Sunday, 18 June 2017

Torshavn Marathon, Faroe Islands

Truth be told, Scott busted me booking this trip for myself two weeks before the marathon. I read about it and couldn't get over it, so decided to go. Scott decided to come too and participate in the half marathon. It was our wedding anniversary after all. So we booked the only accommodation left (a lovely top storey flat overlooking the water) and excitedly packed outdoor clothing. What is in the Faroe Islands? Hills, waterfalls, puffins, geese, ducks and sheep. The animals are inbred so they are now special to the Faroe Islands.
A few other interesting snippets of information;
  • in December, the Faroes get an average of six sunshine hours for the whole month
  • the Gulf Stream prevents the Faroes from getting crazy cold, although it is still cold
  • the average high in summer is about 12 degrees Celsius
  • there are far more men than women so there are a number of brides from Thailand and Indonesia
  • they are part of the Kingdom of Denmark
  • the Faroes have the highest fertility rates in Europe... not much else to do I guess
  • the waterfalls trundle down the sloping hills like rivers
  • they are building two sub-sea tunnels
  • helicopter is the only public transport to some islands
  • they have a saying which goes 'if you don't like the weather, wait five minutes' because the weather is so changeable
  • the architecture is crazy cool
  • nothing opens in the mornings on Sundays
Torshavn puts on their annual Cultural Night on the first Friday of June which coordinated nicely with the marathon. Who said the Faroe Islands wasn't a happening place? Local drunks and too many prams just like any other public event in the UK. The marathon started at 1pm on the Saturday. This suited us fine as we spent the morning relaying between the bed and bathroom due to a Japanese dinner the night before that may have involved some undercooked scallops.
Torshavn Marathon start line
On the start line we already had fans. We met Anne and Balfour from Dunbar while waiting at the airport for the bus (it was a picturesque journey from the airport to Torshavn) and they have come to watch the marathon start. Both the half and full marathon start at the same time but once we have crossed the start I leave Scott trailing in my dust with the hope of nabbing myself a Faroese fella if it looks like I am visiting on my own. Although I am secretly pleased that he is pacing himself.
The first 8km involves a lap and a half of the town and then heads out along the water before the course turns back on itself. Entrants have come from all over the world; Mexico, Australia, USA, loads from various places in Europe and one mega babe from New Zealand. What a lass she is. There is not a lot of chat going on but I am feeling a friendly vibe. The town loop is undulating but nothing that bothers me this early on. Some people are walking them already. I hope that they are running the half marathon, otherwise it is going to be a long day.
To our left are a line of elderly people in wheelchairs holding Faroe Island flags with their carers. All the runners give them a big cheer.
Torshavn Marathon course profile
At around 9km we start to head down a long descent. I turn to the identical German guys on either side of me and ask if we will be running back up this. Their answer is 'yes, so pace yourself little girl.' I make a mental note to look forward to this climb about 37km in. And to pace myself like a... well, something that is good at pacing and to not be passed in the second half. We all settle in, waterfalls to our left, sheep and water to our right. Eventually the first half marathoner makes his way back towards us, flanked by cyclists who cheer for all of the runners still heading out. The lead runner gives a smile and thumbs up as we clap and cheer. He's powering up a big hill as we cruise down.
A hill on the marathon course, photo by Faroephoto
Excitement builds as more half marathon runners come towards us. There are water stations approximately every 4km and I have only accidently grabbed an energy drink once with all the language confusion. As we are running along the coast, we are all being careful where we place our empty bottles and cups. Throw to hard to the right and they'll be in the ocean!
I have already become pals with the photographer on the motorbike. He's aware of my best angles.
They said that this race was hilly and they were right. My legs can still easily run up the hills but other people are slowing. I clap and cheer for each runner as they come towards me; well done, go go, good running. I was even saying bravo for a while. It's nice to see so many Faroe Island race vests. All the runners acknowledge my cheers for them; much politer than the London Marathoners!
At the half marathon turn around point, the marshal is excited that I am running the full. Sweden or Norway? she asks. I tell her New Zealand but she asks me the same question on the way back so she must have been a little confused. Nonetheless, she was a joyful face and it was to be a long, lonely day marshalling. Once the half marathon runners had turned around, there were not many of us left on the road. There is a big hill however. On the up side, it will be downhill on the way back.
I run next to a young guy who doesn't seem to keen to let me past. I decide he might want to chat and offer him some sweeties I have stored in my crop top. He's not keen for the sweeties or the chat. Ahead I can see a group of runners together on the opposite side of the road. They have all stopped for a photo beside an impressive waterfall.
By Faroe Island standards, the day is a scorcher. I have opted for arm warmers, which I should really roll down but cannot be bothered. Others are dropping layers off on the side of the road; they can collect them on their way back. Given that it rained all the other days we were in the islands, we are lucky today. Nothing like a famous Faroe Island tan. I can see runners who are ahead of me across the bay. There is someone in a vibrant orange top that I will see if I  can catch on the way back. Just for a bit of entertainment.
SHEEP! Photo by Faroephoto
I giggle with a Swedish lady as we cross a cattle stop. Bambi on ice, Bambi on cattle stops. I have small feet, I am scared they will get trapped! We are at about the 18km mark now and I have been taking it easy so decide to accelerate a little. It has been flat and I am enjoying the sunshine. I pass quite a few people over the next 10km. There are a couple of guys adding to the waterfall as I pass. There is also one guy running in a full paramedic / first aid attire. I think that something must have happened and ask how far he needs to run. Maybe, this is part of the Torshavn Marathon first aid requirement; to have someone on course running. But no, he's running the whole course like that as an entrant. I bet he wishes it wasn't as high as 14 degrees today.
At the 20-something mark, the first marathon runners are coming towards me. They all respond to my enthusiasm; some with their own enthusiasm, most with pleasant surprise. Quite a few 'oh, thank you very much, you too.' I probably look like a talking sheep with all my hair.
Kaldbak Church, Faroe Islands
At 25km I reach the turnaround point. There is a wooden church with a grass roof. Gorgeous. I have half a banana to show my appreciation. I am powering past a number of people; still hooting and cheering. It is a party after all. Some runners are walking up the wee hill towards me. Quite a sensible decision as there are a number of monster climbs on the way back. I admire the sea birds in the bay and get on a high fiving mission with the runners coming towards me. Miss Congeniality award, here I come.
More cattle stops. Water on the left now, waterfalls on the right. Unfortunately for orange top man, he has slowed considerably and I pass him much earlier than anticipated. Short-lived entertainment there. After about 28km, I won't see another runner going in the same direction as me for 7km. There are a few runners coming towards me. One old fella has only covered about the same distance as I have still left to run. I just hope he is having a good time and has packed himself a solid dinner. At 32km there is a hill. At 33km there is a bigger hill. I'm still ok, I can handle these. There is a strong headwind which means there is no respite on the downhills now.
All by myself... that line, on repeat, in my head, for about half an hour.
Wahoo, photographer on a motorbike! Say SHEEP!

Photo by Faroephoto

Monster hill at 36km. There are now two runners ahead of me. One cramps and has to take a break halfway up. Arms pump, legs pump. I'll survive the hill, it's the wind that is a pain. Another climb at 37km. It's another long slog. I pass the second guy, we're both going to make it now. Five kilometres to go; that's the hills done. It has been hilly.
I start to overtake half marathon walkers. One girl is limping badly. We are heading back to the town. There is a short, sharp hill. What the?! I don't remember this being downhill when I ran out! I storm up in defiance. I say hi to my local sheep. Interestingly, many of the sheep are black or brown. I'll have difficulty explaining that to my children with Autism when I get back to Scotland. No, sheep are white Antonia, don't be silly. They are white in all the pictures. Sheep ARE only white. Except for Baa Baa Black Sheep. He's black. Oh, I see your photo, that must be Baa Baa Black Sheep and his family! Teaching fail.
Kilometre markers are counting down. I'm in the middle of the town but I'm not quite sure where to go... turn past a grass-roofed house and there is the finish! Hurrah! Lots of people sitting in the sunshine cheering. I've just run my slowest time in seven years but I am pleased. Hurrah! Great times indeed. Now, for a beer and some fish soup... Local club members have also made cakes but unfortunately I still feel a little unwell from those scallops...
I came first young lady, second lady including the older birds and 11th overall (which is more exciting). I came home with three medals; thankfully checked in bags are included with Atlantic Airways so the weight was not an issue! A nice aspect of the out and back course is that you get to see all the other runners in the field. It was nice to watch the other runners finish; blue t-shirt guy, German guys, orange t-shirt guy, Swedish lady, Paramedic Man...  We are all on first name basis now of course.

Scott paced himself well to run a good ten minutes faster than he predicted for the half marathon; just a few weeks into training for the Loch Ness Marathon.
Celebrations post run were delayed for a few hours while I hung about in the apartment with my head down the toilet. When we found a pub full of locals later, they entertained us by being very enthusiastic football fans. Even the bus ride back to the airport on the Sunday had a jovial atmosphere. So how were the Faroe Islands? Brilliant fun. The marathon? Well-organised and also brilliant fun. It's the clear choice for anyone's anniversary!

1st on this podium...

...but second on this one!

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