Day 4: Holmenkollen 50k (forerunners’ perspective)

by Andy and Greta

The day of the 50 kilometer Holmenkollen began with bundles of excitement and a walk through the absolutely beautiful morning air. The air was completely clear with a lustrous blue sky filled with a happy sun. We headed down for a breakfast of cereal, hard boiled eggs, brown cheese and pickled herring. We hustled upstairs to pack our bags for the busy day ahead. Once we finished this we headed down into the parking lot to pack the vans. We raced out of the parking lot into the streets of Oslo behind electric cars and trolley buses. At a stop light, the van in front of us, commandeered by the Caldwell duo, spritzed us with a stream of windshield wiper fluid coming from the broken nozzle, and I laughed for five minutes, it was soooo funny! I think I have a permanent smile because of it. As we approached the race venue the traffic began to thicken. We then asked a military police officer where we could park since we would be forerunning the races that day. We drove up to the hotel and into the parking garage where we unloaded the skis and headed to our wax cabin which overlooked the stadium and the splendid view of Oslo behind it.

Matt Whitcomb, US Women’s coach, talks with JNT athletes about how busy a race day is! He discussed how the US staff communicates with each other and the athletes about feed desires… and about their process for testing both glide and kick wax

We lined up along a fence nearby our wax rooms, and watched the fast women test their skis. While watching, we talked to many of the waxing professionals and coaches associated with the U.S. Ski team… So inspiring!!!!

Then we donned our snazzy new onesies that were modeled after former Norwegian national team uniforms. We gathered with the other forerunners (all of whom were Norwegian) and then we received marching orders in Norwegian. We paraded regally into the stadium and witnessed the reception of the King and the Royal Family, accompanied by a fanfare of horns. Then, we clipped on our skis and were off, forerunning the largest ski festival in the world (as advertised on the trolleys)!!!!!

The two groups of forerunners: the 5k Frognerseteren ‘red loop’ skiers head up the hill out of the stadium while the 3.3k ‘blue loop’ skiers organize

Andy’s perspective: We took a right turn out of the brimming stadium into a meager downward slope before an arduous climb. The first climb away from the stadium was very steep and was bathing in the sun all morning, leading to tracks turning into slush. Someone in the crowd brought large speakers and played electronic music through the air. We paraded over the top of the climb to see our first glimpse of the crowd on a banked hillside. We snaked down the descent before we reached the first climb. During the race, we wondered at the craziness that the upper section’s crowd had in store for us. We crested the steepest section of the climb and saw the fabled crowd. Roaring with enthusiasm, the impressive crowd seemed to lack self-restraint. We continued up the gradual climb surrounded by thousands of screaming fans. Along the side of the trail, many people were camping in tents overnight. Their campfires pushed smoke into the air which burned my lungs. We made a hairpin turn and skied up the next switchback. The hillsides were covered with many young Norwegians who were enjoying the day in their own special way. We reached the top and then moved away from the mass of people. After taking a lap around the stadium like a red crawling caterpillar, we then took off our skis. We were filled with the excitement that the crowd had just injected into us.

Greta’s perspective: After a series of commands given in Norwegian, we slowly made our way out of the lap lane into the 3.3 km loop of the Holmenkollen 50K. We strode up the hill out of the stadium, amidst the crowds of happy Norwegians who were practically crawling out of the hills like trolls to get a spot to see the racers. They cheered avidly as we passed, proudly waving their miniature flags and wearing their team colors; the hillside was awash with the bright reds and navy blues of the Norwegian flag. We proceeded slowly through the pine forest cluttered with tents, waffles, and beer, and down a series of exciting hills. We weren’t allowed to snowplow or herringbone, and it forced us to ski as efficiently as we could. My kick wax was working perfectly, and the feeling of the necessity to herringbone never settled over me. We stopped every now and then to keep our timing in coordination with the boys who were skiing the 5K.

Forerunners coming into the feed zone between the waxing cabins and the stadium

We arrived back in the stadium after our 20 minutes of adrenaline fueled fun just as the men’s mass start was departing. Then both of the groups of forerunners met up to ski like a procession back into the stadium. We arrived back in the feed zone at the top of the stadium where we planned to watch the rest of the race. We watched the madness of the feed zone for a few laps before we went inside the team café where you could access the roof to watch some of the remaining laps. From the roof, we could see the entire stadium, the fjord, and a panoramic view of the surrounding city of Oslo. A few minutes later, we prepared for our ‘closing lap’ (post-run) around the outer 5k loop.

In the bright sun of the afternoon, we took off through the saturated snow. We soon learned that our kick deteriorated over the couple of hours that we had to wait for, but it took more than slippery wax to put a damper on the mood of the day. Out of the stadium at last, we climbed a rise and then cruised in a wave of red down the first hill. After rolling hills and overall altitude gain, we arrived at the part of the course that Andy was telling me about all day; the lit party! I couldn’t wait to see the carnage at the top of the hill bursting with young intoxicated Norwegians. As we entered this part of the course, we were immersed in smoke from the bonfires which created a haze that covered the hill. Passing by them in the left track was eye-opening; I was offered beer and loud chants erupted as the pack of forerunners moved through the fumes. Someone was making waffles and as soon as the waffle finished cooking, the fan tried to hand the waffle to one of the Norwegian forerunners. Behind the fences, the fans were packed closely together and I feared they were going to burst out of their restraining fences. After the last stretch of feistiness, we crested over the climb and careened down the 200 meters we had previously climbed, the crowds became slightly smaller.

We reached the second to last climb where the last large group of fans had positioned themselves. At the top of the climb we took a 157.9846° turn and finished the descent into the last climb on the course. Once we reached the top we took off our skis and walked through the fading afternoon sunlight back to the wax cabins with the other Norwegian forerunners. We were excitedly greeted by our coaches who marveled at the delight on our faces, and our teammates welcomed us back (they watched the men’s 50 k race in the grandstand).

JNT 50k forerunners with friend and interpreter Henrik (next to Tim). Henrik lived in the US for many years and was kind, supportive, and eager to help us.

Then, we watched the cross-country portion of the nordic combined competition (which starts in a pursuit style), and the first skier across the finish line wins the combined meet, yay! In the waning light, we cleaned our skis and trekked back up to our van residing in the parking garage. After backing out of the precarious parking job, we moseyed along to the parking ticket dispenser with the gate, and busted free. Dennis ripped down the road, but hit the brakes when I told him I didn’t have any chocolate for him to eat (of course he asked). I tried to convince him to stop at the grocery store (a local coop mega), but he didn’t seem too keen on taking a detour. I navigated home, and we showered gladly. We ate dinner and then went to bed, pondering the surreal experiences of the day. I fell asleep verrrryyyyyy quickly, because of the fresh air that I’d been breathing in all day…. Except for the smoky air, but that’s ok too. Yay!

Video of racers coming through the feed zone on the bridge in front of the service buildings (just before they dropped into the stadium):

 

 


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