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Running in Iceland

Running in Iceland: A Simple Guide

Running in Iceland is refreshing due to the fresh air. It can also be chilly which is often good to cool you down; and slippery in wintertime, which requires spikes, studs or similar equipment to keep you steady on your route. At the other end of the spectrum, we have higher temperatures and the midnight sun in June, celebrated with the Midnight Sun Run. The midnight sun is at its peak in late June, and summer solstice is on 20 June this year, which is also the day of the Midnight Sun Run.

Running has been growing significantly in popularity in Iceland since the pandemic, as it was among the activities that people turned do during the periods of social distancing. This is evident in the number of runners and joggers seen on the streets of Reykjavík, e.g. on the routes along the coastline and in the valleys of Laugardalur and Fossvogur (Fossvogsdalur). Running clubs have been growing in numbers and many of the annual races are sold out well in advance.

I started running with one of the running clubs in Iceland less than a year ago. That made me realise that many runners are visiting other countries to take part in races and was my inspiration to write this blog post, covering some of the top races and points to consider for running in Iceland.

Races in Iceland

In spring and summer, races are taking place more or less every weekend, but the biggest and best known is the Reykjavík Marathon, taking place in late August annually alongside the Reykjavík Culture Night. Other popular runs include The Puffin Run in Westman Islands in May, Iceland Volcano Marathon and the Powerade Winter Races series.

Reykjavik Marathon

The Reykjavik Marathon takes place on 24 August this year, celebrating 40 years since the first race. It takes place in and around the city centre and offers four distances. Besides the full marathon (42.2 km), half marathon, 10 km and the fun run (1.7 km or 3 km) are available options. The route is paved and the temperature is on average around 15 degrees centigrade. The atmosphere tends to be electric, with people cheering the runners on all along the route and many neighbourhood streets on the route making decorations before gathering in groups to cheer. The race always take place on the same day as Reykjavík Culture Night, the biggest festival in the capital every summer.

The full marathon is open to around 1,500 runners and the half marathon to 3,000. The 10K and Fun Run (3K) make it into a family event that fits all age groups and levels.

Official website of Reykjavík Marathon

Register here for Reykjavik Marathon 2024

The Puffin Run

The Puffin Run has been held in the Westman Islands since 2018 and will take place this weekend (Saturday, 4 May). It is a trail run with available options 20K individual race and relay race for two people of 2×10 km or four people for 4×5 km.

Tickets were available from the end of last year but sold out early this year. Westman Islands is in my opinion one of the most underestimated places in Iceland, with unparalleled natural beauty and island charm. The running route is around the biggest island, Heimaey, which is also the only inhabited island of Westman Islands. Westman Islands are known to have the biggest puffin colony in the world and the puffins have recently arrived at this time of year.

Official website of The Puffin Run

The ferry Herjólfur sailing out from Westman Islands
The ferry Herjólfur sailing out from Westman Islands

The Midnight Sun Run

The Midnight Sun Run takes place on 20 June this year for the 31st time. It starts and ends in the valley of Laugardalur in Reykjavík and available distances are half marathon (21.1 km), 10K and 5K. The 5K route is around Laugardalur valley while the other routes for the longer distances stretch to the valley of Elliðaárdalur along the rivers called Elliðaár. The half marathon stretches further into Grafarholt and along the bay of Grafarvogur.

Official website of The Midnight Sun Run

Maps of the routes

Mývatn Marathon

The Mývatn Marathon takes place on 25 May this year, with the start and end point around Mývatn Nature Baths and the route alongside the famous Lake Mývatn, considered one of Iceland’s natural gems. Available distances are full marathon, half marathon and 10K on paved roads along the lake, surrounded by lava fields and volcanoes. The Lava Run also takes place in the area on the same day, a 9.4 km long trail run, starting in Dimmuborgir and ending by Mývatn Nature Baths.

Official website of The Mývatn Marathon

Lake Mývatn
Lake Mývatn

What to Consider for Running in Iceland

As you might expect, summer is the peak season for running in Iceland, but people are running outside throughout the year. In winter, it can be slippery on the paths, meaning studded shoes are necessary along with appropriate clothing. The air is dry and fresh, making for optimal conditions when the weather also cooperates.

The races mentioned above are only a fraction of available races in Iceland through the year. There is even a series of races during the winter called The Powerade Winter Races (is. Powerade vetrarhlaupin), which take place in the valley of Elliðaárdalur in Reykjavík.

If you are staying long term in Iceland, it could be a good idea to join a running club for their social aspect and accountability. It is often easier to stick to a habit or goals if there are other people to keep you accountable, running is no exception.

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