Running in Reykjavik

This post will have nothing to do with cycling other than to reinforce that I am indeed a cyclist – but when in Iceland, do as the Icelandic do. They ran; I did too.

I have been staying in Reykjavik, Iceland since August 4th while attending the SIM artist residency. Knowing that I would be here for a month making art and wanting to maintain a certain degree of physical fitness, I decided that I would run in the Reykjavik Marathon. Not being a runner, I debated as to whether I should make the training commitment and attempt the ½ marathon or run the 10k. Following the advice of a dear friend, “Do the 10k, you will have all the fun of the ½ marathon without the pain.” I registered for the 10k. Excellent advice Leigh, I registered for the 10k.

I am fit enough to have run the ½ marathon (albeit slowly) but I feared injury. (Do you know any runners out there that are not injured or just recovered from an injury or taking a bit of time off from running to heal?). Since cycling is my primary focus and I need to train for the JoBerg2C in 7 months, I did not want to take the chance of downtime from tweaking myself trying to achieve a “goal” that has never been a goal. Frankly, the only time I have ever found running rewarding was when I was running away from someone or chasing a ball of some kind. (I am not so unlike my dog at the dog park…). When I express this opinion, my runner friends say that I have just yet to achieve “the runner’s high”. They are right. I have never found that bliss-filled euphoric rhythm that so many runners do.

Back to the event: It was a ball. The streets were packed with smiling faces of all ages, shapes and sizes; running shoes, compression socks, and well-wishers in every direction. The event was efficient and well organized, just as you would expect. We lined up in mass based upon our goal time. I really had no idea what my time should be as I have never timed myself running. I sought out the crowd that looked to be my fitness level but not all intense or serious looking. I found the smiling group of eager runners that were chatting with their training partners.

My strategy worked. I found myself surrounded by the same group of people for the entire run – not really getting passed and not really passing anyone. The organizational flaw was at the very beginning of the run. The group started in mass at the gun and within 200m of the start line we went from 4 wide lanes of packed in participants to needing to cross a narrow bridge. It was kind of like traffic in China – we all ran forward until we were so tightly packed together that no one could move forward. This is when it would have been advantageous to have over-estimated my ability and placed myself at the head of the funneling pack.

The course was beautiful. We started in the center of Reykjavik, ran along the water on the southern edge of the city, crossed to the north coast of the city and back to the center. Stunning water views throughout but what was more stunning was the amazing crowd. Reykjavik was out supporting the runners! Not a block passed without cheering people. Many showed off their musical talents – horns, tambourines and accordions; pots, pans and full bands. If it made sound I am certain it could be found along the race course. It was also a joy to watch the people when they saw “their” people. I could not read the signs but spontaneous smiles, joyful laughs and high-fives for all. I have to hand it to this city – they are proud of their city and proud of their residents. Whether it is the Gay Pride week, the marathon, the National Culture Day – this city is embracing, supporting and taking part. (it truly made the crowd supporting the Dipsea runners look down right dismal. Time to step of the spirit and pride Mill Valley.)

The 10k is the red line.

The 10k is the red line.

All the advice I was given prior to starting out on this running quest was to either work on distance or speed, never both at the same time. Since the distance was “new” I thought it best to pace myself at a reasonable speed (thus my earlier strategy with lining up with those like me to set my pace). When I knew I only had a kilometer to go and was feeling perfectly fine, I picked up my pace – buying into the “Finish Strong” strategy. In hindsight, I do wish I had been more conscious of my time and a little less “smelling the daisies” and high-fiving the out-stretched hands of the kids. Had I known I was so close to the hour mark, I would have pushed harder. I certainly had it left in me. It is what it is and likely the memories of the race will have a more lasting impact on me than any numeric time could. That said – I finished in 64 minutes. Top third for women in my age bracket – given I had a congested chest, a hacking cough and a sniffling nose – I will embrace that number with pride.

After the race, the city “Hot Pots” were filled with runners soaking tired muscles (tired and sore in my case). Sure, prior to arriving in Iceland I knew about the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa, anyone who has googled pictures of Iceland is familiar with the azure blue steaming pool surrounded by jet black lava fields. I had assumed that The Blue Lagoon was a novelty created for the tourist. (Yes, I did say *Created* – sorry if this is a disappoint fact – the Blue Lagoon is not a “natural” phenomenon.)
I had no idea how important the geothermal pools are to the Icelandic people. The public hot pots are part of day to day community life. Natural hot pots can be found throughout the country but in most villages there are community pools that take advantage of the geothermal water sources.

Although I didn’t have anyone waiting to cheer me on along the route, I am tremendously thankful to have had the opportunity to take part in the celebration – A victory for all.


Should you ever find yourself in a foreign land while an event such as this is taking place, I would highly recommend taking part. I have an even greater love for Reykjavikians having seen how much they love their city and love their friends. They are in this together.

Side note – If you have a goal – tell someone, better yet, tell everyone. Had I not publicized to all of my facebook friends that I was going run in the Reykjavik Marathon, I would have bowed out when I came down with my cold 3 days before the race. Because I had made such a public declaration that I was going to take part, I couldn’t not take part. Although, my cold may be extended a day or two longer, it was so worth it.

Observational factoid for runner friends – hands down the most popular running shoes in Iceland are Asics, followed by Nikes. Many of the runners wore real headphones, not just earbuds. I am thinking that may be weather and wind related – ear muffs and music all in one?

ps – a future post will talk more about my travels around the country. It is a bit off topic for this site but it’s Iceland and it’s remarkable.