Four months. When I look back on all those weeks of training, I could not believe the effort I’ve put into it.
“You must change your life for a marathon.”
Said this German runner we chatted with at the airport in Vagar. He was absolutely right. Since February, my life was all about Torshavn Marathon. When it was finally race time, those relentless months of training carried me to the finish line.
We spent week 13-15 of tapering, running only twice a week because our schedules got busier. On week 13, a 10km and a 21km and on week 14 a 10km and 14km. On the last week, we did no running at all, giving our legs the rest and recovery they needed.
We flew to the Copenhagen from Amsterdam on Thursday and caught the plane to Vagar just 15 minutes before boarding. We had one day and a half to get acquainted with the island and the hills worried us. Coming from a very flat country, we didn’t really do proper hill training.
The marathon started at a weird time of 2PM so we’ve got the whole day to prepare. I thought I could sleep all night and all morning but because the sun does not rise in the summer, I couldn’t get some shut eye. I probably managed to “nap” for four hours, when it got a little darker at 12 midnight. My sleep was so shallow, I felt like I was awake the whole time. I even had dreams of missing the marathon. By 7am, the sun was ablazing and there was no other choice but to get out of bed.
We ate fried eggs, bacon and rice for breakfast. Then another quick meal of bananas, energy bars and candies at noon. By 1PM we were out the door, walked a good 15 minutes to Vaglið, Torshavn city centre, where the race started.
We dropped our clothes off (literally, because it was such a safe place that you could just toss your belongings on the floor and nobody will steal it) in the designated area for males where we met a German running group from Hanover and a young guy from Scotland running his first marathon. There was a very friendly atmosphere that day. I think partly because we all came from countries with grim weather and the sun was out and bright in Faroe Islands, where summer doesn’t usually come.
The starting gun promptly went off at 2PM. There were about 150 runners (131 finished) doing the full marathon which will take us around the city centre, along the scenic highway from Torshavn, Hoyvìk, Hvìtanes, Sund and all the way to the Kaldbak fjord.
The first 6km went surprisingly easy, even with the first few hills. We chatted with Jeurgen, our 78-year old housemate who was running his 552nd marathon. Our goal was to finish in five hours but when we met Jeurgen, we only wanted to beat him to the finish line. At the 75m hill (about 5km) Jeurgen started walking up, which was how he planned to tackle the hills. We, on the other hand, were still strong enough to run them.
At the 80m hill, we met a Danish lady who decided to run Torshavn Marathon on a whim, while visiting her husband working as an optometrist in the island. We talked about so many things along the way – how she lost toenails at her race the month before due to the 28-degree weather in Copenhagen, how much money Faroe Islands spend on infrastructure (particularly their tunnels), why there are only four doctors on the island, why nobody wants to work there during the cold months. Her husband operated one of the doctors and she gave a funny description of this doctor consulting with his client with one blind eye. She gave birth last year and this is her first marathon as well.
She turned around at the turning point of the half marathon, at the 58m hill when her abdomen started hurting. I forgot to ask her name but the son of our B&B owner kindly took our photos. I hope she does not mind me posting it here because she doesn’t like her photos online.
Despite the long ascend and descend on the hills along the highway, our legs were still running strong and our eyes enjoyed the breathtaking scenery of the fjords. We could see the island of Nólsoy across the water as well as the southern tip of Eysturoy, ruggedly beautiful in the backdrop of cloudless sky and blue water dotted with colourful houses. This was perhaps the most enjoyable part of our run.
We turned back on a village called Kaldbaksbotnur and were treated to the same spectacular views. It was a long and painful ascend from Kaldbaksbotnur. I walked up to the 80m hill while Robin went for a toilet break. The next hill was easier (103m) so I ran and caught up with a familiar face who passed me by earlier, the Englishman in the promotional film of Torshavn Marathon, Peter Fordham.
I told Peter how it worried me when he said that Torshavn is probably one of toughest road marathons. He laughed and said it was nice of me to recognize him. He wasn’t feeling great that day because of the medicines he was taking for the operation he had five months ago. He was also very disappointed with his tempo. I told him he was doing great considering that he had a serious operation and still running a tough marathon.
He then told me about parkrun.com and his famous friend Bruce Fordyce who won the Comrades Ultra Marathon in South Africa. He wondered though why Park Run has not reached the Dutch shores yet.
At kilometer 31, I told Peter I’d pick up on my pace. As I speed away, I could hear Robin chatting with another runner and said he couldn’t keep up with his wife.
Racing down from the 103m hill gave me an unexpected boost. It was tough but there was lesser effort than climbing up. However the parcours, although it promised some flat surfaces, was not flat at all. Either you’re going up or down a hill. When the descend is easy, you can expect a more difficult climb again.
It was probably wrong to run so fast coming down a hill. When I got to a bit more leveled surface, my legs were screaming. But there was still a 68m hill to tackle and my legs couldn’t run anymore. We walked a good one kilometer until the drinking post where I recognized a kababayan.
“Pinay ka?” I, of course asked. She smiled, handed me a cup of cold water (which tasted like fine wine) and asked where I’m from.
“Sa Holland, wala kaming bundok!” I screamed in jest and frustration. She waved at me smiling when I continued. The next turn was another hill. When I saw the sign for the 34 kilometers, I nearly cried.
Eight kilometers to go! Where the hell am I going to get the strength to run 8 kilometers more?!
The next two kilometers were just going down, down a steep hill. My legs were very, very tired. Running down was tougher for the legs than climbing up. We were alternating running with walking. Robin had to stop several times to stretch the cramp off his hamstrings.
Kilometer 36 was nasty. You go back to the starting line and see people crossing the finish line but you still have to turn left up four more hills. From this point on, the strength on our legs were totally diminished. I had cramps from my butt down my calves. Robin said he couldn’t go on anymore. This was the “support each other part”. When I saw that there was still a 28m hill to climb, I screamed, frustrated. “You’ve got be kidding me!”
We passed the group of runners from Hanover on their way back to their apartment. They said some words of encouragement for the “guys from Holland”. That kind of camaraderie only comes with small races like Torshavn. This was the reason why we were there.
Kilometer 38. At that point, there was no other option but to finish. We were running purely on mental strength. I was thirsty despite gulping down a glass of energy drink (which I don’t normally drink) for sugar. I was craving for chocolates. I needed sugar. I wanted to steal sugar blocks from the people having tea beside the road but there were no sugar blocks to grab. The smell of grilled meat wafting from another garden was pure torture. I was dizzy. I was almost in tears. I was just walking. Where is that fucking 41km sign?
Well there was not a 41km sign. Or we passed it and I didn’t see it. One last turn and we saw the rotunda near the lighthouse again. It’s only about 800 meters to the finish line. We gathered the little strength we have left and speed to the finish line, as fast as we could.
“Hand in hand again?” Robin shouted just when we passed the 42km mark. So we crossed the finish line in the same way we did in Rotterdam Marathon last year. Hand in hand.
“There are no hills in Holland,”
I screamed at the top of my lungs when my feet touched the mat. Everybody laughed.