Workout of the Day
27 km trail run
On the bus ride back from kayaking yesterday, we had some “car trouble.” This was the first hiccup of the trip, but it gave us an opportunity to pull off one of the best roadside bbq’s in Icelandic history (possible exaggeration). High up on the cliffs overlooking the fjord, an empty road for handstands and sprints, and delicious beef, squash, and corn. It doesn’t get much better.
I figured this was a good time to announce to the group that Day 7’s workout would be a 27 km trail run through the cliffs overlooking the Denmark Strait. There was a stunned silence that followed this announcement, followed by some laughter, a few nervous whispers, and even some tears. We explained that the point was to finish the run as quickly as you could, but that for some merely completing the distance would be the goal. This eased some tension but not all. It was easy to see that the group was going to have it’s work cut out for it the next morning.
We got up early and packed in a solid breakfast before heading for the coast. Right away there was a hang up with the run. Because our bus had been traded out for a temporary model, we didn’t have the ground clearance to get to the start line without risking damage to the under carriage. We were about 12 km from the beginning of the run and would have to be shuttled forward 4 at a time in a rented SUV. The first wave set off, expecting to be the slower runners anyway. Not long after they left, a group of 6 decided to just start the run from where we were, making their distance 39 km!!! That’s 2 km short of a full marathon, an off road marathon. The remaining passengers, including myself, began walking the trail so as to expedite the pick up process as Sven and the rental came back and forth.
When things got going for me, it was immediately clear that this was going to be no ordinary trail run. I was crossing streams that cut straight from the high bluffs above us, bouncing from stone to stone. To my left, the landscape fell beautifully away from mountains to the sea, at times causing me to stop and try to take a mental picture. There were cracks in the rock to run through, steep climbs over clay roads, and abandoned farm houses from decades ago dotting the coastline. There were times when I didn’t see anybody in front or behind me for 30 minutes and all there was in the world were my thoughts and this incredible landscape. Some of these views were among the emptiest and most austere I have ever seen.
Within 5 kilometers I had found my groove and was clicking along at a great pace. By 10 km I slipped into a legitimate runner’s high where I felt no pain, no effort, and no hindrance whatsoever. By 15 km, however, I was starting to labor. My joints, not being used to that much consistent pounding, started to feel stiff and swollen. My feet hurt and my heels began to blister. By 20 km I had to start taking breaks to walk. I came upon our pace car with Sven and Ross and gladly gulped down the electrolytes and protein bar they offered me, hoping that it would carry me the remaining 4-5 km. What proved more powerful in keeping me moving was the thought of the other 25 people enduring the same hardships. I knew that if I felt this way, so did everyone else, and that was enough to keep pushing on. My strides were short and I certainly didn’t look much like the runner I was at the beginning, but I finished the distance running nonetheless in a time of 2:12.
Everyone at the bus was sprawled on the ground taking in fluids. There was a mutual appreciation for what everyone had accomplished and the manner in which they’d done it. A group of crossfitters who rarely run further than 400 meters on concrete just ran 17 miles over rocky cliffs and sand. That is badass, I don’t care how you slice it. As we waited together for the remaining runners to finish, this fact sank in deeper. Many people were talking about how they felt for the first time why runners love running. Maybe not enough to start taking on marathons, but enough to get out on a trail once a month for sure.
That night we enjoyed the famous Isafjordur fish buffet at Tjoruhusid. All you can eat soup, sides, and fresh caught Icelandic Cod, Sea Wolf, Halibut, Herring, and more. It was UNREAL, and exactly what everyone needed after such a hard couple of days. If the group gelled after the sea kayaking, they were knit like a sweater after the run. There wasn’t a moment’s lapse in conversation at the table, nor at the ldoge later that night. People were uncontrollably happy and proud of what they’d accomplished, and so was I. With only 3 days remaining in the trip, I felt my first touch of dread for the end. You know it’s coming, but at moments like this you just don’t want it to.