Winter is a challenging season for runners, at least for those of us who love the soft feeling of the forest trails beneath our soles and despise the hard and monotonous thud-thud of the treadmill. Luckily, there are other options. Cross country skiing is supposed to be one of the best forms of cross training for runners, training not only one’s feet and legs, but also the upper body. And, in some cases, the balance. Ever since a close friend’s older sister shoved me down from balancing on a wooden fence as a kid, I’ve worked hard on improving my balance. No girl has ever pushed me down from a fence since. My coach, Stefan, is very fond of exercises involving standing on one leg, squatting down and touching your buttock to your heel before trying to push yourself up again. I could name other painful exercises as well, such as The Dragon, which invariably leaves me weeping on the floor in a shrivelled-up heap, but let me stick to the point. Which is cross country skiing. Apart from the Norwegian flag, the Norwegian national anthem, any anonymous Norwegian winning gold in the winter Olympics (the real Olympics, mind you) or waving to the king and queen on 17 May, nothing in the world ignites such a joyous smile and happiness in miss H as cross country skiing. She simply loves it. Unwrapping her big Christmas gift (it’s hard to camouflage a pair of skis – that are 2 metres long – in wrapping paper…) a couple of days ago, she almost dissolved into thin air with excitement.
A colleague falling ill yesterday saddled me with the night shift tonight, and since the sun and sky were at it’s best today, I decided to chuck the planned long run of 2 hours to go cross country skiing instead, before heading for work. I am very familiar with the alpine sort which anyone who knows me can attest, spending at least one week a year in the Alps. Cross country, though: not so much. I might as well strap a pair of Chinese chop sticks to my feet and try ski jumping at Holmenkollen. Meeting up with two of miss H’s childhood friends this morning (they gang up on you, you see, in order to bully more efficiently), Mrs Physio and M2, we set out towards Ullevålsæter for an, in their eyes, short trip up the mountain from Sognsvann. I’ve run there many times, but never before with a pair of tooth picks taped to my feet. This type of skiing has been ridiculed and taunted by the writer since time immemorial, and what better way for the girls to bully a poor Swede than by laughing at his feeble attempts to avoid breaking a leg in slopes steeper than the Hahnenkammrenn in Kitzbühel?
It was hard for the soul not to swing my sharpened ski pole at the 5-year olds swooshing past me on tiny little legs. Works wonders for the humility, as father T likes to point out. The view was stunning, though, and the landscape simply phenomenal. And the really cool thing was that every single Norwegian in the country joined us for our little trek today. All 47 of them. Toddlers bundled up in furs in arctic sleds, teenagers in bloody red body stockings, oldtimers on skis bought from Roald Amundsen a century ago, and finally foreigners – easily distinguished by their total lack of coordination and the only ones not wearing the latest ski wear-collection by Bjørn Dæhlie – with even worse balance than myself. Even so, I enjoyed myself immensely!
Having reached the top of Mount Doom, we dismounted and had to battle our way past the white and shaggy guardian before being admitted into the holiest of holies for Norwegian ski hikers: the Waffle Cabin. Fresh out of waffles, and having just beaten down a violent uprising because of it, the lovely, blonde teenage personell served us the best-tasting cinnamon buns I’ve had for a very long time. Complete with cassis toddy, but without the alcohol. After an all to brief lunch, it was time to head down again. To my great relief, no person was killed or wounded during my descent. I actually felt pretty stable, but the similarities to Bambi were obvious. And where in the name of St Olav do they get all their five-year olds? Every single one of them had been called out into the woods to swipe past me on the trail. I also got a lot of surprised and smiling glances at my Swedish flag in the middle of my forehead. You don’t see too many people running around with Swedish headwear in the wild forests surrounding Oslo. Except for the one. Trail runner, triathlete, marathoner and now cross country skier.