Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen; friendly old girl of a town. So goes the song, and my experiences of the 2017 Copenhagen Marathon certaintly lived up to all the expectations.
Having arrived Friday evening, I spent Saturday on a few practical matters. There was the bib needing to be collected at the expo, and buying a nice running top at "special expo price" (yeah, right!). On the way there I passed the "Mini Marathon", a children's race, and watched the winner of the year 2011 (I.e., the six year olds) cross the finishing line of the 1 Km route in 4:41. Amazing time for that age, I don't think I could do it!
Back to the hotel to drop off bib and t-shirt (they handed out the participants shirts in the same tent as the bibs, rather than at the finishing line on the day), change into warmer clothes (fairly cold day) and then went to check the starting line to make sure I could find my way around on Sunday morning. With that done, and nothing else to spend my day on, I went back to the expo and pretended to not having been there before and this blagged myself another of the official t-shirts. I know. Naughty!
Sunday morning was a 6 AM start. Toilet, breakfast, toilet, water, toilet. Maybe that Greek meal Saturday night had been a bad idea, for my stomach wasn't doing too well. So I swallowed a diahorrea pill, some more water, and made my way to the start area early. I had expected the metro to be over crowded, but there were plenty of seats available. Located the porta loos, did what I had to do, and took another diahorrea pill. Getting slightly nervous about the tummy. Baggage drop was a breeze, very well organised, strolling around a bit, and then back in the loo queue which by now was getting long. Fortunately the pills had started to work by now!
The start gun was fired at 9:30 sharp. My ambition was a 5 hour run, and in all my training runs I've been having a walking and gel eating break every 5 Km, so the race plan was to run at 6:55/km or slightly faster, and then spend a minute every 5 km on nutrition. So I lined up with the 4:50 pacers (they would have to average 6:53 to hit their target), and about 15 minutes after the gun we crossed the start line.
I've had some problems with my new Garmin the last week after a firmware upgrade. It has occasionally lost the GPS signal, and both distance and pace has been off. So I had also brought my old watch, and was running with one on each wrist. Just before the first km marker new watch was showing a lap pace of 6:18/km and old watch was showing 6:32/km. Fortunately I had stuck closely to the "race pace" of 6:55 for all my runs in the last three weeks' taper, and the it seems it had worked to condition my legs to the expected pace, for the first lap time was 6:53. So while I continued to glance at the watches throughout the race, I ran mostly by feel and lap times at the km markers along the route. The 4:50 pacers were far ahead of me after a few km, they must have been building up a bit of a time reserve to use later.
The first water station came up already at 3.5 km (they were all spaced just over two miles apart) and I needed to pee. But told myself this was silly and ignored the need. A few km later we went through a park where several guys and a few girls were availing themselves of the cover afforded by some bushes. I did the same (sorry, I know...). Relieved, I managed to catch the 4:50 pacers around the 8 km mark, and followed them for the next two km until I had to stop for another wee. It was quickly becoming clear to me that with all these toilet stops I could not afford to also spend time on walking breaks, so I ate my gels while running and soon built up several minutes of "ahead" time.
A slight niggle in my Achilles had disappeared after the first two-three km, and by 10 I was thoroughly enjoying myself. I had found "the rhythm" where breathing was completely effortless, pacing was fully by feel (and the km split times showed that I was consistently a few seconds faster than needed). Having passed the national football stadium, the little mermaid and the royal palace earlier, we were now heading into fashionable Frederiksberg with beautiful buildings and wide tree lined roads. The half mara mark came up, and by now I had a full three minutes in the bank, and was starting to think that if I could continue without walking breaks and only minimal loo breaks, I might be able to beat my target by a full five minutes.
At around 30 km the route joined the same part as we had been running at the beginning. I was keeping an eye out for "my" bush as we went through the same park, but by now the park was full of families enjoying their picknicks. So I behaved!
Past the little mermaid again, past the royal palace again, somewhere around the 35-37 mark I began to feel really tired. Not really out of breath. Legs not really hurting. But just awfully tired and longing for the finish line. My pace had slipped below 7:10/km and I was eating into my ahead time. But there were still 4 minutes in the bank, so at 37 km I spent one of them on a walking break. And another walking break at 39 km. I could see that if all the calculations and timings were correct, I could afford a brief 100 m break now for each of the remaining km markers. But what if my timing was off despite the dual watches? What if my pace continued to drop? What if something suddenly started to hurt? It would be a bitch to spend my contingency too early and end up missing the target I had so far been on track for. So I pushed on. It was more of a shuffle than a run by now, but it wasn't a walk, and that was all that really mattered.
The start - and therefore also the finish - was on the island Amager. Islands means bridges. Bridges means uphill. And sure enough, with just over 1 km to go started the incline of Langebro (it means "long bridge" and was named thus for a reason!) it's actually quite a gentle incline on a normal day, but after 41 km nothing felt felt normal. I shuffled up the bridge and caught up with a runner and a couple of spectators that had decided to join in and help with the pacing to the finish line. One of the running spectators was explaining that "you have to really push here at the end, ignore the pain, you can easily gain 30 seconds or more". I know it was meant as encouragement and help, but couldn't help myself thinking "shut your trap, or go run 41 km and THEN sprout your amateur psychology, you wanker!" Of course I smiled politely and didn't say what I was thinking. Discretion and valour and all that stuff.
All bridges end with a decline. And sure enough, even Langebro has one. Down, around the bend and under the bridge, the 42 km marker coming up, I didn't have the energy to speed up perceptibly, but shuffled along to the finish line as best I could. And boom. 4:56:45. I was ecstatic and thrilled and relieved to slow down from a shuffling run to a shuffling walk.
Friendly volunteers were hanging medals over the runners' heads and offering "heat blankets" - that's how they were described in the pre race info pack, but in the real world they looked A LOT like the plastic bags we had been offered at the start, but back then they had been called "rain jackets". There were roses for the lady runners, finish line snapshots (sms'ed and email to your phone instantly). Water. Bananas and oranges (thank you, hope you don't mind if I take four), protein bars (yuck), yogurt, little custard filled buns with hot chocolate (thank you, I'll grab five) and last in the finishing area free alcohol free beer in pint glasses. I stopped counting after three.
It had been a great race. Plenty to look at throughout, tons of spectators encouraging the runners, even those of us coming around after they'd spent the best part of five hours or more cheering on complete strangers. It was a beautiful summer day, 20 degrees and sun from a clear blue sky. That might have helped with the spectator support, and in several of the neighbourhoods we ran through, it looked like impromptu neighbourhood parties had been arranged. I heard my name called out a few times, and I know now that twice it was by our very own Iben.
As large race's goes (just over 10,000 runners signed up, 8,172 finishers within the 6-hour cut off), it was spectacularly well arranged and executed. Everything ran like a clockwork. Professional, pleasant and fun. Oh, and did I mention I got in in under 5 hours? I'm chuffed and ever so proud!