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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!