For our holiday this year we went to Sweden via Copenhagen, starting with a few days in Malmö. Having just got a number for the North Run, and having only been further than 8 miles about twice in the last 2 years, I thought I’d better take my kit and do a bit of jogging. So before we went I googled “Running in Malmo” and discovered that they had a half-marathon on the Saturday (we arrived on Thursday night). It seemed like a good idea, Gill didn’t object (“as long as I took it easy”) and so a couple of clicks later, the credit card had £39 on it and I had been emailed a beautiful Start Certificate in English.
The Start Certificate had to be taken to the Running Store in the city centre to get the race number, so we made that part of the tourist trail as we spent the Friday exploring the city. I found Malmö to be a surprisingly nice city with an old centre, some decent modern development on the waterfront, lots of parks, canals and an excellent beach. So we did a lot of walking the day before and panic started to set in around 3pm, the time of the run. It was very hot and I was tired just strolling around sightseeing. There was no way I could run a half-marathon in this heat!
Luckily rain was forecast for the afternoon on the Saturday and it clouded over about lunchtime, making it nice and cool for the 3 o’clock start. The race started outside Malmö’s renaissance castle (not the most picturesque castle in the world), which was only a 10 minute stroll from our hotel. On the way there we passed a group of runners doing a serious warm-up routine, all in club vests emblazoned with the name Sparta. I’d been joking that I would be running against the Vikings but I hadn’t expected to taking on the Spartans as well! The park by the start had various stalls and a stage with music and stages for ladies to demonstrate the mass warm-up (not greatly participated in). The front of the field appeared to have some athletic looking Swedes and a smattering of wiry Kenyan types, so I looked for a start position away from these and the very serious looking Spartans and popped in next to the balloons for the 1:45 pace makers. The runners here looked less threatening until a couple of tall lasses came on one side and some tall athletic looking lads on the other. These were proper Viking types who looked as though they could row across the North Sea and sack Holy Island no bother. If they saw Newcastle upon Tyne on the logo of the puny looking specimen in sky blue, they may well have fancied their chances! I was getting nervous again and feeling distinctly under-prepared.
The start was a relief, we headed away from the Castle, over the canal and onto a wide road through a modern business area. We then switched back past the station, over the canal again and into the heart of the old town. We went right across the main town square and through some of the main shopping streets. The route wasn’t even fenced off but we were passing pavement cafes on the left and crowds of shoppers turned spectators on the right – this was 3pm on a Saturday afternoon. I can’t imagine Newcastle City Council letting 2,000 runners take over Northumberland Street!
Next we passed through some residential streets before going bang through another shopping area. I knew that I was ahead of the 1:45 balloons and now noticed that I was not far behind the 1:40 ones, so I eased off a bit as I was still wary of lasting the distance, but I’d still almost caught them by the first distance marker that I saw which was 5K. I overtook them soon after and settled into a steady pace. There was now a long stretch through parkland on cycle paths which included running past the football stadium – always a point of interest for me. As we ran alongside the stadium we had parkland on our right and a row after row of cycle parking between us and the entrances. There were spaces for hundreds of bikes – again I can’t imagine that at St James’ Park.
There was little of interest for the next few kilometres other than a guy sprinting past me at about the 7K mark who suddenly sprinted past me again 2K or so later. He then slowed and I wondered if he was treating it as an interval session, but he then ran alongside or just behind me from 10K to about the 16K mark. I talked to him at the end and he explained that it was his first half-marathon and he wasn’t sure what pace to run so he thought that he would attach himself to “somebody who looked as though they knew what they were doing”. He meant me! You can fool some of the people …
We had now rounded the Malmö Arena with its vast desolate car parks and turned into a nice residential area. The sun had come out now and so had the locals. There was lots of support with shouts of “HeJa” (pronounced Hay-Yah) which I took to be encouragement. One family had even set up their own water stall and had let their young daughter, aged about 7, loose with a hosepipe to cool the runners down – a task she performed very enthusiastically! I got soaked but as it was now getting hot (think ganning along the Scotswood Road temperatures), it wasn’t unwelcome.
The official water stations were now every 3K or so and they gave out plastic cups of water, so it was little and often which I prefer. The first two seemed to have been manned almost exclusively by young blonde ladies in short shorts, so I perked up a bit when I saw the next sign announcing water in 300m. Alas, I was handed my cup by a middle aged bloke with a beard, but I suppose even Sweden does not have unlimited reserves of beautiful blondes!
Just after the 15K marker, we turned onto the sea front. A look back over my shoulder rewarded me with fantastic views of the Oresund Bridge, which devotees of Scandi TV dramas will know as “The Bridge”. I was feeling fairly good now and realised that I was overtaking people, so I was probably benefitting from the steady start. This was a quiet stretch now with little support but some nice sea views as we made our way back towards the City Centre along the cycle paths with park and beach to our left. It got busier as we approached the finish with lots of people enjoying the afternoon sunshine and shouting HeJa.
Somewhere between 19 and 20K my legs started to give up and it was now willpower that was keeping me going. Gill was on the path with about a kilometre to go so I had to try to look fresh as I knew she would be taking a photo, but I now just wanted to get to the end. We finished back where we had started and I was very pleased with my time of 1:36:07 – there was a tent with big screens displaying finish times on a loop. I was disappointed that we didn’t get a t-shirt at the finish, just a medal, pair of socks, a banana, a chocolate bar and water. I know Sweden is expensive but it did cost £39!
If any of you are running tourists, looking for a nice place for a short stay with the chance for a PB, then consider Malmö. The course is very flat and, weather permitting, should be one for fast times – just don’t expect a t-shirt!