Why This Iceland Native Says the Long Winters are More Than Worth It

Even when she lived in Boston, MA, Iceland native Rakel Eva Saevarsdottir knew she needed to get back to her home country. While her husband completed his degree at Harvard Law School, she stayed home with their son, missing her homeland’s stunning natural beauty and the friendly, easygoing personality of her fellow Icelanders.

That’s when Rakel found something that made Boston feel a little more like home: the November Project. Founded by two friends who were looking for a way to stay active during the brutal New England Winters, this organization brings people together for free, early morning workouts in the great outdoors. Rakel started going to regular Monday, Wednesday, and Friday workouts. She started making friends in the group and loved the sense of camaraderie she experienced — so much so that she started the Iceland chapter of the November Project once her family moved back home. We caught up with Rakel to find out how she balances her usual 5:30 a.m. workouts with her life as a working mother, picking up a few of her favorite health and wellness tips and discovering why she says Iceland is unlike anywhere else in the world.

Iceland’s fickle, subarctic climate and seemingly extreme seasons make living there hard to understand for outsiders. Though Rakel won’t deny that Winter’s bitter cold and short amounts of daylight can be tough, she says the deliciously long Summer days are worth it. Her favorite thing to do with her kids during the Summer and Fall is blueberry picking. The whole family will spend hours outside, picking berry after berry, then come home to eat them on top of siggi’s Icelandic skyr.

“The Icelandic Summer is magical: the 24/7 daylight, the birds, the fresh and clean grass, the countryside, the sea, the highland, and the beautiful unspoiled landscape,” she explains. “The Winter can be difficult, especially in January and February when it’s not daylight until 11 a.m. and dark again at 5 p.m. But when it gets brighter again and we start hearing the birds sing, it’s such an amazing feeling.”

Spending time outside isn’t only a Summer activity, either — Rakel says that’s a huge part of living in Iceland, even during the coldest, darkest months of the year. “It’s supernormal for me to go to the swimming pool, especially during wintertime and in the evening when it’s dark outside, and you can watch the stars and the Northern lights (when they show up),” she says.

Then, she’s back at home to get the kids ready for school, grab her coffee, and head to work — where she tries to squeeze in an hour-long cycling workout at lunch, if she has time. She’ll refuel with her favorite quick and healthy lunch — crispbread topped with avocado, tomatoes, spinach, and other veggies — before picking up the kids and starting the evening routine. Icelandic skyr with muesli, seeds, and fresh fruit is another one of her favorite meals — even for dinner, sometimes!

“Dinnertime is also really important to us,” Rakel says. She cherishes those moments spent cooking with her husband and considers it an opportunity to spend some quality time with her family.

Once the kids go to bed, Rakel gets the only downtime she has all day. She and her husband will lounge around, watching one of their favorite TV shows or just catching up on their days. Rakel doesn’t mind feeling out of the loop on the latest hit show or viral trend, though — she’d rather make the time to run, cycle, swim, and stay in shape.

“Being healthy and especially taking the extra mile when you are training for a marathon, ultramarathon, or you are just aiming for a special goal that means something for you, you have to realize that it takes time from other things,” she explains. “You have to be ready to sacrifice the time on the couch, in front of the TV, and on social media. It is up to you!”

It takes some serious motivation to commit to a healthy, balanced lifestyle and finding a little quiet time to do simple things she enjoys like a reading a book. Rakel admits that she will occasionally have to log on to her work computer at night to catch up on something she missed while picking up her kids, but it’s well worth it for that quality time with her family.

“I want to be a role model for my kids; I want my kids to think about me and talk about me as the mother who is doing things,” she explains. “[I want them to say] ‘my mother is a runner, she is a cyclist, she is a doer,’ not ‘my mother used to go out for a run, walk, bike ride, to the gym . . . ’”

That’s also the message she hopes to spread as a workout leader for the November Project. “The people at November Project [in Boston] taught me to believe in my fitness and that I am strong,” Rakel says. “I wanted to share this experience with Icelandic people, to bring fitness and health closer to people, to make everybody welcome and believe in themselves to do whatever they want to do.”

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