Wednesday, August 17, 2011

50K in Norway




My run began in the small community Snippen


Today I ran about 50K, mostly in the wilderness, Nordmarka, that surrounds Oslo, Norway. I lived in Norway back in the 1990s and consider it to be my adopted home away from home. I especially love the country's beauty and the way Norwegians keep in close touch with nature. Nordmarka is an extensive wooded area with thousands of miles of trail, both for x-c skiing in the winter and hiking in the summer. The area also has a large network of gravel roads that are open to biking, horseback riding, and hiking, and to limited car traffic for those possessing keys (mainly cabin owners) that open gates at the boundaries of the areas.

I mapped out a trail loop of about 50K starting and finishing at the lake, Maridalsvannet, which isn't far from my hotel in Oslo. Nordmarka is hilly -- with heights that top out at around 2100 ft -- but it is not a trip in which you have to worry about climbing too much.




Calf-deep in myr muck
The biggest problem with hiking/running the summer trails in Nordmarka is that the area is covered in an spongy marsh called myr, which means that almost no matter what, your feet are going to sink into a mucky, stinky mess while on the trail (I am pretty sure our word "mire" as in "mired in muck" comes from the same linguisitic root as myr. It is fitting). Norwegians often hike Nordmarka in rubber boots for this reason. I started the day thinking "no problem" because my Inov-8 295s are often wet and stinky when I run, if for no other reason than because I sweat a lot. But what I didn't take into account is the fact that we have had steady rain here in Oslo for the past several days. The three days of rain meant that most steps in the myr went ankle to calf-deep.

Feet sinking in the myr isn't so bad because the woods are really special. The tall spruce and fir trees, with their Christmas-tree looks and smells are wonderful, as is the myr flora, chock full of pretty little flowers, wild berries, and mushrooms. Often, the woods are like something out of a kid's book of fairytales. I swear I have actually seen a troll or two up there, hiding under a toadstool or wooden bridge. Nordmarka also has lots of old cabins and mountain farms that are fun to explore. Some are used today to serve food and provide lodging.



Fairy-tale woods. Blue blazes mark trails.
My problem with the myr today was that it was slowing me down considerably. For instance, I covered only 5 miles in my first two hours on the trail and 8 miles in three hours. At that rate, I would be doing a 12-hour 50K -- too slow even for me! So at about mile 9, I opted for taking gravel roads for awhile to catch up on time.



Myr flora


Not only are the gravel roads easy to run on -- they are more packed dirt than gravel - they also stay pretty flat, so you can make up a lot of time traveling the roads instead of trail. So I pushed on by road to my turnaround point, a lodge that serves food called Kikutstua.




Gravel road - At last!

I know the Kikutstua lodge well. I skied to it with friends several times when I lived here in Norway and it was part of a run I did last year. It is a popular destination spot, particularly in the winter, as you get there by crossing a long frozen lake. It has a nice cafe and even rooms if you want to sleep over. Within a couple of miles of the lodge, all I could think about was getting there to buy a Fanta orange soda, some chocolate, and maybe a cup of coffee.




Kikutstua
Kikutstua appeared at about mile 18. But boy, was I sorely dissapointed! You see, I brought only my Visa debit card to pay for my food. Electronic terminals are even more popular here than in the U.S. and so I thought I would be fine. But no, the dude working at the cafe at Kikutstua insisted that his terminal only took Norwegian cards, not the card of some dumb foreigner. I was pissed, because (a) I didn't believe him, and (b) he was being such a jerk (most Norwegians are very nice to foreigners, by the way).

No matter though, I had plenty of gels with me. So I filled up my hydration pack, gave the dude the finger, and booked out of there fast without my Fanta, chocolate or coffee.

Back on the road out of Kikutstua, I had one long hill to climb, and then everything was literally downhill back to town . During my trip down, I veered back onto a trail I knew called Helvete, which means "hell" in Norwegian. Despite its name, Helvete is a very nice trail that climbs steeply up the side of a ravine and then drops back down again. Most of the trail is myr-free.



Helvete, passing near power lines

But Helvete only lasts a couple of miles, and then it was back on to gravel road the rest of the way down to the forest-road gate. On the trip down, I passed lots of cyclists out for the day, but no other runners. I arrived at the gate -- mile 28 -- about 7 1/2 hours after I started. From the gate, it was another 4 miles of running on paved road and biking trails back to my hotel.



Gate at end of forest road
Overall, it was a fun day out in Nordmarka and decent time on my feet for MMTR training.


Note: I took some liberties with my story telling: 1) I have never actually seen trolls in the woods in Norway, and (2) I never really gave that guy at Kikutstua the finger.

More photos from my trip are available here