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A Canadian’s unforgettable account of the Copenhagen Half-Marathon

Vancouver's Todd Nickel recaps the eventful Copenhagen Half-Marathon, which was cancelled mid-race because of severe weather conditions

Copenhagen Half-Marathon
Copenhagen Half-Marathon
Photo: provided.

By Todd Nickel

It was about one kilometre in when the thought occurred to me that one year ago today I was running Vancouver’s Eastside 10K in torrential rain. No chance of that here, I thought.

I don’t remember exactly why I chose the Copenhagen Half-Marathon to be my first destination race. The CPH Half is a flat and fast race that winds through the scenic city. I was determined to run a PB and this was the course to do it on as conditions were pretty great for a race: sun with a bit of cloud, a light breeze, 14 C and a 10 per cent chance of rain.

At 11:15 a.m. the gun went off and 20,000 runners began passing over the start line. It took me two and a half minutes for my race to get underway.

RELATED: Severe weather creates chaos at Copenhagen Half-Marathon.

My start was OK: it was crowded in parts, and tough to get into a rhythm on the narrow streets. At 5K, I was already slightly ahead of goal pace. I checked again at 10K and I was a bit further ahead. I was having a good run and having fun.

At 14K, the course passed the library (a building called the Black Diamond) and I snapped a selfie from my phone (yeah, I was that guy) as dark clouds rolled in. The thunder and lightning started. The cracks and booms were loud and quite close.

Copenhagen Half-Marathon
Dark clouds looming overhead. Photo: provided.

At 16K I was still feeling pretty good, and then the rain started. A few drops at first, but pretty big. But I’m from Vancouver, I thought to myself, I run in the rain all the time. Jinx.

The rain fell harder and by 19K I was completely soaked. At 20K, a mix of rain and hail was pouring. We turned the corner onto Øster Allé for the home stretch by Parken Stadium, with the median down the middle of the road and sidewalks forming huge puddles of rain mixed with hail.

At 21K, with 100m to go, the road was completely submerged with any icy watery slush from the downpour. It was painful to run through; each stride my feet felt the cramping shock of being submerged up to my ankles in an ice bath. The race clock was blank as I crossed the finish line. The power was out and the timing mats that hadn’t floated away were submerged.

Fellow racers were huddled on the narrow sidewalks at either side of the finish corral with volunteers standing in the freezing, ankle-deep water imploring us to keep moving. I turned off my stopwatch but my waterlogged phone refused to unlock so I couldn’t turn off Strava.

After collecting my finisher’s medal I made my way to gear check attempting to unlock my phone as the rain continued to come down and the thunder and lightning crashed overhead. I was handed a rain poncho and I found a discarded wristband that I wiped down my phone enough to get it unlocked and turn off Strava tracking, and then take a few photos.

I packed a jacket, a dry tee, and a can of Carlsberg in gear check. If any post-race amenities had survived the torrent downpour I didn’t see them. With no will or reason to hang around I drank my beer and ambled off.

I crossed the finish line at 12:56 p.m. By 1:30 p.m. the race was cancelled. Spectators and runners on course and at the finish were told to go home for their own safety. I later learned that three people had been struck by lightning, but were expected to be OK.

I finished in 1:38:27 – shaving over two minutes off my PB. I expect I’ll beat that time one day, but I will never forget this race.

Todd Nickel started running a few weeks before his 40th birthday, and this year celebrated his 42nd by running his first 42.2K. He lives and runs (mostly) in Vancouver’s West End, and blogs about reading and running at readrunwrite.com.