There is a photo that appeared in the Norwegian press this winter of a lone athlete pounding the beat along the concrete jungle of Oslo’s ring-road. The snow is banked up by the side of the road, the traffic is roaring past, and there is a light dusting of frost on the pavement. They could hardly be called ideal conditions, but Susanne Wigene has both feet off the ground and is clearly not hanging around, despite the treacherous surface and the temperature of minus nine centigrade.
Well known for refusing to train abroad in the worst of the Scandinavian winter for social reasons, it is typical of Wigene that she should choose Easter, just when the weather is improving at home, to head for Italy for a 16-day break from the ring-road. There is a Norwegian word she uses to describe the way she treats her body – rovdrift – which means ruthless exploitation of a natural resource, and it’s hard to disagree.
But the rovdrift has been bringing in the returns with a silver medal in the 2006 European Championships 10,000m and a time of 30:32.36 placing her second on the Norwegian all-time lists, behind Ingrid Kristiansen and ahead of another Norwegian legend, Grete Waitz. She also ran the 5000m final five days later in Gothenburg, finishing seventh and it was that experience that led her to the recent decision only to contest the 10,000m at this summer’s IAAF World Championships in Athletics, Osaka, Japan.
“My experience in the European Championships tells me it is too much to double. I didn’t have any strength left for the 5000m. And there are heats for the 5000m as well in Osaka,” she says. “I would like to run the 5000m as well, but I’m afraid it will be too hard. The only possibility is if the 10,000m is a tactical race that does not take too much out of me.”
And the secret to a successful World Championships? Miles and more miles, always with the understanding that a mile in Norwegian is worth 10km to the rest of the world. For Wigene that has meant an average of 21 miles or 210km a week throughout this winter, running to and from her part-time job at the Bank of Norway in the centre of Oslo. As the crow flies that is only one mile (10km) but a little adjustment here and there brings the total to ten English miles. Then at two o’clock, she is ready for the return journey.
The inspiration for all this punishment goes back some forty years to the 1960s when New Zealand’s Arthur Lydiard expounded his theories of winter stamina training as the basis for summer success. He had triple Olympic gold medallist Peter Snell as proof that it could produce results. Norwegian international Knut Kvalheim took those lessons to heart and it is he who now coaches Wigene.
Contrary to Norway’s image of wide open spaces and healthy mountain air, Oslo is one of Europe’s most polluted cities. But it hardly registers with Wigene: “I’ve never believed in being too careful,” she says, claiming she hardly feels the cold nor has she had a day off in the last 12 months. She counts Sundays as a day-off training because she only does one session, making a total of 13 a week. And the purpose of all this punishment? “I have decided I want to see how good I can be and that means miles and more miles,” says the 29-year-old from Haugesund in the west of the country. Osaka will show whether the rovdrift has all been worthwhile.
Michael Butcher for the IAAF