I guess the guys in the marketing department for the Amsterdam marathon have a pretty easy sell. Come to an awesome city, only a short hop over from London, sample some great food and drink and have a cruise down one of the many canals. The only fly in the ointment – at some point during the weekend, you’ll have to run for a few hours. Not as much of an issue if, like the 20+ Clapham Chasers and other friends from home I managed to coerce into signing up, you actually enjoy flogging yourselves for 26.2 miles.
It took a good couple of weeks to physically and mentally recover from Ironman Wales, but eventually the desire and drive to want to get out and train regularly came flooding back, and I put a few sessions together in the period between then and our trip out to Holland.
Katie and I flew out on the Friday night from London City airport (what an absolute dream), with the seats around us occupied by those clearly on the hunt for a different kind of enjoyable time in Amsterdam. I’d be astounded if our fellow travellers’ Friday night lasted until the early hours, as ‘peaking too early’ seemed like an appropriate description of their trip so far.
After a short taxi ride over to our hotel (the Ramada Amsterdam Central), we settled down in our excellent room for the night – you can’t put a price on a comfy bed and a quiet space in the nights before a marathon. (Well, you can, but I think the price is more than worth it after all the training that goes into the build-up).
We wandered over to the expo on the Saturday morning with our good friends, Dom and Sophie, who were staying in the same hotel. It would be Dom’s first crack at the marathon distance, while Sophie was tackling the half, taking place later in the day on the Sunday. As expo’s go, it wasn’t the greatest, with minimal freebies being handed out (always my favourite part) and long queues to collect your free t-shirt after picking up bib numbers – I’m not sure why they didn’t just give it to you all at the same time.
Heading back into the city centre, we caught up with the world’s greatest support crew; Mum, my sister Meg and Dave the Lion. We had spot of lunch whilst discussing tactics for the following days spectating – they’re always nearly excited to watch as we are to run which is always lovely to see.
The day before a marathon is always a weird one, trying to find the balance of staying off your feet and not getting bored senseless sitting around waiting for the day to be over. We held off heading back to the hotel until slightly later in the afternoon, before heading back and settling in for the evening. Luckily for me, the Ironman World Championships happened to be on, so the hours flew by as a I bored Katie with all the facts and anecdotes about the race and those competing. We ordered a whole rotisserie chicken to the room and made sure we were tucked up nice and early, ready for the main event the following morning.
With a leisurely 9.30am start time, we didn’t even have to get up that early (6 doesn’t seem too bad on a Sunday these days), still allowing plenty of time to wolf down the trusty porridge and raisin combo which follows me around race to race. After collecting Dom, the 3 of us enjoyed a leisurely 45-minute stroll to the start, discussing how the day might pan out while offering Dom with little tips and reassuring him all will be fine, as he was understandably slightly apprehensive.
We were at the start with plenty of time to spare, quickly spotting other Chasers and posing for a group photo. Paul Brown (of Barcelona marathon fame), was also in town for the race, and had quite predictably gone for the ‘training is cheating’ approach to running a marathon, coming into the day as under prepared as ever, hoping the 26.2 miles he’d done 3 months ago would see him around. Classic.
Time seemed to fly by and before I knew it Katie and I were parting ways, and I wished her one final good luck, whilst thinking to myself that she didn’t need it, as she was going to nail it anyway. I spent the last 30 minutes in the toilet queue before tucking in behind the 3-hour pacers and making sure I had my headband on straight. The last few moments before a big marathon are always great fun, as the guy on the microphone whips up the crowd and counts down the last few seconds before the off.
I’d already decided not to race Amsterdam flat out, having realised I wasn’t quite in the shape I would like to be post Ironman Wales. With the Valencia marathon just 5 weeks away I’d opted to treat this as a longer training running, completing the first half in a comfortable pace before trying to pick up the pace towards the back end of the race. Sometimes easier said than done, especially when everyone tends to get carried away in the opening stages of a big event.
Rather surprisingly, the first half went to script. The first 10km of the race takes you through the lovely Vondelpark before running straight through the famous Rijksmuseum. There were plenty of crowds at this point, which kept things interesting. There was also a long out-and-back session, which allowed me to do a bit of Chaser spotting. I spotted Ed Rees flying along on his way to a quite brilliant 2.37, before seeing Sam Andrews keeping Jen Woolgar company as she smashed through the 4-hour marathon barrier for the first time – a fantastic result.
I’d gone through 5km in 22:15 and 10km in 43:28, feeling really good and enjoying a nice run on the streets of the Dutch capital. On the next out and back section I got excited as I spotted Katie, roaring some support her way as she bounced along grinning from ear to ear; I’ve never met someone who makes running look so effortless.
After about 9 miles the route hits the Amstel river, and on this section, you head down it for 4 miles before crossing over and running back on the other side. There was plenty of live music and support here, and I struck up conversation with a few people along the way, thoroughly enjoying the whole experience. It was starting to heat up by this point; nothing too toasty, but enough to douse myself with water at each aid station, which were placed at 5-kilometre intervals.
I stopped for a quick comfort break behind a tree just before halfway, going through in 1 hour, 30 minutes and a handful of seconds. Part one of the plan executed– get to half way feeling comfortable and keeping the heart rate low. I was amazed that I had managed not to get too carried away – I think I was just enjoying myself too much!
From this point, I slowly started to accelerate and watched as the heart rate creep up as I started to put in some more effort. I was aiming to have each 5km split faster than the previous one so by the end my last few miles would be my quickest. This is always a fun way to run, as I was constantly passing people during the second half. I can’t remember being passed by a single person, whilst I must have gone by hundreds.
I saw the support crew around mile 15, who were as vocal as ever, which always provides a great boost. I was desperate for an update on Katie, but had forgotten to tell them this beforehand, so the only information I received is that she was a ‘few minutes’ behind me; I wasn’t really sure what to make of that, but hoped it was a good sign.
The race then heads into the suburbs of the city, with this section being the most uninspiring of the route. There was hardly anyone out watching and the field had thinned out by this point. I just concentrated on holding a good pace and picking off those ahead of me. I spotted another Chaser, Marcus Fletcher, and offered some words of encouragement as I passed – he was still looking strong at that point.
6 months ago, one of my best mates Dave had moved out to Amsterdam with his girlfriend Daisy, and they were also out supporting. I let him know that I was desperate for a beer or two as I ran past him with a few miles still to go. He’s the only one in my group of mates from school that I haven’t yet been able to convert to running, but I’m still hopeful I’ll get him one day.
I was creeping up to yet another Chaser, Carla, who always races with her heart on her sleeve; she’s an absolute animal. She’d gone out hard in search of a quick time, and was really having to grit it out in the closing stages. I told her to hang on to me and get to the finish together, and she duly obliged for a while before dropping back, still finishing in a very credible 2:55, 18th overall including the professionals.
I covered 35-40km in 19:19, my fastest split of the race, but I would be lying if I said it wasn’t beginning to hurt by this point! The closing stages were brilliant, with the crowds really building up, before you entered the Olympic stadium to complete half a lap round the track, which allowed time for some obligatory showboating and doing that stupid aeroplane thing. I crossed the line in 2:53:47 for my 5th sub-3 marathon, still feeling like I had plenty left in the tank, which was promising with Valencia looming in the distance.
My thoughts immediately turned to how Katie was getting on, and I was able to find a spot on the track with 200m to go where I watched, waited, and prayed I’d see her coming around the corner at some point soon. She didn’t keep me waiting long, and she came springing into the stadium, still looking like she was out for a Sunday morning stroll compared to everyone around her who looked like they could collapse at any moment.
I snuck back past the security guards and hoisted her into the air just after she crossed the line (I’m not sure if this was appreciated or not), before placing her back on the ground, eager to know what her finishing time was. The end result; 3:10:21, a 48 MINUTE personal best, and yet another London Marathon championship qualifying time.
To put this into perspective, 6 months ago, her 5km personal best was 22:50. On Sunday, she ran 22:35 per 5km, 8 TIMES IN A ROW. Back to back, without any break. Absolutely ridiculous. 43rd position in a major European city marathon is also a phenomenal result. I know I talk about how proud I am of her quite a bit, but I hope sharing stories of improvement and performances such as these serve to inspire others, and show that you’re capable of so much more than you would’ve ever thought you could achieve if you just put your mind to it and work hard.
Post-race we staked out a spot on the course where we could drink beers and cheer on the later finishers at the same time. Paul Brown proved yet again that you can finish a marathon off the back of zero training, but it hurts like hell. Someone who did train, but was clearly hurting regardless, was Dom, but he gritted it out to finish his first marathon. I’ll wait a while before asking him when number 2 is happening. Another standout performance to note was Paul Hunt running a fantastic and thoroughly deserved 2.43 – sub 2.40 is just around the corner mate!
We spent the rest of the weekend eating and drinking far too much, as well as commandeering a boat to cruise down the canals on, which I managed to crash on multiple occasions. Dave did an excellent job of playing host and taking us to the ‘cool’ places, which proved to be really helpful. The beers went down a little too well on Sunday evening, and I was a little worse for wear by the end of the night.
The legs have recovered remarkably quickly, and I’m already straight back into decent training which is an encouraging sign with just over 4 weeks until the Valencia marathon. I suppose we could book a holiday which didn’t involve us taking part in a race whilst there, but where would the fun be in that?