Birkebeinerløpet, Norway

Elsie Downham ventured a bit further afield to our usual race reports…

I thought I would write up my latest (and now not so recent) racing experience as it was a bit different and very fun. And muddy. On 18th September I went to Norway to run an off-road/x-country/hilly half marathon race. I have a friend living in Oslo who told me about the event and twisted my arm to enter it back in the spring when running in the Norwegian hills for 13.1 miles seemed like a good plan.

The race is famous amongst Norwegians, and they are very proud that 8000 people run it each year (given that the Norwegian population stands at only about 7 million, I guess this is quite an achievement!)
So, the race is called, take a deep breath, the Birkebeinerløpet and takes place just outside of Lillehammer (a 2.5 hour train journey north of Oslo). There is a website to visit which has information about the race I did, as well as other running events (on the same day there is the Halvbirken, 11km and the Ultrabirken, 73km) and cycling and skiing races which take part at the same location – you can translate the page to English if your Norwegian is a bit rusty :)

I flew to Oslo on the Friday. We woke up very early on Saturday morning for porridge and sandwich making (Norway is super expensive so you always need to make sure you have a good food supply on you so as not to blow your credit card on a banana (£1.59 I paid for ONE banana on the morning of the race, not amused). We then got on a train (nice trains in Norway) to Lillehammer with lots of other runners. There was a very complex but well organised system for leaving your bags at the finish (the stadium in Lillehammer), and for dropping any extra layers just before the start which were then shipped back to the finish for you. We were then bussed up the mountain to the start at Sjusjøen, just less than 900m above sea level. 

It was cold when we got off the bus, and being a true northerner I’d already stripped down to my shorts. Lots of funny looks from sensible Norwegians in full length tights, long sleeves, hats and gloves. What a bunch of wusses! I was very glad to be sporting my new INOV8 Mudclaws – lots of boggy and muddy sections, very steep downhills, rocky and rooty singletrack, and some sneaky uphills too. I managed to more or less stick to a 5 minute kilometre pace and finished the race in 1hr48min28sec, which they seemed to think put me above average for my age group and I got a small silver cup :D (average finishing time for women aged 25-29 was 1hr59min02sec). There was a good spread for race finishers – soup, bread, cinnamon buns, bananas, and even showers!

So, all in all a long way to go for a race, but I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who likes a bit of variation in terrain, a good post-race feed, and Scandinavian blondes of course.

Hope to be back at training sometime soon…