I have had little choice about some of the marathons in my A-Z project, simply because they have been the only ones possible to fit in during the necessary time period. Edinburgh was one that probably wouldn’t have been on my bucket, where as others, like Istanbul appealed more.
Last year, my son-in-law sent me a link to ‘Ten iconic marathons you must do’.One stood out: The Midnight Sun Marathon in Tromso. I simply had to do it. I’d already pencilled in an ‘N’ marathon in Norway (other options included New Caladonia in the South Pacific, although I considered this possibly a bit indulgent)
I’d originally planned to do a marathon in Mulgi, Estonia, for my M marathon, but now Novi Sad (in Serbia) was a possibility instead, making space for The Midnight Sun. The two are only a week apart, and as I write this on the plane back from Tromso, with just two days at home before flying out to Serbia, suffering from raging runger, toothache and legs a little sore, I am already feeling apprehensive.
No matter how much you read about Tromso (or anywhere inside the Arctic Circle in mid-summer), visiting is just so surreal. Arriving at 10pm, when it would be dark anywhere else, and seeing stunning snow capped mountains in glorious sunshine, was the first clue that this was somewhere special. I was immediately reminded of my trip to Quito just four weeks earlier after running the Lima Marathon.
Quito is surrounded by extinct volcanic peaks, and Tromso by snow covered mountains – both very similar looking. Some sort of weird symmetry in nature struck me, to go from the equator to inside the Arctic Circle, yet have such similar landscapes.
My apartment was on the main street, Storgata, chosen because of its proximity to the start and finish of the race. It turned out to be closer than I realised, about 100 metres away with the start viewable from one window and the finishing sprint from another.
I arrived on the Friday evening and the race began at 20.30 on the Saturday. This was fine for me and the other not too speedy runners, as we would still be running under the Midnight Sun (to me it felt like a bit of a shame that the first couple of hundred finished before midnight).
The expo was not lavish, but I did get to chat to a Mauritian person manning a stall who had also run my R marathon (details to be revealed later on!).
Two months ago when I ran the Kharkiv marathon, I’d found it hard hard hanging around all morning for the 11.30 start in Kharkiv, and as Tromso didn’t start until 8pm, this took the nervous anticipation to another level. What, when and how much to eat was a real dilemma. After a walk around the town, I decided to use a few hours productively and did some on-line exam marking (the way I earn most of what I need to pay for this expensive pastime (obsession I’m sure some will call it!)). There were a whole host of other races taking place before, from toddlers walking 1k holding their parents’ hands, to 10k.
The weather was very kind to us, broken clouds, very little wind and just enough of a nip in the air (surely to be expected at ‘night’ inside the Arctic Circle?) to make me think a thin long sleeved base layer under my sleeveless Lima top was ideal, and it was.
Another dilemma I was faced with was how to run this race. Having another marathon just seven days later had to be factored in, but I also felt I might stand a chance of doing well in my age category. I ended up running with the four hour pacer for most of the time and chatting to many of the Brits who were running along side too.
The only real hill during the race was this bridge, but the steep part (it was surprisingly unsymmetrical) was only just after the start, so it was over with quickly.
But it was on the bridge that the amazing views on course first became apparent, in all four directions. Directly ahead and most spectacular because it was closest with the Arctic Cathedral in the foreground.
There were then three out and back loops, which provided the opportunity to see and cheer the leaders as they passed in the opposite direction. Even the first time, when I was at 6k, the eventual winner was probably five minutes ahead of the next runner (this was an Aussie living in London, Grant Schmidlechner who was running his first marathon with no more than twelve weeks training). I meet Grant and his ‘support team’ on the Sunday evening, and again on the flights back. It seemed he had done serious track running back in Oz but nothing for eight years. Also, on the Sunday evening, in a rock bar I bumped into nearly 30 members of the Breakfast Club with their trainer, Claire Grima, who came in first lady and third overall in a time that earned 15000 kronar.
The one thing that threw me occurred immediately after the first half. We had recrossed the bridge, when suddenly, we were joined by thousands of other runner who were in the half marathon, which started two hours after us, but then ran exactly the same last 20k as us. I went from having plenty of space, to having lots of runners nearby at the same pace and having to watch carefully where I was running and trying to restrain my pace. The reason for it happening was obvious and quite understandable; it allowed many of the runners to still be on the course underneath the Midnight Sun, which was a major reason for my wanting to be there.
The second half, out to the airport (but not via the much shorter tunnel route which forms part of network that runs the whole length of the island) did seem a long way and I was glad I had decided not to push it during the first half. Despite the course being way out of the centre of Tromso, the almost ribbon development meant we were never far from incredibly enthusiastic supporters, with shouts of “heia” (which somehow translates to “go go go”) and Mexican waves from groups as small as three people.
The last few hundred metres down Storgata was packed with cheering crowds (remember this is after midnight) and I had a personal battle against a pair of Brits, who kept drawing level with me, so I increased my pace and we ended up sprinting the final 20 metres. It seems they took pity on me and let be beat them! In the end, that little bit of competition for me might have been crucial.
I finished in 4:04:09.7 (never been timed to the nearest tenth of a second before) but I don’t remember feeling as shattered as I did at the end. I’m sure it was as much down to it being nearly 1.00 am by the time I had collected everything, not just the fact I’d run 26.2 miles. I went straight back to my room, showered and to bed, while I could still hear cheering for other finishers and general partying outside. I was glad I had earplugs, which have now become an essential part of my travelling kit.
The results were on-line when I woke not too early the next morning and I was astounded to find that I had not only managed to get into the top three of my age category, but I had actually won it. I was only 20 seconds than the Spaniard in second. I wonder how important the competition over the last few hundred metres was. So off to the awards ceremony to receive, what? A rather large engraved glass vase type object (the box it came in shows a candle inside, but someone suggested that it should be filled with champagne instead, and I might take up that suggestion when the next race is out of the way!).
It is strange how this marathon took me somewhere I had wanted to visit for many years, but not at the time of year I wanted, nor for the reason. I wanted to go in winter to see the Aurora; well, they have a January Polar Night half marathon so just a thought…