Organised to celebrate the centenary of the 1912 Olympic marathon in Stockholm, the race started precisely 100 years to the minute at 1.48 pm because, on the day itself, things were apparently a little less precise and proceedings kicked off 3 minutes later than scheduled. The course began in the beautiful Olympic stadium, with 15 musketeers signalling the start in a cloud of gunpowder smoke, and continued along the original out and back route of the 1912 Games. Quite how accurate this was, I can't be sure; spending the first 10K following Stockholm's finest ring road certainly raised some questions. The organisers promised a demanding course, taking in the same undulations tackled by the competitors in the heat of 14th July 1912. Such was the challenge of the original event, of 69 starters in the 1912 marathon, only 35 finished; one non-finisher stepped off the course, only to return more than 50 years later and restart from where he left off, completing the course in the slowest ever marathon time of 54 years, 8 months, 6 days, 8 hours, 32 minutes and 20.3 seconds. Conditions were a little cooler for our run, ensuring a better return on the 8000 competitors that started on 14th July 2012.
It may come as no surprise to say this was a marathon very different to any other I've experienced. No sign of pace groups, wristbands nor a massive race expo; instead, marshals wearing boater hats and bow-ties handed out numbers the day before and coffee at refreshment stops on the course. With the majority of runners there to soak up the atmosphere around the course, relatively few iPods were on show too; those insisting on using them mostly seemed to be wearing those enormous headphones that make you look like you're piloting a helicopter or operating some heavy machinery, presumably for others' amusement.
Competitors were encouraged to dress in 1912 style and even the front runners were wearing knotted hankies as they sailed past on the return leg. This is perhaps where I should have read the website a little more carefully as the promise of a competition for best costume was enough to convince some of my friends to run 26.2 miles in fancy dress. Somewhat of a disappointment to them, I opted instead for Edwardian moisture-wicking shorts and a futuristic 2008 race t-shirt.
An historic detail perhaps less enthusing to many was the decision to include two distance options. The original race was run over just 40,075 metres, not the standard 42,195, leading the jolly organisers to leave it to the competitors to choose this time around. Travelling all the way to Sweden for a race, I was never going to miss out on a full marathon but that still doesn't make a sign like this any easier to deal with after running 40K.
Since sports psychologists would tell you to visualise the tricky parts of a race, to make them easier to deal with with the time comes, I pictured the words of marathon man, Eddie Izzard, in his Dress to Kill show to help cement my decision.
Thankfully there was far easier decision to make after the finish line, where turning left seemed the only polite option.
The five of us friends finished, with one completing their first and another their eighth marathon. As far as my goals were concerned, the run could be called a success: steady pace, consistent 5K splits, and the ability to walk the day after. Pleasingly, I ran over an hour faster than London last year, although still some way off a pb, and I was out on the bike the following week as planned, albeit a little wearily.
By far the best result of the day didn't come in the form of hours, minutes and seconds though. After causing quite a stir with the Stockholm media, Hammo made us all proud by making it into the final 15 best-dressed and had to be paraded around on the big stage at the post-race party, in between acts from the Abba tribute band, until a judging panel of former Swedish marathon stars came to a decision. Unfortunately, a man in a knotted hankie took the title, but she did come away with a rather fine commemorative fruit bowl for her efforts.
I'd highly recommend this marathon but, with a 100 year wait until the next one, you might have to settle with the regular Stockholm marathon on 1st June 2013. I'm sure it's very good but I can't guarantee a glass of bubbly on the finish line.