Thursday, January 30, 2020

Race Report: Helsinki City Marathon

In January 2019, I began to do research on a few European races, even looking at some potential double marathons on consecutive days. I started to look at the possibility of doing the Helsinki City Marathon on Saturday in Helsinki, Finland and the Riga Marathon on Sunday in Riga, Latvia, two races in two countries - but with a unique situation as the Helsinki race starts at the fairly odd hour of 3:00 in the afternoon.  By the time I'd finish that race, there would be no flights available until the next morning to go to Riga, and if I booked the first flight of the day on Sunday (a super early 5:30am flight), it would be landing at potentially less than two hours before the start of the marathon there.  It would amount to running two marathons with a 13-14 hour break in between, which partly would be sleep and partly getting to and from my destinations.

I decided to make the decision to do both races a few months later, and had my long haul flights booked to and from London Heathrow: leaving Thursday evening from JFK and arriving the following day; and a return flight home to New York on Monday evening.  I would book the shorter haul flights from London to Helsinki, Helsinki to Riga, and Riga back to London separately - ultimately choosing to do so with a bit of frugality - the flight to London to Helsinki was cheapest with KLM, so I still ended up flying through Amsterdam, but I would get SkyMiles; and then I ultimately booked Helsinki to Riga and Riga to London with AirBaltic on a multi-stop trip. For accommodations in Helsinki, I decided to book the Hilton at the Helsinki Airport for two nights, which was about half an hour from town - the equivalent of being on the train from home to work for me; it made sense, so 1) I wouldn't have to change hotels over two nights, and 2) I would not have to worry about having to get up super early for my flight to Riga on Sunday morning.

The flight to London was like most of my flights from JFK to Heathrow, pretty unmemorable; though, I did not have my ideal choice of seat in getting there, having to sit on the aisle.  I managed about 4 1/2 hours of sleep on the flight, then upon landing, made my way to connections where I had to board a bus from where we landed in Terminal 3 to Terminal 2, then disembarking to continue on to Terminal 4, where my flight on KLM would depart.  Terminal 4, which I've actually never been to before, is on the other side of the two parallel runways that serve the airport, so the airside bus connections took a little bit of time being able to cross it, waiting for departing and arriving planes to go through before we were allowed to cross.  Still, when I finally got to Terminal 4, I still had about half an hour before boarding, so I got to enjoy the rather soulless SkyTeam Lounge located here for a little bit before getting on the plane to Amsterdam.  As expected, it was a quick flight across the channel to Schiphol Airport, and despite a lengthy line at passport control, I was able to move to a much quicker line to get to my connecting gate for my flight onto Helsinki, which still allowed me to use the KLM Crown Lounge before that flight.  I caught up on a bit more sleep on both flights as we made my way to my final destination.

Arriving at the Helsinki Airport
We arrived in Helsinki at 4:30pm, and I quickly got checked into my hotel room at the Hilton Helsinki Airport, where I quickly showered and got changed so I could feel refreshed from the 14 hours of traveling via airplanes and airports I just completed.  The airport is located in the city of Vantaa, roughly 10.5 miles north of Helsinki's city center, but is easily connected via a railway link that just opened in mid-2015 that takes roughly half an hour of travel.  Overseen by the Helsingin seudun liikenne (HSL), the ride from the airport to the city falls within the A, B, and C fare zones, and costs €4.60 for a single ticket, either through a machine or through the mobile app, and is on a proof-of-payment system, meaning that fare inspectors who randomly patrol the network may periodically request to see your ticket, and if caught without a valid ticket, the passenger must pay a €80 fine! I took into the city for the evening, and as soon as I got into town, decided to walk to the Töölö Sports Hall (Töölön kisahalli) where the expo was being held, roughly 1.3 miles away from the Helsinki Train Station (Helsingin päärautatieasema). The route was pretty, as it hugged Töölö Bay (Töölönlahti), actually part of the route of the marathon on Sunday.

The Passio Musicae sculpture
Retrieving my bib was quick and painless, and from there, I decided to navigate my way westward toward the Seurasaarenselkä, the sea area that dominates Helsinki's west coast.  Right on the water is Sibelius Park (Sibeliuspuisto), a beautiful park dedicated to Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, widely recognized as his country's greatest composer and is often credited with having helped Finland to develop a national identity during its struggle for independence from Russia.  A gorgeous monument to him, titled Passio Musicae, is located there, completed in 1967 by Finnish artist Eila Hiltunen, consisting of a series of more than 600 hollow steel pipes that resemble organ pipes welded together in a wave-like pattern. The purpose of the artist was to capture the essence of the music of Sibelius, and despite having created little music for organs, sparked a lively debate about the merits and flaws of abstract art. It is one of the best-known tourist attractions in Helsinki, and luckily was not too crowded when I came to visit.

I continued to walk alongside Merikannontie, the street that hugged Seurasaarenselkä, and eventually came upon a rowing competition happening on the bay, which I later found out was a prestigious University Rowing Competition pitting eight top university rowing teams from all over Finland against each other at the Soutustadion overlooking the bay.  There was a raucous crowd cheering from the stands as I passed by, and I continued on, wanting to enjoy seeing more of Helsinki that I wouldn't be able to see during the race on Saturday afternoon, nor during my free time on Saturday morning where I had a list of places I wanted to check out before the race.

Oodi Helsinki Central Library
I made my way back toward the train station area, passing through the Etu-Töölö neighborhood and meandering past the imposing steeple of Christ Church (Kristuskyrkan), a Methodist church; and the The National Museum of Finland (Kansallismuseo), housed in a national romanticist style building completed in 1916, built to reflect Finland's medieval churches and castles. I walked past the Helsinki Music Centre (Musiikkitalo), and Kansalaistori Square, a square and lawn area located between the Music Centre, Oodi Helsinki Central Library, and the Kiasma contemporary art museum, where a concert happening in real time inside the Music Centre was broadcast out to the masses enjoying the late evening sun.  It was nearing 8pm, and the sun would still be out for about two more hours - a normal phenomenon in Nordic summer!

Sunset over Helsinki
I neared the train station, and got in touch with my friend Bill, who was in town with his fiancé Julie, nearing the end of a two week trip out to see all the Baltic countries, and fitting in a half marathon as well!  We had gotten in touch earlier that day and agreed to meet up for dinner, eventually going to Friends and Brgrs, a fast casual burger spot with most locations in Finland, but also Denmark and Germany, that had some decent reviews on Yelp.  While it wasn't my usual "seek local food" type restaurant, it was affordable, which is not easy to find in Nordic countries, which are known to have some of the most expensive places to travel to in the world.  After dinner, we made our way to the Ateljee Bar at the top of the Hotel Torni, which has magnificent views of the entire city from 260 feet up. During clear sunny days it might even be possible to see Tallinn, Estonia on the other side of the sea, and at night time the city lights make a beautiful and breathtaking landscape. We got there just at the right time; the sun was JUST setting for the day, only to get right back up over the horizon some six hours later - and even then, darkness meant duskiness!

Bill and I showing off our bibs
With my exhaustion setting in from being seven time zones ahead of normal and my normal immediate-upon-arrival rush to see as much of the city as possible, I bid Bill and Julie adieu, to retire back to my hotel at the airport.  Heading to the train station, I admired how it looked in the early evening; the station was designed by Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen in 1909, and completed ten years later. The station is mostly clad in Finnish granite, and its distinguishing features are its clock tower and the two pairs of statues holding the spherical lamps, lit at night-time, on either side of the main entrance. Saarinen eventually became a visiting professor at the University of Michigan's School of Architecture, and his son Eero, an architect himself, made a name for himself building many prominent structures throughout the US, most notably the very space age and ahead-of-its-time TWA Terminal at JFK Airport in New York City. The half hour trip was quick, and surprisingly crowded (apparently lots of folks use this train to get to and from the city and suburbs as well - I did end up having to show my ticket to an onboard train agent!) and I got back to the hotel at 11pm, completely exhausted.  Within minutes, I was hitting the hay and ready to get up early the next morning to have it all start up again.

The best salmon soup I've ever had!
Before going to bed, I managed to set everything up in one easy to carry bag for the following day, which included a full change of clothes into my kit for the race. I got a restful night's sleep, waking at around 7am, and stopping by Alepa, a Finnish grocery shop, conveniently located landslide at the airport between my hotel and the train station, to grab a quick bite to satiate my morning hunger. I grabbed a riisipiirakka, a traditional rice pasty that was a good option during that commute.  Ultimately, my first destination of the day was to head to the Old Market Hall (Vanha kauppahalli) just a short walk from the central station, and right on the South Harbour (Eteläsatama). Built in 1889, it is the oldest continuing shopping market in the city; there are about 25 different merchants and cafes in the hall, the product range of which consists mostly of food. Among them is Kalakauppa E. Eriksson, a fishmonger selling smoked fish, cured fish, fresh fish and shellfish - and a salmon soup considered the best in town... and it was pretty damn good!  The same week I left for Finland, travel vloggers Kara and Nate Buchanan had posted a video from their trip here during the winter months, showcasing the same exact shop, with excellent reviews - so I made sure to take their word for it!
Entering the beautiful Vanha kauppahalli

Helsinki Cathedral
The rest of the morning and early afternoon, I tried to fill as much as possible - and it was made easier when I finally was able to figure out how to use the Helsinki City Bikes, a bike-share system that's been fully integrated into the city's other public transport systems. The rental system, which has been in place since 2016, is fully web-based, and for only €5, one can make unlimited 30 minute trips with the bicycles within a 24 hour period, as long as it's re-docked at any of the city's 345 bike stations. Overage fees apply if you exceed the 30 minute limit. After registering online and making my payment, I was given a personal cyclist ID and a PIN code to unlock a bike from any station. In a matter of hours, I managed to zigzag all throughout the city center, making my way to the Finnish National Theatre (Suomen Kansallisteatteri), Ateneum Museum, Helsinki Cathedral (Helsingin tuomiokirkko), the Lightbringer (Valontuoja)/National Memorial to the Winter War in Kasarmitori Square, Design Musem (DesignMuseo), St. John’s Church (Johanneksenkirkko), the Amos Rex museum that rises whimsically out of Lasipalatsi Square (Lasipalatsin Aukio), Kamppi Chapel (Kampin kappeli), Allas Sea Pool urban spa and sauna, and Uspenski Cathedral (Uspenskin katedraali)!
"My Helsinki"
Uspenski Cathedral
Bad Bad Boy statue
I also notably went out of my way to Helsinki's West Harbour (Jätkäsaari) to see “Bad Bad Boy,” Helsinki’s answer to Brussels’ hugely popular Manneken-Pis statue. Standing 8.5 meters tall and sporting a surprised expression and an amiable blush, Bad Bad Boy is a work by artist Tommi Toija produced by Amos Anderson Art Museum. Some photo angles might make it look like the statue is now being used to water a landscaped area, but don’t worry: It’s just pissing on the sidewalk... except it wasn’t when I visited on Saturday morning. I also was able to get some time to stop into Kotiharjun Sauna, the last genuine wood-heated traditional public sauna in Helsinki, located in the laid-back eastern district of Kallio.  Heading to a sauna is part of everyday life in Finland - in fact, there is a statistic that over 3 million saunas exist for the 5.5 million inhabitants of the country.  So, this was a must do... and this particular sauna, a very no frills one, has welcomed sauna-goers since 1928. It was the best way to get myself ready for my race!

Met a Finnish corgi!
Eventually, 3pm started to come closer, so by 1:30, I made my way back to Töölö, and even spotted a corgi on my way there!  Here was the finish line area of the race, located on the grounds of Telia 5G -areena or Töölö Football Stadium, home to professional football club HJK Helsinki. Here, I could change and leave my bag, and at the time I arrived, lounge around on the practice field turf with runners who just completed the Helsinki City Run, the half marathon that started at 11:30am. With still lots of time before our start, I stuck around until it was time to head to the startline down in front of Töölö Sports Hall, situated right in front of a statue dedicated to renowned Finnish Olympic track star, Paavo Nurmi, who won nine gold and three silver medals between the 1920 games in Antwerp, 1924 games in Paris, and 1928 games in Amsterdam. I spotted my friend Wojtek from Poland (who I met in Egypt back in February), who in turn introduced me to several of his fellow globetrotting friends, including Dati from Indonesia. Wojtek and Dati were going to run a double this weekend as well, opting to do Copenhagen on Sunday after a similar early morning flight.

The 1952 Olympic Stadium
Before long, we were about to start. After announcements were made and a countdown began... all in Finnish... we went through the start gate on Mäntymäentie and began to run down the narrow street, heading northward along Urheilukatu, passing by the Olympic Stadium and its distinctive 238 1/2 foot tall tower, site of the 1952 Summer Olympics. It’s currently in the final year of a three year €209 million renovation, funded by the national and city governments. We also passed the arena, knowing we'd pass one more time before finally running into it several hours from now. The marathon is essentially two 10ish mile loops, with a separate five mile section in between, and a mile of other routing that all adds up to the 26.2 mile distance.

Starting off the race in Töölö
We veered left onto Reijolankatu, then followed the wide boulevard of Mannerheimintie northwestward, skirting the single diagonally-arranged buildings that form the southern boundary of the massive Keskuspuisto, or City Park, which stretches some 10 kilometers from this point all the way up to the border between Helsinki and Vantaa in the north. The afternoon sun, keeping things nice and warm at 67º, began to be a bit of a nuisance, making me break into a sweat early on, and it didn't help that this opening mile was also on a barely shaded corridor.  We got a quick respite of shade as we turned slightly right onto Tilkanvierto, but that was short lived as we rounded the corner under a bridge overpass, then proceeded along a bike path that took us out along the southern edge of Little Huopalahti Park (Pikku Huopalahden puisto), a small park overlooking the Seurasaarenselkä, as we crossed from the Meilahti neighborhood into Munkkiniemi over the Munkkiniemi Bridge (Munkkiniemen silta).  It took two miles, but finally as we began to run through this more pastoral setting, away from the city, that I stopped feeling overheated; a nice calm breeze began to blow as we began the run through the islands surrounding the bay.

Crossing the Lehtisaarensalmi Bridge
What's unique about this race is a good chunk of the run, particularly along the section through the islands, is actually on biking and walking trails, reducing the need to close streets, many of which are the only way in and out of certain areas.  We would alternate between trail and road all throughout this part of the race. This part was beautiful, as we ran along the trailside on the edge of the bay, alongside Ramsaynranta and Lillnäsvägen, two roads leading to the peninsula. We crossed the short Kuusisaaren Road Bridge (Kuusisaarentien silta) onto the island of Kuusisaari, the are with the highest average income of all the Helsinki metropolitan area and where many foreign embassies in Helsinki are located. We then crossed another road bridge, the Lehtisaarensalmi Bridge (Lehtisaarensalmen silta) onto the island of Lehtisaari, and a wooded section through the small St. Lawrence Park (Pyhän Laurin puisto) that took us up a hill onto what was one of the hilliest sections of the course, thus far.

Running across the Kaskisaari Bridge
Now running along the more residential roads on Lövövägen, the elevation undulated as we made our way through the island's hilly terrain, as we made our way  onto Kaskisaari, an island with many beautifully designed modern homes. From this island, we made our way over the steep wooden Kaskisaari Bridge (Kaskisaaren silta), onto the large island of Lauttasaari - this bridge is featured on our finisher's medal!  It was absolutely beautiful to see the view of the bay as we crossed.  After coming off the bridge onto Laukkaniementie, we took a sharp right turn onto Luoteisväylä, which led us onto the straightaway of Katajaharjuntie.  It was along this area that I befriended Julianne from Germany, and after chatting, found out that she had spent some time as an exchange student in Finland, but grew up near the city of Karlsruhe in Germany, where a few of my relatives lived!  She was quite surprised to find someone from America, running in a race in Finland, who knew her hometown in Germany!  We would run together for the next few miles, crossing over the Länsiväylä highway across another bridge, before being directed to run along the bike trail cutting right through the center of the island on Isokaari, a light commercial district through this largely residential area.  This was a fairly flat section of the race that allowed me to regain some of the speed I lost traversing through the hillier part of the race that just preceded.

Jaksaa Jaksaa!  Keep Going!
We turned right onto Kuikkarinne, then left onto Hakolahdentie, surrounded by five to six-floor apartment buildings, with a few spectators cheering us on, and where I saw someone with a sign that read "Jaksaa! Jaksaa!" finally able to learn some new Finnish, which meant "keep going!"  We crossed another wooden bridge, this time over a road that took us to Haahkakuja, where we turned left and reached the 10k mark of the race, a respectable 1:02:29 split.  My pace was still going strong as we turned right onto Tallbergin Park Road (Tallbergin puistotie), a beautifully manicured boulevard with two grassy medians.  This fairly flat stretch led to a left turn onto Meripuistotie, a road right by the island's busy Vattunokka marina.  We then veered slightly right onto Lauttasaarentie, as we made our way across the lengthy Lauttasaari Bridge (Lauttasaaren silta) back toward the city centre.  Near the end of the bridge, we encountered several fishermen, casting off their reels off the side of the bridge, many coming back with quite the catch!
Crossing the Lauttasaari Bridge
Passing by fishermen on the Lauttasaari Bridge
The Rumba scultpure by Martti Aiha
The slight descent off the bridge into the West Harbour (Länsisatama) neighborhood sent us along Porkkalankatu, as we jumped up over the curb and onto the bicycle lane, passing the imposing "Rumba" scuplture by artist Martti Aiha, commissioned by Alko, the government-owned alcohol company, who unveiled it in front of its headquarters on its 60th anniversary in 1992. We quickly found ourselves back on the asphalt, running down Itämerenkatu, then turned right onto Länsisatamankatu, where we were "greeted" by the two tall chimneys of a power station, running around the building as it curved around to Kellosaarenranta. We passed the Helsinki Conservatory of Music (Helsingin Konservatorio) and a raucous crowd of spectators, before following the pathway adjacent to the canalside Ruoholahti Park (Ruoholahdenpuisto), beautifully manicured with one section quite colorful as tulips bloomed in the flowerbeds.  We were then directed through a pedestrian pass-through underneath Mechelininkatu, which also reminded us how early we still were into the race - an archway directed runners on their first lap to run straight forward, while those on their second lap to run toward the left.  Of course, I continued on straight forward, running on Eeriikinkatu, to begin the only significant section of the race that would not be repeated a second time.
The Power Station chimneys
Alongside the Meripuisto
We had now crossed over into the busy Kamppi district, a busy shopping area that had our street roped off since runners were coming in both directions.  Faster runners were already coming from the other side of the street, as we had just recently passed the 13th kilometer (8.3 miles) of our race.  Those runners were over 8 kilometers ahead of me, just having reached the halfway point of the marathon.  We turned right onto Hietalahdenkatu, passing by the Hietalahti Market Hall, one of the Finnish capital city's many popular market halls that are spread throughout its neighborhoods. This was one of the locations I had docked my bike rental earlier in the day, so the streets here were seemingly familiar.  We then ran along the harborside road of Hietalahdenranta, where unfortunately there was a bit of construction, detouring briefly along Perämiehenkatu, before running along Merikatu toward Merisatamanranta and the Meripuisto, a very active park, at that time of afternoon teeming with people, overlooking the Merisatama boat dock.
Following the waterside road on Ehrenströmintie
Running next to the Port of Helsinki
We followed this road to Ehrenströmintie, which ran along the perimeter of the Kaivopuisto, a beautiful park by the sea in the southernmost part of the city, which is one of the oldest and most loved parks in the city.  The park sits on very hilly terrain, with parts of it on flat ground, and some on cliffs. While we only ran along its edge, we definitely felt some of that hilliness on the road.  We eventually made our way up to its northernmost section, facing the three passenger terminals that make up the Port of Helsinki's South Harbour (Eteläsatama), where ferry boats and cruiseliners sail to and from Tallinn, Estonia, and Stockholm, Sweden.  In the distance, as the road curved from Laivasillankatu to Eteläranta, we could see the distinctive green dome and white facade of Helsinki Cathedral.  I knew that the turnaround point for us was not far from the Old Market Hall. Soon we were headed back in the direction we came, but then this time, veering right past a roundabout and cutting along the Kaivopuisto's northern boundary, Puistokatu. This was largely a very affluent residential area (in fact, some of the most expensive in Helsinki), happening to contain the official private residences of several ambassadors of foreign countries to Finland, including the United States, Estonia, Spain, France, Belgium, Brazil, Italy, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.
Returning along Eteläranta, with the Helsinki Cathedral in the distance
Sinebrychoff Park
We ran along the northside of the Meripuisto, joining back up to the course we had run down earlier, and made our way quickly toward that point in the race where we first saw the runners coming down  at the 8.3 mile mark.  After a steep downhill descent through the crowded and very happening Sinebrychoff Park (Sinebrychoffin puisto), I passed the 20km timing mat, coming in  with a 2:04:48 split.  I realized as I passed the Hietalahti Market Hall on the way back that I had run a 2:11 first half, which in my mind was maybe a bit too fast considering I had two races to run in two days.  Almost immediately, I pulled back on my speed, and decided to take an easier approach to begin the second half of this race.  We made our way back to the pathway just before the split, this time running northward through a sunken carless pathway known as the Baana.

Running through the Baana.
The Baana was part of the Helsinki harbour rail line which was built in the 1890s, and dismantled in 2009, originally leading from Helsinki Central railway station along the city's coastline to Katajanokka, the neighborhood where Uspenski Cathedral was located, facing the South Harbour.  The name Baana is a Finnish slang word for (rail)way, coming from Swedish bana and German Bahn.  It took several years to modify the former rail line to bicycle and pedestrian use, finally opening to the public in June 2012. The race would pass through here twice, of course, running through nearly its entire 1.5 kilometer length.  I felt like I could pick up a little speed here, as it was quite flat, and I could measure my exhaustion level by trying to run its nearly one mile stretch.  Despite me picking up speed, another couple runners sped right by me - they were on their second lap, just about to finish their marathon in just over 2 1/2 hours! We emerged out of the Baana along the edge of the Kansalaistori Square, to crowds cheering us on as we made the slight ascent back to street level on Mannerheimintie.

We were then directed right along Töölönlahdenkatu, just past the Helsinki Music Centre, toward Karamzininranta, running northward as we passed the Finlandia Concert Hall, designed by Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, then ran along the path skirting Töölö Bay toward the Finnish National Opera building (Kansallisooppera). We turned right onto Helsinginkatu, then ran along Mäntymäentie past the Paavo Nurmi statue to begin our second loop of the race, now about 24.5 kilometers into the race.

Aurora Bridge
The crowds were huge as we passed the stadium. A slight difference of the start of this second loop took us around the northern edge of the stadium, toward the woodsy trails of Eläintarha park. We then crossed over the Aurora Bridge (Auroransilta), a beautifully designed steel arch bridge over Nordenskiöldinkatu. By then, the 4:30 pacers had passed by me, which I had expected, considering my purposeful slow down since the halfway point of the race. We followed Nordenskiöldinkatu turning right onto Mannerheimintie and back onto the familiar roads we took some three hours ago.

Making our second loop on the islands
The second time around the islands was admittedly harder, with tired legs pushing forward as best as they possibly could.  The hills seemed much more magnified as we ran from island to island with my continued efforts to dial back my exertion; there was no need for me to push because it was more important for me to conserve my muscles for my second marathon the next morning.  I walked every hill, and took liberal walk breaks throughout the next several miles. Still, I ran when it felt comfortable, especially on straight flat sections, and through areas where the downhill was manageable.  It was great to even see some of the same people who were out earlier for our first pass still out and cheering runners on a couple hours later.  Miles 18-21/Kilometers 29-34 were admittedly slower than what I had run rather consistently in earlier miles, but they still weren't far off of the pace; the 4:30 pacers, even though out of my line of sight, were only a few minutes ahead.

40 km mark!
We reached the Baana and what I considered the "home stretch" of the race, with only two miles left to go, and only 4:13 on my watch.  I was definitely going to go under 5 hours, but wasn't expecting to be this much under 5.  Like before, I used this flat section to my advantage and clocked a couple faster miles.  I had it in my head that I could run under 4:45 easy.  Mile 25 was a 4:24, and all I had left was to run past Finlandia Concert Hall, the sidewalk along the edge of Töölö Bay, and the sidewalk past Olympic Stadium to the finish line inside the football stadium.  I managed to spot a corgi just before turning into the stadium, and while I really wanted a picture -- I had a job to do, to finish my race in a decent time!  We turned into the stadium, now running on the astroturf, making my way to the finish line, and I crossed the mat in 4:39:42; it turns out I stayed only less than ten minutes behind the 4:30 pacers all that time since they passed me 25K into the race!
Running past the Finlandia Concert Hall
With Wojtek and Dati
I gleefully got my medal, and rested my legs (also enjoying a cup of coffee!) while I waited for Wojtek and Dati to come in.  They both ran in together, sporting their own country's respective flags, which was a fun sight to see as the Polish and Indonesian flags are both red and white horizontal fields, but inverses of each other!  After quite a few photos together (including one that would be taken by the social media managers of the Helsinki City Marathon, who caught wind of our double marathon feat that weekend, and would feature us on their Facebook and Instagram pages), we exited the stadium and they joined me for a few photos back at the Paavo Nurmi statue, including helping me with my headstand photo, before we parted ways, and I took a city bike back to the train station to catch the next train back to the airport, back to my hotel room to catch as many hours of sleep as possible before having to wake up for my morning flight.
Victory Headstand at the Paavo Nurmi statue!
With fellow double marathoner, Paul!
Having a 5:30 am flight meant being up very early to get dressed for the race underneath some sweats, then walking over to the other terminal to get through security.  While waiting for the flight, I found my friend Paul, who I had spoken to about possibly doing this crazy double marathon weekend - I wasn't sure if he was going to do it, but lo and behold, he was! We would sit together on the rather empty flight to Riga, Latvia, ready to take on our second race of the weekend!

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