Iceland; home to active volcanoes, the Northern Lights, Björk, waterfalls, the delicacy of rotten shark, and most importantly (for me), the Reykjavik half and full marathon.

With a penchant for combining running with travel, the Reykjavik half marathon instantly appealed, as did the lure of visiting the world-famous geothermal Blue Lagoon, just the tonic for soaking exhausted leg muscles post-race. I read up on some reviews of the Blue Lagoon before my visit actually, and although people advised that it’s a definite ‘must see’, it was suggested by many to not attempt to pick up the sand that covers the floor of the lagoon. It acts as a filter, apparently, for hair, dead skin and general disgustingness. This information was duly noted. But more on that later.

On the first day of the trip, I took a bus from my out-of-town hotel into the centre of Reykjavik, in order to pick up my race pack and number from the marathon Expo. Alighting the bus, I disregarded the handy map that I was carrying with me, and decided to just stick my finger in the wind and trudge on, hoping I was heading in the right direction. I continued in this optimistic manner for well over an hour before stopping at the Tourist Office where I used the international hand signal for ‘I am lost’, whilst sheepishly scratching my head and looking all forlorn. Turns out I had walked in the completely wrong direction. Moral of this story? Use a map. Oh, and learn some Icelandic phrases, you ignorant Brit.

Upon arrival at the Expo, I was handed a complimentary yoghurt drink by an extremely attractive blonde haired, blue-eyed woman. Note: In Iceland, yoghurt is very popular and everyone is shockingly beautiful. With low immigration levels, there is little ‘inter-breeding’ and as a result, the Icelandic blood lines are as purified as their vodka and can be traced back to Viking ancestry. I’m not sure as to why they like their yoghurt so much though.

I followed the sign to the area where I had to pick up my number, which was basically a huge sports hall with a line of trestle tables. I was in and out in 5 minutes, which was a welcome surprise, although I had little in the way of freebies, other than my yoghurt – which I couldn’t eat anyway, due to my recent foray into veganism. Sigh.

 —> A race Expo without ANY queues? Say what?

The morning of race day soon arrived, and it was there that I met with one of my best friends, Priscilla, who is the most awesome person in the world, as she not only agreed to run the Paris and Reykjavik half marathons with me, but also the Berlin marathon, all the while helping me to raise boat-loads of money for my 4races4cities project on behalf of the mental health charity, Mind. It is understandable that she curses my existence rather frequently.

—> Not sure why I chose to display my running number right over the Mind logo? Priscilla clearly knew what she was doing. This is another reason why she is so awesome; she thinks these things through. Unlike me.

There was little in the way of an en-masse warm up, instead we were informed to just line up behind the start area and listen out for the gunshot that signalled the off, which I didn’t hear, as at this point, I was frantically messing around with my iPhone upon realising that my music had somehow been wiped from my iTunes. Moral of this particular story? If you’re planning to run listening to music during your race, and had actually gone to the trouble of creating a half marathon playlist with specific tracks to greatly assist a much-coveted personal best, check that you actually uploaded said playlist on to your goddamn iPhone before the race. It’s no use realising these things as you’re jogging over the start line.

To say I flipped out would be an understatement, although I quickly calmed down by assuring myself that if my idols, Mo Farah and Usain Bolt can run without music, then so could I. Turns out that the lack of in-ear audio did me a favour, as it actually gave me the head space to think clearly about my pacing and fuelling. Unlike other half marathons I’ve run, I was completely in control the entire way round; I felt strong and capable and at kilometre 17 or so, where I usually start to flag, I effortlessly clipped into a faster pace and maintained it for the next 5 kilometres. I say ‘effortless’, however the race photos that were sent to me by email the next day, indicated something entirely different. This was further corroborated by my girlfriend and loyal supporter, Kristin, who exclaimed when I met her at the finish line, “Wow, as you ran down the finishing straight, you looked like absolute sh*t”.

—> Kristin, the most loudest, loyal race supporter in the world. She’s also rather exceptional at carrying my bags. Oh, and she has a tendency to just say it as it is.

With a medal hanging round my neck, I left the finish enclosure area feeling content and proud of my effort (and very sweaty with a bright red face, as per usual). I had set out to knock 10 minutes off my Paris half marathon time and was pretty sure I had managed it. My Garmin watch indicated that I had run 21.5 kilometres in 2 hours and 2 minutes, an indication of the amount of zigzagging around people I had done throughout the race, and when my results came in the next day, I was as pleased as punch to learn that my official time was 2 hours and twenty seconds.

Oh, I forgot to mention the 45 minutes of additional running I did after the race, right? Yes. It turns out that when you’re training for an ultra marathon, it doesn’t matter if you’ve just rocked your socks off gaining a personal best, training is training and you’ve just got to get on with it. (Sucks).

Remember at the beginning of this post, when I mentioned the sand at the bottom of the Blue Lagoon? Yep. Don’t pick it up. It’s definitely acts as a filter for hair, dead skin and general disgustingness. Not that I picked it up or anything.

Definitely still worth a visit though.

Oh, and here I am hugging a fake polar bear.

My Operation Ultra is now very much in a head-down, full tilt motion. Huge, GINORMOUS, appreciative thanks go to my running coach, Phoebe Thomas, who has been patiently guiding me over the last month or so. With a half marathon personal best in the bag, it seems that the threshold and hill repeat sessions are really starting to pay off (must remember this when I am cursing her at 6am on Saturday mornings as I’m struggling up a hill with jelly legs and fighting the urge to vomit)……

This post is also featured on my Operation Ultra blog, over at Women’s Running UK.