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16 October 2020   |   Blog   |   

2019 Reykjavik Marathon, with Martin Joyce – An Odyssey

As we look forward to the races we know and love returning, we are excited to announce that the wait-list for the 2022 Reykjavik Marathon and Half Marathon is now open.

 This once in a lifetime race experience will take you to one of the most unique and breath-taking landscapes on earth. An island rich in culture, history, and phenomenal volcanic geology; there is something to entertain anyone in Iceland.

What better way to discover this incredible destination than by running the streets of the city in the 2021 Reykjavik Marathon, Half Marathon, or 10 km? Held the same weekend as Reykjavik Culture Night, and with options to add incredible experiences such as the Golden Circle Tour (4 night package only), experience the Icelandic Capital in all its glory, with the Reykjavik Marathon 2022  and Sports Travel International.

Martin Joyce, whom many of you will remember from countless Sports Travel International trips, discovered Reykjavik for himself, when he travelled to the Icelandic capital for the first time. He enjoyed a memorable experience as the Reykjavik Marathon 2019.

Arrival in Reykjavik

The large sign on the way to the arrivals hall at Keflavik airport was enticing. ‘Exit to Iceland’ it proclaimed. It radiated confidence and promised much for the 4 days in Reykjavik I had been looking forward to for months.

An efficient Flybus service brought me the 49km through an ancient, almost lunar, landscape to Reykjavik bus station. After which an instant shuttle smart bus dropped me off close to my hotel, in the centre of the city, with the race start and finish literally around the corner.

Next morning, one of my hosts, Inga Dis, led me on a 6km jog around the scenic bay. Reykjavik itself translates as ‘smoky bay’. The story goes that the first settler from Norway, Ingólfr Arnarson, a mere 1,200 years ago, noticed the steam from the geothermal geysers, which are common in parts of the island.

Inga pointed out landmarks, on our run, including an amazing sculpture called Sun Voyager of a Viking ship, and the impressive Harpa modern concert hall. It was remarkable to see the old juxtaposed with the new. Reykjavik is a modern city, yet it still retains a local feel and its history speaks to you. Icelanders are also very warm and unassuming.

A quick drive around the course later, by Inga’s colleague Saevar, had me well-prepared for the following day’s marathon. The expo was fun and lively like Dublin’s. There was just a short queue to collect my number and the bright red race T-Shirt. After picking up a few protein bars and gels I was all set.

Race Day

Breakfast started at 7 am, then there was time to relax, before a stroll to the start at Laekjargata (meaning ‘stream street,’ as a river used to run  through it).

I was greeted there by pumping Scandinavian music and a laid-back air of calm expectation. The busy race HQ was in Menntaskolinn, a big school building overlooking the start and finish lines.

Ten minutes before the 8.40 am start, the pacers, with their backpacks and flags, eased into position, followed smoothly by the runners.

I was conscious that I had not done any substantial long runs, after cramping at 30km in the Dublin Marathon the previous October, then struggling for the last 12km to a 4’35 finish. I said to myself, sub 5 hours will be grand in the circumstances, but, if I’m honest, I wanted to do better.

The Race 

The full and half marathons started together (a 10k followed at 9.35) and immediately we passed the unmistakable bulk of Harpa. After just over one km the fun began. We turned into a residential street called Lynghagi, and the locals were there were waiting for us.

They were on their balconies whooping, one man was playing a trombone with gusto, another down the road was belting away on an accordion, another further on singing a rousing tune. An entire family had brought chairs, a coffee table add two sofas on to the pavement and they cheered us on while they had their breakfast al fresco. They did not seem phased by the light drizzle in the slightest, or the cool temperature of around 8C. It did warm up later to around 14C.

It was like this for the first 7 miles, official cheer zones alternating with locals doing their level best to make the runners feel special and appreciated. And we did. It was all a touch surreal – and great.

The run along the bay was flat and scenic, till we got to 14km, where the course moved inland a little and became undulating. Then we turned back for 3km and, at 20km / 12 miles, we could see Harpa, and the city centre, once again. The half marathon runners headed there to the finish and we swung left into the deep heart of the outer city, with the national football stadium marking the halfway point. It said 2’09 on my Garmin; I was running easy and feeling good.

The second half of the race takes place in completely different terrain. A mix of suburban parks, residential estates, two river crossings, a flyover and an unexpected waterfall at 16.5 miles. Often the course snaked back on itself in twists and turns. ‘Come on Ireland’ shouted an Englishman, in three different locations, in the space of twenty minutes. I wondered how he did it.

The camaraderie among the runners was great. I spotted a dramatic black T-Shirt ahead with “Feck Off!” in large white letters and thought, it can’t be. But it was. The wearer stopped at the 17 mile drink station and so I did too. It turned out she was a 49-year old German lady called Imke, who was on her 10th Reykjavik Marathon, and who had run 5 Dublin Marathons as well. Her other passion was Mrs Brown’s Boys. She had been to the live show three times, hence the official T-Shirt.

Running steadily at 20 miles, an Icelander came up beside me and we started chatting. His opening remark was –

“Do you see that house over there? “
 – pointing to a neat townhouse –
 “I used to live there!”

We were going at a similar pace and so I stayed with Jon Yngvi, who was 20 years my junior and running his first marathon, as we edged closer to the city centre. We climbed, not too steeply, to the historic Barons Road at 24 miles / 39km. This lovely street was lined with cheering spectators. Then it was a swing left, gently downhill, and a trot along the seafront past Harpa.

In the last 200m, I suggested to Jon Yngvi that we cross the line together. No doubt thrilled at finishing his first marathon, he responded by mustering a sprint and finished six seconds ahead of me!  My chip time was 4’24 which, I noted with a laugh later, was better than his.

The finish line experience was excellent, a thermal blanket, food and drink, a little park with benches to sit down for a few minutes, and then the short walk back to the hotel.

Note: All but one of the 1,184 marathon participants finished. There were 2,625 runners in the half marathon and 6,489 in the 10km race.

The Perfect End to the Perfect Trip 

On Sunday I spent the whole day on the highly enjoyable Golden Circle Tour, taking in Thingvellir historic park where the world’s first parliament held court , in the open air,1,000 years ago, and the famous Gullfoss Waterfall and Geysir thermal springs.

My trip was complete.










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