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Helsinki City Marathon – 17 August 2013

Iain Donnelly recalls his Olympic Stadium Finnish!

I know l am a lucky lad… having the chance to run the Helsinki City Marathon. After dubious marathon efforts previously, l was determined to make this one count!!!

A well earned medal and beer for Iain in an Helsinki bar

Helsinki capital of Finland is a small city with very cold, long winters and short summers.  Apparently saunas are very popular followed by a dip in the sea during the winter… l honestly do not know what they do with the rest of their time.  The Finnish people are very friendly and love endurance sports…  their countries capital cities marathon is a very special event.

On the start line standing with 5000 people, normally l like to join in with the nervous chat, it helps you to ease into the run with so many runners around you. Unfortunately l did not have a clue what they were saying so plan B, focus on your run as if it was just a training run. All these people and l am on my own!

Crucially l had adjusted my planned split times from miles to kilometres (marker signs in kms) otherwise l would need a calculator whilst running. Instinctively however, l was in motion at 8 minutes per mile taking in the atmosphere and scenery along the way. The route is reasonably flat taking in suburbs, bridges and islands on the outskirts of the harbour city. We drifted nicely into the city centre (great atmosphere) with the very, very special treat at the finish to come!

My previous marathon experiences had confirmed that the shorter distances, half marathon and 10k, were giving me better results. The marathon in my eyes (and legs) still had to be conquered. Cramp is no fun and it has over shadowed previous 26.2m attempts… was the cooler temperatures of Helsinki going to help me this time around?

At 30km (19 miles) l was bang on 2hrs 30min as planned… happy days… been here before and know the pitfalls. I deliberately slowed down, this one was not going to slip away. Constant rehydration and gel refuelling during the run gave me cautious optimism. I was not sweating so much this time, it was cooler… but still… the ‘wall’ was ahead.

The wall for me is when my legs start to ping and twitch ensuring that a shuffling walk is the best mode of personal forward motion. Running is not an option. This time l consciously ‘listened, looked and felt’ for the signs, at 38km l broke through the wall. Adrenalin kicked in, it felt great.

I spent the final 2/3 miles overtaking a number of struggling runners, been there done that, it was my turn to fly!

Suddenly l was entering the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Stadium, l had not given it a moment’s thought (prior to the event) due to my fear of previous marathon experiences.  My previous sporting achievements include playing county/national golf at Muirfield, St Andrews and Royal St Georges… entering the Helsinki Olympic Stadium easily matched these wonderful experiences. Whilst it does not match Sydney, Athens, Beijing and London in stature Helsinki has great Olympic history and longevity. Also, on a very positive note, the stadium is used proactively many decades after it hosted the games.

3hrs 37min 6secs after starting l had finished the Helsinki City Marathon (615th out of 5000) in a superb stadium in front of thousands of spectators. Finally l have chalked up a decent marathon time, to do it in Finland made it all the more sweeter.


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