Monday, September 2, 2013

Ian's Return to Running and the Iceland Half Marathon 2013

So it happened. I was able to pull something good running wise out of the summer. My hip finally on the mend, and I was off to Iceland, first to run the Half Marathon and second to explore and enjoy a new to me country.

Of course my plan had been to run the full marathon, but my previously discussed  hip injury made that plan fall away. So my options for Iceland (which was an already booked trip) were to run nothing, run the 10K or run the half marathon. I opted (due to a few easy paced training runs in the weeks before my trip) for the half. I was actually more concerned with trying to run the 10K as I felt that with a shorter distance I might forget the fact that I hadn't done any fast speed work and attempt to kill myself. A half would require a little bit of holding back and that seemed to fit the bill a little more.

We arrived in Reykjavik the day before the race, and after a little bit of walking around and resting up attended the expo.

I never did find out this guy's name, but he was the official marathon "spokesman." This expo was small, similar in size to the Bluenose Marathon. There were some companies with supplements, some free samples of dairy products and mostly booths of sportswear. Iceland is very expensive. Sneakers seemed to run around $300 or so, sales on clothing still didn't come down to regular retail in Canada. So if you plan on running this race in the future, bring everything you need.

Then onto the registration room for packet pickup.  

A very simple process. I never saw a line up, maybe because we went at the right time, or maybe because the process took 5 minutes total. Pickup bag with bib and magazine of information, and chip and then head over to the chip table to activate. They use the championship chips, but make them tie them to your shoes. This means unlacing things and I didn't really like that as I use speed laces. Luckily you can ask for some small zip ties and that worked much better.

Pace bunnies are available for the half and full, but rather than give specific finishing times, they give pace ranges. They also run with balloons tied to themselves so they are easy to spot. And as the marathon and half runners all start together and run with each other until the 18 km mark, it means you only need one set of pace bunnies. They also use these colours to designate where you should line up for the start.

You finish up the expo with a pasta dinner, included in the registration price. This is really nice for people travelling in from away as it means you get that one good meal in before you need to crash from travelling.

Then it was back to the apartment for the evening.

Race day arrived and sadly it was cold and wet. And I mean pretty darn cold for an August race at 8C. We headed to the start line early as it was 30 minute walk from our apartment. Luckily they have a bag drop at this race, though for a race with 10,000 plus entrants, it is rather a lot to be showing up into the tiny race day building they use. Again, though, things are done fairly well. The half marathon and full start together and the 10K (by far the most popular race) doesn't start until 1 hour after and the 3K family fun run starts 1 hour after that. this really keeps things manageable. And with the million or so portable toilets, there are no lines. Perfect for when it is raining on you. By the way bag drop is really just the people giving you a plastic bag with your number on it and you leave it in an open room and hope. Though there seemed to be exactly no problems.

The loud speaker start to announce things. I had no idea what the heck was being said, but the crowd moved to the start line. I had no real plan for this race, but hoped I had enough oomph in me to run under 1:40 and secretly I wondered if my pre season training was still kicking around inside me somewhere. But if my hip started to hurt I knew I would have to pull up and walk the rest of the race and I was okay with that.

I aimed for the 4:11 - 5:00 minute/km pace bunny. I figured I should fit in there somewhere. I was very cold at this point having shed all but my race attire and realizing that after I started to run, too many clothes would be a detriment. Luckily, we heard a few announcements and we were off quickly.

I found what i thought was a good feeling pace, but decided to check my Garmin anyway and yes, far too fast. After I got around a few more runners and found a clear patch to run in I gradually started to ease back to a more suitable pace. Still this left me quite near the front of the race and that felt very nice.

After a few kilometers, all the "hills" fell away and we were left with a flat race and I had found my groove. All my various parts felt fine and my pace was a nice 4:09 average or so. My plan was to rely on race course nutrition other than bringing one gel with me, more for the caffeine than the sugar. Still good to have just in case. I figured I would eat it around 9km in, just before the second water stop.

The Iceland marathon offers water and Poweraid at most stops. The stops are every 5km (ish) and are huge, so you get plenty of opportunity to drink, though beware, the cups are full!

My nutrition went well with a few gulps of Poweraid and water at each stop, my gel at 9km in. My heart rate was initially in the high Z3, but crept easily into Z4. I knew I could hold that for awhile, but hadn't really tested out just how long due to my summer of rehab. But my breathing was under control, I felt calm and had no pains.

We wound our way through Reykjavik and it was a pleasure to take in the sights, even with the drizzle and cold temps. I definitely saw a few sights I needed to go check out later on. A few times we left the road and took to the multiuse paths. Also you have to be aware of the speed bumps. But ultimately the course is an extremely easy running surface.

I had fun pacing off a few others and toying with a few other runners. It was important to glance on down at people's bibs as their colour would tell you which race they were in. No use competing with a full marathoner at this point.

I crossed the 10K mark at 41:39. This pleased me to no doubt as I still felt good and strong and that was fairly close to my Bluenose Half time. It also turns out to be the second fastest 10K of the day for a Canadian, the other coming from someone running the 10K race. That felt nice as well.

The next food stop was at the 16km mark. First a drink of Poweraid  followed by water and then low and behold an offering food. Bananas bits or small, well I had no idea. I wasn't feeling the banana so I grabbed the brown lump and found out it was a Mars Bar. A very cold and hard to eat Mars Bar that got stuck in my teeth for the next 3 kilometers. Oh well.

I found the banana thing funny as the ground was littered with banana peels after the food stop. Seriously, banana peels and runners.

But 16 km in was also a small switch back hill which marked the end of my oomph. Yup, the legs felt okay, but the fitness and cardio decided to give up. I can see it in my heart rate chart which I looked out after the race. the next 2 kilometers were relatively draggy at a 4:17 avg pace (I once looked down and saw 4:23). The group I was running with started to pull away and I mentally faded as well and dropped off. My muscles began to ache, which I didn't know if was really ache or just my mind playing tricks on me.

The problem here was that i knew if I slowed down, I would not be able to speed back up. I was going to have to finish this thing out on momentum. Then a song came on my MP3 player, Sun King by The Cult. It had just enough pep and I dragged myself out of my mental funk. We also start to run by the slower runners at this point as well. Many were only 10km into the race and smiling, or stopping to take pictures. They seemed to be having fun. That was nice to see.

I found a little more speed, though I was passed by another runner at the 19 km mark. I managed to hang with him as we went through the final round about (there are loads of those) and entered the finish line shoot. I was so happy to have pulled through and was running side by side with my new friend. I didn't think I had anything left and didn't really care if he surged ahead at this point. I was high fiving little kids all down the finish line straight and then saw the finish line clock. It was slowly ticking towards 1:28 and I surged. I pushed through by Viktor Jens Vigfússon (I looked that up in the results) and managed a gun time of 1:28:04 and a chip time of 1:27:56. Not a PB, but a personal best recovery I think and a mental win as well. It turned out to be good enough for 44th overall, 35th man, and 19th in my Age Group. Also I was the fastest Canadian for the half.

Now the bad things: you need to stop after the race and get that chip off your shoe and give it back or pay $100 fine. That isn't easy for a lot of people, especially with super cold fingers. Also I had no way of snipping the zip ties on my chip and had to wait 10 minutes for them to get clippers. Then you leave, get a drink of Poweraid or Water, some chocolate raisins and that's it. No post race party. Too bad, as that is the greatest time to bond, and it is a great time to meet people from away (especially if you are from away). Here you just grab your stuff and head home.

Now the good things: The full and half run a different course than the 10km and have different parallel finishing lines. This means no getting mixed up with slower runners, except for a few of the fastest marathoners running home with a few slower half marathons. That was great to see. And due to the race being in Iceland, you get a coupon for free entrance into one of the thermal pools around the city for that day or the next. How nice is a geothermal mineral pool on tiered legs? Well just perfect.  So good we went back 2 more times. 10C and a 40C pool of salt water? Priceless.

This is definitely a race that makes for a fun destination. The city is easy to navigate, the race is well staffed and put on, and if you stick around there are tons of things to do in the city or nearby. Iceland is pricey but if you do a little planning you can see and do a lot for a reasonable amount of money. Oh and the night of the race is Culture Night where the downtown shuts down to all but foot traffic and musicians and DJ's from all around setup. Very cool way to end the day.