Taylor is one of 15 undergraduates who were awarded 2018 Streicker International Fellowships. Streicker Fellows design their own projects or internships in conjunction with a hosting organization. She interned at the World Bioenergy Association in Stockholm, developing publications on first generation and advanced biofuels.
I sat on the floor of my apartment going through the habitual motion of lacing up my running shoes. It was something I had done nearly every day for the last seven years, but this particular lacing felt especially momentous. These knots were not just every-day-run knots; these knots were going to carry me through my first marathon.
When I first started putting together a proposal for a summer internship in Stockholm, I chatted with a friend who had spent the last summer in the city, and he mentioned that he had run the Stockholm Marathon while he was there. That conversation planted a seed in my mind that grew into the decision that, if I had the opportunity to pursue my proposed internship, I too was going to run the Stockholm Marathon.
On the afternoon of April 2, I received the thrilling news that I had received the Streicker Fellowship, and through the generosity of Mr. Streicker, I now had the opportunity to spend eight weeks of my summer interning for the World Bioenergy Association in Stockholm. After the ecstatic call home, I realized that I now had exactly two months until I planned to line up outside of the Olympic Stadium and test my luck at 26.2 miles (or as I would be endlessly corrected once I arrived in Stockholm, 42,195 km) - I needed to start training. The last bit of my spring semester was marked by Saturday morning long runs and building anticipation.
I landed at Stockholm Arlanda airport eight days before the marathon, and my first week in the city was all about getting my legs under me, both physically and metaphorically. While I would never consider myself a “city person” (and in fact will actively rail against large cities when given the opportunity), I quickly fell in love with Stockholm. The parks, trails, and waterfront paths that define the city alleviated my typical urban-enmity, and my runs leading up to the marathon became a way of exploring the fourteen islands that make up Stockholm.
So by the time I got on the metro on Marathon Day, I already felt this strong, almost loving affinity towards the city that had only further fueled the anticipation and excitement that had been building since that momentous April afternoon. The apartment I was staying in was about twenty-minutes by train from station closest to the marathon start, and with each stop, as more and more runners boarded the train, I felt like I was being engulfed in a growing snowball of nerves, excitement, and bodyglide. By the time the train pulled into the final station, I had become part of a lively crowd that flowed up the stairs and onto the bright street outside the Olympic Stadium.
By the time I actually made it to the starting line (or more accurately about 300m back from the starting line behind a sea of other runners) after a nervous hour in the pre-race staging area, it seemed surreal that it was finally time to actually just start running. The first step across the starting line, the realization of months of excitement and anticipation, filled me with a giddy joy that carried me through the blur of the first several kilometers.
The marathon course wound through Stockholm, around islands and over bridges, and the streets were lined with spectators sporting colorful signs, bells, and even squirt bottles to cool off the runners (the cool, overcast Scandinavian weather I had been promised was replaced with 82 degrees and bright sun - this was the second hottest Stockholm Marathon ever), and cheers of ‘Heja’ were a constant along the course.
I can’t imagine those 26.2 miles without the energy, vibrancy, and excitement of the city, and I think that energy is largely responsible for getting me through those last couple of miles when all I could think about was how excited I was to be done running. After finishing those last 300 m in the Olympic stadium and collapsing onto the soccer field past the finish line, the sense of accomplishment I felt seemed inextricably tied into this sense of belonging and community the marathon had brought to the city.
In the days and weeks after the marathon, whenever I saw someone in a finisher’s tee shirt, those same feelings would rise again as I felt this sense of comradery, knowing that we had both shared in the excitement, energy, nerves, and physical discomfort...that we’d both passed the same spectators, made the same turns, stopped at the same water stations.
Beginning my summer with the marathon I realize now opened up the city to me in a way that I think few other things could have. Having this strong sense of being a part of something so exciting, of having physically covered so much of the city, of belonging to this huge community of runners and organizers and spectators that had all come together one magical Saturday afternoon to share in this incredible event truly allowed me to feel like I had a place in Stockholm that extended beyond just a superficial visit.
This initial comfort gave me confidence as I moved forward for the rest of the summer; confidence in living in this city by myself, in exploring, in meeting new people, and I think that confidence has been central in shaping the incredible experience I’ve had this far.
All I can say is that I feel very lucky for the conversation that planted that initial idea, and if you find yourself in Stockholm in the beginning of June, consider a marathon!
Posters for the marathon up around the city!!
From the pasta dinner in the Olympic stadium the night before the marathon.
With my number at the finish line the night before the marathon!!
The sea of runners on the way to the starting line!
Spectators at the finish line on race day!!