Being the romantic that I am, I broke rule # 1 and booked us a weekend away in Norway for Katie’s birthday. This was kept as a secret all the way up to the moment the train pulled into Gatwick airport and I promptly announced we were getting off.
For those not up to speed with their Scandinavian geography, Stavanger is the 3rd largest city in Norway. It was a beautiful place on the coast, perfect for a weekend away. For those who aren’t up to speed with their geography full stop, Norway is in Europe.
Arriving on Thursday night with the race taking place on Saturday, we decided it would be a fantastic idea to hike up the local mountain the day before the race – a 3 hour round trip with a number of quad busting climbs.
We hadn’t picked the ideal day for it, with driving rain and visibility of about 10 feet in all directions. We got to the top, which apparently has an incredible view of the fjords below, but unfortunately we could barely see each other – normally not such a bad thing, but not what we wanted today.
We ploughed our way down past all the Japanese tourists, making great time, until muggins here, having watched too much of the Olympics on TV, decided to take a dive headfirst down the uneven rocks. After initially saving myself with my hands (sacrifice the non-running limbs), I didn’t quite mange to keep it together and fell sideways, banging my knee on the aforementioned rocks. The judges gave it an 8.5, which I thought was rather harshly marked.
My main concern was the needle sized hole I’d made in my ‘special’ Ironman Switzerland rain jacket (it’s not good enough just to do one, you have to make everyone aware of the fact you’re an Ironman..). After Katie reassured me it was fine, I took more notice of what the fall had done to my hands and wrists.
I limped my way back to the bottom, struggling to bend my knee. At that point I thought any hope of a decent run the following day had gone. To be fair, even without the fall it was probably not ideal prep for a half, as we ended up walking around 16 miles during the day, finishing it off with a giant pizza and an early night. Happy birthday babe!
With a leisurely start time of 10am, we didn’t have to get up ridiculously early, and I headed out for an easy mile before breakfast to test the knee. Apart from being a bit sore, it seemed OK, so that was good enough for me – let’s give it a go.
After a quick bit of breakfast (longingly looking at the all you can eat sausages and pastries as we sat there with our muesli), we packed up, checked out and made the short walk to the start.
It wasn’t a big race (around 800 people doing the half), and as we picked up our numbers the day before, we could rock up 20 minutes before, dump the bags and be ready to go. Minimal faff – which was great.
As we lined up ready to go I looked around, and as expected, pretty much everyone was Norwegian, with most called Olaf or Sven (your name and country flag was printed on the race number). I spotted a fellow plucky Brit, and we exchanged nods, ready to represent Blighty vs. the Vikings (they’re from Norway right?)
It was a stunner of a morning and we set off under blue skies, running through the harbour. Turning the first corner, I was suddenly faced with a rather lengthy hill, and after climbing for the first half mile or so, I began to wonder what I’d signed us up for here. Thankfully, it soon levelled out, with the first couple of miles taking in a lap of a rather nice lake.
By this point the field had already started to spread out, and I only had a couple of people in view ahead of me, with a fair few more having hared off into the distance. Without meaning to, a little group of 3 formed, and we ran together for a while. The other two were determined to sit behind me and let me take the force of the headwind we were running into, until I turned around and gave them a rather stern stare, after which they did their fair share of pacemaking.
I hit 10km in around 38 and a half minutes, shortly after passing some rather famous (apparently) giant swords carved into the rocks, which Katie successfully managed to miss altogether. There was a decent bit of support here with tourists who had stopped to see the swords realising they’d stumbled across a bunch of sweaty people attempting to run a half marathon, offering up some polite applause and cheers.
After a decent headwind in the opening miles, we began to turn for home and I had a little mini resurgence, passing a couple of guys who had come past me a few miles back. I was right on the edge but felt like I could just about maintain the current effort until the end, but it was going to hurt.
The course had been pretty undulating throughout, and the heat was providing an unexpected extra test, as the sun was beating down by this point. I was using my standard ‘throw as much water over yourself as possible’ strategy. There were water stations every 2 miles or so, manned by a large number of enthusiastic locals who offered some great support to all the runners.
At around the 10 mile point I was slowly reeling in a chap who had passed me around 3 miles previously, and just as I was about to re-pass him, he stopped dead on the path and started loudly shouting at himself in Norwegian – I can only presume cramp or something similar had set in. I gave him the thumbs up to check all was ok, but he scowled back at me – best leave him to it then.
The last 3 miles were a proper battle, and I had to dig deep into my reserves to maintain a decent pace – the legs felt so heavy and I was ready for the finish line. Running along a coastal path, I was now entirely alone, with no one in front or behind. It was practically an individual time trial from this point.
I had decided not to look at my average pace or overall time until I got to the 1 mile to go marker. Then I’d see what kind of time I was on for. I passed it, and looked at my watch. Oh dear. Running a 6 minute 30 mile would get me a new personal best. Up until this point I’d been averaging 6 minutes 15 per mile. Surely that was feasible. From here, it was head down, and run as hard as possible.
What I hadn’t taken into account was the rather large final hill we had to climb before descending down the last few hundred metres into town. I was in absolutely agony up here, straining every sinew to get to the top as fast as I physically could. Once I crested it, it was time to put the hammer down towards the finish.
I had no idea where I was in the field, all I knew is loads of people tore off ahead of me at the start. To my surprise, I found out I’d actually finished 9th, in a field of over 800 runners. Not too bad for a guy with a crooked knee.
After spending a brief period sprawled out on the floor ‘recovering’, I got chatting to a lovely British couple who were also over for the race – turns out they run for Herne Hill Harriers, just down the road from us, and the guy (Simon), was doing a write up for men’s running magazine!
It’s now just under 4 weeks to Berlin, but since I’ve only recently starting training again post ironman (have I mentioned I did an ironman), I’ll probably only go for a 1.5/2 week taper for the race, allowing me to get a couple more solid training weeks in. I’m already really looking forward to running another world marathon major, in what’s meant to be an incredible city.