Race Review: Reykjavík Half Marathon 2014

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Last weekend, I participated in the 31st running of the “marathon day” in Reykjavík. The day consists of several different races – full marathon, half marathon, 10k, 3 km fun run and even shorter “Lazytown” run. I chose to do the half marathon over the full distance as the marathon field is actually quite small and I would find the second half of the race mentally hard to do without many other people around.

This is one of those races that I’ve looked at doing a few times and never have, so it was quite nice that things came together and I was finally able to do it!

Pre-race, you had the option of picking up your number at the Expo on the Thursday or Friday. (you could also pick it up on Saturday morning near the start, and it wasn’t crowded there so that would have been easily doable too) I was excited to visit the Expo, even though I knew the prices for running kit would be higher than in the UK so it wouldn’t really be worth buying anything. I was hoping to see more Reykjavík/Iceland specific shirts to buy, but I didn’t see any so saved my money! The number/chip pickup was straightforward and again not busy so quick to get through. All participants got the same t-shirt no matter what distance they were doing, which would be unusual at other races. Interestingly you could also change your race distance right up until the day before. It’s also the only race I’ve done where your number was just randomly assigned to you then and there (which would also be why you could change distances and get a different coloured number with no admin hassle).

Race T-shirt

I had also wanted to go to the Expo to get the pasta dinner advertised. I nearly walked past the 5 people who were actually eating as it turned out you had to pay for the dinner and the small portion was definitely not worth the price! Runners are quite superstitious about what they eat the night before a race and for breakfast so this suddenly caused me a problem. We ended up eating pizza along with several other runners as this seemed to be the quickest/easiest alternative. All was fine so this might become my new pre-race dinner!

Race day, it was an early start on Saturday. This was also a nice change for me as races in the UK are on Sundays which means they take up your whole weekend. The full and half marathons started at 8:40 with the 10k an hour later. After the bright sunshine of the previous day race morning was very cold during the standing around/waiting to go time. Most other people were wearing jackets and checking a bag in, while I walked down in short sleeves thinking it wasn’t that cold! It was! It was fun to watch the last minute preparations and finally we were allowed into the starting pens. With both sides of the road being used there were no long delays to the starting line. It was good to finally get going, although shortly after the start we pretty much came to a halt as both sides had to merge. Once we got going again the course was spacious enough for everyone for the rest of the race.

Don't you want to run here?

Don’t you want to run here?

You can view full details of the courses on the race website. Generally – the first few miles of the course were around residential streets – this was where the best support was with people playing instruments/banging pots and pans and really cheering the runners on. This was probably my favourite part of the course. Then we emerged by Harpa and went out along the seafront – I also enjoyed this bit as it was old familiar views but seen from a different perspective when running. Then it was the dullest bit of the course around an industrial estate, which also had the biggest hill (but still not a bad one), then back along the seafront to finish.

Half marathon medal

Half marathon medal

The finish area became quite crowded as many half marathon and 10k runners were finishing at the same time. The chip worn on your shoe also had to be removed here and where normally you would get two twist ties to put it on your laces, you had to actually unlace your shoe to put it on directly so it was taking people time to get it off again. We then funneled up a hill and left to end up back at the main race area.

Hafþór Björnsson, who ran with his daughter for charity

Hafþór Björnsson, who ran with his daughter for charity

Good things about the race – the size (not too big or small), great organisation considering high level of foreign runners, flat and mainly interesting half marathon course, right amount of drinks stations, good technical t-shirt

Improvements – some kind of meeting point area afterwards, twist ties for the chips, more of a goody bag – even if it means raising the price, sell more race specific merchandise at the Expo

Would I do it again? Probably not, but only because I think we were lucky with the weather this year and generally it would be pretty wet and windy (and I have enough of those kind of runs at home)!

That’s another item off the bucket list!

Stockholm Marathon 2013 review

With apologies to my non-runner readers, I appreciate this post is going to bore you to tears…I promise I will be back on to Iceland content soon…

I recently participated in the Stockholm Marathon, which was my first international race. I arrived at the start line feeling uninspired and tired from doing a longer period of training than I had ever done before and left thinking “Wow, that was a great race…”  But, back to the beginning…

Historic 1912 Olympic Stadium

Historic 1912 Olympic Stadium, what a place to finish!

Moment of madness

I signed up to do this race last year, knowing that it would come only a few weeks after what would be only my second marathon. My logic at the time was in thinking that if you are going to do all that training, you might as well get two marathons out of it rather than one. I also thought it gave me a bit of a safety net in case I got injured and could at least do one race rather than none. You usually have to sign up to marathons quite a long way in advance, without knowing whether you will have the time, inclination or fitness to actually do it in x months time.

I know now that I wouldn’t do two marathons together again. It was very hard to keep the training going for that long.  Between the two races I was just keeping my legs ticking over rather than getting any of the rewards of feeling improvement or doing varied and more interesting running. I was also just really bored with running at that point as this extended my training runs to 22 weeks, with most of the long runs being done in wind, rain, cold or all of the above due to a much worse winter than the previous year.

I was correct in thinking this would be a good way to sightsee around a city for the first time. The course is two laps around central Stockholm and another bit that goes once around the Djurgården island, which was like a big park.There were no really boring or tedious bits of the course, which is unusual.

The course From stockholmmarathon.se

The course
From stockholmmarathon.se

In the last few weeks before Stockholm, it really felt like it wasn’t even happening. I was disappointed with my previous race result when I suffered from cramps, and couldn’t be bothered to spend all the time thinking about the Stockholm race only to have it go wrong again.

The day before the race

Reality struck on arrival in a sunny and very warm Stockholm, my worst fear, as even in May I still didn’t get anything like warm weather to run in and it would be a real struggle if it was hot.

I went to the pre-race Expo the night before the race. This is also held in the starting area so it is nice to be able to see the layout when it isn’t so busy and make sure you know where you are going. Everyone had to go to the Expo to pick up their number and other bits and although I had seen other reviews complaining about the lack of merchandise I was really impressed with what there was. Asics is the main sponsor of the race, and although you could only buy Asics gear, there was the best selection of t-shirts for this race I had ever seen. How refreshing to see a race shirt in technical material (meaning you can run in it), in a variety of really good colours and in men’s and women’s sizes.They even had a special race edition shoe in Swedish colours. The Expo was also open the day of the race so if you had forgotten something you could still buy it! Genius.

I was surprised to see that everyone’s race number also had their country’s flag on it. This was quite a fun touch and when running I found myself looking at other people’s numbers more closely than usual! About one third of the entrants for this race are from outside Sweden so on a practical level this would also help medical staff when treating participants.

After buying as many t-shirts as I could afford at Swedish prices, we went to the pasta party, where basically you got a free pasta meal that was actually really tasty and solved the problem of where to eat carbs in a strange city.

Looking forward to seeing YOU tomorrow

Looking forward to seeing YOU tomorrow

The race finishes close by in the Olympic Stadium and it felt quite exciting to see the finish line being set up and to see what a fun area it would be to end the race in.

Race day 

I felt a little calmer about the weather as despite still being  warm in the morning showers were forecast in the afternoon. Something that was different to UK races is that this race didn’t start until 12:00. I don’t understand the logic of this as you are guaranteed the hottest weather of the day at that point, and you have a lot of time to kill in the morning where you can’t do much or eat a lot. The husband appreciated not having to get up at 6:00 though.

Spectators near the start - ok, I'm nervous now!

Spectators near the start – ok, I’m nervous now!

The more races you run, the more you get particular about all the bits of kit and equipment you need to bring – luckily I remembered everything. Then it was off to the starting area, there were not enough toilets as is always the case and I spent forever just waiting in line. It turned out that actually there were many more once you went through to your starting pen so I didn’t need to do that! It did make the pre-race hour a little more nerve-wracking than it had to be with a very last minute sprint to the start.

Off we went at 12:00 and I did feel immediately hot within the first couple of miles. At the first water station I made an executive decision that I was going to stop at most of them even though I had my own drink. As these stations can be crowded this was going to slow me down a bit but I decided I didn’t care and I just wanted to enjoy this race.

You can see it's quite hard to find someone you're looking for...

You can see it’s quite hard to find someone you’re looking for…

It started to drizzle a little bit after around 90 minutes, and then the rain became quite torrential at times until I finished. I actually didn’t mind as it brought the temperature down and the weather was more like what I was used to running in.

Under a bridge...

Under a bridge…

There were all kinds of interesting things to eat along the way, which I’m not used to seeing – gherkins, vegetable stock, bananas, etc.

The actual running was hard as it always is, and it seemed to take forever to do the last mile, which was more like 26.7 miles than 26.2 miles. The stadium was a very welcome sight at the end!

The finishing area was very easy to get around (except for some steps you had to go down – ouch!) and finishers got a decent shirt and there were free hot dogs, beer and many other good things to eat. I can see how if it was a nice day you could hang around there for hours recovering!

I was happy enough with my finish time given this had been a bit of an experiment and was also more about enjoyment than flat out racing. Strangely, my first marathon time is still my best…I will improve it some day.

So, would I do this race again? I’m actually trying to decide this for next year. It had so many nice “extras” and amenities and the whole layout was so convenient. My only very minor gripes were lack of signage for the many toilets on the way to the start pens, lack of meeting points at the end, and it was a little lacking in camaraderie amongst the runners, with no one  really speaking to each other – perhaps this was because there were so many foreigners.  The “goods” far outweighed this. For me, it was also refreshing to do a race that had virtually no charity or costumed runners, it just felt a bit more “serious”.

I have looked at some other foreign races and their reviews and can’t seem to find any that tick all the same boxes. I’m not sure if trying another race would only lead to disappointment now.

You can see a video from the race here:

If you’re feeling inspired, registration for the 2014 race is open now!

Have you done a marathon that’s even better? Recommendations welcome!

Marathon training second time around!

I’m a little preoccupied, dear readers. Something is on my mind even more than Iceland these days – RUNNING. Those of you who have been reading for a while will remember I trained for and did my first marathon last year.

Although it was hard work, I recovered from the race really quickly and was inspired to sign up to do the same again this year, and even throw in a second marathon a few weeks later to make the most of my training. (why?? why??)

Second time around the training is not really any easier, but at least I know what to expect now and that I can do both the hideous amount of training and the actual race. I’m under more pressure this year as now I have a previous  time to beat! I’m now in the dreaded weeks where my weekends are taken up by doing long runs and then recovering from them. I’m not sure how much faster I am this year – annoyingly I don’t seem to be most of the time, but then I just had a really good long run – so who knows!

What is handy about doing it the second time around is that I can put into practice earlier the things I learned quite late on last time around:

1. I know what I can eat and drink, and that a recovery drink afterwards is bliss. Still it’s easy for me to over or under-hydrate, it seems to be a fine line.

2. Compression socks after a long run help – I’m not sure if it’s just psychological but who cares.

3. A foam roller is also really good and you don’t really have to spend much time using it. It just relaxes your pains somehow.

"The Grid" - does it look like it hurts? It does!!

“The Grid” – does it look like it hurts? It does!!

4. I should have more sports massages as they find little niggles you didn’t know you had and correct them.

5. I’ve realised I don’t actually like “racing” – I’m much better at endurance than speed. I should just accept this and enjoy what I’m doing rather. I like the majority of my runs because they’re done at my own pace and at the times I like to go out. Racing contradicts both of those things! Maybe I just need to do some shorter distance racing for a time but keep up the longer training mileage. (yes, I’ve had a couple of bad races lately too)

6. Eating better helps, but is still a struggle sometimes. It’s amazing how when you are trying to watch what you eat, you really notice what lengths people will go to get you to eat the bad stuff they have brought in to the office, or a bad lunch. I keep having to tell myself that they aren’t doing all the running, and I do have to eat differently to them. Anyway, it would be nice if it wasn’t a daily battle of ignoring the array of junk food that is brought in to my office every day…

OK, it wouldn’t be so bad if it was at least Icelandic stuff they were bringing, but it’s not…

7. This will sound dreadful if you don’t run – I never understood why people were always going on about chafing, but once you start going further than half marathon distance you find the edges of all your clothing sear a really painful mark into you – so my final top discovery was Bodyglide, which looks like deodorant but coats your skin as a preventive measure. I’ll spare you a picture of what chafing looks like.

If you know someone who is training for a spring marathon, spare a thought for them, as they are probably thinking about running much more than you realise. Sometimes everything is going great and you really love your training, and sometimes you’re in pain a lot of the time, but either way, running has to take over your world for a little while. It’s really nice when people genuinely take an interest in what you’re doing, and equally it can come across as rude when someone close to you forgets for the hundredth time that you’ve told them about a certain race you’re doing. (see ranty post from last year on tactlessness here.)

Hopefully when it’s all over I’ll be writing a post to tell you I broke my own record! Until then I’ll be counting down the weeks…

Tips for “improving” runners

It’s that time of year again where I and many other people start marathon training. I did my first marathon this year and many of you patiently read my training page and provided encouragement along the way. Now that I’m an old pro I’m not going to bore you with my training again – but you may get the odd post where I’m either complaining about the training or telling you how much I love running! Just think, a marathon can’t be that bad if I signed up to do another one. (OK, I’ve actually signed up to do two – but I can’t bring myself to really think about that yet)

Following my post on tips for new runners, I thought I would share some tips I learned when becoming a marathoner.

1. Training is everything. For all race distances you should follow a schedule, but for marathon training it is really a must. Training at different paces for different distances will definitely help get you around.

2. Training shortcuts = no finish! I was really shocked to see how many people were walking and looking like they were going to die early on in the marathon – you see this in half marathons too, but I always thought anyone who would sign up for a marathon would know enough about running to take it seriously. If you don’t have the time to do all of the training runs you need to do minus one or two – don’t do the race.

3. Eating and drinking are key. In a half-marathon you can get away with not drinking enough or not eating anything. Many people either do not finish a marathon or finish it feeling absolutely terrible because they haven’t eaten or drunk enough. You need to experiment to find out what you can eat and keep down. I eat little and often and drank more than I thought I needed (and still should have drunk more probably).

4. If you can do all the training, you can do the race. The training is worse than the race in so many ways – all those super long runs by yourself, trying to work out where to go, knowing you can just stop…the training is torture. The race may be longer but at least you know when you’re done you’re done and it’s the last of your long runs!

5. Keep things interesting. You have a lot of time to yourself when running. Some people like to listen to music or podcasts, or mentally sort out their problems. The point is this is actually quite useful mental time and if you keep your mind busy it’s easier to forget how long you’re running for! Going out at different times of day or on different routes also helps. Even buying new running clothes becomes inspirational.

6. Post-run recovery. I discovered quite late in my training the benefits of sports massage and of using a foam roller to attack your muscles. I’m lazy and like to stop without stretching or using the roller, but when you start racking up miles these things really help you feel better and can stop you getting injured. I also found a recovery drink that seemed to help immediate muscle soreness. All of these things made a big difference to my training.

You will find that all runners love to talk about their running. A unexpected bonus of running: non-runners have no concept of time or distance when it comes to running and think anything you do sounds impressive!

10 Icelandic songs for running

As a runner, having some decent music to run to can be key sometimes in keeping up your motivation. I listen to an ever-evolving mix of music when I’m running. I usually listen to mostly British/American music with a handful of Icelandic songs thrown in but thought it might be fun to try and do a completely Icelandic running playlist. Once I got going it was hard to narrow the list down! So yes, I know I’ve left lots of good songs off. This idea was inspired by Running on Sober who does a great job of regularly posting inspiring running music and quotes.

I’ve included a warm-up and cooldown song, and the rest are a mix of mainly rock with some electronic and 80′s sounds. Even if you don’t run, you might like some of this music!
1. Sigur Ros – Glósóli

2. Vicky – Blizzard

3. Berndsen – Supertime (if it’s good enough to run away from the zombies in Zombie Iceland it’s good enough for me)

4. Legend – City (I am obsessed with Legend right now)

5. Lay Low – Vonin

6. Dead Skeletons – Dead Mantra (I alternated between this and Ghostigital’s “Suicide” which gives you an idea of how running can make you feel)

7. Mammút – Svefnsýkt

8. Just Another Snake Cult – I Know She Does

9. Sykur – Reykjavík

10. Sin Fang Bous – Catch the Light

If it was easy, I would do it…

Tips for Beginner Runners

I started running about 6 years ago. I had always wanted to be a runner but didn’t think I could do it and in fact could only run about 10 feet at first. After lots of breaks in the first year, I finally started following training programmes and I haven’t stopped since.

People still tell me all the time that THEY can’t possibly run. As someone who really started from nothing and has gone up to running a marathon, I believe that anyone can run if they’re willing to put in the effort.

Here are some things I’ve learned along the way that might help new runners.

1. Find more runners. If you are just starting out, it would help to join a beginners running group or to go out with a friend that runs. It’s very hard to pace yourself at first and beginner runners almost always go too fast and then have to walk.

2. Investment! Invest in a proper running watch like a Garmin that will tell you how fast and far you’ve gone, so you can see how much progress you are making. You also really need to buy the right running shoes and ideally you want to try lots of them on in a specialised running shop. They will make a huge difference to how you feel when you run and adjust any foot rolling.

3. Time not distance. As a beginner you are probably really slow, so don’t worry about going x miles, aim for time on your feet. Once you can get up to running slowly for 30 minutes, you have done the hardest part. It’s then easy to add on extra time and start thinking about distance.

4. Enter a race. It’s much more inspiring to have a goal, so find a short race or even better a parkrun to enter.

5. Follow a structured training programme. These are really easy to find online, but Runners World always has good ones. Once you have been running for a while, you will want to start running at different speeds and for different distances so your training is varied and you will improve more quickly.

6. Ignore all the other runners, pedestrians and car drivers This may seem at odds with point 1, but once you get into running you begin to notice that there will be lots of people who are faster than you. This can be because they run 100 miles a week and you don’t, or because they have been doing it for 30 years, or just because they have more natural ability. Don’t let this affect your own enjoyment of running! You are only competing against yourself. Similarly, don’t be embarrassed when you have to pass other people on the road – at least you’re out there doing it, unlike them.

Once you get into more advanced running, there’s a whole load of other issues to worry about, but that’s another post! For the moment consider yourself lucky if you don’t know what fartleks and Bodyglide are.

Have you ever found a similar passion that you stuck with even when it was too hard or inconvenient?

The marathon is over…

…and yes, I finished it!

I’m very pleased with myself and not in too much pain today, just stiff and I think a toenail might be about to go, but it could be a lot worse! I didn’t walk at all, which was one of my goals. I missed my time goal by a few minutes, but actually, that makes sense, as some of my training runs didn’t match up to the timings that they should have either. I’m happy that I really pushed myself at times when it would have been easier to slow down.

I didn’t hit the dreaded “wall”, hopefully because I did long runs in training and learned how to keep myself hydrated. I did have foot cramps that kept trying to come on, but I just mentally thought to myself “NO, you’re not coming on now, just sod off and go away”, and do you know what, they did.

My advice if you’ve got a marathon coming up:

  • Thinking  about it was worse than actually doing it. I had some real moments of terror of the unknown in the past few days.
  • Trust your training programme. All my training paid off – I saw a lot of people who either hadn’t trained enough or had some kind of disaster on the day. Don’t get me wrong, it was still painful and hard, but it was about what I expected it would be. If you haven’t been able to do all your training, don’t torture yourself by doing the race!
  • Keep eating and drinking your tried and tested fuels, it really helps! Don’t wait until you are hungry or thirsty. And no experimenting on the day!
  • Be prepared to change your planned outfit if the weather is different than the forecast.

There were many highlights of the day, the weather was perfect, the race itself was perfectly organised, and the 100,000 spectators and volunteers were all so enthusiastic. There were some low points on the course and the last few miles were ridiculously hard, but that was the same for everyone around me. I’d definitely do one again (could it be my new yearly hobby??) so it couldn’t have been that bad!

This post feels a little flat, which is kind of how I feel now. There is so much I could say about the whole experience but I think I still can’t quite believe it’s happened and now it’s all over. It really was amazing and if you’re thinking about doing one yourself – do it!

Good luck to those of you who have got your own races coming up!