At six o'clock in the morning the streets of Oslo are almost empty. An overcast sky shades every corner, every park, every closed cafe patio gray. The light breeze is welcome after several consistently hot weeks. Leaves are still tightly bound to the branches of the full, green, summer trees. It's just me out there. Me and the city I call home.
I've never seen Oslo like this before. Oh, I've seen her empty. On Easter weekend. Or after catching the 1 a.m. train home from the airport, rolling our suitcases up the hill from National Theater. But never like this. Behind every closed door and Stengt sign comes the buzz of potential energy.
I am running. Downhill first. From Inkognitogata to Henrik Ibsens gate, through the heavy construction at Solli plass. Asphalt peeled back to reveal old tracks and new track. Rust at the joints. Workers in neon vests sip coffee. All this downhill is a gift to me. It's tough enough to motivate myself out of bed in the morning. To lace up my old sneakers (new shoes will be my reward for successfully completing the Oslo Half Marathon in September). My footsteps are quick and even.
Down Dokkveien to Aker Brygge. No cars on the road. I pass the Nobel Peace Center, cross Rådhusplassen. I am alone with the statues, the fountains. Fishy smells waft up from under the piers on the fjord. The bells in the brick towers don't chime. It's only been a mile. It's only been ten minutes. My breathing is more labored than it should be, but I'm used to that by now. It's the first mile and a half that's hardest for me. A breaking in. Breaking through the wall and finding a healthier part of my spirit.
I skirt the perimeter of Akershus Fortress. No cruise ship parked where I expect it, so the fjord view is open to me. Islands. Sailboats. Ferries. Rounding the corner, I see the Opera House. It is an iceberg. Pristine. Not a single person on the terraced roof. And faster than I expect, I am running along Operagata. Three men exit a beige sedan carrying musical instruments in bulky, black cases. Cyclists whip past me wearing black spandex, neon vests, helmets. They are on their way to work.
I am suddenly anxious. This is where my path will deviate from what I've run before. As a reluctant runner, I find blazing new trails joyless, even stressful. But this is a necessary part of my training. I'm piecing together the half marathon course one segment at a time. Nordenga Bridge rises ahead of me. I run up. It's another deal I make with myself. Never walk uphill unless I must, but if I run up, I get to breathe at the top. Not sure who enforces these rules. My subconscious?
I take the stairs at the far side of the bridge. Carefully. My knees wobble. Platous gate, then Tøyengata. This is what I"ve been preparing for. The new segment circles Oslo's Botanical Gardens, and that's a climb. For me. Seventy-odd feet in less than a mile. On race day, it'll be about Mile 10. I predicted it would crush my soul.
I'm home from a bookish, whiskey-laced, World Cup-ful week in Ireland. There are far too many wonderful bits to blog all at once. Suffice it to say, the trip ticked every box on my Perfect Vacation List. This is a list which has evolved over the years and now includes this shocking item: Finding time and space to go for a run.
You read that right. My on-again-off-again relationship with running is, well, on again.
My shins are fickle. My attachment to my couch profound. My wheezy lungs as good an excuse as any to move at a snail's pace through the majority of my life. But when I run regularly, I do enjoy it. Particularly the bit just after the initial fifteen minutes of hellish breaking-in which my body is bound to undergo every single time... and just before the devastating throb of my lazy heart as The Blerch pops up to tell me I should stop immediately and buy some ice cream instead. If I can drown out The Blerch's protestations with the help of Beyoncé or Ira Glass, I inevitably finish my run glowing (sweating, actually, but glowing just sounds less sticky, slick, and gross), breathing deeply, and proud of myself. Every time. Proof: This photo of me, post-run, posing with my favorite Georgian door in Dublin, number thirty-three, and the same shade of bright red as my poor, little, panting face.
Which is why I've signed up to run the Oslo Half Marathon in September this year, partnered with fellow American expat blogger Corinne to train for the race, and even managed to complete two training runs while on vacation!
When Jonathan and I trained for the Disneyland Half Marathon in 2008 and 2010, we did our final tapered runs in Anaheim the night before the big race. We did the same thing in Death Valley before the 30K we ran in 2009, too. But just plain going for a run while a tourist in a foreign city is something I've never tried before. It almost didn't happen, too, because when I Googled around for advice about jogging in Dublin, I saw the same thing over and over: Don't do it. Running on city streets in Dublin is, apparently, very tough to do. They're crowded. The intersections are terrible. (And if you're not a local, it's easy to forget which way to look when you cross the street, too!) Thankfully, the advice I found went further than that. If you want to run in Dublin, choose one of the many beautiful, safe little parks in the city, and do laps.
My running shoes are neon pink.
This morning, I laced them up and stepped onto the treadmill at my gym, just as I have many mornings in the last few weeks. And I ran.
I ran toward the glossy faces of the broadcasters on CNN and the BBC as they told the story. Two bombs exploded in quick succession near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, yesterday. At least three are dead. At least 144 are injured. Critical injuries include amputated limbs. Among the fatalities is an eight-year-old boy from Dorchester.
My feet thumped and thumped and thumped on the spinning road of the treadmill. I was going nowhere. And the newsmen and newswomen repeated the little we know, and all that we don't know, over and over.
Yesterday, I was watching the live stream of the Boston Marathon as the elite runners churned through the miles between the halfway point and the finish. I was watching as Yolanda Beatriz Caballero Pérez of Columbia pulled ahead of the women's lead pack by more than thirty seconds.
A year older than me, Caballero looked strong and fluid, pumping along at a blistering pace (at Mile 12, her split was 5:26). The announcers ran through the details of Caballero's life as she ran straight toward the camera. Last year, she lost her husband of five years to a stroke. He'd been her best friend, her true love, and her running coach, taking her from a daily jogger to a marathon champion. Last year, she placed 8th at the Boston Marathon and earned a selection for the Summer 2012 Olympic Games.
After a couple more miles, I watched as Caballero was overtaken by Portugal's Ana Dulce Felix, her long, blond ponytail swishing in time with her stride.
Already, I was looking forward to my next day's workout, inspired by these incredible lady athletes who make it clear what the human body is capable of.
Once the elites had crossed the finish line, I stopped checking the Boston Marathon Twitter feed. We had a birthday to celebrate. While thousands of people continued to run from Hopkinton to Boston, I sang Happy Birthday to Jonathan and carried his angel food cake into the living room. The candles wavered. He made a wish and blew them out.
Just about then, there was blood in the streets of Boston.
President Obama has warned against jumping to conclusions, but promises that whomever is responsible, be it an individual or a group, they will feel "the full weight" of justice.
Detonated for maximum carnage, the "crude devices" placed among the crowds at the finish were timed to coincide with the moment that the most runners would be crossing the finish or arriving in the last miles. Thus, we are reminded of the evil which human beings are also capable of.
Could there be anything more sadistic than cutting off a runner at the knees?