Friday, January 13, 2017

Race Report: Copenhagen Half Marathon

Call me the king of way too quick overseas trips.  I decided to do it again when Norwegian, who I flew home over Memorial Day weekend from London, offered cheap roundtrip flights from JFK to Copenhagen for $500.  It would happen only one week prior to me heading to Berlin for my longer vacation at the end of September.  I jumped at the cheap flight offering and registered for the popular Copenhagen Half Marathon, which would occur on Sunday.  I would fly out after work late on Friday night, and fly direct to Copenhagen, landing on Saturday morning.

At the race expo!  Found my name :)
Upon arrival at Copenhagen Airport, I breezed through customs and made my way to the train, which was a little confusing at first since it seemed both the intracity metro and commuter trains all congregated in the same area.  I took the train from the terminus at the airport into the city, and made my way to the expo, located at Sparta Hallen, the big gymnasium located at Fælledparken.  It was a smaller expo, especially compared to the expos in the US, but considering that the Copenhagen Half is one of the larger half marathons on the European continent, it was still rather surprising. After picking up my bib, I headed into Østerbro, the neighborhood where my Airbnb was located, and settled in to drop off my bags before heading out to tour around the city for the remainder of the day.  As per usual, I had a lot planned, since Sunday morning was the race, followed by rushing back to the airport for my flight back to New York.

Statens Museum for Kunst on the top left, and the Rosenborg Castle on the bottom right! 
Boat cruise time! These bridges have LOW clearance!

Passing by Nyhavn (New Harbor, a trendy area), the Operaen (the opera house), Batteriet Sixtus (a fortification where ceremonial cannon salutes are fired) some apartment buildings on the Langelinie, the Amalienborg (Danish royal palaces), and in the larger photo, PapirØen or "Paper Island" (the former paper storage halls for the Danish press, now an immensely popular Copenhagen street food, beer garden, and art gallery space)
The backside of the Little Mermaid
First on my agenda was a boat tour that would give me a nice view of the city via its many canals.  I walked over to the boarding area and soon we were off checking out the old city from the water.  We passed by many old buildings that define the Copenhagen skyline, such as Christiansborg Palace, the old Copenhagen Stock Exchange, the Royal Danish Library, and the Royal Danish Opera.  The tour took us through the narrow canals and low-clearance bridges that cross through Freetown Christiania and quiet Christianshavn, as well as past the trendy harbor area of Nyhavn.  We also got to pass right by the famous Little Mermaid statue (seeing it from its backside... it's actually a much smaller statue than you would think) and a replica of Michelangelo's David, both located alongside the water.

Christianshavn Kanal, with its many boathouses, are meant to emulate Amsterdam.

The narrowest passage for our boat ever. Literally inches on both sides!

Vor Frelsers Kirke
After the boat tour, I walked over to Nyhavn to grab a quick bite to eat - notably, the popular open faced sandwiches in Denmark known as smørrebrod, and then headed over to the iconic Vor Frelsers Kirke (Church of Our Savior), getting there just in time to be able to go to the very top of the church's steeple, a 400-step true spiral staircase that culminates in the most narrow open-air spot I've ever been - with an expansive view of Copenhagen and its surroundings.  What made it even more memorable was the sun beginning to set over the horizon as I took in this amazing view.  Rumor has it that the designer of the church steeple threw himself out of the tower, when he discovered the rotation of the stairs was the wrong way, so that sword fights would have to be fought with the left hand, however the spiraling stairs was meant to symbol the ascend into heaven.

The brilliant facades of the buildings along trendy Nyhavn.
It gets really narrow at the top of Vor Frelsers Kirke! The 360° view from the top is hard to beat, though. 
What a view.  Copenhagen from above!
A part of Tivoli Gardens, at night.
With the evening making its presence known (and the Scandinavian chill beginning to take over the night, despite it being September), I headed over to Paper Island, an island close by that used to house a paper factory, but was turned into a massive food court featuring Copenhagen Street Food and cuisines of various cultures.  After gorging myself on a filling chicken shawarma wrap, I left the island to head to my last stop of the day, the Tivoli Gardens, a centuries-old amusement park located in the center of the city, which was the inspiration for Disneyland and many other 20th century amusement parks in America.

Grød.  Danish breakfast of champions.
As usual, I took advantage of as much of the day as I could, and then headed back to my Airbnb ready to pass out.  Thankfully, the race was to start later than I was used to, leaving Øster Allé at 11:15 on Sunday morning.  I got a good amount of sleep in, and then walked over to the start area in Fælledparken, making a pit stop for a quick traditional Danish breakfast.  In Denmark, porridge is king. I really wanted to try øllebrød, which is a thin porridge cooked with bits of rye bread, hvidtøl, water, and sugar, and served with milk or sometimes whipped cream, but I found a small restaurant (aptly, named GRØD) specializing in porridges and the havregrød seemed more breakfast like... and it was delicious! It contained oat porridge with water and whole milk, homemade caramel sauce, fresh apple, and roasted almonds. Yum!  And a few doors down, I was able to get tebirkes, a Danish poppy seed pastry (kind of like a croissant), but with a sugar, marzipan, and butter filling, which I devoured as I walked over to the start.

The startline!
Down Øster Farimagsgade, at km 2.
I got to the start pretty early, and sat around to stretch for awhile as more and more runners trickled into the start village.  With fifteen minutes to go before the start, I crossed over to the start chute and was pretty far back; despite the 11:15am start, it took over seven minutes before I finally crossed the start mats.  We started by running down Øster Allé, and made a slight right turn onto Østerbrogade, and then turned right onto the Øster Farimagsgade.  I started off well, running just above a 9 minute first mile.  Along the way, we ran by the University of Copenhagen's City Campus and the tower of St. Andrew's Church, as we transitioned from Copenhagen's cozy residential Østerbro district into Indre By, Copenhagen's medieval city and historical center.

Running up Nørrebrogade
We ran across Queen Louise's Bridge over "The Lakes," a row of three rectangular lakes that curve around the western margin of the City Centre, forming one of the oldest and most distinctive features of the city's topography. It joins Frederiksborggade in Indre By with Nørrebrogade in the vibrant district of Nørrebro, known for its mix of immigrants, students, and original, working-class inhabitants.  Nørrebro is home to Copenhagen's "Little Arabia," dotted with many clothing, jewelry, and grocery stores carrying products from the Middle East and showing Arabic signage.  As we ran up Nørrebrogade, we also passed by historic Assistens Cemetery (Assistens Kirkegård), the final resting place of famous Danes such as Søren Kierkegaard, Niels Bohr and Hans Christian Andersen.

Clouds starting to come in as we enter the municipality of Frederiksberg, running down Nordre Fasanvej
Continuing down Nordre Fasanvej
Running down Godthåbsvej.
Just after the 5K mark, we turned left onto Nordre Fasanvej, entering the municipality of Frederiksberg. Frederiksberg is actually a small town which originally formed around the namesake castle.  This area is actually separate from the city of Copenhagen and is considered an independent municipality. It is literally surrounded by the city of Copenhagen and has preserved a unique, conservative, upscale feel.  We ran down Nordre Fasanvej for roughly a mile before turning onto Godthåbsvej, another one of Frederiksberg's main shopping areas.  We would then turn onto another main shopping strip, Falkoner Alle, passing by Frederiksberg Gardens, one of the most beautiful and attractive greenspace in the Greater Copenhagen area.

A street lined with Danish flags
We turned off of the Allegade at about the 5 mile mark, and were greeted by Frederiksberg Allé, a tree-lined avenue lined with Danish flags,  originally constructed in 1704 as the king's private road leading to his new summer residence, Frederiksberg Palace. This street developed into the backbone of Copenhagen's entertainment district, and has continued to be associated with theatres until the present day. Further down this avenue, we ran into yet another district of Copenhagen, the one known as Vesterbro.  In recent years, the area has been renovated to a great extent, and its central location makes it a favored place to live for many of Copenhagen's citizens. It used to have a reputation as a center for prostitution and drug trafficking, and where only the poorest would live, but has changed drastically.  We made a sharp right turn onto Vesterbrogade, and then made our way down Enghavevej, and past the neo-classically designed Enghaveparken.

Dybbøl Bridge
At mile 7, we turned left onto Ingerslevsgade, following the railroad tracks that led toward Copenhagen Central Station. We ran along this street heading toward the Dybbøl Bridge and Dybbølsbro station, making our way over the railroad tracks and to the Fisketorvet Copenhagen Mall and the Kalvebod Brygge waterfront area of Vesterbro.  We then followed the main road, hugging closely to the waterfront for over a mile, passing by some very unique modern architecture, including the Crystal, a free-standing, environmentally friendly and award-winning extension of financial company Nykredit headquarters taking its name from its light, crystalline form which rests on only a single point and a single line, allowing for unhindered views as well as passage underneath the building; and literally running through the crevasse that goes through the famous Black Diamond, a modern waterfront extension to the Royal Danish Library's old building on Slotsholmen island in Copenhagen's inner city, with black granite cladding which was mined in Zimbabwe and then cut and polished in Italy.

Enjoying running alongside the harbor!

The Black Diamond
Christiansborg Slot in the distance
 Nyboder, Danish historic naval barracks
We would also pass some of Copenhagen's older buildings, some of which I saw on the boat tour, including the Børsen, a historic 17th-century stock exchange building in the center of the city, and next to it, Christiansborg Palace, the seat of the Danish Parliament.  We would make our way past the Kongens Nytorv and pedestrian street Strøget, following Store Kongensgade, the longest street in central Copenhagen. We'd pass by Frederiks Kirke, a rococo church in the city with a notable dome; and the historic rowhouse district of former naval barracks built by Christian IV, known as Nyboder. Some of these buildings are nearly 400 years old!

Commemorating Copenhagen Pride!

Victory headstand!
As the clouds started to roll in, the last few miles took us back through the quieter residential streets of Østerbro, passing Østerport Station (my metro stop, so we were very close to my Airbnb accommodations), as well as several foreign embassies that populate several 19th century villas in this area along Kristianiagade/Strandboulevarden. We'd follow Strandboulevarden all the way around til it hooks back to Østerbrogade, looping itself southward for the final mile, passing an area commemorating Copenhagen Pride.  After returning back to Øster Allé, the finish line was back in sight, and I crossed in 2:19:43.

All in all, 132 runners ran under the American flag, of over the 22,000 that ran this year's edition of the Copenhagen Half Marathon.  Quite a busy event!  After finishing, I was pressed for time, as I had a flight to catch, so I rushed back to my Airbnb, quickly changed and then packed up all my stuff to head straight to Østerport Station to catch the train to the airport.  Upon arriving, I forgot that this was the main station many of the other runners were going to flock to, and I encountered long lines to procure a ticket for the metro! I was hesitant to beg if I could cut in line to grab my ticket, especially since in Denmark, line cutting is known as an EXTREMELY insulting practice.  But luckily, a fellow straphanger sensed my predicament and allowed me to get my ticket before I rushed over to the platform and boarded my train to the airport.

Enjoying my bling at the airport!
Of course, the stress didn't end there, as I arrived to a hellishly long security line at the airport that seemed to stretch longer and longer.  It turns out that while Copenhagen Airport has one of the most efficient security lines in Europe (even the world, one could say), two of the automated ticket verifiers before proceeding through the x-ray machines were broken down, causing the lengthy lines. I was able to get through the line quickly, and even managed to go around the duty free area to buy some items for coworkers back home (and also heading to the cosmetics area, notably dabbing some cologne on my neck since -- eww, I didn't get a chance to shower after the race due to time constraints) and getting some delicious Danish-style rye bread at a bakery located in the terminal, to take back home.

I got to the gate and soon boarded my flight, a long 6 1/2 hour journey back to New York City. My longest direct flights this year... and yet another very short weekend trip.  I can say now that I've visited Scandinavia after this trip, albeit a very short trip!

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