Reykjiavík Midnight Sun Run
Visiting Iceland has always been a dream of ours (mine and my partner’s Laura) for many years now – although we were certain on getting there someday it didn’t seem to be clear when that was going to happen. But as most of the times, and I’m quite sure some of you will agree, things come up when you least expect them to. So it was after Christmas holidays when I came back from Reus (Catalonia) and found myself with the urgency of signing up for an international half-marathon. To be honest I’m not sure why that happened as by then Leeds Half in 2013 was the only race of that kind that I ever had taken place in and that didn’t end well as after completing it (proud I made it under 2 hours) my knees started to become a problem and I had to stop for a while and for the following year and a half I was only managing to run distances under 10 km. Probably joining Roundhay Runners just before Christmas and seeing and listening to people’s experiences in this and that race and participating regularly in the sessions got me motivated… In the end the most important thing was that I was up for the challenge and feeling glad for that.
The research did start as usual on Google and that took me straight to a website where you can see details for hundreds and hundreds of races (http://marathons.ahotu.com/calendar). First I chose the continent, Europe, and after checking few countries (I got really excited with Berlin’s half marathon) and scrolling down, the ‘I’ was there, and there you go, Iceland! That on its own was surprising enough but when I looked inside the surprise was even bigger (probably product of my ignorance…): not one but two half-marathons, the first one as part of the Midnight Sun Run that takes place every year on 23rd of June and another one as part of the Reykjavík marathon on 22nd of August. And although the plan was to sign up for a race around April/May, the idea of getting to Iceland captivated me and everything happened really fast. Out of the two options we finally decided to go for the Midnight Sun Run on the 23rd of June as it was fulfilling two purposes at once (apart from the run itself): going to Iceland and experience the feeling of staying in a place where the sun never sets.
Luckily enough I found flights from Manchester to Reykjavík for the same day of the race for a more than decent price (around £190 return flights for the two of us). Accommodation and what to do was still pending but by then there was no returning point and we decided to sign for the race, get the flights and with that try and figure out the rest on the following months (we booked the flights at the end of January and the race was on late June so in theory there was plenty of time!).
Although it was still a bit early the following days I did start thinking about the training plan and I got even more motivated so I signed for the Leeds Half (11th May) with the idea to use it as preparation and also to give me more confidence ahead of the race a month and a half later. So with that in mind I prepared a 14-week training plan and then a 6-week one for Reykjavík. This time I decided to mix the plan I used 2 years ago with a couple more I saw online that looked to suit what I was after. And with that done, it all was about following the plan. And it seemed to work: two weeks before Leeds Half there was no sign of pain in my knees and the levels of confidence were quite good. And with that optimism surrounding me I decided to sign up for the Edinburgh Half Marathon on 31st of May. It was going to be challenging but I was feeling really happy at the same time. I also have to admit that I got a bit carried away as three half marathons in 6 weeks doesn’t sound like a good idea when you think about it calmly…
Leeds Half happened to be exactly what I was expecting, I made a PB (1:55:28) and the feeling was good apart from some discomfort in my groin that lasted until Edinburgh that in the end didn’t affect at all as I again managed (the course helped a lot too) to get a new PB (1:52:29).
The following three weeks went really fast and before we realised we were flying to Reykjavík. We had to wake up early in the morning to catch a plane at 6.30am that was taking us from Manchester to Keflavik to land at 8.30am. Once there we got straight to get the campervan we rented (in the end) to drive for an hour to get to Reykjavík. And then I did start to confirm what I was suspecting when we booked the flights: the hours before the race (race was starting at 9.20pm) were going to be really long… We tried to rest as much as possible during the day but when you’re in a place completely new that is a bit complicated. We took a nice little walk around Reykjavík’s city center and a had lunch reasonably early in order to move to where the race was starting (start was at Laugardalur, next to the national stadium) as soon as possible and get a bit of sleep to feel a bit fresher. We woke up almost 3 hours before the start to eat, pick our numbers and get prepared. At that point it was easy to see that we were somewhere different and special.
The race started at 9.20pm as expected (450 participants) in the streets of the valley of Laugardalur and after that the course mostly follows paths: first in the Elliðárdalur valley park, an amazing park full of vegetation and wildlife, running next to the river Elliðaár (full of salmon!), secondly next to roads 413 and 1 (with horses cheering on the way), thirdly through Grafarholtsvöllur golf course to start running back to Laugardalur via Foldir (residential area) and Bryggjuhverfið (industrial area). Here’s a link for more detail:
For the first 5 to 7km I decided to try to run at the same pace as I did at Leeds and Edinburgh (around 5:15 per km or better) and see how I was feeling after that. And although I was feeling really sleepy the legs were responding quite well (and the surroundings were spectacular which was quite motivational) so after the first water station (7km aprox.) I was thinking that I was going to manage to get a good time (pacing 5:13 by then). Unfortunately straight after that point and although I was feeling fine I could only see that my pace was going down km after km. It was a bit upsetting as I was feeling as strong as I was feeling 2km before so for that reason I decided to keep pushing (or at least I thought I was doing it) but things weren’t improving at all and at the 15km marker my pace was almost at 5:30 per km. At that point I was starting too feel quite tired so I decided to forget about the time and enjoy the course and the fact that we had an amazing week ahead in Iceland! The views (as well as the people cheering all the way) were spectacular and the experience of being running at night without actually being dark is something I would strongly recommend. So with that in mind I kept going and managed to at least not finish with my worst half marathon time ever: 1:58:27 (5:38 per km) and the feeling that this race was giving me a lot of lessons (always in a positive way) for future races. For example, the next time I decide to run a race that takes place at night I really need to make sure I get to the place at least the day before so I can rest properly. And in terms of the distance itself, I really need to understand why I can’t keep up the same pace all the time (normally I drop severely after 15-16km, with an ever worse decline on 18-19km) and learn what needs to be done in order to do it. On the positive side the best of all is that after running 3 half marathons in a month and a half there hasn’t been any sign of pain on my knees, which is actually the most important thing that could have happened to me.
I also don’t want to forget to mention that the organisation was quite good (people really kind and approachable), the course was well marked, enough water stations and good reception at the finish line (loads of fruit, sweets and drinks!). The race is also in an agreement with a geothermal pool next to the finish line so they give free entry to all participants after the race that is obviously and amazing addition (they were also giving you free entrance to few spa and gyms in Reykjavík for a week, not bad for an entry of €20).
All around it was a great experience and I’m really looking forward to do something similar next year (maybe Norway or Sweden…) so I can improve from the things I learnt this year.
Happy running to everyone.