Tuesday 19 September 2017

Western Europe Finally Conquered - But Not Without a Battle

The one piece of advice everyone gives you when you are injured is to rest as time is the best healer. When you have told everyone you know that you are going to run 50 half marathons and you are doing it for charity, this advice isn’t on the option list. For the past few months my right leg has decided that it doesn’t want to be a team player and even with a small fortune spent on sports massages, greatly reduced training it was not showing any signs of talking to the rest of my body. I had also paid a rather expensive race entry as well as flights and a hotel. So failure was not an option and off to Copenhagen we flew (we being me and Victoria aka wife, “coach” and rubbish meteorologist).
If you ever watch the London Marathon or the Great North Run you will see that the elite athletes don’t wear numbers they have their name in big letters instead, other elite runners, not famous enough for this are usually allocated the low numbers. For some reason, Copenhagen thought it would be funny to put even more pressure on this runner by 1) printing my name in big letters and 2) allocating me number 701 (in a field of 23000), which was printed under the giant name in smaller numerals. This could be the nearest I get to being an elite athlete!!
The reason I question Victoria’s weather forecasting skills, is that her logic normally involves checking several on-line sites until she finds a one that she likes and that is then the official weather forecast for the day. I now probably more accurately forecast that I will suffer great pain for this paragraph when she reads it. Anyway, the forecast by Mrs C required sun glasses and a hat to protect against the blazing sun. To be fair that was 100% accurate for the start of the race.
So, after two great days sightseeing in Copenhagen I joined 20,000 plus other runners at the start of the race. The Copenhagen Half was really casual, each runners number was colour coded to show their estimated finish time and rather than forced into a pen like you are in races such as the Great North Run, you could join any group you wanted to. In the UK, this would mean 50,000 people fighting to stand in front of Mo Farah, but in Denmark, the vast majority of people actually started in their recommended position. This created a really friendly atmosphere of runners of similar abilities and once the race started no issues with big speed variances and congestion.
At around 11:15 Sunday morning the elite runners left, I finally reached the start line some 20 minutes later. The course was through the city centre, with crowds lining route almost all of the 13.1 miles. I made the decision to not run to a target time, but instead run to a pace I felt comfortable with, all was going well and the sun was shining for the first 4 miles. Then it got interesting…

The first sign of the weather changing was a few spots of rain. Then the sky got increasingly darker, closely followed by thunder, lightning and then torrential rain. I don’t mind running in the rain, but to have to do so with forks of lightning all around was a little frightening. Then the fun really started…
The rain slowly started to change to hailstones, which got steadily larger in size and heavier in quantity. At around 7 miles I had one of the most surreal running experiences I have ever had. The majority of the 20,000 runners started to take cover in doorways and anywhere else they could escape the storm. Being a stupid northerner, I saw this as an opportunity to improve my already rubbish position, so onwards I persevered. I ran on with another Danish runner and we pretty much had the course to ourselves. It is difficult to accurately explain the intensity of the storm, other than to use a childhood expression which sums it up “It bloody knacked”. I didn’t realise how bad it was until I got to the end of the race and discovered both arms covered in tiny bruises from the hailstone impacts. It may have only lasted 5 or 10 minutes but is was one of the funniest running experience I have ever had.
As the storm subsided the soft runners came back out of the shadows and with 5 or so miles to the finish the sun again came out. This caused the next running problem, when you add bright sunlight to a route white with frozen water, flash floods appear. For some reason, most of the runners, already soaked to the skin from the earlier rain, thought they needed to tiptoe around the puddles. Sod that. I was already so wet, I had had dryer baths in the past, my option was route one, straight through the puddles regardless. This is not somethings the Danes embraced and when the rest of the field went in single file around the lakes that covered the majority of the roads, one Geordie bull-dozed straight through the middle (I use the word bull-dozed as skipping over the surface is not something that describes my running style), and again made up a few more places and valuable seconds.
Given the extreme conditions, I crossed the line in just over 2hrs 15minutes, far better than I had ever thought, and amazingly the weather had completely taken my mind of my painful right leg. Crossing the line, as is the norm, I was given a medal and immediately received a text confirming my time, job done. There then came an announcement on the PA system to say that the race was now cancelled with immediate effect. Running through the storms had got me in just in time. I later discovered the reason for the race being stopped was due to 2 runners being struck by lightning, fortunately not to seriously I believe.
So, by the skin of my teeth (and some of the skin of my arms), Half Marathon number 49 was completed and along with it the challenge to run a half marathon in every country in Western Europe. Denmark completed a list that includes England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Netherlands, Spain, Norway, Portugal, Czech Republic, Sweden, France, Switzerland, Finland, Belgium, Iceland, Italy, Austria, Germany and Luxembourg.
So only 2 more challenges left
  • Coast to Coast – COMPLETED
  • Half Marathon in every Western European Country - COMPLETED
  • 50 Wainwright Peaks (35 completed for far)
  • 50th Half Marathon – Artic Circle flights booked for January
Thanks, everyone for your kind sponsorship so far. Still a lot of climbing and training to do between now and the beginning of next year.