Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Long Night

Last weekend 10mila was held just north of Stockholm, and I had the privilege to run it with my Swedish club, Göteborg-Majorna OK. I ended up running the leg they call "Långa Natten", or "The long night". It was a crazy experience, and I've had more than enough time now to gather my thoughts. So here goes...

For those that don't know, 10mila is an overnight 10 man relay, and the most prestigious Swedish relay, with around 330 teams entered this year. GMOK, like most other Swedish clubs, had put in a lot of preparation ahead of the race. It is one of the year's biggest weekends in the orienteering world, and I was really looking forward to it again this year. Little did I know what was really in store for me.

It was with excitement a week before the race when I found out I was chosen to run the 7th leg on the club's second team. A 7km  day leg on a really solid team. But things changed a day before the race on the bus up to Stockholm. Coach Fredrik sat down next to me and asked if I could trade legs with Robert on the 4th leg, since he was feeling a bit uncertain after some sickness. I didn't hesitate too long before I came up with a response.

"Um... yeah, sure". As those words slipped out of my mouth my heart began to race. What did I just agree to do!? Långa Natten, 18km in the middle of the night, the most storied of the 10mila legs, the make or break leg where some teams lose it all...

I sat in my bus seat for the next hour pretending to sleep, but really having my head swirling with what laid ahead.  My thoughts went back to highlights of previous years, what the guys said who ran the leg last year, and the exciting stories of Ottawa club member Stefan Bergström. It was all a drastic change from the short  day leg that I was expecting to run.

As nervous as I was, I knew that I was prepared to do it, and I knew that I wouldn't have been asked if the coaches didn't think so as well. I've felt in really good shape as of late, and I'd run quite well in recent night races and trainings.

I managed to get a few hours sleep before we arrived at the arena at 11pm, an hour after the start. After scoping out the arena and drinking some much needed coffee, I got in a bit of a shortened warm-up and was into the change-over just after 1am.

All three of my teammates ahead of me ran super well, and we were sitting in a better position than I thought we'd be. Mikael changed over to me in 34th, 15s behind a pack of 6, and 11minutes behind the leaders. The thing about Långa Natten this year is that it was unforked, meaning that it really paid to be in a good group. It was really important that I catch the group ahead, which included IFK Lidingö, one of the race favorites. I managed to catch up after the long run to the start triangle, but I had pushed too hard to do so.
Course Overview

I don't remember a whole lot about the first leg, from trying to get settled into the pack and get the massive A2 map folded. The pace was really high with Lidingö leading the group. To the 2nd and 3rd I was able to check things off, but I was mostly just trying to hang on at the back of the line of lights. We had managed to gain 20s on the leaders at the 3rd control at 4.7km, but then things got interesting on the long leg to the 4th.

There wasn't a whole lot to read on to this control, and we ran straight on through the green areas. I started to get really tired here, and was struggling through the closely knit pines. I mostly remember just focusing on the light in front, as the ones ahead were already hidden past the next trees. One guy had already dropped off, and I wasn't sure how much longer I could last at this pace. "Just to this next control", I told myself.

As I felt we were getting somewhat close I took a stumble and dropped my map behind me. In those five seconds it took me to regroup I had lost the lamp ahead in the thick forest. I was all of a sudden on my own with not much of a clue where we were. I pushed on to try and get a sight of the lights farther ahead, and as the forest opened up I could see them a bit off to my left.

As the lamps started to get closer I arrived at a control, #48, control 5! As I had tried to recover after my fall they had punched 4 and I had followed their lights on to 5. What a horrible feeling! How could I make such a big mistake? Well, when you're not reading your map and trying to hang on for dear life in the middle of the night crazy things happen.

I was so close!

The scariest feeling was suddenly being on my own during Långa Natten. As I trudged back up the hill a trailing pack of 7 runners passed me in the opposite direction. After five minutes lost I got back to #4, luckily with a runner from Tampereen Pyrintö. It was nice to have company on the long tough leg to 7, which we spiked.

After a small mistake to 8, I was on my own again. The leg to 9 was another tough one, but I ran it quite well, if a little bit slower to be safe. I ran the rest of the course alone, but with no mistakes, although the orienteering was simpler. It was really hard though to keep pushing hard on my own with tired legs.

I changed over in 44th, losing 10 places, but most of them to top teams. I'm most frustrated by the big mistake to 4, and wondering if I could have kept on to a pack longer in the nicer woods and paths in the second half. A bit disappointed, but I got through the long tough course ok, without too much damage done.

They call it the Long Night, but in retrospect, it didn't seem so long at all. 18km flew by, and before I knew it I was into the last few controls. As I was running along an open ridge into the second last control I could see the horizon brightening to my left. By the time I was heading to the showers and sauna it was fairly light out, and an hour or so later I was lying in the sun waiting on our next runners while trying to catch some z's.

The rest of my team ran well, and were able to bring us back into the top 40 as the second best second team in 37th. Proud to be a part of that!

So much time and effort goes into 10mila, and I'm amazed at how calm and organized the coaches and crew kept during the weekend.  It is definitely not possible without them. A huge thanks to them!

The weekend wasn't a great success for the club, with the men's first team having some really bad luck, losing a lot of time during Långa Natten due to a broken headlamp.  But the positive club spirit remained on the bus ride home, knowing that these things tend to happen in the crazy tiomila night.

I hadn't really thought of it beforehand, but running Långa Natten was, in the back of my mind, a bucket list item. An experience I'll never forget.

Now on to the next one...

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  1. Awesome write-up Robbie! Not everyone can say they've run the long night at 10mila and you did it well.

  2. Great story Robbie. Great run too