Running a marathon prepared is a far cry from running one (or attempting to) unprepared. A really obvious thing to say, I know, but it’s that context that I only fully appreciated in the week or two before the Amsterdam Marathon.
My training had been far from smooth. The first 10 weeks were great, then I got ill, work got crazy busy and my youngest daughter started a particularly difficult teething period. All of this meant I was knackered or just ran out of hours in the day to be able to stick to the full training programme I’d chosen (it’s this Bupa one in case you’re wondering) in the latter phases of the 16 week build up. I did next to no week day runs for 4 or 5 weeks on the bounce, but I did stick to the long run every Sunday.
Because of this, I approached the race day confident that I would get around but with no idea how quickly I might do it. What I did know, though, was that I’d trained on hilly terrain and that the course was flat. I also knew that I was only going to run one marathon and if I had any chance of getting around in under 4 hours I would take it. I would be forever wondering about the difference my conditioning would have made during those missed weeks had I finished in 4 hours and 2 minutes!
I got up early on the morning to have a couple of bananas and a granola bar and start preparing myself psychologically for what lay ahead. Owing to the packed trams shuttling people to the Amsterdam Olympic Stadium, we ended up walking the 2 miles or so to the start from our hotel. Not and ideal start, to be fair, but it did mean we weren’t waiting around long before the start of the race by the time we arrived.
I had a plan in my head to cover the first 6 km in less than 30 minutes and then alternate 1 km slow, 2 km fast. I’d done half marathon distance two weeks before hand using this approach and had knocked five minutes off my PB, so it seemed a sound idea with the pace slowed down a little further.
And They’re Off!
I got approximately 500 metres into the race before I realised how impractical that was. The opening 5 km was covered in the time I’d expected to run the first 6 km, so I settled into a stride, bobbing and weaving past others as required and telling myself I’d like to hit 10 km in 55 mins. I managed it in 55:32, the whole time with my brother (Sim) in sight or alongside me, his extensive marathon experience adding confidence to my pace.
The second 10 km took pretty much exactly the same time, so we could still hit under 4 hours if we kept to that pace. All was going fine until we approached the latter stages of the third 10 km. By this time, Sim had started to pop ibuprofen to counter pain in his knee and I could feel discomfort in my hips. At the next drink station, I opted to extend my walk after grabbing water and a sliced banana. Sim handed my ibuprofen then too, saying, “You know you’re out here for at least another hour and a half, so do it as a preventative measure.”
This slowed us down and that third 10 km was our slowest, but it was still under an hour. At that point I realised that we had just over and hour and 12 minutes left to cover 12.2 km (approximately 8 miles) if we were going to nail sub 4 hours. I knew I could cover that distance in an hour from my training – less the 30 km that preceded it, obvioulsy! “Run within yourself for now,” Sim told me. “Wait until 37 km and then give it everything you’ve got up to 40 km.”
I listened to him religiously. At 37 km, I went for it. I picked up the pace considerably, knowing I had to go fast to hit sub 4 hours with the slowing down we’d experienced.
At 38 km, I realised Sim hadn’t gone with me. Ooops! He’d been a huge support during the two years of the project and we’d covered so much ground together that it felt wrong to go on without him. I stopped and I waited. At this point we were in the Vondelpark (beautiful, by the way). I checked the time as I waited. It was still do-able.
When he reached me, I attempted a pep talk. “There’s 4 km to go and 20 minutes to do it in. Let’s do this!”
“I can’t run any faster than I am at the moment,” he replied. “Do what you’ve got to do.” He may as well have added, “And God speed, you black emperor!” to the end too. I heard him, checked the watch and bombed off through the park.
This is the End
I don’t remember much about the next few kilometres. I think I was so overcome and amazed by the fact I was actually going to finish the race that I blocked everything out. Then I got to the 500 metre marker. All of a sudden I saw people, I took my headphones out and the noise was amazing. As I turned the corner into the final stretch before the stadium, I held out my arms and start swinging them wildly like a mad man, in my mind at the time trying to whip the crowd up a bit more. I think they understood.
The last 200 metres were on the track of the stadium. I’d seen my wife and my Dad in the crowd and I was, quite frankly, running on air by the time I crossed the line. My time was 3:57:30. Job done. The sense of euphoria was cut somewhat short, however, when a guy standing next to me started to throw up all over his shoes. I moved to one side and waited for Sim, hoping to see him come through in one piece and that he hadn’t had to pull out in the final stages. He came in exactly 3 minutes later. We hugged, grabbed our medals and set about trying to reach our families outside the stadium.
As I watched the other PeopleRun runners come through, I felt immeasurably proud of what they had achieved. I also felt a weight lifted from my own shoulders having finally done what I set out to 7 years earlier. I had assumed that I would blub like a baby when the moment I’d completed the run finally came but I didn’t. I did, however, have a wobble when my Mum handed me a gift-wrapped box containing a watch.