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August 7, 2008

200 marathons and counting for Nokia’s Juha Kemilainen

SALO, Finland – We may find it interesting to talk about tech and gadgets and get all ga-ga over some cool way of streaming your internal organ music over the air. But, what we have been trying to find for Nokia Conversations are actually stories behind the tech, as in who makes things, why, how, and so on. I think there’s interest beyond the tech and specs (correct me if I am wrong, please). So, we are happy when we meet interesting folks and like to talk about them here.

The guy at the right is a long-time Nokia employee who has run over 200 marathons. Ok, so it’s not about something he made for Nokia, but I think he gives some insight into the personality and attitude that defines Nokia.

Read on to learn more about him.

The unflappable unstoppable man

Juha Kemiläinen (51) is a manufacturing specialist at our factory in Salo, west of Helsinki. He comes from Lohja, a small town between Salo and Helsinki, and has worked for Nokia for 15 years. He’s quiet, modest, and kind, and, when I caught up with him in July, he was on holiday, working on his summer cottage.

That’s not much different from many of the Finns who form the core of Nokia in R&D and production.

Net time of 3:46 for the 200th

In typical Finnish fashion, he downplayed his achievement, as if it was ‘just’ something he did, and that’s that. Indeed, just before the race, he mentioned simply and briefly on the Nokia runner’s mailing list that the Paavo Nurmi Marathon (28 June 08) would be his 200th.

Juha has been running for 30 years and has run marathons since 1986. He’s run marathons in about 10 countries in Europe. At first he ran one a year, but now runs 20 marathons a year. His prime motivation to run is to stay young and fit. He feels it’s the easiest way to stay in good physical condition.

And, with keen Finnish sensibilities, he finds it quite practical. One can run anywhere, any time, and in all sorts of weather. Also, the equipment is easy to take when traveling.

Paavonurmi 2008 1

Ups and downs

Often an early run makes him happy. And, of course, he’s always happy to cross the finish line in good condition after running 42km.

But his toughest race was his first marathon in Helsinki in 1986 because he had no previous experience. He remembers that after 35 km he thought ‘why am I here and does it make any sense to run a marathon?’.

Other tough races were the Salo marathon in December 2001, where the weather was (as he says) ‘a bit arctic’ at -19C; and the Snowdonia marathon in UK in 2005 because of the hilly route and demanding weather conditions.


I am a runner, too, and have done marathons and half-marathons. What struck me about Juha was an almost spirituality of doing all these marathons.

He’s worn the same brand of shoes for more than 30 years (Adidas). He has no special routines or superstitions or oddities about his running. When he runs, his thoughts can vary a lot, but mostly he just enjoys the scenery or talks to other runners (unless he’s tired and then focuses on the remaining kilometers of the run).

And, what’s interesting, he doesn’t use any gadgets or gimzos to help him run or monitor his runs. His running is just based on the feelings and feedback from his body.

When asked how the Paavo Nurmi race went, he said it was ‘just a normal marathon day’. Heck, if I could run 3:46 at 51, then I might be a bit more excited (hm, not a bad goal to have).

But he just takes it in stride (pun intended). Since I spoke to him in July he’s already run two more marathons. And he intends to continue marathoning to reach the next hundred. He’s even thinking of longer distances, such as a 100km run. Maybe next year.

Oh. Just like that. No fanfare. No rockets.

A commendable attitude we can all learn from.

And he sums it all up best: “Today marathon running is a way of life for me. I would be very happy if I can keep healthy and continue my running still at 70 years. And for those who have been thinking to run a marathon it is not that big a challenge as thought.”

Cheers to that, Juha.

Images – Juha was kind enough to send us some photos of his from the event. Looking good!