Sunday, 6 July 2014

A run in the (midnight) sun: Part 2

And so we were off!  I had a vague plan for this race.  I really really really wanted to finish as close to 2 hours 10 minutes as possible which meant that I had to run at a more or less 10min/mile pace.  For 13.1 miles.  I hadn't done any speed work in training as running faster than an 11min/mile made my ankle hurt, so my brain was telling me that this was an unrealistic goal and that just to finish without puking in public (yep, I'm still haunted by the Malta HM) would be a success.  But secretly, I kind of thought that I could do it.  Slow and steady, don't get carried away, and relax.  Simple, right?

The first couple of kilometres wound through some of Reykjavik's neighbourhoods and included a bridge across the motorway.  Not hugely inspiring scenery, but it was nice that some of the local residents turned out to cheer us on.  Cathy and I more or less kept pace with each other for a lot of this.  We chatted a bit but otherwise were in our own worlds, me plugged into my iPod with its 170-180bpm songs to keep my cadence up and Cathy plugged into the thoughts inside her own head.  I kept an eye on my Garmin and was pleased that I finished the first mile in 10:06.  I finished the second mile in 9:39 and, even though my ankle had stopped hurting and I was feeling strong, I panicked.  Too fast, too fast!

So, without any evidence that it was necessary, I slowed right down and this, plus walking through the first water stop, meant that I finished the third mile in 10:20.  Because Cathy is physically coordinated enough to be able to carry her water with her (I've tried, but I can't manage to freely move the arm and hand that are holding the water bottle, and then I get annoyed and distracted by the sound and feel of the water sloshing around), she sailed past the water station and then I watched her sail into the distance as I walked and sedately sipped from the paper cup.  That was the last that I saw of her until we met up after the race!

My memories of the race become a bit of a blur after this.  It felt like we were running uphill for most of the first half.  The 'of course it's a flat course!' advice that I had gotten at registration was SO wrong.  I did my best to embrace the hills and to float up them in a Chi Running kind of way and was pleasantly surprised to find that I didn't need to walk.  If I could figure out how to import my Garmin data to this blog, you would see that from about mile 1.5 to mile 7.5, there is a steady and consistent climb upwards.  Just goes to show that one person's flat is someone else's 'Oh FFS, not another hill.'

The first half felt like it was all into the wind as well as being significantly uphill.  I didn't do too badly at keeping a consistent pace, although I can see from my Garmin splits where the wind picked up at mile 5 and I thought about walking.  But I didn't.

After the first water station, I let go of the idea of keeping to a specific pace.  I decided to run at a speed that felt comfortable and that allowed me to take in the views because, by that point, we were running alongside a lovely stream with waterfalls.  I, again vaguely, thought that if I was feeling strong by miles 6 or 7, then I'd pick up the speed.  Or maybe I'd only do that at mile 10 if I had anything left.  Basically, I didn't have a plan.  I just wanted to have a fun run.  And that's what I proceeded to do.

I had a brilliant time.  Aside from the wind, the weather was great.  A bit sunny, a bit cloudy, a bit of misty rain towards the end.  The field was a good size:  small enough that I often could pretend that I was running on my own, but large enough that I could target runners in front of me to give me something to aim for.  The scenery was distracting in a good way - streams, flowers, fields, mountains, a golf course, Icelandic horses having a bit of a prance, and a black bunny. Fab.

Looking back to Reykjavik from the top of the Elliðaárdalur valley

Waterfalls in the Elliðaárdalur valley
Icelandic horses having a bite to eat

Watching the runners go by
Did anything go wrong?  Need you ask?  I wouldn't be me if something didn't go wrong.  Miles 7, 8, and 9 nipped along at a pace that felt easy but that was faster by almost more than a minute and a half than anything that I had done in training.  I was thrilled!  And then, at the start of mile 10, my iPod started to skip.  And then it started to freeze.  And then it froze completely.  With only three miles to go, and with my most inspirational songs still to come (deliberately organised to perk up tired legs), the bloody thing stopped working.  And this completely threw me.  I spent most of mile 10 fighting with it trying to get it to work.  I spent mile 11 fighting with thoughts of 'I need the songs, I can't run without them, I'm so tired, I just want to walk,' and I gave in and walked up a hill during the first part of mile 12.  The whole thing was purely psychological and, once I realised that (hey, it only took me 2.5 miles to figure it out), I forced myself to start running again.

Cheers, Tom!
I sang 'Runnin' Down a Dream' out loud to get my cadence and my mood back up.  I ignored my tired legs.  I ignored my blisters.  I told myself that this was a race, not a long run, and it was supposed to be hard at this point.  I told myself that I would be really hacked off with myself if I missed out on a 2:10 finish because I was having a strop over my iPod.  I focused on the woman in the pink top who had been overlapping with me since the first water station and who was now far ahead of me, and tried to catch her up.  The last 1.5 miles were good.  I was tired, I hurt, I was breathing hard but for the first time in a half marathon, I crossed the finish line feeling like I had actually run a race rather than just trying to get to the end without injuring or embarrassing myself.

I finished in 2:10:50 and with a huge smile on my face.  A 5 minute PB and only two seconds behind the woman in the pink top.  Yay for me!

Cathy finished in 2:06:18.  She and I were more or less in the middle of the pack, which is lots better than the joint last that we thought we'd manage.  Paul finished in 1:32:01 and was third in his age group. Yay for us!

I think that I'm safe in saying that we enjoyed the course, hills and all, and majorly loved Iceland.  I hear that Paul is thinking about going back at some point for an Icelandic trail race.  While that is not necessarily for me (although I'd be up for one of the multi-day walking treks through the interior), Bassman and I would be more than happy to show up to cheer him across the finish line. visit is not going to be enough.

Laugavegur Ultra Marathon:  Go, Paul, Go!


  1. Wow it sounds like you really enjoyed it. Good for you for not having a proper strop and keeping running. Just let us know when you are going back so can put it in the diary. :)

  2. Thanks! I felt that, pouting and cursing and briefly giving up aside, I behaved very maturely. You'll be the first one to know our return dates!

  3. A brilliant blog post, as always! :-)

  4. Cheers! It was a brilliant holiday & I'm glad that you both were part of it. x