Råskinnet: Mud, Sweat and Beers
Snow Today, Gone Tomorrow
After a great Winter the skiing season came to a rather abrupt end for all but Tom Stensaker. Post Birkebeiner, an unseasonably warm spell had done considerable damage to the ski trails. N3 had been a temptation, but for once I was pleased that I’d not entered a ski race as the conditions were a nightmare with an incredible amount of DNFs due to the tough conditions (so kudos to Kjeller’n & Rodegrim for great efforts and fast times). My main focus had been on closing out the ski season by focussing on skate skiing with a view to doing Skarvarennet in 2012. Fortunately I hadn’t a start number this year as even the normally reliable Vidda was also struggling due to the heatwave. My last fix of the season was a desperate skate ski 4×4 interval at the Marikollen alpine ski resort during a brief break inbetween games at the Løvenstad football tournament for Engelski junior. Desperate indeed.
Ever Seen a Happy Jogger?
With the ski season over, I opted to concentrate on running up hills. April was a tricky month with conditions poor for skiing yet ironically difficult for hill running due to the melting snow. Even the athletics track at Sognsvann was proving to be a challenge. A 3000M test run soon became a 3200M test run due to all the ice and mounds of snow on the running track. My only option to get some serious physical activity in was to join the masses at Sognsvann Rundt Medsols for a few laps of the lake. After the monotony of running in circles on the flat, a new impulse was required since road conditions were still unsuitable for rollerskiing.
UK Training Camp
Easter week brought about some serious training with budding triathletes Sitriestri and Knackerednick. Unfortunately Alfonsodeseo was suffering with a back injury and was unable to train. Some serious restitution resulting in heartburn was interrupted by a run up Wyming Brook in the Peak District and a chance to do some Nordic running (stavgang) without poles up the Rivelin valley. The triathletes were in good condition and our trip up the mountain was a vast improvement on our last training camp during the year before. Admittedly the hangover was less serious this time.
Back in Norway I’d had my eye on Råskinnet. When it comes to running I’m not particularly enthusiastic. With every run I envision bone rubbing against bone and future knee replacements due to meniscal fallibility and ligament liability. Running uphill is a necessary evil and these days running is dedicated to Ælghufs (a kind of Nordic running with poles) or orienteering with the Engelski juniors. In my quest to find a happy jogger I thought that Råskinnet must be the place to find one. Råskinnet is essentially an extreme running event involving 10km of running through the swamps and lakes of Nordmarka, Oslos forest. The trail is never announced in advance so participants have no chance at all to train on the “circuit”. Running through quagmires & marshes is great training and represented a potential good workout so I registered for the event at the last minute.
Build up to the race had been spent psyching up fellow ski/cycle enthusiasts Blodsmak and Team KjelsåsLærerne on Twitter. A few days prior to the race I had a warm up by running up Wyllerløypa on a reconnaisance of forest terrain. Looking out over Bogstadvannet I could still see several square km of ice on the lake, a concern if we were to cross an icy Sognsvann. The swamps had thawed to leave a lovely mush. With this in mind I spent the rest of the week psyching myself out by viewing Youtube clips of Råskinnet events of yesteryear with runners jumping into becks, swimming in Sognsvann and disappearing in the muddy swamps. The occasional Twitter from Blodsmak & TKL fuelled the apprehension. For swamp attire I opted for Nike Air from 1996, running shorts and knacked T-shirt. I was prepared to freeze at the start and in the lake as long as I had the least available surface area for mud to cling onto and weigh me down. Wool & cotton were also out of the equation due to additional weight when wet.
It was an amazingly great day for the race. Air temp was a rather sweltering 17C and my choice of attire had proven to be correct. However, I was more concerned with water temperature and also what was going to happen to my Garmin GPS/pulse watch when undoubtedly go under during the lake crossings. I was wondering what the effect would be of a short circuit of my pulse belt and whether the potential across the heart would be strong enough to either wipe me out or transform me into some superhuman Jon Tvedt. I had my tactics laid out for the swamps and had triple tied my shoe laces (well spotted TKL) to avoid donating trainers to the already malnutritioned swamps. As in quicksand my tactic was to not fight the suction of impending doom, but to simply relax and try and float. Most people tend to die in quicksand as they tend to fight and struggle forcing themselves down. I was also going to be careful to ensure avoiding creating a vacuum in my running shoes whilst running through the bogs and quagmires. This would definitely guarantee loss of shoe. After a short trot to warm up I met Blodsmak and TKL at the starting line. We had time for a brief chat and placed ourselves about one-third back of 1100 starters.
At the start we were let loose first around the nearby fields and to get a taste of Hell Hill, a former ski jump, before the final home straight. My intention was to keep Blodsmak & TKL within sights thinking that if I finished close to them I’d done a reasonable job.
My goal was 60 min, but not having ventured into extreme running territory before was prepared to bite the bullet if necessary and fade out to 75 min. As the starting pistol went the hoards of clean participants went enthusiastically off like a shot. After Hell Hill the first challenge approached, a narrow bridge crossing a stream. Rather than wait in turn to cross the bridge many opted to leap into the stream to only discover that the stream was about 1M deep and a bugger to get out of. Those patiently plodding across the bridge like myself had a good laugh not knowing that our turn was about to come shortly after. Through the farmers field and into some dense swampy terrain created the next challenge. By this stage I’d already decided to avoid the queues full of people gingerly tiptoeing around the edges of the bog and opted to traverse a beck as short cut. At least I’d tested water temp and found it to be above freezing and actually a rather comfortable 5-6C. My short cut meant that I had to traverse yet another beck and by the time the job was done Blodsmak & TKL had edged further in front. So much for a short cut! I tried to make up ground on our first venture across Sognsvann lake. This time water level came up to a rather ball chillingly waist height. 100M may seem like a short distance, but when your gonads are shrivelling at the rate that air escapes from an untied balloon it can seem like a marathon. I made some ground during the lake traverse. However, with 15M to go I hit a shallow plateau which resulted in a stumble and water up to tit level and a fully submersed pulse/GPS watch and pulse belt. With no electric shock forthcoming I quickly checked the Garmin to see that it was still working and moved on out of the lake.
Back into the jungle we headed over to Langmyr. However, before we got there I received my first injury in the dense jungle. I’d opted to retain sunglasses in a wise decision even though my view of the forest floor would be partially effected. The runner in front nicely ran through a hefty branch and let it thwack back behind him into my forehead. Fortunately the sunglasses deflected the blood from my eyes and I was able to continue, wishing that I’d brought with me some Agent Orange. I had already second guessed the route beforehand knowing that if one was to get sticky and bothered this was where we were going to be heading. I’d done some extreme orienteering in a thunderstorm here with Engelski Juniors last year and knew the trail well, a definite advantage in knowing where to place feet. The thunderstorm had resulted in a frog frenzy as a plague of mini frogs descended on us in the middle of the swamp. At least the kids loved it even though they were saturated and missing wellies taken by the ravenous quagmire.
The race up Langmyr is a tough one for those anticipating a brief spell in the swamps. I was enjoying running through the swamp and was managing to keep on tree roots for a good while. The occasional miss would lead to a gloop and one would quickly find oneself knee high in the brown stuff. Fortunately the triple knots on my trainers held. The quagmire extends for a good kilometer or so before circumventing a small lake. Surprisingly the organisers opted for us to run around the lake and we continued our trek in the swamps past Svartkulp. With queues developing at certain parts of the course I was beginning to get a little frustrated. Where there was forest it was often too dense to overtake so when an open marsh appeared I knew I had to take the opportunity to get past some stragglers. Whilst everyone went to the side and ran on a tiny boggy trail I opted to leap out into to knee high water and give it legs 100M to the other side. My tactic was a big success as I picked off 15-20 fellow participants in no time.
After 5km a brief escape from the swamps was afforded as we traversed a canyon involving a 45M descent followed by a 60M scramble back to the top. This stretch was a demotivating factor for many as prior to the descent one could see an interconnecting path avoiding the drop into the canyon. However, a course steward stood in our way and pointed down with a wry smile. This kind of cynical course planning was also to show itself in the later stages.
Having done the ravine I was now dreaming of getting onto a main path so that I could increase the pace and make up on ground on many in front. Thus, far I’d expanded most energy in pissing myself laughing and assumed that I’d been running in zone I-3. A look at the pulse stats after the race showed that laughing actually takes its toll on the heart as I’d actually been in I-4 for the whole race. Maybe this is why the majority of joggists don’t smile, the need to conserve energy. The next part of the course was the part that really had me cracking up as the swamps continued into an open area surrounded by cliffs. With some runners gripping thinly on to the cliff edges, many participants like myself were just jumping wholeheartedly into the brown gunge and wading across. If one was fortunate and able to retain balance the gunk only came up to waist level. However, there were a few unfortunates and I allowed myself a good chuckle as several others struggled to keep their heads above the minging stuff.
After 7km we found ourselves at the North end of Sognsvann. With the majority of the swamps stuck to my shoes and shirt I was itching for a bath, so I was only too pleased to see a new lake traverse with hoards of spectators and photographers waiting to capture our unfortunate battle to avoid completele submersion. I opted not to grapple with the rope and went for the crossing freestyle, a big mistake! Half-way across, with the water just above ball-line, I stumpled on a big stone and gave the Garmin equipment another submersion test as I struggled to keep my head above water. If I’d gone under I would probably have drowned as I was in hysterics at the time.
With Sognsvann out of the way I was now ready to use up all of my conserved energy. However, my path to glory was continually blocked by stewards directing us off the main easy path back to the finish. First a 40M climb was needed before we descended back onto the main Sognsvann highway. On getting back to the gravel path we were once again directed back into the forest for another climb. This brought us to the route from Lille Åklungen and descent for a couple of hundred metres on a proper gravel path for once.
At this point I noted a guy up front running in a rather unusual fashion. He was hopping rather bizarrely from one foot to the other on the tiny grass verge away from the gravel path. On gaining ground and closer inspection, I became aware that the cause of this unusual Kangaroo technique was a distinct lack of shoes. This poor unfortunate had obviously donated aforementioned shoes in a charitable fashion to the Langmyr quagmire. Apparently Blodsmak had also met this guy a little earlier, but at this stage he was hopping along with one shoe. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.
It was time to negotiate Hell Hill once again. Ever since crossing Sognsvann at the North end for the second time the crowd here could be heard 2 km away willing particpants on. Hell Hill had essentially become a tunnel with a tiny path up the hill being flanked with supporters on either side creating a fantastic atmosphere. With lots of reserves in store, and a great uncertainty about how I was going to use up these reserves with only 400M to go before the finish, I powered up the hill “Stavgang” style and was rather pleased with myself as I got to the summit after having passed several people on the way up. My joy was short-lived however, as knackered knee syndrome meant that I had to tackle the descent on the other side like a wounded crab and all the overtaken soon became overtakers. On reaching terra firma, with gritted teeth I opted to sprint the last 200M and bombed past the 5-6 people that had just yo-yoed past. Finishing time was a rather modest 1h12m and I was still, rather disappointingly, burning with energy. A familiar scenario I hear you cry (ref Grenaderen, plus a number of disastrous starts since). Next time I will open at full pace and crank up the tempo for the duration…..honest.
At the finish I met up with the TKL trio (one absentee, hopefully had a good excuse). The boys had done good and looked respectfully clean, finishing in a time of just under 1h. Blodsmak pipped me at the line by 3 minutes. By now I was beginning to smell like the kitchen sink and opted to discretely depart after collecting my prize: Ariel washing liquid and T-shirt. A restitution barbecue with revitalising Guinness was in store for the rest of the afternoon. As any budding athlete knows Guinness is the perfect restitution drink and a great way to increase VO2max. Guinness is rich in iron important for binding to haemoglobin and oxygen uptake, probably.
My quest for the happy jogger was now over with several other contestants also having a good roar during the race. There were also many smiles at the finish- Råskinnet was a fantastic experience and a well-organised event. Temperature-wise we were fortunate this year and may not be so lucky next time. However, the mud value will take some beating.
Engelski stats: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/82457125
Kondis has some excellent coverage and photgraphs from the event. A great head cam video taken by fellow contestant gives one a good “flavour” of the event and can be viewed here: