Ten months into my trip, there are few things I appreciate more than an airport pick-up and a home to settle into straight away. Such comforts aren’t anything that, a year ago, I considered a luxury, but having traversed 18 countries and lived in 57 rooms so far, there’s something about a ride “home” after a long journey that uplifts me and keeps my mounting weariness at bay.
Upon my arrival in Stockholm a week ago, Brian Nielsen and his family nailed those intangibles and made my last major transition of this trip as seamless as possible.
In addition to my own bedroom for the month of May, the Nielsens are providing me with one of the most valuable assets to any distance runner: front-door access to hundreds of miles of soft, quiet, rolling trails (many of them marked, thankfully). It’s hard to imagine living in a more inspiring or tranquil place to run and process this whirlwind of a year.
Brian, a very accomplished runner with 1:08/2:28 personal bests in the half and full marathon, is also an ideal representative of the Scandinavia running scene and host for a running guest. Example A: Preparing a hearty dinner while streaming the first Diamond League meet of the year.
Example B: Post-run muesli and fresh juice that never fail to put a little extra pep in my step in the last couple miles of our run.
Brian is tightly connected to other runners and running events in the area and works for two running-related organizations: Loparakademin (The Running Academy), which aims to use running to achieve social improvement, and Running Relations, a non-profit that seeks to better the living conditions of runners and their families around the world. It was actually through Running Relations that I met Brian in Ethiopia when he traveled there to discuss a potential collaboration with Kenenisa Bekele. We met briefly at the Great Ethiopian Run, chatted more at Haile Gebrselassie’s post-race party, and ate lunch at Yaya Village the day he was going back home. He extended me an invitation to his home if I happened to make it to Sweden, and here I am!
My first full day in Stockholm, I got a taste of Brian’s day-to-day when I tagged along to work with him and helped orchestrate an annual 4x2k road relay. We organized race bibs and batons for the 100 or so teams, marked the course, set up the DJ’s stage, cheered on the competitors, and cleaned up when the event wound down around 9pm.
The next day, I joined Brian and his teammates for their weekly Wednesday workout in a park next to the 1912 Olympic stadium. Still adjusting to the timezone change, I just ran and encouraged them while they did 4-minute repeats. Afterwards, I spent some time snooping around 100+ years of club history and regretting that most of the memorabilia burned to the ground, along with their original clubhouse, not too long ago.
While Matt and I trounced around Sweden and Denmark this week, Brian and his co-workers have been tediously prepping for one of their biggest events of the year, Skarholms Loppet. The unique race, which weaves through a shopping center and features a live music show afterwards, takes place this Saturday, giving Brian just under two weeks to recover from all of the work he’s put in and get ready to conquer the Stockholm Marathon on June 1st. Matt and I are excited to see the race come together in the next few days and to participate in the events this weekend.
Before my brother arrived on Friday, the Nielsens also took me exploring around Stockholm on a perfectly sunny afternoon. Some of my favorite spots were Gamla Stan (Old Town), the bank where the original Stockholm Syndrome captives were held, a cherry blossom canopy, and moving perspectives of Stockholm from trolley and ferry rides.
I’m loving this part of the world so far and am extremely thankful to have a family to share it with me and a brother that I can share it with. Matt’s a little over halfway through his trip here and we’ve already crammed it with enough activities, lattes, and pastries to last a lifetime. Pictures and updates on his visit will be next.
Interesting fact of the day: A mile is not the same worldwide. While the most commonly accepted distance of a mile is 1609 meters, a Danish mile is 7.5 kilometers and a Swedish mile is 10 kilometers. Something to consider if you ever encounter a Scandinavian with an absurdly slow mile PB or astound one with your unthinkably fast one.