Finishing off an overseas holiday with a race probably isn’t every traveller’s cup of tea but for a runner, finding a quite large local race held the day before leaving home, it’s a no-brainer to do it. In an ideal world the race would’ve been early in the holiday, but even knowing it’d be on the back of a few weeks of not doing a whole lot, seemed to good an opportunity and experience to pass up.

Arriving in Iceland earlier in the week, one of the first noticeable things was the smell of the hot water – being geothermally heated it has a strong odour caused by its sulphur content. It initially makes you wonder if you’re actually better off not showering, though a bit over 24hrs later I’ve successfully managed to disprove this theory to myself.

Like many major city races there’s an Expo for a couple of days prior for race number collection & free t-shirt pickup – for a small major city (population approx. same as Hobart) there’s a surprisingly large number of stalls there. Fortunately there’s a couple of brands of gels that I’m familiar with that I grab to use for brekky on race day, there’s also a disproportionate number of stalls offering free samples of electrolyte powders and by the time I realise that nearly all of them contain caffeine I’m buzzing and near-dizzy by the time I leave.

The accommodation is (by fluke) 2-2.5k from the start area which is close to an ideal warm up jog away making the pre-race logistics a bit easier. Not that Reykjavik is all that difficult to get around, but after missing a turn off and getting lost on a jog earlier in the week (turning a planned half hour into 65 minutes) I’ve made 100% sure I’m heading to the right spot!

On getting to the start area, there are plenty of portaloos around the start area with short queues. This is good. However, unlike in Australia, these facilities have no flushing mechanism and under the lid is simply disinfected water and you-know-what. This is… not so good.

Heading to the starting precinct after the customary stretch & strides, the narrowish street is quite crowded with both runners and spectators whilst a rather excitable bloke with a microphone begins yelling instructions to ‘clear the road, runners only please’ and ‘choose your correct start area, we don’t want any collisions!’ I assume the same is yelled out in Icelandic afterwards, not that I understand a word of it.

Whilst as noted above, there are designated start areas based on predicted finish times, there is no specific priority starting area as such with the good old honesty system in place for runners to self-seed. A few minutes later no-one seems to get trampled in the first few hundred metres so I guess most people got it pretty right.

As race time draws closer (there is a rather odd starting time of 0935) rather than the usual nerves I actually feel pretty good and can’t help smiling – probably something to do with not having raced for a while and not having any real pressure or expectations going into it. Weather conditions are close to perfect with clear skies and a temperature of around 10-12C, though later on there’s some breezy headwinds as the course goes along the coastline. The 10km course is a single 10km loop starting and finishing in the CBD area of Reykjavik – different to many of the Australian races which most often seem to be out and back.

The first km starts with a fast flat section before a slight rise as the course veers through the streets towards the coastline. Figuring that a best case scenario would result in a finish of 35-36mins, I pass the 1km mark feeling fantastic in 3:30 but unfortunately there’s still 9km left at this point and shortly afterwards the adrenaline drops off and the reality of detraining, lost fitness, and a tad too much food and beer over the last few weeks kicks in. Having no choice but to slow down, I dial back the effort & enjoy the experience and atmosphere (of which there is plenty) – for much of the course the streets are lined with spectators with music also blaring in a few places making the time seem to go by rather quickly. Manage to finish 26th in 38:32 – not the best case scenario I’d hoped for but all things considered had a great day out! Race entry includes free use of any of Reykjavik’s thermal pools afterwards which is a nice little bonus – helps to get in early though with nearly 10,000 participants getting a free pass!

The race is tied in with Reykjavik’s ‘Culture Night’, a huge and largely free city-wide event where it seems nearly all of Iceland’s population turns up to the city – the entire city is blocked to traffic and filled with people for the entire day. Even with the cultural festivities afterwards and all that’s good about the event, this is perhaps not an overseas race to put on the bucket list for its own sake – there’s plenty of faster/bigger/more prestigious races to choose from. From talking to others afterwards, the half marathon and marathon courses are more prone to being affected by winds as they follow the coastal paths for much greater distances. Iceland too, is an extraordinary country once you’re out of the Reykjavik area, so don’t go there purely for the race! If you’re in Scandinavia or nearby at this time of year and want an event to do, add it in with a few days of touring around Iceland and you’ll have a blast.

Race website – http://www.marathon.is/reykjavik-marathon

GPS of the race – https://www.strava.com/activities/1140988582

Written by: Daniel Clarke

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