The TCS Amsterdam Marathon 2016 was on last Sunday, it was my third marathon, as painful as ever, but a big improvement and a highly satisfying PB. I signed up because I was looking for a run in October and had heard good things about the race - well organised, a nice route, great city, and flat, not surprising given the landscape of Holland, but what you want when you are trying to run a PB!
Given it is combined with a half marathon, it is one of the largest races in Europe, and so I thought it would be a great race to participate in. I had not run a marathon since Stockholm in May 2014 (ran in 3:12), having been plagued by ITB problems through most of 2015. But after successfully completing the half iron man in Denmark in May this year, I felt like my body was strong enough again to embark on another marathon journey. This time around I wanted to execute my training and race plan much better (in Stockholm I hit the wall at 32 kms going from 4:30 / km to 6 minutes plus / km).
At the end of summer, once peak running tours season was over, I started with a rough training plan, consisting of three set types of runs per week:
- one speed session (fartlek or track)
- one threshold run / run at marathon pace
- one long run - build up over time and do 3 runs of 30+ km
My extra mileage would come from leading guided running tours and running with the Run With Me community group. I also did at least one gym session, consisting of strength work for my legs and core, and two 20 minute yoga sessions at home each week.
After racing the Stockholm half marathon and then the lidingöloppet during the autumn, I felt well prepared by the time I flew down to Amsterdam. As always I was nervous though, had I done enough to break through the wall that would inevitably come during the last 12 kms? Or was it going to end in emotional breakdown and swearing to never run a marathon again.
As I lined up at the start line I had three goals in my head, each of which would bring me happiness and satisfaction, but to different extents:
- Dream goal - sub 3 hour (consider retiring from marathon running)
- Intermediate goal - 3:00 - 3:05 (feel elated to qualify for Boston, but still have the sub 3 dream remain)
- Low level goal - 3:05 - 3:12 (feel happy with PB but go back to the drawing board RE training plan)
I planned to run at 4:15 per km by following the 3 hour pacing group, and then make a decision around 25 km if I could keep the pace without smashing into the wall again. The first km was out of the old Olympic stadium, and although that is a fantastic place to start (and finish), there was a bottle neck created by a small exit way through the fence on the way out. As always it's best to get to the front of your start group, which I didn't do, and km 1 was a 4:27 (don't worry I am not going to give a km by km breakdown), only noteworthy because it was one of my slowest kms.
The only thing that went wrong during the first part of the marathon was a music failure. I had carefully crafted a playlist on Spotify in the days before, filled with nostalgic music to lift my spirits. It was indie dance and old skool rap classics in the first half and then drum and bass, breakbeat and house in the second half, when I would need the extra endorphins. But something went wrong, and within the first 2 kms my playlist skipped through 5 seconds from each song and then my ears were filled with silence. After feeling really angry and cursing Spotify's name a few times, I came to terms with the fact that I was going to have to listen to my own pained breathing and get lost in thought for the next 40 kms.
With no music in my ears I took the opportunity to chat (something I do not normally do in races) to one of the 3 hour pacers. He informed me that he would be running at least 38 km, maybe the whole way, and quite ironically, that he didn't consider himself very good at keeping a steady pace! Lucky they had 3 of them doing the job. I stayed with this group until just after the half way mark, even though my watch was telling me they were pacing too fast. Then I decided to drop back slightly, and just keep them in sight if I could.
It was about 28 kms in when I had my first tough period, which was slightly earlier than I expected. My legs started to feel heavy, so I focused on sticking with a runner who looked like they were going strong, and tried to keep their pace. But on the plus side my race nutrition and stomach were going well. I had planned to eat 5 gels, 2 more than previous marathons, to be eaten at 7 km intervals, with two including caffeine (to be taken at 14 ms and 28 kms), and three being isotonic gels and easy to swallow.
I washed the salted caramel gel down with some sports drink that I had been carrying in my hand and kept going, trying as best as I could to keep my time below 4:20 / km. Something I have reflected on after the race is how little I recall of the route. It felt like we were just running along the Amstel canal most of the time, which we were, and the street sections are not that memorable. It is my main criticism of Amsterdam marathon, I think they could definitely design a better route, which takes in more of the central city.
Once I got to the 32 km mark my legs were really starting to hurt, as were my toes, two of which felt quite numb. It was the dreaded last 10 km, at which point it becomes a suffer fest for anyone who has pushed themselves through the first three quarters of the race. At this point the 3 hour pace group had just gone out of sight, and I realised my dream goal of sub 3 hour was no longer realistic.
It didn't feel like it at the time, but I managed to keep my pace to between 4:20 and 4:30 up to 40 kms, getting a great boost from my friend Amber at around the 36 km mark in Vondelpark. Vondelpark is the most beautiful part of the route, but I can't say I was in a much of a state to appreciate it..
The last 2 kms my legs were in agony and I felt like I could hardy lift them from the ground but I dragged myself home with help from the crowd. As I came into the olympic stadium and looked at my watch I knew I was going to be over 3 hours but sub 3:05, but needed to turn the final bend to see the official clock..
My final time was 3:03:54, a PB by around 9 minutes. I felt overwhelmed with happiness and exhaustion, and tried not to collapse as I crossed the line. Next marathon I'll once again be dreaming of sub 3 hours, and would love to run alongside a friend (have already started discussions with the friend I ran my first ever marathon alongside in Paris in 2013), but for now it is time for some well earned rest!