a look at the video below that shows the process of running while trying to read a map. Thanks for Matti Virtanen for being the chief navigator and Bebbe Nilsson for the video and all his many contributions. Bebbe, who doesn’t do orienteering, was actually the first to find at least two of the control points! Do I still make navigation mistakes? Yep, but I avoid many of my previous mistakes and the mistakes that I still make are corrected much more quickly now (usually).

Looking back on this event, I have to say that the Blister Brothers successfully executed a safe, fun, and enjoyable event this year. Sure, we suffered during the long hours with wet feet, but we smiled most of the time. I am truly grateful for the amount of work that the organizers put into this. I don’t think I have even the smallest inkling of how much behind-the-scenes work goes into this.

This is the sound of rain, hail, running, walking… all the time while reading a map and compass. Video: Bebbe

What is the Markkasen Maraton? Basically, it is a 12 hour orienteering event during which runners must find as many control points (rastit in Finnish) as possible and arrive at the finish line before the time expires. Runners begin with one map; if they make it to the last control on that map they get another map. This continues until the end. For more information see my post about the inaugural event last year. At some of the checkpoints you have to take a picture of a book to prove that you were there. The image below shows one of these books. The title in English is The Endless Road, which is quite appropriate for this event.

The Endless Road

Post continues after these awesome photos.

This year the event was demonstrably more difficult than last year; something I predicted in advance, based on the fact that last year a few people actually made it to the finish line. The thinking is like this: If someone completes the event, it is too easy! Last year my team and I made it to control point 27 out of 29 and had we not spent a super long time looking for 27, we may have had time to complete the event. This year, however, not even one team arrived at control point 25 out of 41. By the way, our drop bags were located at control 25, so no one in the whole event was able to benefit from their preciously stashed supplies therein (food, drink, bright headlamps, dry clothing). I actually had a pair of sealskinz water proof socks waiting for me in my drop bag. I was soooo looking forward to wearing them after having wet feet since the beginning of the event. Alas, my feet stayed wet and cold the entire time. The next image shows the success rate of 2021.

Everybody earned a Did Not Finish (DNF)

This year a few of the best racers did arrive at control point 24 within the 12 hour limit. As for my team, we made it to control point 22 and were on our way to 23 when the organizers called us and said it was time to call it a day and they then directed us to an extraction point. Yeah, too bad we couldn’t have gone just a bit more. At one point we were at the same rastit as the lead teams, but then we lost our position because we had massive problems locating control point 20. Part of the reason for this difficulty was the darkness and lack of proper orienteering headlamps.

So why was it more difficult this year? “A just question, my liege” (Wormtongue).

This year I felt that the organizers employed more subterfuge and purposeful trickery than last year. For example, the image below depicts control point Number 8. As can be seen, the black jagged line (a cliff) runs slightly to the left of the center of the control circle. This would normally indicate that the actual control point should be below the cliff, on the east side. Moreover, the map includes a short descriptive clue for the exact location of the control point. For this particular control point, the clue was ‘jyrkänteen alaosassa’ which means ‘at the bottom of the cliff’. And so we spent a long time searching the bottom of the cliff. Quite a few other teams were there as well. So where was the actual control point? At the top of the cliff. 🙂 The second image below shows the GPS track of our frantic search for the control.

Control point (Rasti) 8
Where is Rasti 8? GPS track

So yes, in the 2021 event, I felt as though the organizers were trying to mess with our minds and fool us. Unsurprisingly, Rasti 8 wasn’t their first shenanigan of the day. Surprisingly, we hadn’t yet learned our lesson. Even way back during the first three control points, the organizers had already put our IQs to the test.

Have a look at the next image below and ask yourself the following question: Should we follow the numerical order of the control points? Or should we maximize our limited time and collect the control points based on proximity? Note that we were approaching all of these control points from the south of the map. Should we go to 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 as one would in a normal orienteering event in which numerical order is mandatory? Or should we be clever and go from 1 – 3 – 2 – 4 in an attempt to save time? What would you do?

Gambling

Well, we did debate the topic for a few minutes and decide that the route 3 -1 -2 -4 would be most efficient. We thought we would be able to take the required picture at each control point and no would care, or know, that we went out of numerical order. How foolish we were. As you may have guessed, Rasti 3 was locked and required a code from an earlier control point to open it. And so we went from 3 – 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 and ended up losing more time than we would have if we had followed the numerical order from the beginning. The second image below shows our embarrassing walk (run) of shame.

Walk of shame

What did I learn this year that might help me in the future?

As I ponder over this event and think about the future, what could we have done differently? What feedback would I offer the organizers? What feedback would I give myself? I’ll include some ideas in the following list.

  1. In 2020, the oppressive heat nearly derailed our team. In 2021, the cold and wet nearly did the same.
  2. This year, finding the control points was more difficult because there was no red and white tape marking the location of the control point (nauha), as there was last year.
  3. Adding to the difficulty was the fact that the orienteering circles on the map seemed slightly off, on several occasions. Perhaps that was intentional? 🙂 Maybe. For example, after a long search, we eventually found Control 6 ‘kirja hylly’ meaning ‘book shelf’ in a location I feel was actually outside of the red orienteering circle on the map – let alone in the middle of the circle where it would be in traditional orienteering! This is frustrating, but hey, it’s the dealer’s choice and the organizers are free to do as they please. 🙂
  4. One of the control points was black water proof bag that I nearly walked next to without noticing. A black bag in a dark forest! Luckily I barely noticed it.
  5. If you want to see our official GPS tracking in real time, here is a link: http://www.tulospalvelu.fi/gps/2021markkasenmaraton/. Note the start times were staggered by five minutes per team. It’s interesting to watch the replay and observe how the teams jockeyed for position over the course of 12 hours: We passed some teams in the first few hours but then some of same these teams passed us later.
  6. We had two massive mistakes that basically ended our journey. I checked the times on the GPS to calculate how many minutes we lost: Rasti 20 (40 minutes lost) and Rasti 21 (22 minutes lost). We were tired, hungry, and and perhaps even a bit grouchy by that time.
  7. What about shoes? I wore Altra Olypmus 4 shoes and 1000 Mile socks (fusion). I had zero blisters, which is kind of a miracle for me. I wonder if the cold weather played a role in my lack of blisters. We shall see. Those shoes are not the best for the highly technical terrain in the forest, but they are excellent for long adventures. I chose comfort.
  8. I probably drank around 4 – 5 liters of sports drink during the 12 hours; much less than last year. Last year the heat and lack of water were major problems. This year the cold and wet were problems – though the latter situation requires much less water for drinking.
  9. Random thought: My favorite control point was Number 5 because the clue read ‘near a fallen tree’ and in that area there were hundreds and hundreds of fallen trees. I wish I had taken a picture.

Though we suffered, this was a wonderful experience and I am truly grateful to the Blister Brothers for safely organizing this small scale event during the pandemic (I believe that only about 30 runners were in this event). Personally, I find that it is much easier to train when an event is on the proverbial horizon. Unfortunately, during the past two years, nearly all of my events have been cancelled. I know that the whole pandemic / COVID 19 situation could be worse for me as it was for many, so I count my blessings. However, I can honestly say that I have been concerned about my mental health lately due to a lack of socializing and racing. I completely respect the safe guards that are in place because of the pandemic, but I think that outdoor exercise events should be opened up now, or at least soon – at least for participants if not for audiences.

Photo: Matti. This is Bebbe and myself near the end of the event. I was finally so cold that I had to put on my jacket and beanie. I should have done that much earlier as I had been shivering for hours. I’ll add a few more photos below in a gallery.

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