Thursday, August 10, 2006

TR -Sweden

Trip Report –Sweden and Greenland – Part 1

TR –Sweden
Olands Marathon
Olands, Sweden
Sat, Jul 29/06
Marathon # 267
3:38:47 – 25 OA – 1 AG

The purpose of this trip was to run another country – Greenland – but as I started to plan the logistics of the trip I soon discovered that there were no direct flights from the USA to Greenland. The easiest /cheapest way to get there was to fly East for 15 hours from Denver, CO to Copenhagen, Denmark and then fly back West for 5 hours to Greenland.
I figured it made more sense to depart a few days early and stop over in Copenhagen to recover from jet lag, meet some friends and run a tune up marathon somewhere in Europe. Research on the Net revealed that the closest/easiest race to get to from Copenhagen was the Olands Marathon on Olands Island – an island in the Baltic Sea off the coast of Sweden.

I managed to find a friend, Tad from London, who was interested in joining me for the race. Thank goodness because it became very difficult to register and get to the race and his help was invaluable. The local running club had a website (in Swedish) that provided basic details but when we tried to contact the club we got no response? I had to contact some running friends in Sweden and Latvia and ask them to contact the club. Finally we received a response “You are most welcome to run our marathon” but very few details and no offer of assistance with logistics such as hotel, transportation, etc. We were on our own. I had difficulty trying to make reservations on the Net (from the USA?) but Tad was able to succeed from the UK and even had to call a car rental agency to book a car because they refused to answer our emails. But finally we had all the travel plans in place and Tad and I agreed to meet in Kalmar, Sweden on July 28th.

I departed Denver early on July 27 and flew via Atlanta to arrive in Copenhagen around 10 am on July 28. I took a train from the airport directly to Kalmar, Sweden via the 16 km bridge to Malmo – a 3-½ hour train ride. Since I arrived before Tad I checked us into the hotel and did a quick walking tour of Kalmar. Kalmar is a medieval city that was once the mightiest city and center of power in Sweden. The Kalmar Slott (Castle) dates back to the 12th century and the Cathedral was built in 1660. It is a compact city so I was able to tour most of the historic/tourist sites and still meet Tad at the train station when he arrived about 5 pm. I gave Tad a personal tour on Fri night before we enjoyed our normal pasta dinner. By then we had learned two important things: 1) Nothing was cheap in Kalmar or Sweden and 2) Kalmar and Olands were a local tourist region that catered to Swedes (not international tourists) and very few locals spoke English.

We learned that the marathon was being held in Lottorp, a small town located about 80 km north of Kalmar on Olands Island. It started at 5 pm on Sat. We decided to leave around 12 pm because we were concerned about heavy traffic on the narrow roads on the island. I volunteered to drive the rental car since the Swedes drive on the ‘right’ side of the road! We stopped in Borgholms – the largest town on the island – to tour the ruins of the Borgholm Slott dating back more than 1000 years and to eat a greasy pizza for lunch. We arrived in Lottorp about 3 pm and easily found the start/finish line of the marathon. Fortunately one of the runners had been contacted by my friend in Sweden and had been expecting us. He spoke pretty good English and was able to fill in many of the details about the race and course that we needed.

The course started with a 2 km loop around the town and then an 11km loop west to the Sea (Kalmar Sound) and back to town. The marathon would be 3 loops and a final 2 km loop around the town. The course was flat. There were 62 runners in the marathon. Tad and I were the only runners that were not local or from a neighboring Scandinavian country. And the weather was much hotter than forecast – temps were still in the 80s F at the 5 pm start. I had expected cooler temps and had not packed a singlet so I asked the race director if anyone would be offended if I ran without a shirt. He replied that I could run naked if I wished but since my fat ass and the spare tire around my gut don’t have any pockets to carry carbo gels and my race shorts do I kept them on! However the heat was not my biggest problem/concern. Something I ate for breakfast or that greasy pizza for lunch didn’t agree with me and I was suffering severe stomach cramps. I spent a lot of time in the toilet before the race trying to get rid of whatever was bugging me but still had cramps when I lined up at the start line.

I ignored the cramps/pain and took off with the Big Dogs. I followed the three lead women through 5 Km in 23:29 but then the cramps got worse and by 8 Km I was forced to pull off to the side of the road for a ‘full service’ pit stop. I have never done that in a marathon before! While I had my shorts dropped down around my ankles an old fart passed by! When I finally finished the pit stop I set out to catch him and it took me 5 km to pass him and for the next 20 Km we became engaged in a serious duel/pissing match!
We changed the lead many times as we tested each other’s speed and willingness to accept pain. I passed the Half in 1:46:19 in spite of the heat and the time lost to the pit stop. However I knew at that point that the 2nd Half would not be as fast because the heat had extracted a toll on our old bods. Around 25 km my stomach cramps got bad again and I needed another pit stop but was not willing to sacrifice the time so I tried to run through them. As I slowed and struggled the old fart blew by me again and I could not respond. I struggled for the next 5 km but finally the cramps started to ease as I left the town and headed for the Sea again. Around 30 Km another old fart caught me but I could see he was hurting. He asked me what age group I was in and seemed happy when I said “M 60”. He replied that he was only 55 and since we were not competing he was going to drop behind me for a while.

That turned out to be a blessing because I soon became annoyed with the sounds of his footsteps riding up my ass! The weather had cooled some and the cramps had eased so I decided to push the pace and left him behind quickly. My faster pace soon pulled me within sight of the old fart in front of me and I decided to catch him.
As we approached a water station near 32 Km he made a BIG mistake! He stopped and walked through the station and I continued to push. I caught him about 500 ft past the station but now we had a dilemma. If I took the lead he was sure to respond and I wasn’t sure if I had enough left for a serious duel/pissing match for the final 10 Km? My first thought was to see if it was necessary?
I asked him what age group he was in? He replied “M 60”! Damn, Double damn! All I could reply was “Oh Shit – so am I”!

I made a tactical decision – one that was both risky and dangerous! I lowered the hammer and my pace well below 5 min/Km (8 min/mile) and held it for the next 5 km in the hope that I could bury him – or at least discourage him from responding. I didn’t even dare look behind me for fear that if I saw him staying on my ass I would become discouraged and give up! Only when I reached the water station at 37 Km did I dare to sneak a look behind me. I had built up a lead of almost ¼ mile. I eased off the pace a wee bit until I hit the edge of town at 40 Km and sneaked another look. The lead was still ¼ mile with only 2 Km left. I knew I had him so I cruised to the finish line in 3:38:47.

As soon as I crossed the finish line and stopped the stomach cramps became severe again and I also became nauseous so I headed straight to a toilet not knowing which end was going to offer relief? I must have been in there a long time because eventually a local runner knocked on the door of the toilet to ask if I was OK and to say I was wanted at the finish area. I stumbled over to the finish line where I was invited to stand on a podium and receive a beautiful crystal glass award for winning the Senior Division. Maybe all the pain was worth it after all?

Fortunately while I waited for Tad to finish (4:40) the stomach cramps eased and I started to feel much better. I asked some runners if we could eat in Lottorp after 10 pm. Unfortunately all the restaurants closed at 10 pm as they did in Kalmar so it looked like we would not get any food after the race. We couldn’t even have a beer because Sweden has a Zero tolerance law for alcohol. So we had to make the long drive back to Kalmar without food or beer! We arrived in Kalmar about midnight and parked the car and went hunting for a beer. We were lucky to stumble across a grill/fast food stand that served us a greasy hamburger and fries and then we went to the city square for a beer. It was still quite warm so we sat at an outdoor café and enjoyed a few beers (at $8/beer) while watching scenery similar to that shown in that slide show I sent you before the trip. Yes – the scenery was that good!

But after two beers our old bods were wasted and it was time to collapse and sleep. On Sun it was time to take a train back to Copenhagen and begin 3 days of R& R.
I arrived in CPH around 5 pm and after checking into the hotel I searched out a good restaurant to enjoy that celebration dinner that I never got in Sweden. I enjoyed a delicious dinner in Nyhavn (New Harbour – established in 1671) – very good but also very pricey as is everything in CPH!

On Mon I took a standard city tour to reacquaint me with the layout of CPH and its tourist sites (the Royal Palace, Rosenborg Have, the Little Mermaid, etc) and then I explored the city on foot. CPH is a beautiful city that is very compact and easy to get anywhere on foot. But the best scenery can be enjoyed from a sidewalk café as they pass by on bikes and on foot. On Tue I kept my promise to my readers and went to a beach in Amager Strand. It was not a great beach day with temps in the 70s and a brisk breeze but there was still some nice scenery on the beach. However I cannot share the photos with you unless I receive a release form signed by your partner (or your mother)!

And finally on Wed I departed CPH for Greenland. That is the topic of my next report.

Stay tuned.

No comments: