Monday, 18 August 2008

Running with Alexander Stubb

On Saturday, I spent a couple of hours running with Alexander Stubb. No, Alex is not our newest recruit to the MySQL Support Team, he's the Foreign Minister of Finland (the guy in the yellow T-shirt below).

Alex Stubb tying his shoelaces

But let me rewind to the beginning. I have been increasing my running to over 1200 km a year, and when I heard that the Münchner Stadtlauf half-marathon doesn't crash with Finnish midsummer (something never to be missed), I registered for it and finished it in 1:45:58. And I calculated I would have a chance at going below four hours at a full marathon, so I registered for the Helsinki City Marathon, which took place last Saturday on 16.8.2008 in my native Finland.

At a restaurant close to the Olympic Stadium just before start, I met with my long-time MySQL colleagues Patrik Backman and Giuseppe Maxia, as well as our fresh Sun colleague Peter Eisentraut, of PostgreSQL fame. When the time for the start (fairly late, three o'clock in the afternoon) approached, I went for the start area, and was pleasantly surprised to hear the race moderator interview our Foreign Minister.

To continue my pleasant surprise, Alex said he was not only going to be the starter of the marathon, but he was going to run himself. The interview was started in Finnish, and then went on to Swedish. "What's your target time?" the interviewer asked. "Oh, I have one, but I haven't published it" -- he evidently had the same marathon goal communication policy as I. The interviewer swapped away from our two domestic languages to foreign ones, going over English and German to French. And Alex continued smoothly and fluently in his colloquial, youthful jargon in all of the five languages. He had a targeted and clearly unscripted message in all languages. In German, for instance, Alex shared how Frank-Walter Steinmeier (Germany's Foreign Minister) the day before had found him to be slighly mad for going for a marathon, right after a week full of intense Georgia related negotiations.

The interview formed a very good pep talk for us runners, and an opportunity for me to no longer have to be ashamed of the linguistic disabilities of our Foreign Minister (as used to be the case when I grew up, leading to a whole genre of jokes). I share Alex's view that one can show respect by speaking the language of the audience (and Helsinki City Marathon has a very international audience).

So off we went, and the start went well. The weather conditions were perfect: Drizzle. And 16-18 degrees. Not too cold, not too hot. A few km after the start, I saw Patrik, Giuseppe and Peter amongst the spectators, and they took some pictures of me.

The race passed by the Parliament Building, went out through familiar parts of Helsinki (Mejlans, Tölö, Munksnäs) to Esbo close to where MySQL's first Finnish offices were, and continued via the Nokia House to the absolute centre of Helsinki. That was the most enjoyable part of the running experience. I kept to my pace, and I felt like being on a train. I just went with the flow and didn't feel any effort. But after a while, my left knee started to remind me of its existence. Past the 21,1 km half way mark, it evened out as my right knee also begged for some attention. But basically, everything went fine until a while beyond 30 km, when the energy reserves of my body were depleted.

"So why didn't I drink more of the Gatorade offered?", the running reader will ask. Well, I had prepared a perfect excuse for the scenario in which I would have to stop: When in India for the MySQL Camp in Bangalore, I had caught salmonellosis. Salmonella bacteria are not a nice companion if you run, but also not total inhibitors for running. That said, I chose not to upset my stomach any further by consuming potent, unfamiliar drinks. And the effect was that I dropped from 1606th position at 30 km to 1970th position in the goal (out of 5436 participants).

So this meant that the last few km weren't all that enjoyable. But I still didn't get cramps like the 55 year old male athlete who was screaming "aijaijai" less than a km from the goal, at as many decibels as his lung capacity allowed. Humbling.

I finished at 3:55:22. That's my best marathon ever, about 45 min faster than my previous personal record. I didn't feel well in the goal, rolling back a few of my latest drinking transactions just after crossing the finish line (honest, it was just water).

After the run, I went for something very typically Finnish: A sauna. And there can hardly be a better timing for a nice, warm bath than right after getting into the goal of a cool (at least temperature-wise) marathon run. My body is often out of balance in many ways after a marathon, including but not limited to shivering out of cold. Ah, was it nice to relax and do some joint bragging together with fellow runners in the Olympic Swimming Stadium. And after the sauna, there were still plenty of runners coming to the goal area. I felt zero superiority over them, as I still vividly remember my own first marathon with a time of 5:41. A marathon for an amateur must strictly be about competing against yourself. And if you (like me) start lousy enough, you've got an easy target to beat.

And, what happened with Alex Stubb?

Well, he had shared with us that he had finished a previous Helsinki marathon in 3:59 and a Brussels marathon a bit below 3:40. I suspect he might have targeted 3:30, and like me, he lost positions towards the end of the race. At any rate, he finished 688th with a fabulous time of 3:31:25. Extremely impressive for anyone, especially for a Foreign Minister!

Alex Stubb running

(Yes, Alex did wear something slightly more appropriate than a suit for the marathon).


  1. Hi Kaj,

    I am somewhat surprised to not see a GPS/training device attached to you. being a database geek, and perhaps even a GPS geek, you should get one of these:

    I've got the cycling version (Edge 305) and it's awesome.



  2. Jeremy,

    Yup, I just forgot to wear my Garmin Forerunner 305. Weirdly enough, I didn't even think of it until you pointed it out. The track is cool to see painted, as I did with the Münchner Stadtlauf in the previous entry


  3. Congrats on a great race, winning over yourself as is the target for any marathon. Funny how the 30 km point is magically the place where everyone starts to hurt, regardless of speed. Even for my 5:59:55 marathon (note 5 seconds below target time! running like clockwork...) I stopped and had a real good lunch at that point to be able to continue at all (even walking).

    The Finnish press had some further good soundbites from Mr Stubb:

    "At the end it was pure hell, but I figured I'm still better off here than in Tbiliisi." (The previous week his plane had nearly been shot down by Russians when he flew to Georgia's capital to negotiate.)

    During the marathon US Foreign Minister Condoleezza Rice had tried to call him. The assistant to Mr Stubb informed her that he is running a marathon, also communicating the (apparently state confidential) target time of 3:15. Ms Rice may have had some urgent issues, as she managed to call twice more before Mr Stubb finished the race at 3:30.

    Mr Stubb's comment: It was really tough, but thinking about Condi's legs gave me strength to continue :-)

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