“The weather´s looking rainy on Saturday night and early Sunday morning. Gonna be a rough night out.”
“But you´re coming to Tampere on Friday, right?”
Rogaining is an orienteering sport where the participating teams cover a maximum number of checkpoints of varying value (points) in a set amount of time. The teams must stay together through the race and make their way back to the starting point within set time to avoid penalties or disqualification. You can cover the distance either on foot or by bike. The team who has gathered most points wins the race.
In night rogaining you do the very same thing, only at night.
The Tampere Night Rogaining started on Friday night (doh!) at 8PM with a two hour planning session. Each team received a map with a total of 90 marked checkpoints and started planning their route to be covered through the night.
Our team consisted of two experienced orienteers, one runner and umm…myself. When the guys pulled out a box of needles, pre-measured thread, measuring tape, and marking pens and started working on the race plan, I knew I was way out of my depth.
Two hours reserved for planning went surprisingly fast and just when I was starting to get a hang of it we quickly gathered our belongings and started heading out for the race start. Our planned route for the next 8 hours was supposed to be somewhere in 60ish km ballpark.
Bikers took off first at 10PM heading off to varying directions forming long queues of headlamps before vanishing to the rainy night. The runners were standing by trying to stay warm while doing final adjustments on the gear and race plan.
Shortly after the bikers were gone us runners were called forward and soon we were off. It was 10:05PM and we had 8 hours of running ahead of us. Breakfast would be served right by the finish line at 6AM the next morning!
I had trouble making sense of the map while running but the rest of the team seemed to be confident on navigating so I followed along. In no time we hit the first checkpoint, did a quick “check in” with a mobile phone and headed on.
Our planned route started with a loop away from Tampere city and circled back towards downtown later in the race. After the first quick checkpoints near race center, the running legs started to get longer, darker and quieter. From the more experienced teammates I also learned a proper term for the phenomena.
“Laputtaa” (verb) means a long and boring leg of running during an orienteering race. It´s best experienced when there´s not much map reading required and progressing on the route requires just running long mindless stretches in the dark.
We did laputtaa a lot.
There were very few aid stations available during the race and therefore most of the fueling had to be planned around 24h gas stations in the area. However, the one aid station we did pass after 3 hours of running was one of the best ones I´ve experienced.
It was around 1AM when we stepped in to a well-lit wooden cabin and saw the menu of sausages, bread, sugary doghnuts, coke and coffee. We got almost too cozy sitting at a long wooden table sipping coke and coffee while stuffing down doghnuts and enjoying the warmth of the cabin. When it was time to head back out, my joints were stiff, legs were hurting and the idea of 5 more hours of running didn´t really sound inviting.
Luckily, our route started heading back towards Tampere city center. The streetlamps were a welcome change after darkness and the occasional stop at traffic lights allowed a short break after hours of running.
We criscrossed our way through sleeping neighborhoods, only stopping for a quick check-in every now and then when crossing a checkpoint.
After 3AM, when approaching downtown, we started meeting people in varying conditions heading home from a night out. The general expression we received was a mixture of surprise, curiosity or just flat out despise.
“What are you doing?” – “Look at those crazy people” – “ööö?” – “What the f…?”
We were too tired to react unless it was really necessary, and just tumbled onwards through Tampere nightlife.
The downtown action with lights and people was a welcome surge of energy for me. I had already been struggling for a good while counting hours to finish since hour 4 with 4 hours to go. Both time and distance seemed to crawl while the shape of my running kept getting worse.
I´m not used to running on asphalt and somehow the pace of our team seemed to constantly challenge me. When the team was walking, I had trouble keeping up and had to jog every now and then to catch up. Running pace was good in the beginning, but for some reason my legs were now hurting so bad I had trouble keeping up any longer. Looking at my watch, the pace should have been ok, but in practice it just seemed impossible.
Mentally, I was constantly slipping further away from where I knew I should be. Luckily, the rest of the team was doing good so I just put my head down and did my best to keep up.
The final stretch from downtown Tampere back to the race center in Hervanta took close to 3 hours. We kept picking up every possible checkpoint along the way and kept an eye on the time calculating the remaining distance.
My legs were in very bad shape hurting on every step wether I was walking or running. We tried to keep up jogging on flats and downhills and adjusted the remaining route optimizing the point gain before finish. The other teams we came accross seemed equally worn out.
In the end, our initial route planning turned out to be quite optimistic and we needed to skip parts of it to make it back to race center in time. On the fly route adjustments turned out working perfectly, thanks to the experienced navigators onboard.
These guys pulled us through the whole 8 hour journey with barely any mishaps. When looking at the actual route on map afterwards, I can only admire the precision of navigation considering the map scale, darkness and the tiredness we all experienced towards the later parts of the race.
When we finally checked in at finish line at 5:52AM and made our way towards the long awaited breakfast table, I took the time to check how we had fared in race results. I wasn´t really expecting much as the team had been dragging me along the later parts of the race much slower than I would have liked.
Luckily, the excellent route planning and precise navigation paid out. To my surprise, I found our team, “Hanhiperän Veto”, taking 8th place in the overall results! Small comfort after my disappointing performance during the race.
I´ve heard Tampere nightlife can be rough and it takes a good while to recover both physically and mentally. I tend to agree.