Iceland is hot, so to speak. Since 2012, annual tourism has increased by more than 200%. It seems that almost everyone I’ve met either has gone there, is about to go, or wants to go.
This past month, I joined the ranks of the Iceland-experienced. And, of course, a marathon was involved – the Islandsbanka Reykjavik Marathon.
I arrived earlier in the week with my son for a bonding vacation. English is widely spoken in Iceland, which was a great thing, since the Icelandic is difficult for outsiders to read or speak. To me, the typical Icelandic word looks like a hand in the game Scrabble. But at least one Icelandic phrase was easy to remember: takk feyrir, which means “thanks very much.”
We first set off on the Golden Loop to see the country’s most popular sights. First up was the only spot on earth where the rift between tectonic plates can be seen, followed by geysers, a collapsed volcanic cone, and an amazing waterfall. The next day’s trip brought us to a tall waterfall that we were able to walk behind, and a hike on a glacier. All around us were jagged volcanic peaks and cliffs, green flatland, and endless water.
Reykjavik itself is the largest city in Iceland, but it’s also the smallest capitol city in Europe. It’s incredibly clean, and boasts of a great number of museums. One of its most interesting features is its total reliance on geothermal energy for heating; all of the necessary power to heat the city comes from deep in ground, where lava is closer to the surface than at nearly any other spot on earth.
After exploring Reykjavik and its environs, it was finally time for the race. Temperatures are usually in the mid-40s to mid-50s in late summer, and race day started cool but warmed up nicely, with plenty of sun and only modest winds. There were approximately 1,400 runners in the marathon, and spirits were high when the race director sent us on our way.
The marathon is one of five different races offered that day, with other distances being a half marathon, a 10K, a 3k, and a 600M fun run. All the courses were mostly flat, with only small rolling hills to break up the monotony.
The marathon and half started out together, looping through a residential area and passing the downtown waterfront, where it visited some of the city’s most iconic sights, including the beautiful modernist Harpa Concert Hall, and the Sun Voyager steel sculpture of a Viking ship.
After the marathon course split from the half, we continued on a bike path past a small waterfall and some beautiful woodland. Powerade and water were usually available every two kilometers, but if any runners were planning to use energy gels, they had better have brought their own, because none were given out on the course.
We continued on to the Grotta area, which is a protected birdlife area guarded over by a tall, white lighthouse, one of the most famous in Iceland. And then it was a dash to the finish, where music and cheers greeted the returning heroes. Race day coincided with a cultural celebration, which ushered in the start of Iceland’s art season, so the party continued past the finish line and into the evening.
There is so much to like about this race that it’s hard to know where to start. It was one of the loveliest and fastest courses I’ve yet seen, and while runners aren’t pampered like they often are in the U.S., the race was very competently and professionally run. In the end, all I could say was takk feyrir, Iceland!