The long-awaited follow-up to Brighton man and about as exciting for non-runners. If you lack patience, the answer is 3:57.
Long introduction – you can skip this bit
Just like last time, there is a backstory: after Brighton, I’d decided I was going to do more of this nonsense, and so inscribed again. But next April was a long way away, so I thought I’d see how two a year worked. I looked around and found a new local race, Grafham water marathon in September, and signed up for that. Closer to the time I realised that the all-important Boston marathon was on the same day. Rats: so I cancelled Grafham and signed up for Boston (which was then, ironically, cancelled due to weed, but by then it was too late), but still needed my road race. And talking of my frustration with my sister-in-law she said: “run Amsterdam then. And you can come and stay with us, we’re 10 mins walk from the start”. Which certainly beats the 5-mile walk to Brighton. And so I did.
It turns out there is a convenient ferry service from Harwich to Hoek van Holland, and they do a combined train-both-ends-and-ferry-and-cabin fare at a very reasonable rate, so after work on friday I cycled to the station, caught the train to Harwich, and climbed abord – see photo of cabin, all very pleasant with shower/toilet room not shown. There is even a channel on the TV showing the view from the bridge, so I felt no obligation to go on deck and watch us depart, or indeed arrive the next day. Only slight complaint is that the ferry gets in at what felt like an unreasonably early hour, though watching the sunrise was worth it. To Amsterdam (incidentally, since this is a travelogue: you have to get there a day early, since the train gets in to A’dam at 10-ish and the marathon starts at 9:30), brief coffee break reading their coverage of Private Eye’s 50th birthday and misc fairly quiet things including cafe-life style lunch. Then I bought the only thing I was lacking – two caffeinated energy gels for the last 10 km – of which more anon. And we had pasta for dinner – spaghetti – as you’re supposed to.
The big day
It turned out that Saturday’s beautiful weather wasn’t wasted – Sunday was just as fine, possibly better. Clear sunshine, but cool air. My sister-in-law had got up early to make my porridge, but unusually for her (and at my request) had made it with milk not water, resulting in excitement in the microwave. Knowing me, she was neither surprised nor dismayed when my reaction was to go and find the camera, rather than to help clear up the mess. They are very good people and kind enough to put up with me.
And so we walked to the stadium (of course I paid no attention to where we were going, exactly, so coming back afterwards I got a bit lost :-). I had no baggage to check, but I wanted one last dump, and of course there were queues for the loos. There always are, nowhere ever has enough. But with 20 mins to go before the start I thought I was OK: but I wasn’t. When the start gun went I was first in line. Quickly doing my business I joined in the press only a minute after the gun, but all was OK: people were walking to the start line on the track, and there was space on the grass to shuffle into about the right place.
The tedious details
I got a good start: by good, I mean that almost immeadiately I could run at the pace I wanted to, without pushing or dodging (or, if you’re Maz, dogging). And not long after that it was even possible to run in a space clear enough that you could see the ground ahead. About 3 weeks ago I’d managed to tear my left calf (you can see where I do it, on the track, at about 3k, then again at 4.2k, because I was too dumb to stop running). And whilst it was mostly fixed by now, I hoped, I very worried that I’d rip it again (or the right, which was showing signs of coming out in sympathy) early in the race and waste everything. My initial pace was planned to be gentle: 5:30/km or thereabouts, until I felt I’d warmed up and settled down. In practice it drifted up to 5:10, and even briefly under 5 before I slapped myself around the head, metaphorically, and told myself to stop being silly. And there it stayed until about km 21, which was good, and it all felt good: very comfortable. Which was better than Brighton, where I’d had to push hard to get half-way in 1:50, and consequently was useless for the second half.
The long tail out along the Amstel and back was good – lovely scenery, bands on the river, good track, and rowing boats to watch – there were some better VIII’s out than this, though. After that it becomes a bit of a blur… the pace graph says I started to tail off at 21 k (or possibly, being generous, at 24 k) but I didn’t really notice that till I went through 5:30 heading towards 6:00 at 34 k. At 34 k I took my first caffeine-enhanced energy gel, which turned out to be a major mistake: it tasted horrible, but I forced it down. A little later I started feeling sick, and a little later I stopped to throw up. Then ran 10 paces, threw up on the move, and so it went for a while till I was empty, and then felt much better. Motto (the obvious one): don’t try anything new on the day. At around 28 k I passed the first few people who had stopped to walk, and began to be passed by people who were setting a more constant pace.
And so back through the lovely Vondelpark and the last k or so back to the stadium. By this time a k was a long way, whereas earlier they had zipped by without me noticing. I was slowly wondering to myself when I ought to speed up for the line, but neither the leg power or will power was there until the final 500 m. Which clearly demonstrates that the leg power was there, actually, what was lacking was the will.
And afterwards, some nice green grass to collapse on, then outside the stadium drinks etc. And so it was done.
There is the pace graph, and my time was 3:57:25. Which you’ll notice is comfortably less than 4, which was the main aim. Also more than 20 mins better than the last one. As the graph shows, I need to work on retaining my pace in the second half, which means more long runs. You can also see the GPS track if you like. Notice that my watch thought the course was 300 m over length; and this discrepancy arose gradually during the race; indeed, at around 20 km I remember hearing two other folk commenting that the race markers were wrong. OTOH my watch had the same impression of Brighton.
After the race I sat in the sunshine all afternoon not moving very much, except to stop my muscles locking up, and to eat the food and drink placed in front of me. That was lovely.
Here are some minor post-race whinges, and/or suggestions for improvement.
* there was no drink just after the finish line. You had to hobble out of the stadium to get that. I’d have appreciated a cup of water just over the line.
* the en-route drinks stations were “AA energy drink” and water one after the other. The energy drink was fine, but it would have been better to separate the stations by a bit to ease the crush (and the confusion, of people who wanted A but wandered into B). The drink was in cups, not bottles, which was fine by me: bottles are so wasteful.
* more toilets at the start, please.
* the vast marathon expo sold every kind of shoes you might like, but no energy gels at all, which was silly.
All in all, I’d say this was a better marathon than Brighton. And not just because I ran it faster. The course is better, but also the feel of the marathon in general is better: more laid back, less bizniz.