Race Report – Tórshavn Marathon 2023, Faroe Islands

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Race Report – Tórshavn Marathon 2023, Faroe Islands, 4 June 2023

The idea of running the Tórshavn Marathon came up several years ago. My friend Katrin is one of the organisers of this race and had tried many times to get me to fly to the Faroe Islands to do it. What finally persuaded me to enter was watching the London Marathon on TV back in October. It was about time I did a full marathon myself. I felt inspired by those crossing the line but having failed to get into London on the ballot a couple of times before, I thought I’d just go straight to the Tórshavn website and enter that instead. No ballot to worry about. Within 10 minutes I had entered.

The website had lots of pictures from the 2022 race. It described it as “a race like no other”. A picture of sheep crossing the path in front of runners ascending the steep coastal road lodged in my mind. In just over eight months time, that would be me.

The Faroe Islands may be familiar to some of you from the BBC shipping forecast. A group of 18 volcanic islands rising straight out of the cold North Atlantic situated between the north of Scotland and Iceland. Even though the islands are an autonomous nation of Denmark, they have their own culture and a language which is similar to Icelandic. My friend Katrin was born and raised on the islands and after 15 years living in Copenhagen, she decided that she wanted to return to her homeland. As a member of the local running club organising the event, she was keen to spread the word about what a great race this was so in the end I couldn’t resist signing up. Perhaps I didn’t realise what a stunning location this would be for a marathon though.

The capital city of Tórshavn means Thor’s Harbour. Usually the islands are subject to unsettled weather but incredibly I landed in clear sunshine having connected at Copenhagen for the flight to the islands. From the air I could see how hilly the islands were with sheer cliffs rising straight out of the sea. I knew in advance that this would be a challenging course so I had duly trained on the hills around Pembury which would prepare me for the 600 metres of climb on the course. Apart from the training plan, I sought advice on a healthy eating plan which saw a slimmed down me better able to tackle the ascents as well a grab a whole bunch of parkrun PBs in the weeks leading up to the race. So given the preparation I had put in, I felt reasonably confident lining up on the start line although I was still daunted by the distance ahead of me. I had plodded around plenty of half marathons before but never felt capable of doing the same distance twice in a row. This time though I was in good shape and all the hours I spent climbing Half Moon Lane from Capel to the A21 hopefully would stand me in good stead for this race.

So at 1pm on Sunday, I finally lined up by the pretty harbour in Tórshavn alongside the 5k, 10k and half marathon racers for the first full marathon of my life. I had made it this far. There was no turning back now. The race started fairly innocuously with a gentle 8km loop of the city before a steep ascent of the coastal road with a stunning view of the North Atlantic and the hump-backed neighbouring island of Nólsoy. The road then turned away from the ocean and we had a long descent as the road picked up the shore of the dramatic fjord, the Kaldbaksfjørður.

As we ran along the fjord, the scenery became more spectacular. Waterfalls cascaded down the steep hillside on either side of the water with only the strengthening breeze and baaing of sheep disturbing the tranquil closed road course. The sun was out though and after the half marathon turning point there was just 100 odd full marathon runners on this part of the course. We had the whole length of the fjord, both sides of it, to ourselves. Soon enough the front runners had reached the turning point and were heading back along the shoreside in the opposite direction.

I finally reached the hamlet of Kaldbak with its beautiful turf-roofed church and a few flag waving kids cheering us on. It was at this point that there was only a handful of runners behind me but at the 30km mark I was feeling good. It felt like I had the whole of this majestic fjord to myself. However, the wind was strengthening, the temperature was dropping and I knew I had some big hills ahead as we started the steady climb from the shoreline of the fjord back towards the city.

The hills I had descended a couple of hours earlier came into view and they seemed much steeper than I remembered on the way out. There were only three or four runners within sight by now and as the mundane outskirts of Tórshavn came into view, I knew I had dig in for the last few kilometres. My pace dramatically decreased as my right glute started to stiffen and I found that even the downhills were hard to negotiate. Finally the historic old town came into view and I was able to run the last few hundred metres along the flag lined streets down towards the finish line by the harbour.

As I crossed the line, Katrin presented me with a superb chunky medal which showed the hammer of Thor. I had done it in 5:36, thankfully within the six hour cut off point. So definitely a slow one but by way of comparison, the M/F winners completed the course in 2:57 and 3:39 respectively. So perhaps not the easiest course to do for my first marathon but I couldn’t think of another one I’d rather have done.

The next day we drove the course so I could take pictures of the route I had done 24 hours earlier. I reflected on what a fantastic race and experience it had been and told myself that perhaps I’d be back one day to do it again.

John, marathonrunner