Kopacs at NY Marathon finish line
Mid-Hudson Road Runners Club
MHRRC Home  Recent  Humor  Information  Boston Marathon  NYRRC Races  Other Races  By Friends
Lynne in NYC

Kopac's Corner

Four and One-Half Hours of Glory

 by Al Grigull

On June 18th [2005] my wife Laura and I had the good fortune of running in races in Aabenraa, Denmark. Since we were going to celebrate my mother’s 90th birthday in Kiel, Germany, I had looked for races on the internet that would fit into our schedule. Aabenraa was only sixty miles north of Kiel, so I asked for applications. There were races and walks of various distances for everyone, including children. When I inquired about lodging, the race director e-mailed that we could stay with a Danish couple, another pair of runners, in the heart of the lovely old city of Aabenraa.

We arrived at our hosts’ (Ane and Halfdan Neumann) home shortly after noon on Friday, the 17th. They showed us the city and made us feel very comfortable. The marathon was called the “Aabenraa Bjergmarathon,” which translates to “mountain marathon.” I did not believe that there were hills in Denmark; even our Danish neighbor in Rhinebeck had told us there were no hills in Denmark. I became skeptical, though, during our informal tour of the city as we walked up many cobble-stoned inclines.

Race day morning we walked from the Neumann’s home to the starting line (less than ¼ mile). Laura and Ane were running in the 10K, Halfdan, the ½ marathon, and I, the full marathon. The marathon started first, and as we lined up, I heard my name mentioned over the PA system. I don’t understand Danish, but I got the idea that the race director wanted me to be recognized. I raised my hand and stepped forward, and to my surprise, I received a thunderous ovation and “high fives” all around me. This set a precedent for the whole race. All along the course there was applause for “the American.” When I crossed the finish line I heard over the PA system, “The American Al Grigull is finishing!” For the ovation I received I thought I was a rock star or a Kenyan runner!

My time was slow: 4 hours, 35 minutes. The course was quite challenging, but I talked to many runners along the way. On a long uphill section on a beautiful wooded trail at about 20K, I heard heavy breathing behind me, and to my surprise, a lady in her late 20’s caught up with me. The surprise was that she looked like the female version of the Pillsbury Doughboy. We probably ran together for a mile or so before she took off. I could not believe she could run that fast, but as they say, “If you can haul it, you can have it!”

At about 30K I caught up with a gentleman whose shirt read “100 Marathon Club.” We started a conversation and he told me he was running his 996th marathon, and his fifth in seven days! He told me he was only fourth on the record list. The record holder had some 1,300 marathons behind him and was running in Aabenraa, also. Horst, my new friend, told me that he had a chance to beat the record since he was only 49 years old, and the man in first place was 69. Horst also told me that his girlfriend had to cut back to two or three marathons a month since she was diagnosed with colon cancer! Horst is a physician in Hamburg, Germany. English was a little bit of a struggle for him, and after about 10K, it dawned on me that we should speak in German, since I am fluent in German. I don’t know why it took so long for me to make that conclusion; I must have been brain dead from all that pounding on the pavement. But German worked great for us. If I run the Hamburg Marathon, I will see Horst again. We struck up a friendship, but I am glad he is not my doctor; I don’t know when he has time to see patients!

When I crossed the finish line, I was not even disappointed with my time. It was the most enjoyable marathon I had ever run, and the first time ever that I was sorry to see the end. Halfdan, Ane, and Laura all finished their races. The post-race (not pre-race) dinner was marvelous! I had a chance to thank everyone for all their hospitality and many kindnesses. I spoke in English, and apologized for not knowing Danish. The race director said, “Danish is really very easy. All the little children here speak it.” We had another good laugh, and learned that the director and his wife were leaving in three days to run a marathon in South Africa, where the starting time depended upon when the lions were moving! Well, that one’s not for me, but I’ll go almost anywhere else, especially if it’s like Aabenraa. We are still e-mailing back and forth with Halfdan, and recently he sent us a sports section from a Danish newspaper with our picture in it! There is certainly nothing rotten in Denmark!