Last Christmas I was looking for an autumn marathon that I could hopefully get a fast time on. Everybody I asked told me that Amsterdam was flat and when I found out that there was only 54m of elevation over the whole route I booked my flights pronto.
My target was sub 2:45 as this is the qualifying time for a London marathon championship place. After looking at several plans I decided on a Hal Higdon 18 week plan that included 3 x 20 mile long runs, speedwork, 6 days of training a week, one was a cross training day which was neglected slightly! In terms of my diet I ate as healthy as I could, including lots of fruit and veg although pizza night on a Sunday remained intact. My training started in May.
At first it was fairly manageable although I remember the first 16 miler to be particularly difficult and I had to stop at around 11 miles due to a problem with my nether regions. I was concerned to say the least as my training partner Sam scampered off into the distance (she did come back for me). The following weeks were more successful outings and I managed to get a 5k pb of 16:24 which I was delighted with.
The flight from Liverpool, complete with several girls with their hair in rollers, only took an hour. When we arrived in Amsterdam me and Sam headed for the train station instead of getting a taxi as they are a bit on the expensive side. 5 mins on the train to Leylaan and a further 15 mins on the number 62 bus took us to our apartment in Westlandgracht. This was a great location - only 1.5k away from the Olympic stadium where the race starts and finishes. The town centre was also easy to get to by tram - the number 2 if you're interested!
We jogged to the expo which was very close to the stadium and picked up our numbers and snazzy orange t-shirts (what other colour could they have been) and our excitement started to build. Our last supper was pasta at a local Italian which welcomed us in with our jogging gear on. An early night followed.
Ring, bleep, honk, buzz etc etc Our several alarms went off simultaneously at 6:30am. Good, we were up. After a carb laden breakfast and the obligatory several toilet visits we were on our way to the Olympic stadium and our first European marathon. We headed into our different starting pens which very conveniently had their own toilets. The atmosphere was reaching a crescendo as the Dutch commentator hyped up the crowd and the music was turned up. An amazing backdrop to start a marathon. Bang. We were off.
My target was 3:54mins per kilometre (the markers were every k so I decided to change my Garmin at the last minute). We passed through Vondelpark and then through the Rijksmuseum before heading back towards the start. The race then doubled back on itself and I got to see Sam looking strong on the other side. At the 10k mark I said hello to another local runner (Knowsley Harrier Tony Landry).
I was a few seconds behind my schedule but I was able to speed up over the next 3k to get back on track. Between 14k and 25k the route hugged the Amstel River as barges with rather large speakers on banged out some European pop belters and the odd techno smasher - it took me back to my rave days! The promised flat course was, well flat (with the exception of several inclines over bridges but they won't slow you down). I was on target and feeling strong. I liked the course - there was plenty of music, spectators towards the centre and enough variation to keep things interesting. It's not a landmark after landmark race but it has character.
The water stations had plastic cups which I wasn't used to and most of the contents kept going all over my face rather than actually in my mouth. I've been advised since that I should squeeze both sides of the top of the cup together to create a spout - thanks for the tip Ian Williams (via Marty Rogers).
The race continued through an industrial area before turning at 34k and heading back towards the finish. With less than 10k to go I started to tire and my target started to slip away. I frantically started to do the maths although every time I did my sums I realised I was getting slower and slower. There was no way around it - I knew with 2 miles to go that I wouldn't get my time. My mind was willing but my legs wanted to stop. For around 500m I felt down but then I told myself I was lucky enough to be in Amsterdam running a marathon and about to finish in the Olympic stadium!
Running into the stadium was a magical moment that I will never forget. The crowds were cheering and I felt like a real athlete as I looked around and crossed the finish line. I was exhausted but elated. I finished in 2:46:49 which was a pb by several minutes. It would have been nice to get a sub 2:45 but hopefully I'll take part in many more marathons. Now, which one should I do next?
If you would like to have a look at some other European Marathons please click here.