The road to Amsterdam started while on holiday in the UK last year. When we found out there was an opportunity for another visit to England, I went searching for races that were around the same time. And just like that, the idea of running Amsterdam was stuck in my mind!
The lead up to the race was very up and down. I was on a huge high from running sub 80 at the Gold Coast Half Marathon. At the same time, I wasn’t running comfortably in the month following the race because of an issue with my quad I picked up the week of GC.
It had me wondering if I would be able to put in the training for Amsterdam, and if Gold Coast was actually my A race for the year. Eventually the quad issue subsided, and I was able to get a good block of training in. By the end of August, I felt great. By the end of September, I felt like my body was starting to break.
This time, the niggle was in my calf, and a few kilometres of hobbling to start my runs had become the norm. Each time I did a hard session, I struggled to run the following day. But as long as the physio said I could keep running, I did. The prognosis was basically that was body was complaining due to heavy training. For next time, I need to get stronger. But for this time, I started to wish that I was racing a half instead of a marathon.
It was a very different feeling to Berlin. Last year, I was nervous, but confident. I knew I was ready. I also knew exactly what I wanted to achieve, and felt like I could definitely do it.
This year, I didn’t have a very specific goal. I wanted to run a PB. I definitely wanted to run sub 2:50. I really wanted to run sub 2:48. And if I was feeling great, I wondered if I could get anywhere near 2:45. Basically I wanted to run as fast as I could, without really settling on specific time.
In the peak of my training, I did two half marathons as part of longer runs, one just over 82 minutes and one just under. They both felt very comfortable, and helped me set some plans for the marathon.
I decided to go out around 4 minute/km pace, which I expected would feel comfortable at half way in about 84 minutes. If I felt good, we would try to pick it up in the second half.
Despite positive reviews from multiple people I told about this trip, we didn’t make it to any of Amsterdam’s cafes.
We landed early on the Thursday afternoon, and went for a run straight off the plane, a 10km loop around a lake. I felt good, but the first thing we noticed was the gusty wind, which lead to obsessive checking of the weather for the next few days. The forecast for Sunday was predicting slightly better conditions, 19-22km/h winds as opposed to 40km/h on the day we arrived. I hoped it stayed that way!
The second day, we walked from our hotel to the expo, which was very close to the start of the race. We had heard that getting to the start on public transport could be tricky, so opted to be somewhere in walking distance.
We picked up our bibs and shirts, got some merchandise and checked that our bibs worked. Next stop was a canal boat tour, then lunch. I had soup, which might not have been the best decision when my stomach was sore on my run later.
The wind was still very gusty, and seemed to pick up later in the day. Not a good sign for the half marathoners, who would start running at 1:30pm!
On Saturday, we woke up earlier and went for a run at about 8:30am, hoping to beat wind. The conditions were much calmer, and I was crossing my fingers the next day would be the same.
The downside was that I didn’t feel that well – I had a bit of a headache and my neck hurt. I don’t think that I slept very well. We went to cinema to relax and distract ourselves from the race!
We ordered our traditional pre-race dinner, pizza, which was delivered late, not helping my increasing anxiousness. We ate, went back to the room, did some stretching, and tried to wait until 9:30pm to go to bed. Race day had almost arrived!
There are a few main things I recall from the morning of the race:
Bathroom stops – at the moment, I’m waking up, rolling out of bed, getting dressed and leaving for a long run in about 20 minutes. Granted, I can stop at any time on a normal Sunday run, but it’s in definite contrast to marathon morning. On those days, I need to be up several hours before the race starts to fit in multiple nervous bathroom visits. In Amsterdam, I went for the “last” time before leaving the hotel, then lined up for the port-a-loos at the race precinct, and still wanted to go again at the start line. One of my biggest marathon nerves is needing to stop mid-race to use the bathroom. Luckily it hasn’t happened yet!
Breakfast – despite bringing oats from Australia, I was too nervous to eat much more than a few bites of my porridge. Similar to the point above, I’m sure I would eat it all on a normal Sunday run. But this was not a normal Sunday! Note to self, next time, bring less.
European race start times – it’s weird waking up on race morning at 6am, and thinking it’s too early to get up. With a 9:30am start time, we had time for a short run, some stretching, breakfast, several bathroom stops and the walk to the start – all before we would have reached half way if this was an Australian race. I guess the downside is, a lot more time to get nervous.
Chaos – okay, this is probably an exaggeration, slightly fueled by pre-race nerves, and having high expectations after Berlin, but after we left the toilet queue to find the start line, it seemed like no one had any idea where to go. The race started inside the Olympic Stadium, but there wasn’t much signage pointing to the entrance. People were walking in and out of various entrances, maybe just to have a look, but no one really seemed to know where they were going. Eventually we worked out the entrance was around the corner, and followed the crowds, which eventually turned into a traffic jam as everyone tried to funnel through a small gate. We made it in with 15 minutes to spare, but my nerves had risen again!
No chaos – I had read that the start areas weren’t very organised or well enforced, but they seemed fine to me. The stadium was set up with the start groups staggered around the track, each one labelled by colour. Temporary fencing was set up at the entrance to each area. I can’t remember how closely anyone looked at our bibs, but I didn’t see anyone in our group with a different colour.
Atmosphere – The stadium was full of activity. People were in the stands watching, hanging around on the grass, the elite runners were on the track warming up, music was blaring. There were warm up areas set up on the track next to each start group. Dozens of people were running around in each in small circles, it almost looked like something from a mosh pit. The countdown was on, nervous energy was buzzing around the stadium, and we were only a few minutes from running.
I was feeling weird.
Even now two months later, I can’t really explain it. In some ways, it didn’t feel real. In all of the time we had that morning to think about the race, I didn’t really feel connected to what I was about to do. At the start line, I was there physically, but it almost felt like I was watching from outside.
On top of that, I was definitely nervous. I think that came down to having lofty goals that I wasn’t sure were achievable. Last year, I did have a ‘realistic’ goal, a ‘back up’ goal, and an ‘if everything goes perfectly…’ goal, but I was really only focused on the realistic one. I achieved what I set out to, but did wonder afterwards if I could have gone faster.
This year, I really wanted to test myself and run as fast as possible. But without settling on a specific time goal, I ended up feeling unprepared. Marty told me to think of it as a Sunday long run. A very long one!
We were in the second start group, which was based on a sub 3 hour expected finish time. The group ahead of us had a sub 2:40 expected finish time. Ahead of them, were the elite runners.
We were much closer to the start line than we were in Berlin, it looked like we are about 50m back. Last year, it took us 3.5mins to reach the start line, I was hoping it would be less than that this year.
The elite runners were introduced, the gun went, and they were off. We started moving straight away. It took us just over 30 seconds to cross the start line, but like last year, we were off to a slow start.
A few narrow sections and tight turns out of the stadium meant we ran a 4:30 first kilometre, already about 30 seconds behind where we wanted to be. I’d rather start a bit too slow than too fast, but it’s frustrating because it is a lot of time to make up. Our second kilometre was better, right on 4min pace, but it is still crowded and we are dodging around people.
When went went through 5km, there were still a lot of people around, but it was getting easier to get into a rhythm. Our split was about 20:30.
Crowds early in the race, spot the pink headband!
Despite that, things were on track, and we went through 10km in just over 40 minutes.By the time we reached 8km, which was near our hotel, we had run through a few windy bits. It didn’t feel like it was slowing us down, but I did feel like I was working harder than I expected to be. We were running a pace should have been comfortable at only the 8km mark. It wasn’t uncomfortable, but I expected to feel like I was cruising, and I definitely didn’t.
The course took us through a bit more of the southern part of the city, before we started to head out of the city, along the river. The turnaround was at about 20km, which meant we had about 6km to run out along the river. If it was windy, I was hoping we would be running into it on the way out, and have it behind us for the return.
It was windy, and we could definitely feel it going out. We ran with a few groups to try to keep the pace ticking along. The course changed from road to a bike path, and I noticed a windmill – we were definitely out of the city!
There was still some support on the course, with people in nearby houses cheering us on. There were boats on the water playing music, and people in the river being propelled up out of the water, which Google tells me is a sport called flyboarding.
Definitely not me during the race!
I told myself there was no way I had gone out too hard, and to see how I felt on the other side of the river when the wind would hopefully be behind us. I also told myself not to worry if I couldn’t pick the pace up – I would be happy just to hold it for the rest of the run.
I started to feel like I was falling slightly behind Marty. I began to wonder if I could hold the pace the whole way. I still felt like I was working harder than I expected, which I was a bit concerned by, because at 16, 17 or 18km, 4 minute pace should have been relatively comfortable. I was running slower than the two half marathon training runs I did, and much slower than half marathon PB pace.
We finally got to the turn, and the wind was definitely behind us. I didn’t get a good look at the half way split, but it was over 84 minutes. I wasn’t sure if we would be able to run a negative split to break 2:48, but wasn’t ready to give up.
We maintained our pace along the river, and could see runners streaming along the other side. I was very glad to be in the second half by that point. Marty told me we were doing well, and to aim to hold this for another 10km.
The 25km mat was in a shady section of the course off the river path, we were heading back into the city. Our 5km split was about 20 minutes, and I actually didn’t feel too bad for the first time in the race.
We passed one of the music stands that were scattered along the course. It was playing Nirvana Smells Like Teen Spirit, and it felt like a bit of party. When I looked at my watch for the next split, I saw we had slowed down marginally. Maybe that’s why I felt more comfortable all of a sudden!
I told Marty, and he told me not to worry. Then to my surprise a few seconds later, he was telling me to go on by myself. This wasn’t part of the plan!
I tried to tell him to stick with me, but he was having none of it. I felt another wave of tiredness as I realised I was going to be running the last 13km on my own. It must have been mental though, because my legs felt differently. I ran a few of my fastest kilometres for the whole race around the 30km mark.
I was torn between knowing there was still a long way to go and not pushing too hard too soon, and trying to go for the negative split. As I passed 32km, my watch read about 2:07:30 – another 40 minutes of running would get me sub 2:48. In the blur of marathon maths, I probably thought it was roughly possible, but it does pay to remember when counting down kilometres – they all have a ‘.2’ attached to them.
I reached the 35km mat with about 2:20 on the clock, which was gun time. I definitely got a boost from the fast split, which was under 20 minutes for 30-35km. By this point, I was counting down the time to go – 7km, 28minutes. Proper tiredness was starting to set in, but I told myself to keep going, I had done the training.
There was a hill at about 38km. At about 8km I would have called it a rise, but at this late stage of the race, it was definitely a hill. Going up it, I honestly thought I was done. My legs were heavy and it felt like I was barely moving. I had visions of slowing down to 4:20s, 4:30s for the last few kilometres.
A quick glance at my watch showed me it was actually 4:10 pace, and as it flattened out I got back into it and was surprised when my watch beeped for another 4min/km.
Like last year, things get a bit blurry from here. I remember my breathing getting really loud, and the feeling of slowing down never going away. Despite the heavy feeling, my watch kept giving me splits of just over 4 minutes. I just needed to hold on.
By this point, I knew I had about 10 minutes to run 2.2km to come in under 2:50, and was calculating if that gave me enough time to have a short walk. Luckily the other half of my head saying ‘no’ won the battle.
Late in the race, exhausted
“This last 2km IS the marathon.”“Don’t waste the last 40km by walking now.”
“This is where you have to finish it off.”
Soon enough I could see the stadium ahead. I ran out onto the track with about 200m to go, and wondered if someone would take my bib to the finish if my legs gave out.
Who is feeling worse?
They didn’t, and carried me around the corner until I could see the finish. It was a long last stretch, but I eventually crossed the finish line with 2:48:58 on my watch. I managed about two steps across the line before I sat down to wait for Marty, so glad it was over.
When I finished this race, the only thing I felt initially was exhaustion. After Marty finished and we made our way out, I started to feel disappointed that I didn’t run a bit faster. As the afternoon went on and we got ready to leave, I was definitely glad to have got the result I did.
I still can’t really explain why I didn’t feel as great as I expected to during the race. I thought I was in better shape than when I raced the Gold Coast half, but looking back I would say that was a better result.
I kept thinking about the two half marathon training runs I did in around 82 minutes. I felt a lot more comfortable in those than when I reached half way of the marathon in 84 minutes. I definitely don’t think that 82 minute half marathon pace was realistic for the marathon. But I had hoped to feel comfortable than I did at 84 minutes, and perhaps have something left for the end of the race.
Looking back on the race and the days prior, I don’t think I was ever completely relaxed while we were in Amsterdam. I’ve been asked if jet lag was a factor, I didn’t so think, but who knows. It’s also been suggested that stress could be a factor. Those two half marathons had nothing riding on them, no PB attempts and no goals. There was no pressure, no nerves. Perhaps it meant I was free to run more comfortably.
Maybe I wasn’t quite in the shape I thought I was. Or maybe that is just what happens on the day sometimes.
The funny thing is, all of this sounds like the race was a disaster, when in fact, it was a good result.
Last year in Berlin, I ran such a big negative split (1:27:24/1:24:30), that I couldn’t help but wonder if I could have run a faster time if we had started faster.
This year, I got that answer, going out in 1:24:40 and running the second half in 1:24:19.
It was almost a 3 minute PB, an evenly paced run, and I was able to hang on in the end when I got tired. It wasn’t quite sub 2:48, but it wasn’t far off.
I definitely couldn’t have run any faster on the day!
There are a few areas that stand out for me to improve. Getting a better start would be one! Plus hard work, developing endurance and strengthening my body to avoid niggles. I am sure I can still run faster.
Until next time!