Kobenhaven Marathon, Denmark (Marathoning with Mermaids)

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[Marathon #73 / 18 May 2008]

Copenhagen is located on the island of Sealand and is the largest city in Scandinavia, and it was the venue for my coming of age (21st) international marathon. That’s not a bad achievement just under three years after completing my first foreign race in Prague, especially considering that only two of the 21 were planned more than a few weeks in advance. (Ah, the joys of last-minute work travel.)

The race had a strange entry system in that non-Danish runners register online (with no financial obligation), and then you pay at the expo when collecting your race number. This trust-based system seemed to work reasonably well, with about 6500 finishers from 8500 registered runners. (I’m not sure how many actually started.) The entry fee of 525 Krone (about R800) is about what one expects for a big city marathon, but the race pack was a bit disappointing, as it consisted of a T-shirt and not much else.

Springtime in Scandinavia.

Mermaid Mania

Springtime in Scandinavia can be unpredictable, but race day was pleasant and I could get away with wearing just a vest (although it was a little chilly waiting for the 9:30am start). The route was very flat, with a total altitude differential of only 10 metres, and consisted of three loops (two of which were virtually the same). Although this allows spectators to easily support their runners on multiple occasions over the route, it does lack a bit in the imagination department. However, the course is scenic and passes by the highlights of the city, like Tivoli Gardens, the Carlsberg Brewery (by some way the ugliest building in the city), the Kastellet, Geifon Fountain, Nyhavn harbour district and of course that watery tart, the Little Mermaid.

Obligatory mermaid shot.

The Danes seem to have a weird fascination with this spectacularly unimpressive statue, which is not even particularly old – it was only erected in 1913. Yet every website that has anything to do with Denmark displays her motif, and without exception, she is listed as “the most popular tourist attraction in Denmark.” (Although you are not allowed to post her picture on Facebook, because it violates their nudity rules!) Perhaps her popularity is down to the fact that she has survived sporadic decapitation attempts and intermittent paint jobs (more here). Anyway, I kept a few busloads of tourists amused by taking a detour of a few hundred metres during the race to pose in front of her while getting one of the afore-mentioned tourists to take the photo.

Sidenote: For fairies and those interested in their tales, Hans Christian Anderson has his own marathon in September, in his hometown of Odense, which is about 200km from Copenhagen. More info here.

Unique Pacing

A fartholder next to a fartreleaser.

The race provides pacesetters in 15-minute intervals all the way from 3:00 to 5:00 hours, but what is different from the norm is that the pacesetters just run a relay leg, instead of the whole race, thereby providing better predictability on their goal time. Personally, I don’t like running in a large bus, and find it even worse getting stuck behind one – and this problem is exasperated in Denmark, because the local terminology for pacesetter is “fartholder.” The thought occurred to me that getting stuck behind a large squadron of fartholders might redefine what it means to ‘blow badly’ (and I did wonder afterwards how they blew up their balloons denoting their goal times).

More fartholders – how do they blow up those balloons?

The Danish word for pacesetter excluded, many Danish words bear quite a close relationship to Afrikaans. For example, the airport is “lufthaven,” and a pharmacy is “apotek.” Therefore, it seemed rather appropriate that the finish line was emblazoned with the word “MAL.” At the end of the race, yoghurt, fruit, baked goods and seed bars were handed out, and I was overjoyed to see a stand handing out “Free Beer!” Unfortunately, my joy was short-lived when I realised that the word “Alcohol” appeared before the words “Free Beer.”

A “crazy” finish.

Generally, my opinion of alcohol-free beer is that it’s like listening to the Stones without Jagger, or the Grateful Dead without being stoned. However, I had worked up a good thirst and therefore decided to sample a bottle of Erdlinger’s “alkohol frei” beer on my walk back to the train station. As “making love in a canoe” beers go, it wasn’t too bad – I would compare it to drinking a Miller’s Lite, only with a much fuller flavour, and more of a kick.

Plenty of free alcohol free beer at the finish.

Soothing Drinks

Having run a very relaxed marathon, my legs were still good to spend the afternoon sightseeing. There are plenty of open-air pubs in the city, and I was able to enjoy a couple of cold Carlsbergs over a long Baltic evening whilst watching other marathon runners walk by – easily identified as they were proudly wearing their race medal around their neck… which of course was emblazoned with a picture of the Little Mermaid!

No surprises with the medal motif.

Note: This article originally appeared as my column in the February 2021 edition of Modern Athlete.

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