Icelandic Runner Arnar Pétursson Trains at the Mammoth Lakes Crib

Oct 20, 2020

Arnar Pétursson sits at the round dining room table at The Crib, Mammoth Lakes’ crash pad for elite athletes, telling the story of how he came in second in the first marathon he ever ran—with zero training.

A dead ringer for Cary Elwes (circa The Princess Bride, of course), the 27-year-old Icelander has a real knack for setting the scene.

An Introduction to Competitive Running

“Two weeks prior to the race, I announced at a dinner party that I just registered for the Reykjavik marathon and everything just fell silent,” said Pétursson, whose father had run a marathon a few years prior and who was present at said dinner party. “I felt like I had told them some horrible news.”

“Off the couch” wasn’t a term Arnar (pronounced “R and R,” he explains) Pétursson was familiar with, but that’s what he was, at least when it came to distance running. He was already a national champion on Icelandic youth soccer and basketball teams. But he wasn’t a runner. At all.

“My only instructions were, ‘You have to stop at each food station, walk, eat the banana,’” he recounts. “I said, ‘I’m just going to jog!’”

His only goal: “I was going to lead the race in the first 50 meters, because that way I could get my photo in the paper.”

His only prep: “The night before, putting together my playlist.”

So the proverbial gun goes off. Pétursson starts running.

“I thought everyone would pass me…but that really didn’t happen. I was like, ‘Where is everybody?’”

He was leading the pack—a presumably unsustainable position for a first-time marathoner.

“A guy passed me that really looked like a runner, gels in his pockets,” says Pétursson with a laugh. “I thought, ‘This guy knows what he’s doing. I’ll just tuck in behind him and this should be fine. Well, after six miles, my shoelaces got untied. I thought, ‘There are 20 miles to go, I probably should stop and tie my shoes.’”

But he kept the pro-looking runner in his sights.

“Instead of gradually catching up with the guy, I sprinted to catch up with him.”

At the end of the race, this runner, who ended up coming in third to Arnar’s second, told Pétursson how annoying he’d been—every time he thought he’d shook him, there the then-21-year-old would be, right on his heels.

When Pétursson finished, it turned out he’d broken a decades-old record for under-20s in the Reykjavik marathon.

And he had to show up for basketball practice the next day, as sore as anyone who’d ever finished a marathon (let alone come in second). He couldn’t very well bag out on the practice, he said, as he’d never told his coach he’d be competing in the race.

Pétursson’s Running Career Today

Five years later, Pétursson has his sights set on the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics. And he’s got a decent shot. He came to Mammoth Lakes in September of 2018 just because he’d heard it was a great place to train at high altitude (next on his list is Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, at a similar 8,000 feet elevation).

“It’s one of the easiest trips from Iceland, direct to LA and LA to Mammoth.” Much easier, he noted, than going to other high-altitude meccas like Flagstaff, AZ (or Ethiopia, for that matter).

Pétursson said that, prior to coming, he didn’t know anybody in Mammoth. He had rented a condo to stay at while he trained. But, serendipitously, he happened to run into Mammoth Track Club elite runner Daniel Tapia while training at Shady Rest. Tapia turned Pétursson on to The Crib.

“We were chatting, and he told me about [The Crib],” said Pétursson as he sat underneath a massive oil painting of Yosemite Falls that decorates the brick mantle at The Crib. “And I said, ‘Wow! Can this place get any better?’”

When Pétursson spoke with Mammoth Lakes Tourism on December 7, just after the first big snowfall of the year (“reminds me of Iceland!”), he had the whole place to himself. He showed off the multiple cases of “Sufferfest” beer, gifted to The Crib’s athletes. It’s a young runner’s dream, Pétursson said, grinning—a whole condo to himself and a fridge full of beer.

Why Arnar Pétursson Loves Mammoth Lakes

Long Runs with an Intense Altitude Gain

“One of the best ways to [aerobic strength train] is to run uphill for a really long time,” which is easy in Mammoth. One of his favorite runs is the 7-mile trek up to Main Lodge from Town. “In Iceland, you don’t have these extreme, long, elevation-gaining runs. I love that about Mammoth.”

The Food

Arnar says his go-to is burritos from Salsa’s. When he runs down in Bishop, he crushes a big lunch at the Burger Barn post-workout.

Rest Days at Snowcreek Athletic Club

“I love going to the spa or to the steam bath, or just shooting some hoops as a warm up when I’m doing strength training.”

“I haven’t found one bad thing about Mammoth,” said Pétursson, coasting on the tail end of two months in the Eastern Sierra before heading home to Iceland for the holidays.

“I talk to my family, my girlfriend, and my running friends each week, and I always say, ‘Man, I can’t believe this place. There is always something new.’”

Sarah Rea

Sarah Rea has lived in the Sierra for 20 years (eight in Yosemite and seven so far in Mammoth Lakes), but has been eating cast iron skillet pancakes for most of her life. She learned how to make soap from bacon grease when she was four and has always loved picking wild berries. She thinks…

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