We jetted off from Gatwick on Thursday morning, heading for Arlanda airport, Stockholm. Stockholm is built on a series of islands, all well connected with various forms of public transport as well as being walkable. I hadn’t been before but had a list of Things To Do: eat reindeer, visit the ABBA Museum , oh, and run the marathon!
We arrived at our airbnb chosen apartment in Stora Essingen (a smaller island slightly off the beaten track) to find a beautiful duplex in typical Swedish style – lots of wood and IKEA type clever storage.
The next day we headed off to the expo to pick up our race numbers and try not to buy everything on offer. The expo is held near the start of the race, unlike the other big city marathons I’ve done (Paris and London) and it was nice to practice the journey in advance, and work out meeting places etc. The Pasta Party was included so we stopped there to have lunch. Organisation was very smooth, the expo was a bit smaller than expected but still plenty to look at.
After carb loading, we set our alarms for a very respectable 8.30am, as the marathon didn’t start until noon. We woke up to weather reports of heavy rain, and tried to ignore that while we had breakfast. It felt very odd to get up at a civilised hour, and meet everyone at 11am instead of the usual 7.30am.
The rain had not appeared, which we were thankful for. We made our way to the start line where there was the usual hubbub of nervous runners and spectators, big queues for the toilets and bag checks. The baggage area was in the open, although we had been given kit bags to keep everything in.
At about 11.30 we made our way to the starting pens. We figured out that, oddly, women’s numbers were yellow while men’s were white, but we did not figure out why I started in F and my friends started in J, when we were running around the same time. There were pacers for each time in each pen as well, from 3:45 to 5:15, so it wasn’t by pace. Nevertheless, I didn’t feel held up or penned in, or rushed along either.
There were two start waves – 12 noon and 12:10. There were also lots of toilets in every pen, which was great. I ended up going twice before we started! After the Swedish national anthem, there was a bang from the start gun and we were off! It had been raining lightly before then, but soon after we started, it poured. I soon began to regret my decision to wear a vest and shorts, although it meant that I had to keep running or risk hypothermia! It rained and rained – it rained the entire rest of the time until it finally gave up about 8pm that day. I have never been wetter. Despite this, I really enjoyed myself.
My race plan, after somewhat patchy training this year, was to take each mile as it comes. The ’A’ goal was to have fun and remember how great running is, and not worry about time or pace. I was aiming for about 10 minute miles. I did the first 5k in 28.58. I had doubts that I would make it to halfway at that point because it was raining so hard, but I decided to dig in – I wanted that medal! I also knew I couldn’t let the support down, who were standing in the rain somewhere along the course.
The course is one of those nearly-two-laps-but-not-really routes, where you follow just enough of a different route the second time to make it seem brand new. The puddles were definitely deeper! You get taken past the palace, along the waterfront and through what I referred to as the ‘garden island’, Djurgarden (where the ABBA museum is!). There were water and aid stations every couple of miles, so I walked through those. At one point we were offered vegetable stock, which was lovely and warming, and at the 35k we had coffee, which was great as I’d just been fervently wishing that I’d brought some money with me so I could get some coffee.
The supporters were incredible. Standing out in the rain for hours and hours with umbrellas and cagoules and wellies, huddled under bridges and in doorways, every one of them shouting ‘HejaHejaHeja!’, it was amazing and I was humbled by the encouragement. The miles ticked by and the scales tipped from ‘gosh, that’s a long way to run’ to ‘only 10k left’ then ‘only a parkrun left’ then finally, ‘only 2k left’.
Soon the finish line was in sight – the 1912 Olympic Stadium. I was dismayed to find that we were being led past it, round the back (that’ll teach me for not looking at the route properly!) and into the athletes entrance. Before I knew it, we were on the track and I could see my husband and our friends jumping up and down in the stands, cheering and shouting. I forced my tired legs onwards and ‘sprinted’ to the line. A quick look at my watch said 4:19 – not my fastest, not my slowest but definitely enjoyable as I ran it all at a comfortable pace.
I got a hug from another runner who’d obviously been tailing me for a while, which was lovely, and I chatted to a Bath half runner who’d just completed his first marathon and was in a bit of a daze. It was still raining heavily and we were herded through the stadium and down towards the tshirts and baggage area. I had been given a poncho but I was already soaking so I kept it until I could get to my change of clothes – unfortunately they were in the opposite direction, with my husband! At the tshirt stand I had started to shiver, and there were no tinfoil blankets left. I asked for a ‘crew’ tshirt from the pile I spotted on the floor, but was firmly declined. That was an unusual reaction as every other official was extremely friendly. I managed to change my wet top for my dry one and hoped that that, coupled with a poncho, would keep me warm until I could get to my dry clothes.
The after care (apart from that one incident and the fact that they ran out of tinfoil blankets) was great, and included buns, coffee, hotdogs and even beer. I had a cinnamon bun and a coffee, which was great. The goody bag had some excellent items in it, including a commemorative sports bottle filled with water, chocolate milk and muscle freeze.
I finally made my way to my husband and friends, ducking into a bathroom to change. I had not brought a towel or a jacket, so I had to try to put my compression tights on post marathon and soaking. I am thankful there were no cameras in that bit!
Stockholm is slightly more expensive than the UK but it was lovely, and we stayed for a few days after the marathon too, so I got to go to the ABBA museum, which was great – for an ABBA fan!
We also went to the Vasa Museum, which is a fascinating close look at a ship that sank four hundred years ago, just a mile into its maiden voyage.
I’d recommend Stockholm marathon as a slightly later Spring marathon, it was mostly well organised and the route was pretty enough. I have a feeling it rains quite regularly in Stockholm though so be prepared for wet weather. The rest of the time were there was mainly dry, apart from one morning where it was dry by lunchtime.
I’m going to breakdown my training and discuss my plan for Amsterdam in another post. For now, I’ll leave you with my friend and I trying on Viking hats…