A year ago I had never run a marathon… In fact I had never run an organised half marathon. The longest organised run I had undertaken was my village's 10 mile 'fun run', with a few 10k's thrown in there for good measure.
Every journey starts with a single step, and the most thrilling must have been those few I took to the station in Hook to board the train to Brookwood early on September 1st last year and the start of my odyssey (or is that oddity?) having told LSS that I was popping out for a long run.
Almost a year on from that train ride and LSS is with me, here in Reykjavik capital of Iceland, incidentally a land with no trains… LSS turned 40 this year and has always fancied seeing Iceland, so doing a bit of research on booking a holiday for her to help celebrate it I noticed that a couple of weeks after this dreaded milestone in every woman's life the marathon was running here. This coincided perfectly with me getting to the 12 in 12, so I duly booked the holiday… Fly out on the Friday for a week to take advantage of cheaper fares, and then dropping the bomb-shell once all was booked and presented to her that the first official day of our holidays was going to see me galavanting off around the city with scores of other loons, leaving LSS on her todd!
LSS has steadfastly declined my entreaties to come and support me at any of these marathons so far, for the most part this is understandable considering how remote they have been, although this blanket 'no' even covered the South Downs that is run a 30 minute drive from our village, so having her here with me gives me my so far unique chance to have my own cheer-leader and clapper seeing me across the finish line and making a fitting end to this crazy running challenge… You might say flying someone 1,000 miles to a foreign country to ensure they are there when you cross a finish line is a bit extreme, but hey, its a big 4-0 celebratory holiday as well!
On the Friday itself was the marathon Expo, which we managed to get to an hour before closing thanks to our baggage getting lost at the airport and taking an hour to pick-up our pre-booked hire-car (the desk was in a building half a mile outside the terminal and the staff made sloths seem like sprinters). The Expo location was the sports-hall opposite the national stadium, a 5 minute drive from our hotel. Parking was a free-for-all so I pulled into the first available spot that could be considered a 'space' and we went in to the hall.
I picked-up my number and my goody-bag and they scanned the chips to make sure they worked there and then. The organisers give-out the bounty before the race to encourage as many people as possible to wear the race shirt, which is a good idea for all the sponsors who get their branding out in loads of event photos. The tee is an Asics technical tee so a decent brand (and hopefully decent quality). In the bag was a voucher for a Camelbak officially race-branded water bottle which we had to go to the Camelbak stand in the expo to collect. At last a useful gift!
After scoffing some complimentary pasta and popcorn we went back to the hotel then wandered off down Laugavegur to recce where the race was starting and finishing and to show LSS a few of the sights in the city centre (having been here a couple of times before I roughly know the way round). Content with knowing where to be and when, we returned to our room and settled-down for an early night.
Being in a foreign country the same foodstuffs are not necessarily available, so for this race I was not able to have my customary breakfast of a flapjack/ granola or have a scotch-egg for my post-race recovery food, so upstairs I went for the hotel breakfast of boiled egg, cold ham, cheese and some toast.
With about 45 minutes to the off we wandered down to the start line in the drizzle. The start is streamed into time-waves, so in theory you are supposed to stand behind the banner corresponding to your estimated finish time. Wending my way through the barriers I stood by the 5h finish banner. The race is paced, so there are designated runners streaming balloons the colour of their banner that will take those who wish around the race in their desired time. LSS waiting to see me off, commented that all of us assembled looked like a pack of soaked shivering greyhounds all ready to run out of the traps, and why do people eat energy gels whilst standing there before they start? Aren't they to replenish or boost energy whilst you are running?
|LSS 'supporting' my endeavours ;)|
|All smiles before the suffering commences!|
|Jogging through the puddles in the rain.|
|Heading north to the coast.|
|Approaching the docks.|
|A coast-guard vessel.|
|The Oriana on the right.|
Traversing the docks we had the first and only major hill. The road wound its way with a couple of switch-backs up the hill to the top to stare back down upon the liner and a couple of cargo vessels that were unloading their containers. At the top of the hill we ran past what looked like an impromptu aid-station with pieces of Mars bar and banana chunks being handed-out, so I grabbed a handful and carried on the jog.
I realised around this part of the course plateauing at the top of the hill that I had not spoken to anyone on the race so far. Mostly as people were either not speaking English or in groups together. Unless the groups were chatting, then no-one else seemed to be, bar a few Icelanders who obviously knew each other anyway. At this point I was incidentally yo-yoing position with a couple of Canadian runners judging by their vests with maple leaves on them and in support of the Canadian Asthma Society.
The deep water dock loop was complete and we rejoined on the opposite side of the road to those making the outward journey. The loop had taken around half an hour and it was heartening to see people still plodding along at the start of the outward leg, which was a good fillip to the spirits as it meant I was at least 30 mins away from last place! Soon we came to the point where the race split for the full and half races. Us marathoners veered off to the left and the halvers carried on straight ahead. I could see a long line of people heading straight off back to the start, which meant most of those who had passed me so far had been on the half course, which was a relief as I could only see about half a dozen people on the full course in front of me.
As we rounded the corner for the split we ran past a large building that held a gym. Looking down into the open space in front of the basement there were a bunch of people sitting in a hot tub and on the 1st floor there were people running on treadmills looking out at us… Now it seems to me that if you are the type to be motivated to go to a gym and spend time running on the spot for say 30 mins at a time, then why are you not out here with the rest of us doing it for real?.. At least they managed to wave at us runners, which just seemed to make the whole thing all the more absurd as they were acknowledging our efforts in doing so!
This split in the course took us up a hill and round a corner to the national stadium and the sports-centre where the expo had been the previous day. This stretch meandered around through a section of public parks and housing estates, that could have been any urban environment… Until going through another patch of parkland having run through an underpass where we jogged past a little river and waterfall. It may have only been a couple of feet tall, but it was the first natural urban waterfall I've seen!
|The little urban(e) waterfall.|
Jogging along the sea wall I picked-off a couple of people as others slowly lumbered past me. With less than 5k to go, in an effort to get the best possible time that I could, I attempted to keep up with a couple of runners who passed me, to expend every last ounce of energy I had in this pursuit of a PB… I made the effort but had to ease off as they were just too strong for me as we found the docks once more and wended our way past them agaib and back in to the city centre.
|An old fishing boat being restored.|
|A whaler undergoing work.|
Made it in a pb of 4:33:47 (My Garmin said 4:32:11) in position 679 of 851.
Grabbing a drink of the blue 'nectar' that was the complimentary Powerade found here and at all of the aid stations, I had a medal hung round my neck and my first 'bin liner' to put on to keep warm. I took my chip off and put it into the collection point and composing myself I looked round for LSS.
I wandered back to where I thought she might be waiting.
Still no sign.
I sat down on a bench and got my phone out… The message was not from her but from my footy manager asking for my availability %$^* I said to myself and sent another message asking LSS where she was?.. I gave it 5 minutes and before I began to feel my legs seize-up and I started on the mile walk uphill back to the hotel.
Traipsing along Laugavegur feeling a little miffed - LSS had somehow managed to again not be at the finish line despite being flown to be within a mile of it… I bumped in to her coming towards me along the street picking her way through the crowd of runners and shoppers. When she clocked me she looked genuinely shocked… It turned out the message had not reached her despite having her phone on.
To be fair she received the 'where are you?' message the next morning and cheekily said to me 'I'm lying here next to you'… The important message did not arrive until another day later when we were out driving round the golden circle. So at least she had a genuine reason for not knowing, and for good measure the blame was put back on to me for running too fast!.. LSS did suggest returning to the finish line and have me run it again re-creating the finish just for the sake of a photo… I just gave her the Paddington Bear stare to that suggestion!
After a lovely hot shower and changing into warm dry clothes, the two of us wandered off, albeit slowly, to the Svarta Kaffi for a post-race lunch of soup in a bread roll and BEER… Washing down the soup with a pint of Egils 'Gull'
When the results were published I looked at the make-up of the runners. 851 people ran the marathon. 156 were Icelanders. This means that of all the runners 82% of the field came from overseas… A truly international event!
Here's me in action on the day - from 0:41 to 0:46:
And here's me crossing the finish line: belly's gonna get ya!
Success: 12 marathons in 12 months
It shows that it can be done with a bit of application... But what now?