Changing times in May

Although it's been changing in recent years, May is still the month when
Norwegians pound the pavement. In this connection, we have some seasonal
tips for our athletic readers.

In 1984 the Grete Waitz race in Oslo attracted 3,000 runners. This year
48,500 signed up and 42,000 finished, a new record making the 5-km jog the
world's biggest running event reserved exclusively for women. The official
winner was Gunhild Halle who raced through the Oslo streets in 14 minutes
and 56 seconds. But it appears that further back in the crowd there were
unsung heroines who did even better.

Negative time

"My friends and I crossed the finish line about a quarter of an hour before
we started, and few, if any, matched our time of minus 15 minutes," says one
participant to Norway Now's reporter. This particular runner happens to work
in the office down the hall, and we both ride bicycles to work. When our
paths have crossed I've prided my self in pouring on the speed and her
boasting made me edgy.

"Moving backwards in time is no feat for certain subatomic particles, and
it's understandable that middle-aged women would take a crack at it too," I
commented. The folly of physical fitness is that it's a futile attempt at
regaining our youth and gleaning extra years of life.

Wild animal?

Grete Waitz, Norway's famed marathon queen, was a neighbour of mine twenty
years ago when her prime source of income was still teaching elementary
school. While struggling up a steep hill with a stroller early one Sunday
morning, I was startled by the light flutter of footsteps coming from
behind. Was I in danger? An assassin or a wolverine would have been panting
on that slope, but I couldn't detect a breath. The steps were too soft to be
made by a deer or any other hoofed animal. Deductive reasoning
instantaneously stopped my adrenalin flow, and I didn't have to turn around
to guess who was passing me by...

Come to think of it there weren't many other joggers in those days. We in
the 45-50 age bracket, known as the baby-boomers in the USA but as the
'68-generation in Europe (as in 1968 - Paris and Prague) used to keep in
reasonably good shape by other methods. In the 1970s, our weekly protest
marches from downtown squares to villainous foreign embassies were effective
fat-burners. This is not a viable option for the greying middle class, and
in some towns even the May Day parades are being phased out.

May 17th

Still, on Constitution Day - May 17th - the streets are filled with marching
bands and flag-waving school children. Will they always be? School bands are
having trouble recruiting members. Burnt-out '68 generation parents, weary
of fund-raising flea markets, cake-raffles, and driving their offspring to
band practice, have been known to bribe their kids with an extra allowance
if they refrain from bringing a free tuba or trumpet home from school. May
17th will probably be celebrated with children's parades for generations to
come, but the kids might have to march to digital music.

So who can say that the jogging wave won't break? But it hasn't yet, and
nobody can get the hordes into the streets like Grete Waitz. Yet there would
be fewer winter joggers if people paid heed to our co-worker.

Winner tips

Here are her tips to readers who'd like to get ahead in marathons and the
like. The first key to her success was that she didn't train for the race.
"Hadn't jogged in years," she admitted. But on the ascetic side, she warmed
up with calisthenics led by Waitz and the male god, speed skater Johan Olav
Koss. On the lawn of the Vigeland Park where the race started, other women
warmed up with picnics - involving wide assortments of cheeses and vintage
wines. The epicurean crowd accounted for many of the thousands who never
crossed the finish line at the Bislet Stadium. Thirdly, our colleague had no
fans posted along the route. Women who finished in say, 38,000th place,
stopped to gossip along the way.

And lastly, she revealed what might be the crucial factor for her success in
running 5 km in less than zero-flat. "We were tired of waiting around for
our official turn to start, so we began at 3 o'clock instead of 4."

Glenn Ostling

Norway Now, 20 May 1996


This page was last updated 23 May 1996 by the editors