This past Saturday, I ran the Stockholm Halvmarathon. It was absolutely amazing. I was one of over 12,000 runners who started and finished the race just outside of Kungliga slottet, or the Stockholm Royal Palace, and although the day was overcast and eventually quite wet, it was the perfect temperature for running.
I have always loved running, but it’s not something I have done much of in college beyond the occasional dry land crew practice, which most frequently takes the form of bleachers. This race (and the training before it, of course) was an amazing reminder of why it is so fun to pound the soles of my sneakers against concrete. The energy in the air at the start and the cheering at every kilometer was exciting, but even more precious, to me at least, was the slow but steady burn in my legs, the opening up of my lungs, and the reminder of just how remarkable a human body is to cope with such an insane endeavor.
Something I’ve learned in Sweden is that it is considered polite not to bother people. This means that usually, people don’t talk to each other on the subway or smile at strangers on the street. They are very friendly if approached, of course, but social interaction must be sought out. It does not simply happen. The half marathon, however, proved a slight reversal of this mentality. During the run, people of all ages lined the streets, cheering on thousands of strangers with signs and cowbells. Hundreds handed out bananas, water, and something slightly better tasting than Gatorade. Big events, I have realized, like running races or hockey games, bring people together in a way that transcends language and even social norms. As I was riding back home on the subway, after the race was finished, I made eye contact with a fellow runner who had collapsed into a seat a few rows down. Both of us smiled, and although we never said a word to each other, we in that moment recognized the camaraderie of the run and the insane exhaustion and soreness we knew would be our reality in just a few hours.
I finished the race with a time of 2:16:35, which is, funnily enough, almost the exact same time as my first half marathon two years ago. I placed 2,667th, and, all things considered, I couldn’t be happier. This semester abroad is off to an amazing start, and I cannot wait to share more adventures in the future.