To cap off two incredible weeks of adventuring around Iceland, I looked forward to running Reykjavik’s summer solstice half-marathon under the midnight sun. Though bummed to return cityside after loving life in the boonies, the race was one last chance to make memories before an early flight to Sweden the following morning, and a unique way to celebrate the longest day of the year.
I love running for a lot of reasons, but the social component is by far my favorite: running with other people, whether strangers or old friends, creates space for bonding unlike any other activity. At an event like this, with mostly international participants, there’s a lot to talk about in 21 kilometers: where people came from, why they’re in Iceland, things they’ve seen or done and what they hope to explore―life aspirations, existential dread about climate change, thoughts on the race course―the list goes on and on.
Maybe I sound crazy for expecting anyone to want to chat during a half-marathon, but if you’ve ever run a long-distance race, you probably know what I mean. In a full marathon I did last summer, nearly every runner nearby would smile and strike up cheerful conversation; it hurts no matter what, so you might as well make friends in the process. That’s what these events are for, after all: you can run a long distance anytime, anywhere, but doing it with others makes the experience special.
You can run a long distance anytime, anywhere, but doing it with others makes the experience special.
With this in mind, I couldn’t wait to get to know more interesting people on the racecourse. I’d met bad-ass backpackers on the hiking trails, fearless travel veterans in my hostel dorms, and exuberant skateboarding daredevils in coffee shops around Iceland. Once the starting gun fired, I settled into a pace and began my search for running buddies, eager to share stories and laughs along the course.
A few kilometers in, no dice. Much to my disappointment, nearly everyone had headphones in. To be clear, I’d never judge anyone in their choice to run with music, but during an event it isolates you from the good vibes and energy all around. I smiled and said hello to every runner I passed, but only got side-eye glares and grunts in return. “No worries,” I thought to myself, “they must be in the zone,” and continued singing the Ghostbusters theme song in my head.
As the race wore on and the crowd thinned out, I thought surely someone would want to be my friend. But I must be a lot uglier now than I was last summer, because even the headphone-less runners had no interest in talking―either that or they were wearing goddamn Air Pods.
Not that I’m desperate for attention or anything (but honestly, please pay attention to me), but this was getting a little frustrating. Was it because I hadn’t showered since hiking that afternoon? Were my shoes trailing toilet paper from that mid-race bathroom stop? Whatever it was, I was not friend material to these people. That kind of stung, but I was still enjoying the run (*Ghostbusters theme song continues on loop*).
Shattered confidence aside, I was cruising along. If no one wanted to talk to me, I figured I might as well just beat them. I poured on the gas with 12 kilometers to go, passing fewer and fewer people (some of whom finally reciprocated my smiles, but still didn’t care to chat) until it seemed like I was the lead female. “Alright”, I thought to myself between Ghostbusters verses, “at least if I win, it’s still a good story,” and dug deep to pick up the pace some more.
With less than 500m left, I saw a woman’s ponytail approaching the last straightaway, and my instincts told me to gun it. I caught her in the final few strides, and heard a breathless “You go girl!” as I kicked past to the break the ribbon. We snagged first and second place by just a half-second margin, and exhaustedly hugged after catching our breath.
Even though I’d just snuck up from behind to steal her win, she smiled excitedly and asked where I was from. We talked for a while, and it turned out her upstate-NY hometown was right next to mine. She invited me for a run if I ever passed through London, and I made the same offer for my neck of the woods. This was the runner-to-runner comradeship I’d been yearning for the whole time.
Later that night, runners traded headphones for swimsuits and gathered in hot tubs at the swimming pool afterparty. Everyone was friendly and conversations were merry, so at least maybe I’m not as unapproachable as I’d started to think. I’m not sure there’s any profound takeaway from this (other than that I need constant validation and am hyper-competitive, haha, yikes), but I know I’ll always remember that “You go girl!” and hug.
Camaraderie between travelers goes a long way: longer than a half-marathon, and much longer than the prize money that I’ll promptly spend on hostels so I don’t have to couchsurf the rest of my trip. I’m thankful I’ve met incredible people on my journey, and I can’t wait to cheer on those who come next.
To take full advantage of the Northern summer’s endless daylight, Marissa will squeeze every last minute of hiking, running, splashing, and climbing into her outdoor adventures through Iceland and Scandinavia. Bananas and coffee are all she needs to fuel up for marathon-treks through rugged mountains, thundering waterfalls, jagged cliffs, and rocky fjords, though trying to keep her two sets of clothing clean in the process might be one of the greatest challenges this world has ever known. Marissa studied engineering and environmental policy, with lifelong goals of saving the world’s glaciers, oceans, forests, and wildlife from the perils of anthropogenic climate change. When she isn’t busy reading about solar panels and cursing modern consumerism, Marissa enjoys rowing on the Charles River, stopping to pet every dog she ever sees, running the occasional marathon, and cooking plant-based feasts for forty at the Dudley Co-op/commune. Her favorite legume is decisively the garbanzo, for its incredible versatility and protein-packed punch.