The internet has no shortage of rabbit holes to fall into. Over the last ten years, this whole-ly ground of digital space we occupy has managed to increase the likelihood of our falling down rabbit holes with algorithmic recommendations the accuracy of which is frightening. We all have friends with those stories. “I was just talking about”–insert item of choice–”and then Facebook recommended it to me.”
The safest reply: “Oh, that’s crazy.”
Browse my Instagram feed and the rabbit hole I’ve chosen is crystal clear: running. I’m talking gear, drills, shoes, athletes, destinations, supplements, clubs, events–people running across deserts and through Ikea outlets in New York City. My feed is a trip.
And it’s a trip that’s made it easy for me to get closer to the pulse of running news, close enough at least to know most of the most popular athletes by name. One of those athletes, one that’s created an aura of dominance along the range of middle distance events is Jakob Ingebrigtsen, a 21 year old from Sandnes, Norway. Marked by a sticker book of small black tattoos on his legs and arms, a far reaching gaze, and a thick comb-over of hair which curls into a neat flick across his right eyebrow, Ingebrigtsen has written a running resume that runnrs like me dream about as we lace our shoes up.
He won the gold medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in the 1,500 metres event breaking the Olympic and European records as he did, and on 17 February 2022 set his first senior world record–breaking Samuel Tefera’s 3-year old record for the indoor 1,500 metres by 0.44 seconds with a time of 3:30.60. Ask any runner with a feed like mine about Jakob Ingebrigtsen and you’ll likely get, “Oh Jakob? He’s a beast.”
If the person you asked about Jakob is even more serious about their running news consumption, you may be pulled into a conversation about two of Jakob’s brothers–Filip and Henrik–or possibly about Jakob’s father and coach Gjert. Though Jakob has sprinted into the running limelight, even pacing Eliud Kipchoge as the youngest pacemaker in the group that aided Kipchoge during his successful sub-2 hour marathon in Vienna, Jakob’s two elder brothers have hoisted the Ingebrigsten family banner up into the international light as the best runners in Norway, each of the two setting Norwegian national records and each winning gold medals at the European Championships.
Both of them have represented Norway in the Olympics, both competing in the 1,500 metres event.
Gjert, husband to Tone Eva Tønnessen and father to his and Tone’s seven children, coaches Jacob, Henrik, Filip, and Ingrid–Ingrid being the younger sister to the three brothers. Throughout his coaching duties, he also works in a logistics company–at least that’s what I’ve understood.
You see, at some point in my online stumbling, I came across a link to the entire series of Team Ingebrigtsen which began in 2016 and is what I’ve come to lovingly call “The Keeping Up With The Kardashians of the running world”. The show is absolute chaos at times for more reasons than one. For starters, the family household is a chaos of discipline, children, tempers, training, and a startlingly contrasting backdrop–most of the show is filmed in the beautifully picturesque Sandnes with the occasional training trip to St. Moritz in Switzerland. Secondly, the show is in the family’s native Norwegian which has then been roughly translated into English via subtitles which I’m sure lag and miss much of the niche that a Norwegian would’ve grasped well.
I’ve come to realize that the subtitles wrongly translate “running” with “jumping”. So the three brothers “jump” a lot–at least that’s what you’d get from the subtitles.
It’s incredibly personal too. You watch the children grow up navigating the fights, willingness to rebel, and pimples that accompany the transition to adulthood. You see three brothers manage a celebrity bestowed on them by their running dominance and navigate a relationship with a father whom they address by name. Gjert is an interesting character too. Having had his children set athletic goals for themselves at such a young age, Gjert aided them with a training schedule that is detailed down to checking their lactic acid levels during runs (he brings a little gun that extracts a bit of blood from his sons’ fingers and displays a number which makes sense to the family).
He must be doing something right given the success his sons have had in their running careers. At an emotional point in the show for me, perhaps because I felt an incredible sense of vindication and rightful appreciation, Gjert won Norwegian sports coach of the year in 2018.
The level of dedication
I leave the world of the Ingebrigtsen family with takeaways, as though I got to spend time hovering around their family life and now return to my own world.
Primary learning: it takes an unbelievable amount of discipline, drive, passion (whatever you want to call it) to perform at a globally competitive level. As an amateur after-work runner this is something that I’ve neglected to appreciate. Maybe it’s a tiny bit of hubris, but there is always the tiny seed of ego somewhere in my brain. It whispers to my consciousness, “ah, you can do that”, as it absorbs an Instagram reel of a runner-influencer clocking in speedy miles.
Truth of the matter is: I can’t. And the simple reason, aside from a likely lack of comparable talent: I do not train nearly as hard or much as these people do. For one, they definitely don’t drink as much whisky as I allow myself to. I don’t run as much as they do. And I haven’t been running ever since I was a tiny child. In one scene, a young Jakob was strapped to some sort of breathing analytics machine looking like some sort of Bane halloween costume while running (at lord knows what pace). I mean, at that age I was still eating flavoured Chapsticks.
Martin and Kristoffer, two of the Ingebrigtsen brothers, actually opted out of the athletic life. In one of the early arcs of the show, Martin shows interest in athletics again–picking up skates and trying his hand at training for what I think was some form of roller skiing. I wondered about the amount of bravery this young man would’ve had to muster in the face of brothers that were already competing in their respective sports at such high levels. The idea of starting again, of trying to get good at a sport–well, it takes balls. He ends up hanging up the skates but remains in the support group of the family as it continues to cluster around the three younger brothers.
While Filip experienced a form of sickness at some point in his younger years, Henrik at the age of 28 was faced with a toe that simply wouldn’t stop hurting. Though I’m sure I’m missing key details here–I’ll blame the language barrier–it had something to do with his toe and hamstring and couldn't be addressed with alternative exercise (whenever injured the guys run in water with a floatie around their waists) or acupuncture. As I understood it, he was supposed to have the thing removed–amputated–but instead a different sort of surgery was performed.
That’s the point here. I don’t think I have that sort of dedication to the sport. I.e. I wouldn’t give up a toe to run better.
Culture of success
Another suite of takeaways has to do with the culture of success Gjert has managed to create in the family as well as the cultural differences between my own and that in Norway.
For starters, each of the brothers goes through a short arc where their respective girlfriend lives in the family house with them–in the basement, which is more beautiful room than what I understand a basement to be. But I suppose it works out: Filip is now married to Astrid, Henrik to Liva, and Jacob is engaged to Elisabeth. Filip and Henrik, more than remaining to be professional runers, are also fathers to children with their wives.
Of course, religion popped into my mind while watching this all unfold. I suppose that when it comes to these sorts of values a chief force in my culture behind what to do is religion. There are moments of faith. There is a beautiful series of scenes where Gjert and Tone journey to Gjert’s childhood town. They sit in a gorgeous small church late on a snowy night, in the front pew arm in arm (at least that’s how I remember it). Before races, the couple journey to a notable church wherever in the world they are and light a candle for each of their competing children.
All in the name of performance.
And I don’t understand how Gjert manages to hold it all together. Aside from coaching the boys, the man has a full-time job. He often has a bluetooth device sticking out of one of his ears through which he coordinates whatever his job has him do–I couldn’t ever fully grasp exactly what it was that he was doing.
In St. Moritz during training camps, he’d be up early, cooking, doing groceries, preparing the training schedules, getting ahead on work–doing so darn much, performing so darn well, and somehow making it all darn work. Perhaps there is a form of genius at work here that I’m appreciating just through snippets of understanding I’m able to obtain through a language barrier and the lens of a TV show. But that this can be replicated is something I doubt to large degree.
Extremes in life
What I’ve arrived at after my excursion is: the life this family has chosen is one of high performance–and one of extremes. Incredible extremes.
I think my culture is one born of protection. Of making sure things are as they are for as long as sustainably possible. One that avoids too much or too little, but focuses on doing just enough. And this has many merits. But as someone who enjoys pushing himself just a bit too hard, who warriors away at his weekends and comes back to the office on Monday just a little bit more tired than he should be, it leaves me wondering where our athletic community could be if the Ingebrigtsen sort of funding and support–social and family support that is–were given to our local athletes.
The view I’ve chosen to take is that there are many ways to interact with the world and many values to hold up as those to live our lives to. Each has its merits. Each is birthed in a cultural genesis that gives it its own limitations. And that which I have places a burly weight on safety.
Perhaps we need a little bit of extreme. A challenge to the Monday to Friday work drone. Even if just two jogs per week is all our schedules can fathom, maybe these two nights per week to work on our physical and mental health is a mini-rebellion that can slowly change our values.
Maybe safe isn’t necessarily healthy.
But don’t take my word for it, give the show a watch. Maybe that’s a sort of rebellion too.
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