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Race recap (long overdue): Reykjavik Marathon 2016

So a little while (in August. Wow.) ago I ran my second marathon in Reykjavik, Iceland. This was to date the most enjoyable race I’ve done though I did not smash my PB of 3 hrs 49 mins achieved in Edinburgh in 2015. In the end, that didn’t matter one bit, and has helped my mindset to improve around times and races and the pressure I put on myself to finish in good time is slightly lessened as a result. This is quite a long race recap so settle in!

Pre-race organisation

I flew into Reykjavik the day before the marathon, arriving mid afternoon. I deliberately avoided the early morning cheap Easyjet flight as I knew I wanted to be well rested. Two friends and I rented an Air Bnb which meant that we could buy and cook our own food – very welcome in advance of a marathon abroad.

However I was slightly too relaxed about getting to the race Expo, located in the large sports complex a couple of miles east of the city centre. If you’re staying in the campsite or big youth hostel it’s super convenient, but for me, at the opposite end of the city, getting there required a taxi ride.

I’m not going to whine about the cost of this trip – but suffice to say, it was expensive. Iceland is normally quite a pricey place to visit and Brexit has pushed the pound right down. Things that cost £5 in 2012 now cost £7. So taking taxis was far from idea!

Race morning

2016-08-20-08-22-08We could not have had better weather! 17 degrees celsius, beautiful sunshine and absolutely no wind. This never happens in Iceland! It was almost too warm for some people. There were a stream of runners walking down to the start line which was easy to find and not very crowded. This is a small race, and so they allow the marathoners, half marathoners and 10K runners to start together, meaning the atmosphere for the first 10K is really energising.

Having my support crew of two in tow was a new experience for me and one that I loved. To have someone to laugh with at the start line was a really positive experience for me. 

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The only critique of the start was that the timing pens were not clearly marked. Pacers carried balloons with times written on them, but it was confusing for a first timer here what they referred to and I worried I was in the wrong pen / place. I should have just relaxed, as things made much more sense later.

During the race

The first 10K were incredible. So many Icelanders came out of their houses to cheer, and it was clear that many runners were personally recognised by family and friends. This made for a very happy and relaxed atmosphere – there were few clock watchers here. A series of live bands played a good range of music – traditional stuff and covers – and many people handed out cupcakes, sweets and drinks. The aid stations were well set up using cups of water rather than bottles (and the cups did make it slippy underfoot). Most stations had a mix of energy drink and water. The food offer was limited though – mostly just bananas which I don’t like – so I carried my own gels for the whole race.

Note to runners going abroad for marathons: I recommend carrying your gels for the race in your carry on plastic bag – just in case your hold luggage gets lost and you need your race fuel to be just right!

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To begin with the streets were quite crowded with runners, though nothing too difficult to navigate, but this quickly thinned out once the 10K runners peeled away. At half time, the field really thinned out as the majority went on to complete the half marathon. The rest of us turned left to finish the full 42km by heading south of the city. This was probably the prettiest part of the race. As we headed south and then west again, we were running through suburban Reykjavik, filled with interesting architecture, and lit up in splendid sunshine. We then ran south of the domestic airport, which serves flights to other parts of the country, and ran alongside the sea for ages. An arctic tern flew beside me, and the sunshine was warm on my legs and shoulders.

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I was glad to have my own hydration pack with me (I wasn’t sure if I would need it, having not used one in Edinburgh) but the combination of only cups to drink from, and a lack of water stations for the second half of the race meant that I was really relieved to have my own water supply. In fact I even had to top it up at the penultimate aid station as I’d run out. This obviously lost me some time, but hey, did I mention the arctic tern?!

Also, though the field was much slimmer and supporters were fewer, there were still fantastic people cheering us on, smiling and clapping. Favourite Iceland expressions of encouragement include:

“You are good!” (succinct and to the point)

“Keep up!” (I think this would be better as “keep it up” as it sounded a bit like they were chiding my speed!).

The other runners were also super friendly and I chatted to a number of different people around the course. Towards the end, we were right out on the grassy headlands to the west of Reykjavik – I would never have visited these without this race – and stopping briefly because of some pain in my leg, I was encouraged by a Dutch girl who told me to start again and that she would help me back. I was grateful to Aukje as she saw that I really needed a kick up the backside to get running again!

As the race came to a close, I was a little perturbed to see that roads had been reopened, even with tons of runners coming in on the 5 hour mark. This meant you had to dodge traffic a bit – hardly ideal when you’re knackered.

The final few kilometres were tough, especially as you’re running along the sea front on the north side this time, and you can see runners streaming ahead of you for a mile or two, but no finish line. However, as we approached the looming darkness of the opera house, I heard someone say it was just around the corner. My favourite song came on in my headphones and I pummelled my way to a sprint finish with a huge smile on my face.

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For the supporters

The experience for those watching the race was immeasurably better because of the good weather. The course is also set up in such a way that spectator spots are a short walk from each other but well distributed across the race. My friends were able to see me off, cheer me at 10 miles and 15 miles, and watch me cross the finish without too much hassle.

Post race

The medal and the T-shirts we were given were pretty standard – nothing too special. Post race food was below average though – a kind of hotdog was the only food on offer, which was not what I wanted at all! However, we did get a free ticket to the thermal baths in the city which was definitely put to good use at Vesterbaerlaug. I even got to spend a few minutes in the same hot tub as Björk!

The night after the marathon is Reykjavik’s culture night – a music-filled street party where everyone turns up in their traditional sweaters and drinks and watches fireworks. We found a great little bar called Vinyl who had a fantastic live DJ outside, and started dancing. We began as three, but ended as a street party of 40+ people dancing away. I seemed to have tons of energy despite the marathon and got very tipsy on one delicious Icelandic beer.

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I ran in…

  • Cheap Sportsdirect vest top (unbranded)
  • Sports bra (unbranded – elastic crop top style)
  • Sweaty Betty marathon shorts
  • Sweaty Betty technical socks (highly recommended)
  • Asics Gel Lyte 33.3 trainers (no longer made)
  • Ultimate Direction Scott Jurek vest with platypus hydration system

I ate…

  • 4x SIS gels (lemon and mint are a new favourite)
  • Cliff Bloks

I drank…

  • water

Would I do it again?

I’m heading back to Iceland for a different run next year – but I’d never say no to more street dancing in Reykjavik (look at those jazz hands)!

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