Earlier during the week, my brother called me to ask if it would be OK if he came for a visit for the weekend, since he wouldn’t have a chance for quite some time during the next couple of months.
“Absolutely,”, I replied,”and as long as you’re coming, you might as well run a short race with me on Saturday.”
“Well, we don’t really need…”
“Think about it, it’ll be your first ever race with a starting number!”
“Awesome! I’ll sign you up!”
Which, unbeknownst to me, sent him into a mild hysteria for the rest of the week. Even though the gym and tennis court have always been his preferred haunts for his daily dose of training, he’s picked up running during the last year. We’ve seldom found the time to run together, but this time I thought it’d be awesome to try one of the famous Norwegian uphill races together. Grefsenkollen Opp, as it’s called, is short alright; only 4,5 km. But what it lacks in horizontal length it more than makes up for in vertical height climbing 270 metres from start to finish. I kind of neglected to mention this to my little brother. Didn’t want to upset him unnecessarily, you understand.
Oslo is surrounded by several hills and even though I’ve run up a few of them, I had only been to the top of Grefsenkollen once. The weather forecast had promised a coolish 19 degrees with overcast skies and even the possibility of a light drizzle, which would be close to perfect running conditions. When Martin and I arrived at the start by the green football fields by Sinsenkrysset, it was closer to 25 degrees with a blazing sun and not a hint of wind. I.e. not very perfect running conditions. We picked up our racing numbers and noted that we both suffered from nervous bladders, a well-known phenomenon for me before races but not so much for Martin, as this was his first one. I always have to pee at least seven times the last hour before a race, making it hard to maintain a proper hydration. Not that much of a problem in a short race, but still. We did a few warm up-laps around the football pitches as Martin confessed that he’d had a bit of trouble sleeping the night before, due to nervousness. When he’d found out that it was in fact an uphill race, he’d threatened to throttle me and call the whole thing off. Luckily, thinking it over had convinced him of how cool it would be to run his first race together with me.
Milling about at the start, we tried to figure out which runners were likely candidates to win the race, but it was easier said than done as everybody looked extraordinarily fit. The list at the start numbered 357 participants, probably with a strong bias towards seasoned uphill runners. When the gun went off, the entire field of athletes surged forward like a furious tsunami and we were a bit taken aback by how fast the top runners set off. The winner time, in fact turned out to be 17.04, which is incredibly fast. Since both my brother and I had woken up with a touch of the flu with sore throats, troublesome stomachs, fever running into the high forties, delirium and broken legs, as it were, we had pretty modest aspirations for the day. Joking aside, I had had an awful long run in the Nordmarka hills two days before and was still feeling stiff all over, and Martin has been suffering from hip troubles for the last month, so the goal was to finish the race running nonstop, preferably with a smile on our faces.
We had decided to run together, firstly because it’s more fun that way, secondly in order to snap photos and push each other up the hill. We ran left and right up a few streets lined by villas and even had a 50 metre dash downhill before a sharp right turn onto Kjelsåsveien. We passed a man in a fatsuit, cheered on by his friends who were saving his bachelor party for posterity by filming it, and were aiming for a slow but steady pace up the hill. The sunny day was lovely and the higher we climbed, the more could enjoy the beautiful view to our left, gazing northwest over Maridalsvannet. The onlookers could have done with a field trip to New York Marathon to learn proper cheering skills, but at least the kids waved at us happily. We spent most of the race chasing a slim girl wearing a white wedding dress (no, really) holding a very good pace up the hill in her matching green and purple sneakers. We never actually caught her, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. She was simply too fast for us today. With 500 metres to go, my brother asked me to push him on and overenthustiastic as I was I started pelting him with loud shouts, only for him to ask me to bring the cheering down a notch. I wonder if my pace group runners in Urban Tribes find my shouts as irritating as well. Probably, but I’m the coach. So there.
We sprinted across the finish line together, having run faster than we had hoped and not even coming in last as we had feared. Immensely proud with my little brother taking on a classic Norwegian uphill challenge as his first ever race! Huge congratulations! He even surprised me later that afternoon, saying that he was already thinking of finding a race to run with his missus later in the summer. Awesome news! We’ll make a marathoner out of you yet.