Race Report: Copenhagen Half Marathon

My second half marathon in as many weeks took me to Denmark for the Copenhagen Half Marathon on the 18th September.  This was my first time running a race outside of the UK, and Copenhagen is somewhere that I had long wanted to visit, and combining this with a PB potential half marathon course meant that last weekend had a certain amount of significance attached to it through my own expectations and sense of pressure.  In a nutshell, I really wanted it to go well and going well meant liking the city I so badly wanted to see and getting a PB.  Not to ruin the rest of this post, but I wasn’t disappointed.

I didn’t feel great in the week between the Great North Run and Copenhagen.  I’d done a yoga class and an easy run that had shaken off the soreness of the Northumbrian motorway, but when I took to the road for a speed run on the Wednesday I totally fell apart.  I couldn’t even hit the final fast splits – a time that I was aiming for as my goal pace in Copenhagen.  This naturally quite upset me and made me wander if I’d been too ambitious in my goal for the race.  This sense of anxiety was further enhanced when my 4km lunchtime run with my colleague Katie saw me doing just faster than marathon pace and feeling far too heavy as a result.  Oh dear.  I was starting to bemoan my training plan and fear that I had simply pushed too hard in Newcastle and was going to end up in a PB in neither race for trying to be too clever.  There was only one way to find out the answer to if this had worked – get on a plane.

Due to the unexpected stormy weather on the Friday our flight was around 3.5 hours delayed, meaning that Marco and I missed out on the Bridge the Gap party and didn’t arrive into the centre of the city until nearly 3 in the morning. The city was still really busy but we made our way straight to the apartment  of our poor hosts’ who we’d had to wake up to let us in.  Danish style seems to be eminently popular in the UK at the moment, whether it’s through a coffee table book on hygge or studiously liking all of Anine Bing’s posts on instragram, and walking into Morten and Maria’s apartment it became clear why. Clean aesthetics, fresh, white – it looked like it had fallen out of a Pinterest board.  This was the start of my style-gawking and voyeurism for the entire weekend.  I’m a bit of a Daneophile when it comes to dressing and interior design and last weekend has converted me even more.

The next morning after a few hours sleep and a homemade breakfast on Maria and Morten’s terrace we met with all the running crews in town for the race and went for a shakeout run around the lake, led by the local crew NBRO who also organised the cheer zones, party and after run area.

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On a side note, NBRO and the Danes in general seemed to all be very fast.  I know sub 1:25 half marathon runners in England, but they tend to be the exception to the rule whereas early every man I spoke to from NBRO seemed to be around the 1:15 mark and the women weren’t far behind.

The rest of Saturday passed by with a trip to the expo, cycling tour of the city and a trip to Paper Island and Christiana, before a pasta party in the evening.  If you’re planning a trip to Copenhagen then I would implore you to go to Paper Island.  With an indoor street food market to rival Shoreditch and views out over the water it was the most relaxed way to chat and get to know people before the race, as well as indulge in some delicious food and a few lucky day before beers…As for Christiana… well… it definitely smells like freedom.  It is known as the free town and has spent many years as a ‘hippy’ hangout and the smell of marijuana is pretty entrenched into the area, but it was actually just a really lovely sun soaked relaxation spot with delicious local pastries (just pastries, no nudge nudge wink wink here please) and well worth a visit if you’re in the area.

Walking to the start line the next morning I still felt vaguely concerned about my legs feeling tired, but while some people feel nervous before races and exams etc. I normally just enter into the relaxed mindset of ‘nothing you can do now’. In fact, my main concern before the race was that I was hungry again. I had a Pip & Nut sachet for after the race but ended up having it about 30 minutes before, a nutrition strategy I had never tried before.  That and I was wearing my NBRO singlet and so something I’d never practiced in.  Oh and the beers the day before.  It was odd though, the more my control on the situation slipped the more relaxed I felt.

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Onto the race. Having heard so much about the flat course and the amazing crowd support I was at risk of underestimating its difficulty as there was still the very odd small incline, and the headwinds blowing around I had not anticipated.  However, I got through the first 10km at my target pace, but it was around then that I realised I was finding it tougher than I would have wanted.  A quick round of mental arithmetic, and mine is dodgy at the best of times, I decided that at 12km I was going to officially slack off the pace for 5km.  I felt like I needed the recovery and whilst it wouldn’t be the PB I was looking for, I knew I could at least still match the 1:39 I managed in Silverstone of March this year. This really felt like the right decision, and although I’d slacked off the pace was still faster than I anticipated – I was stronger than I had thought I was going to be.

By 17km I started to resume my previous pace and buzzing off the amazing crowd support I knew the race was still mine, and that I hadn’t come to match a PB or get a marginal one.  I knew I wanted to do better than that. So, I pushed and by the time I saw the 20km sign I knew what it was I was here for and I felt determined to go and get it.

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The finishing straight of the Copenhagen Half is long, and running without glasses or contacts I could only hope that the black and white sign in the distance meant the Finish line, but I tried to keep my shoulders back and not start giving into the temptation to slump and lose form and instead finish looking and feeling strong. I drove over the finish line 1 hour, 37 minutes and 30 seconds and in my normal clumsy fashion practically ran straight into Marco who had been waiting for me, having achieved his own PB of 1:22.

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Races where you achieve a PB always feel good, but I can honestly say that Copenhagen is the only half marathon distance PB course that I have ever truly enjoyed in its own right.  Maybe it’s to do with the confetti canons, beautiful course that takes you all around the city, or the plentiful supply of cheer beers as soon as you’re over the finish line, but it might also be to do with the atmosphere of the runners and supporters.  The whole thing felt like a celebration of running, hard work and the city. There seemed to be an expectation that nobody would do anything less than their best, not because of a sense of pressure but in a way that empowered and celebrated ability and determination.  Though the post-race beers definitely helped…

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Overall, I loved Copenhagen – we were lucky to have lovely hosts in Maria and Morten, a perfect day weather-wise for running and some delicious danish pastries thrown into the mix as well.  If you want to dip a toe in the water of European races then this is a very user friendly first one.

Next stop: Royal Parks Half.

Copenhagen Half Marathon: My View

  • This is a flat course, but flat doesn’t always mean easy. There are a couple of tight turns in the city and wind is always going to be a factor in Copenhagen apparently.  That being said, if you’re looking for a PB course with character – this is definitely the one for you.
  • Water cups. Why water cups rather than sports cap bottles.  I believe that this is a common feature of European races compared to the UK where we’re generally spoiled by the abundance of the sports cap. If you need a precise strategy, don’t want to be slowed or just don’t like pouring water down your front then it might be worth considering taking your own bottle as water cups are nearly impossible to drink from whilst moving and there was a certain amount of congestion in the water stations.
  • A very friendly and largely English speaking atmosphere that is perfect for those who have never raced abroad before.
  • Don’t expect to keep up with the Danes at running or at drinking. You’ll either blow up your legs on the first, and you can use your imagination for the second.

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