From Sweden with Love – Gothenburg Half Marathon Review

Around 2 years ago, I had entered the Great North Run.  I remember it very well, as it was billed as the largest participated Half Marathon in the world, I was terribly excited to be stood there at the start line, to be part the biggest.  So as I stood there, on race day in a grey North East drizzle, I was chatting to fellow athletes *ahem* and I was somewhat taken back when I said to one chap “How great is it to be taking part in the largest half marathon?”  “Nah mate” he retorted “Goffingburg is massif, much bigger bruv”  “What?”  “No – I read it, the people – they said it was the biggest ” I stuttered. “no its the second now mate” he replied. I was gutted! My disappointment could not be hidden, it was plain to see! I was destroyed!

So fast forward, and after many drunken nights with Richard Farr, we decided Gothenburg just had to be done. It became an obsession.  I approached Lloyd Richardson, a seasoned traveler when it comes to races, as he had already smashed Paris and Amsterdam with me, and was more than happy to entertain Sweden as another “Flyers on Tour” tour.  That was it – booked, signed up and ready to go.  18 months in the making.

Partners were invited too – mainly because it was so expensive compared to other races, and the fact I booked the best hotel Swedish Krona would buy!  Not one for a lads weekend on the cheap.  Also of course, it was sold as a romantic weekend away, whilst enjoying the company of friends. The ladies were hoodwinked, but to be honest we did not have to try to convince them to hard. Donna and Becky had decided they would run it too – ABBA here we come!  As a group of six, five were running, one was pregnant, and all were so excited about the trip.  This was going to be fantastic.

Gothenburg is very easy to travel to.  A 1 hour and 45 minute flight using Ryanair, flying from Stansted and a short coach journey takes you into the heart of Gothenburg.  The coach journey is no more than 20-30 minutes to the hotel from the Airport.  All very easy and simple to do.

Gothenburg is beautiful, crossed by canals, rattling trams and large stone block architecture and 11377215_10153037626293893_3581891336102752586_nvery friendly Swedish people.  It’s not a place that often appears on peoples lists of “must visit”, but I cannot recommend it highly enough.  Exceptionally clean, pedestrian friendly, easy to navigate and full of wonderful gardens, and parks.  We were very lucky with the weather and had sun on us for most of the weekend, which I feel always makes you more fond of a new place, but still,  it does not matter how many superlatives I use here, it will not do Gothenburg justice.  Trust me – it’s a wonderful place.

Suffice to say – just go there and visit it for yourself.  You will thank me for it.  I promise you.

Now the hotel was stunning!  Incredible in fact.  I booked it on Booking.com based on user reviews.  I was hoping the group, who had put their faith in me, would not be disappointed.  Fear not, we had a roof top pool which overlooked Gothenburg with panoramic views of the city.  The hotel had a Michelin star restaurant, a 10418415_10153037626223893_6403406046500074366_nsauna (naturally), a spa, piano bar, a very popular bar, and around 500 rooms and was staffed by Swedish girls who must have been made from the finest materials known to man and with gods own hands too – they were flawless – I kid you not.  That aside, (playing with fire here) I had chosen well and the group all were impressed, and with it being in the heart of Gothenburg – we were off to a good start to our weekend of running and romance  – and all things Swedish.  I breathed a sigh of relief.

The one thing I will say, the currency is stupid.  You get about KR1000000000 to £1 – which means every time you order something,  you will get the shock of your life when they tell you its KR10,000 please.  It’s about £12.5p in real, good old fashioned Sterling.  On that note, people will often remark how expensive Gothenburg is.  Let me reassure it is not.  It is on par with the UK. Beer is however, quite pricey, most we paid was £8 for a pint.  Food was on par with the UK, and transport was the same. The hotel was about right too – so if like me you love your beer – buy wisely.  If not, go for it – you wont break the bank.

The race itself, and the hype that surrounds it is fantastic, and exceptionally well organized. The exhibition was located at the start line,  so the day before the race, we headed off to the venue from our hotel via the tram system to do a recce and collect race numbers.  It’s was a 20 minute journey and very easy.  Oh before I go on, you know when you are on a bus or a tram and there is that one guy who always speaks to you?  That is Lloyd.  He seemed to find “friends” whenever he sat down on public transport.  Quite useful though as he duly made sure we got to the right place as a result of making new friends.  One “bus friend” Sven or Henrik (or whatever) had told us where to get off (in a friendly manner) and gave us a huge amount of advice about the race day, where we should meet, what to expect etc.  Lloyd duly relayed this to the group, meanwhile Rich and I had decided that every question could be asked by simply by saying “Hurdy” and the right response was always “Gurdy”  You could tell who was taking it seriously and who was not.

11229543_10153037623683893_7408644230854051818_nThe exhibition was pretty standard to be honest, hosted in and around an 1920’s stadium where someone had won something or the other, I cant say it was brilliant or bad, it was practical and we got our numbers had a look around as you do.  Of course the ladies had to shop, so in turn I bought socks – from some Swedish Twins who told me that these were the best socks in the world – I would have bought sandals with socks if they had told me to, if the truth is to be told.

We left the exbo and visited Gothenburg by foot, having beer and a general wander through the streets.  It was a great place to be and everything just kept ticking boxes for us.  The day after the race we went on a boat ride which I would suggest is one the best ways of seeing Gothenburg – but I will leave the Judith Chalmers review for another time.  Alan Whicker I am not.

Now for 50-60,000 runners to converge on a race day would be a nightmare, but the Swedish have a great way of dealing with this and have clearly thought this through.  They spread the start times over a number of hours not minutes as you do in other races.  Lloyd and Rich had a start time that was 12 minutes ahead of me in pens of around 2000 people.  The ladies started 3 hours after this.  We all thought this was a bad thing at first, but it became apparently clear why on the day itself.

When we boarded the tram, and whilst it was busy, it was easy to get on without too much of a crush, and we could comfortably make our way to the stadium for the start.  As the competitors were spread out, it became clear the Swedes had a system, their way meant there was no bottlenecks.  Brilliant!  This works when leaving too the race at the end too.

We had agreed to meet at certain meeting points later in the day, and said our goodbyes – the ladies agreeing to travel up later due to the much later start time, leaving Lloyd, Rich and myself to set off, get warmed up, visit the dreadful toilet queues – you all know the drill that happens at races.

Then it became all a bit odd. We had noticed a few people running in a large circle warming up – probably in an area around the size of half a football pitch.  So what? Well within 10 minutes, it had started to grow in number, from a handful, then 100 people, 200 – maybe 500 people all running like one giant washing machine!  We could not help but get drawn into the vortex of runners – whilst mocking them all, we found we were in it, and it was great fun!  I know now how starlings feel when they do their autumnal dance en mass!

So we moved over into our start pens.  It was already decided I was taking it steady but wanted a steady time to match,  Rich was hoping to get round after his ankle accident on a previous Flyer tour in Brugge a few weeks earlier, and was still limping, and Lloyd – well Lloyd was going to run his socks off.  The run takes you all around Gothenburg, going through the massing crowds at the start, along the waterfront, onto a small island and over a huge bridge with gives you fantastic views of the coastline.  I went off at a steady pace and completed the first 10k around 47 mins or so.  I was thinking – I may sneak under 1:45 but it was not really on the cards as I had not run 13miles for months but as always, the early part of the race is where the excitement takes over and slowing down is not easy to do.

I caught up with Richard around mile 7 or 8 by sneaking behind him an singing loudly some crappy Craig David song which was 10385277_771132080698_486350258753917583_nblasting through my headphones. An English voice must have stood out – especially with estuary English.  I ran with Rich for a mile or so, before he ushered me on.  I must admit I felt strong, and kicked trying to get my pace near a 1:45 hour half marathon.  It was hot – very hot, but as ever the Swedes had it covered in a typically well oiled manner.  There were water stations every 2K or so, no problem in hydrating and around mile 10 I was thinking I can do this, but my legs thought otherwise – I was knackered, and started to slow.  I took the opportunity to walk through water stations as it was getting hotter and harder.  There were a few runners walking, and one or two worryingly collapsing being given medically help.  The last mile was horrible – seemed to take an age, but the stadium came in view along with the finish line.  I managed to put in a sprint finish when I hit the race track but I was “done in” by the time I had crossed the line. 1:54 final finish time. I staggered across, where a Swedish girl sprays your face with a plant watering thingy-me-bob, and it felt lovely.

I saw Holly by the finish line which was a good sight to see – baby bump and all, but was too exhausted to do anything but throw an arm towards her general direction.  I walked 11329961_10153037626463893_6626073754943666945_naround the track where I collected a very impressive medal to see Lloyd looking fresh as a ever after completing in a time of 1:44.  He was somewhat laughing at me “I saw you finish – you did not look good” he giggled – fair enough, he was right.  Richard was not too far behind us, and he and Lloyd set off to collect he bags whilst I found Holly.

Whilst waiting for the chaps to arrive back, I knew that Becky and Donna were due to set off about this time.  I then got a phone call from Rich – “We are missing a Flyer” he said in a cheerful manner I hasten to add.

It turns out Lloyd saw Donna and Becky in their start pens on his way to collect the bag, and thought sod it, jumped in the pen – and joined the ladies to do it all again!!!  He ran a marathon when he was expecting to run a half – just to be with Donna!  That reason alone, this makes Lloyd a legend in my eyes – and always will be. A true gentleman, and made from pretty strong stuff.

Holly, Rich and I found a bar and duly sat in the sun waiting for them to return.  It had cooled down nicely by now, and we sat by a lake with beer in hand.  A great way to finish the race and the day.  Donna and Becky returned form the race along with Lloyd all looking very pleased with themselves and quite rightly so – it was a tough course, in hot conditions – and was their first half marathon!!!  As for Lloyd – fresh as ever.  Bloody hate him really… 🙂

We all returned to the hotel buzzing about how beautiful the run was, and later that 10406738_10155633138225457_4617216987137984534_nevening whilst in the pool on the roof, looking back across to where we ran, we all had a warm glow about the weekend, and we still had a day of tourism to go too. Perfection and contentment right there.

Now, I know I have rambled on in this report, but I have left out lots, I am sure that the others will mention and include more in their reports or even I hope they do.

This is race is 10/10.  Gothenburg is 10 out of 10.  5 Star.  Top of the Tree.

On a personal note though,  what really made this weekend for me was the company of friends I traveled with. They made this weekend for me. All of the group loved the weekend, and I love them for making the weekend for me.

None of the Flyers I knew before I joined the group, but all of them I would travel with anywhere and anytime and at a moments notice.  I love this mad group of Orange!

My only regret?  I wish more Flyers were there to see it with us.  It was just too good and no report will do it justice.

Thank you Abba, Volvo, Ibrahmovic, Smörgåsbord and all things Swedish – it was amazing!

PS – We are already looking at Norway for a night Half Marathon!  I cant wait.

 

 

 

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