(report by Pete Mackrell)
Whilst Sweden is best known as the home of Ikea, meatballs and ABBA, it also holds several large marathons and it was probably for this reason that Chris "The Trojan" Norman traveled to Stockholm – the Swedish capital – last weekend. This was Chris's third marathon following Amsterdam in 2011 and Berlin in 2013. Coincidentally these are all Olympic cities with the Amsterdam and Stockholm races finishing inside Olympic stadiums, whilst Berlin has a warm-up run the day before which finishes inside its Olympic Stadium.
Chris's training had gone reasonably well but he felt he wasn't in as good shape as he'd been before Berlin, where he shocked everyone by running 2:50:43. Berlin also had perfect weather conditions and a pancake flat course so beating that would be a challenge. The rest of us were keeping an eye on whether he could beat Tom May's 2:55 from Edinburgh the previous weekend, thus taking the lead in this year's club standings.
Unusually for a marathon, Stockholm is on a Saturday and it has a 12 noon start. Had the race have started earlier in the day it would have had overcast, damp conditions, however the sun appeared not long after the start. The Stockholm course is also deceptively hilly and I can vouch for this following my own early morning run around the picturesque but undulating Royal Djurgarden Park, which had my legs burning. There are also numerous large bridges to cross which all feel like hills. The two-lap course is fairly spectator friendly if you're prepared to jog a bit, and I was having a race of my own to see if I could see Chris on nine occasions (I achieved eight).
My first viewings of Chris at 4k, 13k and 16k left me with the impression he was looking a bit rough, but I think it's simply that Chris always looks like that! His 5k splits were consistent and he passed half way in 1:23:29, well ahead of PB pace. It is from that point that the hilly Djurgarden section kicks in but his 5k split times still held up pretty well. Predictably though, as the hills and course took their toll, there was a slight slowing down towards the end. At 38k he claimed he had nothing left, but the key to being a quick marathon runner is not how quick you are when you feel good, but how quick you are when you feel bad. Chris was still moving relatively well and his slowest 5k was a respectable 21:27 (the fastest was 19:37). As he entered the Olympic Stadium for the last 300m, agonisingly the clock was just ticking beyond his PB, but he still achieved a very impressive time of 2:51:57. This placed him inside the top 1% in 154th position out of 16,075 finishers.
The performance suggests there is sub-2:50 potential on the right day, although for the third time Chris has officially retired from marathons. But maybe he'll be tempted back by the prospect of exploring some more Olympic cities: Athens, Barcelona, Rome, Tokyo…