We’re really happy to welcome Elspeth Bisson as a guest writer on Twins in Trainers! She’s a fellow doctor and runner, and has heaps of enthusiasm for all things health and fitness. Here she shares her experience of running the Copenhagen Marathon (in an incredibly fast time!) It’s safe to say it’s been added to our Bucket List!
Copenhagen was my first marathon abroad but not my first and hopefully not my last experience of running in Scandinavia. Every May, almost 10,000 runners and 100,000 spectators taking to the streets for Copenhagen Marathon. Already a popular place to visit, the race only helps Copenhagen’s international appeal; 36.2% of runners travel from abroad to compete. We all had our native flags printed on our bibs – good for patriotism and nationality spotting! A local race review described race day atmosphere as festive and I agree it was like a day-long (pretty tiring) party!
A few years ago, I joined a running crew whilst on holiday in Stockholm. We ran/slithered around a frozen lake outside the city. It was everything I love about running; adventure, seeing nature and that shattered, satisfied feeling afterwards. I returned in the summer and joined the same group, switching up the icy weather for balmy sunshine. You see so much more of a city or area when you run around it. Iam sure part of the reason I loved running in Sweden is the Scandinavian attitude to exercise. It seems to be seen as an enjoyable aspect of daily life rather than a weekday chore.
In the UK we often define individuals into two categories: those who exercise and those who don’t. We are quick to commend and support individuals running for personal challenges and charitable causes. However, we still seem to raise eyebrows at people entering fitness events in a casual manner. It was inspiring to see groups of friends competing in a triathlon in Stockholm just as part of their Sunday routine. Having run two fantastic British marathons, I was ready for a change. It made sense to run in a city I wanted to visit. Fast becoming a scandophile, Copenhagen was top of my list.
Entry fee was 640DKK (about £75 – I believe students get half price). This seemed reasonable considering the impeccable organisation and support. The Copenhagen Marathon website https://copenhagenmarathon.dk/en is really easy to navigate (English translation available). I received regular updates throughout the year with race maps, restaurant/hotel deals etc. The expo was sufficient but much smaller than in London. It allowed me to explore a new area of Copenhagen filled with lots of antique shops and residential properties. We got given our race shirts the day before along with signs for our loved ones to cheer us on with.
As with any marathon, training took up a lot of my time, physical and psychological energy in the months running up to the marathon. I trained mainly on my own but also met some lovely, encouraging individuals at a local run club. For the first time, I documented my training on an Instagram account @scandiscamperer . This was really useful to keep track of my runs but also to get creative and remember beautiful views I ran past. Visiting Copenhagen in February before the race played a significant role in my training. In winter, CPH is beautiful in a very different way to the summer. I cannot recommend enough getting to know a city a little before doing the marathon there. During the trip, I trained and ‘hygge-d’ hard both on my own and with @NBROrunning – a feisty local run crew …more on that another time. I went into the marathon with classic pre-race nerves and a little niggle in my foot but overall just really excited to go back to run such a cool city.
I was lucky enough to have three ‘fangirls’ aka my best mates come out to Copenhagen with me. We stayed in a stylish, typically Danish, AirBnB within walking distance of the start line. The night before the race I carb-loaded with nourishing, fuelling porridge in Grød – my favourite cafe in CPH. We also headed out to Papirøen a local street food festival. After a reasonable sleep, I woke to bright blue skies and walked to the start [and finish] line in Islands Brygge. I was amused by all the individuals in numbers cycling past (the city is so bike friendly and the locals fit enough to not panic about tiring their legs pre-race!). The portaloo queues were a nightmare as usual and start corrals very casual. However, I managed to weave my way towards appropriate pacers who carried large coloured balloons around the course.
I thought I was being careful not to rush off too quickly. However, losing my hair ribbon was probably a sure sign of a fast start. The streets were still quiet and it was a treat to scamper through the town centre. Feeling strong, we then went out to Østerbro. It was a novelty to be running with people speaking and cheering in Danish. I was lucky to be running at similar pace as lots of fit younger men – true Vikings! I was also struck by how casual runners appeared – much less over-priced running gear, fewer synthetic gels etc. Simply fit individuals doing what they love. About every 2 miles we were offered water and sometimes energy drinks. Refreshing orange segments and energy boosting banana pieces were also regularly provided; perfect for people who don’t like carrying provisions.
There were markers every kilometre which was a bit odd initially as I am very used pacing in miles. Rather than constantly checking my pace, I glanced at my analogue watch every 5km. I aimed for around 22 minutes per 5km but did not obsess over pace. Early on, I realised the Danish supporters weren’t your average supporters. Different run crews from the city took control of various areas with huge cheers zones – high fives, glitter, confetti, music, dancing – the lot! It was really inspiring. A really nice added extra was that at 7, 20 and 34km there was live video feed of runners that family/friends could watch at home.
At 10k I glimpsed my friends who yelled support like heroes. I’d recommended that position as they could then easily visit the iconic Den Lille Havfrue (little mermaid) statue nearby. As the course is two loops, I was able to look forward to seeing them again later. The next hour or so was really enjoyable. Crowds thinned out further towards Frederiksberg so I was glad to have my music. It was also a treat to never feel penned in. I ran my first half in around 1h30 – fast but not too fast for my goal. It was getting hot at this point and I began choosing shadier sides of the road grateful for the sun cream I’d liberally applied. Luckily, most water stops also had refreshing showers. Running quickly, I probably didn’t drink enough water and should have slowed down to avoid spillage. Søpovillonen bridge at 27km hosted the NBRO crew cheer zone – such an incredible display of encouragement and nice to see some recognisable faces. The course is generally quite flat but by this point I’d started to feel the hills over the bridges. It was nice to snake back and start repeating the beginning of the course for the final time.
By the time I saw by friends again around 37km I felt very different to the first time around. I have been lucky in the past to always run a negative split but I was thirsty and my legs felt a bit heavy. I think I had been a bit too quick initially and over-heated in the sunshine. I consciously began to take on more fuel and, although slightly disappointed I could no longer see the 3.00hr marker, I was determined to enjoy the run to the end. I pushed all I could. It hurt watching people come past me in the last few hundred metres but I felt so privileged to have had (mainly) such an fun race, a new personal best and a good ranking in the field.
The finish itself was a great cultural experience. Friendly volunteers handed out hot chocolate with bread to dip into it (a bit odd but comforting!). We were also given Skyr – high protein yoghurt, fruit and roses for the top finishing ladies. Individuals with PBs were told to ring a kind of ‘victory bell’. After some photo opportunities my lovely supporters met me with a cold beer and we wandered to a market in the meat-packing district. We had a perfect afternoon soaking up more glorious sun and enjoying congratulating other runners in their medals.
We then headed home for a serious Smörgåsbord and celebrations in our apartment. It was the perfect end to a race day that beat all expectations. Even better, we had tactfully planned another 48hours to relax in the city after the race; lots of mørgenmad, interior design and of course some active recovery climbing the slope of the beautiful Rundetaarn. It was really important to me for us all to take focus of me or running and enjoy Copenhagen together in its own right.
A few months on, I still love running and have already started researching more Scandinavian cities….