Travel letter from Bjørn Ivar Haugen, Norway, to marathon and Therispo fans:
No more bombs in Boston
I'm on my way home after attending the 125th anniversary of the world's oldest marathon. In the hand luggage is a medal with a motif of six cities and the text World Marathon Major. It will fit on the wall when I come home to Norway.
The World Marathon Major (WMM) medal is awarded after completing the six marathons New York, Berlin, Tokyo, London, Chicago and Boston. In that order for me.
This journey extends over eight years. From the autumn of 2013, when I stepped down from football, but still wanted to stay in shape. I tried my hand at a half marathon in Trondheim, and in the finish area someone stood and handed out the magazine Kondis. There was an ad for vacancies for the New York Marathon, and I thought, "Wow, the world's biggest marathon, just two months ahead!" I contacted the tour operator who said they had been given some extra seats to New York, because last year's race was canceled due to Hurricane Sandy.
It was a trip to New York. An interesting experience. I had been there once before, in connection with a journalist job, and therefore knew both the race and the city. But it was something else to run yourself, and this was the first marathon in the United States after the terrible bombs in Boston:
On Patriots Day, April 15, 2013, the Boston Marathon was subjected to terror. Two bombs exploded, at 15-second intervals, on the run-up to Boylston Street just before the finish line at Copley Square. The explosions killed three people and injured 144 others. The race was interrupted, the city closed, and a hunt for two brothers behind it was quickly launched. After four days, both were taken. What has been described as the largest manhunt in US history has also been made into a film (Patriots Day, and Stronger).
The incident led to extra security measures when the New York marathon kicked off seven months later. I will never forget the many helicopters that flew over the starting area when 47,000 participants got ready to start on Staten Island, and then follow us through the five districts of "The Big Apple". The race goes through Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx and Manhattan with the finish line in Central Park. Several million spectators stood along the trail and cheered on the runners this first Sunday in November, as many as in the Halloween parade three days before.
New York was the start of several marathons for me. "First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin" was the idea when Germany became a destination the following year. "The world's fastest course" set a record for Kenyan Dennis Kimetto, who ran to a new world record (2.02.57) in 2014. Later, Eliud Kipchoge broke the world record with 2.01.40 in the same course. The Berlin marathon is popular because the course is so flat and "easy", and the race is an experience with more than 40,000 participants. The marathon race in the German capital always takes place on the last Sunday in September, and ends with a run through the Brandenburg Gate. The Germans will also be the largest, and EXPO, where there is a start number distribution and sales fair, will take place in the world's largest building - Tempelhof Airport, which was in operation until 2008.
Every marathon has its own charm and distinctiveness. One of the things that fascinates me most about these events is all the different people who gather. That so many, from all corners of the world, of both sexes and of all ages, with so little different backgrounds, have running as a common interest, tells of something universal.
I got that feeling on the starting line in Tokyo. There was a long way between people of Nordic origin. But I met someone from Moss who was in Tokyo for the second year in a row. He was actually supposed to run the year before, but then got 40 in fever and had to watch the marathon on TV from the hotel room. He was dehydrated and never managed to adjust after the long flight from Norway. Imagine being so unlucky, traveling so far with an unresolved issue.
It was 5-7 degrees and rain during the Tokyo Marathon. The whole race. The cool temperature required both a hat and a sweater under the t-shirt. We were told that the race had never been in such bad weather before, but for us came from the Nordics, this was perfectly fine weather in March. In the finish, everyone was offered a hot bath and massage, but most of the 37,700 participants preferred the fastest way to the hotel room. Tokyo, like Berlin, has a flat track. And many spectators, as there are also many to take off in the world's most densely populated city.
When I was in Tokyo (2019), it was a curiosity to see people wearing face masks. That it would also be relevant in little Norway one year later was inconceivable. The Japanese I spoke to said that they used masks in courtesy to others, as a protection. Some said they also felt anonymous behind the mask, and thought it was a bit good.
London is a race that ranks high among Europeans, and perhaps especially Norwegians. The atmosphere along the trail can be compared to New York - if not better when the sun shines over Cutty Shark, Tower Bridge, Big Ben and Buckingham Palace, which are among the landmarks that are passed. Here, the Queen herself has fired the starting shot, and London was truly an experience worth the 1200 dollar as a starting point, flight ticket and hotel weekend cost for me. Many people combine the trip with experiencing culture and watching a football match during the marathon weekend.
Chicago is a city many Norwegians have a relationship with. One hundred years ago (1920), 50,000 immigrants from Norway lived in Chicago, which made the city the third largest "Norwegian" city, after Oslo and Bergen. At the same time, the gangster Al Capone was successful there. In the city with the many skyscrapers, souvenir shops proudly sell Capone effects (as England does with the Queen, Diana and Mr.Bean). In Chicago, the Willis Tower is an attraction. The building rises 442 meters (103 floors) above the ground, is the second tallest skyscraper in the United States, and the 10th tallest free-standing construction in the world.
The beauty of the WMM races is to experience different cities. When the trail goes along the main sights, it becomes a sightseeing. I have secured some memories by taking pictures with my mobile phone along the way. Spectators in Halloween costume and drinking station with beer serving were some of the things that made an impression in Chicago 2019. During the race, a world record was also set by Brigid Kosgei, who ran the finish line on 2.14.04.
Boston is the world's oldest and most legendary marathon. After being held every year since 1897, the race was canceled for the first time last year (due to the pandemic). It was a downturn for everyone who had a starting place, me included. The 2020 edition was completed as a virtual race, but did not count in the World Marathon Major. Uncertainty also about this year's Boston marathon made me sign up for Berlin this spring, to qualify for next year's race in Boston if necessary.
I woke up at 04.30 on the marathon day 11 October. It is difficult to sleep before a marathon. There are many things to think about in the hours before the start, and most important of all is not to fall asleep. Breakfast and preparations are made when the buses, which transport the participants to the starting area, start running. My upload time is 08.00.
I have almost adapted to the time difference after being in the city for four days. It is 23 years since I first went to the USA, to cover the New York marathon for the Norwegian newspaper Adresseavisen. At that time, I followed Stig Ovesen from North Trøndelag, who survived a plane crash in Namsos, Norway, in 1993. The way he overcame fear of flying, and came back after being seriously injured in the accident, can be compared to the fate of those close to the Boston bombs. There are many strong stories associated with marathons, and some use the 42.2 km long distance as a training goal and motivation to get back in life.
18,000 participants (reduction due to corona) are bussed out to the starting area in the small town of Hopkinton outside Boston. After the elite has started at. 08.37, for the first time in history, a rolling start is made, after qualifying time, to achieve the best possible social distance.
Ten minutes before the start, I take off an old football suit, coverall. It is common in WMM races to donate clothes, which are used to keep warm before the start, to someone who needs them. Now is the time to get rid of the suit that has survived many clearings due to memories from the football era in the 90s. A hint of remorse shows up as the person who received it asks "do you really want to give this one away?". Hopefully my fotball Club in Norway, Singsås IL, will get a supporter in Boston, even though the club is not known for either basketball, baseball or hockey.
The Boston Marathon differs from the others in the WMM series by starting "in the country" and only having the last mile in the city itself. After the start in Hopkinton, it's like running on the country road at home, with fields and inland water along the trail. One day a year, the road to Boston is closed, and that is the marathon day. Gradually, the surroundings become more densely populated, and in the towns on the way to Boston itself, there is a great atmosphere. Towards the end, it becomes close among the audience, who almost compete to create as much life as possible with cheers and instruments. At the entrance to Boylston Street, before the finish line, it is inevitable to think about the incident in 2013. When the bombs exploded. But there have been no attacks since. No more bombs in Boston, thankfully!
After passing the finish line, it is the distribution of face masks, and the iconic medal that characterizes Boston. This time I also have a mark on the start number that gives the entrance to the tent for the World Marathon Major. The WMM medal that 52 Norwegians now have is received there.
In Boston, i also had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with and supporting the American Liver Foundating. It was meaningful and interesting.
Training and times
What triggers many to run marathons is probably the uncertainty of whether they can do it. It is an advantage to prepare for a race that lasts for several hours. What everyone asks about after a marathon is the time and how much you train. I have 1,23.07 in the half marathon (Oslo) and 3,11,36 in the full marathon (Berlin) this year. The amount of training is 3-4 trips a week during the summer, from half an hour to an hour each time. The longest run is 13 km. A little short, but I get a profit in everyday life. I manage the marathon even if I lose some time at the end. Fortunately, I am not alone there. At the age of 49, I look at exercise / training as a good life insurance.
A common arena
I have been asked several times what is the best race. But ranking the World Marathon Major events is both difficult and unfair. Everyone is a skilled organizer, and each state and capital has its own charm and history. Should I still allow myself to highlight a few favorites, it will be London and New York. Then the greatest emphasis is placed on the atmosphere among the audience and sights along the way. A minus for New York is the long wait out on Staten Island. It was a three-hour long and cool experience, even though it was hot when Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" resounded over the speaker as the start went.
Otherwise, the atmosphere, with world champions and exercisers in the same arena, is common to all the organizing cities. Perhaps the most impressive is the commitment and enthusiasm among the volunteers, of which there are many thousands at each race! The way they provide service testifies to the pride and love of the city and the event. Then maybe that's what it takes to get a place in the World Marathon Major. In 2022, the organization will put the South African Cape Town under the microscope for possible inclusion in the series. The last time a candidate got a place was Tokyo in 2012. If Cape Town joins, those who run the fastest will also get a Major race in their continent.
World Marathon Major is an adventure. It is fascinating to meet people from other countries and cultures. It is also interesting to hear how people from other parts of the world view my land - Norway. During the distribution of start numbers in Boston, I was dispatched by a lady who could tell that Norway has the best schools in the world! As a retired teacher with a background from Harvard University, she probably knew what she was talking about. So, Norway is known for more than electric cars, expensive beer, mountains, wild nature, bears, wolves and good salmon rivers.
I round off by greeting everyone I have met on the way! I have not yet decided where I will run my next marathon. There is a lot to choose from, luckily.
My marathon medals hang on the wall. But around my wrist I have an wristband from Therispo. It reminds me of the great races I have experienced so far:-)
Bjørn Ivar Haugen, Norway