“How do I be someone else?” became such an obsessive question that when it came to it I failed to see how I have. After Reykjavik I signed up for the Amsterdam full because I didn’t feel any sense of accomplishment. I grabbed my bag from the drop, had a bit of a cry outside on the steps, went back to the hotel to rest, and that was that. Three days later I changed my Amsterdam registration from half to full and threw myself right back into the training grind.
And so I ran and trained and ground out kilometres and hills when I would rather have sat on a couch and watched Netflix. In last Saturday’s half I felt so worn in the last few kilometres that I just didn’t care. All I wanted was to collect my medal and go meet my partner.
On Monday I went and cancelled Amsterdam. I’m wrecked. I can stop running for a bit.
The Reykjavik Marathon was held last weekend in, well, Reykjavik in Iceland. From a start at the Pond in the city center, the marathon led a long and scenic route first went around the Seltjarnarnes peninsula, then through eastern city suburbs.
For me, this was my first marathon. I started to run in December of 2017 after my mental health got the better of me. Since then I have found a real sense of peace on the road, as well as an enjoyment of endurance running. My knees suck, I can’t sprint, but I can go whatever distance may be. One of my goals for 2019 has been to run a marathon. In my mind there was a weird analogy with Paul Atreides in Dune-he raided with the Fremen, led the people, advised the wise, but was technically still a child in their eyes because he had never tamed and rode a wild sandworm himself. Weird, yeah. I hang out with marathon runners, talk about marathons, and read about marathons, all without having run one myself.
Skip through a few months of training montage and it’s Saturday morning. I’m at the start line. It rained hard on Friday night. Saturday dawned cool and cloudy, but dry. There was brief drizzle as I walked to the start area. At the bag drop and toilet lines I run into two other Irish runners, one from my home city and the other who I had struck up a conversation with in the line for the flight from Dublin. We shook hands and went off to our pens.
So it’s the start and I’m way too far back in the bullpen from where I should be. The Reykjavik marathon was being run alongside the half marathon, and race organizers had been clear about “put yourself in the appropriate starting area”. Silly literal me put myself in the rear with 3:00+ half marathon runners. After countdown and music and a big bang…we didn’t move. There were two bullpens side-by-side in the street, with the other being let out first. After five minutes of waiting I followed other marathon runners hopping the barrier into the other pen, and off I was!
Crowds were thick enough in the first six or seven kilometres-and I was so far back-that even with a deliberate slow starting pace I ran square into a wall of people. There were the fun runners, the new runners and the I’m-worried-that-you’re-breathing-this-hard-after-three-hundred-metres runners, groups and lines that I slowly worked through in the Seltjarnarnes neighbourhood. Spirits were high. After months of training, weeks of anxiety and days of travel the marathon had started. This was the day. I soared. My shoes had little wings on them as I dodged and ducked and advanced. I flew onto the centre island. I flew off and floated around the 3:00 half marathon pacing bus.
At around 4k we bunched up as we went around a corner as we heard an emergency siren from the other lane. It turned out to be the support for some American group of police runners blaring a police siren through a loudspeaker to egg them on. Do not do this ever. Do not be these people: crowds are heavy and a runner’s focus will be on the run. Blaring fake sirens is a recklessly stupid thing to do. They could have so easily caused a crush, and were being shouted down by runners as I passed. I can only hope race marshals shut them down.
As angry as I was after that, it made me more determined to work my way up to my pacing peers. The crowds were so wonderful as we went. All of Seltjarnarnes turned out to to play music and clap and cheer us all on. Icelandic people can sometimes seem to strict and cold, but always that around a core of real warmth.
We ran and drank water and fuelled and ran, through the harbour, back by the city center and out in a great loop on the Sæbraut dual carriageway. While I can’t quite call it major, kilometres 11-16 on Sæbraut were uphill. The crowds of runners (and spectators :( ) thinned out. It was here where runners began drop out or slow down to walking pace.
I pooped at 16k. I suffer from IBS and when I have to go, I have to go, so I’ll always stop when I can instead of risk an accident. Honestly, I approached the Reykjavik Marathon mindfully. The race wasn’t a do-or-die spring to the finish, but a long run where I was happy to stop and stretch or grab water off a table.
The races split at 20k. The half continued on back to the start area as the full turned left and up the hill into the Hátún neighbourhood. From here the marathon course changed dramatically from big boulevards and dual carriageways to little Reykjavik neighbourhoods, paths tracks and parks. Reykjavik is a beautiful city, and it was lovely to see it like this. The crowds were thinner from here, but so many people were still out to cheer us on. It felt like a different run entirely. At the water stop in Hátún a lovely ginger cat sat on the table getting pets from runners!
It’s true what so many have said, that the real run begins at 21k. I’m a comfortable half marathon runner, and before then I did not need to work to keep my pace. Drink water, watch the crowd, enjoy the sights. My own anxiety started to bother me then. Had I run too hard? Had I hydrated? Did I take the gel on time? Was my pace on time?
My sudden anxiety got bad enough that I stopped looking at my watch at 25k. My worry over my time got in the way of me making my time. Looking at my times now I see that I did slow down a little, but my biggest goal was to just finish. I’m satisfied now with how I ran.
The run took us by the Laugardalur washing pools and Grasagardur botanic gardens, which with the zoo are a lovely green oasis in Reykjavik.
A lot of the later run seems like a dream now. I stayed positive and passed the time with a mental monologue to my partner about the course as we passed at. At some point in my monologue I started to explain the monologue to her in my head. The thought of a recursive imaginary conversation with my partner in the middle of a marathon was so ridiculous that I burst out laughing then and there. It worked though, as my spirits stayed high through to the very end. I knew I could-and would-finish.
We dropped down to sea level at the Geirsnef park, a small island where the Elliðaár river empties into the sea. I said earlier that it had rained overnight. Now the sun came out properly and the whole world lit up. The Ejsan mountain range across the bay were dappled, and wrapped in clouds ’round their knees. The views were absolutely gorgeous. Runners were stopping to take selfies or enjoy the view for a moment. For every run I’ve done down some grey street somewhere…there’s this.
After Geirsnef at around 30k, we went through the new neighbourhood of Bryggjuhverfið and started the long climb up to Fossvogsdalur and then by the airport Miðborg. My left quad was on fire, my ankles weren’t happy as we passed the 32k marker, but finally I could start to count down the kilometres left on my fingers, a dumb little thing that I use to get me through every race. My pace from kilometres 32-38 reflects this. While I leaned on my body to meet the pace and finish the race, my body let me know how fast it could run.
Outside of the Fossvogskirkjugarður cemetery I passed a poor man in tears on the phone to his partner asking for help to get through the final leg. I didn’t catch his number so I don’t know if he finished, but I hope he made it. He had already gone so far, and come so close with only 5k left.
The final three kilometres were the worst. First we had to go up the big hill below the Perlan, Flugvallarvegur, then up a big ramp to the footbridge across the motorway. It was here that I passed the runner from my home city stuck and staring at the hill ahead. While I shouted some encouragement, I had to keep going and get done with this.
Reykjavik is all hilly. Beyond the BSI bus terminal, the street at Laufásvegur turns up a steep to the downtown city. It was a brutal climb. We all struggled. The runner I had paced with for the last ten kilometres sounded like she was in tears when she pushed herself ragged down Grettisgata past the crowds.
It took everything I had in me to make myself close that final kilometre on Sæbraut, which we rejoined for the finish. Nine hundred metres, five hundred metres. I had to stop to stretch my leg. A few runners shot past me as they dug into their reserves. There was no way then I could do that, so I kept at my pace. Three hundred metres, I’m passing the stands and I hear the announcer calling out my name. Suddenly I could to that. I put everything into that final sprint, my head held high with hundreds cheering. And then I’m done. The lady at the finish puts the medal on me and asks me in Icelandic if I’m okay. “What?” She repeats the question in English. I give a too-vigorous nod, thank her, and hobble off to the recovery area.
And that was my first marathon. I’m so happy to have at last done this. My partner and so many friends encouraged me at every stage. There’s no way I could have started, let alone finished, without their support.
It’s such a dumb cliche that A Marathon Will Change Your Life, but here I’m two beers down and thinking “…yeah?” Maybe training has changed me? Although nobody changes overnight unless you do something like chop off their hand (please don’t do this), sustained effort upon the self will lead to dramatic improvement over the course of months. Trainers say it takes a month to build a new habit. It took me eight months of lessons to reach a decent Dutch reading standard. Three months to feel the impact of marathon training. Twelve to see real changes in my own behaviour. Yadda, blah, I’m great.
For Reykjavik I’m following Hal Higdon Advanced 2, a proven, tough training program. It focuses on speed on weekdays, and on distance and endurance at the weekend. Two weeks ago I tried a 32k run in two stages:
21k from Galway to Barna to Moycullen through the bogs.
The important part here is that I had to abandon the second stage at the 20k mark (30 total), after heat exhaustion hit me hard. Drinking more water only made me thirstier. I ran out of sweat. When I got to that last hill my legs didn’t want to up and move. Two lovely local ladies saved the day by giving me a lift into Moycullen. Thank you, you are sweethearts. <3
My big mistake after the race was to not check my actual finish time. […] I thought I had missed by five minutes. All my triumph over having made the finish turned into me kicking my own ass because I didn’t finish fast enough. That’s so typical of me, the way I beat myself up. By the time I realised that, no, I did make my target, I had crushed my own enjoyment of the day.
After this run I came away full of a positive desire to try the run again. It felt…great, great to hit the wall. Peter, Cathy and Nikki from the running club rallied around with fantastic advice on hydration: add electrolytes to my water, eat a banana, take a break, bring salt tablets.
Spoiler not spoiler, on Sunday I successfully completed the 32.06km in 2:56:53. My target time was 3:00:00. Keeping a consistent pace, hydration and nursing the drive to finish got me through the uphill eight kilometres at the end.
This feels great. Running-marathon training!-has turned me from being a depressed fast-food addict into someone with the kind of physical health that makes me confident I’ll complete the marathon next month in my target time. That’s huge.
Ignore how tired I look and you’ll see a shining beacon of some kind of manliness. I don’t know where I’m at underneath. Dedicated to getting across the finish line? All my regrets and pain and problems are there still. Dark days come and go. Eh.
In a country with magnificent running routes, the Achill half marathon stands out as a spectacular course. The route took us from the town of Keel across desolate bogs, along the beautiful golden beach at Doogort, around the shoulder of Slievemore, and a finish at the beach at Keel. This was my fifth half marathon, my calibration run for the Reykjavik marathon in August.
This race was understated. I’ve been in training for a few months. Come the day, I put my head down, ran my best, collected my medal, had a shower, and enjoyed a beer afterward with my friends from the running club.
The race was gorgeous. Even though my habit is to keep my eyes on the road, there were moments when I found it impossible to ignore the gorgeous scenery: the Nephin Mountains across Achill Sound as we crested the first and rather long hill, the beaches below Doogort, and the beckoning sight of Minaun and Keel in the last few kilometres.
Starting from the beach at Keel, the course first took us through the Doogort bog. This was a five kilometre (check splits) hill climb in the rain. Parts of this are a blur to me, because when I see a hill, I attack the hill. I put my head down and lean into the slope. Somebody dropped out early in front of me.
The weather cleared by the time we crested the hill and reached our first turn at Bunacurry. With a downhill run from there to the beach at Doogort, the course gave me every chance to enjoy the views of the Nephin, Belmullet across the sea, and Slievemore to my left.
It was on this stretch when the sun began to pound down on us. Evaporation from the road left the air thick and muggy. Everyone felt the pain of the water station setup. This year the organisers went with open paper cups of water in order to cut down on single use plastic. I totally applaud their decision to cut down on bottles. The amount of waste I’ve seen at other runs has shocked me in the past. Unfortunately, it meant during the race that I had to pick between the two bad choices of stopping to drink, or grabbing a cup to gulp on the go. The first choice left me spending energy to catch back up with my pace group, and the second meant I didn’t get proper hydration. Hold-and-sip works far better for me. If I encounter open cups in future I’ll wear my hydration pack.
Bad watering took its toll after we went past Doogort and went over the shoulder of Slievemore. We passed four or five runners being given water and sugar by race marshals. Goodness knows, I felt thirsty. Even though I had hoped for a faster pace, I settled for my body’s decision of “this fast, no more”, because it’s better to finish a bit slower than burnout!
The half marathon merged with the 10k after Slievemore. It was from this point that I felt happy I had conserved myself earlier in the race. You can tell so much about how hard a person is working just by their breathing. Most of the 10k runners were gulping and gasping for air around me as the 1:40 pace group blew through them. For me this wasn’t “haha, I’m fitter”, but instead a real testament to the fact that training works. Training pays off. I felt great because I felt great.
Slievemore Road was narrow. At one point we got stuck behind two 10k runners because a private car blocked the rest of the road. I’m not ashamed to say I banged on the car and yelled at them to pull over.
My first foot began to hurt in the last three kilometres. I’ve had gait problems going back years that I’ve only recently begun to tackle, wherein I don’t properly roll my right foot. I could feel the roll-slap, roll-slap roll-slap as I burned off some speed going down hills. By the end the ball of my foot was burning at me.
Overall this was a great run-and a great weekend away-with my running club. Six of us ran in the half. We found the heat and lack of water tough to handle, but we all crossed the line in the end.
The next event for me will be the Reykjavik marathon on August 24!