Remember my rules of running better races and mistakes I no longer make? Well, I did two of those in beautiful Stockholm 🙂
Finish time: 1h 21m 42sec
First, it was the course elevation profile. For some reason, my early research on Strava about the Stockholm Half Marathon only revealed about 70m of elevation overall. I still don’t understand how can the same course ran at the same time can reveal such different elevation results? 70m was nothing, so I viewed this race as an easy one. No longer felt easy when I read the official race leaflets which revealed no less than 370m of elevation. Panic at the first sight 🙂 I already stated that achieving under 1h20 would be a hard thing to do, basically I knew I will have to push the entire race near my maximum potential. Adding a 370m elevation to that, made it even harder. But hey, I train a lot uphill, we were already in Stockholm, I wasn’t going to let that bring me down. So I just went for it.
When the course profile is undulating, you cannot really plan your pace km by km, you kind of have to do it on longer distances to be more accurate. My target pace was 3:48/km. That seems hard uphill, but that number also translates as 19min/5km, which suddenly doesn’t seem that hard, even for this course profile. Usually, during a hilly race – take my North London Half for example – you run at a slower pace uphill, but don’t really run faster downhill, you run just at your normal pace until your blood clears the lactate. Not the case in Stockholm, I had to run as fast as possible downhill to stay in my target time, leaving my body in a continuous lactate build-up state. This was as painful as it sounds and if you look at my heart rate profile for the entire race, it looks more like a 5km or a 10km race, rather than a half marathon.
Secondly, the first mile was quite hard to digest, I managed to stay calm about this, but it was really really crowded. I could only get to more than 20m of the starting line because there simply wasn’t any more space. And those crowds didn’t leave too many gaps for this first mile, a fact which was winding me up. My first km was 4:18, 30 seconds off my target pace, 30 seconds which I needed to recover from. Ugh! Once I got through the crowds, obviously I started to run a lot faster so I can recover the time lost. And I finished my first 5km in 18:49. That’s 11 seconds better than my 19 minutes target. If you add those 30 seconds lost in the first km, means that I ran km 2-5 at a pace 10 seconds faster than my target pace. That’s 3:38/km! At the beginning of a half marathon?! When I broke my 19 minutes parkrun just over a year ago?! Madness!
Two very important aspects which I knew I had to be careful with, were the ones that had a significant influence on the final result. But in the end it was me who ran it, and while I didn’t achieve my initial goal set for this race, I gave it all and still got to the finish line in a great time. Now I am absolutely confident that an 80 minutes time would have been really achievable on a flat course and I can’t wait to prove this with one of my next halves.
Cheering, race photos, finish area
The Stockholm Half had more than 3700 finishers this year, which might not seem too much compared to other races. However, because there aren’t too many long distance road races there, I would have expected the atmosphere to be a lot more vibrant along the whole course, not only in the city centre areas. There were some very lonely segments of the race where there was nobody cheering and sometimes even the race marshals were missing. I do like silence sometimes during my training, but maybe not that much during a race when you have to keep your negative thoughts at bay and people cheering me are the easiest way to do it. But I was lucky to have run with a group of about 8 people almost the entire race, which made things easier.
I loved the fact that I could go back to the finish line to wait for Andreea. At most races in the UK staff is quite annoying and desperate to push you outside the finish area – probably so you don’t claim your race medal and t-shirt more than once. Here, nobody asked me anything, I could be relaxed the whole time without being almost manhandled, like is sometimes the case for UK races. I waited for Andreea at just 10m from the finish line.
There were quite a large number of photographers, which is always nice. Maybe some roadside signs or high visibility clothes would have made them even easier to spot beforehand, because nobody likes pictures of themselves drooling or looking down or with a grimace of pain. Nevertheless, I noticed almost all of them and smiled at the camera like nothing hurt, you know, just to annoy the haters :).
Finally, I would just add that, compared to my previous half marathons, my inflammation levels were a lot lower, there was no injury or any joint pain or stiches to keep me from running at my full potential. After the race though, my calf muscles were sore a lot longer than I expected and both Andreea and I walked like ducks for the next 2 days :). We did go up and down for 21kms. And that messes not only with your legs, but with your head too! We were physically and mentally tired, but happy.
My plant based nutrition seemed to have been spot on, even with a race that started unusually late, at 3:30pm. Again, I haven’t drank any water throughout the entire race but haven’t felt dehydrated either – a habit I plan to break in the future.
Did we love Stockholm? Yes. Will we run this half marathon again? Probably not so soon :). Not because it wasn’t nice, but because there are some other beautiful Nordic cities and we’d like to give them all a try. Does the 300m elevation gain of the Boston Marathon seem easier now? Yes it does!!
When I started training this summer, I had two goals in mind: sub 80 minutes for a half marathon and sub 3 hours for a marathon. But it wasn’t just the time goals themselves. It was also about shifting the training plan. Adding a lot more fitness classes to the training mix and a lot less mileage, both at higher intensity than average. This is a bit against the majority of training regimens, which involve a lot more easy runs with high mileage and less to no cross training. My marathon is close now and even with a 1h21 half marathon time, I’m close to proving that this type of training fits my lifestyle and can fit yours too. You really don’t need to spend tens of hours of easy running and hundreds of miles to be fast.
Did you run in Stockholm? Do you have any recommendations for a future Northern Europe marathon or half marathon?