Reykjavik Half – August 18th, 2012


I love Iceland. The first time I went was in 2008, and the second time was two years later.   I have a strange fascination with the place.   I call it the geological time machine. There are glaciers, hot springs, and volcanic regions of every type. Perfect pillars of basalt columns, endless waste lands of moss covered lava rocks, ash blowing around from recent eruptions (remember Eyjafjallajokull ?), and the next volcanic eruption is probably a matter of months away. And if you see sulphur scented steam shooting out of the ground, there’s a good chance somebody believes it’s an elf underground, cooking up a meal. Or maybe it’s Iceland’s invisible people that add to the mystique . It feels like a whole other world to me, and yet I feel at home there.

So naturally, I just had to go back to Reykjavik to run a race. I had planned to run the full marathon, but I had a minor health issue, which might be described as “OVER DOING IT” I had run my first ever full marathon less than 3 months ago, and my legs were not so subtly reminding me of that fact. At the time, it wasn’t an easy decision to switch my distance. I agonized over the decision for weeks, and then finally saw sense, and decided to just run the half. In hindsight, it was a no-brainer.

Getting There

Getting to Iceland was super easy. I flew via Boston (Icelandair also has service through Toronto and Halifax) . Then I took the Flybus coach to the bus station (they offer free wifi on board), and walked to Guesthouse Sunna, where I always stay.


Friday morning, I walked out to Laugardalshöll Sports Hall, to pick up my race kit. It was a leisurely 30 minute walk to get there, and met many fellow runners along the way. I could tell they were out of town runners, because of the maps they were carrying, and because they were a fit bunch of people wearing running shoes.

There, I picked up my race kit, and a few other goodies, which was basically just three kinds of skyr: a protein enhanced version (similar to the regular kind), and two kinds of recovery skyr drinks. Skyr is a low fat, high protein dairy product that doesn’t have any of the tang of yogurt. It sort of has the consistency of soft serve ice cream, comes in a variety of flavours, and costs about two dollars for a single serving container. I live off the stuff when I’m there, and have no idea why it’s not available in Canada.

After walking back to the hotel, I lounged around for awhile, before heading down to the BSI Bus Terminal, where I had my heart set on going to the Laugarvatn Fontana spa, which is about an hour outside of town. Like all pools and spas in Iceland, it’s heated by natural geothermal hot springs, and after 2 visits to the touristy Blue Lagoon, I wanted to try something different.

I bought my ticket, and waited outside for the bus to arrive. And waited…, and waited, all the while the bus to the Blue Lagoon continued to fill up with people. At 10 minutes before departure, I finally got anxious enough to walk back inside to ask what the delay was. Turned out the new employee at the company had unknowingly sold me a ticket to a cancelled tour. Not to worry though, because I still had time to hop on the bus headed to the Blue Lagoon.

There’s only one rule for pools, and that’s to wash before entering. I think this picture pretty much sums up what to do.

Poster explaining the important bits to wash before entering the pool.

There, I spent a few hours in the hot blue/grey waters, and was hopefully loosening up my legs for Saturday’s race.

As I walked, swam, and sat in the Olympic sized outdoor pool, I started to get a bit thirsty and noticed that the outdoor bar was closed. Eventually, I got out of the pool, and went to the inside bar, where they informed me that their billing system was down and so they were unable to sell drinks. However, they were offering free Pepsi. That actually worked out well, because I could hydrate, and get an unhealthy jolt of carbs, which would come in handy for Saturday.

Dinner that evening was pizza, and then I headed back to the guesthouse to start my usual pre-race routine. Attach the bib to the shirt, put the chip on the shoe, and lay out the socks, and shorts. Hmm…it was at this point where I realized I had made a minor error in judgement. In an effort to minimize my luggage, I decided I’d take just one pair of shorts that I’d also use as a swimsuit. D’oh! So, now I had a wet pair of shorts to deal with, and no means of drying them. In the end, they were mostly dry by the morning.

Never fill out race bib information while sipping on brennevin.

Race Day

I woke up around 6 that morning to a beautiful day. It was about 17 degrees, and not terribly sunny. The nice thing about Reykjavik is that the temperature is pretty constant once the sun rises (unlike Ottawa). Race time was 8:40am, which coincided with my usual weekend long run time of 8:30. There were nearly 3000 runners: 800 doing the full and about 2000 half-marathoners. The corrals are thus based on your pace per km and not your projected finish time. It was quite civilized really. The corral was like most big city runs. Music was playing, there were spectators everywhere, and the nervous energy electrified the air. To calm myself, I thought back to a drill that coach Dave taught us. It’s really just closing your eyes, pretending nobody is around, and telling yourself to run your own race.

Disclosure Time

As I watched the clock countdown, I really got into the pre-race vibe, and I “pretended” like it was all going to be ok. Pretend I say, because I had been struggling with an IT band issue off and on for almost two months. I hadn’t run a clean, painless run in weeks, and here I was about to run 21.1 km. I knew I could finish it, and I knew I was good for the first 10 km, but anything beyond that was going to be a mystery. So that was my Plan “A”: go with the flow, and just finish it. I had walked about 10km the previous day pain free, so I knew I’d cross that line eventually. There was no Plan “B”.

And I’m off!

As I had positioned myself towards the back of the corral, it was a very slow start. I ran the first km in just under 7 minutes, which was little more than a jog, and I was fine with it. I was feeling great, right up to the point where we did a sharp right turn, and the pain around the knee started. In comparison to my worst run of the summer (which I’ll say was pushing an 8 on the pain scale), this was around a 4 or 5. So not debilitating, but definitely disheartening. I was stuck at about a 6+ km pace, and once I got to the first drink station (they’re every 4km on this course), I stopped for water, then actually stopped and stretched out the leg for a minute. Afterwards, it felt much better, which is the general pattern I was finding on my previous runs. So, yes, it felt better, but I figured it would tighten up again, and probably get worse as the race progressed. As I had finished up the first 5 km in about 31 minutes, I was mentally projecting a finish of about 2:12 to 2:15. A part of me was disappointed, but my logical side was saying “Always do your best with what you have to work with”.

Ok, that’s a weird sensation…

As I talked to myself, and did mental calculations, I noticed that all the pain had gone away.   All of it! I was very leery of this turn of events, however I did take advantage and started to speed up a bit. I ran the next 5 km with a much faster pace, however I did walk through the water station (as I typically do for any race), and then once again completely stopped for about two minutes this time in order to do a thorough stretch. I had managed to run 10km in 1 hour, 1 minute, so a 2 hour marathon was totally beyond reach. I had to cover 11.1 km, and I knew the last half was going to be hilly. (The first half was quite flat, mostly travelling on the edge of the ocean).

I got a Feeling

While picking up the pace, by 11 km, I felt that my legs were going to hold up, so at the 12km water station, I only paused  for about 30 seconds to do a final stretch. Just as I got back in the course, the Black Eyed Peas song (I got a feeling that tonight’s going be a good night), started playing on the loudspeakers, and I felt a chill, and, said to myself “Let’s do this!!!” I got into a groove of 5:15 to 5:20, which is a speed I hadn’t done comfortably in months. There’s nothing like passing people, and getting stronger as the race goes on. Around km 15 things got a bit slow, as we were funnelled into a narrow footpath by the sea.  It was spectacular scenery. To be honest though, it’s not the prettiest course I’ve ever done. Apart from the ocean/bay, there’s not a lot to admire.

Once we got off the footpath, I resumed my pace, and started to make my move. It was so much fun, and I felt 100%. That said, I still thought a 2 hour finish was out the question, so once I got to the first big hill, I decided to walk up it. I soon realized that there was no end to it, so once I caught my breath, I started running again. It took a good 5 minutes to reach the top, but just like in Hamilton, the rest was going be all down hill.

Time for Intervals?

With 4 km to go, and absolutely no hills left to climb, I figured it was time to give it all I had. The worst I thought would be I’d get tired out, and have to walk a bit, before starting up again. So that’s what I did. I treated it as a 4km interval run, and took it up to a very quick pace.

And across the line in a time of 2 hours, 2 minutes, and 33 seconds.

I’m not sure how I did it exactly, but I ran the last 5km in about 25 minutes, which is pretty much a personal best time for my 5k. I would have done it quicker, but as I was sprinting towards the finish, I could see that I was going to possibly jostle with two people in front of me. Normally that sounds like fun, but if I did, it would ruin any chance of a beautiful finish line picture 🙂 So, in a move that my run coach would be proud of, I slowed down, created some space, and looked for the cameras!

Post Race Analysis

To me, there’s nothing better than running a negative split. That’s where you run the second half faster than the first. So in that regards, I ran the perfect race. I could have run it faster. I could have skipped the stretch stops, and instead taken painkillers. However, I wasn’t there to set a personal best, and I planned on enjoying the rest of my week in Iceland. Had I run the full, or pushed too hard, I wouldn’t have been able to do a 14km mountain hike 3 days later.

What`s Next ?

Stay tuned….

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