If you were asked what the biggest half marathon in the world was, you would be forgiven if you thought it was the Great North Run with its 41,000 finishers in 2014. However, with over 47,000 finishers in the same year, "Göteborg Varet", the Gothenburg half marathon, has become the largest half marathon in the world and the second largest running event behind only the New York marathon.
The event began in 1980 with a mere 1,800 runners finishing the race the Ullevi Stadium in the hot and sunny conditions. By 1990 it had already grown to 22,000. This year there were a reported 64,000 entries of which I was one of them.
After a mass participation aerobic warm up the gun went off at 1pm in overcast conditions. I set off from the elite starting group tucked in behind a group of speedy looking African athletes. The rest of the runners set off in multiple waves, depending on their predicted time, approximately every 5 minutes until 4pm. The first 2km of the route, undulating and winding around the picturesque Slotsskogen Park, flew by. The large groups of spectators from the start line seemed to last continuously throughout the park. The cheering and the adrenaline coming from the large crowds were pushing over-enthusiastic runners beyond their normal race pace. They would soon regret their fast start at 5km into the race when a long and substantial climb onto the Alvaborgshron Bridge took its toll.
The North side of the river hosted the middle section of the race. Mainly flat around the docks, it was quieter in terms of spectators, but certainly not lacking atmosphere as 18 of the 50 musical acts along the route entertained and supplied a boost of energy to the runners. The sun had now broken through the clouds and was casting a shadow on the concrete roads. At 14km, the second river crossing lead the runners back over to the south side of the river as they headed straight towards the city centre. The main avenue up towards Gotaplatsen was 2-3 deep in places with spectators roaring on the runners, as they entered the final 5km. The chorus from the spectators seemed to be “Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey . . . . . “ as if in time to a beating drum. Running across the tram lines, some smoothly cobbled roads and between 3-5 storey Scandinavian townhouse buildings the 20km sign loomed. I pushed to increase my pace as other runners dwindled behind me. Entering the park for one final time I could feel the strong sunshine on my forehead and the salty sweat baking onto my skin. I started to visualise the finish line and a cup of water to cure my drooth. I pushed on into the Ullevi Stadium with its capacity crowd cheering heavily for each individual runner crossing the finish line. I crossed the finish line in 1:12:59 but the only thing on my mind was collecting a cup of cold H20. I later heard that the winner, Richard Mengich of Kenya, set a course record in 59:35. No wonder I lost sight of him after the first 2km!
Goteborgs Varvet - a great event. I would recommend it to anyone.
Five fun facts from Goteburg Varvet.
1. The oldest runner was an incredible 87 years old.
2. There were 400 portable toilets from start to finish.
3. Over 1,000,000 paper cups were used.
4. There was an estimated 200,000 spectators lining the streets.
5. Over 80,000 sponges were used to cool down participants bodies.
Gothenburg is a relatively easy city to fly to from the UK with flights going from many of the major cities such as London and Edinburgh. Flight times are typically 60-90 minutes. On arrival at Gothenburg Landvetter airport, it’s a 20 minute taxi or bus journey into the city centre where you will find hotels, restaurants, bars and quaint little cafes a plenty. There is even a theme park with a couple of towering roller coasters for those seeking some extra thrills. However, take your credit card, a simple meal for 2 will set you back around £50 on its own, considerably more if you want to add on a bottle of wine for a post run celebration.