Image shows Pauline and Brian wearing black bin bags in a (fairly successful) attempt to stay warm and dry prior to the start of the race.
Half Marathon

Jönköping Halvmaraton 26th August 2023

This was my first official race in Sweden, and my first official race in almost 4 years. I did do a virtual half marathon in October 2020, but we ran that as part of a long training run with Solvikingarna and treated it as a comfortably hard training run, until the final mile when I decided to run off ahead of the group I was chatting to in order to get a sub 1:55. I also supported Brian around a Virtual Marathon in 2021 after I was unable to go to Berlin, but I wasn’t officially signed up for the virtual marathon, and was there as company/ support rather than racing it.

Race preparations – and injury woes

Since my last official race in November 2019, my running has not been so great. I think everyone was affected by the pandemic restrictions, and I’ve also found it hard to get into a new training routine here, or to maintain anything like the volume of training I was putting in in Scotland without getting injured or ill. Michael (my other half) tells me that this is because I am very, very old and my body is falling apart. He’s quite cheerful about this as he thinks it will stop me running, and therefore talking about it to him as much.

A view from the Fife coastal path between Kirkcaldy and Kinghorn, where Pauline did a couple of training runs during her trip to Scotland.
A view from the Fife coastal path between Kirkcaldy and Kinghorn, where Pauline did a couple of training runs during her trip to Scotland.

I’d spent a couple of months getting my training up to 30 – 40km per week, as soon as the ice melted from our winter wonderland, and decided to follow the Macmillan 10 week half marathon training plan which you get access to as a Strava subscriber. Based on the kind of paces I was running at parkrun (25:46 was my best time just before starting the training) I estimated that 1:50 was the most realistic goal to aim for. That meant averaging 5:11/ km (8:21 per mile(?) – sorry, I’m fully converted to European metric measurements now) for 4-and-a-bit parkruns worth of distance. At the time, I was running parkruns that would suggest a slower time than this, but I had a few months to prepare. Ideally, I’d like to think I could get back to running 1:40 – 1:45 half marathons, but given that I couldn’t even run 5:00 / km at parkrun it seemed unachievably optimistic for the relatively short training timeframe available. Realistically I don’t think I can ever get back to that, which will make me feel melancholy if it turns out to be true.

Training went well for the first 4 ½ weeks. Even though I couldn’t strictly follow the training plan due to a 2-week trip to Scotland, I maintained the volume and was doing fine when the plan introduced some speed work. Then I got injured. An injury that could have been prevented. Whilst is Scotland I had been fitted for new custom insoles. However, this time the right one was fitted poorly in such a way that it put a lot of pressure on the arch of my foot, but I stupidly didn’t test it enough before leaving Scotland. It took 5 training runs before they did so much damage that I had to hobble home. I was worried it was plantar fasciitis, but thankfully it was just bad bruising to the ball of my foot due to the incorrectly fitted insoles. I lost a week of training waiting for it to recover.

Image shows a road, with fields, trees and a house in the background.
The road into Kåhog. Pauline did a lot of longer training runs on this 18km loop.

I got back to training with around 4 weeks to go. Things were fine for a fortnight, including a half decent interval session, and a 22km faster finish long run with Brian, where we ran through half marathon distance at around 1:54. But close to the end of the next interval session after that I felt a lot of pain in my right hamstring. I rested it for a few days and went out on the Sunday, only to have to be sensible for a change and abandon the run after a few kilometres due to hamstring pain. I did very little running the following week, and the two short, slow runs I did either resulted in niggles (always in that right leg) or else resulted in glute or hip flexor pain afterwards. With a week to go, I was feeling frustrated and rather uncertain. Thankfully the two runs I did in the final week of training went better, but I was cautious about pushing it, and spent a lot of time attacking my leg muscles with a massage gun. I clearly need to see a sports podiatrist and get the problem fixed, but didn’t have time to organise that before the race. Was 1:50 still a realistic target? There was only one way to find out.

Race day

We had headed through to Jönköping the night before, and stayed at the lovely Best Western Plus John Bauer, which I highly recommend. This was only a few hundred metres from the start of the race, which enabled a leisurely breakfast. The receptionist also kindly gave us black bin bags (to wear), because it was raining heavily outside. The forecast said it would be torrential rain (4mm plus per hour) for the duration of the race and we didn’t want to be soaked through before even starting to run. Two of the marathon pacers did the same thing, and when we got to the start area dozens of runners were sheltering under the bridge rather than heading up onto it. I found the queue for the portaloos (I always get nervous before a long race) and the queue was so long that Brian and I decided it would be quicker to go back to the hotel. So we did that, getting a nice 1 – 1.5km warmup jog in by heading to the race, back to the hotel, then back to the race start.

Photo of Munksjöbron - the bridge over Munksjön.
The bridge where the race begins and ends.

Once back, the rain had temporarily eased off, and we tried to find a suitable place on the bridge. I thought we were a little too far forward, but we realised the pacers were not in perfect order, with one or two of the slower ones in front of faster ones. We ended up not far behind the 3:45 marathon pacer, which made sense given my intended time goal. Brian refused to be drawn on his. I suspected it was faster than mine. We took a few photos, removed the bin bags and tied them to the bridge railings, then the race began.

It was quite crowded at the start, as you would expect for a mass start of around 1300 runners. The race begins (and ends) on Munksjöbron: a beautiful piece of engineering over the lovely Munksjön – one of two smaller lakes around which Jönköping is built. The larger lake, Vättern, whose southern shore Jönköping sits on, is the second largest in Sweden – roughly 135km long and 35km wide. The race takes you along the southern edge of this for a few kilometres, which would have been stunning in nicer weather.

Brian and I immediately got separated in the initial surge of runners, but he stopped for a couple of seconds to wait for me. We ran together for the first 1.5 kilometres or so. The race takes you over the bridge then onto city centre streets. You turn right off the bridge, and head along the northern shore of Munksjön then along the western side of it heading for the southern edge of Rocksjön. The first kilometre felt quite comfortable, and Brian said we had got off to a good start. My watch buzzed 5:19 for the first kilometre, and Brian said he likes to start slowly and gradually speed up. Personally I wasn’t keen to speed up too much. The race was on pavements and cycle paths, and I was surprised that more of it wasn’t on closed roads. It wasn’t too crowded, but it would be hard to get past a lot of people in a short space of time due to the density of runners. There was also a reasonable number of spectators: not throngs, but they were spread out fairly evenly along most of the route, and it was nice to here shouts of “Heja heja”, “Kämpa på”, and “Kom igen” at regular intervals.

Image shows Pauline and Brian wearing black bin bags in a (fairly successful) attempt to stay warm and dry prior to the start of the race.
Brian and Pauline wearing chic black bags to keep warm and dry before the race.

Around 1.8km, we were directed to the left into an area between some commercial buildings, which turned out to be taking us to more of a trail route along Rocksjöpromenaden (a path that circles Rocksjön lake). Brian took advantage of the wider space and a gap in runners to go off ahead. He got around 10 metres ahead of me before settling in. I didn’t take the chance to follow, and the crowd got more packed again as the route narrowed.

Staying where I was seemed like the right call. The second kilometre buzzed in at 5:00, and the third one at 4:59. The fourth was an even quicker 4:57. The rain had picked up within the first kilometre, and by this point it was very heavy. A couple of the runners whom Strava says I ran the race with referred to it as ösregn. My new glasses were completely covered in rain droplets and it was hard to see much around me. Brian was sensibly using daily disposable contact lenses for the race, and I envied him his ability to see clearly. I was also completely soaked, and, though I had been trying to run around the edge of puddles, my socks and feet were already platchin[1]. I hoped this wouldn’t increase the likelihood of blisters. The fifth kilometre took us across a road, where we changed direction and headed off along the northern side of the Östrakyrkogården (Eastern cemetery) towards Huskvarna. At this point I was not enjoying the weather or the views, but was feeling comfortable with the pace and the density of runners around me.

My watch buzzed 5km at 25:23, but it was buzzing before the kilometre signs, and I passed the 5km sign at around 25:49. I did some quick mental arithmetic and realised that I would have to maintain a similar pace for the remainder of the race. I was uncertain as to whether I was pacing things correctly. I slowed a little during kilometre 6, as we ran along pavement on fairly nondescript streets, and in kilometre 7 I slowed further still as we went onto a narrow, slightly muddy trail route and things got rather crowded. I had been slowly catching up to the 3:45 marathon pacer, and there was a large group of runners sticking right behind him, for obvious reasons. However, this made it very difficult to get past. One woman did so (she asked me to let her out so she could run along the grass at the right-hand side of the path to get past them) but then that opportunity was gone so I stayed and waited a little impatiently. We had been heading uphill since around the 5km point and, though it wasn’t steep, I didn’t want to attempt an opportunistic sprint past a large group of people and tire myself out too much at this stage.

The crowds of half and marathon runners ready for the race to begin.
Ready, steady, go! Or, in Swedish, “Klara, Färdiga, Kör!” Almost ready for the race to begin.

I remained in this holding pattern for another couple of kilometres whilst we ran through a nice park area. The bib numbers have your name on them, and someone finally shouted encouragement to me personally – or at least, I think she did – I’m not sure if she was saying “Pau” or “på”). Around about this point I realised that I had lost one of my race dots – the magnets I use to attach race numbers in preference to using safety pins. This had caused my bib number to be flapping at the top right-hand corner, obscuring the second half of my name. I tried to find the missing magnets, but they were long gone. I had persuaded Brian to use a set too, and was hoping he hadn’t had a similar problem with his. I spend the rest of the race frequently checking that the bib number was still attached, as it contained the all-important timing chip.

At some point between 8 and 9 kilometres we headed back onto regular roads, and I was finally able to use the increased width of the path and my superior ability (not great, to be fair) in running uphill to get past the 3:45 marathon pacer group. As soon as I did this, things became a lot more spaced out. I was often not running alongside anyone, though there was always someone either just in front of me or slowly gaining on me. The 10th kilometre finished taking us uphill and led us to a lovely downhill. I hadn’t really been able to check my pace on my watch due to the heavy rain, so only saw the kilometre splits which it flashes up in a much bigger font once per kilometre. I hadn’t heard the buzz for 10km, which was a faster 4:52, and was surprised to see the 10km sign at the top of a slight uphill. The timing chip recorded my 10km time as 51:44, 25 seconds slower than my Garmin – presumably due to a combination of GPS inaccuracies and weaving between people. I calculated that I couldn’t really slow down by any amount if I wanted to hit that 1:50 target. I was still feeling comfortable, and was pleasantly surprised by this. There were no nasty niggles or pains. I’d missed out on long runs for the previous few weeks though due to those injuries, and was unsure if I could sustain the pace. We were still heading downhill though, and the 11th kilometre was a nice, fast and effortless 4:43 where I overtook several people. If only the rest of it could be downhill it would be plain sailing. I had a bite of my Clif bar, in an attempt to prevent getting sluggish.

Pauline looking fairly happy before the start of the race.
Pauline looking reasonably relaxed and happy before the race began.

Then I hit a mid-race wobble. The route started heading slightly, but persistently, uphill again, and I started feeling less comfortable. Several runners went past me on the hill. I said “Bra jobbat” to one of the ladies who ran past. I got a “Detsamma” which I wasn’t feeling and hesitated to respond to. She kindly gave me some words of encouragement so I thanked her before she ran off. There seems to be less banter in Swedish races than some Scottish ones, so it was nice of her to respond. I didn’t see her again, so I hope she had a good race. We were still out on city streets, and the kilometres clicked in at 5:14, 5:09 and 5:17 – which on average were probably just about keeping me on track for a 1:50, until the 15th kilometre. Somewhere during this time we headed over a bridge across a river. Brian was on the bridge as I was heading up the slope to get onto it, about 30 seconds behind him. He shouted “Come on Pauline”, and I responded. He seemed cheerful, and it was good to know his race was going well, and also that he wasn’t too far ahead of me. Maybe I could catch up with him if I could get into a better rhythm again. Unfortunately, this was not to be the case.

There were well-organised water stations every 3 or 4 kilometres, some also offering sports drinks, but I carry my own water bottle and ran straight through them. However, at the station close to 14 kilometres they were also offering half a banana to every runner. I hadn’t taken any more of my Clif bar, and decided to have one. Due to the torrents of rain, the banana was very wet, and Brian (who had been blissfully unaware of me very slowly reeling him in) eased off again into the distance as I tried to eat the banana and safely dispose of the skin whilst jogging slowly. Past the water station we were on what would normally be a gravel path next to a grassy area. However, the downpour had completely flooded the path, and the grass was rather muddy too. The runners ahead had taken a slight detour on to a slightly drier path through the grass, and I followed them. I had to let two guys past me, and it is not terrain I enjoy running on. There was probably a stunning view of Vättern on my right-hand side, but I spent most of my time looking at the ground 2 metres ahead trying to avoid the softer patches of ground, and listening for runners looking to pass from behind. That kilometre was a horribly slow 5:48, and I thought I’d thrown away the chance of a sub 1:50.

A sign from the course saying "Du är grym!!" Translation: You are awesome!
This sign translates as “You are awesome!”

Thankfully we got back onto solid ground (literally) around the 15 kilometre mark, on a path along the southern edge of Vättern. There was a sign pointing out the beautiful view, but due to the weather I didn’t get to fully appreciate the splendour of this huge, tidal lake. I did appreciate that there were more supporters here, and I was also overtaking a few runners, not just being passed by them. My speed was back up to 5:04/km, and I incorrectly calculated that I had a generous amount of time to do the remaining 5.1km. At the 17km sign I was feeling quite tired again, and wanted this to end. I didn’t think I had enough fight in me, and thought it was going to be a disappointing 1:51:something. My brain really wanted me to slow down, and my legs were feeling rather heavy. Then we reached the point where the marathon finally split from the half marathon. That meant there wasn’t long to go. It also got quieter around me. Then around 17.5km we turned left to go under an underpass and back towards Rocksjön. I recognised some of the supporters from when we had passed there around 4km into the race, and thought it was brilliant that they had stuck around for so long to support everyone. I got a few more personal name-checks and this also gave me a bit of a boost. It was nice to know we were on the way back home.

I hadn’t seen Brian since that water station around 14km, and wondered how far ahead he was now. At 19km I was still doing mental arithmetic. I’d gone through 17, 18 and 19km at 5:08, 5:15 and 5:17. It felt as if 1:50 was just not quite in grasp. The 20th kilometre was still partially around Rocksjön, but brought us back onto the city roads and with a view of the bridge. More people were going past me than I was passing, but I saw a woman in a Husqvarna top whom I had recognised from around 2 or 3km when she had gone ahead of me. I was slowly catching up to her. As long as I could maintain that, it would be alright. She was going to get me to the finish on time. The streets were wide, there were some supporters, and I took advantage of that before the narrower section with barriers near the end of the race. Kilometre 21 was back to previous speeds at 4:58 / km.

Pauline and Brian displaying their medals after the race.
Pauline and Brian displaying their medals after the race.

I didn’t see the path up to the bridge until a few hundred metres before the end. We were approaching the bridge from the other side, the rain was still heavy, and my glasses were still covered in raindrops. I checked my watch on the way up the slope to the bridge, and saw it said 1:48 something. I thought we had to run almost the length of the bridge, and assumed I wouldn’t make it in time. Two women running together overtook me heading up that slope. Then I turned left onto the bridge and realised the Finish was much closer to this end. And the clock, not my watch, was still at 1:49 something. I tried for a sprint, heard Brian shouting, threw myself over the Finish line at 1:49:49 on the race clock and punched the air with both fists. Brian gave me a high five, and confirmed it was definitely sub 1:50. He had crossed the line about 1 minute earlier, and wasn’t sure what his exact time would be. (It was 1:48:19, not too far off his personal best). He said he had felt strong all the way round, and thought it was a great race, though hillier than he had been expecting.

We got our medals, finishers t-shirts, a ridiculous amount of goodies in the form of protein and snack bars, energy drinks and so on. Brian also took an alcohol-free beer, which he said was the best way to finish a race. They didn’t give you a bag to put any of this in though, so I couldn’t take a beer for fear of dropping something. I did actually lose my Kex bar, but luckily Brian had taken two and gave me his spare one. The guy in the Go Well tent was handing out Go Well bags in addition to their health drink, so we were finally able to put our goodies in something secure. He also kindly took our photo. What with the rain and the need to shower before the (very kindly agreed upon) late checkout, we didn’t hang around too long before heading back to the hotel. It was soooo nice to be able to get showered and into clean, dry clothes before the 180ish km drive back to Gothenburg. All of my clothes were dripping wet and I’d had to wring them out over the sink. I turned the heating up to 23 degrees in the bathroom and put them over the heated towel radiator, but that just resulted in taking home a bag full of hot wet clothes rather than cold wet clothes.

Pauline wearing her Jönköping Half Marathon finisher's t-shirt
Pauline wearing her Jönköping Half Marathon finisher’s t-shirt. Yes, that is a wardrobe containing a mini-fridge and a 3D printer.

Final thoughts

Overall, despite the rain this was a pretty good experience for my first official race in Sweden. I was happy with my official finish time of 1:49:23. I was 4th F45 (I calculated I was 11th in the F40 – 49 bracket, but they divide things into 5 year bands here), and 47th female overall, out of 331. I’d like to improve on that, but realistically I don’t know how likely that is as I am heading into my late 40s. Jönköping half marathon is mostly a flat route. It has some fairly mundane sections, but large sections of the route have the potential for stunning views in less adverse weather conditions. There were a reasonable amount of supporters along the route, and, if you choose the right place to start it probably won’t feel too crowded in the early kilometres. It was really well organised, and there are plenty of water stations on the route, and toilets too if you should need them. The bananas are a nice to get in a half marathon too: I assume this is more for the benefit of the marathon runners, but I appreciated it as a much better alternative than gels. It’s probably a goldilocks size of race for me too. There are enough runners and supporters to make it interesting, but not so many that it requires multiple start waves and massive traffic disruption. The finishers t-shirt was nice, and the medal is big, solid, and feels good quality. I know that most of my (admittedly small) readership are unlikely to travel to the 10th largest city in Sweden for a half marathon, but I would definitely say it is worthy of consideration.

[1] Platchin: A Scottish word meaning soaked through or drenched.

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