North Pole Marathon - Training in Oslo

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Miles Cudmore

Half way through the first Oslo run.  Note the mist.

Patrick Waller

Half way break, day 1.  Five miles down, five to go.

Miles on the run

Early on day 2

Patrick looking fresh

Dressed warmly for the frosty morning

The trail

Cross country ski paths are far from flat

Wearing the CARE singlet

The XL fits comfortably over the Gortex jacket

 

The Oslo Diary

8pm Thursday night, 8th March

Our dining room has one bag, an ever increasing pile of kit, and a frustrated me.  To get the most out of the training weekend, I want to take a range of items and try them out.  But my old plastic climbing boots, down puffa jacket, snowshoes, trainers and other things for icy conditions fill the bag before I start on thermals, clothes and other general running gear.  So I go onto the internet and get mugged buying a second bag allowance.

Friday 9th March

At 5am I meet Patrick at Heathrow Terminal 4.  He stands proudly by a small wheeled bag looking at my twin holdalls saying nothing, but clearly puzzled as to why I have two of everything. 

Landing at Oslo, snow is gently falling and the land is white.  Ten enormous yellow snow clearers are at work, and it looks “game on”.  After a train ride to Oslo, we bundle into a taxi, and head to the hills.  As the fare mounts, we climb steadily into the cloud and reach the Voksenåsen Hotel and Conference Centre 501 m above sea level.  This was a national gift to Sweden in 1960 from Norway in gratitude for their support in World War 2.  It has been extended over the years, and has marvellous quiet public rooms looking down towards Oslo Fjord, a library and numerous pieces of art.  We tuck into a delicious smoked salmon and warm scrambled egg open sandwich, reflect that this is training in style, and then change to run.

At 1pm, we walk down to the start of the cross country ski trails, and don snowshoes.  The misty air is cold and damp, and we begin in apprehensive mood.  After 100 yards, Patrick turns and says “this is fine”.  After 400 yards we are firmly into our first hill on hard, uneven snow.  Breathing deeply, Patrick turns once more, muttering curses which translate roughly along the lines of “I thought you said it would be flat you *#~?”, “this is #@#%? hard work” and something less polite about my gene pool.  We both have running GPS watches, and I also set waypoints with a separate walking GPS  … and have a compass too.  This is overkill, but we have no map and the ski trails go in all directions.  In the mist it would be very easy to get hopelessly lost very fast. 

We run outbound for five miles, picking trails heading roughly North.  We walk up longer hills as they are frequently steep, but outbound spend more time descending than ascending.  The trails are generally in good condition, and the few skiers look at us very strangely.  I carry a small pack with drinks for both of us and some extra clothes, and this keeps Patrick and my pace similar.  The way back is tough, and for a while it seems like it is always two miles to the finish.  At which point I realise my running GPS has locked up, and reset it.  We are both exhausted as we begin the last mile back up to the start point.  Near the end, we take a wrong turn, but the GPS’s quickly show us the error of our ways, and put us back onto the right track. 

It took us 2-1/4 hours running time to cover 10 miles and ca 2000 feet of ascent & descent, much slower than the ca 90 minutes that a training run on this type of terrain would normally take.  Running on hills in snowshoes is hard on the whole body.  We are starving by the end and, after a sauna to warm up, head into town for a huge pile of pasta for supper.

Saturday 10th March

After a sizeable breakfast, we are running again by 8:30am.  The skies have cleared, and the views over Oslo fjord from the hotel are stunning.  The new kit to try for the day are my neoprene bootgloves which go over the trainers for warmth.  They fit the shoes well, and are held firmly in place by the snowshoe bindings and cause no problems – a success.  I will definitely use them in the Arctic to prevent frostbite.  After using mittens yesterday, I try windproof insulated gloves today.  There is no comparison in the level of warmth, but the gloves are adequate for Oslo.

Patrick has not fully recovered and decides to turn back after 1-1/2 miles.  It is a sensible decision and we take some photos first.  He has achieved his training objectives and gained a lot of confidence in his snowshoes and clothing, which is excellent, and he is delighted.

I head out along the same route as Friday to keep navigation simple.  After 5 miles, the going gets steeper uphill, followed by a number of sharp undulations and dozens of trail crossings.  My objective is 13.5 miles to cover a half marathon today, and 60 miles for the week.  I am pleased when the turn point comes, and down half a chocolate bar and some Gatorade for a boost.  The hills on the way back really sap the energy, but on flatter ground I can maintain a relatively relaxed pace.  Dehydration is an issue due to the extended exercise time and effort, and I drink over a litre during the run and am still thirsty.  There are more skiers about – all friendly – and one stops to chat briefly.  I am pleased to reach the end, but 2-3/4 hours for 13.5 miles is a very long time - in part due to the ca 2500 ft ascent and descent during the run. 

The hotel’s “all you can eat for £20” buffet stands no chance, and Patrick and I attack it with gusto.  Norway is an expensive place to eat out, but this time we were the winners!  As planned, Patrick headed home leaving me one more day to ply the trails.  I head into town again for more pasta, and manage to lose my insulated walking / running hat on the train.  This is a bit of a blow as it is an old friend, but it should be easy to replace.

Sunday 11th March

Shortly after 8am, the forest resounds to the “shh-krash shh-krash” sound of my snowshoes on hard icy ground.  The back of the shoes catch the ice first creating the “shh” sound, and then the titanium studded front plate hits the ice with a resounding “krash”.  The views are clear once again, and a little sun appears for short times.  There are almost no skiers about, and I have the woods to myself.  It is very pleasant, but I see no wildlife.  But with the racket the snowshoes make, perhaps this is not surprising. 

My plan is to do an easy 6 to 8 miles to continue to get used to running in snowshoes, whilst avoiding injuries from the new motion.  I keep to the same out and back route as before, and end up covering 8.5 miles and ca 1600 ft ascent & descent.  The last uphill is still tough, and 1-3/4 hours for the run is a long time on the feet after the previous two days.

Postscript

Completing three solid training runs, covering 32 miles and nearly 7 hours of “time on feet” has been a wonderful way to get the muscles used to running in snowshoes.  The hills added an unexpected dimension and certainly made it harder – but probably helped by making us run using a range of styles and paces.  I am also pleased to leave with no muscle strains or other niggles.  I was expecting the hamstrings, quads, lower back and ankles to complain more.

As I leave Oslo, running twice the distance in temperatures 20 to 30 C below what we experienced here looks very daunting indeed.  Although the Arctic is flat, the ground will be more uneven than the cross country ski trails, and the cold will sap the energy.  Most runners last year took over six hours to complete the marathon.  For a normal marathon, I generally run five sets of twenty milers before the race, leaving the faster pace and extra six miles as the “unknowns”.  For the North Pole Marathon, the “unknowns” are of a different scale.  Mentally you have to believe “if others can do it, so can I”.

Lessons I take away are

Overall, this has been an excellent training weekend which is bringing home the scale of the challenge.