Written by Ossi Peltoniemi (translated from Finnish) 

Images by Jussi Sirviö (@sirjussi)


Since 1947, Muurola Piikki, has been hosted in a small Finnish village, making it the oldest running event in Lapland. The name of the race consists of the village, Muurola, near the Arctic Circle, and the word Piikki, which means “spike” in English.


Curiously, Spike does not refer to the shoe, but to the 25-kilometer race distance. Instead of choosing one of the race calendar’s larger city events, I started the fall road running season at the smaller event where the winning prize is a handmade nail from a local blacksmith.

Today, Spikes are rarely contested in Finland, but in the past, 25-kilometer races were very popular. In fact, there are several Finnish names on the world record list. At this year’s Spike, there was a delightful number of participants as several dozen ran. A few years ago, I was the only participant in the competition’s main event. Had race organizers not called asking if I would run, the event may have ended.

Ending the tradition would have been sad, and while I ran the race alone, I felt grief, but also pride. I was the last man standing and the race stayed alive.

I started to think about the old Finnish running culture while at this year’s event. If you want to experience the thoughts, smells, and running fashion of yesteryear, I recommend participating in some of the small traditional races. You won’t regret it because you can’t get any closer to time traveling. These old events still exist, but they are slowly disappearing. In Finland, these smaller events are called hölkkä (jog), but the pace of these events is far from jogging.

Small Finnish village races have their own special atmosphere where local schools, sport houses, and athletic fields act as competition centers. There are no guides when you arrive, so it might not feel like a race is going to be run that day. Gradually, a small crowd flows into the scene and there might even be more spectators than runners. There isn’t necessarily a start/finish area, but rather a line drawn in the gravel. Certainly, don’t expect chips for timing, because if there are any bibs at all, they will be from old cross country skiing competitions. Once you are provided a number, you are directed to the small and cramped locker rooms where stepping inside, you immediately smell an odor that has remained for decades. The bitter smell of clothes burned by sweat mixed with fresh menthol liniment is a memory you don’t forget.

Before the start, you will see runners sweaty from their warm ups. Some of the runners have been attending the event for decades, but there is still a sense of excitement for them. Those who are familiar, might exchange thoughts about upcoming races. A Finnish man is rarely heard talking passionately about clothes or shoes, but in the locker room, the latest footwear models are on the lips of many. On the other hand, if you are interested in the history of running clothes, then the most retro collections can be found in these locker rooms as some of the older men have been wearing the same clothes since the 70s.

At the starting line, the gunman gives the final instructions to everyone. The route is marked, but not very accurately; however, it doesn’t matter much as everyone knows the course. It has been the same for the last 50 years. Races start with a pistol, a whistle, or a simple audible “go!” Timekeeping is handled by the old men in the village’s stop watches.

The race progresses at its own pace. In these races, running is often a struggle between a man and a man. This is racing at its purest.

My friend once told me that in these races, you don’t see hobby joggers as everyone is a true runner. Routes are vague, so exact times don’t matter all that much. Only old men’s recollections of past route records may arise in conversations, but otherwise viewers may be more interested in meeting new running friends than the actual winning time.

When you reach the finish, the tension is released and everyone starts to chat (as much as Finnish people are comfortable with). The jovial feeling is increased by the effect of the berry juice offered as refreshment. It’s a nostalgic taste for every Finn as it’s what was served after elementary school cross country ski competitions. While waiting for prizes to be awarded, some runners head out for a cool down while others go directly to the sauna. Already, on the sauna benches, there is talk about next year’s race and many vow to return again.


Ossi Peltoniemi / @ossipeltoniemi. 

A history teacher and long-distance runner from Rovaniemi, Lapland (Finland). Currently Ossi is training hard to run sub 2:30 at the Berlin marathon.