North Atlantic Marathon
- clean air and rough nature
By Óli Olsen
In absolutly perfect conditions – 12 degrees centigrade, calm and partially overcast – the starting gun was fired for the sixth Torshavn Marathon in the Faroe Islands. This was on 7 September, 2008 at 1300 hours, and start and finish were at the SMS, the local shopping centre.
After a 5 km lap of honour in the city the 3000 healthrunners headed for finish, while the 30 marathoners and 90 halfmarathoners went out on a hilly and very scenic route, which was free from traffic. Due to a heavy campain in the local media, especially in the last week before the event, we were able to welcome all that many competitors. The streets of Torshavn, the capital of the Faroe Islands, were absolutly crowded, and the spirit and joy reached unknown heights.
The Faroe Islands are situated in The North Atlantic Ocean and the distance to each of the nearest neighbours, namely Iceland, Norway and Scotland, is roughly the same. In the very middle of the Faroe Islands, on latitude 62N and longitude 007 W, Torshavn our capital is situated. Compared to other countries the summer is cool with an average temperature of 11 degrees C, on the other hand the winter is mild averaging several plus degrees. This is mainly due to the warm Gulf Stream, which engulfs our coast.
Originally, the Faroe Islands were occupied by the vikings more than 1000 years ago when the Norweagian warriors made their famoes voyages to the West and settled down on many of the Atlantic Islands. Thus, we can confess, that the Faroese people mainly are descendants from the Norwegian vikings and for many hundreds years we were part of the Norwegian empire. During the last centuries, however, the Faroe Islands have been under the Danish Crown.
During Second World War the Faroe Islands and Denmark were split when the Germans occupied Denmark and the British came to the Faroe Islands.
The Faroe Islands consist of 18 islands and are home to 48,000 peoples. One island is unpopulated, however, and two have only one family each. 70,000 sheep graze in the mountains and their winddried meat is one of our specialities. The farmers have cattle and the local dairy produces milk products for local consumption. The farmers also grow potatoes and vegetables. Almost 100 percent of our export, however, consists of fish and fishproducts. The Faroe Islands have a very modern and a highly developed fishing fleet which is operating in deep as well as in shallow waters.
Although an extremely small nation, the Faroe Islands have managed to keep their ancient language alive. It has close relations with Islandic, as they have the same origin. The vikings brought their language (Old Norse) with them, of course, but on several places, it has succumed to larger and more prevalent languages. For example has the local ‘Norn’ in Shetland and Orkney succumbed to English many years ago. Thanks to dedicated people in Iceland and on the Faroe Islands, and thanks to their pure language ‘politics’, we are still able to communicate in our own language. Everybody speaks and understands Danish and most of them understand and speak English as well.
The infrastructure in the Faroe Islands is good. The main islands are linked together with tunnels, and modern ferries serve the smaller ones. The connection to the outside world is exellent as well – both by air and by sea. Atlantic Airways has daily flights to the Scandinavian countries, and a big and mordern ferry, the “Norrøna,” serves on the North Atlantic routes.
On race day the Faroese runners were honored by the visit of a famoes English legend, the former olympic marathoner Ron Hill. This time, however, he headed for the half marathon, and everbody was very pleased to experience this great man, who chose the Faroe Islands for his racing country no. 100. Prior to the marathon we had the opportunity to meet this fascinating person, as he gave an interesting lecture about his running career. Subtracts from his log book convinced everybody that we were listening to an astonising high-milage runner. He was, for example, the first British runner and the second over all to make the marathon under 2 hours 10 minutes. As a matter of fact he was the first, as it turned out, because the other runner set the course record on a route one km short – on a route measured by car.
Before start, the Mayor of Torshavn, Heðin Mortensen, delivered a short speach and mentioned the importance for the human body to exercise, and as the disco rhytms sounded the big crowd began warming up under the keen guidance of a qualified instructor. Ready for start, the Minister of Public Health, Hans Pauli Støm, started the race.
Cecil Weihe, a local front runner, who missed last years marathon due to a horse-back riding accident, lined up again. So far he had broken the tape of four marathons in a row. En route we senior runners discussed his chances this year, but when meeting the leaders by the waterfront well before our turning point in the picturesque village of Kalbak, Cecil was not there. In stead the 10 km runner and marathon debutant Sam Vang was in the lead with Andrias Hansen chasing him. Johan Havn was third, and behind him Cecil Weihe emerged. Last years winner, Borgar Biskupstø was fifth, and at this stage, around 27 km, tey all looked great.
In the latter stages, however, they had to navigate the ‘Hills Of No Merci,’ and here Andrias Hansen really pushed hard, surged and became the eventual winner with 2:49:54, seconds from the course record – and seconds from releasing prize money. His brother, Eirikur Hansen, made a terrific debut marathon, just outside 3 hours. As did the eventual follow up runner Sam Vang, who headed for second in a sub 3 hours race. Johan Havn was third, while Cecil Weihe crossed the line fourth with a superb 2:55:11.
The women’s race was won by Fríðunn Steinberg, a paraglider and midwife from Klaksvik, she finished in 4:03:26. She also broke the tape last year. Our running pack met the women shortly after turning, and at that point tey still looked strong, waved and even a little smile could be seen. The course record holder, Rigmor Arge, didn’t compete this year, as she now lives in Norway and recently made a marathon best in Copenhagen. In 2006 she set the Torshavn Marathon course record with 3:16:21.
After beeing injuried for almost two decades, the local marathon hero Absalon Hansen is fit for fight again. Twenty years ago he ran his marathon best in a continental race, finishing 2:27, and the year after he broke the tape in 2:35 at the socalled Islands Games in the Faroe Islands. Although 48, he’s still a brilliant runner and at this year’s half marathon he ended second over all.
At the age 59, and with a long running career behind me, I litteraly ran into trouble at this year’s marathon event. After being brought through beautiful sceneries and on schedule for 3:30 in perfect conditions, my legs started to hurt around 33km. Although slowing down the cramps became worse and with 3 km to go I definately had to stop to stretch. At this stage the situation was critical, and I started to look around for support to bring me home. (Un)fortunately they were elsewhere at the moment, and somehow I managed to start humping again. Twenty minutes behind schedule I crossed the finish line, and strange to say so – heading for gold. Apart from the finishers medal my time actually qualified for gold in the super veteran’s group (55+). Harry Hansen, 70, picked up the silver.
The seventh edition of Torshavn Marathon will be held on 6 September 2009, and we are really looking forward to welcoming foreign as well as local runners.