After running Hytteplanmila last year, I was so pleased with the overall experience that I immediately signed up for the 2018 edition as soon as registration opened. A year has come and gone, and I closed off the 2018 race season by running Hytteplanmila 10k on October 20th.
To recap last year’s introduction, this race brands itself as the fastest 10k road race in Norway, and they normally have the results to back up that claim. Popularity has been on the rise since the first inception of the race back in 2005, and interest surged to another level when the race announced that the Ingebrigtsen brothers Henrik, Filip and Jakob would be making their 10k road debut here this year. Close to 3,000 people started the 10k this year, which was a new record.
My marathon debut this summer was followed by a rough return to running, and race results this fall have not been at the level I had hoped. Despite running a couple of 5k races, I was not able to reach my goal of going below 17:30. With my best performance being a 17:50, this forced me to reevaluate how I had been training following the marathon. I still had a half marathon to come, and then this 10k to close out the season just a couple of weeks later.
All the details of how I structured my training are in the weekly Training Logs, but the half marathon a few weeks back marked a return to positive race experiences. Even if I didn’t manage to go below 80 minutes as I had hoped, I felt good and knew I had raced well. This gave me hope of finishing the season on a high note and had me thinking that breaking 36 minutes in the 10k was possible. Doing it would require perfect conditions, and would be a significant improvement from my current 10k PR from earlier this year, which stood at 36:57. I got further encouragement by nailing my final hard workout before the race, which doubles as a 10k predictor session.
Weather forecasts were looking good as early as a week out, and for once the meteorologists were absolutely spot on. As I arrived by bus, a trip organised by my local running group, the fog departed and the sun shone through a light layer of clouds. Temperatures were in the high single-digit Celsius (around 45 Fahrenheit) with no wind to speak of. A perfect day for running fast.
The ever-growing crowd of runners displayed an expectant buzz as the start time approached, and many were talking about how the Ingebrigtsens would surely be taking down Sondre Nordstad Moen’s old course record from 2009. Jakob, the youngest, and perhaps the favourite, had pulled out after catching a cold. It would be up to the two elder brothers to better 28:50 and make yet another record part of the family’s long list of running merits.
Buoyed by the great weather and atmosphere, I was just aching to get out there and see what I was capable of. With about half an hour to go, I went out with a couple of other guys to warm up. A few kilometres and some strides later, I dropped my sweats and lined up towards the front of the big crowd of people ready to run. I was right where I belonged. I, too, was ready to run.
Boom went the gun! And… nothing much happened. In such a crowded field, it actually takes a while before you get going. So I tippy-toed ahead at a slow trot for about 15 seconds before I finally cleared the starting line. Everyone around me sped up, so I did the same, and we were finally off.
1k (3:24 – 3:24)
Once we start running, the entire field is simply too congested to try and advance. You are pretty much resigned to spending the first kilometre running at the pace dictated by your part of the pack, and I decided not to fight it. I was probably further back than I wanted to be, but I also knew that most runners get swept away by the occasion and start off at headless chicken-pace. Especially in this race where the first 1000 metres are downhill. To my delight, the first split was exactly what I was aiming for.
2k (3:31 – 6:55)
At this point, the course flattens, and it is time to try and settle into a rhythm. I have to spend a bit of energy passing people now, as the field is going a bit too slow for my liking once we get started on the flat section. But I am feeling fine, and keeping up the pace without straining too much.
3k (3:42 – 10:37)
The third and fourth kilometres are the hardest of the race, on paper, because you have to pay back the downhill part of the start. I am still feeling relaxed, and when we start climbing I make sure to up my cadence, try to stay relaxed and not go too hard. The split plan for going below 36 minutes I made before the race involved going a fair bit slower than average at this part of the race, so the pace decrease doesn’t worry me.
4k (3:41 – 14:18)
A significant amount of runners around me are already struggling. Thankfully, the field has stretched out a bit at this point, and the road is wide enough that advancing is no problem. The road winds in both directions through this stretch, so I try to be smart and run the tangents. Carefully and deliberately, I’m veering from one side of the road to the other without losing rhythm.
5k (3:30 – 17:48)
The halfway mark is fast approaching and the pace of the pack increases as we leave the uphills behind and set out on the final significant descent of the race. I am still feeling alright, but find myself wondering if I am feeling a bit too tired muscularly considering that we’re not even halfway through the race. Did I not slow down enough on the uphills? Passing the halfway mark, I quietly celebrate a new 5k PR.
6k (3:34 – 21:22)
Slightly worried, I settle into a pack as we embark on the ominous “quiet before the storm” stretch of the race. This part ends with a 90-degree right turn that marks the start of the grind in earnest. Lost in thoughts about the hardship to come, I suddenly notice that there is a gap opening up between the two guys directly in front of me and the pack ahead. I can’t afford to get left behind in here, so I immediately move up to the pack ahead.
7k (3:38 – 25:00)
Crunch time! With a small, but steady incline, the next three kilometres will make or break my race. I struggled here last year, and the vivid memory of that experience has been replaying in my mind the last ten minutes or so. I settle into a rhythm and get ready to dig deep. To my surprise, I am feeling good.
8k (3:40 – 28:40)
One guy in a white long sleeve in front of me looks comfortable, and I latch on to him. The field has stretched out enough that we can maintain a steady pace while passing people. I switch my mind off and just let the guy in front of me guide the way. The hurt is coming, but I am ready to handle it.
9k (3:33 – 32:13)
If any thoughts crossed my mind here, they simply didn’t register. All I can tell you is what you can glean from looking at the split time, and that is that the guy in front of me apparently increased the pace, and I hung on.
10k (3:25 – 35:38)
Right now, every single interval session I have done over the past couple of years has been in preparation for these one thousand metres. I am relishing in getting reacquainted with that old familiar feeling of going to the well because I know that I am capable of pushing through it. There is juice left in my legs still, and I know that now is the time to burn through it. I up the pace, pass the guy who has been guiding me, and then a couple more runners. The pain is constant at this point, but I keep pushing.
Heading into the final two hundred meters, a full-on hill, I tell myself that, unlike last year, nobody will pass me on the hill. I give a final push! And then I start to fade, with half the hill yet to run. The low fall sun helps me by showing me the shadow of a runner approaching, and I remember my oath from a hundred meters back and give a second final push! I reach the finish line before anyone can pass me. I stop my watch before nearly falling over, and I have to support myself on the back of another exhausted runner who has hunched over. My finishing time doesn’t even concern me at this point, because I know I’ve run as good a race as I am capable of.
After catching my breath, I immediately stroll over to the starting area to pick up my sweats, throw them on, and go for a cool down run. Exhaustion and excitement overwhelm me, both on account of having just run perhaps my best race ever. My watch is showing 35:39, and later I find out that my official time is another second faster, but I am just utterly delighted knowing beyond all uncertainty that I have broken 36 minutes for the 10k.
Back in the gymnasium where runners meet up before and after the race, the crowd is growing once more. Most of the returning runners look happy, and why wouldn’t they be? They are runners who just got to run a race on a perfect fall day. Henrik Ingebrigtsen beat his brother Filip in a sprint finish, won the race and broke the course record, which is the talk of the crowd at the moment.
Having had some time to digest the experience and look at all the data from my race, I am now convinced that this was, indeed, the best race I have ever run. In a race with a significantly harder back half, I practically ran even splits, equaling my month old 5k PR twice. This is right at the very edge of what I am capable of at the moment, at it feels fantastic that everything finally lined up and I was able to close out the season with a new PR that really shows what I am good for.
Skagerakløpet is a race put on by the local football club in the Norwegian town of Skien, a couple of hours drive south-west of Oslo. The 2018 edition of the race happened on Saturday, September 29th, and in addition to the half marathon I ran, they also put on a 5k and a 10k. More on that later. I had heard good things about the race, and first and foremost it was the promise of a quick course that lured me into driving the five-hour round trip to run the race.
After completing a full Pfitzinger 18 week plan peaking at 112 kilometres (70 miles) per week ahead of my marathon debut back in June, I have been kicking stones a bit with my training. Recovering from the marathon took longer than expected, and since that, I have hovered around the 90-kilometre mark (56 miles) in terms of weekly distance. The first month back, in particular, was characterised by a very unstructured approach to training. Since then, I have taken measures to make my training more efficient again, by planning out the workouts and overall structure for the week in advance, and making sure I run my easy runs and the appropriate intensity.
For a more detailed look into my training, check out my weekly training logs. But in terms of specific training to prepare for this race, I opted to use the final four weeks to get in four quality workouts at around what I hoped would be race pace, which was 3:50 min/km (6:10 min/mile) at a quite undulating loop. The aim was to progress from 2 x 4km with a 1k float by way of 7k and 9k continuous efforts and top out at an 11k continuous session a week and a half out from the race. I absolutely bombed that final session and had to tap out after just 7k. Not the confidence booster I was hoping for going into the race, but bad workouts happen.
As mentioned initially, getting to the race was a bit of a trip, with a two-and-a-half-hour drive each way. My wife and our six weeks old baby boy, or my support crew as I like to call them, joined me. The gun went off at noon, which meant we had to get up in the early hours because everything takes quite a bit of time when you’re doing it with a newborn!
Having suffered some gastrointestinal troubles in my running , I took this chance to test out a new race day strategy. This consisted of an early breakfast with a cup of coffee to get all systems going well in advance of the race, with the aim of hopefully not having to go during the race. Additionally, I drank a bit of Redbull and ate some light snacks in the car on the way there, to top off the energy stores.
Weather forecasts looked great in the days leading up to the race, with ideal temperatures around 10 Celsius (50 Fahrenheit) and lightly clouded with no rain. Unfortunately, on the morning of the race, the forecasts suddenly showed a fair bit of wind at the time of the race. Very much the opposite of what I was hoping for, but absolutely not within my control, so I tried to push it out of my mind. Arriving at the start, I met up with a friend who was also running the half marathon, and we warmed up together before heading for the starting area.
Although I knew it was a long shot, my goal for this race was crystal clear: I was going to give it all in an attempt to dip below 80 minutes. My plan was to try and stay at 3:50 min/km (6:10 min/mile) pace for the first 15k or so, and then try to push on in the final 5-6k to hopefully finish in 79-something.
1 – 5k
Just as with every other footrace in the world, most of the contestants start off at a completely unsustainable pace once the starter give us the signal. I make a conscious attempt to not get carried away, and start passing people after a few hundred meters. At this point of the race, it is all about trying to locate a pack of runners who will be running at around my goal pace. This can be a tricky exercise, but I quite quickly locate a trio in which I see two guys I overheard talking about going sub-1:20 before the start. My plan is to run a bit slower than average pace for the first three-quarters of the race, to avoid a blow-up if I’m not quite there, but I tuck in behind the trio to see how it feels.
Already in the third kilometre, I get a taste of what the race will be about. This part of the course is a long and steady climb with an elevation gain of about 17 meters (55 feet) and the whole segment is exposed to a significant headwind. I am happy to be sitting in a group at this point, and try to draft behind the others to give myself a tiny advantage.
Time: 19:11 total, 19:11 split for the first 5k
6 – 10k
Somewhere after the 5k mark, I realise that the pace is slowing down a bit, and I will fall behind my schedule unless I pick it up again. Going out on my own in these conditions is not an enticing proposition. But, I find myself running at a lower intensity than I want to be doing at this point, and I am unsure if I can make that conserved energy count later in the race given the current pace. I make a decision, and the guys in the group are thankful that I am taking my turn up front and eventually latch on despite the slight speed increase.
We are now on the second time around the 5k loop which makes up the course, and I become acutely aware of the fact that the 5k race has started. The course, which for the most part consists of relatively narrow walkways, is absolutely packed with other runners. I am glad that so many people have come out to run the race, but selfishly I feel a bit miffed as I expend a lot of energy weaving my way through the swathe of people. My head even drops a bit at this point, and I suddenly allow myself to think that sub-80 is probably not on the cards for today.
Time: 38:25 total, 19:14 split for the second 5k
11 – 15k
Our little band of four is down to three people at this point, and at some point, one of the two remaining guys steps on it and moves past me. I immediately try to hang on, but it quickly becomes clear that this guy has been running the first half of the race with brakes on. Hanging on is not an option, and in the process of the discovering that I also lost the guy behind me, so I am now well and truly isolated. I kick myself for not keeping my cool and expending so much energy up front to keep the pace up when this guy has been absolutely cruising behind me.
Either way, it is too late to change that now, so I try to refocus and settle back into my stride. The course is less congested on the third lap, but between the irregular hills, crass turns and wind exposed areas, any sort of rhythm is still hard to come by. In fact, for the entire race, no two subsequent kilometre-splits are within five seconds of each other, which illustrates just how difficult it was to settle into a rhythm.
Time: 57:41 total, 19:16 split for the third 5k
16 – 20k
Because of the uneven splits all through the race, ranging from 3:40 to 4:00, I have no idea how of how I am doing compared to my plan at this point. Regardless, the plan was to take up another notch at this point, but that is simply not something I am capable of here today. Instead, this part of the race becomes a bone hard struggle to avoid slowing down.
A couple of hundred meters ahead of me, I notice a guy I know is running the half, weaving through the 10k runners who are now out on the course. He is clearly struggling at least as much as I am at this point, and I make a conscious decision to try and catch him. I put my head down, and embrace the grind.
Time: 1:16:48 total, 19:07 split for the fourth 5k
When I saw that my time at 19k was exactly 1 hour and 13 minutes, I knew that sub-80 was not going to happen today. I simply did not have the legs to even battle for that through the final 2100 meters, and this was enough of a mental blow that I let my head drop a bit during the home stretch. In hindsight that was perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the race, which was emphasised when I was surprised by how much pop I had in my legs to kick in the final uphill towards the finish line.
A bit of an anticlimactic finish to a race that I would otherwise characterise as very well executed. My official finish time was 1:20:45 for a new PR, which I am quite pleased with given the circumstances. And that guy I was chasing through the final lap? I never managed to catch up, and finished about fifteen seconds behind him for 10th place overall.
Time: 1:20:45 total, 3:59 split for the final 1.1k
My wife and our little one greeted me at the finish line, and we went inside the local mall for some respite from the cold. I stretched and gathered myself for a bit, as she found my official finish time. Initially, I felt a bit disappointed to have missed out on sub-80 this year, as this was my last half marathon of 2018. After talking it out for a few minutes, however, I came to the conclusion that I did most things right on the day. I ran as per my plan, I just didn’t have the legs to up the pace to bring it home in under 80 minutes. Instead of a sizeable negative split, I only managed a three-second improvement as I finished the second half of the race in 40:21, versus 40:24 for the first half.
The one call from the race that remains questionable is whether or not I should have gone up and set the pace of the pack I was in as early as I did. The guy who sat back and then eventually upped the pace in the second half had a finish time of 79 low. While I had no chance of following him at that point, if I had sat back and waited a while longer, perhaps he would’ve been forced to up the pace a notch earlier.
To speculate even further, I think this performance is indicative of sub-80 shape in more favourable circumstances and on a faster course. Regardless, it is certainly an improvement over my previous half marathon, which I ran back in April on a much easier course. And at this point, I am just really pleased to get confirmation that my post-marathon training has not been for nought. And that sub-80 barrier? I am going to obliterate it next year.
For more detailed splits and much more data, check out the race activity over at Strava.
After a thoroughly disappointing 5k race just three weeks earlier, I felt the need to redeem myself at the earliest opportunity. Luckily for me, every first weekend in September, Skiløperne, a local run group I have run with a fair bit, put on a local race called Skiløpet. The race consists of a 10k, a 5k and two shorter distances targeted towards children. My original plan had been to run the 10k here, but that changed when I crashed and failed to go below 18 minutes during my previous 5k.
Training and Lead Up to the Race
As noted in my training log entries, I altered my training slightly after failing so badly in my last race. Out with the good-for-nothing in-between runs that were neither fast nor slow, which had characterised the month and a half after my marathon. Instead, I went back to running my easy days easy, and strictly adhering to heart rate zones to make sure, and then banging it all out during workouts two or three times per week.
The final two weeks leading into this race were obviously a bit special for me, given that my wife gave birth to our son a week and a half before the race. Thankfully, he seems to have avoided the ailments that sometimes trouble infants, and is overall a very relaxed baby. As long as he gets fed and changed when he pleases! This let me get back to running quite quickly after we came home from the hospital, so I very much felt ready for the race. As the start and finish of the race was just a five-minute walk from our house, my wife brought the little one along and came out to cheer me on, which I thought was pretty awesome. Perhaps next year he’ll participate in the shortest distance for the kids?
After a shakeout run in the morning, I warmed up with a couple of laps around the block before jogging down the starting area of the race with my wife and the baby. We watched the start for the 10k, and I ran a couple of easy strides to get my heart going before I jogged to the starting line. A little while later, the mayor of the town sounded the horn, and we were off.
1k (3:40 – 3:40)
Around ten runners shot ahead of me right from the start, and a group of three runners formed at the front. The first kilometre is hilly, with 20 meters (65 feet) net elevation gain, and I played it cool out of fear of blowing up once more.
2k (3:25 – 7:05)
Given that the race quite literally took place in my neighbourhood, I have run the course hundreds of time. This gave me the obvious advantage of knowing every single hill and turn. I knew that the second and third kilometre was where I had to make up for the hill at the start, and near the end. Soon after cresting the first hill, I passed a couple of people, and by my reckoning, I was in fifth place by the time I reached the 2k mark.
3k (3:31 – 10:36)
At this point, I was really starting to feel it. Which is probably par for the course during a 5k. But, as I was still scared of blowing up, I took the foot off the gas a little too much during this stretch, and it probably cost me a good few seconds in the end. One of the guys who went out with the leaders was now being caught by the two kids between us, and he looked to be fading fast.
4k (3:39 – 14:15)
The guy who was previously fading was now blowing up, and I thought “been there, done that!” as I passed him. I was heading into the final climb of the course, which is about 25 meters (82 feet) and spans the second half of the fourth kilometre and the first half of the fifth k, in fifth place. Two kids, a girl and boy who I later discovered were just 14 and 13 years old respectively (and both ran sub-18!) were between me and a podium finish. Knowing that they’ll both probably smash me in any race a mere few months from now, I thought to myself that I needed to dig deep and come out on top today. So I dug deep, and I passed them both as we started the final climb.
5k (3:35 – 17:50)
Nearing the end of the final climb, I saw the back of the guy in second place but knew he was too far off for me to catch him. So I glanced back and saw that I had put a fair amount of distance between me and the girl who was now my closest competitor for a podium finish. Running down the final descent, and the homestretch, this probably made me a bit complacent. And, unfortunately, I didn’t have the necessary mental fortitude to leave it all out there during the finish, which was a bit disappointing. This made my wife unnecessarily nervous during the finish, as the girl in fourth sprinted all out and ended up finishing just two seconds behind me.
Stepping over the line and stopping my watch, I was a bit disappointed to see that I hadn’t been able to run faster than 17:50. I had been hoping to get close to 17:30. As the race unfolded, however, I felt it became more a race for places than a time trial, and I was happy to grab that third spot.
Looking back now, it is clear that I became too cautious in the middle part of the race, and the third kilometre especially. I think I could have pushed quite a bit harder here without it affecting the rest of my race. Between that and the lacklustre finish, it feels like I could’ve been capable of going around 10 seconds faster. But, as I am learning, 5ks are a special distance to race. It takes practice and trial and error to figure out just how hard you can push without going over the limit, and this was another learning experience for me. That said, this was in all likelihood the last 5k I will be running this year, which means that I won’t realise my 2018 fall season goal of going below 17:30.
After the race, I went home for a quick change into some dry clothes, before going back to the finish area for the award ceremony. It was a lot of fun to get up there on the podium for the first time and receive a giant symbolic cash cheque, and definitely something I hope to repeat in the future. The cash prize for third place amounts to something like $60 USD. In other words, nothing that will let me claim a pro badge on Strava, but it is a nice addition to my shoe budget as we near the release of the Vaporfly 4% Flyknit.
Check out the race activity on my Strava profile if you want to see all the nitty, gritty details.
Travel far enough north, and you’ll eventually reach Norway. Keep going up, and you will reach the polar circle. Go further north still, and you will find yourself firmly in the land of the midnight sun, or the night that never ends, depending on the season. But wait! You have to keep going a while yet. If you do, at long last you will reach Tromsø, a small town that hosts the world’s northernmost AIMS certified marathon.
The name of the race is Midnight Sun Marathon, but there are no guarantees issued when you sign up that the shining, yellow orb will help you through the 42 195 meters come the night of the race. I grew up around here and only emigrated south in the middle of my twenties. That is to say, I should know better than to be surprised when the forecast is showing force 5-6 winds and rain for the race. I didn’t know better, and my hopes of realising my goal of finishing my first marathon in less than three hours vanished as the wind picked up on the morning of the race.
Background and Training
In a sense, it was only fitting that the conditions for my first marathon should be less than ideal. Nothing about my journey from back when I decided to run a full marathon after my wife and I lost our baby daughter a year ago, up until this day, has felt particularly easy. Running has become my most important way of coping with seemingly bottomless grief, and every day it helps me live with a loss I still don’t understand how one is supposed to survive. As race day approached, I also decided to try and honour my daughter’s short life by sharing my story through a fundraiser. Because I am her dad, and now it is my job to try and share a little bit of the good the world was deprived of when she passed all too soon.
My background in running is limited. I started running a couple of times per week for general fitness at the end of 2016. After we lost our daughter, I started running more and averaged around 50 kilometres (30 miles) per week with a peak of 80 weekly kilometres (50 miles) leading up to a half marathon in September 2017, where I ran 1:28. I maintained that level of training leading up to a 38:31 10k a month later. After that, and a full week off, I started preparing myself to run a marathon.
From the end of October until the middle of February I had a single focus: To increase my weekly mileage. The idea was to start an 18-week plan from Pfitzinger’s Advanced Marathoning book. I knew that for sub-3 to be achievable this summer, I probably had to be able to handle the plan with 115 km (70 miles) during peak week. So I increased mileage gradually throughout the fifteen week period, doing very little else than easy running. Throughout this period, I also prioritised cross-country skiing. This change of pace and scenery, so to speak, was very important for my motivation. Even if that meant leaving some running specific fitness on the table by substituting a good few long runs for long XC skiing sessions, I think I benefitted overall.
Come the middle of February, I started the Pfitzinger plan with 115 km peak week, with an all-time weekly high mileage of 116 km going into the marathon build-up. Additionally, I had several 100+ km weeks with 30-50 km of XC skiing, so I felt prepared to handle the additional load of the workouts in the plan. You can read a week-by-week detailed account of my training here, but I’ll do a short recap before proceeding.
Overall, I was able to hit the prescribed paces for the workouts and long runs in the training plan without too much trouble. It was the lactate threshold sessions between 7k – 11k at around 15k race pace that I found the most challenging, but I got through them somehow. Otherwise, I started feeling generally pretty tired as soon as week 5 or 6, when the mileage got into the 100+ km/week range. But after week 6, I had two down weeks with slightly reduced mileage on account of a cold and a subsequent sinus infection. In hindsight, my body probably needed a bit of rest at that point.
Following that, I was able to go into the peak period of the training feeling decent, and I got through all of it without any particular issues. All told, I averaged around 100 km (62 miles) over the 18 weeks leading up to race day, with 112 km (70 miles) per week for the six weeks prior to starting the taper.
The consistency in my training had me feeling quite confident about my chances of a sub-3 in my marathon, as did the tune-up races I did in the lead-up. Everything lined up for me when I ran a half-marathon in 1:20:30 back in April, but upon closer examination, it turned out that the “certified” course was actually 210 meters short. Still, that should equate to a bit faster than 1:21:30, and I got further proof of my fitness when I did 36:57 for the 10k on a quite challenging course a couple of weeks later. However, I took nothing for granted. The marathon is another beast entirely, especially with the fairly undulating course of the Midnight Sun Marathon and the unpredictable conditions Northern Norway can offer up in June.
I flew up to Tromsø early Friday morning and stayed at a friend’s house. He’s a bit of an athlete himself, even if he doesn’t run too much with just a couple of hundred kilometres so far this year. Still, he had decided to run the full marathon too, as a gesture of support for my wife and I, and the little one we lost. We spent Friday chilling and planning out our meals for race day before we joined up with a few other friends that night for pizzas. Loads of pizzas.
The full marathon starts at 8:30 PM, which, even if I’ve known for a long time, was a bit of a curve ball for me. I prefer to do my weekend long runs straight out of bed, fasted, so I had tried to fine-tune my race day routine by seeing what worked and what didn’t on my midweek medium long runs. From those, I concluded that to minimise my chances of gastrointestinal troubles, I had to eat light and often on race day, so I stuck to white bread from when I woke up in the morning. That was, as I would learn, not enough to avoid stomach issues.
The meteorologists branded the heavy winds that hit us on Saturday morning “a typical autumn storm” and “very unusual for the season” which felt like a personal affront at that point. I did my best to place my focus elsewhere but found it difficult as it seemed everybody else had little interest in talking about anything else. Which, in fairness, is what my wife has been saying about us Northerners since she first came up to visit with me. Either way, I spent an hour before we got ready to head out to just lay in bed and focus, and felt I was able to recalibrate my expectations from focusing on a specific time to just running the best possible race given the circumstances.
In addition to the marathon, the race also has a half and a 10k, plus a couple of kids races. Both of my parents participated in the 10k, which started an hour and a half before the gun went off for the marathon. We went out to cheer them on, and it was both relaxing and motivating to see them and other people run. I was getting ready to go and met up with a buddy who would be following along on the bike and update my wife who couldn’t fly up. I ate my planned pre-race gel, and also gave my buddy a couple of extra gels, just in case.
Just about a thousand people lined up to run the full –sufferfest– marathon, which was an all-time high for the race. Based on previous results, I figured I would probably finish comfortably within the top thirty, so I lined up near the front. I was ready to go, the gun went off, so I took off.
0 – 10k
The course for the full marathon is basically a double out and back from the area where we start and finish. Most of the climbing, about 230 meters (755 ft) in total, is done during the first out and back, which crosses the bridge over to the mainland. Because of this, my plan was a cautious opening, which would hopefully allow me to increase the pace in the second, and flatter half of the race. Easier said than done.
From the first step after the gun went off, I found myself feeling amazingly light on my feet. Initially, I settled behind the female lead and stayed with the group she was in as we climbed the bridge and got our first taste of the wind. It came at us sideways on the bridge, but as we came down we turned south for a 7k stretch directly into the headwind. “OK, here we go!” I thought, and I decided right then and there that I needed to stick with this group no matter how they ran until we reached the turnaround.
We quickly lost the female lead and another runner, and our group was down to three people. I felt a bit bad for letting the other two guys in the group do all the work, but they were keeping around three hour pace and I decided to be selfish and just sit behind. I felt amazing through this entire stretch, in no small part because of my selfish drafting, I’m sure. I smiled and waved at the spectators who had defied the weather to come out and cheer us on, and I was just waiting for the turnaround to get the wind in my back and turn it on.
0 – 10k split: 42:19 (Strava)
11 – 20k
Immediately after turning around, I increased the pace, and I have never felt more comfortable with what was around 2:45 marathon pace. I kept checking my watch to make sure I wasn’t overextending, but with my heart rate sitting firmly below 170 I could only conclude that my perceived effort was probably accurate. At the start of this part of the race, I also took my first gel, planning to eat the first three in 45-minute intervals, before eating a fourth as I approached the tail end of the race.
One of the guys I had drafted behind stuck with me as I increased the pace, and we chatted a bit. This was his first marathon as well, and he too was aiming to go below three hours. I was up ahead setting the pace for the majority of this stretch, and we passed a couple of other runners who made no attempts at staying with us. At this point, I had a vague idea that we were probably in the top 20 overall, which was a bit of a stretch goal for me, based on previous years’ results.
At around 19k the rain started, and my head dropped a little. The wind hadn’t stopped me yet, but the rain made it all worse, and it was starting to cost a bit more. We were approaching the bridge again, and I knew there was a bit of climbing before the bridge as well. Here I thought I would have to let my new buddy go because I was very wary of overextending in this relatively demanding part of the course. Better to leave some time on the table, than bonking because I went to hard here.
But as my new friend set a decent pace through this part, I was able to hang on to him without overexerting, which gave me confidence leading into the second half of the race. It also just felt nice to have someone to run and chat a bit with.
One thing I came away with after running this marathon, is that everyone should run a race in their hometown. Seeing and hearing people cheering me on throughout was an amazing feeling, and it kept me motivated when the going got tough. After my fundraiser received a bit of attention in the local press, I also got a lot of support from people I didn’t really know, and that was inspiring, too.
After passing the halfway mark, we ran through the centre of town, and I ate another gel as we headed back into the wind once more. This time it only lasted about 3k before we turned back north at the southern tip of Tromsøya, the island which holds the centre of Tromsø Town. My marathon buddy was probably feeling it a bit at this point, and he dropped in behind me when we hit the wind. I still felt alright and managed to keep us at a decent pace.
With the wind firmly in our backs again, I wanted to up the pace like I did about 15k back. But I immediately noticed that it was starting to cost a bit more to hold the pace at around 2:52 marathon pace, so I opted instead to conserve some energy. The wind that was working with us right now would soon be hitting us straight in the face yet again, and I didn’t want to spend 7k into the headwind on dead legs.
Fast approaching the 30k mark, and the time to eat my next gel, I noticed my stomach starting to act up. This has happened more than a few times, and while I thought I had it control as I went through all winter without any problems, the troubles started to reappear over the last month. Immediately, I knew that this was not something I could outrun and that I would have to stop at the next portapotty. Unfortunately, we just passed one and running another 5k didn’t really feel like an option.
21 – 30k split: 40:28 (Strava)
31 – 42k
I hoped that, against odds, the people in charge had the foresight to put up an extra portapotty at the turnaround point. My friend on the bike was still with us, and I informed him about the situation and asked if he could scout ahead and find the next one. The situation was fast becoming precarious, and I found my answer to the question “how bad do you want it?” and it was not bad enough to do a number two in my shorts.
Coming up to the turnaround, there was no portapotty, but my friend had gotten a hold of a roll of toilet paper from a car parked there. He handed it to me as I turned around, and told me to run into the bushes next to the road and get it done. Quickly! Too confused to be shy, I obliged, and around a minute later I was back to running.
Well, running might be stretching it a bit, because with the wind that hit me the moment I tried to get going again it felt like I was simply standing still. But I still had a lot to give at this point and, annoyed by my gastrointestinal troubles, I found a fresh resolve to give absolutely everything to avoid having my stomach ruin the race for me. My chief worry at this point was that a bad bonk might be imminent because, with less than 10k to go, I had still only eaten two gels. But would my stomach handle another gel? I half made a decision by eating half a gel, and I went on. After not too long, I came back to my new buddy, with whom I’d spent more than 30k of the race with. It was clear that he was struggling at this point, as I told him to stay with me when I passed him, but he had nothing more to give.
Unfortunately for me, he would soon overtake me once more, because I only got a couple of moments of respite before my stomach started to object once more. This time, I knew that there was a portapotty just a kilometre or two up ahead, as I had spotted it when I did a shakeout run a day earlier. So I clenched up and tried to keep a decent pace. Naturally, by the time I reached the portapotty, a rush of half marathoners was running in the opposite direction, and some of them also had to use that particular portapotty. And that’s how I found myself in waiting in a line 37k into a marathon.
A couple of minutes later, I was off once more, only to find that my legs had tightened up completely. My stride was all sorts of off, and I was running stiffly, in silhouette no doubt looking 30 years older than my actual age. But this was it, and I attempted some simple calculations to figure out if finishing in less than three hours was still on the table. Relieved, I concluded that it was before I, a mere instant later, lost all faith in my ability to perform even the simplest arithmetic. Panicked that I wouldn’t make it, I tried to up the pace a bit again, and I do believe it lasted all of a hundred meters before I slowed again.
Worse still, I could feel my stomach starting to cramp up, which just a couple of weeks ago, during my final hard long run, forced me to a walking pace as I struggled to breathe. But I passed the 2k to go marker, and I was adamant that nothing was going to stop me now. I kept repeating the name of our daughter like a chant, calling on her to help me keep going. And somewhere behind me, I heard my friend on the bike, too, shouting to me that I just had to keep going, we had this. Somewhere around here, I also passed my race buddy once more, but I have only a vague recollection of it. Suffice to say, he was really struggling at this point.
After what seemed like the longest thousand meters I ever ran, I eventually reached the marker that said 1k to go, and I looked at my watch and knew that finishing under three hours was in the bag. One final push, through the crowded main street of Tromsø, and my parents came into view at the finish line. It wasn’t pretty, but I had done it. On the eve of the first anniversary of our little girl’s passing, I had run a sub-3 marathon. For me, and for her.
31 – 40k split: 44:54 (Strava)
Second half marathon split: 1:31:49 (Official) Official finish time: 2:58:29
My parents both embraced me at the finish line, and it was a very emotional moment. I couldn’t really stand upright for the first couple of minutes, I was just so exhausted. Not just from running, but from a full year of trying to find a way to give meaning to a life without my baby girl.
A couple of reporters were waiting for me to get up, and wanted to talk about the race, our story and the fundraiser. Words didn’t come easy at this point, and I think I only spoke in a malaise of sobs and half sentences. I did, however, manage to utter how overwhelmed I was with the outcome of the fundraiser. While starting it, I had hoped to race around $1 000. By the time it ended, people had donated more than $10 000.
I was also very happy to see just that my new racing buddy crossed the finish line just a small minute after me, which meant that he was also able to reach his goal of going sub-3. With all the commotion I never got to properly thank him for working together, but he gave me a light tap on the shoulder before he disappeared, hopefully off to celebrate.
This week is all about rest and recovery. Physically I am shot, especially my quads and my right calf, but mentally I am just absolutely drained. So no running for a week, before I plan on starting up again with nothing more than easy running for a couple of weeks.
Another marathon is not really tempting at this moment, but I want to keep going and eventually give it another go to see if I can come closer to realising my potential in terms of finishing time. In the coming weeks, I will be seeking medical advice to find out if there’s anything I can do to alleviate the stomach problems which have plagued me for a while now. I imagine I will be spending the rest of the year trying to figure that out, and if I do, perhaps a spring marathon is realistic. Either way, Berlin 2019 in the fall is the big one that has been in the back of my mind for some time now already.
In terms of the second half of this year, I am hoping to further improve my PRs in the 5k, 10k and in the half marathon. I think sub-17:30, sub-36 and sub-1:20 could be realistic, and I’m ready to try for all three. But, we’re also welcoming a little brother into our family towards the end of August, so we’ll so how much that will affect my training. I can already barely wait until he’s old enough to bring along in a jogging stroller. For some reason, I feel like that will not only bring him closer to me but to a sister he never got to meet as well.
Traditionally, most street 5k and 10k street races take place during the weekend here in Norway, while weekdays are typically reserved for local run carousels and the like. Fornebuløpet is an exception to this, and it brands itself as the most popular midweek race in the country with around 4000 runners participating this year. Runners can choose to run a 3k, a 5k, a 10k or all three distances (“The Triple”) for those that feel inclined to run three races on a single evening.
The 2018 edition of the race took place on May 24th, and I ran the 10k. Being a quite inexperienced racer, this night was a bit of a new experience for, as I had offered to pace a friend who was running. The main reason for this was that the race didn’t really fit with my marathon training plan for the week, but I still wanted to see what the race was all about. For all the details about my run, check out the Strava activity.
My friend lives close to the area of the race, and we jogged from his place to the starting area to arrive about 30 minutes before the gun went off. The weather was extremely hot for Norway an evening in May, with the sun blazing in the sky and close to 30 degrees Celsius. As my buddy hadn’t really trained too much in the lead up to the race, we were unsure about what time he should be targeting. But after some back and forth, we decided to try for 45 minutes despite the conditions, and adjust along the way if necessary.
The race had a staggered start consisting of at least five different waves all being sent off by a starting gun, and we went off with the fourth wave. We were able to hold our target pace of 4min 30sec/km for the first couple of kilometres, but after that, my friend started to struggle, and our pace dropped a little. Still, we kept on passing people and were well on track to get in below 50 minutes, which was his “must” goal for the race.
In terms of surface, the course mixed between asphalt and gravel. On a dry day in a hot period like this, running with thousands of other people on gravel paths isn’t necessarily fun, as there will be a lot of dust. The paths were also quite narrow at some points, making it hard to pass people Otherwise, the course was relatively flat, but there was a couple of very sharp switchback turns.
Somewhere around 6-7k my buddy had to start working quite hard to maintain the pace we were on at that point, which was closer to 5:00/km. At this point, I realised it was all about getting him to the finish line in under 50 minutes. I did my best to encourage him, and a couple of times between here and the finish line I was not very popular and got told to “shut up!” and “stop bothering me!” But we pressed on, and despite threats that he would start walking we managed to avoid any full stops or walking breaks.
Entering the final 1000 meters, I was able to talk him into increasing the pace a little. We managed to pass a few people, and, more importantly, avoid getting passed by anyone on the home stretch! We both got 47:55 as our official finish time, which was acceptable.
All in all, I had an enjoyable experience pacing someone for the first time, and I will definitely do it again if the opportunity comes along. Although he was annoyed by me as we race, my friend insisted that he wouldn’t have been close to finishing in under 50 minutes if I hadn’t been there to force him to give all he had on the day. I don’t think that’s true, but I know from experience in hard workouts that having someone to drag you along can help you push yourself a bit closer to the max. Having said that, I definitely felt a slight itch to race all out, especially as the first group of runners lined up. I guess it’s hard to subdue that old competitive spirit.
The race was well organised, and I particularly liked that they had taken some small measures to help runners in the heat by setting up three stations with cold, wet spunges and a few cold water sprinkles along the course. All in all a race I will run again if it fits my schedule next year.
Nothing says that race season in Norway is open for business again after its winter slumber with quite as much fervour as ten thousand runners lining up in the streets of Oslo to run Sentrumsløpet on a Saturday in April. The 2018 edition took place on April 21st, in beautiful if a bit windy spring weather, with clear skies and around 15 degrees Celsius. I toed the starting line aiming to beat my current 10k PR, which was set at Hytteplanmila back in October and stood at 38:31.
Since running the 10k back in October, all my focus has been on my marathon debut, which I will be making in June. This means that I have been building mileage primarily through slow and moderate running. In fact, I had not done any running at faster than half marathon pace over the past six months before this race.
I was confident that my aerobic fitness was much stronger than it was when I set my old PR, but I wondered if the lack of training at 10k specific pace would result in me having a hard time running at the required pace. As a result, I set a relatively moderate goal for this race, hoping to run in under 38 flat, as opposed to having a go at my season goal of going under 37. There would be better opportunities to realise that goal later in the year, with some 10k specific training in my legs. And besides, the course profile with almost 100 meters (330 feet) of climbing is not conducive to the fastest of times. Or that’s the impression that remained from when I ran this race in 46:15 five years ago.
Working in Oslo, I was lucky to have easy access to private parking, changing rooms and showers in my office space. My wife and I drove into the city at around two hours before the start of the race, and she went and did some shopping while I changed into my racing gear.
As my office is right next to the park where the middle section of the race goes through, I went out for a pre-warmup run and did some easy recon of the course. Because my training had suffered a bit account of illness in the previous weeks, there was no room to reduce the training load to prepare for this race. My legs had felt heavy and my body a bit unresponsive the day before the race, but this little run offered positive encouragement. I felt pretty good and ready to go. But first, back to the office for the customary pre-race toilet visits, before jogging off to the starting line.
As mentioned, Sentrumsløpet is not the kindest 10k you can run in terms of race profile. With a fair bit of climbing, the first third of the race can ruin you if you don’t show the course the respect it demands. My race plan, therefore, was to go out at a relatively comfortable pace hoping to pass the first half in about 19 minutes. If there was something extra in the tank on the day, I would turn it up in the second half.
1k (3:59 – 3:59)
The gun goes off, and we’re off! Well, those at the very front anyways. Being in group two, behind the elites, I had to wait ten to fifteen seconds before I got to the starting line, and could start running. The first few hundred meters contain the hardest climb of the course, up through the Royal Palace Garden. Thankfully, I was no the only one looking to run with the breaks on here, and I could just go with the flow without having to worry too much about passing people.
2k (3:46 – 7:45)
I realise that the people in front of me weren’t actually taking it easy during that first climb, because they are not upping the pace at all now that we have reached flatter terrain. It’s very crowded at this point, and I worry that I am spending too much energy trying to pass people. I have to run off the road and do lots of short sprints to weave in ahead of people whenever I see an opening. But when the split pops up on my watch, I see that it’s right where I want it to be.
3k (3:47 – 11:32)
A lot of people around me are dry heaving and barely breathing already. But, thankfully, the field has opened up a bit, and I am running comfortably right at the target pace despite having to pass a bunch of people.
4k (3:49 – 15:21)
The course now goes into the park where I ran earlier in the day, and on to a narrow gravel path. It is very crowded, and once more I find myself constricted by the relatively slow pace of the people in front of me. Once more I try to take advantage of every open pocket I see in front of me, carefully trying to not clip anyone. Halfway through the part of the course inside the park, the field opens up again and for the rest of the race, I don’t have to worry about being obstructed.
5k (3:30 – 18:51)
Finally, some respite from the climbing! With a net drop of 27 meters (90 feet), you should be able to turn up the pace here. My legs respond kindly as we start descending, and feel comfortable increasing the pace. I still try to hold back a little, because I have bad memories of what comes right at the start of the next kilometre. The official standings show that I pass the halfway mark as number 360 overall.
6k (3:43 – 22:34)
I have bad memories of the 400-meter climb at this point. It is the final proper climb of the race, and when I ran this race five years back I completely blew up at this point. Determined not to make the same mistake, I slow down immediately as the hill starts. People are passing me, and I let them. Once over the top, I up the pace again, and surprisingly find that I am still feeling strong. Race on!
7k (3:27 – 26:01)
Another stretch of downhill running, and I am focusing on keeping my foot on the pedal. At this point in the race, I don’t want to be feeling comfortable, and I have to be mentally present through every stride to not let my effort level drop during the descent. It is easy to fall into a bit of lull when running downhill because your pace will still be fast. But I feel like I am pushing it, and I am passing people, which are both good signs.
8k (3:32 – 29:32)
We enter the Town Hall area of the city, and it is absolutely packed with people. My wife is probably standing here somewhere to spectate, but I am about to go into the cave and have to focus all my energy on keeping up the intensity, so I quickly give up trying to look for her. I let the great atmosphere inspire me, and latch on to a back that I see is passing people. Passing the 8k marker, I attempt to do some calculations to figure out what my finish time can be if I manage to keep it up. All I can deduce in my current state is that as long as I run faster the two final splits faster than four minutes, I’ll come in under 38. Challenge accepted!
9k (3:38 – 33:10)
“Here comes the wind!” is the first thing that strikes me as I enter the harbour area. I have been passing people, but now find myself with a bit of a gap up to the closest back. But that guy is big, and I can only imagine tucking in behind him will shield me a bit from the current headwind, so I up the pace to get up him. A few hundred meters later, we turn back in between buildings again, and I pass him as I start to prepare for the home stretch.
10k + 0.07k (3:32 + 0:14 – 36:57)
It is getting dark, but I am not dead yet. To my surprise, I am still passing people, and every time my body threatens to slow down I remind myself that I’ve worked just hard as this in training, and I need to nail that final kilometre. The final 400 meters of the race consists of a small climb, followed by a descent into the finish line.
As I start the final climb, I hear people behind me starting their final kick. I don’t want to be passed, so I try to respond. My pace increases slightly, but my legs run out of juice before I reach the top of the climb, and I slow again. Looking at my watch, I see that sub 37 could be within reach, but my legs are gone and I can’t muzzle up anything resembling a final kick. I am now paying for my lack of speedwork, and fear that sub 37 is out of the window as a result. As I stumble across the finish line, I stop my watch at 36:38. That’ll be 37:01 on the chip, I think to myself as I wobble in the general direction of where I hope to find some water and perhaps an energy drink.
Meeting up with my wife, I am absolutely delighted to hear that my chip time is actually below 37 minutes, at 36:57. Improving my PR with more than a minute and a half in six months, without doing any 10k paced running? More and slower running obviously works for me.
I throw on a dry layer on top of my racing singlet and jog the three-kilometre stretch back to my office as a cool down. Reflecting on my performance, I conclude that all in all I have every reason to be pleased with how I ran. The first half went more or less exactly as planned, and I was able to turn it up during the second half, and had a negative split of about a minute. In the end, I finished 258 overall, which means that I passed more than 100 people during the second half of the race.
Given this race, I think sub 36 in the 10k before the end of the year is within reach. A period with speedwork, coupled with a more optimal lead up to the race and a faster course profile should let me shave a minute off my time. Well, if everything goes according to plan, that is! But for now, I am very pleased to enjoy being a 36:57 runner in a race that I finished in 46:15 five years ago. Training makes all the difference.
You can find all the detailed data from my race, including elevation, splits and heart rate by looking at the Strava activity.
April in Norway means the snow makes way for quicker running conditions. And, subsequently, it means that the outdoor race season is properly starting. Fredrikstadløpet is a local race which offers a 5k and a half marathon (21.1k), in addition to shorter races for junior runners. The 2018 edition took place on April 8th, and I opened my 2018 season by aiming for a new PR in the half marathon. Check the Strava activity for all the data from my race.
I am currently neck deep in training for my first marathon, which I will be running in the middle of June. This race closed out week 8 of my Pfitz 18/70 plan. It was my first race of the year, and I was very much looking forward to seeing what the 15 weeks of base building and the first half of my marathon training plan had done for my fitness.
Laying out my plans for the year, I decided that if I could go below 1:24 in this half I would probably be in a good spot with regards to realising my big goal for the year, which is going below three hours in my marathon debut. My marathon training has been going well, and for the most part, I have been able to run a bit faster than Pfitz’s prescribed training paces. So I was starting to think that I perhaps had a chance of realising my season goal for the half here, which is to go below 1:22.
That idea didn’t stick for too long, because I caught a cold over easter, and in the week before the race that turned into a full-fledged sinus infection. I didn’t feel good and wasn’t able to run at all on the Thursday and Friday leading up the race on Sunday, and I was contemplating dropping the race altogether.
Thankfully, come Saturday, while my sinuses were still clogged, the rest of my body felt better, and I decided to race and treat the race as an exercise in mental strength. My biggest weakness as a runner, by far, is my tendency to worry about every little sniffle and niggle, and how it may affect my training or, worse yet, racing. Getting out there and giving all I had on the day, despite the sinus infection, seemed like a great way to challenge this bad mental habit. Plus, I could always just drop out if I felt too bad.
This race takes place in my wife’s hometown, which is about a one hour drive from where we live. I got up at about 9 AM, and packed my bag. Afterwards, I had a small breakfast and sat around impatiently awaiting us getting out of the house.
Once there, I discovered that we had taken off way too early, and we still had about an hour and forty-five minutes until the gun went off. Since my wife brought our little dog, I couldn’t bring them inside where I picked up my bib, so we ended up just waiting in the car for a while. With about 35 minutes to go I went to the toilet, before starting to get ready by doing some jogging and light strides.
Thanks to some heavy duty nose spray, my sinuses were alright if a bit sore. But, because of the sinus infection, I had decided to go out a bit conservatively, aiming to go below 1:24 if I had something in the tank towards the end. That meant targeting sub 4:00 min/km splits, and I did a few stretches at that pace just to get a feel for it. Went to the toilet once more, before lining up at the starting line.
0 – 5k
As the gun goes off, I immediately notice that I’m way too far back in the starting field. It takes almost 10 seconds before I pass the starting line, and I immediately speed up to try and find the right spot in the field. This is a pretty small race with only a few hundred runners, so it’s not too much work.
After a couple of minutes, I spot the girl I know will probably be winning the female race, and in a time that’s beyond me as she ran 1:18 earlier this year. There is already a gap opening up between the pack around her and another cluster of five or six runners around 15 meters back. I’m coming up on the second group, and settle into a comfortable pace a few seconds behind them.
Just after the 2k mark, I see my wife and our dog and notice that her aunt has come out to cheer as well. That’s nice, and I’m all smiles as I give them a light wave. The race consists of a 5.27 km loop run four times, so I make a mental note of where they are for when I pass them the next couple of times.
Beyond that, the first loop was very uneventful. I kept my pace steady right where I wanted it to be, just below 4 min/km. The group ahead of me were running slightly faster, but I was very wary of overextending, so rather than hanging on, I decided to stick to my pacing plan.
Kilometre splits: 3:38, 3:53, 3:53, 3:55, 4:03 (19:24 5k)
6 – 10k
Seeing as how the marathon is my big goal this year, I wanted to eat a couple of gels during this race, just to get a feel for eating gels during races. I took the first one just as we closed the first loop. Despite it being a race and all, it just didn’t feel right to throw the GU wrapper on the ground like a hoodlum, so I ended up crossing the street and slowing slightly just to throw it in the garbage bin. Is it really OK to just throw wrappers on the ground during races?
The group in front of me keep running a bit faster than me. I’m probably ten to fifteen seconds off them when I see that the group further ahead, where the female lead is running, is probably at least a minute ahead. At this point, I’m thinking that this probably means that the guys in the group directly in front of me are probably the 1:20-22 guys, which justifies my decision of not staying with them. That is just out of my reach today, and given my infection, I am better off sticking to the plan.
As I pass my wife, her aunt, and our dog again I just give them a wink and little shout telling them that it’s feeling slightly harder now, but I’m still smiling. I also see my father-in-law out there and give him an affirmative nod when he’s asking me if I’m alright.
Halfway through the loop, a few guys from behind start catching up to me. I figure these are the ones that started a bit too slow and have turned it up a bit for the second time around the course. Towards the end of the loop, I start worrying that I’m actually running a bit slow, because the GPS is acting up and showing all kinds of paces, slow and fast, and more people are catching up and even passing me. The group I’ve run behind so far are drifting further ahead, and another group forms just ahead of me.
Passing the 10k marker, I notice for the first time that my legs are feeling a bit heavy. “Isn’t that a bit early in a half?” I ask myself, worried still that I’m about to blow up already. Thankfully, as the 10k split pops up on my watch, I see that I’m right where I want to be, and I keep it steady as we close out the second loop.
Kilometre splits: 3:50, 3:56, 3:54, 3:55, 3:57 (19:34 5k)
Getting the confirmation that I am running according to plan helped my confidence, and I am now feeling pretty good. The new group that has formed ahead of me consists of about five people. These guys are running more or less exactly the pace I want to keep, but I am starting to feel like passing them and trying to catch up to the group ahead of us. The same one that I was barely hanging on to during the first loop.
But I don’t want to blow up, and I keep telling myself that I got to earn the right to up the pace. And I earn that right by getting through to the final loop with fresh legs, and ready to go. It’s getting harder now, but I still get the feeling that I have something left to burn during the final loop, but I need to keep my cool.
As I am thinking about all the great things I am going to do in the final round, two guys in my current group pull ahead. I am sitting at the back of the group and, panicked, I try to follow. These guys have really upped the pace, and are clearly trying to catch up to the group ahead. As I realise, I remind myself to just wait for the bell. I got to earn the right to up the pace!
So I end up running alone, in a kind of no man’s land for the last stretch of the third loop, reminding myself to stay cool, earn the right, and wait for the bell. I am somewhere between 50 – 150 meters behind the now sizeable pack ahead of me, and I think that I have what it takes to catch up to them. I consider dropping the last gel to avoid losing any time at the water station. But then I tell myself that I’m running this race to prepare for a marathon, so I had best eat that gel. I eat the gel, and once more cross the street and slow down for the trash can.
Kilometre splits: 3:57, 3:59, 3:48, 3:43, 3:57 (19:26 5k)
15 – 21.1k
At the aid station and just past it, I lose a bit more time to the group ahead, as I try to practice spilling water into my mouth instead of all over me. I fail. But we’re now on the final loop, and I’ve earned the right to turn it on. So I turn it on.
It doesn’t take more than a couple of hundred meters before I see the back of the pack ahead of me again, and I am gaining fast on them. The group probably consists of about 10 people at this time, and a couple of runners have gotten loose and are currently getting away. This probably means that the group isn’t speeding up a whole lot for the final loop, I think, and this is confirmed by how quickly I catch up to them.
As I approach the group my first thought is to just hang on, and see if I can perhaps pass a few of them on the final stretch. But as I have to slow down significantly to sit with the group, I remind myself that I’ve earned the right to run with what I’ve got at this point, so two seconds later I reconsider and decide to just go past the pack and run on my own. I am also one corner away from seeing my cheerleaders again, and the idea of turning the corner and smiling at them all on my own sounds nice. So I do!
At this point, all I am thinking about is whether someone from the group will be following me. It is getting rough, but I find that I can maintain this faster clip without too much trouble. From what I can tell, nobody is breaking from the pack behind to follow me, so I instead set my sights on the two guys ahead who broke away from the group before I caught up to it.
Catching up to the first guy goes surprisingly fast, but the second guy keeps looking back to see how far behind I am. He obviously doesn’t want to concede his position, but I am reeling him in, albeit slowly. Now, I should make it clear that at this point I am starting to properly struggle. I have no idea what time I might be chasing, and I do currently not possess the mental capacity to try and figure that out. So it’s just a race between me and the other guy at this point, and when I pass him and I see that he doesn’t have any response, I can feel myself easing up on the gas ever so slightly.
I am around 2k from the finish, and I am completely on my own. All I can do to keep it up at this point is to tell myself that the guys behind might not be dead yet, so I have to step on it and make sure that I don’t get overtaken. What place I am running for, I don’t know. But at this moment it is very important to me that I get this spot on the results list and not the one below, so I manage to keep applying pressure and maintaining a pretty decent pace.
Chip time as I cross the finish line is 1:20:30, and that made me 26th overall. That’s an almost 8-minute improvement from my half back in September, which was admittedly on a harder course.
Kilometre splits: 3:57, 3:59, 3:48, 3:43, 3:57 (18:45 for a new 5K PR!), 3:44
After the race we I took a few minutes to collect myself, and judging by the look on my face it seems like I realised I had run a race beyond my expectations even at that point. After that, we headed to the in-laws for dinner, which was on the table by the time I had finished my cool down run. What a luxury!
Obviously, the race went beyond my expectations, both in terms of what I thought I could do on the day, but also what I thought I was capable of at the moment. I don’t think the sinus infection took anything away from my performance, because the nose spray helped clear it up while I was running, and my body otherwise felt fine. In fact, the notion that I might not be a hundred percent probably helped me race smarter and better and got me closer to my potential than what would’ve been possible if I had gone out there thinking that I was ready to give everything.
Hopefully, I am able to learn from this and remember in the future that good race experiences come from smart racing. I passed every single runner I could realistically pass, as the next one on the results list was more than a minute ahead of me, and it felt really great to close up a race on a strong note like that!
This race also has me feeling quite comfortable with my sub-3 goal for the full in June. If I get back to training properly now, as my last two weeks have been slightly derailed by the cold and subsequent sinus infection, I am feeling quite good about my chances to get it done.
This race report was originally published over at r/artc, a great running community that has been invaluable to me as I’ve tried to progress as a runner.
UPDATE: News have surfaced that the course for this race was 210 meters short. This is very unfortunate for the race organisers, as they had been branding themselves as a certified course. As it turns out, they had made some changes to the course from last year, when it was certified, and they ended up shorting it down from the required 21098 meters for a half marathon.
This does of course mean that my breakthrough was a little less impressive than first assumed. Extrapolating the pace of the final kilometer, I would’ve run 1:21:17 on a course that was the full distance. It is annoying to not be able to claim that chip time as a proper PR, as this was supposed to be a race with a certified course. But all it really means is that I have to run another half this year to prove that I’m good for it on a properly measured course!
Hytteplanmila is one of the most popular 10k races in Norway, and many runners plan on ending their running season with new PRs in this race. The 2017 edition took place on October 21st, ad comprised more than 2,000 runners. I ran the race, aiming to set a new PR, and this is my report.
As soon as I started running this year, I set my sights on a sub-40 10k, which would be a substantial improvement on my current 10k PR from 2013. That one stood at 46:15. As my training progressed, running a decent half marathon took precedence, but this goal was always in the back of my mind. This race is sort of an unofficial season ender for my local running group. They’ve been the largest team (most runners) for a few years running, and they arrange a bus for the trip, and that’s how I ended up running this particular 10k. As it turns out, it’s a very popular race, and loads of people go here to finish off the season, in what is branded as the fastest 10k in Norway.
Like I mentioned, I went up there on a bus together with loads of other people from my local running group. As an aside, it’s pretty cool to be in the company of other runners and talk about running for more than two minutes without people signing out of the conversation. Will do again! We got stuck in traffic on the way up there because of an accident, and this resulted in the start being postponed by 30 minutes. I was kind of annoyed because the worst part of a race to me is the waiting before it begins. Anyways, I got changed when we got there, hit the roads for some easy kilometres to warm up, and finished getting ready with a couple of strides to get my HR up.
The field was absolutely packed at the start, and there are a lot of fast runners. I was confident of going below 40, and possibly even 39, so I placed myself around 10 meters ahead of the 40-minute pacer. This was the first time I ever heard an actual gun go off in a race, and it spooked me a bit! Anyways, we were off and I was absolutely jammed shut in the middle of the field. I knew that there were many quick runners here, though, and that I would gain nothing from trying to pass people at this point, so I just went with the flow. At around 500 meters or so, the field loosened up a bit, and I just tried to find my rhythm. As my first KM split popped up, though, I realised that I had been taken by the occasion (again!), because it went by in a way-too-fast 3:35. Oh well, it’s a downhill KM, so let’s just assume I can take that. I needed my splits to average at around 3:55 to finish under 39 minutes.
I really didn’t want to blow up though, so I made a conscious effort to slow down at this point. It went OK, and I saw quite a few people pass me during the second and mostly flat KM. It went by in 3:44. Still a little fast, but I took that buffer and ran with it into the inclines of the third kilometre, where I slowed down further. I knew that if I went too hard here, I would blow up, so when I saw that the third split was 4:04, that was alright. Another 500 meters of slight climbing at around the same pace, and I was ready to turn up the engine a bit. At this point, it was obvious that a lot of people had overextended themselves because I couldn’t keep count of how many I passed here. The fourth kilometre went by in 3:55, right on pace, and I knew that the easiest stretch of the race was coming up the next two kilometres.
I tried to find a nice and steady pace, but I kept having to pass people during this stretch. Sometimes I would try to settle behind a back only to discover that the person was going a bit too slow, so I had to accelerate again. I think this stop-and-go act here probably made this stretch cost a bit more than it should have. Still, my splits for kilometres five and six were 3:40 and 3:48, so more or less according to plan.
When laying out my race plan, I knew that if I passed 6km before 23:15, sub-39 was on. Checking my watch while I passed the marker, and seeing it was just below 23 minutes, made me happy. And likely a bit complacent, too. The hardest and least inspiring part of the race was coming up, and knowing that my stretch goal was probably in the bag already, I just kinda shored it up at this point. I searched for someone going at around 3:50 pace to try and hold on to, but every back I found ended up going a bit too slow, and those that passed me seemed to go way too fast. So I sorta drifted around these three kilometres, feeling a bit uncomfortable, but at the same time knowing that I probably had a tiny bit more to give. Anyways, my splits for kilometres 7-9 were 3:54, 3:58 and 3:52.
The final kilometre was a hoot. Markers every 100 meters, and I accelerated slightly and felt pretty good. But, I knew that the final 200 meters consisted of a pretty steep hill, and didn’t want to blow up there. So, for some reason I let my pace slip at around 500 meters, thinking I’d rest myself into the hill. Why!? Thankfully, one of the other runners in my club passed me at around 300 meters before the goal line, and that gave me a kick up the backside, and I sped up and passed him again. Unfortunately, I kinda overreached during the first half of the final climb. He passed me again midways through the climb, but I held on to his back and passed the finish line right after him for a final split of 3:47, and official finish time of 38:31.
In other words, a nice 7 minute and 44 second improvement of my PR, and well below my initial goal of sub-40. I’ll take it! I could probably have shaved a couple of more seconds from my time with a bit more racing experience and optimal pacing. But at the end of the day, this was pretty damned close to what I was capable of on the day, and I gotta be happy with that.
Taking a few days off now to let every niggle that’s been bothering me heal, before starting an 18-week base building phase ahead of next season. I’ve more or less set my goals for 2018, and when it comes to the 10k, my aim is to go sub-37. That means taking another minute and a half off of my PR. Doable? I don’t know, but I’ll give it a shot!
This race report was originally published over at r/artc, a great running community that has been invaluable to me as I’ve tried to progress as a runner.
Oslo Maraton is the largest and most prestigious race organised in Norway. On September 16, 2017, I took part in the event and ran the half marathon (21.1 km). You can visit the race website for more information about the race, and if you want all the nitty, gritty details on how my half marathon unfolded you can view the Strava activity.
Training and background
I started the year with a goal of running a half marathon under 1 hours and 40 minutes. I had been running between one and three times per week, around 40 km/25 miles weekly, and wanted to motivate myself to keep that up. I was able to regularly hit 30 miles per week the first few months of the year, except the weeks where I prioritised cross-country skiing instead. When I managed a 1:06:40 10 miler back in May, I decided I should probably set a slightly more ambitious goal for the half, which was still a few months away back then.
After that, life took an unexpected turn for the worse. In June, my wife gave birth to our firstborn daughter, the most beautiful girl I ever saw. While our little girl was perfect, this world was never good enough for her. Just a week after she was born, our baby passed away, and our whole existence was turned upside down. As this is a race report I will try not to talk about this too much, but it is impossible for me to discuss this race without offering some context.
In the aftermath of losing our baby girl, I felt no desire to run anymore. I had been looking so much forward to my running becoming a daddy and daughter thing, bringing her along in the stroller, and as that dream broke, so did my motivation for running. But I decided I had to do something, anything, so I decided to run anyways. Well, run is probably inaccurate verbiage, as it was closer to a molasses-like dragging of feet because my body was absolutely ruined by the turmoil. The first couple of days, running did nothing, but I was doing something. So I kept doing it, and to my surprise, I found after a couple of weeks that running became something like recess amidst all the grieving. All the thoughts were still there, but like Murakami describes, they lost their weight while I ran, and became clouds soaring past for a little while.
So I kept running, every single day, for that moment of relief, and to some extent, I think it safe to say that running kinda, sorta saved me from drowning in grief. And all the while, I also had that thought in the back of my mind, that no way was I going to let my little girl become an excuse for not doing something. In the middle of July, my body started to respond to the training again, and I started to think that maybe 90 minutes was possible after all, and I decided to go all in. I increased mileage from week to week topping out at about 80 km/50 miles, all the while sticking religiously to two workouts and a long run. I devoted all my free time to running, reading about and thinking about running because it was the only thing I was able to focus on.
And after everything that had happened, a few of my friends suggested that we make the race weekend a weekend with the gang, and five of them decided to join me in running the half. This added an extra element of competition to the race. While none of them are active runners, they stay in shape through a variety of activities, and I knew at least four of them could probably post sub-90 times in the half with a couple of months’ dedicated training.
I tried to focus mainly on my own goal though and became a bit deflated when the race announced a new course profile with two 60 meters / 200 feet climb. There goes my goal, I thought, but still I ran, posted my miles, and for the most part, my workouts and long runs went reasonably well. A workout in my final week before tapering, where I did somewhat comparable hills over 13 km and held 1:30 half pace quite comfortably, gave me some hope as I began to bring down my miles, and lower the intensity during the final two weeks. And then, a week before the race to the day, I got struck by a cold, which still lingers, and my hopes deflated once more.
I met up with my friends on Friday, and we had rented an apartment for the weekend for all of us to stay in. Those of us who were running did a little shakeout in the evening, before we ordered pizza, ate and played cards and generally just had a great time. During the night my cold felt like it worsened, I was restless and had trouble sleeping. At 4 AM I had to get up and take some Ibuprofen for the lingering headaches. Not exactly an ideal night before a big run, but hey-ho.
The starting time of the race was 1:30 PM, which had me a bit nervous. Because I’ve had some stomach problems while running, every single long run I had ever done before the race had started early in the morning, fasted. The late start meant that I had to eat something after waking up, and I worried that it would mean my stomach acting up during the race. I had a few slices of bread with some chocolate spread and drank some OJ at around 9 AM, and hoped that my stomach wouldn’t object while I was running. I went to the toilet at least four times between waking up and the race, but I have to think that was down to the nerves.
With the new course profile for the race, I divided the race into four parts while planning the race: The start and first climb (5km), the flat between the mountains (6-14km), mount doom (15-17km) and run for your life (18-21.1 km). I made meticulous pace plans for the differing parts, and like all good plans, they went straight out the window as soon as the race started. One thing did work well during the race, however, was writing down my estimated max times for a sub 90 minutes finish at various parts of the race. It was great to have those handy (He-he! Sorry, but I’m still a dad now, so I gotta point out those) when running such an unevenly paced course.
For all of you who operate with freedom units, I apologise in advance as I only share my KM splits here. But for some reference, a 4:00 min/km is equivalent to a 6:26 min/mile.
The start and first climb (Start to 5km)
The plan was to get warm during the first two kilometres, and then keep a comfortable pace during my first climb. I knew that the four of my friends also aiming for sub 90 would be going all out from the get-go, but I was determined to run my own race. Especially during the first climb, I was very wary of getting carried away. I knew running too hard there, would be costly later in the race.
Right after the countdown, and almost before passing the starting line, I noticed that my heart rate was already way above my planned race HR of around 175, sitting above 180. I thought the cold, which I obviously hadn’t shaken entirely, might be the cause, but I was comfortable and tried to focus more on perceived effort. Being that I was comfortable, I stuck to the relatively quick pace I settled on during the opening for the first two kilometres, with my friends in sight. As we reached the first climb, I slowed down and let my friends go, but I still clocked the first 5 kilometres quite a bit faster than expected with 20:22, and more than 2 minutes below the max 5 KM time in my hand. Still, I didn’t feel that I was struggling at any point during this part of the race, and felt I had gotten off to a promising start.
1 km: 3:55
2 km: 3:49
3 km: 4:03
4 km: 4:17
5 km: 4:12
The flat between the mountains (6km to 14km)
The flat actually started with 3 kilometres of moderately downhill running, to make our way down from that first climb. I still felt fresh and managed to post splits below my target for the downhill portion. All was good until the 10th kilometre, where we went out into the open. With no buildings or trees offering any sort of shade, the sun really made its presence felt, and it instantly became harder. I did have one of my friends in sight at this point, however, and as I was reeling him in it was obvious that I was not the only one struggling. I passed him at around 11 kilometres, and he said in an exhausted manner that he was shot, and I told him to not think about the others and just find his own pace. Shortly after I saw another one of my friends, and I locked on to his back.
Mentally, this was, without doubt, the hardest part of the race for me. My pace was dropping towards the end of this stage, and my mind went all over the place. I started to think about my little girl, and all the runs we would never get, and, in a sort of runner’s delirium, for a moment it kinda felt like this one was with her, so I held on. The groups of cheerleaders around the course also cheered me up to no end at this point, as they would shout my name and cheer me just because I smiled at them, so I held on.
6 km: 3:57
7 km: 3:57
8 km: 3:52
9 km: 3:52
10 km: 4:08
11 km: 4:06
12 km: 4:02
13 km: 4:13
14 km: 4:15
Mount Doom (15km to 17km)
As we started on the 15th kilometre, and the first hints of the final climb, I had gotten something of a second wind. I had more or less closed the gap to my second friend, whose back I’d held for a good while, and I felt ready to rumble. About halfway into the climb, I passed him, and I felt really good as I held my planned pace through the ascent, despite being three minutes ahead of my schedule for sub 90 when passing the 15 kilometres mark.
When one of my friends who were among the spectators shouted to me that another one of my running friends were just ahead, I got another boost. I passed lots of people, felt like a boss, and when I crested the summit of the final climb I started thinking about what my finish time could be if I managed to run just a little bit faster than my scheduled pace for the final 3.1 kilometres. I feel like this is a good point to excuse myself and remind everyone that this was my first ever half marathon.
15 km: 4:23
16 km: 4:41
17 km: 4:42
Run for your life (18km to 21.1 km)
Like already mentioned, I felt good as I passed the final climb, and that feeling remained for the first two kilometres of the descent as well. While I would’ve like to increase the pace just a little bit more than I was able to, I essentially held my scheduled pace. Until I didn’t. I can’t tell you exactly when and where it happened, but I suddenly noticed that people were passing me. A lot of people were passing me. This happens sometimes while I run, I lose concentration and forget to increase the pace again after a small incline, or my mind just wanders off, so at first, when I see people passing me I think “Oh, gotta up the pace a bit!“
It takes a couple of seconds before I realise that nothing is happening. People are still passing me, and my body is obviously in some kind of lockdown mode at this point, because I simply can’t up my pace, and the more I try, the more I start to feel absolutely terrible. I remember looking at my watch and seeing that there are less than 2 kilometres to go, telling myself I’ve got this, no need for panic, before a split second later realising that holy sh*t I have to throw up.
At this point it takes all the willpower I can muster to go on, even if I knew that quitting was never an option. Before reaching kilometre 20, which took forever, I kept repeating to myself that if only I got to 20 I would have almost less than 1 to go, and I can do that no matter what kind of condition I’m in. I felt myself slowing to what seemed a glacier-like pace, but all I could do was reassure myself that even if I had to stop to puke, I was still going to finish sub 90. Both of my friends that I’d passed earlier in the race flew by me at some point during the last kilometre, but there was absolutely no chance of me responding. I was so beat up at this point that the thought of being beaten by them made absolutely zero impact on how I felt. During the last few hundred meters, I literally felt myself groaning out loud in pain. Watching the TV broadcast this morning, I cringed upon seeing that they caught my finish on TV. I looked just as miserable as I felt “running” the last 100 meters up until the finish line. But I knew I would finish sub 90, and that was all I could think about at this point.
18 km: 4:10
19 km: 4:07
20 km: 4:16
21 km: 4:43
0.1 km: 28 sec (4:40 pace)
Finish time: 1:28:13
Immediately after crossing the finish line, I was overcome by emotion, and all I could do was sit down and let the tears out. Exactly why I was crying, I can’t really say, but it was clear that a lot of the grief I’ve been carrying these past few months had been tied into my running. I felt happy that I’d managed to reach a goal I’d set right before my life became my worst nightmare, but I also felt an intense sadness that it was over, an emptiness and a feeling of “what now?“
After that initial burst of emotion, I wandered off totally exhausted, caught a subway and went back to the apartment for a hot shower and some rest. I forgot that I had agreed to meet the others. We were supposed to spend the evening out dining and then partying like we do when we travel together, but we ended up back home and in bed by midnight. Some top-notch adulting, that, on a Saturday night!
Now, having had some more time to reflect upon the events of the race, I’m obviously very pleased to have smashed my goal in a relatively demanding race. But I can’t help but wonder what the heck went wrong at the very end and feel a little bit disappointed for not being able to stay the distance and realise a 1:26:xx finish time. All the way until I bombed, I felt like I had run the race perfectly, and to the very best of my abilities. I’m an inexperienced runner, so I don’t have the knowledge to tell from feel what exactly happened. Tips welcome!
If you’ve read this far, thanks for taking an interest in this very mediocre runners’ escapades.
This race report was originally published over at r/artc, a great running community that has been invaluable to me as I’ve tried to progress as a runner.