Living in Holland, I am used to long summer days, when, at the height of the season, the sky doesn’t darken until 10:30 or 11pm. However, I found it a little disconcerting arriving at the airport in Iceland just before midnight, and my hotel a couple of hours later to find the sky as bright as it would be during the middle of the day.
But this – the phenomenon of the midnight sun – was precisely why I ventured to Reykjavik. I was there during the summer solstice not only to see the midnight sun, but to run under it.
On your mark
In my continuing quest to run the world, I participated in the Suzuki Midnight Sun Run
last month, just a few days after the summer solstice
(June 21) when daylight lasts through the night.
I arrived in Reykjavik a few days prior to the race, and was struck by the absence of hoopla surrounding the run.
Though this was the 21st time the event had taken place (though only the second year for the half
marathon), it seemed very small and intimate. I didn’t see any posters or flags waving announcing and promoting the event, and received blank stares when I mentioned the concierge as I asked her about the race while seeking directions to the start location.
The race, which consists of a half marathon, 10k and 5k, started between 9 and 10 pm, and pick-up time for the race packets was from 4pm until half hour before start time on the day of the race. I made my way to the pick-up spot around 6:30 to get my number, thinking I’d hang around the race expo. There was no expo and to be fair, there was never any mention of an expo. I just assumed that there would be. This would not be the only assumption I made that day.
I’d taken a taxi to get there, since it was too far to walk from the hotel and because taking the bus would require a couple of changes and more effort than I was willing to make. After the 5 minutes it took to get my race packet, I decided to find a way to pass the time in the area, instead of taking a taxi back to hotel, to only have to come right back. I happened upon the sculpture garden of the Ásmundarsafn Art Museum
, which has the largest collection of works from the Icelandic sculptor Ásmundur Sveinsson, then I went to a nearby hotel and had a cappuccino in their lounge and made use of their free wifi.
It would have been a good idea to eat something – the race packet even included a coupon for a local restaurant – but I’d eaten a decent sized lunch pretty late that afternoon, so I wasn’t hungry. What and when I should eat is always an issue for me with races that happen at unusual times. I had energy gels with me that I would consume during the race, which I hoped would be sufficient.
After walking around the sculpture garden, enjoying a cappuccino and making some Facebook updates, with about an hour to go until the start of the race, I went back to race area to store my bag, see what was going on, and start getting ready for the event. Things had definitely livened up since I was there earlier, with a DJ playing music, distance banners and mile markers in place and runners arriving, attaching their race bibs and warming up. I began the pre-race rituals as well, assuming there was plenty of time to preen and putz around and get to the start on time.
I assumed wrong.
I missed my start.
I had it in my head – I assumed – that the race started at 9:40, though I have no idea where that time came from (the half actually started at 9:20). When I arrived back at the race location, put my bag away, went to bathroom and took pictures of the warm-up session. After the warm-up, I went to start area where I snapped a couple of selfies under 21.1km start banner. Despite the self-involvement required in taking pictures of oneself at the start, I did happen to notice that the area seemed deserted.
A race official, seeing the red race bib attached to my shirt, indicating half-marathon participant, interrupted the selfie photo session and approached me informing me that I had missed the start. The group had been gone for about 15 minutes, so I wasn’t going to catch up with them, but I had to do something. I came to the land of the midnight sun specifically for this run and I was going to do it! Fortunately, the start times for different races were staggered, and the 10k wouldn’t start for another 10 minutes, just enough time to get a race bib for that race and get to the start ON TIME.
|Red = half marathon. Green = 10km
With the course just outside of the city center in Laugardalur, this was not a sight-seeing race of Reykjavik, but it was very scenic, as we ran through a park, past lush greenery and a waterfall. The first half of the 10k course is the same as for the half marathon and the course was relatively flat.
In keeping with the lack of hoopla theme, there were very few spectators, the most memorable one for me was a little girl who joined along side the runners on her scooter for several kilometers, causing me to wonder where her parents were and why she was out so late.
After the race all participants were invited to the geothermal outdoor swimming pool, Laugardalslaug, which offers both hot tubs and a steam bath. There was a cutoff time for entering the pool, and since I assumed that I wouldn’t be finished running the half marathon by then, I didn’t bother bringing my swimsuit.
As I mentioned, I was really surprised at how low-key the race was. It felt more like a special event for the local running community then something intended to draw an international crowd. However, there were a fair number of international participants and I think that number will increase now that a half-marathon is one of the events. Even though circumstances resulted in me running the 10K portion of this race, I don’t like to travel for anything less than a half-marathon, and I have met many others in my destination race travels who feel the same way.
Despite the low-key atmosphere and while not the half marathon I intended, I still got to run under the midnight sun and managed to conquer another destination on my quest run the world.
Disclosure: I was provided me with free race entry from Suzuki Midnight Sun Run. All thoughts and opinions expressed are all my own.