Friday, 22 September 2017

Forty-two hours in Copenhagen; nothing at all to do with altitude

It may have been short, but my 42 hour trip to Copenhagen last weekend was definitely action-packed and eventful. Indeed, it was a bit more eventful than I would have liked.

Needing a new challenge after a prolonged chest/sinus infection last January, February, March… called an abrupt end to a cross country season that was only getting started and hampered any chance of a decent track season, I signed up for the Copenhagen Half Marathon. The original, optimistic target, for what I was reliably informed was a pancake flat, fast course, was 80 minutes, or at the very least a revision of my six year old best of 84:04. Those targets were gradually readjusted as one tiny setback after another (ageing, mainly), hampered training. I got the odd session in, and had done one run of longer than an hour and a half, so going into Sunday’s race, I still believed that sub 90 was possible.

Hitting two kilometres at 85 minute pace I was acutely aware that I was going too fast, and took the foot off the proverbial pedal a bit. I hit 3km faster than I ran for 3000m steeplechase at the Irish Championships earlier this summer, and went through 5km still well on target for sub 90. But I was slowing, and long before the half way point, I was swallowed by the 90 minute balloons group. The target would need to be revisited again! Momentarily, 1 hour 40 mins became the new point at which I would be truly ashamed. Thankfully I started to feel good from about 6km out, and was able to pick things up in the final stages. I even managed to sprint up the home straight to cross the line in 94 minutes and 33 seconds. The time, a personal worst (not my first of 2017) by more than 4 minutes, and more than 10 minutes slower than my best for the distance, was nothing to be proud of, and was initially a disappointment, even if I had 94 minutes and 33 seconds to come to terms with the fact that this wasn’t going to be a memorable performance. But given that last May I was struggling to run 30 minutes at 9 minute/mile pace, it was a decent step forward.

But that’s not the whole story!

We set off on Sunday’s 13.1 mile tour of the Danish capital in glorious sunshine. ‘Perfect conditions for racing’, the commentator reminded us moment before the off. And so they were. Somewhere along the way it clouded over, but the conditions were still pleasant, even if the water stations couldn’t quite come fast enough. The first welcome drops of rain started to fall as we passed the interesting Nyboder district (17km), and the following couple of kilometres passed quickly. By 19km, the light drizzle had turned to heavy rain and soon after a torrential downpour accompanied by all the light and sound effects of an electrical storm. The kit which I had earlier taken care not to dampen too much at the drinks stations was quickly saturated, as were the running shoes. The bolts of lightening and cracks of thunder were disturbingly close together, and a quick look upwards revealed an unavoidable line of electric wire linking street lighting along the entire length of Strandboulevarden. Nothing could be done but forge on for the finish line as quickly as possible.

After 10 minutes of very heavy rain, the finishing straight had become waterlogged, and the final run-in was through 3 or 4 inches of water. Finally I felt at home! Finishers medal, plastic bib, water, apples and other treats were quickly collected from brave volunteers smiling in the middle of a muddy, waterlogged field, and I mustered all the energy I could to get running again and make a bee-line for my hotel. The rain eased somewhat, but the respite was short lived. Shelter had to be sought to allow the worst of a heavy hail shower to pass.

We really were getting the full Danish weather experience.

But that’s not the whole story!

A quick shower, refuel and change of clothes later I was back out on the now sunny streets on a mission to experience as much of Copenhagen as I possibly could in the few hours I had available to me.

Views from the bridge. Tick. Nyhaven. Tick. Ice cream. Tick. Amalienborg Slot. Tick. Gerfioun Fountain. Tick. The Little Mermaid. Tick. Kastellet. Tick. A closer look at Nyboder. Tick. Rosenborg Castle and Park. Tick. The narrow streets of the main shopping area. Tick. Overpriced pizza. Tick. Some light souvenir shopping. Tick. Tivoli Gardens by night. Tick.

Back to hotel.

Pack bag.


I was exhausted after an action-packed day, and in a deep state of unconsciousness when, at 2.30am, I was rudely awoken by a heavy racket in my room, and the quick realisation that there was an intruder. I quickly worked out that the noise was coming from the window, which in my box-sized room was just centimetres from my feet, and that somebody was putting a lot of effort into pulling by sodden, smelly, worn-out runners through the slightly ajar window.

‘Oi, oi, oi,’ I shouted, quickly followed by ‘F*** off, you bastard,’ as I grabbed my precious shoes. The perpetrator eventually let go (what sort of a thief doesn’t drop everything and run as soon as they’ve been interrupted, anyway?) and toddled off with himself, but not before my heartrate hit a point not reached hitherto that day, dramatic sprint finish included.

There’s no getting back to sleep after an event like that!

Just as well I had an early flight to catch.

But that’s not the whole story

It wasn’t until Tuesday that I realised just how bad things had got at the finishline on Sunday’s race. The finishing mats had floated down the finishing straight, three people were hit by lightening, and the race was eventually discontinued about 2 hours and 15 minutes after the start. Reports of snow, however, were misplaced. It wasn’t anywhere near cold enough for snow.

I had to wait until Monday, and my arrival in St. Moritz, to see some of the real white stuff!

And that’s where the real story begins…