Modern Athlete Magazine Issue 138, February 2021 Feb 2021 | Page 28

MANN the running mann by STUART MANN


MANN the running mann by STUART MANN

Nordic Adventures

Due to the COVID-19 lockdown , I have not been able to get my usual marathoning and travel fix in for a while , but I do have some great memories of races in years gone by . So , until we can race again , you ’ ll have to make do with me taking running trips down memory lane , and this month , I ’ m looking back on three trips to Nordic climes in Finland , Denmark and Iceland !

Enjoying a Finnish Finish

Hello from Helsinki
the top spot ! However , this did make for some vocal and vociferous crowd support along the course . ( This got me thinking that our equivalent would entail being South Afri-caned at the races … which I suppose would be rather appropriate , if there is any truth to the rumours about the ‘ performance drink ’ of choice during the Fordyce era .)
Helsinki City Marathon , Finland Marathon # 61 / 18 August 2007 )


business trip to the UK provided the opportunity to spend some airmiles for a detour via Helsinki to take part in their marathon , which is the second largest marathon in Scandinavia ( after Stockholm ), with 6500 entrants . Helsinki hosted the 1952 Olympics Games , with Emil Zátopek of Czechoslovakia famously winning the long distance treble of the 5000m , 10,000m and marathon – an achievement that has never been equalled . The start of the present-day marathon takes place with the Olympic Stadium as backdrop , with the start line itself next to the statue of Paavo Nurmi , the original ‘ Flying Finn ’ who earned nine golds and three silvers from his 12 Olympic starts .
The race has a late afternoon start at 3pm , so I arrived with tired legs after a full day of sightseeing . The temperature was in the mid-20s – which is considered brutally hot for Finland – and the first part of the race was indeed quite warm , but it dropped significantly when we ran alongside the coast and were cooled by the breeze coming off the Baltic sea . As the day turned into a long summer evening it was actually quite a novelty to have the temperature getting progressively cooler during the course of the race .
The route was pleasant , with long stretches along rivers , estuaries and the coastline , with the city itself playing a very minor role in proceedings . The water tables were frequent and supplied Gatorade and water . Some tables also provided bananas and “ salted cucumbers ” ( i . e . gherkins ), but the most popular sustenance seemed to be raisins … which I have always been led to believe are a diuretic . Thankfully , you will be pleased to know there were also plenty of porta-loos on the route !
Big Drinkers , Big Medals
Finland has the second highest per capita alcohol consumption in the European Union , but based on the sheer volume of locals I observed drinking at all times of the day during my two-day visit , they are making a concerted effort to push the Irish from
The final few hundred metres are a real highlight , as you enter the Olympic Stadium and do a circuit around the track to complete the race . The organisers add to this unique experience by flashing your name on the big screen , with your time and position as you cross the finish line . This grandeur ( as well as the fact that it was now well into beer time ) inspired me to run a fast Finnish finish ! The medal that you are then presented with weighs in at well over a kilogram , and has to be the biggest , fattest and heaviest I have ever received ! (* A record later surpassed by both the Little Rock Marathon in Arkansas , USA , and the Volksrust Marathon in Mpumalanga , SA , which actually hand out still bigger medals !)
Sauna Surprise
Other than its drinking prowess , Finland is famous for Nokia , obscure heavy metal bands , and the sauna . Believe it or not , there is one sauna for every three people in Finland , and no trip here would be complete without a genuine Finnish sauna . As luck would have it , the race website promised “ an exotic experience of Finnish sauna , shower and swimming pool ” at the Olympic aqua centre after the race , and since this exotic post-marathon experience intrigued me , I hobbled the few hundred metres to the swimming complex .
The saunas have a strict no costume policy , and my curiosity quickly turned to consternation when I realised that everything was gender-segregated , and thus sharing a cramped sauna with thousands of naked , bedraggled Vikings was as exotic as it got . Luckily , I am quite secure in my sexuality , or I would still be having nightmares about bumping into an Icelandic …
Another international race medal earned
Images : Martyn Mulder & courtesy Stuart Mann
ISSUE 138 FEBRUARY 2021 / www . modernathlete . co . za