I guess you can made an educated guess about what you are capable of doing, and then letting your body show you how right you were
My third marathon, after York (thrown in the deep end) and Venice (let’s actually do some planning for this) was always going to be interesting. Venice had given me a bit of a taste of what I could do with a half decent training plan, well, an Endomondo generated one anyway, but that training had been somewhat disrupted with injuries and other stuff. Me being me, I just had to set myself a goal a bit further. This was kinda compounded by someone I met on last years Embrace Running Holiday posting on Facebook about how they were aiming for the ‘Good For Age’ target of 3:15 this year. Well, who doesn’t like a target with meaning eh?
To be honest, I’m not sure I every believed that was possible, but I hung on to it anyway. Endomondo, with its regular cooper tests to determine fitness had me down at about 3:25:00, whereas my (crazy) Garmin Fenix 3HR seemed to think I was able to somewhere between 3 hrs and 2:45, depending on what sort of crazy mood its in. Mind you, it also thinks I can run 5k in about 18 mins, despite containing all the proof it needs that I can’t! 🙂
Each run I did though did add to the feeling that it might be possible with those internet calculators throwing out numbers faster than 3:15 predicted based on race performances.
Was it possible? I’m not really sure. I certainly felt tired in the marathon paced training runs I did, conking out at the half marathon point mostly, but I hung onto the target rather doggedly, thinking the science behind the watches and the calculators should have something in it, and that I’m tired, running after long days, and climbing holidays.
Soon the taper came, and I never really shifted the feeling of generally being tired and not ready for it, but there isn’t a lot you can do, but do those gentler runs, wondering if you’d done enough, and resting all you can (while a little devil somewhere pokes at you for not being out pounding the pavements).
Finally the (long) weekend came upon us and Andy, Martin, Liz and I headed off to Manchester airport on Friday morning for our flight. The travelling was pretty easy actually, and our hotel was very easy to get to from Schiphol airport. Soon we were checked in and then headed back out to the centre to check out Amsterdam. The plan really wasn’t for us to do a lot of wondering around and certainly not 20k steps worth, but it kinda happened. Probably my fault for getting the group to check out the sites of the Red Light District after a beer on a barge. We couldn’t really not go to Amsterdam and not go and see right?
Saturday we tried to take things a little easier, first testing the route from the hotel to the Olympic Stadium where the Marathon would start at 9:30 in the morning tomorrow. Luckily, it was a 6 minute walk straight along the road east from the hotel to a Metro, and then about the same on the Metro 50 two stops to Amstelveenseweg which was 5 minutes or so south of the Expo and the stadium. Here we found some good coffee for breakfast at Stach Food. I also had something called “Chia Pudding” which was truly bizarre. Like eating soft watery jelly!
Next, the Expo to pick up our numbers and teeshirts, and then browse around the stalls. I was a little disappointed with the Expo to be honest. Everything there was very expensive (although this might just be us being a victim of the awful Euro to Sterling rate right now) but I did my best to pick up as many marathon lealets as I could for perusing later. I did pick up a Beet-It sport shot to try though! By this point, my back was starting to really hurt; deep throbbing lumbar pain that needed me to constantly roll my pelvis backwards and forwards to try and ease. We decided then to move on back into Amsterdam via the tram system and find some ‘traditional’ Amsterdam pancakes for lunch.
Sadly, it all went a bit wrong here. Amsterdam public transport system really can’t handle 20,000 people extra turning up for the weekend, and the tram system had pretty much ground to a halt. We eventually got on a tram, but it was really busy, and appeared to be struggling under the weight of all the people it was carrying. I ended up bent over the floor for a bit to try and get my back to stop spasming. I must have looked bad because an older lady sat next to me offered me her seat! It only managed about half of the 20 minute journey (in about 35 minutes..) before chucking everyone off and going out of service. We were all tired, hot, grumpy and sore by this point, so gave up on the idea of pancakes and just found somewhere close. In the end the place we found did nice tuna melts and smoothies so it did work out.
After a bit of a rest, my back and settled down a bit, so Liz and I went to check out the Body Worlds exhibition. I couldn’t really go to Amsterdam and not take a look at it and I’m glad I did. Seeing how the muscles and ligaments hooked together for real was really useful in my understanding of how it all joined up.
Soon, the day was over, and included a much more reasonable 8k steps, but did include a chunk of worrying lower back pain. We’d booked in for an evening meal in the hotel (as we’d failed to find anywhere else…) so before we had that Liz spent 20mins with her elbows into my back and glutes to try and relax stuff out. (Must have worked!)
I got pretty much everything ready for the run the next day and then it was food time. Predictably, most of us went for the smoked chicken pasta, but it was actually really good and satisfying. Then it was bedtime.
I’d set my alarm for 7am, which on reflection wasn’t really early enough. The expensive hotel breakfast got me going with a machine cappuccino (bleh), some scrambled eggs on toast with a little bit of bacon, and then a mini pain aux chocolate and some apple juice. Then back to the room to get ready into my running gear and smother myself with bodyglide. Loads between my toes, on the heels and a huge amount on my lower back where my shorts always seem to rub. The weather was going to be warm and sunny, so sun cream was needed. Eventually I was leaving and off to my fate.
I got to the Metro just in time to see a train go. Oh, well, they are every 10 minutes so I’ll be fine. The next one arrived on time, and then about 10 minutes later I was walking through crowds past the sports halls, over the bridge and into a maelstrom of people handing in bags, checking gear and huge portaloo queues. I suddenly realised I only had about 40 minutes before the race started. Vague panic.
The first queue I joined for handing in my bag suddenly dissipated as that section was full. I had to try two other sections before I could find space for my bag. Then a loo queue. It was HUGE, but I joined it anyway, crossing my fingers that it would move quickly. It did, but in painful jumps making you wonder if you had enough time. Plus it was snaking across the main access point for the runners entering the stadium so people were constantly pushing through it. Finally got to the front and then I was back trying to get into the stadium with about 7 minutes to go. Hilariously, the ushers around the stadium were yelling at us to hurry up to get in there, even though it was complete grid lock with people moving as quickly as they could.
Finally in the stadium I found my zone (pink) which was already pretty full with a few minutes to spare. I didn’t really have a sense of where the start was, which way I was going to be running or anything. It was odd. Eventually there was a countdown and the first two zones moved on. As pink started to follow them, it started to make sense. As the stadium track isn’t big enough for us all to be along the track, it was big zones of people with each area bring emptied out along a lane to the track before the next zone started moving.
Soon enough we were off and I passed over the the start line, starting my watch and trying to get up to pace. Pacing for Venice was a bit easier than this. As I’d decided at the last minute to try and keep with the 3:30 pacer, and then I couldn’t find him I just aimed to keep my pace below 5mins/k. Although I lost it in the last quarter of the run, it was good enough to get me in at about 3:34. This time, I wanted a bit more of a plan. I worked out a 2km 2% negative split for the race, meaning I was starting at 4:43mins/km dropping roughly 1 second per km every 4km, ish, with the last section being at 4:32mins/k. Actually running to this was a bit more difficult. In the end, I created a Garmin work out, adding the pace zones in 2km chunks between 12mins/k – target time minus one second. This meant that if I ran and tried to keep to the watch just warning me that I was going too fast, I’d just sliding in under the target time of 3:15. The end paces disturbed me a bit though. Could I really, honestly see myself going half marathon pace times in the last 5 of a marathon?!
So, setting out, I needed to be doing about 4:43mins/k for the first 2k to be on target. Could I get there? No. It was SUPER crowded. Venice was hectic, but because we’d started out in Stra, it was a big wide road with a decent amount of space. This must be what it’s like running at the back of the London marathon! Looking at the pace line on Strava, it looks just as I remembered it. Fast sections, slow sections, acceleration, deceleration, dodging around people, curbs, trying not to trip or be tripped. Wow, hard work really. Such hard work that I really don’t remember much of the city as I ran through it. Running through the tunnel at the Rijksmuseum was pretty cool but I don’t remember seeing it approach at all, just turning into the tunnel!
I started to get a better sense of control over my pace and what was going on once we’d hit the Amstel river. There has been a real awful choke up as we swapped from road to the thinner, brick pavement, but I think the consistency of the terrain and more gradual turns helped to chill people out a bit. Here was the only windmill I remember seeing on the run, (apparently there were three!).
By this time I was well into my gel strategy. In Venice, I’d taken 6 High5 gels with me in a High5 gel belt. This didn’t work as the weight of the High5 gels (they don’t need water so are heavier than ones you take with water) caused the belt to bounce around which was very uncomfortable. This time, I’d taken a mix of gels. 3 Wiggle gels (that need water) and a high5 in the gel belt, and two SIS gels stuffed in my flip belt. This worked a lot better than before with no bounce! There was LOADS of fuel stations on the run so I wasn’t too worried about having the wiggle gels without water handy. I tried to take a gel every 30 mins or so (which required me to reconfigure my Garmin screens mid run so I could see a race run time!). The fuel stations had the odd bits of banana on them (Slimy! I’d take a bite and throw the rest), cups of water (pinch the cup, try and drink, pour it up your nose by accident) and ‘Isotar’ (SOOO much easier to drink, presumably because it was a bit heavier/thicker than the water meaning it didn’t bounce out of the cup). Early on I developed a pattern which seemed to be working of having the Isotar and most of a water (that didn’t go up my nose) and a chunk of banana. If any of those things survived the scrums of the fuel stations of course. Those marathon runners get desperate for their sustenance and this appears to involve elbow barging and in some cases actual shoving.
Running along the Amstel was nice. We had people out from their houses on the right, boats with people cheering us on on the river and 3 people on those weird jet ski powered water jet pack thingies, floating and bobbing around in the air. Bunch of show offs! 😉 My pace dipped up and down as the little twists and turns caused people to slowdown and speed up, but I was pretty much following my target pace zones, up till where we cross the Amstel at Ouederkerk. Again everything compressed as we were forced into a thinner track before we could get back up to speed going up the other side of the Amstel and back to Amsterdam.
I was actually dreading the the Amstel section of the race, remembering the horror of the out and back section of the York Marathon where you do about 7k along a switch back section, knowing that once you get to the end of it you have to run back again. The fact that you are along side a river, and not next to the other ‘lane’ of traffic meant this didn’t seem to matter at all. Or perhaps it was just earlier in the race? 🙂
Just under halfway back to Amsterdam we hit a half marathon marker. I was feeling good, but know I was probably down on pace a bit because of the traffic earlier in the race so started to push it a little. From about the 23rd km I put in a few kms down at the 4:30ish pace in an attempt to offset those earlier losses. This felt a) great at the time and b) sensible. I suspect that it was actually c) daft and that I’d have been better off just keeping to my pace zones and tried to save any time recovery for the end. Never mind eh? Still, the next 9k flew by, mentally lassoing people ahead of me, gaining and overtaking them and then finding my next victim to follow. I was having that “I’m going to do this” euphoria moment that right now I’m remembering from about half way through Venice.
I’m not quite sure where it all fell apart. I remember seeing the “mental support crew” who were out with signs, and punching one of their “Punch for power up!” signs. There was a run of 5 little kids that I all high fived in a row and then at some point before we turned back towards the end I started to falter. I started to find my pace drifting down, and I’d have to mentally kick myself to push it back up. My cadence would drop and I could fix it for a 100m or so. Slowly it deteriorated until it all just became painful.
It had got hot, 21 degrees or so, quite different from the pretty perfect running temperatures when we’d started out. I started walking at the fuel stations, making sure I was able to down all the water and isotar and get a quick breather for the legs. Interestingly, you can see how my heart rate starts to drop down from the peak it was at as my muscles were the things now me from keeping the pace up, not the cardio. By this point there seemed to be loads of people dropping out of the race, either sitting beside the road, or struggling on at walking pace. I wasn’t going to join them… please!
At some point I almost went over on my right ankle, thanks to the route guiding us diagonally over the edge of a raised tram track section. I was actually pretty lucky, and I’m left wondering if all the trail running I’ve done this year actually stopped me from doing something much more painful.
I remember saying to myself as I hit the Vondelpark “It’s ok if you need to stop. But I don’t want to stop“. It almost become a mantra, rolling around in my head both getting ready to excuse myself if I couldn’t handle it anymore, but trying to shore myself up that I wasn’t going to need it. I also ended up in that bad mental arithmetic state where 32+5 = 42.2. There’s only 5k now. You can do that, it’s only 25 minutes if you pick the pace back up… All these things you do to cope…
Soon after leaving the Vondelpark, I started to realise how close I was to the finish and occasionally tried to raise my pace back up, but it wouldn’t stick until we got to the stadium. There was a 500 metres sign and it opened a little gate to some energy from somewhere.
It was amazing to cross into the stadium, seeing people up on the stands and lots of noise. We turned right onto the track and then swung around the curve onto the final straight. Ahead I could see a timer, at 3:29 counting down and suddenly I was sprinting. I mean, actually sprinting, and I over took about 5-6 people who were slowing with their arms in the air for the finish. I guess I really wanted to get in under 3:30 gun time! 🙂 I’ve no bloody idea where that come from.
Next I got my medal, and filtered through the exit where we got a bottle of isotar and.. well, that’s it! Picked my bag up, and got my medal engraved, which was incredibly efficient. (queued, engraved and handed back in less than 5 minutes!) I was starting to develop the marathon runners wobbly gait so headed over to the Sports halls to find the massage. Strangely, they wouldn’t massage me unless I’d had a shower first. I can see why, but I’ve never had that before. Usually they just wet wipe you quickly! This meant that I ended up having a shower in the sports hall without a towel. I was doing to use my hoodie as a surrogate towel as it was warm, but asked if anyone had one I could use in the changing room and someone gave me the one he’d stolen from his hotel 😀
Finally getting the massage, I got the guy to try and free my glutes, lower back and calves up and he did a pretty good job meaning that I was walking pretty well afterwards. I then headed back to the stadium, finding a guy giving out free cans of Amstel Radler (quite nice actually!) and picked up a cheese kroketten in a bun. Then I found my way into the stadium and claimed a seat to watch the people finishing the races.
I’m pretty damn happy with my time to be honest. It was a PB of over 10 minutes which is great, but I can’t help but wonder if I’d have been able to stick it out for the 3:15.
Maybe if my last few long runs weren’t crazy long epic hilly adventures. Maybe if I hadn’t have shuffled all my training around for holidays. Maybe if I’d have rested more the 2 days before the race. What if I’d have given myself a bit more time on the day and been nearer the front of my starting zone. Maybe if I hadn’t gone for a fast section in the middle of the run and been a bit more patient. Maybe if the weather had been cooler? Who knows.
I guess it forms a pretty good target again though for my next one, if I do one. I’ve not looked at all the leaflets I picked up yet.