Zero to 21 in Four Weeks

“We’re making lifetime memories today!”

— Host Dad John

Last weekend, I had the privilege of participating in the Copenhagen Half Marathon! While I ran cross country in high school, I arrived in Copenhagen out of shape and with no previous experience running the 21 km that the race requires. However an orientation information session included details about the race, and it planted the seed. (To any incoming DIS students, I highly recommend attending these sessions. They’re invaluable!)

I mentioned considering running the race at dinner that night, and my host dad John’s eyes lit up. It turns out that he is a marathoner and he was looking for an excuse to train and run the half marathon. I ended up being the perfect reason! We signed up then and there, and got to planning because the race was in three and a half weeks. 

We began training the next night, and let me tell you – I made SO many rookie mistakes. I didn’t drink enough water, I didn’t stretch, and I ate an entire dinner half an hour before our run. We planned for 6 km, which is almost 4 miles, but around half the way through, I had to slow us to a walk because I felt like a heap of garbage. Needless to say, John seemed a little concerned that we were starting this poorly. However, two nights later, I rallied and we completed 6 km in 30 mins, while managing to hold a conversation! We were on course.

The next week we upped our training to 10 km and set our sights on 15 for the week after. That weekend, my host family generously invited me to their vacation home, which is in the Northern part of the western island of Denmark called Jutland for Americans or Jylland for the Danish. It was an amazing time of visiting family and eating the greatest pastries, but I had my focus on the 15 km run on the beach. 

John and I woke up Sunday morning and embarked on an ambitious run. Again I made rookie mistakes: I didn’t drink any water, I hadn’t eaten anything, and I had hardly stretched. And my goodness did it show! After only 5 km, my stomach started growling and I got a cramp in my side. But we pushed on, fighting the wind along the beach. At about the 10th km, I felt my calf tighten and that genuinely worried me. I have a previous soccer injury from high school that I recovered from, but flairs up now and then. Still, we fought on and we finished in under an hour and 15 minutes. An incredible pace all things considered. I vowed to do all the correct prep in the future. 

We took a week off in preparation for the race, and the morning of the half marathon rolled around. I ate a healthy breakfast, stretched for 30 minutes and drank so much water. I felt great! John and I arrived at the starting line by the FC Copenhagen stadium and joined the other 25,000 people running the race. It was a sight to see as the mass of humanity slowly began moving their way along the course. It took us a full 15 minutes to reach the starting line. And then we were off!

The first 15 km were awesome. John and I held a conversational pace and stopped for water and to allow me to pee (twice). We got to do some sightseeing along the way, including the Theater and the Royal Library, both which I recommend checking out! People cheered us on the entire way. But trouble hit around the 16th km. My legs started to cramp up, and by the 18th km I was fighting to keep going. We paused to grab a banana, I peed again, and I steeled my nerves to make the final “dash” to the finish line. 

We finally made it to the 20th km and I felt a rush of excitement! I was going to make it. We rounded the final corner and I caught a glimpse of the finish line. John laughed and said, “This is the memory of a lifetime Mark!” As we crossed the finish line, he grabbed my hand and we lifted our arms in triumph! We went to receive our medals and limp the way home on tired legs. We ended up finishing the race in around 1 hour and 45 minutes, setting a pace of around 5 minutes per km. 

In retrospect, it’s funny that it took traveling halfway across the world for me to decide to run a half marathon. But I love that I got to share that memory with my host dad and I learned something new about myself: I need a goal to motivate myself to train week after week. A goal that is bigger than “to get into shape”. I have a feeling that this won’t be the last half marathon I run. It’s just funny that it took moving to Copenhagen to learn that lesson. 

Join the Conversation


  1. So proud of you Mark!! I love John’s comment of making memories together! So sweet. So grateful you’re having such a wonderful time!


  2. there is so much to love about this post. Your awesome host dad. That memory toward the finish line. Your honesty about how hard it is to train well. And of course the dozen pee breaks along the way.


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