Running for the pies

Running for the pies

Sunday, 29 September 2013

24th August: Reykjavik

Well here it is… Around 2 years ago I set myself a challenge, something to push myself beyond my comfort zone, something to dare myself to say 'what if', something that could and might just be possible, and after the false dawn caused by Bernard, which still gives me the occasional twinge in the damp and cold, I stand on the threshold of success.

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?

The wait...
LSS 'supporting' my endeavours ;)
All smiles before the suffering commences!
I was surrounded in the crowd that was huddling fairly tight because of the rain by lots of foreign accents as well as English. Reading the shirts of those around me there was a fair contingent of British, but also just in front were a coterie of French, a flock of Finns and of course, a good few Icelanders.

The route.
After the mayor of Reykjavik counted down to zero we were off; splashing through the rain and puddles through the city centre. The decent-sized crowd of on-lookers cheered us off, along with those gathering for the impending 10k and fun runs. The roads were already soaked from the rain of the last 24 hours so large puddles were everywhere. It was amusing watching some people dancing around attempting to avoid the inevitable soaking of trainers (which lets face it IS going to happen in conditions like this over 26.2 miles), whilst most just ploughed-on regardless. The temperature was 12 degrees centigrade with not too much wind so it was neither hot nor cold and with the drizzle it was pretty near ideal weather for running long distance as there was no chance of overheating, and a big contrast to the 54321 from 2 weeks previous which was double the temperature!
Jogging through the puddles in the rain.
Running through the centre and out to the north west of the city all the residents were out in force, banging drums, cymbals, blowing horns, ringing bells, clapping, cheering us all on with anything that could make a noise. By the side of the road there was a group waving a huge Belgian flag and all the Belgian contingent in the field went over to pay their respects to them as we all splashed past. There were trailers with bands playing on top of them, PA systems with DJ's… The atmosphere was more of a street party or festival than just to mark a few hundred nutters jogging round the capital's centre!.. Although having said this the race runs on the day of their cultural festival, so there's a free concert and fireworks in the evening and it is the city's biggest day after their annual gay pride parade.

Heading north to the coast.
We soon turned a corner and were jogging along the sea-wall skirting our way back in to towards the central docks. The field was now beginning to find its pace and spread out a little way over this flat 5k stretch of the race. A quick loop around the docks and we were back out along the sea-wall, taking in the 'Sun Voyager' statue, this 5k stage having a hard drizzle soaking us as we began to leave the city centre and the spectators behind. As we went along here I found myself being overtaken by the pace-makers for a projected 5:30 time, which I found very disconcerting. I had to check my Garmin and re-check it just to be sure. I was running a solid time to get me round in the 5 hours and this was reflected in where I was at that particular time. I had to make a conscious decision there and then about whether I push-on with them at an increased pace, or do I trust my own body and mind that I was indeed running my race exactly how I should be to ensure the chances of success… I decided to trust my own instinct and stick with what I was doing and watched as they headed away in front. My mind was sure that they were VERY poor pacemakers, but there is always that element of doubt!

Approaching the docks.
A coast-guard vessel.
On this stretch we caught our first glimpse in the distance of the MV Oriana docked in the deep-water harbour with all its tourists most likely wandering around the city wondering what on earth was going on.

The Oriana on the right.
As we drew closer, we could see the return leg from the loop of the marathon and half, and to my amazement I could see people passing on the other side of the road having completed the loop already and heading back to the city centre… Seriously quick people even if they were just running the half!

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.
The right turn after here marked the furthest point from the start and the 25km marker, so I knew I was on the way back. Looking out for Perlan perched on the hill as my guide to judge where I was I followed the uphill gradient. I figured that by the time I had gone round the airfield, a novelty having planes taking off and landing as we passed, then it would only by around 10k to go. The field was very spread out now, with the only people doing much overtaking at speed being those who had taken-over relay legs at the 30k mark and were making their dash for the line. Looking at my times I could see I was on for a really good time for me… I had told LSS to be at the finish for around a 5h race, whereas I was nailed on for a 4:30 race!.. I reached over into my camelbak and took my phone out, texting LSS to tell her the news and to get down to the finish earlier… Putting the phone back in the bag I had just rounded the nature reserve at the furthest west point of the course and the run back into the city centre when I heard the message tone go on the phone, which cheered me up no-end, safe in the knowledge that LSS was going to be there to see me cross the line!

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.
Sodden spectators could once more be seen and heard clapping you on as you were nearly home, soaked beaming bemedalled fellow runners cheering you on to lift your spirits as we were marshalled along towards the end and in no time a right 90 degree turn through a large puddle and the finish gantry was in sight… Pace increased I went for the finish line, scanning the spectators for LSS, my camera in my hand to capture the finish line.

Nearly there!
Made it!

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.

No sign.

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?

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant account, love it. Makes we want to run this one next year.