Sunday, 18 December 2016

Charlie and the Suunto Factory

October 2016

I have a secret. Since May this year I have been a beta tester for Suunto. I'm allowed to tell you that much now. In October I travelled to Finland to take part in the first Suunto Summit. It was pretty epic.

In April this year a post appeared in my Facebook newsfeed. It was an advert to become a Suunto beta tester. I have been wearing a Suunto for 2 1/2 years now, ever since my wife bought me an Ambit 2S for our anniversary. They are top of the range multi-sport watches jam-packed with features. The advert was to help beta test a new Suunto website, an update of the Movescount site. In return the tester would get a new watch so that they could keep using the old site at the same time. Of course I clicked. It sounded awesome.

About a week later I found out I was in. A small group of testers had been chosen, though some had been Suunto beta testers for a number of years. I selected my watch - a Suunto Ambit 3 Vertical in lighting blue and then immediately refused to believe that it was for real. It wasn't until I received my watch in May and the testing started that I accepted it.
Blue Suunto Ambit 3 Vertical, just about visible on my wrist

The testing was actually loads of fun, though I can't tell you much about it as I'm bound by a confidentiality agreement. I found out lots about how Suunto operates behind the scenes, and lots of new ideas for how to use the watches. During this time I ran an ultra (NDW50) and a marathon, and the watches and websites were great.

Then in July I got another offer I couldn't believe. Suunto were bringing out a new watch series, called the Spartan and some of the beta testers were going to test it for them. I couldn't believe my luck when I was chosen as one of them. We received the watch at the same time as it went on sale and immediately started a bug hunt, as some features weren't implemented yet that had been announced on release. It's been loads of fun and the watch is an absolute gem.
Spoiler for Helsinki City Trail 21k, Suunto Spartan visible on my wrist

However that is not the story I'm telling you about today. Over the summer, the woman who had initiated all of the beta testing, Karoliina, also proposed the first Suunto Summit, which was to take place in Finland in October. At first I wasn't sure if I could go. I was writing up my phd thesis, and it was getting quite near deadline. However it became clear I had to submit before the Summit, I got approval from my wife and I signed up. What could be better for washing away the cobwebs of 9 years part-time phd work than an action packed adventure in Finland.

The summit was composed of a few different pieces: first we would gather at Suunto HQ in Helsinki on the Friday, then there would be a mix of workshops on Suunto apps and features and a factory tour, before we headed to our lodgings for the weekend - an amazing log cabin in the woods north of Helsinki. The log cabin was splendid with 3 bedrooms, chalet style mattresses under the eves upstairs, a sauna and jacuzzi. The next day we all headed back into Helsinki for Helsinki City Trail, either an 11 or 21 km trail race. Then it was back to the cabin for showers and another workshop before dinner in a teepee eating reindeer. The final morning we did some orienteering before making our way back to the airport and home.

I really wanted to attend all the events, so I ended up flying to Helsinki on Thursday and staying that night in an Airbnb flat in central Helsinki. I stayed in "Helsinki downtown jugend apartment" with Petri and his wife. The flat was great, really convenient and they made me an amazing breakfast the next morning, including Kareli pies, which would become quite a feature of the weekend and were an instant hit! Straight after I arrived I headed into Helsinki to meet the other early arrivals and had a couple of drinks with them and Karoliina, before heading to a restaurant with another tester Simone for a late dinner.
View from Hotel Torni rooftop bar
The next morning I was up and about early and headed into Helsinki for a walk about prior to catching the bus to Suunto HQ. I had a couple of hours and wanted to do a bit of touristy snooping and maybe some shopping. It turned out that most shops didn't open till 11, but I did manage to walk around a lot of the central sea front and see a few parks.

Then I headed back into town to the Central Train Station to catch the bus. I met Simone from Italy, who I'd had dinner with the night before, Craig and Adrienne from Canada, Jacub and Dita from the Czech Republic and Paul from Australia. We travelled together to Suunto HQ and chatted about our adventures and interests. Probably most interesting was Jacub and Dita's story of meeting because they were both wearing Suunto watches.
We successfully got off at the right stop, and then all had a bit of pilgrim moment taking pictures outside the holy site.

Inside I was a little overwhelmed by the Suunto historical wall of watches. So much tech goodness!

We met up with Karoliina and a few other Suunto staff, and tucked into a buffet lunch in the Suunto cafeteria.
The afternoon was split between workshops on coming features for the Spartan, a panel question and answer session and a factory tour.
Panel discussion at Suunto HQ. Credit: Matt Mitchell, Suunto.

Factory tour. Credit: Matt Mitchell, Suunto.

Piles of compasses! Credit: Matt Mitchell, Suunto.

Piles of watches for shipping.
More Suunto shenanigans. Credit: Matt Mitchell, Suunto.

More of the group arrived during the afternoon, and it was great getting to know everyone. After dinner we got into a couple of vehicles to drive to our lodging for the weekend, an amazing log cabin at Karhunpesa in Espoo.

The log cabin was incredible. It had views over forested Finnish countryside, a huge fireplace, a sauna and an 8 person outdoor jacuzzi. It was to be our sanctuary for the next couple of days. After a little more getting to know each other over a beer or two we headed to bed, as the next day we were taking part in Helsinki City Trail!
Suunto staff were hosting us at the cabin, in particular Karoliina and Teemu, who looked after us so well. In the morning they got up before anyone else and made us an amazing breakfast, including more hot buttery Kareli pies!
After breakfast we all got ready for the run, and piled into a couple of vans for the journey to the start. I was in a van driven by Matt Mitchell, who had come to work at Suunto from Canada. He was a really nice guy but asked what our goals for the race were. Everyone else was sensible and had researched the race, but I said it was my first half for ages and I was just going to go all in. My last half had been a flat fast road run where I got a PB. Helsinki City Trail would turn out a little different...
The start was the north of the city, and the 11k started a little earlier than the 21k. I watched the first start and then warmed up. I wasn't even overly concerned at the sharp hill near the start or the technical terrain. My normal attempt to run fast in the warm up so that I don't in the race didn't work either...
I started the race in the middle of the pack and then went full charge at 8 min miles. For the first couple of miles. It was the most technical demanding trail I have ever run on. It was relentlessly hilly. You needed to concentrate on your foot placement at all times. My heart rate leapt to over 180 bpm almost immediately and stayed there. There was no way I could keep this effort level up, and after the first 2 miles I started slowing down, though my heart rate stayed high the whole race. I was constantly overtaken. By the end I was run/walking 11 min miles and finished in 2:12 something. I had had my ass thoroughly handed to me. The second picture above is from the end of the race and I think it is clear how destroyed I was.
I met up with the other Suunto staff and summit attendees and compared notes. A couple of people had outstanding races and hats off to them, others had found the course challenging. Everyone pointed out to me how I didn't stop shaking for about half an hour.
I loved it. It was a new level of challenge I will need to be tougher for and treat with a great deal more respect. Bring on next year!
We headed back to Karhunpesa and jumped in showers and the jacuzzi. Then there was a final Suunto workshop and a meeting with the head of Suunto, before we headed to the nearby giant teepee to eat reindeer. This was another highlight of the weekend for me. Something utterly unique and wonderful.
I only have one photo of the night, where Karoliina and Maria played the guitar and sang a few songs for us. As I said utterly unique and wonderful.
My table was in great cheer and laughed the whole evening. Good times.
After another good nights sleep under the rafters and more Kareli pies the next morning it was time for the final event of the weekend: some good Finnish orienteering. Suunto employee Kimmo planned and laid some trails, and we formed groups and tried to find them.
This was terrific fun and something I had not done for over 20 years. It made me feel more confident about my navigation and interested to try my hand at races where navigation was more of a feature. Karoliina's husband cycled out later that morning to pick up all of the controls.

After we packed up, said our goodbyes and headed to the airport. I had made some firm friends, found at loads about Suunto, created incredible memories and put some faces to some of the people I share ideas with in the beta testing.
We could not have been better hosted by the Suunto staff and I would give especial thanks to Karoliina for so much hard work to make an enjoyable weekend for us.
What a weekend!

No comments:

Post a Comment