Stockholm Half Marathon – 11 September 2010 by Keith Dunlop

I have competed in a few track meets overseas in the past but the Stockholm Half Marathon would be my first experience of road racing abroad. The race started at 4pm on a Saturday afternoon which was strange in itself compared to the usual Sunday morning early start in big city races at home. Whilst it turned out to be great for encouraging thousands of spectators out onto the course, it also unfortunately meant starting the race in bright sunshine with the temperature at 20 degrees which wasn’t as pleasant! The race would follow a figure of eight route through the main streets of the city and past all the main sights.

Given the weather it didn’t take long to warm up and I tried to burrow my way as close to the front of the start as possible. I found myself standing next to Yannick Tregaro, coach to former Olympic champions Christian Olsson (triple jump) and Carolina Kluft (heptathlon) and former world high jump champion Kajsa Berqvist amongst others. If nothing else I reminded myself that it would not do to be beaten by a field eventer. Eventually the gun went and the race was on. Early on the race went up some fairly narrow streets in Stockholm city centre which meant a bit of weaving to get through the field. I kept reminding myself that 13 miles is a long way for an 800m runner and not to go out too hard. The organization of closing roads was very different to the normal experience at home – essentially hundreds of police were situated around the route and as soon as they saw the race coming they would just step across any junction the race was going to cross to ensure that no traffic came through. The usual signs had been out around the city to try to ensure that no cars were parked on the route, however given that the roads were still open minutes before the race started not all of them had been removed. This did result in a tall Swede running directly in front of me having to take evasive action in the first km when the field in front of him parted and he had no option but to jump on the bonnet of car, run over the roof and jump off the boot. Presumably an orienteer.

Stockholm is a city built on a number of islands so every couple of kilometers meant having to go up and down to cross another bridge, which in turn meant it was difficult to find a consistent stride. The first six km or so were broadly uphill and I was starting to feel uncomfortable when I caught first sight of my wife Katie at the side of the road. Excellent, I thought, I’ll get some support here. “Come on Keith – there’s a guy in a Scotland vest at the front and you’re letting him beat you.” Not quite what I was hoping for but it would have to do. (It turned out to be Andrew Douglas who ended up 3rd in a fast 66:40). I grabbed a cup of Gatorade at the water station round the corner and was about to drink it when the runner in front of me stopped dead and I ran into the back of him. Inevitably the Gatorade went all over me, in my eyes and up my nose and hardly any in my mouth. Something to practice for next time.

Crossing another bridge on to the next island the race turned back towards the city centre as we went towards 10km. At this point the course was sheltered from what breeze there was and the sun was coming straight down and I was going through a difficult spell. The road was a straight line for about 2km so you could see people several minutes ahead. However, by this point I was starting to come through others who had gone out too hard and I set my mind to picking people off one by one. At 12km the route went right through the centre of the Old Town and across the courtyard of the Royal Palace. The race info had suggested that you should salute the King and Queen of Sweden at this point. Fortunately I had got into a group with four other Swedish runners and none of them chose to do it so at least I didn’t offend anyone. Going through the Old Town and Palace did mean a couple of hundred metres over cobbles and my calves tightened up immediately. However, we would shortly turn away from the city centre again, up and over another bridge, and get the wind behind us again so I started to feel better. I decided to go hard while I was feeling good and broke away from the group I had been with and started passing people again. I hit 15km thinking I was in for a decent finish.

But, what I had forgotten was that the course climbs steeply between 16km and 20km. Hills have never been my strength and I could feel myself getting slower and slower and the good work of the previous few km being undone as I started to get re-passed. Finally we hit the 20km point and I told myself to treat it like the last rep in The Meadows and go for it. Charge down the hill, only two more bridges and I would be there. I saw Katie with about 200m to go and she threw me her Saltire so I wrapped it round my shoulders, struggled over the final bridge, one more corner and I was there. Checking my watch it showed 1:28.16 and it turned out I had placed 323 out of 13,513. I had hoped to go a little quicker but the hotter than expected weather and the hills (and particularly the never-ending bridges…) got the better of me. I was handed a medal and a massive bag of food by a volunteer, followed by bottles of Gatorade, cinnamon pastries and, oddly, a cup of freshly brewed coffee as I made my way through the mixed zone. If nothing else I’ll be going back for the food at the finish!

I learnt a few lessons about how to treat the event on the way round and I can definitely recommend the race, despite the bridges. It’s well worth getting out of the comfort zone of running in Scotland and challenging yourself against different runners and in new conditions.

And Yannick Tregaro? I obviously got something right as he didn’t finish….

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