A Frozen Sea Helsinki Finland Runaround

VIRB Picture

I left the lovely British countryside behind (and by lovely, I mean cold and raining) and boarded a nearly three hour flight from London Heathrow to Helsinki, Finland.  I always forget just how far that is from the rest of continental Europe.  For Americans, it’s almost identical to the distance from NYC to Miami.  Both of my destinations were for meetings for work.


Upon arrival I found it was 5ºF.  It would drop in temperature.

I also found upon arrival that the taxi line is outdoors, and that it was not a short line.  Thankfully, I had dressed for the weather, or at least, for one taxi-line-length of it.

Interestingly, along the taxi ride to the hotel you pass directly by Suunto’s corporate headquarters, just off the highway a few minutes away from the airport.  Polar, is also headquartered here in Finland, though it’s about 300 miles north of Helsinki.

In any case, the next day I had a run to accomplish.  My meetings here in Finland are on Thursday/Friday, so I more or less had Wednesday to play catch-up from the hotel room.  I did head out for a bit of a run though, which was on my schedule.

The Hilton hotel sits right on the water, so it made for an easy place to start from.  I just walked out the front door – cursed a bunch at the cold, and then set on out.  You’ll notice some people out on the ice.  I’ll get back to them later on in the post.


My route would take me around the edge of the city from a trail/seawall standpoint.  The first thing I noticed was that everyone else had on a heck of a lot more clothing than I did.

While I have winter running gear, my airline friends have temporarily misplaced that gear when I came back from my DC/Vegas trip.  At some point, that gear may be re-united with me.  So instead, while I was in the UK I picked up some replacement gear.  Except, the selection was slim, so I was stuck with the house brand which I suspect isn’t designed for temperatures in the 5-10ºF (-15 to -12ºC) range.


The only thing that did help though was a bit of sun.  It’s surprising what the sun can do in terms of warmth, even when everything else is so cold.

I made a short detour out onto a park (Tervasaaren Koirapuisto) that juts out into the harbor like a lollipop.  On it, is a dog park.  And on the way to it is more people dressed warmer than I.


The view from out in the park looking back over the frozen harbor to the sun setting over the city is rather pretty.


And here’s me, in said park, looking rather frozen:

VIRB Picture

Actually, my upper body was pretty much just fine.  It was my legs that were cold, which makes sense because that was the part of the clothing pickup I was least excited about.

Out across the way were a number of big ships, what presumably looked like ice breakers to me:

VIRB Picture

I continued back into the harbor area, along the lineup of smaller boats – almost all encased in ice.  It actually had only gotten really cold in the last week.  So the ice in some places isn’t terribly deep yet compared to where it normally would be.


When in Nordic countries I’m always impressed at how many people are out with baby strollers with their kids in them – despite the cold temperatures.  Throughout my run I saw at least a dozen moms out with strollers.  Similar to what I saw last winter in Stockholm, Sweden.


Also like many Northern European countries, the number of people who bicycle commute is quite impressive, despite the weather.  While this bicycle is in a rather interesting parking position, there were (and are) many cyclists commuting.  Even as I sit here at 11:30PM watching the sideways snow fall from my hotel window, I’m seeing a constant stream of bike commuters of all ages riding home.


One of the more popular tourist attractions is to head out to a small island fort via this little boat seen below.  The boat runs every day, ice or otherwise, and actually breaks its own ice path out to the island.  It’s interesting in that it’s moving so much that the area +/- 100m around it is fairly free and clear of ice, but just beyond that it’s all chunked up.


Meanwhile, if you’re looking for a bit of a bigger boat – the cruise terminal is right next door.  Two cruise ships were in port.  You can see the smaller one in the background.


I left the harbor and much of the business of the city behind and continued out around the point.  Just a handful of people out there, and a lot of ice.


In case you were curious, I was running with YakTrax.  These were ones that were due for retirement and needed some repair though when The Girl ran with them for 2+ hours in the mountains of Zermatt.  She used dental floss to fix them.


No, really, she did.  Yes, you can be impressed.  I was.


The trail along the seaside was quite pretty, especially since the wind was largely to my back.


VIRB Picture

I soon started working my way back across the city, making a bit of a cut-through to make the route a bit more direct.  Along the way I saw a handful of notable buildings, including this church.


I’d eventually merge onto a main boulevard with plenty of shopping and quite a few people.


Towards the end of it, near the main train station there was also an ice skating rink.


In fact, there were two other ‘rinks’ that I ran past along the way.  One was next to the church seen earlier, and another in a park near the hotel.  What was interesting about both however was I’m reasonably sure both are simply football fields with water frozen on top.  Hey…whatever works!

VIRB Picture

VIRB Picture

Soon, I was back at my hotel and the inlet area near it.  It’s here that you’ll find a number of guys out ice fishing.  They’d drill a hole in the ice (you can see the ice drill closest to you behind the man sitting), and then dip in and catch a fish.  I actually saw yellow-hat man catch a few small fish.


After watching them transit to and from the ice to the shoreside for a little bit, and then watching a few other people wander out – all of which were decidedly much more Santa-like than I, I gave it a quick wander.

VIRB Picture

It’s funny, I never would have thought the ice was as thick as it was from looking at it from the seashore.  And of course, you never want to be either alone, or the first one to test out the ice.  Given I was neither, I felt pretty comfortable going the 10ft or so from the rock ledge.

VIRB Picture

With that – I’ll sit here and simply watch snow fall, late into the night – ready to dive back into meetings in the morning.  It’ll of course be dark when the meetings start – the sun doesn’t rise till around 9:30AM, and…it’ll be dark when I finish, as the sun sets around 3:15PM or so.  But that’s OK, the snow is still fun to watch at night.


Thanks for reading!


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  1. Hannu

    Not cold feets – you had quite short socks in one picture :-)

  2. ismo

    Thank you for another nice post. I always enjoy reading about the places you have visited. I hope you will have the opportunity to visit Helsinki again, but during the summer time: it is a totally different city then.

  3. Pia

    How wonderful that you are in Helsinki, welcome! Enjoy your stay!

  4. Anonymous Coward

    Check out the 50m lanes and the saunas at the Mäkelänrinne pool:

    link to urheiluhallit.fi

    Maybe you’ll run into Alex Stubb, @alexstubb, Minister for European Affairs and Foreign Trade, a fellow triathlete.

    link to alexstubb.com

    Also, try a shot of Salmiakki Koskenkorva, a local favourite, from the hotel bar :)

  5. Nice sunny day in Helsinki for a run! Next time try swimming in the icy sea as well. Great Virb pics.

  6. Pia

    Hi again, Ray! Would you like to join us (Helsinki Triahtlon) for a swim practice today at 18.00-19.15 in Pirkkola? The pool is about 5-6 km from the city centre. If you are interested, please send me an email and I’ll fill you in on the details. /Pia.ahti (a) gmail.com

  7. Sami

    You almost made me miss Helsinki. Almost. Until I reminded myself of the 72F/22C sunny and calm rides and runs of the last couple of days here in the Bay Area… Great photo of you on the ice!

  8. marco

    I have a pair of YakTrax, too. But I found, that serious running with them feels a bit clumsy and after a longer run my Achilles tendon felt irritatet.

    Last year I googled around abit and found this:

    link to skyrunner.com

    I liked the idea and prepared a piar of older running shoes with simple hexagonal-head screws from the hardware store.

    This works very well for me. Its also possible to run on asphalt with it.

  9. Eli

    Hiding all the electronics except for the BLE footpod?

  10. Rene

    hehe funny. Been to Sweden once and it was the otherway arround. It never got really dark. I had close all the curtains to be able to sleep. I’d never have thought that this would influence my “sleepyness”.

    thx for the post.

  11. Jeff

    So… who’s prettier, Swedish or Finnish women?

  12. martins ozolins

    If you managed to get to Helsinki, you should sometimes take a while and go through the Baltics below – small & beautiful and there might be plenty of your fans as well ;)

  13. Guillaume

    Being in Nordic countries and all, you can easily replace the Yaktrax with Icebug shoes. Probably more comfortable overall…

    link to icebug.se

    I wish those were easy to find in North America :(

  14. Frank

    I now no longer have any reason to complain about the cold here in the North East (US). Do you think you could potentially a post on “keeping warm”? One of the larger issues I have with training through the winter is keeping extremities, like my feet, warm while on the bike even though I have thicker socks and booties.

  15. ekutter

    Here in Bend, Oregon, it seems common to just screw your shoes. Screw in 6 to 8 3/8″ #6 screws with hex heads into the soles of your shoes (4 around the edges of the forefoot and a couple at the back of the heel. Works great on the ice and snow. Just a bit annoying running on dry pavement. And they can just be removed with no real damage when it warms up.

  16. Sara

    Thinking the bike is parked upside down to keep the tires a tad warmer?? So as they don’t flatten??

    • Matt B

      Or maybe to stop them freezing to the road? A little heat in the tyres after riding could be enough to melt the ice, then have it re-freeze once they stop – just speculating! Can any of the Finns give an answer? Or did someone just cycle home from the pub the night before…. ?!

  17. You make me want to go out and run now! This would be an ideal day for me to get out and go. -10C, sunny, crisp (I’m in Ottawa, the Nation’s capital, we run in winter, since our big race weekend is in May). Ahhh. I prefer winter running as a whole. No overheating, lots of adventures, running on the canal during Winterlude. It rocks!

    If you want to get some Yaktraxs that are more suitable for running, try the Run version they put out. I much prefer them and the carbide studs are replaceable. Although I don’t like doing long runs in them because they tend to make my lower legs crampy, including my achilles, with the bulk they add. Some people jut get screw in studs, but I have not had the guts to wreck a pair of runners for winter running like that.They’re expensive and I can only afford to replace my shoes twice a year.

    Also, if you don’t have winter run tights that are toasty enough, just layer a loose fitting short or even jogging pant/wind pant overtop. The air between the layers will keep your thighs and glutes warm, and prevent the nasty cold rash but will not weigh you down considerably. Ow. I hate that cold rash.

    Enjoy Finland and I hope your luggage and you are reunited soon!

  18. Jukka

    Go get your self a pair of Icebug running shoes from nearest sportstore. Get a pair of “merinovilla” socks as well. Best shoes if running on snow or ice. Enjoy your stay in Finland!

  19. Sorin

    You are truly a hero!
    I usually run on the side of the lake in front of my home. When the lake gets to the state where you can walk on it and drill holes for fishing, I usually consider it a good excuse to take a break from running. Last year it was a 2 months break. This year we are still above 0C, but I’m mentally prepared for the break already :)

  20. morey000

    here I sit in Tucson, AZ. 74 degrees and sunny. Thanks for the images. ;)

  21. Mario

    That ship in the 8th picture is indeed a icebreaker, cool one to!

    link to arctia.fi

  22. Will

    In reference to the large amount of strollers, take a read of this article by the BBC. Nordic parents often put their kids out in the cold for naps as its supposed to be healthier for them.

    link to bbc.co.uk

  23. Patrik

    Nice to see that we have been running at the same places ! I live in Stockholm but work at that Cruise ship (Siljaline).. And thanks fore a good and intressting site!

  24. Euro

    I once saw a documentary about Finland where they determined that the Finns smiled less than any other European nation. After seeing all that cold and ice I know why!

  25. Ken

    Check out these tights. Mail order available. These will keep you legs warm for sure. link to mec.ca

    • Yup. Thankfully, when I landed Friday night Air France had finally found our luggage from 10 days prior and I was able to pick it up. Got them all washed up and have my good running tights again.

      They’re Sugoi mid-zero’s, which have worked really well thus far in both DC and Paris.

  26. Oja

    Hope you enjoyed your stay Ray! :)

    I think you hit the home run (pun intended) with with your route, seaside around the harbours is definitely the place to go on a day like that. And fortunately the weather also favoured you!