Abbe, Bojana, Brian, Susan and I decided to run a Half Marathon in Sweden. Why?
Months ago, we ended our lunch run at As Is in Hells Kitchen for lunch and a few drinks. The conversation turned to running at some point (obviously) and Bojana and Brian had said they were visiting our mutual friend Anders, a Stockholm native and running the Gothenburg Half. After a few quick airline searches we found out that we could get there for around $350 round trip. Game on.
Who is this ‘Anders’ guy?
Anders lived and worked in the States for 10 years or so, with the last stint being here in NYC. He worked with Bojana which is how we were introduced. He and I became fast friends. He is one of the few guy friends I have who run a similar pace as me, so we would go on these long runs and solve world problems. It was awesome. He and his wife Alena eventually moved back to Sweden.
I left work Thursday, unfortunately skipping my company kickball game, and made my way to JFK. I popped into the Alaska lounge for a few wines and some dinner (and plane spotting) before departing at 8PM. For the first time in a long time I slept the entire way to stop one, Iceland. If you have ever traveled to Europe you know how important it is to get sleep in along the way to adjust, otherwise you are a train wreck.
Reykjavik’s airport is one of the most amazingly designed airports I have ever seen. Dark, with great signage and seating that is so well thought out it should be in MoMa. I was impressed. I was also disappointed in my own country which often touts its greatness. This would be a theme throughout my trip.
The next leg of my trip was quick and I arrived in Stockholm around lunchtime. I jumped on the amazingly efficient and (again) well designed Arlanda Speed Train to Stockholm city center. It takes 18 minutes. Not 20, not 17 but 18 minutes. And of course there is free WiFi in every corner.
Bojana and Brian were chilling out in a large park in the middle of the City Island of Stockholm. After a quick 20 minute walk I found them. It was 70 and sunny and we were all so thrilled to be there. This outdoor bar opened a few minutes after I arrived and we posted up. Shortly after Susan followed by Anders arrived.
We boarded the high speed train to Gothenburg at 5:30 to arrive at 8:30. Once again, we all had assigned seats and everything was so organized and civil. In our car we had free coffee, fruit, cookies and water in the front and guess what, there wasn’t a line of people taking everything. The train itself wasn’t fancy, but it was well designed with wood trim and folding things everywhere.
We had our fair share of train beers as we enjoyed the gorgeous and sunny ride through the country.
Gothenburg Pre Race
Our hotel was basically in the train station which would be very convenient the next day. We checked in then headed over to dinner at Taverna Averna, which was recommended by my friend Delia who lives in town. We split a bunch of pizzas and had a really fun time. The race was at 1PM the next day so we could cut loose a bit and not worry. I think we were in bed by 12.
I woke up at 7AM being acclimated to the time difference but realized that we had nothing to do until around 10AM so I went back to sleep. I had some crazy dreams too.
Bojana, Brian and I had breakfast, showered (separately) and met Anders and his brother in the lobby before heading out to the Start. We took a tram which was packed with runners. This is the largest Half in Europe at 60,000 runners (10K-20K larger than the NYC Marathon for those not in the know) so the vibe was similar.
The race festival area was bumpin! There were all kinds of warm ups happening and tons of runners. It was cool to see. Anders and I bid farewell to our friends as we started in Wave 1 and needed to get corralled. He and I did a half assed warm up run as it was so packed before saying goodbye. He was in Corral 2 and I was in Corral 1.
It was no different than any other race, lots of amped runners jumping around getting in the groove. I was all smiles. Would I race it? Would I just run it? I wanted to hit a time of roughly 1:25, I didn’t think anything faster possible as I had run the Eugene Marathon 3 weeks earlier. See how I feel is what I told myself.
The gun went off and we hit the streets at a pretty good clip and in a very packed group. The streets were narrow. I also immediately said to myself, “Holy shit, it’s really hot and humid.”
Miles 1 and 2 were 6:25 and 6:14. We were going up and around this wooded park, which was nice but I think it was a steady uphill. It was here, out of nowhere I heard (in English) “Go Chris!” I turned and looked to see my friend Delia yelling and cheering me on! Here I am on the other side of the world and I find a familiar face… very cool.
When we signed up for this race Anders had said it was a relatively flat course. Anders you are a liar. At the end of mile 3 as we exited this cute neighborhood we began a brutal leg burning ascent. I knew we had to get to the start of this big ass bridge, I just didn’t know it would be like this. Just as you thought it was over you took a turn and saw more uphill. Then, you saw the base of the bridge (like a big ass bridge like the Queensboro) looming with the apex out in the distance. By the time we got to the top I was really thinking I was having a heart attack. My pace was a 6:38.
Then, we bombed downhill to the base of the river on the other side. It was a relief and also fun but I was pretty spent. Miles 5-8 were along the waterfront going through various neighborhoods. The crowds never let up and there were loads of fun bands rocking out. I was hitting 6:30, 6:41, 6:37, 6:46 and was concerned with my pace as it was sporadic.
The Other (Better) Bridge
Mile 9 (6:51) had us going back over the river but on a way more manageable incline. I had like 30 minutes to go is what I was telling myself. Keep it together, no stopping.
The rest of the race were on these really straight and narrow (narrow like 2 people wide) roads. I felt better but was still fatigued. The city now reminded me of Paris a bit, with its tree lined streets. People were out eating and drinking and watching us from all the cafes. Ah so jealous. Miles 10-12 were a 6:36, 7:03 and a 6:47… sporadic.
I think it was around mile 12 where I saw this gal and her husband jumping and waving madly at me. As I got closer and the haze and fatigue lifted I realized, ‘Whoa that’s Delia and her husband Johan!’ I high fived him and ‘kind of’ high fived Delia! Great to see them again!
I knew we finished on the track stadium so I held back a bit. Once we entered the stadium I knew this was the end and enjoyed my finish. I ran a 1:26:40 with a 6:38 overall pace which I am very happy with. It was a brutal course and it was hot humid as well.
After I finished I walked over to the grandstands to wait for my friends (that was our plan, which was flawless). Anders, followed by Susan, Bojana and Brian showed up and then we hit the tram back to our hotel. We were even able to shower in the hotel’s spa!
Return to Stockholm
We waited for our train at a pub where we all housed some serious heavy foods to replace our lost Half Marathon calories. Then, we jumped the train back to Stockholm and had a repeat ride of the day before. Our conversation got so deep we even invented some new food concepts.
Arriving in Stockholm at 9:30PM we needed one thing… food. We popped into a ramen spot and then all went to our respective hotels to rest before the following days big tourist attractions.
Stockholm: Day 1
Once again I found myself eating breakfast with Bojana and Brian. We left to meet Susan for our Duckboat tour of Stockholm at 11. Have you ever been to Boston? Did you ride the Duckboats? Same thing. The tour was awesome and Max and his team were very funny. Guess what, America is the laughing stock of the world still… shocker. Remember when you could be proud to be American in foreign countries? Now I find myself keeping my identity a bit of a secret.
Next, we met Anders at the King’s Palace, had Fika (a coffee break) and then went on to our Segway tour!
It was raining so our guide Ryley insisted we wait a bit and have more coffee, which he personally brewed. None of us were willing to Segway in the rain, so yeah we will wait. 30 minutes later it was clear and we jumped on our rides. My Segway was named Caro, seriously, they had names.
He took us on a 2-2.5 hour tour of the bigger island, Soldermalm, which is supposed to be the cool place to hang out. The tour was great, very historic, and no one was maimed.
We hit up Akkurat for snacks and beers after. Then, we set off on a Stockholm sunset walking tour.
Anders used to live there so we hit a number of he and Alena’s local bars before ending at a super fun Thai restaurant.
After dinner, we navigated the Stockholm subway flawlessly to get us home. Bojana and I were very proud of ourselves.
Stockholm: Day 2
Susan and I went for a pretty cool run on Day 2. We followed the water similar to the route our Duckboat tour went. We then went up into the King’s old hunting island and ran along some pristine paths. She even taught me how she does her cool running ‘in action’ photos.
After a quick shower we were all at the Vasa Museum which ironically was 50 feet from where Susan and I turned around on our run. The Vasa was a heavily designed warship that was built in 1628 and sank 300M off the coast to be rediscovered in 1965. It was raised and restored and is 98 percent the real deal and trust me, it’s epic.
Upon entering and seeing this massive warship I was immediately reminded of Goonies, a movie I have seen hundreds of times. If you haven’t seen it please stop whatever you are doing and go watch this movie so I stop judging you.
Look at the detail and the craftsmanship that went into this thing. It is a functional piece of art.
Anders met us and then we went to see Alena, who is a chef at this dope restaurant in what one could only describe as Stockholm’s Central Park. It’s laid back though in a greenhouse and everything made there is grown in the surrounding gardens. I had a salad she had created as we all sat out in the beautiful sunny weather.
The rest of the afternoon we spent sitting outside in various restaurants taking in the sun and the sights. Even though it was a Monday it seemed like most of Stockholm had the same idea.
Before dinner we signed up for a Stockholm Walking Ghost Tour. We started in Old CIty. Out of nowhere, this guy walks up in a cloak with a cane and begins this amazing adventure. It was funny and at times (like in the crypt) very scary.
Dinner was at a pizza place Anders recommended. It did not disappoint.
We said goodbye to Bojana and Brian as they were leaving at 7am and then we all dispersed to get some sleep.
Stockholm: The Finale
I woke up early and went for another run. My flight was at 1:50PM and the weather was 60 and sunny, spectacular… so let’s go see more Stockholm.
I mapped a solid 5 mile route that went through the Old City area and up into Soldermalm along the cliffs. I was feeling really great and knew I had all the time in the world, which helps. Up in the Soldermalm I found myself in some really steep hills that had cobblestones, double trouble. I was moving fast though and felt wickedly invincible almost gliding instead of running. Crossing the western bridge back to my island I noticed another small island with a park in it so I jumped out. I managed to find this sick vista where I captured this panorama view of the city.
Susan and I met in Old City and bounced to this coffee shop she had found. Anders met us there.
Our time was running out and I was dreading saying goodbye to my friend. He and Alena are having a child in 3 months, so it is up to me to visit again, which is very possible. Susan and I said our goodbyes then her and I made our way to the airport. Once there I posted up in another lounge with the thought that she could get in too, but she was in a different security class and had to stay at her gate.
Back to the USA
My flight back was great. I read, watched movies and reflected.
I crushed customs and was through in a record time of under 5 minutes.
Then, America happened. I used the bathroom in JFK and was like “What the F…” Americans are animals. Gross, filthy animals. No one respects their environment. How many times have you seen some punk throw trash on the subway tracks? Me, a lot. Until we care about where we live we won’t be able to enjoy a beautiful environment.
Sweden Rocks! What a great trip this was… I will certainly be back!