The winds and torrential rain never let up, lashing on the poor runners as we struggled around the flooded stretch of Roxas boulevard. Am I ever going to make it to the finish? That was 2 years ago during the Manila eliminations of the Milo Marathon. Now it’s happening again, minus the flooding. In its place were stings of cold winds in a marathon dominated by Europeans and took me 9,000 kilometers across the globe. Am I going to surrender after travelling this far? Hell no. Suddenly, the legs stiffened…
Two days before, the sun was a perfect glowing ball as I ambled around Stockholm’s quaint streets and tony avenues to claim my race kit. A day later, the weather was swelteringly warm but cool breeze from the surrounding waters made the walk towards the stadium a pleasure. A local band dished out 80s tunes as I wolfed down the pasta dishes during our pre-race carbo-loading gathering.
I landed in Stockholm on my own after staying and conditioning at a friend’s home for 2 weeks in another Swedish city in Malmo. I shared a hostel room with 9 other travelers so I learned to fend for myself and find my way around Stockholm’s complex metropolis of winding streets, bridges, waterways and engaging views of both sea and mountains.
Going to the starting line on race day, the runner is given various options of free rides on all public transportation. I opted to make the 20-minute walk to calm my nerves and decide which outfit to use. Reports of mid afternoon rains had me in my favored minimalist set – my MIM singlet and NYCM shorts. A last minute decision to ditch my rain poncho and long-sleeved base layer was a nifty move that saw me through this race.
Around 22,000 had registered for the Stockholm Marathon 2013 but not everyone showed up at the starting line (only 16,755) and even less would make the 6-hour cut-off time. Still, we were divided in 5 waves and took off starting at 12 noon under a perfectly cool overcast weather. This is after all the Nordic territories where the sun hardly shines, even during summer. So the going was good, the breathing was a bit struggled but I was adjusting nicely to the semi-fast pace in an ocean of wall-to-wall runners. Meaning to stop in the middle was to be trampled flat.
There are enough distractions to take one’s mind from the incessant plodding – tree lined boulevards, interesting architecture, charming castles and a jovial crowd at every turn. A slight drizzle made for a more enjoyable romp as we felt refreshed and rejuvenated. We were now entering the old city and skimming the shoreline with its killer views of the waterways, cliff side hills and nearby islands. We crossed 5 bridges with only mild ascents in the first loop (a 30-m sharp uphill wasn’t as tough as I’d imagined).
So far so good. Maybe I could keep up this pace and score a sub-4 as I stayed close to the giant balloon of the 3:45 pacers. We took on the second loop, this time entering the green reserves and the Djurgarden – both wide spaces where one can glimpse the river of runners snaking across from the far verdant distance. A good 9 kilometers of thick forest growth outlining the open meadows soon gave way to the city’s asphalt and cobblestone jungle as we took on the same route as the first loop.
Out of nowhere, the rains came hard and strong and with it washed away my visions of a sub-4 finish. At first, I was remembering the many runs I’ve done in the rain and tried to enjoy it in the face of the fierce winds. Just then, the cramps came, taking on both the inner thighs. Probably triggered by the dipping mercury, the hardening came and clung to me like some mutant jellyfish. It’s the first time for me in a race and I had no idea how to remedy it. Medics abound along the way but to stop and get a massage and some liniment would slow down my already diminished rate. Besides, it’s never a guarantee of it not recurring, a few kilometers later.
I didn’t travel this far just to be weighed down by some muscle hardness. Thus, it was decided to keep burning the miles – running and trotting while walking in between or maybe, most of the time as my personal videos would attest later.
Scenes on the final kilometers included local rock bands with their growling guitar licks and young girls doing some joyous number in carnival headdresses and bikinis while many runners were slowing down and dropping like flies. I saw one splayed along the asphalt road while medics hovered around. That’s not going to be me. And so I dug deep into the recesses of my memory. My most recent encounter with rain was in the mountains of Nueva Vizcaya during the H1 where I was wet to the bone while struggling on muddy, ascending trails with just my headlamp to light the way. Now this was a far better condition, with water hitting and passing through my minimalist ensemble. Glorious rain on a glorious day.
And so push I went, ignoring the cluster of discomfort – emerging blisters, dying toenails and faltering strength. Instead, I focused on the sights, the people and the positive vibe the city was dripping with. Soon, the Olympic Stadium beckoned. The 1912 structure was the site of the Summer Olympics during that year and was a fitting welcome to those who had survived the 42.195-km experience. Wet and fatigued, I sprinted on the tartan track with guns blazing and spirits soaring. Runners were entering the stadium in droves as their final struggles were flashed on the big screen and their names reverberated across the colossal venue.
It would have been a superb finish without the relentless rains but last year, they say, was much worse with temperatures nearing the zeroes. So I thanked the heavens for these tender mercies and surviving my 12th full marathon. At 4:14, it’s 3 minutes shorter than my Baltimore finish last year. It’s probably the wads of dill pickles and mints I gobbled up during the run. Or just that overflowing warmth and cheering I got from the lovely folks of Stockholm that made the difference. Tack sa mycket, Sweden!
P.S. It’s the final scene of me walking back towards downtown after changing my top but still dripping wet in my old shorts. Every now and then, I would shiver but the high of achieving something great still superseded the minor inconveniences (e.g. a grumbling stomach even after downing solid food at the finish line). Then a light bulb moment happened (ting!) – now, this can get to be a yearly habit. Stay in a hostel, roam the city and run one destination marathon. And I can go cheap, really. No plush hotel rooms, no expensive tours, no classy dinners overlooking the city. I can easily subsist on cheap rooms, walking tours (I’m getting good with maps) and street foods. And I won’t feel a bit deprived and less privileged of enjoying the place. Now where do I begin? Paris, Berlin or London? Maybe Chicago or Vancouver. The possibilities are endless and the kilometers never end.
Here’s a compilation of the Stockholm marathon experience running to the song ‘Alive’ by Empire of the Sun. Do watch it at 720p for that HD experience. Most videos were emailed to us while others were extracted from marathon.se. Wait for 1:01 of the video for some Pinoy surprise. And please be patient with my walking scenes (probably 60% of the race), I was just warming up for the big surge ahead. Hehe…enjoy!