18 JAN 2014 General News Potchefstroom, South Africa

Road to Rio passes through Copenhagen for marathon-bound Grovdal

Karoline Bjerkeli Grovdal in the 5000m at the 2013 IAAF World Championships (Getty Images)Karoline Bjerkeli Grovdal in the 5000m at the 2013 IAAF World Championships (Getty Images) © Copyright

Comparisons with the all-time greats of Norwegian distance running set the narrative of stories in the domestic press when Karoline Bjerkeli Grovdal first emerged as a 16-year-old in 2006.

But while Ingrid Kristiansen and Grete Waitz jointly set a formidable yardstick in the 1970s and 80s, the runner from Alesund on the west coast of Norway has never felt shackled by such parallels. 

“I felt it not as pressure, rather a motivation I could also reach a world level in long-distance running,” reflected the 23-year-old from her training base in Potchefstroom, South Africa.

“Of course I was compared with Ingrid and Grete; that was logical. Especially after I ran (and won) the Sentrumslopet (the 10km race held in the early summer in Oslo) in 31:29 when I was 17 years old. I was predicted to be the new Kristiansen.”

“Both Ingrid and Grete are great role models for me. They have showed it is possible to come from Norway and run fast.

“Aside from that, I have always trained my way”, she added, when asked if Waitz or Kristiansen, who between them set world records from 3000m up to the marathon, have played any role in her training.

“But our training principle is probably the same.”

Grovdal used to combine competitive cross-country skiing with a burgeoning career on the track and until the end of her teenage years there was still a debate over which sport she would focus on.

Fortunately for athletics, she chose to focus solely on the latter in a competitive capacity although Grovdal, like Kristiansen, still incorporates it into her training programme during the icy Norwegian winters when running on the roads would often be sheer folly.

“I still use cross-country skiing a lot in the winter when I'm in Norway. I try to enter periods where I relieve my legs from running to avoid injuries. Since I'm good at cross-country skiing, I get great benefits from it and I will probably continue to do this.”

A sizeable group of sprinters have spotted a gap in the market in the bobsled after calling time on their track careers but Grovdal doesn't harbour any aspirations to revert to cross country skiing; at least not for the moment. “I'm not thinking about starting cross-country skiing again, but one should never say never.”

Copenhagen calling

The immediate focus is the 2014 IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in Copenhagen on 29 March and Grovdal has been preparing this winter at altitude in Flagstaff, Arizona, and in Potchefstroom, South Africa to get in optimum shape to achieve her primary objective of improving her best of 1:09:41. 

Looking further ahead though, this race also marks a formative step in the transition up to the marathon which could be Grovdal's focus for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

“I do not have much experience with running the half marathon yet but it is certainly an important race on the way to Rio in 2016.

“The training I have done until now is more geared to the 10,000m and half marathon, not a marathon. I probably need more specific marathon training before I possibly run a marathon in Rio, but I do not think I'm a runner who needs to run many kilometres in my preparation,” said Grovdal, who is running on average 160 kilometres in training per week.

“The most important thing for me is to keep injury free.” 

Injuries were one of the factors which forced Grovdal to abandon what looked a very promising career as a steeplechaser.

She set a European junior record and a still-standing world age-16 best of 9:33.19 in 2007 to gain qualification for that year’s World Championships in Osaka, before a repeat appearance over the barriers in Berlin in 2009, the year she won both the European junior 3000m steeplechase and 5000m titles.

However, she suggested her career path was maybe always destined to follow the longer distances.

“Judging from my VO2 max tests and my threshold speed, I probably have a greater potential for long distances, so that’s why the 5000m and 10,000m are my main priority now,” explained Grovdal, who is also targeting a medal over 10,000m at the European Championships in Zurich this summer.

Stopping the steeplechase

The decision was understandably tinged with a bit of sadness but Grovdal takes a pragmatic assessment.

“Sometimes I miss it (the steeplechase). When I look at the level which has not been that high in recent years, I know I would have been capable of being a top steeplechaser as well, but it requires a lot of specific training and with my injuries, I think it's better to just keep it to running.”

The roads haven't, as yet, been Grovdal's foremost priority but her personal bests are still eye-catching, such as her 1:09:41 half marathon performance in 2012.

“It's hard to say (how fast I can run for the half marathon) but I know I can improve a lot, and I've only run the distance once before. My personal best is from Oslo and I should run a lot faster on a faster course.”

With tight turns and inclines at a premium, the course in Copenhagen is certainly conducive to fast times. Added to that, Grovdal has put together an injury-free block of training since September which further points towards a possible breakthrough performance on the roads at the end of March in the Danish capital.

After returning from South Africa at the end of January, Grovdal plans to go to altitude again before Copenhagen. The one definite race on her itinerary is the Schoorl 10km in the Netherlands on 9 February where she will try to retain her title from last year which she won in gun-to-tape fashion.

This bold style of running, exemplified by her bold bid to lay down the gauntlet from the gun at the European Cross Country Championships last month, where she eventually finished fifth, has often been her preferred game-plan, particularly on the roads and at cross country

However, Grovdal isn't revealing anything about her race-day tactics in Copenhagen.

“You'll have to be there to see what tactics I'll choose!”

Steven Mills for the IAAF