Christian Prestegard picks me up at the bus stop outside Oslo and we immediately start on the five hour drive to Turtagro where the first of two races will take place that I have been invited to in Norway. The time in the car gives him plenty of time to tell me all about the mountain racing scene here in Norway, it's recent birth and growth and much about Jon Tvedt - Norway's greatest mountain runner. "He has an incredible capacity," Christain says. Being the number man that he is, this "incredible capacity" is accompanied by an oppresive number of statistics: 94 VO2 Max, 29:00 1ok, #4 in the world for orienteering, and the number of races that he has won, year after year, in mountain running here in Norway, each of them by five, ten even fifteen minutes. We stop along the way to do some "marketing" as Christian says which means stapling posters of Jon Tvedt and the dates of certain races to power-line poles in the middle of Nowhere, Norway.
At 9:30pm we arrive in Turtagro to run the first part of the course. At 10:30 we're back at the car and the sun is just going down. It's finally dark by 11:15 only to be light again a few hours later.
The first of the two races starts off at 800m/2400ft, going flat for 4k and then climbing steep (20%-35%) for 4.5k to finish off at 2064m/6300ft. Jon Tvedt proves his strength by taking the race out from the start and finishing first, two minutes ahead of my second place finish. At one point during the flat section of the course, I watched from 10m back as he ran around a small, but impermeable, herd of cattle. The schrubs tripped him up and he dissapeared into the thick of the bushes for what seemed like several seconds. I have to admit to being a little dissapointed when he poked his head back up and retained his position.
Checking out of hotel and paying my tab I am shocked to see that the total for my three beers that I consumed over three days added up to $54.00. No typo. So begins my Norweigen beer fast.
Another five hours in the car with Christian gives him even more time to talk about Norweigen Mountain Running. He is the self-proclaimed father of mountain running in Norway (to his credit, Jon Tvedt happens to agree) and is no less than incessant with his calls to the radio, television, newspapers, magazines and websites... exactly what the sport needs in every country asspiring to achieve what only a few nations have in the sport of mountain running. He knows that access to money is one of the biggest draws to any sport, and the next race has this and more.
We arrive at the Alexandria Hotel in Loen, Norway. longest fjords in Norway, this five star hotel has everything I've ever needed to slow me downSituated only 50 feet from one of the and make me fat: a spa with three different saunas, six aromatherapy showers, five hot tubs, a water slide and my personal favorite, the cold bath (fed directly from a 40° underground spring). The buffett leaves me not wanting for even a waffer, thin minty and a constant supply of coffee returns me to my normal quota of 5-10 cups per day.
Tuesday. I run the course finding it even more difficult than the last. 1800m/6000ft climb over only 8k/5miles. The record, held by Jon Tvedt, stands at 1:08.37 which after running the course in preparation, I take very seriously. After getting down from the summit of Skala, where the race will finish on Saturday, the owner of the hotel asks if I'd like to fill a spot in the helicopter that's headed right back up to the summit with supplies for the race. A five minute helicopter ride later and I find myself right back on top of the mountain. Little did I know that I'd have to walk the 6000ft back down again.
Race day. Several of us have our mind set on one thing in this race and that is the 25,000kr to win and 35,000kr for breaking the record for a total of about $12,000.00 (enough to pay off my student loans and put a new engine in my volkswagon bus). There is Jon Tvedt... and also there is Jonothan Wyatt. Wyatt is the gold standard in the world of running... or absolute zero, which is to say something that you can approach but not achieve. He is used as a gauge for most of the top runners to see where there fitness lies. It's not uncommon to hear runners talking about their achievments (with a great amount of pride, might I add) as "two minutes back from Jono," "five minutes back from Wyatt," etc.. He races smart. He has ten years of mountain running experience behind him, two Olympic teams and list of PR's showing just how well rounded he is as a runner.
Jono is a minute ahead by kilometer two and I am out of the race. My only hope is to maintain my fourth position, but the circulation in my legs is so restrained, I know it can only be one thing, with only one cure. I stop, hunch over and begin working on untieing the bullet-proof double-knots in my shoes. I've made the same amatuer mistake before - tying my shoes too tight. One runner passes me, another one and another. By the time I get them loosened to how I want them, I've fallen back to eighth place and nothing to do but start realing them back in again. With only two kilometers to go, I've recaptured fifth place, but the Norweigen at my heels shows no sign of pulling up. Through massive boulders where the running appears more like hopscotch as you jump from rock to rock, landing, regaining your balance, looking for the next rock, I have to wonder what the front of the race is looking like. Jono is fast, but Jon Tvedt is capable of running all out through a boulder field like this. On to the steepest section, where for the first time in my life, I am forced to walk in a race, I finally manage to shake the Norweigen from my tail. Joseph Gray, who will also be racing the Mountain Running Trophy in Switzerland, finish fifteen seconds ahead of me.
The race between Jon Tvedt and Jono was apparently quite exciting as Tvedt took the lead just past the boulders where I had resorted to walking. The last 800meters though were flat enough for Wyatt to take back the lead and win the race with a ten second margin, but missing the record by only four seconds (four very costly seconds). The race organizer has added an additional $2,000.oo to next years purse and hopes for it to be up to $20,000.00 in just a few years time.
Another great meal at the Hotel Alexandria and a good night's sleep before heading back to Oslo and then on to Italy.
Back in Italy. My bottom does not take kindly to the bike saddle's return. Maybe it's the Piedmonte heat or the complete lack of padding (fat) that my toosh has assumed. I stubournly leave my shirt off all day while I'm on the bike and suffer a severe burn up and down my backside that has got me sleeping on my stomach for several days.
I have the wonderful opportunity to ride through the Barolo wine region of Italy - famous for some of Italy's highest quality (and hence, most expensive) wines. I drink what's given to me, then pass out face down on the bed.
A train ride (or rather three) brings me to the very place where this post is being written: Susa, Italy: home of one of the great mountain races in Europe. Beyond being a great predictor of how one might run three weeks later at Worlds, it is simply one of the greatest courses one can find in mountain running. The start takes you through the town of Susa, beneath Roman arches and over cobblestone streets. From there you go up through another small town and onto a rocky path that climbs and climbs through the notoriously hot Italian heat. Into the trees, you begin to pass through the section of the course that maintains the reason the course has been held for the past 25 years. In this section, a battle was fought between the underground Italian army and the Germans in 1944. The Italians won and the race is a commemoration of thier victory and the soldiers that died. The race finishes on 3k of flat dirt road.
Here with me is a complete American team (3 members for this race). Simon Gutierrez who boasts the fastest American time for the course and the 16th fastest time ever, Joseph Gray and myself.
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
I reluctanly peddled away from the base of the the Grintovec mountain in Slovenia with a hangover and tired legs... not so much from the 6000 vertical foot ascent of the mountain, as the 6000 foot descent of the mountain. This is not uncommon for many of the mountain races here in Europe. Finish the race having given it your all. Turn around and walk down.
Biking the short distance through northern Slovenia towards Italy, I at first encountered another touring cyclist who measured two heads taller than me and about 100 pounds heavier. Max and I rode together for few hours before I left him in the dust on the ascent up and over a bridge. Only a short while later on the same day a different Slovenian cyclist rode up beside me and began talking. We rode and talked for the next couple hours. Roman was a policeman for several years before switching over to being a fireman. He bought me a beer in the next town and even offered to watch my bike while went into the market for some grocery shopping (pringles and beer). I camped that night in the Triglav National Park at the base of Slovenia's tallest mountain.
It took two more days of hard biking over one more Slovenian pass and several Italian passes to finally reach Telfes, Austria by Thursday evening. I worried up until the morning of the race on Sunday whether my legs would "switch over" from biking to running. Walking up the stairs they felt heavy and tired. Waking in the morning they were sore and every once in a while a muscle would cinch up without any warning.
The race: Up one of the many ski hills in the Stubai Valley just outside of Insbruck - 1300m/4000ft ascent over 10.5k/6.5miles. The profile didn't bother me so much as the start list. In Europe there is a "Grand Prix" for mountaia running - about five races over the course of the summer in Austria, Germany, Slovenia and sometimes Italy and Switzerland. Many of the best mountain runners show up to race, accumulate points and by the end of the season the person with the most amount of points wins the overall grand prix. The men's field included Jonothan Wyatt (#1 NZ), Marco Gaiardo (#2 Italy), Marcus Kroell (#1 Austria), Robert Krupicka (#1 Czeck Republic), and other top runners from France, Poland, Slovenia and Switzerland.
The race started off somewhat fast as the lead group (which I was hardly a part of) weaved through Metropolitan Telfes (pop. 570), into the wheat fields and to the base of the mountain. At the third kilometer I was in 11th place. My legs "switched over" shortly after and as we left the trees and moved into the meadow that marks the halfway point I found myself in second place, ten meters ahead of Marco Gaiardo. We exchanged places several times over the second half of the race. Approaching the final 50 meters of the race he had a good lead on me which I was nearly successful in closing but ended up losing by less than a second and settled for third place.
They served Kaiserschmarrn which is Germana for chopped pancakes with fruit preserves (apple sause). I had three servings. Then walked down. I traveled by train from Insbruck to Bolzano where I stayed with a friend who collects the following: barbed wire, letters (as in A, C, G etc.), bottles, mountaineering books, creamer tops, alpine club identification cards, beer mugs, climbing helmets, ice axes, pins and other things.
I'm at a different friend's house now about 80k away at the base of some of Italy's highest mountains. His beautiful house is converted from an old (in Europe, old is very old) hay barn - doors from the 1600's, a stove from the early 1800's etc. Tomorrow I leave for Bergamo where I will stay with an Italian family that I met last year. The father bailed out the US team for a Sky Relay race by running the marathon portion for us. And on Thursday I will travel to Norway for two races over the next couple of weeks. These races start deep in the fjords - one actually at sea level and finish high up on the nearby mountain tops.
The biking is keeping me very fit and allowing me to consume several thousands of calories per day. I'm regularly eating a half quart of yogurt in the morning mixed together with musli as part of my complete breakfast.
Thank you for the posts and e-mails. I appologize if I am not keeping in touch with people all that well. It is very difficult for me to get to a computer here.