Saturday, January 25, 2014

Running in Kista: Sweden's Silicon Valley

Arrived at the hotel on Thursday morning at 2 am and left on Saturday at 3:50 am, so long (or short...) for much tourism during this short stay in Stockholm, Sweden!. But, between client meetings in the day and conference calls with the US in the evening, and despite snow and 18F temperatures (-8C, brrr...), I still managed to run 12 miles each day!
Speaking of tourism, I was staying in Kista (pronounce Shista), Stockholm or Sweden's mini version of Silicon Valley. Indeed, quite a concentration of IT and Technology companies, including two IBM locations: the Nordics headquarters and the Swedish Sales office and client center. According to Wikipedia, Kista even got a high-tech nickname: chip-sta (which makes sense only if you know how to pronounce Kista the Swedish way... ;-). IBM, Oracle, Microsoft (I haven't seen an SAP building to make the MISO soup complete, but I bet they do have some presence here), Siemens, Huawei, Agilent, are some of the big and international names but there are also dozens of local high tech companies logos displayed along the few roads and streets of Kista, overall a small neighborhood 10 miles North of Stockholm.
This business area isn't by any mean a photogenic area which will attract or appeal to tourists but I was amazed at the running opportunities it offers. Before going out, I asked the receptionist of the hotel for some tips about where to run, if there were nearby trails and the lady looked at me like I was crazy. Why would someone run in freezing temperatures and in the snow...? I thought I was going to have one of these dangerous and unpleasant experiences of running on busy road against the car traffic but, just a few yards from the hotel, I saw a sign for a pedestrian path to the nearby metro station and a bike path with directions toward... Stockholm. 15 kilometers of bike path, that was even more than what I could squeeze in before my next conf call.
Like in Denmark earlier this week (see my Wednesday post), I was amazed at the consideration given to bikers with miles of stand alone bike paths which provide total peace of mind as they form a network clearly separated and distinct from the car traffic. Clearly this has been designed and integrated by the urbanists, not as an after thought like in many other places unfortunately. For instance, there is a dedicated lighting system in some areas, and numerous underpasses, not just under main arteries such as highways, but simple streets too.
Another proof of the high commitment to bikers in this country was the fact that some snow plowing engines had cleared most of these miles and spread either salt or sand to ensure the path wasn't slippery. So well that I could run at 7 min/mile with my Brooks Green Silence for 24 miles without any fear of slipping down.
Now, it was cold and I had most trouble keeping my hands warm despite two layers of gloves... I'm so much better at handling high temperatures... That makes me realize again how much easier it is to train in California as opposed to places with "real weather" and seasons. And was also in awe to see bikers commuting in these freezing and snowy conditions, Scandinavia is definitely a leading example of ecology on all fronts.
Bottom line, in case you are visiting Stockholm and need to log a long run, follow the bikes (as I did for instance last time I was in London) and you'll find many miles of great bike paths to run on (mind the cyclists...). 

Now looking forward to coming back to "my" sunny and warm California in a few hours after this refreshing experience. Although we desperately need some of the rain that the East Coast and Europe have too much of...

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