As I was preparing for my next international marathon in Antarctica, I was fondly remembering my trip to Iceland. Before I traveled there in 2014, I thought it sounded exotic, cold, and far away. With WOW Airlines coming to Pittsburgh in June 2017, it will be a quick six-hour direct flight to Reykjavík. Eager to run my 8th full marathon in the world’s most northern capital, I began the adventure with my two running buddies, Bernadette and Barb, to celebrate Bern’s 40th birthday.
On our first full day in Iceland, we experienced the Blue Lagoon, a gorgeous geothermal pool that invites you in with its otherworldly, warm, dazzling blue water and stunning views of the mountains. The unique blue color is a result of the silica reflecting in the sunlight. We relaxed in the 100-degree lagoon and covered our faces with natural silica mud masks. We also squeezed in the Golden Circle that day and drove our rental car to explore Gulfoss (a double waterfall that makes Niagara Falls look small), Geysir (the original geyser) and its larger counterpart Strokkur.
The next day, we took a “Black and Blue” tour and hiked with helmets and headlamps through a dark cave created by lava from the surrounding volcanoes. When we emerged into daylight, the sight of the mountains and landscape was incredibly vivid. The tour company drove us to Thingvellir where two continental plates meet—Eurasia and North America. We suited up in dry gear, one layer for warmth and another to stay dry. Then, we walked down the steps to the pristine water and jumped in with our snorkel equipment into the silfra, the fissure between two continents where the glacial water was about 36 degrees.
After our tour, we returned to Reykjavík to explore the city by foot. Hallgrímskirja, the 244-foot tall concrete church that graces the city’s skyline, is a must-see attraction. We took an elevator to the top to take in the panoramic view of the colorful town with red, blue, and green metal roofs and the surrounding mountains and ocean. The church is close to the quaint downtown restaurants and shops, so we grabbed a pint of Icelandic Einstök beer at the Bunk Bar and Cafe, because we were carb loading for the next day.
The Reykjavík Marathon starts and ends in the heart of the city. Running through the residential streets was fantastic as the locals cheered us on with drums, horns and voices. We passed beautiful sculptures in the city and ran along the Atlantic Ocean and through a nature preserve. The industrial sections of the marathon were not exciting, but running back to city with the backdrop of the Esjan mountain range and Snæfellsjökull Glacier, made the end of the race worthwhile. Weather conditions were perfect—cloudy and 50 degrees. We met runners from all over the world who came to conquer 26.2 miles. The full marathon was relatively small with 877 total runners finishing that year; the half marathon had 2218 finishers, of which Dr. Doug (Bern’s husband) completed after a late-night arrival a few hours before the start.
In the weeks leading up to our trip, the threat of the volcano, Bárðarbunga, (don’t ask me how to pronounce that) erupting did not deter us. However, after the marathon, as we were driving towards Höfn (pronounced Hupp), Dr. Doug and I watched as a set of headlights drove our way, then 10, then 30, then about 100. It was midnight in the middle of Southern Iceland (i.e., nowhere with a population of 329,00 in the total country and 200,00 in the capital region), and we were driving towards the volcano. Surely, they were not evacuating and not informing us. Barb and Bern woke up in the back, panicked. Long story short, it ended up being a fireworks show at the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lake that let out before midnight. We were able to laugh about it later after our hearts began beating at a normal rate.
On our drive around Iceland, which is about the size of Kentucky, we bumped into the most spectacular waterfalls including Seljalandsfoss (1st waterfall on Highway 1—you can walk behind it), Skogafoss (along Highway 1), Folaldafoss (unpaved road on 939) and Godafoss (famous waterfall in Northern Iceland).
We stopped at Vik on the southern coast, where the Game of Thrones was filmed. Finally, we arrived in Höfn in the pitch dark at 2 a.m. The next morning, we awoke to a gorgeous, colorful fishing village and drove to nearby Hoffellsjökull Glacier. The gargantuan blue and gray glaciers on the lake gave us a surreal moment of how vast and beautiful this country was. Next, we traveled north to Akueryeri, the largest city in Northern Iceland and went horseback riding in more awe-inspiring scenery. On our way back to Reykjavík, we visited the turf houses at Glaumbaer, Skagafjardarsysla dating back to the mid-1800s. We also made a quick stop in the small village of Djúpivogur, where 34 granite eggs replicating the 34 different kinds of birds nesting in that area are installed.
I have traveled to several countries (30 and counting), but Iceland blew me away with the stunning waterfalls, mountains, glaciers and scenery. I could easily spend another week exploring the country, and I’d love to go back in the winter to try and catch the Northern Lights. Book your flights now to visit one of the most magnificent countries in the world, and make sure you see more than the capital. Simply driving around the country will leave you with your mouth agape and wondering how an entire country can be so breathtaking.
http://marathon.is/reykjavik-marathon – There are multiple options for all age groups and fitness levels: full marathon, half marathon, relay race, 10K race, 3K fun run, and a kid’s run.
https://www.adventures.is/iceland/day-tours/snorkeling-and-diving/black-and-blue/ – A shuttle will pick you up at your hotel and take you on a tour of the lava caves and silfra.
http://www.bluelagoon.com – It is near the Keflavik International Airport, so you could stop there before heading to Reykjavík or on the way back.
https://wowair.us – Direct flights from Pittsburgh to Reykjavík begin in June 2017.
Carolyn’s blogs in this series: