What Latvians mean by 'I'm a roebuck'

On a rainy, muddy Saturday morning, 389 dormice, 300 squirrels, 707 hares, 360 roebucks, and 187 lynx gather around a hill. A folktale? A children's story? A dystopian novel? Not this time. It is only the Latvian legend of the roebuck.

The roebuck legend began way back in 2014, and it has grown stronger and more popular since. So, what exactly is the roebuck?

The 'Stirnu buks' (roebuck in Latvian) is a trail running series taking place approximately once a month from April to October every year. The location is different each time, but the unchanging aspect is that the runners plough through forests and hills, jump over ditches, and generally get down and dirty in the sand and mud. The latest edition of the event on Saturday, May 21, took place in the Riekstukalns (Latvian for 'nut mountain' as a special treat for the squirrels) downhill skiing resort and the surrounding forests.

Weather forecast: rain with a chance of more rain. 

Everyone can choose their animal, or rather, the namesake distance. The dormouse runs approximately 1 kilometer and generally gathers children. The squirrel gets 4 to 6 kilometers, the hare 10 to 13, the roebuck 18 to 23, and the lynx 27 to 35. Those distances are really even more approximate as all running bends to the rules of nature. 

This time the start is right up a ski slope. When the starting gun has shot and the traditional roebuck start music has begun blasting ('Diņķis' by Latvian folk band Auļi – the song title meaning either a pond or male genitalia depending on where you're from, according to Latvian Thesaurus), the photo-ready smiles soon turn to general huffing and puffing as well as exclamations like

'That's enough for the day' and 'Who says Latvia has no mountains?'

 

The atmosphere, however, is joyful. The event gathers elite athletes and runners-for-fun alike. You can generally distinguish them by Stirnu buks merchandise, hashtags #esesmustirnubuks (I am a roebuck) or #ieskrienmežā (Run into the forest) on social media, and also, they will definitely tell you at some point.

Despite the rain, the Saturday event seems to have collected quite a crowd. However, the pandemic has affected all aspects of life, and the legend of the roebuck is no exception.

"We have not picked up yet. [..] We have fallen back down to the level of 2017," Rimants Liepiņš, the initiator and director of the Stirnu buks series, told LSM.

According to Stirnu buks' website, the participant numbers peaked in 2019 with almost 4,000 runners per event and nearly 29,000 throughout the season. In 2020 and 2021, however, just over 9,000 plucky forest animals scraped together each year. In 2017, there were around 2,600 participants per event, and according to Rimants, the number on Saturday was just around that.

"The drive will return, hopefully soon enough," said Rimants.

Rimants Liepiņš, organizer of Stirnu buks

This year, the Stirnu buks trail running series will still take place four times, the closest being June 18 in Gaiziņkalns. You can find out more about the race on Stirnubuks.lv, as well as pick your forest critter and join in for the long, or not so long, run.

 

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