Monday, 12 October 2015

Half Marathon number 38 - The Vantaan Half Marathon, Helsinki, Finland 10th October 2015.

First trip to Finland, and hopefully not my last. The trip to Stockholm and this one to Helsinki have certainly made Scandinavia one of my favourite places to visit.

Early 5am alarm Friday morning to drive to Manchester to catch a direct flight to Helsinki. The plane was surprisingly busy, but it turns out Northern Ireland played Finland on the Sunday in the Euro qualifiers, so majority of passengers had strong Irish accents and a belly full of Guinness for breakfast.

Decided to walk from the hotel to the race HQ to register and pick up my number after arriving Friday afternoon. The receptionist did question why I was doing this, but I was insistent and set off map in hand to walk. It was shortly after this I realised how cold Finland is. Just over an hour later I found race HQ, luckily surviving almost certain hypothermia. An expensive taxi took me back to the hotel, sod walking.

One thing I quickly discovered about Finland is that very few people speak English, not a bad thing but when compared to most other European countries it is unusual. I also discovered that I was the only English person in the race, it was very much a local event, although it claims to be the 2nd biggest running event in Finland (there must be some tiny ones elsewhere). I eventually figured out where the start was and after a couple of failed attempts to find out if it was a multiple or single lap race I gave up and joined the warm up at the start (warm up is essential as otherwise your running shoes would freeze to the ground).

Overall there was about 800 entries for the Half Marathon, but there was also a Marathon and a Quarter Marathon, starting at different times. The race turned out to be 2 laps of a flat course, ran almost entirely on pavements, roads and cycle paths. About 2/3 of the run was through the streets of Vantaan, the remainder in parks and a small amount of woodland.

Really enjoyed the event, which was well organised and marshalled. My Garmin showed a mileage of 13.3miles in 2:09:30. Which very happy with, especially as every mile was ran in under 10 minute mile pace.

No t’shirt at the end, just a yoghurt, apple juice and dried Finnish bread and a cheese slice (plus a free coffee). You did get a sort of medal but it had no ribbon or means to attach a ribbon to.

After a visit to the hotel sauna (not mixed, before you ask), jumped on the train to Helsinki and with a quick bit of TripAdvisor research had a fantastic meal of smoked fish, Elk meatballs and local beer.

The 4:30am alarm on Sunday morning was a bit of a shock to the system, but meant back in the UK in time for Sunday lunch.

38 races now complete, next race is booked for March in Paris. Will definitely be heading back to Finland and Scandinavia sometime in the future.

Some things I found out about Finland in my brief visit (not necessarily all true):
  • -          It is cold, very cold
  • -          The biggest export is trees (well forest products)
  • -          You only have to so much as look at a Zebra crossing and cars will screech to a halt
  • -          At Pedestrian crossings, the pedestrians will patiently wait for the green man, even if there is not a car in sight for miles
  • -          Finland doesn’t make many cars, in 2013 they produced in a year about the same number as Nissan Washington produce in 2 days
  • -          For a country so cold there are hardly any 4x4’s
  • -          Skiwear is the national dress
  • -          They serve Gin and Tonic on draft (true fact)
  • -          Every waitress under 30 is either a Goth, has a full covering of Tattoo’s or more often than not both.
  • -          Beards are a practical face warmer not a fashion item
  • -          Where the rest of the world shuns fur sales, in Finland if it can keep you warm kill it and make clothing out of it.
  • -          There seems to be more cycle paths than actual roads
  • -          No one puts their coat on the back of their chair in restaurants, everyone is religiously hung up
  • -          Every female has blond hair, the ones that don’t have dyed theirs
  • -          The trains are ultra clean and efficient. When you get a notification that your train is delayed by 1 minute you know they take timeliness seriously
  • -          There is hardly any graffiti
  • -          Moped riders think they are cyclist and often drive along not only the cycle lanes but also the paths.
  • -          Rudolph is not just for Xmas, it is food and clothing all year round
  • -          There seems to be no correlation between the written word and the spoken word. “a” is pronounced “r” and “o” is pronounced “a” as far as I can tell
  • -          If there is a baldness or obesity problem, no one would know as everyone wears so many clothes to keep warm (did I tell you it was cold)
  • -          Spotlights are mandatory on all cars
  • -          Hardly anyone smokes and no one has introduced Vaping to Finland
  • -          Hats, Gloves and Scarfs are the biggest selling clothing items after fur coats and fur lined boots
  • -          There is no public debate in Finland on the wearing of Burka’s as most inhabitants are covered up even more.
  • -          The beer is a lot cheaper than Sweden – only 6 euro a pint
  • -          The Finnish for Start is “lähtö”, the Finnish for finish is “maali” I had to google them to find out where to go
  • -          It gets dark early and when it gets dark it gets even colder.

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