Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Race Report: Scotiabank Blue Nose Marathon

Running in all the Canadian provinces wasn't an immediate decision on my part, but when slots began to open up in my 2019 calendar to fit a few of them in, I decided why not.  The Blue Nose Marathon in Halifax, Nova Scotia, traditionally occurs over Victoria Day weekend date (the weekend preceding May 25th), but this year was pushed back by three weeks because of Halifax hosting the Canadian Hockey League's Memorial Cup at the Scotiabank Centre.  Organizers had to consider the demands on volunteers as well as the flood of visitors needing hotels and restaurants; the annual race and its related events draw more than 13,000 participants across the multiple distances offered. So, the 16th edition of the race was moved to the second weekend of June.

The course was experiencing some changes as well; from 2004 to 2015, the full marathon course crossed over the MacDonald Bridge, the older of the two bridges crossing Halifax Harbour, into Dartmouth. Construction on that bridge left the route without the Dartmouth portion of the race in 2016 and 2017, with the 2018 edition returning back to a section of the course in the "City of Lakes." This year's edition would remain on the Halifax side of the harbour, as repairs on the other bridge, the MacKay Bridge — two of the bridge’s four lanes will be closed most weekends from spring to fall — would keep the MacDonald Bridge open during race weekend and restrict the race to peninsular Halifax.  For marathoners, it would be a double loop course starting and ending in downtown around the Halifax Citadel.

I flew out of Newark Airport on Friday evening on a direct flight to Halifax, which was delayed by an hour due to a late inbound aircraft.  It was a quick hop to the northeast, and we made up some time in the air, landing only 45 minutes late, but still just past midnight to a very foggy Halifax.  So foggy that we could barely see the lights of the city below the clouds until probably 20 seconds before our plane landed on the tarmac at Halifax Stanfield International Airport, some 35 kilometers (22 miles) outside of the city center, in the rural community of Goffs. After deplaning, it was pretty quick to get through immigration and customs, as we were the only plane arriving internationally at the time. I quickly got to the rental cars area and got my vehicle from Hertz, a snazzy black Cadillac sedan, which was waiting for me when I arrived.  It was super dark leaving the airport, as there was not a single streetlamp lighting the highway as I left the area, and paired with the fog rolling through, I was a bit nervous at the wheel; however, the closer I got to Halifax (only thirty minutes away), the better lit the roads became.  The quickest route took me over the MacDonald Bridge into the city center, costing $1 CAD, and I made it to my Airbnb at around 1am, parking on a side street since "tow-away zone" signs for race weekend were plastered up and down Agricola Street.  I laid out my clothes for the 5K then quickly got to bed to get some rest, since the race would be starting only seven hours later.

With Tina at the 5K start
I woke up a little before 7, and got out the door fifteen minutes later to walk down to the start, roughly 1.5 kilometers away.  With the temps in the low 50s and a light breeze, I donned my Front Runners windbreaker and a pair of sweatpants. It was actually a beautiful morning, with the sun shining - as I walked down the street, police cars were accompanied by tow trucks, actively removing vehicles left on the street... talk about being serious about their tow-away zones! I got to the start area on Sackville Street, just south of Citadel Hill, at 7:30, and met up with Tina, a new friend who I had just met two weeks prior at the Calgary Marathon expo.  Tina's also a longtime member of Team Nuun, and was manning the Nuun booth at the expo when I came up to introduce myself, and after a brief conversation, we both found out that we were going to be in Halifax for the Blue Nose Marathon weekend (she would be working the Aftershox booth at the expo).  We decided to keep in touch, especially since she was going to be in town early for the expo, and for some reason, there would be no expo on Saturday - so she volunteered to get my bib for me. We were unsuccessful in finding bag drop (not realizing it was INSIDE the Scotiabank Centre), so I ended up tying my windbreaker around my waist and keeping the pants on.

After a bilingual "O Canada" was sung by a young local person, the 5K went off right at 8am, heading west on Sackville, before turning left onto South Park Street. Making our way around the Halifax Public Gardens, we veered north onto Summer Street, contuing onto Trollope Street.  We made our way around a roundabout, taking Cogswell Street west, before turning right onto Robie Street, and making our way around the perimeter of the beautiful Halifax Common, known as Canada's oldest urban park. Now halfway through the race, we made our way around a second roundabout, heading north along Agricola Street through the historic North End of Halifax. We turned right onto Charles Street, giving me an opportunity to pass right by my parked car (thankfully still there!), before turning right again onto Gottingen Street, taking it back to the downtown area.  A steep downhill along Cogswell Street took us to Brunswick Street, where we turned right and headed uphill with the finish line in sight.  I ended up crossing the finish in a fast 26:11, a few seconds faster than the previous week's Stockholm High Five 5K, and feeling like I hadn't pushed myself too hard.  Somehow, I was getting faster, hitting an average pace of just under 8 1/2 minutes per mile!

Peggy's Cove
After picking up our medal, we were directed into the Scotiabank Centre, where I reunited with Tina after she finished.  We went to grab coffee at a nearby coffee shop she had already hit up during the couple days she'd already spent in downtown, then headed back to her hotel so I could grab my t-shirt and bag before heading back to my Airbnb for a shower.  I'd return to pick her up, and we would head out to Peggy's Cove, a popular tourist site just outside the urban area. Peggy's Cove is a small fishing community located 45 minutes west of downtown Halifax on St. Margaret's Bay. Founded in 1811, this vibrant community became a prominent tourist destination as artists and photographers began to flock to it, enamored by its iconic lighthouse, still actively keeping watch over surging ocean waves and working lobster boats. It sits on giant rocks worn smooth by the tumultuous sea. Now internationally recognized and considered one of Canada's most photographed sites, it receives more than 600,000 visitors a year.  We staged a couple fun photoshoots on this beautiful sunny day (which at this point of the year can still be mostly full of rainy and cloudy days), before the omnipresent wind got the better of us, and we escaped back to the temperate confines of our car.  We stopped at Shaw's Landing, a popular restaurant on the road between Halifax and Peggy's Cove, for a late lunch.
The charming fishing village of Peggy's Cove
Lobster roll and chowder from Shaw's Landing
Listening to Betty at the Pier 21
By that point in time, it was nearing mid afternoon, so I pointed our GPS back to Halifax, to take us to the Halifax Seaport, an up and coming arts and culture district on the waterfront stretching from Piers 19 to 23.  We got there just as the Halifax Seaport Farmers' Market was closing at 3pm, but with enough time to at least do a quick walk through; the farmers' market is the oldest, continuously operating farmers' market in North America, with over 250 vendors. Ultimately, we were there to go to Pier 21, home to the Canadian Museum of Immigration, housing both a physical artifact collection and a vast oral history collection. Often compared to Ellis Island in New York, Pier 21 operated as an an ocean liner terminal and immigration shed from 1928 to 1971, processing over one million immigrants to Canada and is the last surviving facility of its kind in the country. Its primary permanent exhibit is the “Pier 21 Story” exhibition, showing visitors what it was like to immigrate through the terminal, from the harrowing voyage on a ship across the ocean, to disembarking the ship and waiting in the assembly hall, to the colonist car taking immigrants to their final destinations across the vast country. Taking us on a 45 minute guided tour through the exhibit was Betty, a recent immigrant who came to Canada in October 2018 from Nigeria, who did an excellent job taking us through the experience of someone who would have come through the facility.

Ellie the Corgi!
After some time at the museum, we walked across the street to Garrison Brewing Company, to make our first "beer tour" stop.  On the sidewalk, catching me by surprise was a woman carrying a 14 week old corgi puppy named Ellie, who I of course had to take a picture with!  Barely an hour later, and another corgi walks into the brewery, Ruby, a six month old.  It seems Halifax is a corgi hot spot!  We took advantage of another "show your bib" benefit, getting $2 off of a flight from the brewery, and befriended some locals at our table who gave us recommendations of other places to enjoy while we were in town.

Fortune Doughnut
Satiated, we headed to the North End, making a quick stop for donuts at Fortune Doughnut, who was having a 2-for-1 sale since they were closing half an hour before we arrived.  Ultimately, we were heading to brewery stop #2, Good Robot Brewing Company, which I had researched in the days prior to my weekend as a brewery having some awesome beer names, plus two stouts on tap.  They did not disappoint at all! As the sun began to come down, it got chillier, so after having our fill at Good Robot, we went to get food at Chain Yard Urban Cidery, enjoying our rather late pre-race dinner over some delicious ciders - one in particular that was quite good was "Highway Stroberry," a blend of their popular Foundation dry cider and a strawberry wine.  Both of us tired from a long day of touring around, I dropped Tina off back at her hotel, before I headed back to my Airbnb to catch some much needed z's before the morning's race.
Ruby the Corgi at Garrison Brewing Company
A flight at Garrison Brewing Company
With the Blue Nose mascot
Sunday morning came soon enough, with the sun already shining strongly when I woke up at 6:45am.  I threw on my race clothes, and was out the door to head down to the Scotiabank Centre by 7:15.  As I walked down Agricola Street, there weren't any cars being towed - instead, there were runners already out doing the race, as the early start for slower runners had begun at 7am!  Policemen were already manning the route, directing or diverting traffic as needed.  The weather was about the same as the day prior, perhaps even just a bit sunnier. I dropped off my gear check bag inside the building, then headed out to the startline, lining up with a pacer wearing 4:15 bunny ears (the pacers here were "pace bunnies" and stayed with the theme as such, along with sticks for runners to self-seed), as the start time began to near. I mentioned to him that I'd probably stay out in front of him for the first 25K of the race, but by that mark, he would catch up to me and pass me.
Startline of the Scotiabank Blue Nose Marathon
Oland Brewery
After the anthem was sung (by the same young man as the day before), we were off, heading west on Sackville Street like the day before, but this time, taking a slight right along Bell Road northward, as we skirted the eastern side of Citadel Hill along Ahern Avenue.  We made our way around the roundabout to Cogswell Street (where the pacers discarded their signs to a volunteer), then took a right on Robie Street, and then a right on Cunard Street, making our way around Halifax Common just like the day before.  Another pass around the roundabout, and we began to run northward along Agricola Street into the North End.  The atmosphere was quite celebratory, with runners really enjoying the good weather and the spectators who were out and about cheering.  I passed my Airbnb, local shops, restaurants, breweries (small and large - including Oland Brewery, Nova Scotia's largest brewer), galleries, as well as many rowhouses that made this neighborhood remind me of areas in South Philly. We had some great entertainment along the way too -- of note was an ensemble of French Horn players playing "Chariots of Fire."  The road heading north was rolling but largely uphill, but I took it strongly and still managed to keep a fairly consistent pace around a 9:15 mile.
Running alongside Halifax Common
Running alongside Halifax Common
We veered slightly right about 4.6 kilometers in onto Hillside Avenue, continuing northward along Rosemeade Avenue, then turned right onto Leeds Street, where we crossed the timing mats for our 5K split, and I registered a time of 28:36. A nice, even pace! We turned right onto Leaman Street to begin our route southward.  Barely a few blocks in, there was a short diversion for half marathon runners, as they turned right on an out-and-back up a hill, while marathoners continued on.  We continued down Leaman Street, as the road dead-ended onto Drummond Court, and curved toward Isleville Street, the route continued southward - and on a nice downhill slope.  This was a much more residential area - it was nice to see a lot of residents out supporting the runners as we made our way through their neighborhood.  At Hennessey Place, we turned left, running up the block to Novalea Drive, where we turned left and ran down a nice downhill along the edge of Fort Needham Memorial Park. I quickly wondered if I was going at half marathon PR pace, as I was running alongside the 2:00 half marathon pacers, but then remembered they had that little extra out-and-back.

Chimneys at the Generating
Station in the distance
The route then curved along toward Kenny Street, with its grassy median, and past an Hawaiian-themed aid station with grass skirt, coconut bra, and neon-colored wig wearing volunteers - a memorable sight just over 7 kilometers into the race!  We turned right onto Devonshire Avenue, and then began a nice long downhill section, with views first of the Tufts Cove Generating Station's three distinctive red and white striped chimneys across Halifax Harbour in Dartmouth, then one of the MacDonald Bridge dominating our line of sight as we continued southward. The long downhill along Devonshire Avenue definitely helped my pace, as I registered an 8:39 average pace and a 5:22 kilometer split on my Garmin as we passed the 8th kilometer of the race.

Devonshire Avenue
Devonshire Avenue then merged with Barrington Street, and we began the first tough section of the race.  For some reason, we were forced over to a single, maybe barely two meter wide section of pothole-filled road, bounded by a concrete barricade to our right and a section of black gravel filling an area between the curb and a chain link fence.  With such a narrow road that fit barely two people running side by side, some faster runners (which turned out being some of the faster runners in either the 15k or 10k that started after us -- I couldn't see their bibs to find out) were using the gravel section to get by.  Add to the fact that it was getting warmer and the sun was shining quite brightly made for a frustrating experience, which gladly only lasted for roughly half a kilometer.
Running past the Royal Canadian Naval Base
Under MacDonald Bridge
We finally made it out of that narrow section, passing underneath the onramp to the MacDonald Bridge, beginning another downhill section, a rather steep S-curve descent down Valour Way, past Her Majesty's Canadian Dockyard, home to the headquarters of the Atlantic Fleet and part of the Royal Canadian Navy's naval base, CFB Halifax.  We continued along Valour Way southward, as it passed several naval buildings, which many runners decided to run next to since the morning sun had cast a slight shadow on that portion of the road, offering a respite from the rays. After passing a group of Army members from the 5th Canadian Division supporting the runners in the shade of their tanks parked on the side of the road, we came out to a super open stretch of road as we approached the 10K split mat, crossing it in 56:04 -- impressive enough that I ran a faster second 5K, but over a minute!  Of course, right after that mat was the ramp up Upper Water Street, which I managed to run up to the top of. I slowed down and walked about twenty seconds to catch my breath as the road flattened out again, then followed Barrington Street back on the downhill as it made its way to Hollis Street to begin our run through Downtown Halifax.

Hollis Street in Downtown Halifax
After a bit of time in the sun, it was nice to run through Downtown, as we were surrounded by highrises, casting shadows onto the road.  It was relatively flat as we ran down Hollis Street, passing Province House, seat of the Nova Scotian legislature and Canada's oldest house of government (completed in 1811), to our right; the Halifax main branch and Atlantic Regional Office of Scotiabank in 1709 Hollis Street, a beautiful authentically Canadian building built in 1930 by pre-eminent Canadian architect John M. Lyle, to our left; as well as Government House, the official residence of the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia built in 1800, to our right.  We left downtown behind as the road widened slightly and curved around Edward Cornwallis Park, with the Halifax rail station, completed in 1928, to our left, as well as a massive Atlantic Superstore grocery store in front of us.  We turned left to take Barrington Street southward again, now running through this largely residential area of Halifax's South End, the road curving to Inglis Street as it rose uphill slightly. We turned left onto Young Avenue, running along the northbound lanes of the median-divided and beautifully treelined avenue, leading up to Point Pleasant Park. On the southbound lanes, runners (conceivably the speedy half and full runners) were coming up the road, having completed their loop of the park, and were some 6 kilometers ahead of me.  A volunteer holding a 15K turnaround sign stood positioned at the head of a street crossing.

Hollis Street, further south.
Now some 13 kilometers in, the sun was shining bright, so it was good to have a little bit of shade as we passed underneath this grand boulevard's leafy trees. The spectators here were plentiful, cheering to runners passing through their tony neighborhood - tony, because many of the homes here were mansions, I'm sure holding a lot of history.  We crossed over a concrete bridge, erected in 1917 when the railway cut was made to the terminus at the Halifax rail station, then ran two more blocks to a set of ceremonial golden gates, the entrance to Point Pleasant Park, which were put up in 1886. Unfortunately, the gates haven't been used in decades to allow free flow of cars, but one could tell that Young Avenue was meant to be the formal entrance point -- rather, an extension -- of the park.

Point Pleasant Park
After passing the gates, we turned left, to head downhill along Point Pleasant Drive, curving its way around the eastern side of the park, with the rather industrial container terminal to our left.  Soon, that went away, and we were led onto the crushed gravel paths of the park, and some incredible views of the mouth of Halifax Harbour.  The path, officially known as Sailors Memorial Way, led us around the park's perimeter - along rolling hills past Black Rock Beach; Sailor's Memorial, which commemorates members of the Royal Canadian Navy, the Canadian Merchant Navy and Canadian Army who were lost at sea; the anchor from the aircraft carrier HMCS Bonaventure, which serves as a monument to the men and women who died while serving the Canadian Navy during Peacetime, and the fenced off and deteriorated remains of Point Pleasant Battery, a coastal gun battery established in 1762 during the French and Indian War.  We would pass over the 15km mat as well, which I crossed in 1:25:04, a 29:00 5K split.  Still doing pretty well.
Running along a gravel pathway at the edge of Point Pleasant Park
Inside Point Pleasant Park
The route, then took Arm Road, along the waters of the Northwest Arm, an inlet part of the harbour defining the western side of the Halifax peninsula.  Here, the gravel path undulated up and down, then we took a right on Serpentine Road and Maple Road, where the path started to ascend pretty sharply, leaving me to walk large sections of this inland road to the center of the park.  We reached Cambridge Drive, cutting straight through the center of the park, and headed northward, where we passed a relay exchange station.  Marathoners were strangely directed left, while half marathoners got to continue straight ahead, as we were led out of the park to do detour along the steep residential roads on Chain Rock Drive, Crows Nest Drive, and Balmoral Road.  We turned right onto Francklyn Street, the northwest edge of the park, as we ran an out and back to the 18 kilometer point, before turning left onto Point Pleasant Drive, taking us back up a hill and toward Young Avenue, where we turned left to head back north toward Citadel Hill.
The wildlife of Point Pleasant Park. Hello little squirrel!
Running up Young Avenue was fine, as it was generally flat, but the further north we got, the harder it was to run.  Conceivably, the road rose toward Citadel Hill, so we were ascending as Young Avenue turned into South Park Street.  Now close to two hours into the race, residents trying to drive around with all these street closures and long waits for runners to pass were probably growing impatient - at one point, a taxi driver followed closely behind a public bus crossing the street during a large gap between myself and some runners about a hundred feet in front of me, and was met with an angry policeman berating him for trying to get past the street so recklessly. I, of course, had to let a little New York out and gave him the finger as I passed, and continued on northward.

Cogswell Street, quite quiet.
Eventually, we were back to Sackville Street, and it was time to start the second loop of the course.  There we were back onto Bell Road, turning onto Ahern Avenue and Citadel Hill's western flank.  I passed a pacer standing on the side of the road wearing 4:30 ears, when knowing I had just passed the two hour mark only a few minutes before, and remarked to him, "way under pace, huh?" while he just laughed.  I would cross the halfway mark of the race over a timing mat moments later, clocking in a 2:05:23 split.  The half marathoners split off to the right, taking Cogswell Street east to the finish line, but almost immediately, the route got lonely and depopulated as the marathoners and relay runners officially began the much more quiet second loop, taking the roads around Halifax Common to Agricola Street northward.

With far less people on the street, the sun shining bright overhead, and the lack of shade being ever present, it was my opportunity to focus on my breathing and even out my pace. It also led to the opportunity to chat with fellow runners in for the long slog. After taking a swig of lemonade from a young girl along the street (with a young boy not too far in front of her collecting finished cups), I got to talking to Haligonians Leah and Zen. We made our way up the street strong, eventually reaching Hillside Avenue just before the 25K mark.  I took a walk break, and what do you know, here comes the 4:15 pacer running by! I predicted it just perfectly. We made it to the furthest north part of the race along Leeds Street, when I noticed one of the residents cheering for us runners 2 1/2 hours into the race was the guy sitting next to me on the plane from Newark to Halifax on Friday night!

Leaman Street
As we made our way south on Leaman Street, Leah mentioned to me some of the history of this particular neighborhood.  Known as The Hydrostone, the neighborhood was created to provide housing for working-class families displaced by the Halifax Explosion, a maritime disaster that occurred in 1917 when two ships in Halifax Harbour collided, causing a large explosion on one of the explosive-laden vessels. The resulting blast killed approximately 2,000 people and injured 9,000 who were within a half mile radius, which mostly comprised of the Richmond district in northern Halifax, which was left completely devastated.  After many of the wood-frame houses collapsed on their coal stoves and furnaces and caught on fire, non-combustible hydrostone, concrete block that was finished with granite, to minimize the danger of fire, was used to rebuild buildings, and also gave the name to the neighborhood. The streets in The Hydrostone were built as boulevards with treelined, grassy strips (which serve as communal outdoor space for the neighborhood) and are also served by back lanes, a feature characteristic of Western Canadian cities, but not usually found in Eastern Canadian communities.

Near the tanks on Valour Way
We continued over the next several kilometers enjoying the steady downhills that took us down toward the MacDonald Bridge, still utilizing the narrow strip of road, but far less crowded. We took the S curve down Valour Way, and then ran alongside the naval base, this time with no shade at all since the sun was shining directly over us. I took a walk break and bid adieu to Leah and Zen, as I figured from that point I wouldn't be able to catch up to them when I started to run again. A spectator with his van parked by the road had a sign promoting "Blue Nose Beverages" which was actually chilled beer pre-poured halfway in solo cups - I took advantage of the refreshing swig, despite the need to belch for the next ten minutes.  The servicemen with the tanks were still there alongside the course, which was nice to see... it had been over two hours since I was last here, and they were still out here in the hot sun.

Upper Water Street ramp
Not far in the distance was a fire hydrant that was let open to have runners run through; at first, I was hesitant, since I wasn't a fan of getting my shoes and socks soaked, but with the heat roasting me, I decided, "oh, what the hell..." and ran right through... while water puddled in my socks, at least I had a walk break ahead with the ramp up Upper Water Street to Barrington Street. Soon, we had a downhill again, and then the run through downtown Halifax, and I got back to running.

Treelined Young Avenue
The next few kilometers were a bit of a blur, as we progressed through the southern end of the downtown into the residential area of the South End, and then alternated between running along the street and the sidewalk as we made our way up Inglis Street to the turn on Young Avenue. By then, some of the roads were partially opened for runners, including this one, and I jumped up onto the concrete when semi-trucks began to barrel down the road. But try as I must, I avoided the concrete, since running on the asphalt felt much better on my knees.  We turned onto Young Avenue, which was thankfully still closed off to traffic, but now with far less people running down its length; I stayed as close to the curb as possible to take in as much shade that the trees along this stretch could.

A memorial at Point Pleasant Park
At Point Pleasant Park, I enjoyed the downhill, and then made my way through the park as best as I could with my tired legs.  The heat of the day made it a bit tougher going up and down the hilly trails; the steepest and highest section of the park marked the 37K mark of the race, giving us only 5K left before the finish, so with the mile and change of straightaway plus the marathoners' detour and out-and-back along the edge of the park, we were back to Young Avenue for the final 3 kilometers of the race.  Strangely, I struggled mightily over these last few miles, reduced to walking most of its length, all the way up South Park Street to  Sackville, where we turned left and proceeded up the western flank of Citadel Hill for the third (!!) time. That same 4:30 pacer I saw on the side of the route before the halfway mark of the race had caught up, and I ran with him for a little bit, realizing he had taken over for another 4:30 pacer at the halfway mark, hence him just waiting there earlier.  I managed to keep up just for a little bit before I needed to take a walk break; then finally pushed it as best as I could to the end.

Victory Headstand on the Grand Parade
We turned right onto Cogswell Street, which was a nice steady downhill, until we turned right onto  Brunswick Street for the finish line, knowing full well I had an uphill battle ahead of me to get to the finish, just like the day before's 5K. I came across the mat in 4:30:21, thrilled to have gotten another fast finish, at the time my sixth fastest, on a pretty hilly course. I grabbed my special medal for the race, for having done the Tim Horton's Double-Double running the 5K on Saturday, and then proceeded to cool off inside the Scotiabank Centre, where I took advantage of the free massages offered to runners.  I found Leah and Zen, too, and they joined me outside to help me get my headstand photo taken in Halifax's Grand Parade, giving us an unfettered view of the Halifax Town Clock along Carmichael Street.
Looking up at the Halifax Citadel
Inside the Citadel
 But before heading home, I took advantage of my time already near Citadel Hill by making my way up the stairs to the Citadel itself for a visit.  The hill was first fortified in 1749, the year that the English founded the town of Halifax. Those fortifications were successively rebuilt to defend the town from various enemies. While never attacked, the Halifax Citadel was long the keystone to defense of the strategically important Halifax Harbour and its Royal Navy Dockyard. There have been four iterations of the fortification over the centuries, with the current star-shaped fortress built from 1828 to 1856. After World War II, the fort began to deteriorate, and recognition of the fort's historical significance and tourism potential led to the fort's preservation and gradual restoration. By the 1990s, the Citadel was restored to its 1869 mid-Victorian period appearance. The fort is amongst the most visited National Historic Sites in Atlantic Canada. It is notable for the Noon Gun, a local tradition since 1857, when each day at 12 noon (except for Christmas Day), gunners dressed in the 3rd Brigade Royal Artillery uniform of 1869 fire a cannon (a reproduction 12 pounder, smooth-bore muzzle loading gun used during the reign of King George III.) The cannon fires a one-pound charge of black powder, its detonation synchronized with the atomic clocks at the National Research Council in Ottawa.
Looking down onto Brunswick Street from the Citadel
Wearing a Highlander uniform!
After getting my fill of touring the Citadel (as well as trying on an authentic Highlander uniform, complete with wool kilt, red wool Highland “doublet,” and a feather bonnet!), I made my way back to my Airbnb for a much needed shower, then headed back downtown to meet for a celebratory post-race drink with my friend Barb (who ran the Blue Nose as well) and her sister Robin, who arrived earlier that afternoon. After a nice walk along the waterfront, I took advantage of yet another "show your bib" benefit, by taking the ferry across the harbour to Dartmouth for free, where I hit up a nearby brewery, New Scotland Brewing Company, for more brews.  With the Halifax side becoming more developed, some of this investment has crossed the water to Dartmouth, updating the downtown and surrounding areas from its grittier past. In recent years, it has grown into a vibrant, trendy community with a plethora of amazing things to do. As day turned to night, and I took the ferry back to Halifax, I was treated to beautiful nighttime views on both sides of the harbour, before heading home.
Meeting up with Barb after the race
Taking a ferry across to Dartmouth
Halifax Donair
Of course, it wasn't my last stop.  I couldn't leave Halifax without trying some quintessentially Haligonian cuisine. The Halifax Donair, a variation of the Mediterranean cuisine-originated döner,  was named the official food of the city of Halifax in 2015 and was first introduced in Halifax in the 1970s by a Greek immigrant selling Greek-style gyros. The distinctive dish uses spiced ground beef (shaved off of a rotating spit), Lebanese flatbread, and the unique sauce made with condensed milk, vinegar, garlic, and a fairly liberal amount of sugar, optionally topped with tomatoes and onions. It is most definitely a post-“night-of-drinking” food! Everyone has their own favorite spot, and the one I went to, Tony's Donair in the North End, was highly suggested by many!  It was a great way to cap off my trip to Halifax.

Medal haul for the weekend...
I went to sleep relatively early that night, not only because I was exhausted after a long day of running and sightseeing, but because I had a VERY early morning flight out.  And with the airport a fair distance away, I needed to be on the road by the ugly hour of 4:30am. Security was fairly quick, if not slightly crowded, since it seemed three US-bound flights were leaving at the same time, and only two CBP officers were working.  I caught up on some sleep on the quick flight, and was back in Newark by 7am, groggily making my way back to NYC via train.  I even had time to stop home to drop off bags and take a shower before heading into work.  A fun weekend, and a lot to see in a new part of Canada I hadn't been to before... it makes me excited to return to that area for races in New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island in the future!

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Race Report: ASICS Stockholm Marathon

I took Friday off of work to give myself time in Stockholm for the Stockholm Marathon weekend.  With the race being on Saturday (seemingly a common occurrence for races in Scandinavia), I needed to leave on Thursday in order to give myself ample time to acclimate to the time difference as well as get there early enough for the race start on Saturday morning.  I booked a round trip flight on Norwegian Airlines from JFK to Stockholm, knowing full well I'd be subject to potential delays and potential plane changes, since their longhauls from the US have been notorious for being switched out last minute to 20+ year old wet leased planes due to engine issues with the Rolls Royce engines on their Boeing 787 Dreamliner Fleet.  But I had nothing to worry about - we boarded a Dreamliner, with a 1.5 hour departure delay.

We made up time in the air, and I slept for a considerable amount of the flight, landing in Stockholm only half an hour late, just before 2pm local time. "Flygbussarna" coaches depart Stockholm Airport in Arlanda regularly, so I boarded one headed into the city for 99 SEK (Swedish Krona), the equivalent of about $10.25 US.  Though it was a 45 minute ride, it was considerably cheaper than the 295 SEK Arlanda Express train that only took 20 minutes.  I was wanting to try to keep it as budget as possible because Scandinavia is known for being quite pricey!  Though note... Swedish economy has now become quite chip card centric, so there really is no need to exchange money into Swedish krona; in fact, you may run into occasions where shops won't even have local currency to give back to you in change!

Using a Lime scooter!
Upon arriving in Stockholm's Central Bus Station, I realized that the city was populated by electric scooters from various companies, most notably by Lime, a company based out of San Francisco, and locally based Voi. I signed up for an account on the bus on the way into town, and immediately found one that made my commute up to my hotel much faster.  It seemed that these short trips that I could take on the scooter, anywhere from half a mile to a mile, would cost me just under $3 a trip.  Not bad.  My hotel, the Scandic Anglais, was only half a mile away from the bus station, and I checked into my room, a slightly claustrophobic 129 square foot room with no windows on the building's basement level. But considering how expensive hotels could be, I was happy to only pay roughly $130 a night for this place that was centrally located, smack-dab in the middle of Stockholm in Östermalm.
 The Scandic Anglais rented out bikes to their guests!

At the Stockholm Marathon expo!
One of the best parts about staying at the Scandic Anglais was not only its convenient location and its walkability from the start and finish line of the Stockholm Marathon, but the offering of a free bicycle rental to guests for four hour time blocks - incredibly helpful to keep my transportation costs low! I definitely took advantage of this when I could, even though the seat (adjusted to its lowest level) was still a little tall for me. I mean... I am a good 12 inches shorter than the average Scandinavian. After checking in, I headed up to the expo, located at the Danicahallen, a speedskating venue located on the Östermalm sportsground, a facility that played host to several sports, including equestrian, fencing (and the part for the modern pentathlon), tennis, as well as baseball, for the 1912 Summer Olympics. It was just down the street from the Stockholm Olympic Stadium, the centerpiece of that Olympic Games, where the finish line for the 5K and the marathon would be.  I retrieved my bibs for both races, and eventually, it came time for the 5K that was being held on Friday afternoon.

The beautiful Olympic Stadium!
The 5K course was a bit interesting; starting at the same spot the marathon would be starting the following day, we headed east on Lidingövägen, then turned left where we would route around gravel roads between the equestrian fields of the sports ground. After skirting the edge of the football field, we'd head back toward Lidingövägen, then loop around the Swedish Armed Forces Headquarters. We then found ourselves going through a forested area with more gravel trail, but having to dodge what seemed like multiple spots of dog poop spread all along the road, known as Träskportsvägen. We'd find ourselves down along Valhallavägen, then turning onto an alleyway leading up to the stadium's back entrance.  After half a loop of the stadium's track, we reached the finish line, and I crossed in 26:14, at the time my fastest 5K since November 2014, only 23 seconds off my PR last set in July 2014.  A pretty telling start to my weekend!  After grabbing a bite to eat at the free pasta party at the stadium, I headed back down to my hotel to get a quick shower; I had plans for the evening with a friend who had gotten into town that day, too!

With Thomas at the Ice Bar!
I had kept in touch with my friend Thomas, who was flying in from Germany to run the Stockholm Marathon as well, and in the week prior to our visit, we went online to make reservations at Ice Bar Stockholm, the world’s first permanent bar completely made out of ice, kept at a crisp temperature of -5°C, or 23°F! All the interior components of the bar, including the glasses, are made of pure, clear ice from Jukkasjärvi in Lapland, along the Torne River, 200 km north of the Arctic Circle, where the original ice bar was located.  With dinner reservations set that night a little later, we decided to find a spot near to our restaurant to grab a coffee before dinner - I found Waza Restaurang & Bryggeri, which was serving coffee but also several different beers on tap, but one caught my eye that was bottled - a barrel aged Imperial Vanilla Stout coming in at a whopping 12.8% ABV, called "Index Out of Bounds" from a Malmö-based microbrewery named Nerdbrewing.  It was delicious, but very thick, the consistency of motor oil.  Definitely got me feeling pretty sleepy by night's end!

Imperial Vanilla Stout... so thick!
Dinner was at Nomad Swedish Food,where we got to enjoy some local dishes.  After an appetizer of Skagen, or shrimp salad to start, I had the köttbullar (traditional Swedish meatballs, potato purée, cream sauce, lingonberries, and pickled cucumber) and Thomas had the baked spetskål (baked point cabbage with a mustard vinaigrette, honey roasted almond, onion confit, and pickled turnip). I washed the delicious meal down with a local Melleruds Utmärkta Pilsner, then shared a rhubarb pie for dessert! By the time dinner was over, the time change had got to me pretty strongly, and I was ready to get to bed!

The Vasa Museet
The next morning was unlike most marathon days... with the marathon not starting until noon, I had a whole morning to explore more of Stockholm.  With an early opening time, I rented the hotel's bicycle for the morning, and made the short trip down to the Vasa Museum, considered Scandinavia’s foremost tourist attraction, with 1.5 million visitors in 2017.  The museum showcases the only almost fully intact 17th century ship that has ever been salvaged, the 64-gun warship Vasa that sank on her maiden voyage on August 10, 1628. The ship sat on the bottom of Stockholms Ström for 333 years before it was finally salvaged in 1961. The reconstructed vessel, 98% original, is splendidly adorned with more than 700 carved sculptures and restored as a fully rigged ship. I was so glad that I got to visit this magnificent sight before the race!  It was just enough time to get me back to the hotel to get ready for the race; and I leisurely made my way over about half an hour before the gun.

Spotting Dati at the start
It was quite a bit busier this morning along Lidingövägen, with marathoners finding their place along the street in preparation for the gun.  The skies were gray and overcast; rain was going to happen sometime during the race, and we all knew it, so we prepared for the worst.  I spotted some Stockholm Frontrunners in their noticeable green singlets, and made myself known to them, also finding some folks who I'd be meeting at dinner later that night.  I also found Dati, my friend from Indonesia, who I met at the Helsinki Marathon only two weeks prior.  Most people think I'm crazy for going back and forth from NYC to Europe on weekends; this guy does the same thing, but from Jakarta!  Soon, it was time to get started, and while the clouds spat out a few drops of drizzle, they dissipated right away, and wouldn't be seen again for a little while. I positioned myself appropriately as the race was self seeding; I would end up crossing the start some twelve minutes after the gun.
Startline at the Stockholm Marathon... cloudy day ahead!
Gustaf Vasa Church
We took off along the Lidingövägen, heading in the opposite direction from when we ran the day before, making our way past the Olympic Stadium.  We took a right turn onto Valhallavägen, named after Valhalla, the mythological hall where half of those who die in combat are supposed to travel upon death. With my watch recording my kilometer pace, I hit a 5:45 first kilometer, owing my speed to the flatness of the course. We turned left into the district of Vasastan, onto Odengatan along a nice downhill stretch, speeding up a bit with a 5:31 second kilometer. Up ahead, we ran toward the burnt orange colored Stockholm Public Library, designed by renowned architect Gunnar Asplund. The unique building, built in 1928 with its monumental cylinder at its top, is a splendid example of Nordic Classicism.  We then veered slightly right past the Odenplan plaza, named after Norse god Odin, along Karlbergsvägen, where we took our gradual first uphill climb.  Along this climb, we passed the Gustaf Vasa Church, the 1906 built Baroque Revival Church, with its 200 foot tall dome overlooking the plaza.  We turned left onto Sankt Eriksgatan, and hit the third kilometer of the race in 5:48.
Running along Sankt Eriksgatan
ABBA's biggest hits were recorded
in the building on the left
We continued along this street, headed south toward Sankt Eriksplan, a square named after King Erik IX, the patron saint of the city.  We crossed the Sankt Erik Bridge into Kungsholmen island.  As we entered the island, we were greeted by two tall buildings framing our view: the old Sportspalatset and Sankt Erikspalatset.  The Sportspalatset, on the left, was of particular importance as it housed the Polar Music recording studio, where ABBA recorded some of their biggest hits during their most popular years.

Hornsbergs Strand
The next four miles were going to be run on Kungsholmen island, which holds great importance for the city, as several of its most important sites stand here.  Historically, Kungsholmen was populated by Franciscan Monks in the 15th Century. Industrialization in the late 19th century led to a huge population growth here, from 4,000 to 26,000 inhabitants in a matter of 30 years.  We looped around Fleminggatan and Inedalsgatan, then began to run along the waterfront on Kungholms strand, a beautiful and flat section alongside Karlbergskanalen, named after the Karlberg Palace, the sprawling white Baroque palace on the opposite side.  Here, we hit the first timing mat for 5K, which I crossed in 28:29, a 5:42 per kilometer pace. We then ran through a lightly forested area known as Hornsbergs Strand alongside the canal. Eventually, we turn left briefly onto Mariedalsvägen and leave the water behind us, as we run along Franzéngatan through the quieter residential district of Stadshagen, which was once a rural area until 100 years ago.
Running along Norr Mälarstrand with the Stadshuset, up ahead
Running alongside the Stadshuset
We turned left onto Lindhagensgatan, named after Albert Lindhagen who led Stockholm’s redevelopment into a modern city in the 19th century. The road here was much wider and straight, and beautifully treelined.  My 7K split improved, running a 5:29 as we continued onward. We made our way around the Lindhangensplan to then run along Rålambshovsleden as we began to approach water once again. Alongside us was the Rålambshovsparken, known locally as "Rålis." This park is usually crowded with locals on sunny spring days, especially after the depressing dark winter months. Many of them even dare to swim in the freezing water, actually so clean that it is drinkable! The road turned into Norr Mälarstrand, eventually making its way toward the magnificent red-brick City Hall building, known as Stadshuset, a pearl of the national romanticism style that reigned in the Nordic countries in the beginning of the 20th Century.  The prestigious Nobel Prize gala is held here, in the Blue Hall with the Nobel ball in the Golden Hall.
Transitioning over bridges as we leave Kungsholmen
We left Kungsholmen island along the Stadshusbron and then the Vasabron, two bridges taking us into the political heart of Stockholm. We would also hit the timing mat for the 10K mark of the race in 57:04, a 5:43 average pace.  After running in between various important government buildings along Myntgatan, we ran along a short stretch of cobblestone as we made our way past the imposing Royal Palace, then crossed the Norrbro arch bridge over Helgeandsholmen in front of the Riksdagshuset, home to Swedish Parliament.

The Royal Dramatic Theatre
We arrived at Gustav Adolfs Torg, a major public square in Stockholm, where Strömgatan, Fredsgatan, Malmtorgsgatan and Regeringsgatan meet. Named after King Gustav II Adolf from he early 17th century, in the middle of the square there is a statue of Gustav II Adolf by the French-born, Swedish sculptor Pierre Hubert L'Archevêque, which was erected in 1796. The square is home to the Royal Swedish Opera, Arvfurstens palats (housing the Ministry for Foreign Affairs) and the Ministry of Defense.  As we veered right along Strömgatan, we headed up alongside the Kungsträdgården, the kitchen garden of the court during the Middle Ages, toward the Nybroplan, where we passed by the Royal Dramatic Theatre, Sweden's national stage for "spoken drama."

At that point, we were running along the Strandvägen for the first of three times, the beautiful boulevard in the Östermalm district featured on the face of the medal.  The Strandvägen is a tree-lined, waterfront boulevard, completed for the Stockholm World’s Fair in 1897, with exclusive stone buildings from the turn of the 20th century on one side and the water of Saltsjön on the other. Here, houseboats, passenger ferries and restaurants reign supreme.  At Narvavägen, we turned left heading north into the heart of Östermalm.  Along this street, mass graves were dug to bury the 20,000 Stockholmers who had died from the plague in 1710. After making our way around the roundabout at Karlaplan, we headed west along Karlavägen toward the park of Humlegården ("the hops garden"), a park established during the reign of Gustavus Adolphus to grow brewers’ hops, that also just happened to be in front of my hotel.  We turned right onto Sturegatan, then headed north toward the Olympic Stadium, but would be directed to turn right onto Valhallavägen.  We'd cross the 15K mark along this street in 1:26:23, a 5:52 per kilometer average pace.  So far, I was managing a pace just a smidgen over a two hour half marathon.  Not bad at all!

The US Embassy in Stockholm
We ran along Östermalm's northern edge on Valhallavägen, running directly toward Ladugårdsgärdet, but turned right to conquer the small hill of Oxenstiernsgatan. We were then directed to turn right onto Dag Hammarskjölds väg, as we ran downhill through the heart of Diplomatstaden, or the the exclusive Diplomat City, home of many embassies and ambassadorial residencies. We would also end up running past the American Embassy, before reaching the vast field of the Gärdet, once the drill-ground of King Charles XIV John, the French marshal who became the King of Sweden in 1818. Up in the distance, we could see the Kaknästornet and its 509 foot tall TV tower, which was the tallest buidling in the Nordic countries from 1967 (when it was finished) until 1971. It used to be open to the public, with an indoor and outdoor observation deck, but it has been permanently closed since late 2018 due to safety and security concerns.
The route continued along Djurgårdsbrunnsvägen, as we ran through a quiet, forested area before crossing the Djurgårdsbron Canal into Djurgården island. We were now in a beautiful pastoral setting, completely different than the built up city center we had been running through for most of this first half of the race.  We were now running along Manillavägen, named as such by Spain's envoy to Sweden, Ignacio Maria del Coral y Aquirre, who was handed a piece of land on Djurgården's southern shore by King Gustav III. He had a number of lavish buildings built here, which he called "Manila," after the capital of the Philippines, which was at that time a Spanish colony.  Early on, were greeted with open fields, and, to my delight, a huge flock of sheep!  In fact, Djurgården means “the Animal Garden” and once it really was. A fence surrounded the island where the royals hunted deer. Lions and bears were used in animal fights in the 17th century. The fence was taken away and Stockholmers began to make day trips to the green fields of Djurgården, escaping the filthy streets of the city.
Cirkus on Djurgården
At the end of the street, we turned right onto Djurgårdsvägen, beginning a section of rolling hills through more quiet parts of the island.  We crossed the 20K mat in 1:56:41, and the halfway point a little over six minutes later in 2:02:52. After passing the Italian Embassy, we were greeted with the museum quarter of Stockholm, several in close proximity to each other.  In addition to the Vasa Museum (which I had visited earlier that day), the 75 acre open-air museum and zoo of Skansen, the Liljevalchs contemporary art museum, the Viking Museum, Nordic Museum, Biological Museum, the Cirkus theatre and the ABBA Museum, were some of the sights I would pass by.  I took note of what was there, to ensure another visit here before I left the city.
Running past the Nordic Museum on Djurgården
Running along the Strandvägen again.
We crossed the Djurgårdsbron back over the water, turning left to make our second trip along the Strandvägen, but this time heading in the opposite direction. At the Nybroplan, though, we veered left along Nybrohamnen, this time taking a route bringing us around the Blasieholmen peninsula, where Stockholm's Nationalmuseum and Grand Hôtel is located.  Since 1901, the 300 room Grand Hôtel Stockholm is where Nobel Prize laureates and their families have traditionally been guests, as well as celebrities and world leaders.  Just opposite the hotel, and across the Strömbron viaduct, was the Royal Palace, the official residence and major royal palace of the Swedish monarch.

The Royal Palace
I crossed the 25K mat in 2:27:44, or 6:23 per kilometer average pace. We were now on Gamla Stan, Stockholm's Old City, which dates back to the 13th century, and consists of medieval alleyways, cobbled streets, and archaic architecture; but here, we were running along Skeppsbron, the road running along the edge of the old capital, where a medieval wall once stood.  We continued southward toward the island of Södermalm, where we ran over Slussen, the lock where the Baltic Sea and Lake Mälaren meet. For many years, this was an area also defined by a cloverleaf interchange and associated pedestrian passages and walkways, but now it was under heavy construction to be largely redeveloped and reshaped as a vibrant meeting place with modern traffic solutions.  It would be a short but steep 8% ascent as we ran on roads over built over the construction, then veered left onto Hornsgatan, one the central streets on the island. Södermalm was once the island of the working class, but now has become quite trendy and up and coming; in fact, dinner later that night with members of Stockholm Frontrunners would be at a restaurant/bar in Södermalm!
Running along Hornsgatan
Cranes above Södermalm
Hornsgatan was fully closed as runners were making their way westward on this street in two sections: where I was currently, after the 26th kilometer, and runners who had completed a circuit through part of the island that were 5 kilometers ahead.  At Torkel Knutssonsgatan, we turned right to follow the downhill to the water.   The road would then join up to Söder Mälarstrand, as we ran alongside the Riddarfjärden, the easternmost bay of Lake Mälaren, with the sheer cliffs and natural rock walls of the island were juxtaposed with the built landscape of historic buildings and the many new structures, punctuated by ever-present construction cranes. We also passed Katarinahissen, the "shortcut" passenger elevator that connects Slussen to the higher elevation parts of Södermalm. Though the elevator has been closed since 2010 due to security issues, many still access the platform by taking the stairs, in order to see a spectacular view of Stockholm.

Just past Slussen, we were now running along the old wharf of Stadsgården, where coal, hay and wood were once distributed. Today, ferries coming back and leaving for Finland are docked her.  By this point, we were now 2/3 into the race.  We followed the road until turning right onto Folkkungagatan, to cut through the center of Södermalm island. Not long after passing the 30K mat, accomplishing it just before the three hour mark at 2:59:36 (honestly, the fastest I've ever gotten to 30K), the greying skies opened up.  Thankfully, it wasn't before long that we veered right into a cutout along the side of a building to run through the Söderledstunneln, a tunnel that traverses the island from north to south. We were at least out of the rain, but not for long.

Raining on Lundagatan
We emerged out of the tunnel and back into the rain onto Hornsgatan, now on the other side of that same street I had run along half an hour earlier.  Despite the rain, the crowds were still out in droves cheering us on.  We ran a little further than our last foray down this street, turning near the Zinkensdamm metro station and onto Lundagatan.  With 10K left to go, the rain came down far stronger, and I was afraid I'd have to deal with being soaked for the rest of the race.  We climbed to the highest point of the race, just in front of the double towers of the Högalid Church, one of the most prominent buildings in the city, complementing the contemporary Stockholm City Hall on the opposite side of the water. We ran alongside the edge of the park where the church was located, following Högalidsgatan to Långholmsgatan, where we would turn right.  This road would lead to the Västerbron, Sweden’s largest arched bridge.

Plugging along on Västerbron
Västerbron was warned to be the toughest ascent of the race, but I wasn't feeling it, and continued to plug on through with a consistent rhythm, as the rain began to dissipate.  In fact, I was passing people left and right as we took to the 1.5 kilometers over the bridge. Passing over Langholmen, we then took off over the two spans stretching over the Riddarfjärden.  I felt strong as we continued on over Rålambshovsparken, as we reentered Kungsholmen island for the first time since leaving it 15 miles ago.  We turned right onto Rålambshovsleden, still making good time as I crossed the 35K mark at 3:30:57.  That was eye-opening -- with 7 kilometers to go, I knew I had a potential PR if I stayed consistent with this strong pace.  That PR, set six weeks earlier in April at the Queens Marathon, was a 4:22:49, which gave me nearly 52 minutes of time to do 7 kilometers -- entirely doable.  By then, the rain was just a faint drizzle.  I then began to retrace the route we had run from kilometers 8 through 15, taking us past the Stadshuset, through Norrmalm and back near the government buildings in the center of the city, and through Östermalm and my third passage through  beautiful Strandvägen boulevard.

In the stadium with 0.2K left to go!
Though the toil of running so many miles had slowed me down, it wasn't as considerably slower than before.  On average, my splits for the later kilometers of the race were only 30-40 seconds slower than before.  With only 2 kilometers left to go, I crossed the 40K mark in 4:02:29, or 6:19 pace, on Narvavägen.  I had that PR in the bag!  We rounded Karlaplan, and took off westward along Karlavägen toward Humlegården.  Turning right onto Sturegatan toward the Olympic Stadium, all we had was a left turn onto Valhallavägen, to follow the same finish as I did the day before in the 5K.

I reached the entrance into the stadium, completely in shock from what I had just accomplished.  Looking down at my watch, the time had not even clicked 4:15 yet.  I was eight minutes ahead of that PR with only a half lap of the track left to go.  With the stands packed with supporters, I made my way around to the finish line, in pure disbelief.  My finish time: 4:16:00. A 6:10 average pace, for a nearly 7 minute PR. I was fighting back tears of joy... this was a finish I was always going to remember!  My reaction was even captured in the video below, a wonderful reminder of a fantastic day of running for me!

Ringing the PB Bell!
After finishing the race, we were given our medals, passing through the other side of the stadium, and headed toward the Östermalm sportsground, where the finish festival was located.  Strangely, they had us climb down bleacher stairs to the field, an interesting feat considering our tired muscles from the race.  But at the bottom, we got our finisher's t-shirts, and were treated to some delicious energy replacement options in the form of hot dogs, beer, coffee, and cardamom buns (kanelbulle!)  I eagerly got a chance to ring the PB Bell they so kindly installed during the race, and even got a well deserved foot massage.  I was in heaven!

Victory Headstand
I garnered my strength to head out of the ground and find my way to a working Lime scooter, and took it down to the Djugårdsbron, with Strandvägen in the background.  After all, I ran along there three times today, and with it being featured on the face of our medal, I had to honor it by making it part of my ritual victory headstand!  I got a kind passerby to take it for me, before heading back to my hotel, eager to take a warm shower.

Victorious Front Runners!
Later that night, I enjoyed a delicious post race dinner, meeting up with members of Stockholm Frontrunners at Side Track Stockholm in Södermalm! It was fun to meet many of them, some who also ran the race, and that I had seen and conversed with briefly during the race, like Conny, Vilo, Tomas and Jannis! After a delicious dinner, we headed back to our homes by subway, and I of course made sure to click a quick picture of us with our finish medals, content with our race finishes that day.

With Thomas at the Djugårdsbron
On Sunday morning, I woke early to meet back up with Thomas, returning to the Djugårdsbron to get photos with him and the Strandvägen in the background.  He had a flight to catch not long after, so we parted ways and I continued on to enjoy my last day in town - heading into Djugården to hit up the ABBA Museum, which we passed by during the race!  The ABBA Museum showcases the Swedish pop group ABBA from its humble early beginnings through being thrust into the world stage after winning the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest with their hot song, “Waterloo,” to their international superstardom and even post break-up to their own individual endeavors - even Benny and Bjorn’s forays into musical theatre! Not only does the museum have costumes and props from their career, but also items from the wildly successful Mamma Mia movie starring Meryl Streep, and its sequel. It's also interactive, and one can even do karaoke and perform with hologram versions of ABBA, and be their “5th member!” Of course, all the other museum visitors that were clamoring to get a chance to sing on stage for ABBA karaoke... were all tourists visiting from the Philippines. SURPRISE!

Costumes worn by members of ABBA when they won the Eurovision Song Contest
Stadion station on the Stockholm Metro
Getting around Stockholm can be pricy, and thankfully, I was able to get around town affordably using both the bicycles my hotel rented out to me as well as the largely available Lime scooters.  But of course, I had to spend some time enjoying the Stockholm Metro. Stations on the Stockholm Metro are well known as being some of the most beautiful in the world, earning the nickname of the “world’s longest art gallery.” More than 90 of the network’s 10 stations are decorated with sculptures, rock formations, mosaics, paintings, art installations, engravings, and reliefs by over 150 different artists. Several stations, particularly on the Blue Line, still have bedrock exposed as part of the decoration, which has been painted over, giving life to the otherwise dull interior. And, like much of Scandinavia, the cost of a single journey on the metro is one of the most expensive in the world; adult fares, when bought from an app or ticket machine is 45 SEK, or just under $5 USD per ride.

For the afternoon, I decided to hit up parts of the course we ran by: first up, was the Stadshuset, with its spire featuring the golden Three Crowns. Considered one of the most famous silhouettes in Stockholm, its Blå Hallen, or Blue Hall, is where a large banquet dinner is held every year in honor of Nobel Prize laureates, followed by dancing in the Gyllene Salen, or Golden Hall, with its 18 million gold mosaic tiles.

Though during the race we only ran along the road at its edge, Gamla Stan is well known for its cobblestoned streets, its many cafes and its quaint alleyways... definitely a bit too dangerous to conduct a marathon on!  I'm glad I got to enjoy this area, Stockholm's most tourist-friendly area, and particularly indulge in "Fika," a way of life, and an everyday occurrence in Sweden.  Translated as "coffee break," fika is essentially a light meal of a pastry (usually a kanelbulle, or cinnamon bun) with Swedish dark coffee.  And this kanelbulle was incredibly delicious, to say the least.

Beautiful sights on Gamla Stan
After enjoying my fika, I headed over to the Royal Palace to watch the Changing of the Guard, which occurs daily during the summer months. The 40 minute ceremony is quite the spectacle, complete with a full military band and parade through the streets from the Stockholm Army Museum. The program isn’t always the same; sometimes there is a mounted parade. The Royal Guard has had a presence at the palace since 1523, and today is made up of units from all throughout Sweden. They are part of the Swedish Armed Forces, and besides guarding the Palace, perform ceremonial duties at many events such as official state visits, the opening of the Riksdag and other occasions. The ceremony has attracted an estimated 800,000 people annually to the palace grounds, making it one of the most popular visitor attractions in Stockholm.

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Nobel Prize Museum
Before heading back to my hotel to get my bags to head to the airport, I hit up one last spot: the Nobel Prize Museum, located in the former Stock Exchange Building (Börshuset) next to the Royal Palace. The informative museum showcases information about the renowned Nobel Prize and its prizewinners, as well as information about the founder of the prize, Alfred Nobel (1833–1896). The museum's permanent display includes many artifacts donated by Nobel Laureates, presented together with personal life stories. A temporary exhibition about the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. called “A Right to Freedom,” is also on display until September 2019.

Brunkeberg Tunnel
On my way back to the hotel, I stopped by Brunkeberg Tunnel. A 231-meter long pedestrian passageway under the esker Brunkebergsåsen, a ridge that separates Stockholm’s Normalm district into an eastern and western section, the unique tunnel was first opened in 1886, and is considered one of Stockholm’s most iconic Instagram photoshoot spots - notable with its bright yellow walls!

My return flight back to JFK left on time at 5:45 that evening, arriving back in New York a little after 8pm.  I got to sit in Norwegian's Premium cabin this time around, which was quite comfortable for the return flight home.  I was glad to be back with a brand new shiny PR, and excited to see what the start of the summer had in store!