Before the race
I'm not going to lie to you. Earlier in the year I thought I would set a marathon PR (personal record) at the marathon in Stockholm. After setting a new PR in Napa in March I was convinced that I could do it. Stockholm is a relatively flat course for anyone who is use to run on Mt. Tam. This all changed on a short morning run on April 28th. Just a quarter mile from home I got injured. no build up, no warning , nothing, just pop. Lateral gastrocnemius bursitis, still not sure what that means. This was 6 weeks prior to Stockholm so I took the cool approach and figure I would heal in time. I spent time in the pool and on the bike over the next 5 weeks before leaving for Sweden. Once I got to Stockholm I spent a few days doing nothing physical and tried running on Thursday, 2 days prior to the marathon. I could still feel the injury but running very gingerly I was OK.
Friday, the day before the marathon, I went to Stockholm Stadium, which was opened exactly 100 years ago in time for the Stockholm Olympics in 1912, to pick up my race packet. There is something about being around all the other runners that gets me excited. So I decide that I'm going to try running the next day but very carefully. That Friday afternoon it started to rain lightly. Forecast for Saturday was not promising.
As a matter of fact it ended up being the coldest day in June since 1928, 4 degrees Celsius (39 degrees Fahrenheit). Last christmas was warmer in Stockholm. Add to this rain and a very strong wind and you end up with less then ideal weather. Out of 21,000+ registered runners about 15,000 came to the start.
Stockholm always start in 2 waves, one at noon and the other one 10 minutes later. Due to my previous results I started in the second group. I have this worked out. Instead of standing with 10,000 runners waiting, I hang out on the field waiting for the first start and slowly stroll up to the start line as they lead the other group up to it. I end up in front and won't have to fight my way through in the beginning.
Because of the heavy rain my Garmin stops working before the start (it is suppose to be water resistant). It is hard not to get wrapped up in the energy but looking at the times later I see that I went out way to fast as always. Less then a mile into the race I'm soaked. Good thing I decided in the last minute to keep my windbreaker on, lots of people ended up running the entire race with their pre-start plastic bags on. Due to my injury, each step is very carefully executed, one bad move and I think would have been done. Because of this it may have been the most present in mt body I have ever been during a run.
One very cool aspect of the race in Stockholm is that most of the course is lined with people cheering you on. Amazingly this was still true this year even though the weather was horrible. Swedes know how to be with bad weather or they would end up canceling a lot of things. I had laid out a plan for my support team (Emily, Erik, my dad and brother) for several locations along the course that would be good spots for us to meet. I didn't need anything from them except a few cheers and hurrahs. The first spot is just before 3 miles where Emily and Erik are screaming and yelling so I can't miss them. I run up and say hello and get greeted with a kiss and a "With are going back home". My first thought was "You are kidding right?". But they were serious and I don't blame them. Who wants to stand around in winter like conditions to see someone run by every hour or so. That left my dad who was a real trooper. He ended up criss-crossing town in order to meet me at 5 or 6 different locations and unfortunately missed the finish by 30 seconds.
I actually ended up at the half way point at just over 2 hours. The next part of the course goes through the industrial parts and there are no people lined up cheering us on so this part gets to be mentally challenging. At around 15 miles I realize that my hands were frozen. My gloves had been soaked for over 2 hours and I realized that there is a point of diminishing return to wearing gloves. After taking of my gloves my hands are starting to feel a little bit better. As I'm writing this, 2 weeks later, I still don't have complete feelings back in a couple of fingertips.
The next 10 miles becomes a mind over body exercise for everyone. My only thoughts were on the next step and a strong desire to finish. There are a few times when I'm overwhelmed with pride and joy knowing that I will finish this. This is the first race I have been in where people were crying, sitting in medical tents wrapped in blankets and running in absolute silence. As I approach the finish line, in the actual Olympic stadium, and run the last 300 meters in the stadium I see that my brother was there with my nephew. I DID IT! 4 hours and 26 minutes. I must say that it felt really good to have someone there to cheer me on in the stadium. The post race food was unusual but great. Beer and hotdogs. I have never tasted a better hot dog (actually 2 hotdogs). I was fortunate to have a complete change of clothing. A lot of people didn’t and they were walking to the subway literally shaking. Fed and dry I meet my brother who ones again brought his car so I don’t have to take public transportation back home. I am so grateful for this.
The headline in the Swedish newspaper the following day read "Maradrömmen" (Nightmarethon). I think it is amazing that of the 15,000 people who started 14,000 finished. I doubt that any personal records were broken this year but I think a lot of people are very proud of what they accomplished.
It may sound like I had a miserable time and while this is one of the hardest things I have ever done I also feel a tremendous sense of achievement. I will wear this years finishing shirt with a lot of pride and my numb fingertips will serve as a great reminder of what I can achieve.