Race Report: Tórshavn Marathon 2012 (Faroe Islands)

Wow

I’m going to have to edit my top six runs to include this one – the scenery of the Tórshavn Marathon places it in a class of its own.  Starting with 1.5 loops of the main town, from there the route travels up the coast and turns off onto a fiord across the bay, at which point it turns around and comes back to town.  The amazing thing about this route is that other than about 2km of the route through town, you’re never out of view of the water.  Being an island where it’s nearly impossible to go more than 2km “inland” without coming out on the opposite coast, any route that the race directors choose will be considered “coastal” by any other standards.  With a mix of cliffs, coastal grass and rocky shores, the scenery around make it impossible to feel anything but lucky, even when the legs are screaming.

The White Kenyan

The day prior to the race we stumbled upon a Faroese-language marathon seminar as part of the race weekend’s events, and were quickly greeted (in English) by the race director.  He was pretty surprised that a few Americans had come all the way over for a marathon in the middle of the North Sea with just 63-odd competitors, so we explained why we were there (I think we were still trying to figure it out, too…).  During registration, I had registered with my current address in Kenya, so on the competitor’s roster online it showed me as a Kenyan.  Imagine their shock that a Kenyan would be coming all the way up to Tórshavn to run a marathon with them!  The race director explained that I had incited quite the pre-race panic, as top runners in the local club who were gunning for the title started furiously searching my name and location on Google to scope out this Kenyan ringer, and apparently were quite relieved after finding my blog, reporting back with a smile to the race director, “don’t worry….he’s white!”  I reassured the director that I was not Kiprop’s training partner in the hills of Kenya, either, and that I wouldn’t be breaking any records this year…but to keep an eye out next year if I come back, as I’ll surely find a few good running buddies, and I hear that Kenyan running genetics are contagious (fingers crossed…).

The Run

My university buddy Scott, who in a moment of pure wisdom chose this race, and I got to the start area around 45 minutes before the race.  Plenty of time, as there were only about 200 competitors combined running races of 2.2km, 5.5km, and half and full marathons.  A rather cold and wet morning, we layered up and went outside a few minutes prior to the start.  After a wholly entertaining Nordic-style group warm-up routine in a language we didn’t even begin to understand, the gun went and we were off on a mad dash through town.

 

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The marathon race route.

I immediately felt more comfortable running than I had at any point in training, and found a rhythm quickly, sitting somewhere around 8-minute miles for the first few.  I knew at some point I would fall apart, as I hadn’t run more than 13 miles since April, but I had no intention of letting that ruin my day.

 

Though the sun was peaking through when the gun went off, we quickly ran into a strong headwind leaving town as well as a brief wall of freezing rain that had us all a bit concerned.  The freezing rain would turn into a less-freezing drizzle, and would come down intermittently throughout the race.  The headwind on the way out of town reminded me of the winds on the bike at Ironman South Africa, and I quickly reverted to the same state…bare down into a constant effort, and no matter where the wind blows and what it slows your pace to, just keep that effort.  This got me up the first few climbs.  There were more people than I expected on the road until the turnaround for the half marathon, where it seemed like everyone else but me was turning around.  From about 15km and for the rest of the race, it was the most quiet and reflective race I’ve ever run.  Aid stations were only ever 5km and each one was just 1-2 people with a tiny table in the middle of nowhere, pouring sports drink and water into 5 or 6 cups and laying out 2 or 3 banana pieces.  As there were only 63 people on the marathon, there really was no reason to lay out any more at one time – I felt like each station was just a little lemonade stand on a run through my home town, which was a new and welcome feel for a long-distance race.

 

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Elevation profile of the marathon route.

Though I didn’t have a watch or a HRM, I could tell that I was holding my pace quite well until the turnaround at 25km.  At that point, though, the wheels started to come off.  I was passed by a group of local runners as we attacked the headwind on the way back around the fiord, and I could start to feel the mounting miles on my knees and hip flexors.  Scott said it well as we passed on the turnaround – “can’t we just swim back across?!”, referring to the freezing-cold 500m bay that separated us from the very visible next 15km of our race…a strange reality to be able to see exactly where you’ll be running in an hour’s time but can’t quite get there.

 

The next 5km was all mental, just pushing through, but at 30 km the hills started again, and I wasn’t going to hold up.  I tried to avoid it, but my legs were on fire and I walked a few times just to shed a bit of the joint fatigue taking over my legs.  My pace slowed notably even though my cardio was right in line, and I just plugged on into town with almost nobody around me, enjoying my first rather silent distance event.  I finally turned the corner into the finishing area and was smiling and waving to a small group of cheerleaders when I saw the clock was just 15 seconds to 4 hours.  I turned quick and put on the gas to cross just about 6 seconds under the 4 hour mark (30/63 overall).

With no real goal going into the race, I was completely fine with the finishing time.  My next marathon will not be that way – I’ll be gunning for under 3:30 – but as I hadn’t trained I was just happy to get through it and thoroughly enjoy the day.  Scott crossed the line a few minutes later, we got some food, went back for a rest, and then prepared for a great evening of drinks and steak with the other runners.

 

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The After-Party

 

We had met a few others from Ireland, the Isle of Man, Denmark, Germany, England and Scotland, and shared several hours of food and drinks with them after the run at a great after-party organized by the local Bragdid running club.

One highlight was spending time with Andy on the bus into town and then again after the race.  An American from New Jersey, we were joining him for his 653rd marathon – and 170th or so since he was read his last rights and nearly died in Russia in 2001.  At 73 years young, when we asked him what his next race would be (doctors having told him that he would never run again after his recovery in 2001), he answered “the hospital”.  Apparently his way of preparing for open-heart surgery was to run another marathon!!  An extremely humble and inspiring guy, and more than anything, just nice, Andy regaled us all night with great stories from around the world (he had plenty, having run races in 83 different countries!).

 

All thoughts and prayers for Andy’s speedy and painless recovery as he goes into surgery tomorrow morning.

 

 

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One Response

  1. ok. I’m googling Andy now!

    P.s “don’t worry….he’s white!” That was too funny!

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