North Half Fjallakofans (Iceland) 25k Race Report

August 26, 2021

by Michael Whalen

Our Iceland trip was originally planned to compete in the Road Marathon on Reykjavik. As in most places, the race, sports expo, and city celebrations were postponed. The initial six days of the trip were filled with hiking, casual running and viewing icebergs, waterfalls, and a volcano. I really was not disappointed that the marathon was cancelled.

On day six we arrived at a quaint fishing town that appeared to have some trails on a really big mountain range. After lunch, I decided to walk the town, find a trailhead and determine where I could run 12ish miles and get some elevation. I easily found a trail that appeared to be an out-and-back with some good climb included.  I phoned my sister and we decided to meet at the Segal Brewpub. The 3 of us arrived from different directions at the same time. There was a fair amount of people outside and there was a line to what looked like the hostess stand. Here is where things became fun.

We walked up to Helga and my sister noted she had a laptop and race bibs! We looked at each other and Jodi knew what my next steps would be. I quickly learned that tomorrow morning there was a 25k and also a 50k race, starting in the next town, 30 minutes away. I stayed in line and asked Helga for more info. “The race is sold out, and we are not allowing day-of registration.” Using a bit of persuasion and some begging, pleading, and appearance of sadness, I managed to convince her to give me her email address so I could follow up with her after all the bibs were picked up. I sent an email, basically adding all the info that you would put onto a race application, my Strava name, and screen shots from the week’s runs/hikes. I am guessing that my begging, knowing what info to send, and my Blues Cruise hat and Labor Pain 55-mile vest sealed the deal. In 16 hours, I would be running a 25K!!!!  Since she was not equipped for payment, Helga reported there would not be a fee for my entry. (I did slip her some cash on race day.) 

My excitement was off the charts. Let’s drink some local beers and figure out the next steps. I found the race photographer (from California) and his “crew”, including a road marathoner, doing her first trail race. I was able to arrange a ride to the starting line with the marathoner. Jordan’s wife was not racing but helped mark the course and reported that there is a varied terrain and snow on the course! I was also told to expect a few big climbs. A few more beers and something kind of healthy for dinner, back to the hotel to do race prep. Hokas, shorts, race shirts….check. Running vest, water bottles, gels, fuel….NOPE! I have never been less prepared for a race.

Race day: The race started at 11:00 a.m., allowing time to sleep in, enjoy 2 coffees and a good breakfast. I was in the lobby early and the ride to the start was uneventful. There was a hotel at the starting line and it appeared that all rooms were booked by runners. Why was registration at the finish line and not here? Karma for me! The music was playing, a few professional-looking podcasters were recording, and 50K runners were passing through. My pre-race happiness was kicking in. We lined up and a very long pre-race announcement was delivered. I was hoping that it was more nothing important, since the speech was not in English! 

We lined up and off we went! The initial 1.5 miles were on street and the marathoner I met was at a 6 min/mile pace. I settled in before the first hill. No need for poles for the rolling initial 3 miles. Then things became real. I found a few English-speaking runners and learned there was only 1 aid station and it would have drinks and maybe a piece of candy.

For the next 3 hours, I ran in mud, crossed 12 streams, had wind that blew us sideways, 3 snow fields (one that was on a slope that caused many runners to slide about 100 yards off course), moss bogs that were like running on a soft mattress, several 4 foot straight up climbs, fields with no markings (often not knowing if we were on course), a river, and a few climbs that were similar to the Leg Destroyer. I passed the marathoner at mile 6 and she was struggling with the PA-style rocks but having fun. I made good progress on the uphills (thank you Leki) and was feeling pretty good for the duration of the race.

Not knowing the course had the disadvantage of not knowing how hard to push for an 18 mile race. I went at it aggressively and after the mile 13 river crossing noted that the course was dirt road and street into the finish line. Time for the after burners for a 8:02, 8:42, 9:15 final 3 miles.  

The town was packed with cheering fans: a Norwegian style band was playing and the excitement was better than awesome! 3 hours and 15 minutes for the 16 miles with 3,719 of ascent. 36th place and 2nd in my Age Group.

In closing I am grateful for having the Karma of finding this race, being permitted to compete, having enough gear to “wing it”, finishing uninjured and not lost in the August snow and using the great advice from my fellow Pagoda Pacers to figure this one out.   Bless Bless! (Icelandic for goodbye)